Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Whippersnapper Wednesday: The House of the Scorpion

Matteo Alacran knows he is different than other humans though he doesn't understand why this gives others cause to despise him and treat him as a monster. He knows he is a genetic copy of the greatly feared El Patron, lord of a giant opium operation, so powerful it is in fact it's own country, but Matt does not exactly know what this means for him or his future. With very few people Matt can trust, he must find a way to keep his friends close, but his enemies closer.

The world Matt grows up in is both beautiful and wretched, and he experiences it in a singularly unique way. A world in which, though he is gifted with the finest of things, he is often deeply lonely, and always a prisoner. Escaping Opium proves as difficult as remaining, and very nearly as life threatening. Matt is confronted with many moral dilemmas that leave him questioning everything he thinks he knows, most importantly who he really is or can be.

One of the more realistic dystopian novels I have read, this book brings up so many of the controversies of ethics and consequences of scientific advancement that revolve around the ugly truth of money speaking louder than laws. 

I found the plot and setting intriguing. There were elements that made me disgusted by their nearness to reality, and others that tugged at my emotions in the cause of justice. A slower paced read, heavy on human connections and internal struggles, there is still a good amount of action. The story is neither stale nor boring, but some parts did feel a little long. The characters were interesting contrasts in human nature. From the cruel, to the indifferent, to the kindhearted, we get a glimpse especially of the darker side of humanity with this cast.

A poignant novel that I will not soon forget.

I recieved my copy of this title through a free little library exchange and chose to review it on my own. All thoughts and opinions contained in this post are entirely my own.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Fiction Friday: The Butterfly Code


Aeris Thorne was just looking for a quiet summer. Spending time with her dad, and reconnecting with old friends. Trying to focus on her composing, and practicing for her new position in the New York Philharmonic were the main items on the agenda. Until she met Hunter. Lead scientist at the secretive Phoenix Research Lab for Highly Contagious Diseases, Hunter and his team have everyone in town on edge, and more than one have warned Aeris to stay away from Hunter Cayman, including her father. Is Hunter really dangerous, or is there some other reason everyone wants her to stay away?

When I first started this book, I honestly thought it was going to be rather predictable and I wasn't feeling terribly excited. By chapter three, I was hooked, and my reservations were gone. It wasn't predictable, rather it was fast paced, intelligent, and exciting, much to my delight!

A great mix of science, action, and emotion, the characters are smart, but imperfect. The plot takes an old idea and completely gives it a fresh, modern, scientific edge. The author struck a good balance of employing realistic scientific elements without bogging the story down with complicated concepts. I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't want to give anything away! You'll just have to read it yourself!

Crossing several genre's and age groups, this book has mass appeal. And for those who like to keep the story going, this one does not disappoint, promising more of the mystery still to be solved.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Whippersnapper Wednesday: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

First published in 1932, author Elizabeth Foreman Lewis wrote a compelling story set in 1920's Chungking, China. Young Fu grew up on the farmlands far away from the city. His father's death however leaves his mother in a difficult position to provide for herself and her thirteen year old son. The two begin a new life after she is able to secure her son an apprenticeship with a well known coppersmith. As Young Fu grows in skill and knowledge, not only in his trade, but about the city and life itself, we see the transformation of boy to man. 

Though written in and about a bygone era, this story is easy to get lost in. The descriptions of city life and the people Young Fu encounters are vibrant, full of the feel of the setting. It becomes easy to see life through Young Fu's eyes, even almost able to smell, taste and feel his world. 

A fantastic title for young readers, but easily enjoyed by adult readers as well, this Newbery Medal winner is timeless in the lessons of coming of age.

I found my copy of this title in a free little library exchange. I have chosen to review it and all thoughts and opinions contained in this post are entirely my own.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Travel Tuesday: The Sunday Philosophy Club

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Take a trip to Edinburgh with all it's charms.

When Isabel Dalhousie witnesses a young man fall to his death from the upper floor of Usher Hall, she is both brokenhearted at seeing such a young life snuffed out, and not entirely convinced it was just an accident. Not being able to resist a curiosity, Isabel takes it upon herself to try and dig up any possible connections that may have been missed. 

I was looking forward to this book, and dove in readily. Very soon though, I found the plot somewhat thin, lacking the deeper hook I was desiring. I stuck it out, and though I did like several of the characters, Cat, Jamie, and Grace, I had a difficult time developing a real affection for Isabel, not that she didn't have some charming qualities. Perhaps it is just me, but she came across to me as more of a busybody rather than a sleuth. 

