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The Mysterious Abductions by Tracey Hecht ⇉ A Creative Imagining of Animal Life

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
As a young reader, I loved books with animals. One reason is that I loved animals and would have loved to live a life surrounded by different species of animals. Another reason is that such books gave me the opportunity to explore different worlds. The Mysterious Abductions is reminiscent of some of my favorite childhood reads. I enjoyed my stay in this world.


Characters with Personality
The Mysterious Abductions is filled with characters with personality. Each character has a distinct personality that makes them memorable. Consequently, though many different characters are introduced, it's fairly easy to remember who is who based on their personality. (The downside is that we only get to know the characters on a superficial level.)

Creative Imagining of Animal Lives
Tracey Hecht provides a creative imagining of animal lives in The Mysterious Abductions. I enjoyed following the adventures of nocturnal animals and their interactions with each other in this novel.

Blurs the Lines Between Good and Evil
When the lines between good and evil are blurred, the author opens the way to look into different perspectives and examine the reasons for characters' actions. This provides children an opportunity to learning how to be empathetic and consider why someone might act or talk in a way that seems inappropriate to us.

Plot Twist
As the Brigade investigated the abductions, I found myself wondering why the animals were being abducted. The end result was something that I was not expecting at all. I would love to share more about this experience, but that would be a major spoiler. Read the book to find out!

Chapter Images (in Color!)
At the beginning of each chapter, there is a colored image of one or more of the characters. Since there were some animals that were unfamiliar to me, these images were helpful to my understanding of the novel. These pictures, and the story itself, can be used to jumpstart a look into the lives and nature of the animals' real-life counterparts.


Superficial Characters
While the characters all have distinct personalities, they stay stuck within their personalities; there isn't much depth to their characters. I understand that this is a book for younger readers and that, with three main characters, it can be difficult to balance out their roles.

Given that Tobin seems to be given a more focus, I still feel like more could have been done to develop his character and, subsequently, the other characters through him so that they could be given more depth.

Bismark's Over-the-Top Personality
Bismark was by far my least favorite character given his over-the-top personality and egoistic tendencies. I hesitate to say that all of this is because he's just Bismark and wish that he shows more development in future books.

I'm sure young readers will enjoy his antics, but as he is, I wouldn't use him as a role model for children. If I were reading this with a child, I would use his character as a jumping point for conversations on topics such as friendship, how we should treat others, and how we might act differently in relationships.

Where is the mystery?
The Brigade goes around asking questions and following the trail of abductions. However, we don't see as much brainstorming over possibilities or even a red herring. I've read children's books with more mystery to the mystery. Given the interesting nature of the disappearances (screams but little to no clues at the scene of the crime), I would have enjoyed seeing more detective work going on.

Thick Pages
This is a more personal comfort point: The book pages are much thicker than normal pages (and uneven at the ends). This caused discomfort as I would constantly question whether I had not turned two pages instead of one. I would have preferred thinner pages and possibly a larger book size so that it has more of a young readers' feel to it.


While The Mysterious Abductions does have its moments of humor, it also provides a learning opportunity for children through its themes of friendship and unity. The animals may be from different species and walks of life, but they are able to unite through a shared cause and desire to live in harmony.

One of the reasons I love children's books is that they tend to blur the lines of good and evil in a way that gives hope to the world (as compared to strictly adult books, which tend to portray the world in a hopeless light). While someone may seem like a bad guy right now, it doesn't mean that they were always bad or are beyond saving. The Mysterious Abductions does just that.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!


The Nocturnals features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.

In The Mysterious Abductions, the animals form a brigade of the night after a random encounter with a blood-thirsty snake, and just in time because something is threatening their night realm. Animals are disappearing without a trace. Together with the help of a wombat, a band of coyotes and many others, Dawn, Tobin and Bismark journey to the depths of the earth in a wacky, high stakes game that will determine all of their survival.


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If you went to battle against a dark and mysterious force, who would you include in your dream brigade? (May include real-life or fictional characters.)

Publication Info
  • The Mysterious Abductions by Tracey Hecht
  • Published by Fabled Films Press
  • On April 19, 2016
  • Genres: MysteryMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 232 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Momotaro
  1. The Mysterious Abductions
  2. The Ominous Eye
  3. The Fallen Star
  • Some violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

When Mommy's Home with Me by Alison Moulton ⇉ A Sweet Tribute to Motherhood

Thursday, April 20, 2017
Everyone who's heard me talk about my mom knows how much I love and respect her. Mothers do so much for their children. As I age, I'll only keep learning more of these things. When Mommy's Home with Me is a book that both young readers and older readers can appreciate.


Diverse Mothers
Because the story doesn't focus on one family, it was able to portray mothers in different roles. There are mothers of various occupations spending time with their children. From the wording, it seems that some have decided to quit their jobs to stay at home with their children; others are still working.

Diverse Families
The families look different as well. There are diverse ethnic groups as well as families with children of different numbers, genders, and ethnicities. One thing in common is that the focus is on the mother, so the fathers are not portrayed.

