Saturday, January 31, 2015

"Shouldn't You Be in School?"

Snicket, L. (2014). "Shouldn't You Be in School?" All the Wrong Questions, #3. NY: Hachette Audio. 

Middle Grade / Mystery / Audio book

I gave the story 5/5 Stars, the CD format 3/5 Stars

Young Lemony Snicket has been asked to help track an arsonist in the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea. But as is often the case, where there is one mystery to solve, there are usually others, and those in Stain'd-by-the-Sea are plentiful. In his role as an apprentice detective (or is he?), Lemony quickly suspects that the evil villain Hangfire is behind more than the fires in town and that the schoolchildren are in danger from more than flames.  Secrets and deception abound in this third installment of All the Wrong Questions, by Lemony Snicket.

Oddly enough, I have not read the prior installments in this series, nor have I read any of the Series of Unfortunate Events, for which the All the Wrong Questions series are prequels.  Nonetheless, I have heard enough about Lemony Snicket that I dove in, and I wasn't disappointed.  Despite not having read the two books before "Shouldn't You Be in School?" I had no problem figuring out the story.  Characters are fleshed-out and well-defined, and the plot stands alone, with ties to the prior stories explained enough so that there was no confusion.  Foreshadowing is heavy, which entices readers to look for the next installment, and the language and imagery are fantastic.  Lines like "I felt my mouth grinning around the spoon," and "Seeing a librarian in handcuffs is like seeing a fish gasping on a roll top desk. I couldn't look at it long," conjure very specific reactions from the listener/reader.  Also enjoyable was the repeated, amusing mechanism of the narrator defining words for listeners/readers, always qualifying his definitions with saying the word, followed by "a word, which here means . . ."

Though I give the story my highest rating, truly, I have to give this book two different ratings.  As far as the medium, as an audio book on CD, it's painfully slow going, and I got impatient. The narrator's voice and style is really perfect, and had I had the ability to speed-up the delivery (like on a digital audio book), I would have no qualms. I cannot recommend the CD version (go digital if you must listen), but the story is fantastic and I am glad I took the time to get through it. 

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided an eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Living a Life That Matters: from Nazi Nightmare to American Dream

Lesser, B. (2011). Living a Life That Matters: from Nazi Nightmare to American Dream. Las Vegas: Remembrance Publishing.

Adult / YA / Audiobook / Memoir

I gave this audiobook 5 out of 5 stars
As we pass the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, I thought I'd post this review of a book as an encouragement to keep informed and remember the horrible mistakes of the past so that they aren't repeated.

"Despite our differences, we share a common humanity, and it is better for all of us to honor our shared humanity rather than to despise our differences." Ben Lesser. What an incredible life this man has lived, and what an incredible optimism he has maintained through the unspeakable horrors, tortures, and indignities he survived. His message is so much more than "never forget." So much more.

I enjoyed hearing the parts Lesser narrated himself the most. Actor Jonathan Silverman was very good, but the pacing was off for me: listening to him at regular speed was too slow, and the next notch up (at 1.25x) made him sound really anxious? excited? I think this book would be better read anyhow, in order to let the subject matter sink in more. Lesser's memories are brutally honest and raw and real, making his story scarier and more evil than any fiction story could be.

Lesser does an excellent job of putting everything in context, so that younger readers (or older readers who don't know their history) have a broader understanding of what was happening. Sadly, tragically, there are no good answers to Lesser's repeated question: how did the rest of the world let the Holocaust happen? 

Thank you to Sync summer audio program for providing this free audiobook with absolutely no strings attached! As appreciation, I gave this book my honest review-- the only kind I give.

UPDATE: Mr. Lesser wrote an incredible blog entry about now being the ONLY survivor of the Dachau death train. . . incredible. Click the picture to go to his blog entry.

70 Years Later, With the Death Train


Take a stand and be the voice for the six million voices that were silenced. By uniting together we can stop the world from acquiring amnesia. SHOUT IT OUT! Spread the word and envision yourself conveying a timeless message that your children’s children can see and feel for eternity.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne, N. and King, S. (2015). Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter. Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada: Udon Entertainment.

YA Literature / Classic / Manga

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars

"Was it simply that her scarlet letter sat bold upon her breast, while the sins of others were hidden in their own hearts?"

This illustrated retelling of The Scarlet Letter was very well done and will be appealing to reluctant readers and others who want to know the story without reading the novel. I can see it actually encouraging someone to read the original after finishing this manga version.  

The story is framed nicely with the addition of the 19th century discovery of the 17th century parchments which tell Hester Prynne's story.  SunNeko Lee's drawings are rich in expression and imagery -- like overlaying pages with what look like shards of glass when Hester is remembering her past -- and the drawings flow very naturally even for someone with little to no experience reading manga. It was greatly appreciated that a short, easy to follow manga tutorial was placed at the start of the book.

