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.

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.

The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

The Bellingham Bloodbath (Colin Pendragon Mysteries, #2)The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

After a captain in Her Majesty’s Guard and his young wife are brutally murdered in their flat, master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his partner Ethan Pruitt are summoned to Buckingham Palace. Major Hampstead demands discretion at all costs to preserve the repuration of the Guard and insists Pendragon participate in the cover-up by misleading the press. In response, Pendragon makes the bold claim that he will solve the case in no more than three days’ time or he will oblige the major and compromise himself.

Racing against the clock – and thwarted at every turn by their Scotland Yard nemesis Inspector Emmett Varcoe – Pendragon and Pruitt begin to assemble the clues around the grisly homicide, probing into private lives and uncovering closely guarded secrets. As the minutes tick away, the pressure – and the danger – mounts as Pendragon’s integrity is on the line and a cold-blooded killer remains on the streets…

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gregory Harris quickly became one of my favourite authors when I read the first book in this series. This book reinforced why I love his work, although I did find the lack of his dealings with the apparition of Sherlock in this book mildly disappointing. I thought the connections he made to the famous sleuth in the first one gave it a special quality that this one did not possess. Also, I missed Oscar.

Still, that being said, this was another witty, engaging romp through a dual mystery that kept me smiling and curious as I read. I love that he used pugs as the central stars of one mystery–my favourite dog breed.

The murder mystery (and the crime itself) was more detailed this time than the first go and I felt like the author was more comfortable in his skin. The homosexual angle of the book is still mild, although more prominent in this book and I think his two main characters work really well together and have the type of dynamic you want in a long term partnership–both professional and personal.

The thing that makes me love these books so much is the wit and charm of the characters. Ethan is full of wry observations and often makes me laugh out loud. Colin, seen mostly through Ethan’s eyes, is daring and crass, and often seems to pull clues out of thin air and make them work, and together they are an unstoppable force.

The mysteries are always intriguing and have lots of possible culprits at the heart of them, so it take a while to draw a conclusion. Overall, I just really like these books.

If you like mysteries that follow the Victorian England rules of proper gentleman and high society mischief, you can’t go wrong with these novels.

Recommended.

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

A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen House by Mark Spencer

A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen HouseA Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen House by Mark Spencer

When Mark Spencer and his family moved into the beautiful old Allen House in Monticello, Arkansas, they were aware of its notorious reputation for being haunted. According to local lore, the troubled spirit of society belle Ladell Allen, who had mysteriously committed suicide in the master bedroom in 1948, still roamed the grand historic mansion. Yet, Mark remained skeptical–until he and his family began encountering faceless phantoms, a doppelganger spirit, and other paranormal phenomena. Ensuing ghost investigations offered convincing evidence that six spirits, including Ladell, inhabited their home. But the most shocking event occurred the day Mark followed a strange urge to explore the attic and found, crammed under a floorboard, secret love letters that touchingly depict Ladell Allen’s forbidden, heart-searing romance–and shed light on her tragic end. This haunting true ghost story includes several photographs of the Allen House.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Me thinketh thou doth protest too much–about people wanting to see your house and find out if it is really haunted. What an intrusion. Wait we could do ghost tours! Opinion stated. Okay, I’m done. Now on to the review.

Mark Spencer has written an interesting book with a lot of answers to questions the locals of Monticello, Arkansas have harboured for years. There is no doubt that many of the facts he relayed have quieted curious minds in the area.

I didn’t think this was a bad book at all. I appreciated that the author did not embellish everything to the tenth power and make the “hauntings” so unbelievable that the book seemed silly. I felt he was pretty down to earth about their various experiences there and really got the impression that he cared about the lives of the former owners as well.

The book is written in an easy going and conversational style that made it a quick and rather enjoyable read. His filling in of the gaps in between the letters between Ladell and her love interest were handled with charm.

What I did find, whilst reading this book, was that the author seemed to lose himself in his own feelings for the house and the past tenants occasionally, perhaps forgetting that we are not all in the same situation. Often times, the letters and his impressions of them came up a bit dry. I also thought it was interesting that he added his own speculation to the reason for the suicide of Ladell. The letters did not exactly confirm her reasoning and I found it a bit of a jump for the author to do so.

I felt closer to this tale than some others, as much of the letters have to do with being separated from someone you love, a feeling I know well.

Overall I thought this was good writing and an interesting inside look at one of “the most haunted houses” in America. If you enjoy ghost stories and are looking for something that will offer a glimpse of history at the same time, this would be a good one to pick up.

View all my reviews

The Summoning: Mary, book 1 by Hillary Monahan

MARY: The Summoning (Bloody Mary, #1)MARY: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.

Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.

A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.

Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.

A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book initially creeped me out a lot. If you have ever played this game as a child then you will instantly be reminded of the terror of the unknown and that feeling of suspense waiting for the image to appear in the mirror.

What I loved about this book was that the author didn’t wait forever for the excitement to begin. She did a good job of building an interesting story with believable characters and yet kept the suspense level high. There were some spots in this book that made me question my everyday activities. I don’t recommend reading this book late at night and then going to take a solo shower. Yikes.

If you love books where the drama and tension never cease and you have that fearful feeling (the one all good horror books and films give you) then this is a book you will probably enjoy.

I liked the main character and a couple of the secondary characters quite a lot, but I wish that the story of Mary herself would have been focused upon more, especially during the end. She is mean, vengeful and filled with hatred, but the reasons why are not 100 percent clear. Yes, she was mistreated, but there seems to be a missing element between that and her nature as a ghost.

This was a fun book with a lot of shivers and unexpected events. I think anyone who likes horror would have fun with this, regardless of whether they are young adult or older.

Definitely worth a recommendation and a read.

*Note to self. Buy salt.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley.