Review: Symbiosis: A Justice Keepers Novel (Justice Keepers Saga Book 1) ~ R.S. Penney

SymbiosisASIN ~ B00RKY0WJ8
Publisher ~
No. Of Pages ~ 330 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Kobo

Ten thousand years ago, a mysterious race that we only know as the Overseers took primitive humans and scattered them on dozens of worlds across the galaxy. Now, some of those people have found their way back to Earth. A young Justice Keeper named Anna Lenai has tracked a criminal through unexplored regions of space in the hopes of recovering a symbiont that grants its host the ability to bend space and time. Her search leads her to Earth, where she befriends a young man named Jack Hunter. Together, they will face enemies with advanced technology as they struggle to recover the symbiont before its power falls into the wrong hands.

5 Thumbs-UpThis is a debut novel from this Author and, if this first book is anything to go by the rest of the Justice Keepers Saga is going to be a spectacular read.

The characters in this book are extremely well written; they have a depth and feel to them that is rarely seen in a book in the YA genre.  The female protagonist is gutsy and strong-willed, but she also has a side to her that she tries to keep well hidden, and which rarely makes an appearance.  However, because of the way in which the Author develops her character it is obvious that there are hidden depths to her that will, hopefully be revealed as the Saga continues.  I liked this character immensely, she is a strong young woman who comes alive and off the page as events unfolds; true to life she is not wholly likeable but this only adds to her charm and makes her more alive and real.  The man she befriends is equally well written and, in giving both the male and female leads in this book the same careful treatment, the Author creates a novel that will appeal to both male and female readers.

World building is just as well done in this book as the character development; so well is it written that it brought to mind the descriptions of space that a reader will find in any of the books written by Peter F. Hamilton.  The descriptions of Earth make it seem familiar yet totally fresh and new at the same time, as I read through the book I wanted to travel to the locations contained within its pages and experience the adventures I found.

Thinking there is nothing new in the YA genre?  Then I highly recommend this book as it will change your mind.  Skilfully written and tightly edited it was a pleasure to read and I will definitely be reading more in this saga as it becomes available.  My only regret is that this is only available on eBook as I want to add a paper copy to my shelves.

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Review: The Roses of No Man’s Land ~ Lyn Macdonald

rosesISBN ~ 978-0140178661
Publisher ~Penguin Books
No. Of Pages ~384 pages
Links ~ Penguin Books, Amazon

Drawing on the experiences of survivors of World War I, the author wrote a story of courage and endurance: the story of men who suffered physical and mental wounds; of volunteer nurses transported from their drawing rooms into carnage; and of doctors struggling to cope with the devastation.

5 Thumbs-UpIt is hard to believe that this year, 2014, sees the 100 year anniversary of World War I.  What is tragic is also the fact that there are now no more living veterans from that war; the last dying in 2012 at the age of 110.  It is this last point that makes books like this an invaluable addition to any home bookshelf and library, as it pulls on interviews with those who were there.  However, this is not the usual book on the Great War, as it does not just tell the tale of those who fought in the traditional sense, but also looks at the stories and experiences of those groups of unsung heroines, the Nurses.

Using extensive research this Author produces a compelling account of ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances.  Ladies taken out of the security and safety of their drawing rooms and thrown into the horrors of war, men who traded in pitchforks for bayonets some who would never return and those who did, would return changed forever.  This is a book full of poignant accounts of how these people watched, not only their peers die in the Great War, but also the world they knew and loved.

With great skill this Author is able to weave together the chronology of the war with firsthand accounts of the women who nursed these wounded and broken men.  Not all the injuries they nursed were visible, some were hidden in the depths of the mind, making this a book that hand me drawing my breath as I read on.

As the majority of the accounts in this book are from the Nurses point of view, with some given by men in the position of doctors and orderlies, this book also highlights how, out of great suffering some important aspects of medical care were advanced.  Each chapter also focuses on a different part played in evacuating the British Soldier from the frontline to the eventual hospital care they would receive if they made the journey alive; the reader is given accounts from the stretcher bearer in the dreaded No Man’s Land to the volunteers at the stations who changed pillow cases and lit cigarettes for the wounded, sometimes just holding a hand and talking to them, through to the final destination of these injured men.

It is by no means an easy read, and I found myself in awe at these women who would sometimes work up to 22 hours a day without complaint, and in such a matter of fact way it would put modern day medical staff to shame.  Their living conditions were primitive and for many came as a huge shock when compared to the cosseted lives they had led up to the outbreak of war.

