Thursday, December 19, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

I've seen a few posts floating around from fellow bloggers, mentioning their favorite books of 2013, and I thought I would post my own list!

According to goodreads, I've read 102 books so far this year (and I'll add a few more to the total before New Year's). Add in 6 beta reads, and I've done quite a bit of reading this year.

My memory isn't what it used to be, and a lot of books fall away into obscurity after I read them. I used to be awesome at remembering the tiniest details about a novel, but alas, motherhood has changed that as well. So going through the list, I realized my true favorite books are the ones that have stuck with me throughout the year. I might not've given them a 5 star rating at the time, but I still think about them frequently, and all these months later I remember them well.

So here you are...My favorite books of 2013!

Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi. I read Shatter Me and Unravel Me this year, as well as the novella Destroy Me. And all I can say is wow. WOW. Talk about a compelling story. One of the things that fascinated me the most about this series is the writing style, and how the words were arranged on the page...almost like poetry at times. I think about this series more than probably any other right now. Amazing! Can't wait for the final book to come out in 2014.

Everneath series by Brodi Ashton. Yet again, I read all the books currently out in the series this year--Everneath, Everbound, and Neverfall. And I loved all of them! Some people argue the way Ashton handled the flashbacks in this series was lazy, but I thought it worked fantastically well. I loved getting Jack and Nikki's prior relationship history woven in with the current relationship stress they are experiencing. And the Everneath? A seriously creepy place.

Divergent series by Veronica Roth. In case you couldn't tell, I was really into other worldly books this year. Divergent and Insurgent were SO amazing (although I loved the first book more than the second). I absolutely loved the world Roth created in this series, and I love the idea of factions. No, I haven't read Allegiant yet...Amazon spoiled the ending for me and it might be awhile before I can make myself read it. So excited for the first movie to come out in March!

Esther the Queen by H.B. Moore. I love historical fiction--I did major in history, after all--and this one, for whatever reason, hit me especially powerfully. Talk about bringing a biblical story to life. She so seamlessly wove together fact and fiction, biblical facts and historical context. In fact, I was so drawn in I went and re-read the Book of Esther in the Old Testament while reading this book just to see how closely she kept to the fact. Spoiler alert: super close. Awesome read.

Glimmer of Hope by Sarah M. Eden. They always say that for a romance to be really awesome, the problem keeping the hero and heroine apart can't be something they could simply solve with a five-minute conversation. I think this book is such an awesome example of that. What kept the characters apart throughout this book was real, heartbreaking, and definitely not something with an easy fix. This one pulled at my heart strings.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Paris. Young love. Boarding school. Really, what more do I need to say? Such a fun romance.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. It's pretty rare that I love a companion novel more than the first one, but I think Lola just edged out Anna. Cricket was the absolute perfect hero, and I loved Lola's fashion sense and quirky personality. This one had me laughing a lot!

The Selection by Kiera Cass. It's like The Bachelor meets Royalty. And I am a sucker for reality television. I didn't think the world building was quite as strong as in other dystopians I've read, but still well worth your time. That being said, I was not impressed by the sequel, The Elite. Talk about the main character turning flaky!

Blackout by Robison Wells. I've seen mixed reviews on this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Teenagers with mutant superpowers? Yeah. Awesome.

My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite. So this one has been sitting on my bedside table for months--since May, to be exact--and I just barely got around to reading it. If I'm being honest, the cover didn't grab me, and I TOTALLY judge books by their covers. (You know you do it, too.) And I didn't love the title, either. However, I did love love love the book. Super quick, super fun, super quirky main character. I read it in like two days (and I rarely do that anymore).

Delirium by Lauren Oliver. This is another dystopian series where I loved book one, but felt the series went a little downhill from there (although I did enjoy Hana's pov in the last book in the series). The whole concept fascinates me, and I still wonder about it all the time. What if love were considered a disease? A seriously cool concept that I thought the author played out very well in book one.