Learning Opportunity for Children
Children will learn that mothers come in different shapes, colors, and occupations. They will learn about different types of occupations and what they may learn from someone in that occupation. There are also some words they may not know and will have the chance to learn.


Quick Pacing
Because the book features different mothers, each mother is allotted two pages. We zip through the different features, so the book moves quickly.

Lack of a Storyline
Also because the book doesn't focus on a single family: there is no coherent storyline. I could open the book to any page and read the two open pages on their own. That said, a young reader would enjoy learning about different types of occupations.

One Job / One "Role"
Such books do run the risk of stereotyping. Each mother is shown teaching or playing with their children in relation to their occupation. For example, scientist runs science experiments, the artist draws with her child, and the teacher teaches her child. The book doesn't teach children that a person's hobbies may differ greatly from his or her occupation.

That said, this is a book for younger readers, so it is helpful to teach in small chunks. The focus of this book is on mothers and their different occupations (and how children may learn from them). I would supplement this book with one that delves more deeply into the life of a single family; it would allow young readers to learn more about the complexities of life.


When Mommy's Home with Me is a sweet tribute to motherhood and the different kinds of mothers out there. This book provides a good learning opportunity for younger readers and will allow them to grow an appreciation for the different things that mothers do. I will be sharing my copy of the book with parents that I know.


With rollicking rhymes and fanciful images, this adorable picture book celebrates the special relationship between mothers and their children. Filled with stories of all kinds of mommies--like pilots and artists and scientists--this book shows how modern mothers still treasure that precious time spent together at home. A perfect book for moms and kids to enjoy this Mother's Day or any time of the year!


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What did you enjoy doing with your mother growing up?

Publication Info
  • When Mommy's Home with Me by Alison Moulton
  • Published by Sweetwater Books
  • On March 1, 2017
  • Genres: Children's Book
  • Pages: 32 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
  • N/A
  • N/A

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Xander and the Dream Thief by Margaret Dilloway ⇉ Everything I Loved in the First Novel

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
As I mentioned in my review of book 1, I was drawn to the Momotaro series because it features an Asian hero and mythology and because I love children's books. Xander's adventures remind me that people go through growing pains and become stronger individuals for them.

Note: If you haven't read the first book, there will be spoilers from that one!!


Everything I Liked from the First Book
Asian MC, Japanese mythology & culture, good family dynamics (minus the entrance of the mother figure), beautiful artwork . . . Momotaro #2 remains true to the elements that I enjoyed from book one. For more details, click here to read my review of Momotaro #1.

Character Growth
Xander is still a pubescent teen dealing with tween issues, and now he's one with special powers. He's quite the handful. That said, this provides much room for character growth, and Xander does just that. Young readers can relate to Xander's problems and learn how to work through issues.

Follows Events of the First Novel
I love how Xander of the Dream Thief follows through with events of the first novel. For example, the primary conflict in the novel is spurred by the after-effects of Xander's last adventure. Also affected are his relationships with friends, classmates, and family. (I'd talk more about these details, but that would go into spoilers!)


Adults are Absent or in Need of Saving (Once More!)
In my review of the last book, I explained how it's unrealistic that children would be the ones saving the day without help from any adults. This still holds true. However, I do appreciate how Xander is able to work through his issues and mature as a character. Sometimes, we do need to learn the hard way outside of parental guidance. And I appreciate his parents' love and understanding through it all.

Quick, Not Well Developed Resolution
Some of the issues are wrapped up too quickly. In particular, there is one big issue that was introduced at the end of the last book and which proves a problem at the beginning of this book. I was expecting to see more development on this issue; however, it was resolved at the end without us seeing Xander work through it. I wish that more attention had been paid to this issue.


Overall, Xander and the Dream Thief is an enjoyable followup to the first novel. As long-time readers know, I always appreciate a novel with good family relationships and Asian characters. I especially love how this novel isn't another episodic adventure in Xander's life but incorporates elements from Momotaro #1. I'm looking forward to seeing where Margaret Dilloway takes us next!


Xander Miyamoto should be feeling great. It's the beginning of summer vacation, his mother has returned from a long absence, and he has learned that he is a warrior with special powers. Xander never would have guessed that the old Japanese folktale about Momotaro, the hero who sprang from a peach pit, was real, much less part of his own heritage.

But instead of reveling in his recent victory against the oni, monsters bent on creating chaos, Xander is feeling resentful. What took his mother so long to come back? Why does his father insist on ruining the summer with study and training? And why is Xander plagued by nightmares every night? Maybe this whole Momotaro thing is overrated.

Xander's grandmother gives him a special baku charm to use to chase his nightmares away. He just has to be careful not to rely on it too much. If he does, the baku will not only take his dreams, but those of everyone in the house, forever. Without dreams, there is no hope, no motivation, no imagination, no Momotaro. And then it would be far too easy for Ozuno, king of the oni, to wreak havoc. . . .

On his second quest, Xander explores new surreal landscapes, encounters more strange and dangerous creatures, and faces even higher stakes as he learns whether or not he has what it takes to be Momotaro.


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Would you rather have both dreams and nightmares or no dreams at all? Why?

Publication Info
  • Momotaro by Margaret Dilloway
  • Published by Disney-Hyperion
  • On April 18, 2017
  • Genres: FantasyMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 336 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Momotaro
  1. Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters
  2. Xander and the Dream Thief
  • Bullying
  • Monsters that are potentially frightening for young readers
  • Violence (not graphic)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway ⇉ A Modern Spin on Japanese Mythology

Friday, April 7, 2017
There's something magical about children's books that captivates me. No matter how old I get, I don't believe that I'll ever tire of them. Xander and the Lost Island combines the magic of children's books with Japanese mythology. There aren't enough books featuring Asian culture and characters, so I'm always ecstatic to find one on a topic that I love!


Asian MC
There are few books—and still fewer middle grade books—out there with an Asian hero. As soon as I saw this novel had a Japanese hero (well, Japanese-Irish hero), my interest was piqued. Growing up, I didn't have many books with heroes who looked like me, so I appreciate this book having an Asian MC.

Japanese Mythology & Norms
I love East Asian culture, and that includes learning more about the mythologies. The figures in Japanese mythology are very different from Western mythology. This novel provides a fun introduction to some of the figures of Japanese mythology as well as some of the cultural norms. It may provide a jumping board for young readers to learn more about another culture. (Though I wouldn't take this as the authoritative text. Xander grows up in America, and his mind is definitely one of a child going through puberty.)

Good family dynamics
I grew up with strong family values. Many novels will subvert family values by presenting irreconcilable family conflicts, but Xander presents a close-knit family, albeit one missing its mother but one in which the grandmother is prominent as a figure of wisdom. I'm especially grateful for how Xander's father shows understanding of his son's gifts and accepting of his differences from conventional norms for giftedness.

Beautiful artwork
Xander is a story in which art, creativity, and imagination are prominent themes. I love how the story blends full-page illustrations of events in the novel. This is a highly imaginative novel, and I enjoyed seeing illustrations of the figures that Xander runs into over the course of his adventure.


Adults are Absent or in Need of Saving
It's a common cliche in children's books that the adults are inept or not as strong as the children. That said, I believe that children will find this element more enjoyable as this novel empowers children to take the initiative in situations where they may not have an adult present. One of the biggest fears of children is the fear of being alone without an adult figure; Xander's story proves that, while such a situation is not ideal, a child can pull through.

Puberty Troubles
Xander can be a bit of a brat and know-it-all. However, it is also to be expected of his age group, and it provides good opportunity for character growth. (And Xander does learn!)


Overall, Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters is an enjoyable middle-grade fantasy adventure with Japanese mythological elements. Young readers will enjoy exploring the island with Xander and learning that heroes are not born—they're forged by trial. Parents reading this book may discuss with their children what they may do to grow into a hero's role as Xander does!


Xander Miyamoto would rather do almost anything than listen to his sixth grade teacher, Mr. Stedman, drone on about weather disasters happening around the globe. If Xander could do stuff he's good at instead, like draw comics and create computer programs, and if Lovey would stop harassing him for being half Asian, he might not be counting the minutes until the dismissal bell.

When spring break begins at last, Xander plans to spend it playing computer games with his best friend, Peyton. Xander's father briefly distracts him with a comic book about some samurai warrior that pops out of a peach pit. Xander tosses it aside, but Peyton finds it more interesting.

Little does either boy know that the comic is a warning. They are about to be thrust into the biggest adventure of their lives-a journey wilder than any Xander has ever imagined, full of weird monsters even worse than Lovey. To win at this deadly serious game they will have to rely on their wits, courage, faith, and especially, each other. Maybe Xander should have listened to Mr Stedman about the weather after all. . . .


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Which legendary hero's powers would you like to inherit and why?

Publication Info
  • Momotaro by Margaret Dilloway
  • Published by Disney-Hyperion
  • On April 5, 2016
  • Genres: FantasyMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 320 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Momotaro
  1. Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters
  2. Xander and the Dream Thief
  • Bullying
  • Xander draws a caricature of a classmate as a baboon
  • Monsters that are potentially frightening for young readers
  • Violence (not graphic)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan ⇉ A Powerful, Thrilling, and Uplifting Testimony

Thursday, April 6, 2017
Political intrigue. Drama. Suspense. Danger. And even some romance.

These elements come together in Saving My Assassin, a memoir that provides an insider perspective to life in communist Romania under the leadership of Nicolae Ceaușescu with a focus on Christian persecution.

"The world is a dangerous place; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

Albert Einstein

Gripping and Suspenseful
Saving My Assassin proved to be as gripping as you'd expect given the elements listed above.

Nowadays, as a second-year teacher, I rarely feel like I have the time to read for leisure—much less finish a book in one sitting. Outside of breaking for lunch and a quick grocery run, that's exactly what happened with Saving My Assassin. It was that unputdownable.