I have read many books about WWI but this has to be amongst the best I have read.  It shows how courage can come in many forms and from the most unlikely people, but it also highlights the point that, although the war may have destroyed a generation of men, both mentally and physically, it actually played a large and important role in recreating the role of women in that time.

I would highly recommend this book to all readers regardless of whether they are avid WWI readers or not.  We can learn a lot about attitude from this book.

As an afterthought I decided to add that a contemporary song was written as a tribute to the Red Cross Nurses at the front lines of the First World War ‘The Rose of No Man’s Land’ by Jack Caddigan and James Alexander Brennan, and I have included this below:

roseI’ve seen some beautiful flowers,
Grow in life’s garden fair,
I’ve spent some wonderful hours,
Lost in their fragrance rare;
But I have found another,
Wondrous beyond compare.

There’s a rose that grows on “No Man’s Land”
And it’s wonderful to see,
Tho’ its spray’d with tears, it will live for years,
In my garden of memory.

It’s the one red rose the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s hand;
Mid the War’s great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of “No Man’s Land”.

Out of the heavenly splendour,
Down to the trail of woe,
God in his mercy has sent her,
Cheering the world below;
We call her “Rose of Heaven”,
We’ve learned to love her so.

There’s a rose that grows on “No Man’s Land”
And it’s wonderful to see,
Tho’ its spray’d with tears, it will live for years,
In my garden of memory.

It’s the one red rose the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s hand;
Mid the War’s great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of “No Man’s Land”.

 

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Review: Black Cross (World War Two #1) ~ Greg Iles

black cross

The New York Times bestselling author of Spandau Phoenix offers another riveting novel–a blockbuster that sets forth an intriguing premise and answers a bewildering question. Fact: In 1945, Allied scientists combing the secret laboratories of the ruined Third Reich discovered a weapon that could have completely wiped out D-Day invasion forces. Why didn’t Hitler use it?  It is January 1944 — and as Allied troops prepare for D-day, Nazi scientists develop a toxic nerve gas that will repel and wipe out any invasion force. To salvage the planned assault, two vastly different but equally determined men are sent to infiltrate the secret concentration camp where the poison gas is being perfected on human subjects. Their only objective: destroy all traces of the gas and the men who created it — no matter how many lives may be lost…including their own.

5 Thumbs-Up

If you have a weak stomach, this is not the novel for you.  However, if you do decide to pass it over, you will be missing an incredible read.

What characters there are in this book, from real life to fictional, and all are woven together to create people who the reader will either be 100% with throughout, or really want to see them come to a grizzly end.  Despite them all been based in the WWII era, and everyone knows the outcome of this war, it doesn’t stop the reader from immediately connecting with anyone of a number of the principal players in this plot.  It does take some time to get to know the characters but the wait is well worth it and the journey to the reader learning about them and their motivations adds a great deal to the plot.  There really isn’t a great deal more I can say about the characters in this book without beginning to include spoilers in this review; one thing I will say though is that it was very refreshing to read some very strong female characters and to travel their path with them to its conclusion, and many times the ‘who will you choose?’ question raises its ugly head, and they have to make that choice.

This novel is a very solid and well researched piece of historical fiction with, as I mentioned earlier, fact woven seamlessly into the fiction.  Some of the facts included actually had me doing research myself into them once I had finished the book and this is always a good thing.  Although this could be listed as a holocaust book, the action does not take place entirely in a camp and when it does it is not the usual kind of camp we read about.  The descriptions of the horrific things that took place in this camp to not just Jews actually made my stomach turn at some points and I am far from being squeamish.  It is not a fast paced book by any stretch of the imagination, but this is good as when the action takes place it leaves the reader breathless and wanting to read on.  I loved the ending to this book, in fact I think it was my favourite part; there were no neat ribbon tied packages that gave closure, but an image of hope for the future which epitomised everything those who had participated in this war fought for.

I would highly recommend this book to any and all readers.

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Review: The Sunne in Splendour ~ Sharon Kay Penman

SunneA glorious novel of the controversial Richard III—a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III—vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower—from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

5 Thumbs-UpI’ve either mentioned this book or the Author several times during the life of my reviews so I have decided it was about time I actually wrote a review on the book itself.  This was the debut novel for this Author.

