Backpacks and Bra Straps by Savannah Grace

Backpacks and Bra Straps (Sihpromatum #2)Backpacks and Bra Straps by Savannah Grace

Savannah Grace’s best selling, award winning saga of her family’s four-year-long backpacking adventure continues. “Backpacks and Bra Straps” picks up where “I Grew My Boobs in China” leaves off, offering insights into how family dynamics are affected by such intensive togetherness as well as a candid, intriguing look at world-wide travel and the camaraderie of the backpacking community, told from a perceptive young woman’s viewpoint.

This second instalment of her Sihpromatum series takes us to Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, through Western China and Tibet, and finally, to watch the sun rise over Mount Everest in Nepal. Savannah’s initial reluctance to travel and the personal growth she documents distinguishes this raw tale from most travel memoirs.

See website for photos and more info… www.sihpromatum.com

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this second volume of Savannah Grace’s fantastic recount of her and her family’s travels around the world, we get a much more personal and up-close view of the family dynamics and spirit amongst her group.

Whereas the first book primarily focused on young Savannah’s emotions and experiences, this one gives us a broader range, and written from a more experienced and mature point of view the story flows even better yet is still ripe with Savannah’s ever present charm and personality.

The humour in this book is honest and revealing and laugh out loud funny at times. I enjoyed listening to her tell, in her own words, about the many experiences she and her family had–including some trying times that made them all weary and exhausted.

One thing is for sure, Savannah was made for adventure and her indomitable spirit will keep her on the move and hopefully be bringing us more books in the future.

If you have not met Savannah Grace yet, you should do so, and if you have not read her books yet, what are you waiting for? They may just prompt you to live on the edge and seek out your own adventures.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All opinions are my own.

Draw-A-Saurus by James Silvani

Draw-A-Saurus: Everything You Need to Know to Draw Your Favorite DinosaursDraw-A-Saurus: Everything You Need to Know to Draw Your Favorite Dinosaurs by James Silvani

This in-depth yet accessible dinosaur drawing guide combines humor, creativity, and the latest dino research to show artists young and old how to breathe life into drawings of their prehistoric favorites.

Prehistoric Pencil Power!
Even though they lived some 65 million years ago, dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles continue to rule today. From movies to comics and cartoons, these ancient, giant beasts are everywhere you turn. Of course, who wants to just read about or watch these dinos when you can learn how to use pencils, pens, markers, and more to draw your very own?

Cartoonist James Silvani combines easy-to-follow art exercises with the latest, greatest dino-facts to help you create fun and cool dinosaur doodles all by yourself. With lessons on old favorites like T-rex and stegosaurus, as well as lesser-known (but still awesome) creatures like the massive argentinosaurus, Draw-a-Saurus has everything the dinosaur fan could ever ask for (outside of their very own pet dino!)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great book for kids (and the rest of us) to learn how to draw dinosaurs. My middle son loves dinosaurs with a passion and this book helped him learn step-by-step how to draw them.

What I liked about this book vs. the usual learn to draw books, is that the author took the time to make it fun for the intended audience. Rather than just lacing it through with boring dinosaur facts as most do, he made it fun with little facts and quips and some silly pictures.

The drawings are easy to emulate and in no time, my son was coming up with drawings that looked just like those in the book.

This would be great for a child’s art class or as a gift. If you have someone in your family who loves dinos, you can’t go wrong with this book.

This review is based off of a free copy from Blogging for Books, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and no other compensation was received.

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

The Night Garden: A NovelThe Night Garden: A Novel by Lisa Van Allen

For fans of Sarah Addison Allen, Aimee Bender, and Alice Hoffman, The Night Garden is a luminous novel of love, forgiveness, and the possibilities that arise when you open your heart.
 
Nestled in the bucolic town of Green Valley in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies something remarkable: a wild maze of colorful gardens that reaches beyond the imagination. Local legend says that a visitor can gain answers to life’s most difficult problems simply by walking through its lush corridors.

Yet the labyrinth has never helped Olivia Pennywort, the garden’s beautiful and enigmatic caretaker. She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harboring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But when her childhood best friend, Sam Van Winkle, returns to the valley, Olivia begins to question her safe, isolated world and wonders if she at last has the courage to let someone in. As she and Sam reconnect, Olivia faces a difficult question: Is the garden maze that she has nurtured all of her life a safe haven or a prison?

Praise for Lisa Van Allen’s The Wishing Thread
 
“Reader to reader, knitter to knitter: You’re going to love this book.”—Debbie Macomber

“Whimsical . . . great for fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman.”Library Journal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So many things to love about this book, it is hard to know where to begin. This story begins ordinarily enough, but as the pages turn, you find yourself getting further invested in a story where magic blooms just as the flowers do in the garden that is central to the story.

The characters that Lisa Van Allen creates in this novel are the kind that you will not soon forget. Long after finishing the story they will stay by your side, as if they have become old friends.

Magical realism is not always my favourite thing in stories, as sometimes it goes so over the top that it is difficult to relate to, but in this case, the author struck a beautiful balance of friendship, warmth and nature-based magic that made this not only enjoyable, but a beautiful way to transport yourself from one place into another.

This is an excellent story, is beautifully written and very original. A wonderful rainy day read.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out this book yet, please do so. It’s an excellent read.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

Bones Never Lie (Temperance Brennan, #17)Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

In the acclaimed author’s thrilling new novel, Brennan is at the top of her game in a battle of wits against the most monstrous adversary she has ever encountered.

Unexpectedly called in to the Charlotte PD’s Cold Case Unit, Dr. Temperance Brennan wonders why she’s been asked to meet with a homicide cop who’s a long way from his own jurisdiction. The shocking answer: Two child murders, separated by thousands of miles, have one thing in common—the killer. Years ago, Anique Pomerleau kidnapped and murdered a string of girls in Canada, then narrowly eluded capture. It was a devastating defeat for her pursuers, Brennan and police detective Andrew Ryan. Now, as if summoned from their nightmares, Pomerleau has resurfaced in the United States, linked to victims in Vermont and North Carolina. When another child is snatched, the reign of terror promises to continue—unless Brennan can rise to the challenge and make good on her second chance to stop a psychopath.

But Brennan will have to draw her bitter ex-partner out of exile, keep the local police and feds from one another’s throats, and face more than just her own demons as she stalks the deadliest of predators into the darkest depths of madness.

In Bones Never Lie, Kathy Reichs never fails to satisfy readers looking for psychological suspense that’s more than skin-deep.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kathy Reichs, master of forensic anthropology and the incomplete sentence that actually makes sense, is back with her latest Tempe Brennan novel.

Although this book is still quite procedural, I thought it was a lot better than the last few. Tempe seems to have grown into her own a lot more, showing emotion for the state of her mother and her possible rekindled romance with Ryan.

Without spoilers, this book is a wilder ride than we have seen from this author for a good long while. The mystery is interesting, appeals to the heart and keeps you guessing for the duration of the story. The ending was not the tidy fix that we see in a lot of these novels and I thought it was a nice change.

Tempe has the same brash attitude that she had in past novels, but it seemed as though this time, her actions were planned a lot more cautiously and carefully. There was plenty of time for Birdie the cat to make an appearance or ten (love him) and some unique and unexpected twists to this story capped it off.