The story is rather fast-paced. In the first quarter or so of the book, we fly through Virginia's childhood and studies as a law student, then we proceed to progress rapidly through cases that give us insight into her life as a lawyer. While this breaks the flow of events, it works for this book because its purpose is not to celebrate Virginia's personal life and accomplishments but what God worked in and through Virginia.

Answers "Unresolved" Questions
Some questions are raised (in the reader's mind) throughout the novel. Some include: What happened to the assassin after he and Virginia parted ways in Romania long ago? What is his story? What are the circumstances surrounding Virginia's birth? What happened to her family in the end?

Some are addressed in part in the main text of the memoir. Others are answered in the Epilogue, A Final Note from the Author, Afterword, and the Author Q&A.

I highly recommend reading these "extras" as they contribute to our understanding of her story and the stories of the people whose lives she touched.

Demonstrates the Power of Conviction
Conviction is something many of us lack. We want God's salvation and the peace and joy that come with faith in Him, but we aren't willing to follow Him all the way. We don't feel the call to speak up and act on His behalf, or we're too afraid to take a stand for Christ and share the gospel.

Virginia listened to God. She felt the call to stand up for Christians being persecuted under Ceaușescu's regime, and her actions (and the actions of those she defended in court) helped pave the way for religious liberty in Romania.

Yes, her story sounds unbelievable, miraculous even. Yes, not all of us are called to take such a public stand. Yes, Virginia is Virginia, and her testimony is her testimony.

Just because we too choose to follow Christ doesn't mean that we will have the privilege of having God work through us in exactly the same way He did through Virginia. What we should take away from her story is the power of faith and following the conviction given to us. As Virginia says in her memoir, in the moment, she didn't know how the fruits of her efforts would turn out, but she chose to remain steadfast in the faith and continue moving forward. Likewise, we'll never know what we can accomplish through God's power unless we trust in Him and take action.

In the end, it's not about Virginia
While we certainly learn much about Virginia's story and how her efforts helped save many lives, Saving My Assassin is not about Virginia. Saving My Assassin is a powerful testimony on how God works in and through us when we place our faith in him.

"I understand the outer battle . . . But I cannot win this inner battle between my own heart and mind. Lord, you have to win this victory for me. Take away my fear and replace it with a peace that surpasses all understanding. I need your peace, Lord. I need your victory."

Virginia Prodan

A constant theme in Virginia's story is that of God's great power.

Especially moving for me is Virginia's testimony in Chapter 15 on how God's strength helped her love her enemies. On her own, she couldn't love the people who inflicted pain and punishment on her, but she would remember Jesus's words to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).

Now, everything didn't click into place for her from the start. Virginia admits that she struggled a lot with loving her enemies before she could do it from the heart. I appreciate how she includes this detail because  I struggle with prayer, humbling myself, and pursuing God's will over mine. It is encouraging to see how our continued efforts to draw close to God will be rewarded.

Like Virginia, we will go through trials that test our faith. We will find ourselves with the opportunity to take a stand for Christ or deny Him out of fear. Depending on where we are in our walk with Jesus, it may take us years, or it may take us days to reach the level of conviction that Virginia demonstrates in her testimony. That's okay. We just need to keep moving forward, building our relationship with God, and challenging ourselves to overcome the trials before us.


Saving My Assassin is a testimony on the power of faith, the importance of truth, and the redeeming love of Christ. Set in the last years of the communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, it also gives us a glimpse into Christian persecution and the value of freedom—to speak up, to go out, to select your career, to worship. And it raises concerns given the increasing persecution of Christians in other countries that also outwardly support religious freedom.


"I should be dead. Buried in an unmarked grave in Romania. Obviously, I am not. God had other plans."

At just under five feet tall, Virginia Prodan was no match for the towering 6' 10" gun-wielding assassin the Romanian government sent to her office to take her life. It was not the first time her life had been threatened--nor would it be the last.

As a young attorney under Nicolae Ceausescu's brutal communist regime, Virginia had spent her entire life searching for the truth. When she finally found it in the pages of the most forbidden book in all of Romania, Virginia accepted the divine call to defend fellow followers of Christ against unjust persecution in an otherwise ungodly land.

For this act of treason, she was kidnapped, beaten, tortured, placed under house arrest, and came within seconds of being executed under the orders of Ceausescu himself. How Virginia not only managed to elude her enemies time and again, but how she also helped expose the appalling secret that would ultimately lead to the demise of Ceausescu's evil empire is one of the most extraordinary stories ever told.


How will you go out and make a difference in someone's life this week?

Publication Info
  • Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan
  • Published by Tyndale House
  • On June 7, 2016
  • Genres: ChristianMemoir
  • Pages: 304 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
  • N/A
  • Mention of kissing
  • Violence (not graphic)
  • Persecution

5 Reasons to Watch War Room with the Family

Monday, April 3, 2017
Back when War Room first came out, I had mixed feelings about the premise. This sounds like another cheesy romance drama in which the couple learns the power of faith to overcome any trial in an unbelievably short amount of time.