I was first introduced to both the book and the Author by my History Professor whilst taking my Masters in History many years ago.  She recommended it to me on the basis of it being the most accurate account of the times she had read in fiction form.  Being a Yorkshire woman by birth and therefore, a staunch Yorkist, I was slightly apprehensive when I picked this up as most accounts of Richard III and the House of York are based on Tudor propaganda from the times, and are slewed very much in their favour.  I found none of this when I read this long 936 page book.

The book itself could be broken down into thirds; the first brings into the light that confusing history of the Wars of the Roses, and for readers who are not up to speed with the ins and outs of this time it is a great way not only to get to know the key players, but where they fit together in the whole sorry mess.  Yes it does sound a little like a history lesson, but it is given in such a manner that it skilfully and neatly pulls the reader so far into the novel that they have no choice but to read to the end. Just by reading the first part of the novel it can be clearly seen that this Author has done extensive research into the period, and this comes through in way in which locations are described and characters react to their environment.  The remaining two-thirds catalogue the reign of Edward IV and also the life of Richard.

Character development is stunningly done within the pages of this book.  The reader is not thrown huge chunks of back-story and motivational traits, but slowly includes them as the plot progresses.  Their fears are revealed, sometimes surprising the reader, and the political machinations that ruled their everyday lives are uncovered slowly, rather like peeling the layers from an onion.  Obviously the main focus of the book is Richard, and it follows him from a very young age when he is very much in the shadow of his brothers through to his death on the battlefield.  The Author does not portray him the same light as Shakespeare, but rather gives him a more human face than the one constantly given to him of that of monster.  A compelling and believable case is presented regarding his nephews in the Tower of London, which rather makes the reader consider that this could be a case of the wrong people mishearing words said at the wrong time and in frustration, as in the case of Thomas Becket when King Henry II uttered ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest’; we will never know.

I could write for hours on this book, but to do so would have me revealing spoilers and getting into the whole White Rose versus red rose debate (yes the capitalization error was deliberate *smile), so I’m going to leave this review short, and I hope tantalising enough to make someone want to actually pick this up and read it.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good read.  I have read it several times and yes, my History Professor was right it is the most accurate account of the times in fiction form.

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Review: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1) ~ Rick Riordan

lightning-thiefPercy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’ master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’ stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

5 Thumbs-UpFirstly let me explain that this is going to be quite a long review as I’ve included information for the interested readers near the bottom of the review.  It’s not something I usually do but change is always good when it helps others.

I have to admit I went into reading this book with the expectation it would be just another shallow copy of the Harry Potter series with names and places changed enough so as not to infringe on the original copyright.  I also wasn’t expecting to enjoy it at all, as I found myself becoming rather bored with Hogwarts after a couple of books.  You can imagine my relief and surprise to find that this book and the following instalments are nothing like the aforementioned wizardry titles and this title, along with the others had me glued to the pages long after I should have gone back to real life.  Yes there are some similarities between the two series, but you really have to look hard and want to find them, but as with most forms of art, and writing is an art, there are very few if any original ideas left out there.

The book is narrated by Percy himself, and at times he sounded more like an aged pessimist than the 16-year-old boy he was supposed to be.  Considering what he had been through in his life, and also knowing some people his age that are like this, I found it to be a great tool the Author used to pull the reader into his story and travel on the journey to find himself with him; and what a journey it is, it is so personal and full of emotion at points that the reader can’t help but become emotionally invested in the character and root for him every step of the way.  It is easy for most readers to connect with this character for a different reason too, whatever he turns his hand, however good his intentions, he just can’t seem to get things right.  The Author is equally generous with all other characters encountered in this book; you love the ‘heroes’ and feel the need to boo and hiss at the villains when they appear on the page.

All Greek mythology should be approached in the way the Author does in this book.  Whilst staying true to the nature of the Gods, they inject humour and irreverence in to the way they have re-imaged and reinterpreted the whole Greek Pantheon.  In a totally off the wall manner everything surrounding the Gods is explained to an audience who may never have come across them before and who, after reading this book will probably be motivated to find out more about them.  The existence of these beings is written in a believable and well explained manner and does great credit to the Author, as research into this topic must have been extensive to enable them to portray mythology in this manner.