There were a couple of typos and minor edits needed, which I am assuming will be corrected in the final version, but overall, this was a fantastic alternative to the original novel, which stays true to Nathaniel Hawthorne's messages on hypocrisy, sin, guilt, and judgment.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me an eBook proof copy of this book in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wildfire - Volume 1

Hawkins, M. (2014). Wildfire,Volume 1. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics.

Graphic Novel / Sci Fi / Adult / YA

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars

This is an outstanding graphic novel taking a "what if" scenario on genetic modification. I appreciated that the author didn't preach any political agenda and also that he didn't feel the need to throw in gratuitous sex scenes, naked people, and profanity, as seems to be the norm in any graphic novel these days. The story has more than enough action and interest to keep readers engaged, and the illustrations -- wow! Stunning, and some of the scenes were so realistic that they could have been photographs.  The panels of the Hollywood hills on fire will definitely stay with readers.  

A super cool feature of the book is at the end, the author has included tons of information on GMOs, its science and history, U.S. emergency response teams, and loads of links for readers to educate themselves.  I look forward to the sequel coming out. . . just when you thought it was safe again!! I recommend this book for young adults and older. 

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me a free eBook copy in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Quentin's Problem

Baker, M. (2014) Quentin's Problem. Self-Published.

Children's Picture Book 

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars

Quentin the Quick is a young pirate who must pass his Piratish Exam. He nails swashbuckling and is a natural with a peg leg and eye patch, but what's a young pirate student to do when he can't say, "Arrr?" He'd better figure it out because the stakes are high -- if Quentin fails the test, he walks the plank! 

Quentin's Problem is a delightful story set in the pirate world with its not so scary pirates and slightly scary sharks for children to enjoy. Despite being in a fantasy world, readers will identify with Quentin and his fears, and the story offers good lessons about honesty, bravery, and overcoming adversity.  The subject creates great talking points for kids and parents to share. What really brings the story together are the expressive and colorful illustrations by K.A. King. King brings a variety of textures to each page, which children will love to look at as they read along. 

I highly recommend this book for pre-K through 2nd grade, to be read independently, with an adult, or as a read aloud to groups. Thank you to the author who gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review -- the only kind I give.

About the Author
Misty Baker is an author, freelance editor, and shameless chocoholic. She writes romance under her pen name Mysti Parker. Her other writings have appeared in numerous anthologies, and she has two more children’s books in the works. Misty lives in Buckner, KY with her husband, three children and a great many pets.

Click for Hall Ways Review!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Passing Through Perfect

Crosby, B.L. (2015) Passing Through Perfect: Wyattsville Series, Book 3. Fort Pierce, FL.

Adult / Adult okay for YA / historical fiction

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars

Passing Through Perfect, by Bette Lee Crosby, places readers in 1940s Alabama as Benjamin Church is returning to his childhood home after four years serving in the Army. Grinder's Corner hasn't changed much, but Benjamin's mother is dead, the farm is near ruin, and his father is frail and has lost his zest for living. Benjamin, who left as a boy but is now a man, takes over farming and soon he and Delia, a girl from a neighboring town, are head-over-heels in love. Passing Through Perfect is full of consequences for paths chosen, with Delia's choice to become Benjamin's wife as one of the first paths that leads to both joy and heartache. Despite the bigotry and discrimination he repeatedly encounters as the years pass -- and the anguish it causes when tragedy strikes -- Benjamin perseveres and finds healing, hope, and friendship in most unexpected places.

Bette Lee Crosby has written a historically accurate fiction story that will tug at readers' heartstrings and cause tears of happiness, sadness, and even rage as they read Benjamin's story. It was truly painful to experience the hate, discrimination, and bigotry that existed (exists) in the south. People of color were dehumanized, but Benjamin never gave up, instead rising above it, always being true to himself, his family, and to God. The writing was outstanding, and the characters were richly drawn, each with very real, unique personalities and traits, making them utterly lovable or completely loathsome. Passing Through Perfect forces readers to focus on what's truly important in life, and as Benjamin reminds, “Perfect ain’t a place. It’s a time when everything’s good and we’re happy. Folks don’t live in perfect, they just get to pass through every so often.”

Passing Through Perfect is book three of the Wyattsville series, but it stands alone, and I intend to read the first two in the series -- I am solidly a Bette Lee Crosby fan now. Though it's an adult novel, I also recommend it for young adults because the lessons are so important. Readers will encounter moderate, occasional profanity, some crudeness and violence, a few references to sex, and racial slurs, but everything works contextually.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided an eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give. 

Read more about Bette Lee Crosby, her numerous awards and accolades, and her other great books at her website,

Click to buy Passing Through Perfect on Amazon