And that's it...my list of best loved books of 2013. There were so many others I read and loved, but these are the ones that really stuck with me. What were your favorite books of 2013?
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review: Pedal Forward by Trey Hall

Pedal Forward: The 10 Life and Business Lessons I Have Learned on My BikeBack Cover Blurb
genre: self help
Trey Hall's 10 lessons are rooted in a gruesome 75 MPH bike/car head-on collision along a country road outside of Wichita, Kansas. The injuries resulting from the accident was devastating-bones were shattered, joints ripped apart and blood was spilt on the asphalt pavement. With the heroic efforts of first responders, emergency room doctors, physical therapists and after literally dozens of surgeries, I got back on the bike. The lessons learned from this accident and related bike adventures provide a backdrop for a common sense formula for positive long term life and business performance. The 10 lessons are told in a unique story telling style and provide important reminders about what is critical in making life-both personal and business-a success.

My Review
4 of 5 stars
I don't normally read non-fiction, but this one looked interesting so I gave it a try. Pedal Forward is full of good, practical advice for life. I think what Hall's ten life lessons really boil down to are ways to be a good person and live a happy and fulfilling life.

The book is full of personal anecdotes from Hall's life that add color and meaning to his message. His practical advice and real-life experience with overcoming hardships lends an honesty to the book that I enjoyed.

If you love self-help books, then add this one to your to-read list!
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Friday, December 6, 2013

Book Review: Stolen Luck by Jaclyn Weist

Back Cover Blurb
genre: YA fantasy
Sixteen year old  Megan Crenshaw has everything going for her until the day a leprechaun shows up on her doorstep and steals all her luck. Not only that, he follows her around and wreaks havoc in her life. With the help of her friends, Megan must get her luck back before he manages to destroy her life and the lives of all those around her.

My Review
4 of 5 stars
Stolen Luck was equal parts entertaining and gripping. Can I start by saying how bad I felt for Megan? Poor, poor Megan. Reading about her awful luck was both hilarious and painful. I really felt for this girl! I loved how despite her crappy luck, she stayed positive and worked to fix her problem instead of playing the damsel in distress card. 

I really loved Beth as Megan's trusty sidekick. She was a great best friend--a little quirky, a little blunt, and still understanding. I also really loved Megan's four-year-old twin brother and sister. I could relate to so many of their antics! 

Louie was a great villain in this story. I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of him. 

This book is fun, and best of all it's clean. I would feel comfortable letting any tween read this book. I really enjoyed following Megan through her journey, and can't wait to read more in book two! 

Buy Links

About the Author
Jaclyn is an Idaho farm girl who grew up loving to read. She developed a love for writing as a senior in high school, when her dad jokingly said she was the next Dr. Seuss (not even close but very sweet). She met her husband, Steve at BYU and they have six happy, crazy children that encourage her writing. After owning a bookstore and running away to have adventures in Australia, they settled back down in their home in Utah. Jaclyn now spends her days herding her kids to various activities and trying to remember what she was supposed to do next.

Social Media Links
blog * Facebook * Twitter

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesdays in Twinland: The Great Wall of Safety

I've been neglecting my twinland posts of late. I have no excuse, other than life with twins is exhausting and most days I really don't want to relive the day by writing it all down.

But this is too funny to not write about.

Remember back in September, when we moved the twins to toddler beds and the all-night partying began? We had the shattered glass, and took everything off their walls. Well, it got worse. The partying turning into fighting. At first it was just blood-curdling screams first thing in the morning. I'd go into their room, and find Thing 1 on top of Thing 2. Sometimes there were scratches, sometimes bite marks, and sometimes blood.

Things got worse. Thing 1 was constantly bothering and abusing Thing 2. We got a video monitor. It didn't help, other than we knew when to go in and break things up. It took 3 hours to get them to bed at night, then 4, then 5. We tried lying on the floor in their bedroom with them until they fell asleep, but every time we moved they'd wake back up. We tried exhausting them before bedtime. We tried putting them down earlier. We tried putting them down later. It just kept getting worse. Thing 2 wanted to go to sleep, but Thing 1 insisted on keeping him from it. Sometimes it was Thing 1 crawling into Thing 2's bed amidst much screaming. Sometimes it was Thing 1 hitting Thing 2 to keep him awake. It was not fun for any of us.

