Black and White Challenge #7

“Seven Black and White photos of your life. No people. No pets. No explanations. Challenge someone new each day.” Except I don’t challenge anybody, unless they want to do it. And I’ve also decided that I’m going to do it weekly, on Saturdays.

And finally… Number 7!

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My Top 10 Reads of 2017

So, I’ve been going over my favourite reads from the past year. And here is my list that made the Top Ten… in no particular order. (Or maybe in the order of which I read them?)

Maria’s Top Ten Reads of 2017

1. The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones // by Wendelin Van Draanen
I loved the character of Lincoln Jones in this one. It’s been awhile since Van Draanen has published anything and so when I saw this book, I was very excited to read it. It did not disappoint!

2. The Tin Snail // by Cameron McAllister
When I picked up this book, I did not know what to expect. I got a very charming tale… and a bit of a history lesson (a fun one!) to boot.

3. Apollo 8 // by Jeffrey Kluger
I really liked this book about the Apollo 8 mission to the moon.

4. Romancing Miss Bronte // by Juliet Gael
A fictionalized account of Charlotte Bronte’s life. Oh, and the other Brontes are there, too.


5. The Wizards of Once // by Cressida Cowell
It’s like reading How to Train Your Dragon, but with wizards and warriors! I’m looking forward to the next books in the series.

6. Jane Austen at Home // by Lucy Worsley
Jane. Austen. At. Home. The title says it all, folks. (If you’re looking for adventure and daring, this probably isn’t the book for you.)

7. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry // by Mildred D. Taylor
Love the courage and resilience of this family. Although the prejudice is heartbreaking. Not a feel-good read, but definitely worth the read.


8. The Seventh Most Important Thing // by Shelley Pearsall
I almost didn’t read this one, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a based-on-true-events story and Pearsall does a fabulous job!

9. My Lady Jane // by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
A wonderful fractured fairy tale… based on history (with more emphasis on the fairy tale and less on the history). A fun read 🙂

10. Rook // by Sharon Cameron
It’s a dystopian, futuristic/historic reworking of The Scarlet Pimpernel? You had me at Scarlet!

Review: Rook

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Book: Rook
Author: Sharon Cameron
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Sophia Bellamy and her brother Tom live in an anti-technological dystopian world. And to top it all, they’re also re-living the days of the French Revolution… complete with a Scarlet Pimpernel-type called “The Rook”. Sophia is to be married to a french dandy named René Hasard, as a way to save her family home. René’s cousin, LeBlanc, is intent on capturing the Rook… which leads him straight to Bellamy House.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Scarlet Pimpernel. This is basically a reworking of that story. Need I say more???

2) I thought Cameron does a good job with her world-building in this one. We get glimpses of the past Paris and England, but her new dystopian world seems legit. I love how we’re back to 18th century fashion and horse-drawn carriages! (They all signed anti-technology pacts!)

3) René Hasard makes a likeable version of Sir Percy Blakeney while Sophia makes a good Marguerite St. Just (“cleverest woman in Europe”!). And Cameron mixes things up with some twists and also some role reversals… She does enough to pay homage to the original, while making her own story.

4) I love all the little Scarlet Pimpernel Easter Eggs that pop up here and there. Like St. Just, the fox… just to mention one.

5) LeBlanc is a worthy villain. He seems to be always one step ahead of the Rook. Which is infuriatingly good!

6) The bit at the end regarding Maman… No spoilers. I thought this was a nice touch. Especially rounding out René’s story.

7) There is a love-triangle in this book. I’m not usually crazy about love-triangles, however, this one works into the plot. I was glad that Sophia was NOT made into a simpering/waffling chit who just “can’t make up her mind. Oh dear, what’s she to do??” I hate when the girl can’t figure out which guys she likes. Sophia ain’t like that, thank goodness.

8) Speaking of the romance element of the book… I thought it was nicely done. There was some wonderful romantic tension which played out nicely. (No kissing too early in the book. That’s my rule!)