In many ways, this is another cheesy romance drama because that's exactly what happens. It's the elements added to the mix of drama that makes this movie worth watching.

Following are five reasons to watch War Room with the family.

Family Friendly
As more of my close friends get married, I begin to think more about what I would be okay watching with a younger audience. Unlike many secular romance films, the focus of War Room is not on the romantic drama or the specific individuals involved. It's clear that there is a higher power at work here.

The film also doesn't contain inappropriate content for children. (See the content rating below for more details.)

Miss Clara
Whenever Miss Clara appeared on the screen, my family and I knew we were in for some laughs. She is a little woman with a fierce spirit and strong faith. I love her faith for the Lord. Her war room and tips on starting a prayer life inspired me to start a prayer journal.

I can easily see Miss Clara becoming a family favorite. She's certainly my favorite character!

Character Development
Though War Room initially portrays a dysfunctional family, it's clear from the beginning that this isn't a good situation and that something needs to change (and will change). Both Elizabeth and Tony have their own issues to work out individually before their relationship can change; it's powerful to see the transformation that faith works in their lives and subsequently their relationship. The scenes with their daughter at the end are especially heartwarming.

Good Morals
War Room portrays good morals that I would want to instill in a younger audience. Some of these values include the importance of respecting your partner, being there for your family, having a good work ethic, and meeting with a mentor figure for guidance.

Demonstrates the Power of Prayer
Lastly, War Room demonstrates the power of prayer. While some of the scenes may seem out there (such as the one where Miss Clara commands the thief to lay down his weapon in Jesus's name), one consistent theme in the movie is the significance of having a strong prayer life.

Along with this theme comes the truth that we cannot do anything on our own. We cannot create a change in someone else's life on our own. In the end, our peace comes from God, and our requests need to be made known to God. I saw somewhere that the times we think we don't have enough time to pray are the times we most need to pray, and this idea is supported in War Room.


War Room is an inspiring, heartwarming film that that will encourage believers to strengthen their prayer life and to reconsider their relationships with loved ones in light of Scripture. This is a film that I want to share with loved ones because of all the reasons listed above and because I don't want them to miss out on the message of the power of prayer and faith to work a radical transformation in our lives.


With great jobs, a beautiful daughter and a dream house, the Jordans seem to have it all. Appearances can be deceiving, however, as husband Tony flirts with temptation and wife Elizabeth becomes increasingly bitter, crumbling under the strain of a failing marriage. Their lives take an unexpected turn for the better when Elizabeth meets her newest client, Miss Clara, who encourages the couple to find happiness through prayer.


What does your war room (prayer life) look like? Or, what changes would you like to make?

Publication Info
  • Directed by Alex Kendrick
  • Produced by Affirm Films
  • Genres: ChristianDrama
  • Run time: 120 min.
  • Released 2015
  • N/A

The Idiot by Elif Batuman ⇉ A Twist on the Bildungsroman + Giveaway!!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Books about college life are difficult to come by. A college story with a title that draws to mind a Russian classic and which features multicultural characters? Less so. These elements drew me to The Idiot by Elif Batuman.

The Idiot is the type of novel that I appreciated more as a college student when I wanted to be super intellectual and, like the protagonist Selin, was in the process of discovering my identity.

Despite the use of first person narration, the simple, straightforward narration and intellectual tone gives the reader distance from happenings in the novel. It also suggests that Selin is trying to gain distance and thus a larger perspective on her life. This makes sense given that she is a freshman at a prestigious university and in the process of working through new emotions. She is essentially in a foreign world.

I like how The Idiot features a more intellectual take on college life. It captures the college experience for many students: it encompasses none of the extremes, but there's a sense of falling in a void with no clear way out. Like many students, Selin struggles to find, or create, an exit, and she will eventually come to a conclusion that will make the reader reflect on their own life story up to this point.

What I didn't like so much is partially the result of my own coming-of-age story. Having gone through the college experience, I used to be in a similar position to Selin. I even went through the confusion of first love there (though a couple years later than Selin). The answers I found were very different, and so the last lines of The Idiot felt like a void had opened, sucking in everything that had just taken place and making me wonder what just happened.

While The Idiot didn't end up being for me, it was definitely an interesting reading experience. I can see this novel generating good discussion, especially in circles that have more knowledge and appreciation for the nuances in literary styles and literary influences.

Would I read another work by Elif Batuman? I wouldn't be opposed to it. Batuman is a masterful writer, and I look forward to seeing what she presents to us next!

A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself.

The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.

At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan's friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin's summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.


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Which classic story do you consider a mirror to your own life? (Or, what was your most memorable experience freshman year?)

Publication Info
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Published by Penguin Press
  • On March 14, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 448 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
  • N/A
  • start

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.


Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy of The Idiot to give away to one lucky winner on the continental USA!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Logan ⇉ A Fitting End to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine

Monday, March 27, 2017

With what is likely Hugh Jackman’s last on-screen appearance as Wolverine, Logan does not disappoint. As the last mutants struggle against a world that continues to reject them, this film is both gritty and highly emotional.