I got desperate. Really desperate. Our bedtimes were becoming 1 and 2 in the morning. Our wake time was 6 or 7. We were all tired, and we were all cranky. I knew if they could just not touch each other we'd all get back on schedule. But we didn't have a spare room to move one of the twins into.

Husband suggested a plywood wall down the middle of their room. But I knew there would be an adjustment phase with that, too. They would not like it if they couldn't see each other. And that's when my mom suggested chicken wire. And husband and I loaded up the kids immediately, even though it was nearly six o'clock at night, and went to Home Depot, where we bought the materials. We came home, and Neil got to work.

And this is what he built.


We didn't take time to paint the wood. We weren't concerned with looks (obviously). We put it up as quickly as possible, and then all got the best night's sleep in more than a month.

It's ugly. A little, um, white trash. But it works. Within a few nights, we were more or less back to our normal 7 pm - 7 am sleep schedule. I absolutely love this chicken wire fence. The twins can still interact if they want. They talk to each other. They laugh together. They even pass books and socks through the tiny spaces between the edge of the frame and wall and share sippy cups (they have the straw kind for bedtime) through the chicken wire. They know their brother isn't getting any special attention or privileges, because they can see each other. 

But they can't touch each other. They can't attack each other. When one of them gets tired, they lay down and ignore the other. If one wakes up first, they just play quietly with their books and stuffed animals instead of waking up their brother. It is awesome. This ugly, heinous, ridiculous wall has helped us all regain some semblance of sanity. Totally worth it. 

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Spotlight: Dreamstone by Mikey Brooks


Welcome to the Official Blog Tour of:
THE DREAMSTONE,
Book Two in The Dream Keeper Chronicles
A thrilling fantasy-adventure series for middle-grade readers!
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Don't forget to check out the GIVEAWAY
at the bottom of this page for a chance
to win one of over 30 prizes! 

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DREAMS: 

Dorothy called it Oz, 
Alice called it Wonderland, 
but Nightmares call it HOME. 

When Parker’s mom is dreamnapped by the wicked Mab, it is up to him and Kaelyn to save her. When they return to Dreams, they discover Mab isn’t their only problem. Gladamyr has lost his powers and the only way to get them back is to become what he fears the most—a nightmare.

SYNOPSIS:
In Book 1, The Dream Keeper, Parker and Kaelyn discovered that Dreams was a real place that everyone visits while they sleep. An evil nightmare named Fyren took control of the gateway to that world. Parker and Kaelyn teamed up with Gladamyr, the only dream keeper to escape capture by Fyren, and together they save Dreams from Fyren’s rule. After the defeat of Fyren the children return to Awake to find Mab, Fyren’s next in command, has dreamnapped Parker’s mom. 

The story continues in Book 2, The Dreamstone, as the children return to Dreams to save Parker’s mom. Finding her, however, is not their only problem. Mab has waged a war on the Crossing and has sent an army of dragons to bring it down, nightmares have been released from prison, and Gladamyr has lost his powers to shape-shift. Parker, Kaelyn, and Gladamyr must once again defy all odds to set things right and save Parker’s mom before it’s too late.    

In Praise of THE DREAMSTONE:
“The Dreamstone, by Mikey Brooks, is a wild stallion of a story: fast, thrilling, and unpredictable. I was hooked in chapter one. If he can snare the attention of an old reader like me, he’ll have kids sneaking this one into class underneath their text books…If this one isn’t a kid-pleaser, I don’t know what is.” –Michelle Isenhoff, author of the Divided Decade Trilogy and the Taylor Davis Series.

“This really is a cracking novel. Action-packed and spellbinding!”—Cas Peace, author of The Artisans of Albia series.

"If you like the Percy Jackson, Fablehaven, or the Harry Potter series, you'll love this!" –An Amazon Reviewer.

AUTHOR BIO:
Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is the author/illustrator of several books including the best-selling ABC ADVENTURES: MAGICAL CREATURES and BEAN’S DRAGONS as well as the middle-grade fantasy-adventure series THE DREAM KEEPER CHRONICLES. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works full-time as a freelance illustrator and cover designer. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’. He is also one of the hosts of the Authors’ Think Tank Podcast. You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com
Now Available in Audiobook!