And perhaps I am way off here, but I felt jilted that at no point in the book do we get more than passing references to The Sunday Philosophy Club. I had been under the impression that this would play a large roll in the book, perhaps undertaking the mystery as a group effort, so I was greatly disappointed that we didn't even get to meet the other members.

I finished the book with an overall sense of general frustration. I had really hoped it to be smart and clever and quick paced, but it fell flat in my opinion. However, others have given this book great praise, so maybe they are getting something from it I missed, or perhaps I just wasn't in the right frame of mind while reading it. 

I have learned this was the first in a whole series, and I'm reluctant to dive into more of them, but a part of me is also curious to see if the series improves and grows on me. Perhaps there is a bit of Isabel Dalhousie in me after all.

Rating: GA - General Adult readers

AWBB Points:  !      1/5

I purchased this book marked down from a large retailer and decided to review it on my own. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Pearl of China

Masterfully written, Anchee Min pulls the reader into the story and transports them directly into a time and country full of people as rich in character as they are diverse. Pointedly and unapologetically, indeed at times even graphically, realistic in her depictions of both the incredible beauty as well as the tragic poverty and suffering of a people and country under transformation, she seems to flawlessly sew together a vast spectrum of flaws, virtues, and vulnerabilities into a remarkable tapestry of human nature.

Following the life story of author and humanitarian, Pearl S. Buck, Min gives us a peek into her life through the eyes of a fictional friend who serves as a compilation of several important women who loved and supported Buck. We get to know Buck and her family through the experiences of a native, who not only watches but lives through many changes and challenges including an abusive arranged marriage and the rise of communism.

This book made me fall in love with China and with Pearl Buck. It motivated me to track down a beautiful 1931 edition of her most famous work, The Good Earth. I am waiting for a kid free weekend to disappear into that one.

Considering that Ms. Min's work, in the same path as Mrs. Buck's herself, has been banned in the country depicted in both of their writing, it is my opinion that Min must have done a pretty good job telling not only Buck's story, but simultaneously that of many in such desperate conditions that they lack either the ability or freedom to share their own.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Mindful Monday: Twelve Years a Slave

This powerful account of Solomon Northrop's personal story more than once brought up a lump in my throat and tears to my eyes. 

Kidnapped and sold, Solomon finds his exasperated insistence of his rightful freedom brings him only more punishment. Never giving up on trying to find a way to escape or get word to his friends in New York to beg for their intervention and rescue, he finds himself on plantations deep in Louisiana.

A resident of Louisiana for thirteen years myself, three of which we lived less than 40 miles from the location where Northrop was enslaved for twelve years I think brought an entirely closer bond to his story. Having been crippled myself by the overwhelmingly oppressive summer heat and humidity, I can only barely imagine life for those who day after day worked past the point of heat exhaustion, year after year. I had no trouble smelling the great pines, the soil in the humid fields, the particular stale mud of the bayou swamps, and this gave me an almost immersive experience while reading this account. 

There are some who might argue that this autobiography is no longer relevant, that it is purely historical in value. I would heartily disagree. This man's experience is as important for individuals to read about and meditate on as it was when it was published in 1853, in some ways even more so in our era. 

It saddens me that nearly everywhere, too many of the attitudes that ruled and caused so much pain and suffering 150 years ago, haven't changed enough. There may be better laws to protect an individuals rights, but it is scary how deeply entrenched the racial divide still dwells. One of the things that affected me deeply throughout was how generous this man who suffered so greatly still was in his portrayal of his situation and oppressors. He always assigns them respect, even when they clearly are despicable human beings. That is true integrity.

This book should be on every high school reading list. It should be discussed at length. It should be central to the dialogue that is taught as American History.

I downloaded my electronic copy for free from I chose to review it and share my thoughts and opinions herein.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Fiction Friday: Dressed for Death

A week at a luxurious estate in full Regency glam and glitz takes a deadly turn and leads amateur sleuth Drew Fartherling down a treacherous track in search of answers. Putting those he loves at risk and calling into question his own instincts, Drew gets far more than he bargained for during his stay at Winteroak House.

A welcome break from some of the heavier and intense titles I've been reading, I eased through this book in a day and found it satisfyingly mysterious while allowing me to still relax. The characters were charming, and the plot was enticing, swift, and well crafted throughout. While I had my suspicions, a few of which turned out to be at least partially true, I was also equally surprised by several twists and turns up to the very end. 

I enjoyed following Farthing as he struggles internally and comes to seriously doubt his own perceptions and abilities. I felt it gave the genre a refreshing angle.

Having not read previous Drew Fartherling mysteries, I found that it was not critical to enjoy this title. No doubt, followers of the series will not be disappointed. A wonderful title to read on vacation or travel, or when one needs to unwind.