Overall I thought this was a good book to get this series back on track and I am looking forward to the next one.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Botticelli’s Bastard

Botticelli's BastardBotticelli’s Bastard by Stephen Maitland-Lewis

Art restorer Giovanni Fabrizzi is haunted by an unsigned renaissance portrait. Obsessed to learn the truth of its origin, he becomes increasingly convinced the painting could be the work of one of history’s greatest artists, which if true, would catapult its value to the stratosphere. But in learning of the painting’s past, he is faced with a dilemma. He believes the portrait was stolen during the greatest art heist in history — the Nazi plunder of European artwork. If true and a surviving relative of the painting’s rightful owner were still alive, Giovanni, in all good conscience, would have to give up the potential masterpiece. His obsession with the portrait puts a strain on his new marriage, and his son thinks his father has lost his mind for believing an unremarkable, unsigned painting could be worth anyone’s attention. Regardless, Giovanni persists in his quest of discovery and exposes far more truth than he ever wanted to know.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Botticelli’s Bastard” is not your typical dry and boring historical/art world fiction novel. It begins with a character wondering if he is losing his mind, and for a long time you aren’t sure if he is or if he is actually perfectly sane and just under strange circumstances. Love books like that.

In this case, Stephen Maitland-Lewis has brought us a main character that we can both identify with for his daily stresses and care about, and given him a life in modern times that is closely connected to the past of many years ago through his highly specialised job. As an art restorer, Giovanni is trusted with some of the world’s finest art pieces, but it is not until he runs across an unsigned painting, supposedly by Botticelli that everything changes for him.

Want more? Have to read the book. I liked this novel for a variety of reasons. The author never lost sight of his plot or his main story line, but managed to incorporate both the many tales of the portrait and stay historically accurate to the time periods he described as well as keeping the life and happenings of his modern character believable.

The Count is brash and egotistical, just as one would expect him to be. I thought the author did a wonderful job with this book, making it both entertaining and oddly addicting.

As for the ending, it couldn’t have been more perfect.

If you like historical novels or are into the art world, then this book will give you more than a few smiles. Recommended.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Hand of Fire By Judith Starkston Review and Info

Blurb: The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

Bio:  Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.

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Find an excerpt, Q&A, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on Starkston’s website www.JudithStarkston.com

Follow Judith Starkston on FB and Twitter

Visit on Goodreads Hand of Fire

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Buy Links:

Amazon

Amazon UK

Nook

Itunes

Link to the tour schedule: Hand of Fire Fireship Press Virtual Tour

Advance Praise:

“But what is the difference between a good historical novel and a brilliant one?
I suggest you read Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire and you’ll discover the answer.” Helen Hollick, Historical Novels Review Editor and author of Forever Queen

“In Hand of Fire, Starkston’s careful research brings ancient Greece and Troy to life with passion and grace. This haunting and insightful novel makes you ache for a mortal woman, Briseis, in love with a half-god, Achilles, as she fights to make her own destiny in a world of capricious gods and warriors. I devoured this page-turning escape from the modern world!” — Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath

“In her portrayal of Briseis, Judith Starkston has cast a bright light on one of the Iliad‘s most intriguing sub-plots. With her fast-paced story, three-dimensional characters, and fascinating cultural details, Starkston has given historical fiction fans a tale to remember.” –Priscilla Royal, author of Covenant with Hell

 

My Review:

 

In this beautifully written and meticulously researched novel of Troy, Judith Starkston has created a window into the past with vivid details and a look at a love affair unrivaled by most.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, this book will excite you and fulfill your desire to get to know those who lived years before. The author has done a beautiful job giving us a view of what life was like during the Trojan war and the political and emotional battles families went through at the time.

There is a lot of detail in this novel. Down to the items the characters eat, drink and the world surrounding them, the author did not let a single detail slide. I was amazed by how clear her vision was when she wrote this. The love story is filled with longing and desperation. It is the kind of love and desire that all good romances should be built around.

The descriptions of war time events were also meticulous and written in such a way that you feel you are standing there alongside the characters.

This complex story has many different layers, social, political, romantic and will keep you on your toes until the end. For those who love historical novels, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Mirror Interview: Martyn Stanley

Mirror: So, what’s the status of your fantasy series ‘The Deathsworn Arc’ now?