BOOK LINKS:
eBook: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GP33YZO

ISBN:
Hardback: 978-1-939993-22-9, Paperback: 978-1-939993-23-6, eBook: 978-1-939993-24-3

PRICE:
Hardback: $19.95, Paperback: $12.99, EBook: $2.99.
 
Excerpt from: THE DREAMSTONE:
Parker watched as the ambulance with his mother inside drove away. He had expected the medics to barrel down the street with sirens blaring and lights flashing, but instead they drove calmly. The cold night air hurt his throat, at least, he told himself it was the air. Whenever Parker tried to hold back his emotions he got a pain way back in his throat. Kaelyn held his hand, but it didn’t really help. All he could think about was Mab and how she’d taken his mom.
The former ruler of Dreams was vicious and cruel. He had seen what she was capable of when she cut the arm off Mentia, the psychotic clown that chased him and Kaelyn through the vaults. The only thing that guy did was laugh at her. Parker could only imagine the things Mab could do to his mom. Now that Fyren was gone, Mab had a host of nightmares at her command. He shuddered, thinking about the creatures he had seen during the battle in √Čadrom.
“Parker, we’ll find her,” Kaelyn said, trying to comfort him.
“How are we supposed to do that?” he snapped. Kaelyn pulled back, and immediately he felt bad. Heck, she had just lost everything she had ever owned—another gift from the nightmares of Dreams. They had burnt down her house and almost burnt the two of them in the process. Kaelyn had nothing. Not even a picture to remind herself of her dead parents. Yet here she was, the one comforting him. It wasn’t as if his mom was dead, she was just kidnapped, or dreamnapped. “Look, I’m sorry.”
She gave a smile. “It’s okay. Really. I understand.”
“Parker,” his dad called from the car. Parker turned to see his dad was ready to leave. What a jerk! Parker glared at him.
His dad lowered his cell phone for a second. “Look, I’ve talked it over with Zelda and I want you to come and stay with me for a while—at least until your mom is better.”
“No thanks.” Parker turned his back.
“Parker, I don’t have time to argue. Remember—I’m still your father.”
“You sure act like it.”
“I’m acting like it now.”
“You can’t even get out of your car!” Parker shouted. “You can’t even put down your freaking phone. Mom just went off in an ambulance, and you’re more concerned with your stupid work. I’m staying here! I’m not going with you!”
“You’ve got ten minutes to get a bag.” His dad went back to his phone, not giving a sign he had heard a word Parker said.
Parker turned on Zelda. “Did you say I would go with him?”
Kaelyn’s aunt stepped back, worry crossing her face. “Parker, he’s your dad, and who else is there?”
“You can stay with me. Where else are you going to go?” The second he said it Parker wished he hadn’t; or at least tried to sound more tactful. He knew that Kaelyn was handling the fire okay, but Zelda was on the brink of tears anytime someone mentioned the fire or what she lost in it. “I’m sorry . . . really . . . .”
“Parker, I understand, so please, don’t apologize.” Zelda tried to reassure him with a smile. It didn’t really work. Her face was still smudged with black soot, and there were visible tear lines down her cheeks. He at least had a place to go, but Kaelyn and Zelda were homeless. “Your place is with your dad, our place is . . . .”
“Where are we going, Zelly?” Kaelyn asked. They waited for an answer but Zelda only shrugged.
“Look, if I have to go to my dad’s there’s no reason you can’t stay here. Really, my mom wouldn’t mind. Anyway, it doesn’t matter where I sleep. I have to get back to Dreams.”
Zelda looked concerned. “Are you sure, Parker?”
“Dead sure! My mom may be a cold hearted person in the courtroom, but she’s at least human at home—well, when she’s not turning off my video games.”
“Can you call your house when you’re ready to go back?” Kaelyn asked.
“You can count on it, Kae. We’ve got to talk to Gladamyr—I need to find my mom.”
“I know.” Kaelyn gave him a hug.
Parker looked at both Kaelyn and Zelda. He could tell having a place to stay tonight brought them a little comfort, but he still wished he could stay. He thought of his friend and physiatrist, Dr. Gates. He was like the father his own would never be. He wished right now Dr. Gates were here. “Can you explain to Gates what’s going on when he decides to get his butt over here?”
Kaelyn smiled. “You can count on it.”
“Come inside and I’ll show you around. Apparently I’ve got ten minutes.”
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10 winners will receive a gift bag with numerous signed books marks, 
collector cards, wrists bands, and a handmade dream key necklace.