9) Love the cover. Especially that Eiffel Tower. I didn’t notice at first how the tower has been “decapitated” (thinking the clouds/mist was covering it.) It certainly captures the mood of the story world perfectly.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) You know what drove me nuts? The last names of René Hasard and Spear Hammond. They both begin with “Ha” and end with “d”. Really?! I kept getting the two of them mixed up. This may be partly due to the fact that, with regards to Spear’s name, I kept thinking Spear was his last name (it’s not. It’s his first name.) Why? Why?! Why??!!!!!

2) And I felt there were a little too many minor characters at times. It was hard to keep everybody straight. Who’s who, now? I felt I almost needed a character list at front of the book. This wasn’t as bad as the Hasard/Hammond mix-up (because those two should never be taken for the other), but it did cause a little confusion at times.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really liked this book! I love retellings, especially when it’s well done; and this retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel is beautiful. (It also makes me want to re-read the original.)

The Day I Discovered It’s a Wonderful Life

20161222ma_5659It’s a Wonderful Life was one of those Christmas movies that my family NEVER really watched when I was a kid. Oh, we watched A Christmas Carol (many versions), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Rudolph, etc. etc. But as a child, I never was exposed to It’s a Wonderful Life.

Until that one day I saw the movie at a friend’s house…

I must have been about twelve years old when I was introduced me to the wonders of Frank Capra’s black and white classic. I remember watching it in my friend’s living room and when the train rushed past the house (she lived next to the railroad tracks), we had to pause the video tape so as not to miss anything.

I became enthralled with this movie.

And it became one of my own Christmas traditions. I even got some of my family to sit and watch it with me. Although, there were some years when it was just me sitting up past midnight to watch it on Christmas Eve. (To think: I’ve never been known to be a night hawk!)

This movie was probably one of the first movies that I “discovered”. Oh, it might have existed for a long time. It’s a Wonderful Life was made in the 1940s, long before I was born. But this was the first time I became aware of it. (It felt like a discovery. Kind of like Columbus discovering America. America was already there, but think of his excitement when he found it was there!)

As a twelve-year-old, I came to love this old black and white classic. It’s never lost its shine for me.

And I still count it among one of my favourite movies.

ARC Review: Skavenger’s Hunt

1942645805Skavenger’s Hunt // by Mike Rich
Release Date: November 2017
My Rating: 3 Stars*

Basic plot: Henry finds himself back in 1885 on a great scavenger hunt. From New York to St. Louis to Paris, France… he and his rag-tag group of friends are trying to solve the clues to find Mr. Skavenger’s treasure.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really like the time travel scene. Mike Rich does a really nice job describing how the room changes from the present day to 1885. Very nicely done!

2) The book cover is well-suited to the story. I like the little drawings of various hints and clues, all within Henry’s silhouette.

3) The initial interaction between Jack and Henry is priceless. Especially once Henry realizes who Jack is.

4) This is a Westing Game meets The 39 Clues type of book. If you love to solve riddles and figure out clues, you’ll probably like this book.

5) The stakes are clearly outlined. I definitely felt the “ticking-clock”. And while the other kids (Jack, Ernie, and Mattie) just want to find the treasure, Henry’s stakes are a little higher. He wants to get back to his own time!

6) I loved the cameo appearance of a certain author in the middle of the book. Especially the fact that he doesn’t know why they are in his stateroom and how that plays out. This for me was probably the highlight of the book.

7) I loved how Henry sometimes got the clue wrong due his not knowing his history. Particularly with the clue in Paris.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wish there was more character development between Jack and Henry. It was okay, but I’m not sure I buy Jack’s position at the end of the hunt. I think it needed some real heart-to-heart connection between the two boys. We get that a little more with Henry and Mattie (but in my opinion, we don’t need this to happen with Mattie).

2) Which brings me to Mattie. Not sure she was even completely necessary to the book, other than to have a female character. Ernie could have been a Mattie. I liked her character well-enough, but I just didn’t really care too much what happened to her or when she was in danger.  And then… at the end I was completely confused by her character.