As I said at the beginning of this review, it is a little different from others I have written, and a lot longer, and here is the reason why.  The Author is now about to release the last instalment of their Percy Jackson series, and to mark the event they have scheduled a book tour itinerary that I thought might interest those who are fans of the books:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014: Boston/Cambridge-Brookline, MA

Event hosted by:
Porter Square Books
25 White Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
617-491-2220

Location of event:
Temple Ohabei Shalom
1187 Beacon Street
Brookline, MA 02446
617-277-6610

Showtime:
7:00 PM ET

Wednesday, October 8, 2014: Toronto, ONT, Canada

Event hosted by:
Indigo Exclusive

Location of event:
Bloor Street United Church
300 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M55 1W3
416-924-7439

Showtime:
7:00 PM ET

Thursday, October 9, 2014: Atlanta/Decatur, GA

Event hosted by:
Little Shop of Stories
133A East Court Square
Decatur, GA 30030
404-373-6300

Location of event:
Glenn Auditorium at Emory
1652 North Decatur Road
Atlanta, GA 30302

Showtime:
7:00 PM ET

Friday, October 10, 2014: New York, NY

Event hosted by:
Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011
212-989-3270

Location of event:
New York Public Library
Main Branch
Celeste Bartos Forum
5th Avenue at 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018

*Note: 25 branch libraries across the city will also be participating.

Showtime:
4:00 PM ET

Saturday, October 11, 2014: Chicago/Downers Grove, IL

Event hosted by:
Anderson’s Bookshop
5112 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
630-963-2665

Location of event:
Tivoli Theatre
5021 Highland Avenue
Downers Grove, IL 60515
630-968-0219

Showtime:
4:00 PM CT

Sunday, October 12, 2014: Boulder, CO

Event hosted by:
Boulder Book Store
1107 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302
303-447-2074

Location of event:
Boulder Theatre
2032 14th Street
Boulder, CO 80302

Showtime:
1:30 PM MT

Monday, October 13, 2014: Austin, TX

Event hosted by:
Book People
603 N. Lamar
Austin, TX 78703
512-472-5050

Location of event:
Westlake Community Performing Arts Center
4100 Westbank Drive
Austin, TX 78746

Showtime:
6:00 PM CT

Tuesday, October 14, 2014: Santa Barbara/Ventura, CA

Event hosted by:
Barnes & Noble Ventura #2054
4820 Telephone Road
Ventura, CA 93003
805-339-0990

Location of event:
Buena High School Auditorium (with Ventura Educational Partnership)
5670 Telegraph Road
Ventura, CA 93003

Showtime:
6:00 PM PT

Wednesday, October 15, 2014: San Francisco/Menlo Park, CA

Event hosted by:
Kepler’s
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025
650-861-7810

Location of event:
Fox Theatre
2215 Broadway Street
Redwood City, CA 94063

Showtime:
7:00 PM PT

Percy Jackson

I’m a little sad that the readers of so many states will not get a chance to attend one of these events, but if you are interested in the world of Percy Jackson you can always head over to the website and go on an adventure of your own.

I would highly recommend this book and the rest of the series to readers of all ages that are looking to go on an adventure and learn a little at the same time.  These are definitely on my ‘read again’ list.  This is a great book that, if you are not in the target audience of a middle grade reader, will have you feeling like a child just returned from an epic adventure in their blanket fort; and we all need to feed that inner child on a regular basis.

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Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Origami Yoda #1) ~ Tom Angleberger

Origami YodaIT TAKES THE WISDOM OF YODA TO SURVIVE THE SIXTH GRADE

Meet Dwight, a sixth-grade oddball. Dwight does a lot of weird things, like wearing the same T-shirt for a month or telling people to call him “Captain Dwight.” This is embarrassing, particularly for Tommy, who sits with him at lunch every day.

But Dwight does one cool thing. He makes origami. One day he makes an origami finger puppet of Yoda. And that’s when things get mysterious. Origami Yoda can predict the future and suggest the best way to deal with a tricky situation. His advice actually works, and soon most of the sixth grade is lining up with questions.

Tommy wants to know how Origami Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. Is Yoda tapping into the Force? It’s crucial that Tommy figure out the mystery before he takes Yoda’s advice about something VERY IMPORTANT that has to do with a girl.

This is Tommy’s case file of his investigation into “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

5 Thumbs-UpI love reading books aimed at children, well sometimes I do and others I just want to throw my hands up in the air and wonder about the wisdom of the Authors.  With this book this was not the case, this is a great read, and I don’t care that I’m old and crusty with grandchildren, this is a book series I will keep on my shelves and re-read as a pick me up.