I recieved a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for the purpose of  honest review. All thoughts and opinions in this post are entirely my own.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Today we are going back to 1850. The year which saw one of the most abominable laws passed in the history of the United States, that being The Fugitive Slave Act.

It is during this time that we are introduced to the cast of characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin. According to the author, while the characters themselves are fictional, every experience they face are based on very real events told to the author by the individuals who suffered them, by eyewitnesses, or credible third parties.

On one hand I am ashamed that it took me until I was 34 years old to read this integral, historical treasure. As sad as it is, it was and still is equally necessary. On the other hand, I wonder if the powerful lessons contained within would have reached as deeply into my heart. Even if they hadn't been able to impact as fully, I believe this should be required reading, which says a lot because I don't support a whole lot of required reading.

This book hurt to read, as any truly valuable literary tool should. It hurts 150 years later when, although slavery in theory is outlawed, there is still so much hate that holds people captive. There are still humans in this country and throughout the world who suffer similar and worse conditions because of the color of their skin, their religion, their place of origin, or their disabilities. 

We see the news articles, web feeds, and viral videos everywhere. In this manner it almost becomes celebrated rather than repugnant and entertainment instead of evil.

It is all too easy to see in these pages modern day sufferers. Homeless or poor individuals, migrant or illegal residents, and sadly those with communication disorders who cannot speak for themselves, especially children, who are rarely listened to even when they can speak well. 

It is the least of my responsibilities to learn from these pieces of history, to teach my children well how to look upon and respect and treat with kindness all persons, because we are all humans and deserve as much. 

Acts 10: 34, 35  34 At this Peter began to speak, and he said: “Now I truly understand that God is not partial, 35but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Whippersnapper Wednesday: Everything You Need to Ace American History In One Big Fat Notebook

Ok, so this post is technically an introduction to this book. I have scanned through it, stopping and reading through specific portions that I was especially interested in seeing how they were addressed. 

So far, I am liking what I see. 

As a homeschooling family with kids several years apart, I really like to combine and streamline as much as possible. Some might call me lazy, but I prefer to think of this as homeschool life hacking. I do not see the merit in teaching one kid the same thing over and over and then having to rinse and repeat with the next kid and the next. Instead, I have chosen to wait teaching certain subjects until such time as my bigger kids can both comprehend and learn it at the same time. 

American History is one of those subjects. While both of the kids have individually investigated aspects of American History as they have had questions or curiosities, as a central subject matter, we have waited to dive in deeply. So, guess what is on the homeschool menu for this coming year?

Yep. Real life, in depth American History. 

I am very excited to have this study guide to add to our growing library! 

The format of this Notebook is perfect for acting as the general outline, and giving us sufficient info on the basics while easily allowing us to use other books or materials to dig deeper into particular areas of interest.

I think the colorful breakup, maps, key points, and chapter wrap ups help keep monotony at bay.

My goal is to write another review post after we have finished, including thoughts and favorites from the kids as well. 

I recieved a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of review. All thoughts an opinions expressed herein have been entirely my own.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Mindful Monday: The 8 Minute Writing Habit

So I dug my head out of history books long enough to read this wonderfully helpful writing guide! 

I bought it as an ebook  on Amazon after reading a sample. It is a quick read with a lot of valuable tips, and really motivated me to up my writing a whole eight minutes!

Just kidding. 
Sort of.

I did start at eight minutes, but each day, I have kept going way past the eight minute mark. I'm on day four of the eight day challenge, and I have gotten more written (outside of blog posts) than in a very long time.

This is a great book for beginners, busy, or downright lazy writers, or anyone stuck in a writing funk. Even the busiest of us can scrape together eight minutes. (Just take your laptop,or your phone which you probably already have with you to the bathroom, trust me, you'll get your eight minutes in.) It's amazing how fast those few minutes fly by, and once you get going, it feels awesome and you won't want to stop!

The one thing I have found does NOT work for me that she recommends is writing in the morning. I am the most opposite personality of a morning person you can get. My gears do not turn in the AM. I can consume coffee, barely button my four year old's clothes, and manage to find the bathroom successfully. 

Come dusk, my brain becomes alive, and all those creative juices start carving their own paths. I am a hardcore night owl, and no amount of furious morning typing is going to change that. That's okay though. That's how I'm wired and always have been, so I have learned to work with it, and you know what? It's working for me. This book still has awesome pointers that I have been able to implement into my evolving writing routine. Yay!

With tons of helpful links to other resources, Leonelle helps you carry your momentum to the next stage. Seriously considering buying a few more of her related titles, especially at these bargain prices.

Get your own copy here!


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