Me: I’ve now finally got a proper author website, which I will blog on and occasionally review other books on:- Martyn Stanley – Author of the ‘Deathsworn Arc’ epic fantasy series I’ve also made the books available in CreateSpace POD, Ingram Spark POD and on all digital formats – Kobo, B&N and Smashwords as well as Amazon. I recently made book 1 of the series free on all formats! Please follow the links here:- Deathsworn Arc: The Last Dragon Slayer is now FREE! – Martyn Stanley

Mirror: Free!? Are you mad?! All that hard work you put in! To give it away?! What on earth were you thinking?

Me: Well, to be honest it was a scary decision to make. It wasn’t an easy or quick thing to do. In the end, after experimenting with various pricing schemes, ranging from $2.99 to more, and as low as $0.99… Nothing had really taken off. When I used to do free promo’s on book 1, I got a lot of downloads and I got follow-on sales from those who enjoyed it enough to read through to book 2. Seeing as I was only getting the financial equivalent of a kick in the crackers for book 1 ($0.33) I decided, I may as well offer it for free and let the books pay their way by the read-throughs. I’m not asking anyone to invest any money into book 1 – just their time. I’m asking a bit more for book 2, but I think I only really want those who ‘get it’ and love the series to read on anyway so perhaps that’s for the best?

Mirror: Well, good luck with that, I see it’s doing fairly well at the moment?

Me: It is! It’s top #3000 in both the UK and US Free Kindle Store without any promotion! It’s top #50 for Dark Fantasy and Epic Fantasy in the US and top #50 for Dark Fantasy and Swords and Sorcery in the UK!

Mirror: Dark Fantasy? Is it ‘Dark Fantasy’?

Me: I don’t honestly know! I think so, I think book 2 ‘The Verkreath Horror’ is definitely Dark Fantasy, it’s border-line ‘Grim Fantasy’ at times. They don’t have a nice time in book 2. There is quite a lot of death and misery in the series. I like to kill off at least one character a book.

Mirror: You’re going to run out of characters!

Me: I don’t think I’ll always kill off a character a book. There will be light at the end of the tunnel, though things get worse before they get better I think.

Mirror: The title ‘Deathsworn Arc’ What does it actually mean?

Me: Ah, it’s explained in book 3 ‘Deathsworn Arc: The Blood Queen’ it’s something some of the characters become, I think in book 5.

Mirror: Is the title of book 1 referring to Silus or Korhan?

Me: Both, either, it doesn’t really matter. I suppose for me, at the start of the book it’s Silus, at the end it’s Korhan.

Mirror: Okay, so will Ramon Hern ever make a proper comback?

Me: He plays a bigger part later on in the series.

Mirror: What about Tubol and Tavion? Do they continue their pursuit?

Me: Oh yes, they are tenacious and will NOT give up. They are part of a really big plot element which starts in book 4.

Mirror: Now, Vashni. She’s *ahem* a bit of an evil bitch at times in book 1 – what gives?

Me: There are reasons for the way Vashni behaves in book 1. The reasons are multi-factorial and complex. You really only have a good idea of why Vashni is behaving the way she is in book one once you’ve read book 3.

Mirror: Have you got any idea how long ‘The Deathsworn Arc’ is at this stage?

Me: I think eight books. I have a solid plot for books 4 and 5 and I kind of know how it ends. I haven’t introduced the main villain yet!

Mirror: Who is the main villain?

Me: Ah, that would be telling. I’ll give you a clue, the human helping the Verkreath in book 2 plays a big part in it. He’s also older than Vashni and has gone by many names.

Mirror: When you wrote this, didn’t you worry that the atheistic world would put some people off?

Me: Yes! I did, but I felt like I had to write it anyway. Thankfully nobody has really picked it apart over that aspect of it – except one. A goodreads reviewer didn’t like it:

“Misery. Layers and layers of misery. The team moves from one horror to another all the while losing their religion. I hated this book and am sorry to have spent the time to read it.”