God Gave Us Easter and My First Book of Prayers ⇉ Celebrate Easter with a #Giveaway of Julian's Easter Surprise + Plush Bunny

Saturday, March 25, 2017

With April coming around the corner, Easter books are filling the shelves. Some feature bunnies and light-hearted Easter stories. Others features popular nursery stories. Still others tell the story of Jesus and the Resurrection.

Put Me in the Story has put together a collection of Easter books that feature all of these themes along with some gift set options. I wish I could share them all with you on the blog, but it would result in a lengthy review. To view them all, click here.

Today, I have the pleasure of reviewing two of these books an sharing with you a giveaway of Julian's Easter Surprise gift set (featuring the book and an adorable plush bunny).

Disclaimer: I received copies of the books for review; no other compensation was provided. All thoughts expressed are my own honest opinion.

God Gave Us Easter
by Lisa Tawn Bergren, art by Laura J. Bryant

Genres: Children's Book

My Thoughts: In simple words and illustrations, God Gave Us Easter explains the story of Easter and how God sent Jesus on Earth so that whoever believes in him receives life. It doesn't go into detail on Jesus's life, death, and resurrection. However, it is the perfect introduction to Easter themes—in particular, God's love for us and His desire to spend eternity with us.

The texture of this book is soft and comfortable to hold. If I were a child, I would love holding this book for the feeling, and I could spend hours turning the pages to look at the pictures. I loved animals as a child, and the illustrations are beautiful. You can have fun with your child counting the number of eggs you can find scattered throughout the pages and looking for places your child's name pops up. Put Me in the Story books always have fun ways of incorporating your child's name in the stories!

This is a book that I will be keeping for my future children.


"God loved us so much he wanted us to always be with him too. That’s why God knew he’d need to give us Easter.” This personalized edition of God Gave Us Easter will take your child on an adventure through the Arctic to learn how Easter came to be.

In this story, your child will become the main character, a curious polar bear cub, while Papa Bear explains that Easter is more than egg hunts and bunnies, and even better than Christmas! Personalize either the boy or girl version of God Gave Us Easter with a child’s name, photo, and a special dedication message.
God Gave Us Easter will gently guide young minds and explain all the questions surrounding this very special day of the year.

My First Book of Prayers
by Melody Carlson, art by Judith Pfeiffer

Genres: Children's Book

My Thoughts: My First Book of Prayers features 41 short and simple prayers to get young children started. Prayers cover a wide range of situations from waking and sleeping to gratitude for different gifts (like parents, sun, and food) to times of sadness and repentance . . . and that's to name a few.

I like this book not only because the prayers are short and simple but because they rhyme and are easy to remember. I can easily see parents integrating this book of prayers into their child's everyday life to teach them how God plays a role in every aspect of our lives and to remind them to come to God in prayer in any situation.

A good companion to this book would be a journal to show children how God answers our prayers.


Help your little one grow in faith with a personalized edition of Baby's First Book of Prayers. This collection of blessings features simple, illustrated rhymes about the everyday moments that make life so special. Teach your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew to greet the new day, offer thanks for friends, and settle down to sleep with a grateful heart. Your little blessing will build trust in God as they learn to approach God with each new day


What is your favorite Easter tradition?


Thanks to the publisher, U.S. readers (18 years or older) have the opportunity to win an Easter gift set to keep for yourself or to gift to a loved one. The giveaway runs until Mar. 20th at 11:59pm EST.

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Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller ⇉ A Fascinating and Beautifully Complex New World + #Giveaway!!

Thursday, March 23, 2017
I love books that feature political intrigue because of the potential for complex world building. The fact that much this novel takes place in space is an added bonus.


Fast-Paced, Thrilling Action
Shadow Run is a fast-paced, action-packed read filled with suspense and intrigue. As soon as you think the characters are safe, you can expect something else to happen.

I love the detail and thought put into the action scenes. I could see the events play out before me like a movie. Time and time again, I found myself wishing that this book was on the big screen, so I could enjoy it alongside friends and family. That said, nothing can replace a good book and the freedom to envision the world yourself.

Complex Characters
All the members of the Kaitan Heritage (Qole's ship) carry their own baggage. They have pasts that they wish to keep hidden. The characters on the ship are all interesting in their own right; I wish that more time was spent developing them. (Which can be hard in a book with two MC's narrating.) As this is a first book in a series, hopefully we'll have more time to get to know them!

World Building You Can See and Hear
I appreciate the time that Strickland and Miller have spent developing the world. Longtime readers of the blog know my deep love for books with carefully crafted world. I can tell that the authors know their world. It's apparent in details that bring the environment to life, in the distinction of the characters' dress, and in the dialogue (one of the more difficult elements to nail).

Nev and Qole will switch back into familiar language when they're emotional, and this language makes them sound like entirely different people. I especially enjoyed seeing Nev lapse into formal speech when he's nervous. It's a sharp contrast to Qole's rougher, more common speech and highlights the disparity in their backgrounds.