If you are a reader that loves Star Wars, or even if you come from the other camp of Trekkers, this book will have you chuckling and making you wonder how you ever made it through 6th grade yourself without the wisdom of Yoda.  If you have no clue who any of the above are, read it just for the sheer enjoyment of being able to be a kid again.  This little piece of fun is also a great way to get middle school children invested in reading, as the whole series pulls on characters they most likely recognise from the movies, and what could be easier than that.

Like most children’s books there are no complex characters to wade through, no diabolical plot lines, this book is just kids being kids and brooding over the major concern of their time; does an origami Yoda really give sound advice that can be followed?  For example: “How do you get out of a potentially embarrassing situation when you’re in the bathroom and you spill water on your pants so that it looks like you peed yourself? Origami Yoda says: “All of pants, you must wet.”   Just based on this I must have an origami Yoda as my advice counselor.  But for all the fun stuff in this book,  the little drawings and side notes as different classmates weigh in on the Origami Yoda conundrum, this book discusses a serious topic in an easy to understand way for children; tolerance.  Just because one person thinks another is strange doesn’t mean we are all going to think that way, and this book is able to covey the wonderfulness of difference and tolerance in a world that is becoming more uniform and intolerant. Don’t over analyse this book (hence the short review) just enjoy it, and when you’re done with it use the diagram at the end to create your very own origami Yoda, I know I am going to make a whole army of them.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone really, and if you’re thinking of reading this in the dark don’t forget to have your trusty lightsaber on hand to help see the pages young Padawan.

“Much to learn you still have.” … “This is just the beginning!” ~Yoda

I will definitely be reading the rest of this series.

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Review: Stitch ‘N Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker ~ Debbie Stoller

The Happy HookerDebbie does crochet! Debbie Stoller, the “knitting superstar,” has been leading an entire movement of hip young knitters with her New York Times bestseller Stitch ’n Bitch and its follow-up, Stitch ’n Bitch Nation, together with over 521,000 copies in print. But guess what? For every one knitter in the world there are three crocheters—which translates into millions of hip, crafty, 18- to 35-year-olds ready to be happy hookers with Stitch ’n Bitch attitude, sexiness, ingenuity, and cool.

Written in the author’s cheeky chick style, this heavily illustrated book—featuring four-color photographs and instructional illustrations throughout—is chock-full of instruction, inspiration, and to-die-for designs, from a Fishnet Skullcap to a lacy evening wrap. For knitters and new crafters exploring the hook comes the primer: the advantages of crochet and the ways in which knitters (and nonknitters) benefit by learning this sister craft; a discussion of tools; all the cool yarns available, and what the different gauges mean; plus basic techniques and stitch patterns—including the chain stitch, picot, flowers, filet crochet, changing yarns, and finishing. Then come 40 fabulous, funky projects—the kind that make Stitch ’n Bitch rule—for crocheters: Pom Pom Capelet, Retro Clutch Purse, Anarchy Irony Hat, Ms. Pac Man Change Purses, Doris Daymat, Va-Va-Va Voom Bikini, Animal I-Pod Cozies, Kid’s Sock Monkey Poncho.

No, these aren’t your grandma’s doilies.

5 Thumbs-UpI’ve been a knitter for many many years, but have always wanted to learn how to crochet but, as my yearly attempts always seemed doomed to failure I was beginning to believe that old saying ‘knitters can’t crochet, and crocheters can’t knit’; until I found this book.

If you are starting from scratch after many frustrating attempts, this is the book for you and is a perfect example of what ‘learn how to’ craft book should be like.  Written in a clear and easy to understand manner, which is also laced with humour, this book covers it all.  If you are a visual learner, don’t despair, as this little tome is full of easy to understand illustrations that add weight to the ‘lessons’ they are contained in.  I found them very useful as, for some reason, when my brain wasn’t prepared to process the words the illustrations helped them sink in and stay there.

The book starts with a brief history of the craft and then progresses from there through tools, getting started, how to read charts and finally finishing with some easy first patterns to follow.  It covers yarns and the hooks that go with them, so even the most die-hard knitter will maybe have to shell out a couple of dollars to get themselves started.

The only thing I would say about this book, other than how wonderful it is, is that it would have been nice if the beginners patterns wear more along the line of household items and accessories rather than the usual wearables; however, this didn’t take away from my thorough enjoyment this book gave me, and the feeling of accomplishment that I now have from using it.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who, like me had given up hope of ever learning to crochet. Crocheters who want to learn to knit, don’t despair as this Author also has a book that covers this written in the same fashion.

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