She gave it one star. That kind of annoyed me, but it impressed me too. It was what I was shooting for in book 2 and I clearly evoked a strong emotional reaction in this reader. At least the book would have been memorable to her.

Mirror: Does the feedback you get in your reviews ever surprise you?

Me: All the time! No two reviewers ever pick up on the exact same points. I suppose the common points are the ‘Truth’ – I expected that, the relationship between Korhan and Vashni – I expected that and the moral philosophizing. Nobody really seems to pick up on the atheist theme that much! That DOES surprise me!

Mirror: How important is the atheist theme and ‘The Truth’ to the overall plot?

Me: It’s critical to the overall plot. There are some huge, world-changing twists. Everything hinges on the ‘Truth’. I became a strong atheist by accident, and exploring the loss of faith and the search for a sense of purpose in life in the books was as much as for me, as for my readers.

Mirror: Are you like any of your characters?

Me: No, not really. I suppose I’m a bit Korhan and a bit Brael more so than the others – but even then, not much.

Mirror: This Korhan and Vashni thing – do they ever ‘get it on’ ?

Me: Well, hmmmm, that’s difficult to answer. Things change drastically for both Korhan and Vashni. Their interactions become a lot more complex in book 5, it’s partly to do with the Korhan taking the Oath at the Deathsworn Shringe and the mind inhabiting Harbinger. I won’t say anymore, but it’s a major, major event for Korhan.

Mirror: Do we ever meet any more gravians?

Me: Yes! There’s a new gravian character in book 4!

Mirror: Ahhh, so they remove Brael’s curse freeing him to use magic?

Me: Nope! They feel the same way Elira did.

Mirror: So does he ever get access to magic back?

Me: Pffft! I’m sick of giving spoilers – talk about something else!

Mirror: Okay, who are you?

Me: I recently posted this about myself on a writers group on Facebook;-

You know me! Want to know a bit more? I’m 37! I’m not old. I live in a little village betwixt Staffordshire and Cheshire which has a little castle perched atop a hill – which you can see for miles around. I have two kids, a girl who’s seven and a boy who’s three. I’ve been married for nine years, I’m a second degree blackbelt in Taekwondo, I’ve also done Kung Fu and Kick Boxing at times. I drive a 3.0 V6 Jaguar, but my favorite car I owned is still my old MX5 which I kept for seven years. I used to be an avid video games player before writing took over my life. In my mis-spent youth I played lead guitar in a band called ‘The Liability Crisis’ and smoked a little weed. I’ve been as far west as Florida and as far east as Singapore – but I usually holiday in France and Germany. Singapore and Rome are probably my two favorite cities I’ve visited. I write fantasy books,but I also work full-time as a manager at a manufacturing plant and I’m studying for a degree with the Open University! I’m about to start ‘Creative Writing’ level 2 – theory being if I actually suck at writing, I’ll get better. If I’m already pretty decent then it’s an easy 60 points and I get to learn ‘poetry’. I drink too much, I don’t exercise enough, but I also don’t eat enough so it kind of balances out. I’m not a very sociable person, but I can be good at faking it. I AM prone to depression, writing has helped with that. A sense of purpose is a powerful thing. *Edit – I also built my own house! Well my father-in-law worked on it more than me, but we literally built the house. I took time of work to do it, and worked evenings and weekends on it for three years! So writing a little 100,000 word novel doesn’t seem that daunting.

Mirror: Wow, you’ve fit a lot into your life!

Me: I dunno. I don’t think I have, it looks like it when I write it down – but it doesn’t feel like it. The last few years have been a blur!

Mirror: So how do you know Ionia?

Me: I came across this blog I think and requested a review. We’ve talked a bit since, she’s told me her story, I told her mine. I now count her amongst my elite group of online BFF’s. She’s awesome!

Mirror: Online BFF’s?