Political Intricacies
Whenever politics come into play, I look for power struggles, hidden agendas, and unresolved conflicts. While it was considerably lacking compared to the action sequences, the political intricacies of Shadow Run have more depth compared to most YA novels I've read. We get a good look at the evil hiding underneath the glamor of the court. And while it's pretty predictable that there is corruption underlying the court, we do get to see some good (which I wish had more of a chance to shine even if only through flashbacks via Nev).

While the political intricacies ended up being predictable, there are complications that make you feel for the different parties involved (though some more than others). I hope to see the complexities further developed in later books. My especial hope is that there the villainous figures in this book have a chance to show the potential good that is in them.

Star Wars Vibe

Destructor blades. Plasma guns. A ship in space. Being chased by destructor ships . . . among other things I shall not name because spoilers.

This wasn't an exact replica of Star Wars (because Star Wars is Star Wars and Shadow Run is Shadow Run), but there were countless moments that did have me comparing this to the world of Star Wars. Another reason why I would love to see this novel on the big screen.


Fast-Paced Romance
I can understand an early physical attraction. What's concerning is the rapidity with which Nev and Qole find themselves basing important decisions on their attraction to the other party and the fact that they want to trust the other. For example, we later learn that Qole pretty much let Nev on the ship against the advice of trusted crew members because she found him attractive (the sidenote being that her brother had met him and recommended him—which is her best argument and should have come first).

Qole and Nev are both leaders. They're in positions where their actions influence many lives; they should not be letting their emotions influence their decisions. Sure, Qole is seventeen and Nev seems to be in his early twenties. They're hormonal teenagers in our world. In their world, however, they've been adults for a long time.

While I wanted to support the two, their relationship moved much too quickly and even overshadowed some of the other elements of the plot. Given that this is a series, there is plenty of time for the two to actually get to know each other and let their romance grow alongside their friendship. It would have been better to tone down the romance in this first novel.

Side Characters on the Side
The crew of the Katain Heritage is filled with likable characters. I would have liked to see more of them, but they fall on the wayside after Qole's POV is introduced. This was disappointing as I had enjoyed seeing Nev and Arjan interact in the first chapter and was hoping to see more of the supporting cast.

Hopefully they have more of a chance to shine in the next book. (As well as some of the characters with whom they interact. We never really got to see much of Nev's people.)

First-Person Alternating POVs
Longtime readers of the blog know that I'm not a fan of first-person alternating POVs. It makes it difficult to track who is speaking and is just overall confusing. There were times in Shadow Run when I lost track of whose chapter it was because of the alternating first-person narration.


Despite my complaints with the novel, this is definitely a novel that was hard to put down. Strickland and Miller are well-versed in keeping a plot moving forward through. I felt like I had a movie playing in my head as I was reading. I wouldn't recommend this one to younger readers because of the mature content (see notes below), but otherwise if you're a fan of space adventures, political intrigue, high-packed action sequences, and magic-like powers, then you'll enjoy this one.

In fact, if you live in the continental USA, then you're eligible to win a copy of Shadow Run today on the blog! For giveaway details, keep scrolling down.


Nev has just joined the crew of the starship Kaitan Heritage as the cargo loader. His captain, Qole, is the youngest-ever person to command her own ship, but she brooks no argument from her crew of orphans, fugitives, and con men. Nev can’t resist her, even if her ship is an antique.

As for Nev, he’s a prince, in hiding on the ship. He believes Qole holds the key to changing galactic civilization, and when her cooperation proves difficult to obtain, Nev resolves to get her to his home planet by any means necessary.

But before they know it, a rival royal family is after Qole too, and they’re more interested in stealing her abilities than in keeping her alive.

Nev’s mission to manipulate Qole becomes one to save her, and to survive, she’ll have to trust her would-be kidnapper. He may be royalty, but Qole is discovering a deep reservoir of power—and stars have mercy on whoever tries to hurt her ship or her crew.


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If you were on a space adventure, which fictional character would you add to your crew and why? (Feel free to name one from any book, but below are some choices you can pick from this novel.)

  • Nev: a handsome prince from an old influential family (whose talents shall remain hidden for now)
  • Qole: talented young ship pilot with a Shadow ability she considers a curse
  • Basra: androgynous figure with a mysterious past; a whiz at negotiating trades
  • Arjan: older brother to Qole, talented pilot in his own right but has his own fears
  • Telu: gifted hacker
  • Eton: a bodyguard; talented fighter and cook with an arsenal of weapons

Publication Info
  • Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller
  • Published by Delacorte Press
  • On March 21, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
Series: Kaitan Chronicles
  • Shadow Run
  • Untitled
  • Some language (much replaced with words specific to the world)
  • Making out, hints at sexual relations (clandestine affairs that took place in the past for some characters)
  • Homo-erotic scenes (primarily because of Basra's androgynous character; because no one is sure of Basra's gender, Basra is referred to as a her)
  • Torture (involving visible guts)
  • Violence (lots of blood, dismemberment, and death)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.


Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy of Shadow Run to give away to one lucky winner on the continental USA! To enter, follow the directions in the form below.

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Six Reasons to Watch Your Name ⇉ A Story That is More Than Body Switching, Teen Angst, and First Love

Monday, March 20, 2017

What if you were tired of your life and yearned for something else? What if you made a wish on a comet and woke up in someone else's body? What if, in the process, you developed romantic feelings for someone living far, far away?

What if?

In his latest film Kimi no Na wa. (Translated: Your Name), Makoto Shinkai explores the emotional struggles and growths of Mitsuha, a small town girl, and Taki, a Tokyo city boy, as they adapt to life switching back and forth between each others' lives.

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black ⇉ Aliens, Mecha Knights, and Unlikely Heroes

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Ninth City Burning has many elements that I enjoy in a good book, least of which is an interesting plot. Aliens, war, and unlikely heroes come to save the world? Count me in!


Detailed World Building
Reading this novel has me constantly amazed by the level of detail that J. Patrick Black has put into this novel. Few books go into the world as in-depth as Black has with the world of Ninth City Burning. I felt like I was right there with the characters experiencing the world with them.

If this book contained the procedure manual for the world, I'm sure someone could easily recreate it with little additional guidance. (Though I wouldn't be surprised if Black had the complete manual lying around somewhere. It's clear that he's very familiar with this world. This book has footnotes—on some pages; don't worry, you don't have to read all of them. But they are interesting and clever!)

Complex Characters
Ninth City Burning is narrated alternately by several different characters as appropriate. Each new one comes in as the time comes for us to see another part of the world; as each new narrator jumps in, so does a new layer of complexity—for the story and for the character. It's rare that I see characters come to life as they did in this novel. It's clear that Black knows his characters as well as he does his world.

I won't specific each narrator or the exact number because I do want to leave some surprises, and knowing who the narrators are ahead of time may spoil something!

"Archaic" References 
Imagine a world where I♡NY, Good Cop / Bad Cop, and Star Wars references have lost their original meaning but continue to float around waiting for the observant reader to spot these relics of another time. Have you ever wondered what future societies would think about our time period? Black gives us a peek into how a post-apocalyptic society at war may view elements of our culture. Such references help break tension (at least, for the reader) at important moments. I myself am partial to the Star Wars references.


Extremely Verbose
Given all the world building, this novel is rather verbose. Given my experience reading classics for which authors were paid by the word, I actually don't really mind the text-heavy nature of this work. It's refreshing in a market where books have cut back heavily on the world building in favor of fast-moving, action-driven plots. However, some readers may have a hard time getting past the first two "acts" (parts) of this novel to the actual war front.

Multiple POVs in the First Person
The book features several different points of views all in the first person. This made it difficult for me to sort the characters in my head until I became better acquainted with them. With multiple POVs, I prefer for the story to be told in the third person as it makes it easier to keep track of the characters.

Furthermore, while narrating a novel through multiple POVs is especially appropriate for world building in a sci-fi fantasy novel, it means sacrificing character development. The more a novel jumps around from character to character, the spend less time we spend with each given character. A good bit of time can pass before we return to one character, so I had some catching up to do each time I became reacquainted with a character. That said, I do acknowledge that this allows us to fast forward through parts of their stories that may not have been so entertaining.


Ninth City Burning is an imaginative, complex debut from J. Patrick Black. Few books have brought a world and its inhabitants to life as Ninth City Burning has for me. I very much enjoyed the time that I spent in this world. (So much, in fact, that this review is actually coming a bit later than I had anticipated—I really wanted to take my time with this one.) While I would love to spend more time discussing the story, this is a novel that you need to read to appreciate the complexity of the world and story. I definitely recommend getting this one if you enjoy a good sci-fi fantasy with good world building and well-developed characters.

I'm looking forward to seeing what J. Patrick Black sends our way next!


We never saw them coming.

Entire cities disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but dust and rubble. When an alien race came to make Earth theirs, they brought with them a weapon we had no way to fight, a universe-altering force known as thelemity. It seemed nothing could stop it—until we discovered we could wield the power too.

Five hundred years later, the Earth is locked in a grinding war of attrition. The talented few capable of bending thelemity to their will are trained in elite military academies, destined for the front lines. Those who refused to support the war have been exiled to the wilds of a ruined Earth.

But the enemy's tactics are changing, and Earth's defenders are about to discover this centuries-old war has only just begun. As a terrible new onslaught looms, heroes will rise from unlikely quarters, and fight back.


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You can also read a guest post by J. Patrick Black on the blog on his "Top 5 (admittedly impractical) Survival Tips for an Alien Invasion."


500 years in the future, what relic of our culture would you like to remain?

Publication Info
  • Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black
  • Published by Ace
  • On September 6, 2016
  • Genres: Science Fiction
  • Pages: 482 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
  1. Ninth City Burning
  2. TBD
  • Violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.