Paperback Books:

Can You Survive? Treasure Island, by Blake Hoena

The Super Spies and the Cat Lady Killer, by Lisa Cole Orchard

Color of Freedom, by Michelle Athearn Isenhoff

Explorer X-Alpha, by Lm Preston

Gangsterland, by Ansha Kotyk

Cycles, by Lois Brown
Andy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon’s Fury, by L.R.W Lee
Princess Kandake, by Stephanie Jefferson
Weight of the Crown, by Stephanie Jefferson
Arrow of the Mist, by Christina Mercer
Cassidy Jones, by Elise Stokes
The Seventh Attendant, by Elise Stokes
Curse at Zala Manor, by BBH McChiller
The Curse of the Double Digits, by Lynn Kelley
Into the Forest and Down the Tower, by Ann T. Bugg
Off to Camp and Discovering Art, by Ann T. Bugg
Agency, by Shantal Hiatt
Psyched, by Juli Caldwell
Ragesong, by J.R. Simmons

EBooks:
Secret Sisters Club, by Monique Bucheger
Trouble Blows West, by Monique Bucheger
The Alien Mind, by Virginia Jennings
The Last Time Keepers, by Sharon Ledwith
Frogs & Toads, by Stacy Lynn Carroll
Nexus Point, by Jaleta Clegg
Warrior Beautiful, by Wendy Knight
Shahira and the Flying Elfs, by Anna del C Dye (PDF)
 



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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Book Review: Esther the Queen by H.B. Moore

Back Cover Blurb
genre: historical fiction
She is a beautiful young Jewess, content in her life of anonymity. He is the most powerful king in the world. When chance brings the two together, the course of history is forever altered. The glittering court of the Persian Empire serves as the backdrop for one of the most poignant tales of courage in the Bible, brought vividly to life in the pages of bestselling author H.B. Moore s sweeping saga. And it begins on a dusty road in the Jewish Quarter. An unexpected meeting between Esther and King Xerxes results in an immediate and unmistakable connection. When Esther is summoned to enter harem the first step toward becoming his wife Esther is torn between her desire to be with Xerxes and the knowledge that they will forever be divided by the secret of her Jewish heritage. Encouraged by her family to do what she must to help her people, she deftly navigates her new position in the palace, quickly becoming beloved by all including Xerxes. But when a treacherous plan threatens to engulf the kingdom in violence, Esther must choose between love and duty. Is she prepared to sacrifice all that she holds dear in order to save her people from certain annihilation?

My Review
5 of 5 stars
I've long been a fan of this author's work, but Esther the Queen just jumped to the top stop when it comes to Moore's writing. This story was absolutely beautiful. I've always loved the biblical account of Esther, and so I was excited to read a fictitious retelling of it. 

I was immediately drawn in by the rich setting and likable characters. I actually reread the Book of Esther in the Bible while reading the first few chapters of this novel, and I'm very impressed with how hard Moore worked to keep the story as close to the biblical account as possible. I also was impressed with how likable she was able to make the king, and how realistic his motives seemed. Reading the biblical account, the king comes off as easily swayed by others and not very strong. However, he is a very strong character in the novel. He's likable, and I believed everything he did. 

I also loved Esther. She was so strong, so brave, and so kind. Moore managed to show Esther's incredible faith in God without having her come off as a pious, hard-to-relate-to character. I was fascinated with the love story Moore created between Esther and the king, and was rooting for them as a couple from the very beginning.

Moore did a fantastic job at taking the biblical framework, which is pretty vague at times, and breathing life into it in novel form. I was impressed with her research and her attention to detail the whole way through. She stuck with the basics, but added so much more. I especially loved the story's heart. Even though this is a fictitious account, it felt like a very believable way events could have actually unfolded. I felt for Esther's plight, and even though I knew how the story ended, I was rushing through those last few chapters with my heart in my throat. A job well done!

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