Me: Yes! Another is Inge van de Kraats her shared blog is at Bookshelf Reflections she has me in stitches at times! One of the best thing about writing the books has been the people they’ve facilitated me meeting. I’ve met some really awesome people because of the books. Inge and Ionia are just two examples, whom I have a particular soft-spot for.

Mirror: Anything else in the pipeline? What’s after ‘Deathsworn’ ?

Me: I have a few projects in mind – a dark, high concept urban fantasy with angels and demons, a futuristic earth-based sci-fi with some time-travel and a literary fiction series called, ‘The Week’, ‘The Month’, ‘The Year’, ‘The Decade’ and ‘The Century’.

Mirror: The Lit Fic series sounds odd – what’s it about?

Me: Just life, people, relationships – the passing of time. My main inspiration is that titling my books this way will enable me to market myself as ‘Author of the Week’, ‘Author of the Month’, ‘Author of the Year’ and ‘Author of the Century’ :P

Mirror: Haha! So what about your studying – what’s your degree about?

Me: It’s the most eclectic degree ever! I have modules from IT, Maths, Science and I’m doing Creative Writing next! I’m just doing what I feel like and trying to drum up enough points to cash in a degree. I’m doing it for personal satisfaction rather than career reasons.

Mirror: How big a part of your life is writing?

Me: Massive! I write or edit every day, I promote every day. I’m always looking for ways of increasing my readership. I love telling stories. I love reading them, but telling them is even better.

Mirror: Do your kids know about your stories?

Me: They do! Emily is amazed that people around the world have read my stories. She says she can’t believe it! I’ve told them both who the characters are and roughly what happens. I’ leave the gory out though – the stories are rather too dark for a three year old and a seven year old!

Mirror: Did you ever try to get published traditionally?

Me: I had a go, I sent out some submissions and queries. Nobody wanted to take a punt on it. I’ll be laughing when I’ve sold a trillion copies and I’m living in a castle next door to J.K. Rowling! Only joking! I would like to go trad-pub, i think it’s essential for growing my brand and raising people’s awareness of my work. I’ve more or less given up on Deathsworn Arc for Trad-pub though, I’ll maybe try again with one of my other projects. I think I will always write about contentious, deep, thought-provoking issues. Atheism and loss of faith will probably always creep into my work. For that reason I think many agents and publishers will think it’s risky – but I think it’s what people want to hear! I recently stumbled upon Shelley Segal | Singer and Songwriter from Australia I love her music, I love hearing what I think in song. I think people will like reading what they think in fantasy. There’s often a religious mythology in fantasy – so to create a godless world is fresh and new I think. It will resonate with agnostics, doubters and atheists. It’s not a strong theme though, I think very devout or extreme theists will hate it, but those in the middle will just enjoy the story for the characters, the relationship and the action.

Mirror: Now the big question – when are we going to see ‘Deathsworn Arc: The Temple of the Mad God’

Me: I expect, hmmm, late summer 2015? I have to do my course, and write it, then edit it, amdist working and toddler herding. The good news is I have 10,000 words down and I’ve edited it. It’s a really strong opening, I honestly think though book 3 was probably my best so far – book 4 will be even better. I’m really, really pleased with it. I just wish I had more time to write and I could afford a pro-editor. I might use Sophie Playle at some point ( http://sophieplayle.com ). She did me a sample for book 1 and I was really pleased with her work on it. I only didn’t use her because I couldn’t afford to at the time and I had offers from others to do it for free. I wanted ‘The Blood Queen’ to go out as version 1.0 and never need changing. I now think version 1.2 will be the one that doesn’t need changing. I want to make sure ‘The Temple of the Mad God’ is as close to ‘spot on’ as I can before I release.

Mirror: What is the ‘Temple of the Mad God’

Me: It’s a place, I’m saying no more!

Mirror: Okay, thanks for the interview!

Me: Thank Ionia for hosting it for me!