3) Now this is a nit-picky one, but I was overwhelmed with all the CAPITAL LETTERS. I realize that this is to indicated SHOUTING or EXCITEMENT (and I didn’t mind the odd one), but it was TOO MUCH!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – This was my first ARC* review and it was fun! This book isn’t without faults, but if you love clue hunts, this book is for you 🙂

*Note: I received a copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Black and White Challenge #5

“Seven Black and White photos of your life. No people. No pets. No explanations. Challenge someone new each day.” Except I don’t challenge anybody, unless they want to do it. And I’ve also decided that I’m going to do it weekly, on Saturdays.

So, here’s Number 5…

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It Happened in 2001…

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I have a pretty good memory. But sometimes, it’s hard to remember that we didn’t always have the things we have today. Like high-speed internet? Cell phones? YouTube? Facebook? Flat screen TVs?

Yes, some of these things existed in 16 years ago. Some of them did not. For example: I know that I got my first cell phone in 2002. But when it comes to technology, I tend to be a late-adopter. (I got my first CD player in 2000, way after everybody else!)

But what about flat screen TVs? I know they were available for sale back in 1997. Of course I didn’t own one. But… did ANYbody own a flat screen TV back then? All those first-adopters?

Why does this matter to me? Well, I am working on a writing project that involves the year 2001. And I’d like to know what kind of technology people used back then. I’m hoping you can help me out.

Please take a minute or two to fill out the info in a survey I created below…

(Can’t see the survey? Click on this link.)

Thanks for taking the time to fill this out!

Review: The Seventh Wish

theseventhw.jpgBook: The Seventh Wish
Author: Kate Messner
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Charlie goes ice fishing and ends up catching a fish that grants her wishes. But the wishes all sort of backfire on her. When news hits the family that Abby, her sister, is facing the struggle of a life-time, Charlie’s determined to make one more wish…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love the opening with the ice flowers. That was a beautiful image to start the book. Especially with introducing the sisters, Charlie and Abby. (I do wish Messner that done a little more with this imagery later on in the book. So much potential there! This is where an Epilogue would have worked so nicely. A year later… Charlie and Abby go in search of ice flowers…???)

2) I loved the Fairy Tale element of this story. It had a Fisherman-and-his-Wife vibe. I love how the wishes don’t quite work out. (Like with Bobby vs. Roberto!)

3) I also loved the dramatic element. I don’t really want to reveal it in a spoiler, so if you want to find out, you will have to read the book yourself.

4) The word-game that the family plays was fun. “I’m thinking of a word…” It was truly heart-breaking when, in the second-half of the book, the dad tries to play the game, but the mom just can’t do it. It’s very touching when he reveals the word.

5) I love the Serenity Prayer and I like how it was worked into the story.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) There are some really tough themes in this book. And it’s coupled light-hearted fare like Irish Dancing and a Wishing Fish. This felt a tad disjointed to me. It’s like the book didn’t know what it was… A Fairy Tale? A Drama?

2) The drama element is well set-up, but then poorly executed at times. Especially when the mystery is solved half-way through the book. Charlie finds out right away, at the same time as her parents. I wish Messner had dragged this mystery out a bit longer. Let Charlie worry a bit more. Let her wonder why her parents are always whispering about something, or speaking in low tones on the phone. This wasn’t HORRIBLE, but I thought it could have been drawn out a bit more to better effect.

3) I can’t believe the mom and dad let Charlie go alone with Abby to the dance competition. I don’t want to give a spoiler here, so I won’t explain… other than to say that suddenly explaining that the dad had a flu bug or food poisoning was NOT the best set up. And there is NO WAY the mom needed to stay behind to bring him tea, water, etc. He’s an adult. He’d probably sleeping most of the day while they were gone. Frankly, I was not convinced. So much so that it brought me out of the story (which is not a good thing). It just seemed like the author needed some excuse to make the parents stay home. Well, in my opinion, it didn’t quite work. 😦

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 stars (out of 5) – This was an odd mishmash of genres. I loved the Fairy Tale element of the wishing fish. I like the drama element. While I’m not sure if Messner fully pulled it off, I did like the book and it’s good enough to get 3.5 stars from me.