Book Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed By: Evan
This story was so good I couldn’t put it down! Readers really get it all here: adventure, mystery, and captivating romance. 
In a war torn land filled with the wonders and dangers of magic, we meet Marcel and Alexa. When their parents are murdered by a powerful sorcerer Marcel acts quickly; by disguising Alexa as a boy he protects her from being shipped to a breeding house.
The two young teens lie about their age, pretend to be twins and join the king’s army. Well- trained by their father to fight, they quickly move up in the ranks.
Soon Alexa, now known as Alex, is the best warrior in Prince Damian’s personal guard. However, her female identity must remain a secret or she will be put to death.
You will love Alex immediately and pull for her throughout the book. I was not ready to stop reading her story! My hope is there will be more books to follow.

Children's Book Review: In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van

Written in a spare, lyrical style using fresh, evocative imagery, In a Village by the Sea tells the story of longing for the comforts of home. A perfect book for teaching about diverse cultures and lifestyles through rich pictures and words, moving from the wide world to the snugness of home and back out again.

Release Date: May 12, 2015
Age Group: 4-10 years
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed By: Kelli & Kaitlyn


In A Village By the Sea is a very unique and beautiful book.  Kaitlyn really enjoyed it and so did I.  

The illustrations make this book so beautiful and fun to read.  As we read the book for the first time, I found myself looking forward to what each new page would hold.  I especially liked the cricket's paintings, even though I didn't completely understand his role in the story.  And maybe I wasn't meant to fully comprehend the seemingly prophetic cricket---it certainly didn't seem to bother Kaitlyn, so I was probably over-thinking things.  He ended up being part of the allure of the book for both Kaitlyn and me.

The text is spare, and while I personally felt it was a little too simple for a book geared towards ages 4-10, the sparsity of words lets the reader imagine their own story.  At least that's what Kaitlyn did: she embellished the main story theme with her own thoughts and characters.  "This man is thinking that, this mom is saying this," etc.  I like that she did that, instead of just passively listening to the story.  I guess what I'm saying is that Muon Van wrote In A Village By the Sea in a way to encourage children to add to the story with their own imaginations.  I love that.

We really enjoyed In A Village By the Sea and would definitely read Muon Van again.

Audio Book Spotlight: I Like You Just the Way I Am by Jenny Mollen

Today we are featuring Jenny Mollen's memoir, narrated by Jenny Mollen and Jason Biggs.  I've listened to this clip and this book sounds really funny!

Book Summary:

By the actress, writer, and one of the funniest women on Twitter, an outrageous, hysterical memoir of acting on impulse, plotting elaborate hoaxes, and refusing to acknowledge boundaries in any form.

Jenny Mollen is an actress and writer living in Los Angeles. She is also a wife, married to a famous guy (which is annoying only because he gets free shit and she doesn't). She doesn't want much from life. Just to be loved--by everybody: her parents, her dogs, her ex-boyfriends, her ex-boyfriends' dogs, her husband, her husband's ex-girlfriends, her husband's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriends, etc. Some people might call that impulse crazy, but isn't "crazy" really just a word boring people use to describe fun people? (And Jenny is really, really fun, you guys!)

In these pages, you'll find stories of Jenny at her most genuine, whether it's stalking her therapist (because he knows everything about her so shouldn't she get to know everything about him?); throwing a bachelorette party so bad that one of the guests is suspected dead; or answering the eternal question, Would your best friend blow your husband on a car ride to dinner if she didn't know you were hiding in the backseat?

I Like You Just the Way I Am is about not doing the right thing--about indulging your inner crazy-person. It is Jenny when she's not trying to impress anyone or come across as a responsible, level-headed member of society. With any luck it will make you better acquainted with who you really are and what you really want. Which, let's be honest, is most likely someone else's email password.



Children's Book Review: What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo by Grace Millsaps and Ryan Murphy

Rhinos rock out. Alligators stroll under limbo polls. Elephants pound the piano. Pelicans cater.

Ever wonder why the animals at the zoo are always so sleepy? What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo will answer your questions once and for all.

When Renee asks her father why the zoo animals are snoozing all day, he dreams up an elaborate answer. At night, the monkeys steal the zookeeper's keys, and all of the animals come out of their cages to dance, eat, and play. By the time the visitors arrive in the morning, the animals are all tuckered out. Renee doesn't believe her father's tale, but dads have a way of being right about these things...

Release Date: July 24, 2013
Age Group: Children's
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed By: Kelli and Kaitlyn

What a fun, fun, fun read!  Kaitlyn and I both loved this book.  I found myself smiling several times while reading it to her, and actually laughed out loud twice. 

The story is about a little girl, Renee, who visits the zoo.  She's upset to see that all of the animals are sleepy and not doing anything fun to watch.  Renee asks her father what's going on and he tells her the truth: the animals stay up at night and have parties, and then sleep all day long.

The illustrations made What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo even better.  They are engaging and very appropriate to the playfulness of the story.  Kaitlyn loved watching the animals have a great time.  The way each species has their own special talent to add to the party was a nice touch.

Kaitlyn and I both highly recommend What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo.  It's one of those books that we'll read over and over again, and one that I will be happy to read each time.  I always hate feeling a little pit of dread when she picks up certain books that she loves, and I don't.  I'm happy to report that this isn't the case for this book!  I will enjoy re-reading What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo and will definitely read these authors again.  

Month In Review: June 2015

Book Reviews:
Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Fifteen Minutes of Summer by Heather Wardell
Elizabeth's Constellation Quilt by Olivia Fu 
Kaleidoscope by April Marie Libs
The Ugly Stepsister by Aya Ling
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone 
A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery: The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake by Robin Newman 
Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott
The Body in the Woods by April Henry
The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre
The Shadows (The Black Dagger Brotherhood #13) by J.R. Ward
The Fire Wish (The Jinni Wars #1) by Amber Lough
The Lives Between Us by Theresa Rizzo

Spotlights and Tours:
The Outer Banks House and Return to the Outer Banks House by Diann Ducharme
After Perfect: A Daughter's Memoir by Christina McDowell
Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler

Young Adult Summer Reads
New Adult Summer Reads

Book Spotlight: Indy Writes Books: A Book Lover's Anthology

New Anthology with #1 New York Times Bestselling Author John Green Funds Literacy Nonprofit “Indy Reads” and Celebrates Local Authors

Indy Reads is a nonprofit literacy organization whose unusually creative outreach is transforming the lives of adults and families in Indianapolis’s lowest literate areas—and fueling a community determined to give back both on and off the page. Inside, trained volunteers offer one-on-one tutoring and barrier-breaking programming; outside, Indy Reads runs an independent bookstore, Indy Reads Books, in downtown Indianapolis that helps fund their initiatives. Now, they’re uniting local authors—like #1 New York Times bestselling author John Green—in a new cross-genre collection, Indy Writes Books: A Book Lover’s Anthology (Cardinal Publishers Group, $25.00 hardcover, July 1, 2015).

Indy Writes Books is an anthology of local Indiana authors who have helped Indy Reads’ independent bookstore grow and thrive, including John Green, Karen Kovacik, Dan Wakefield, Ben Winters, Will Shortz, and Cathy Day, and 23 additional powerhouse literary voices. All proceeds from Indy Writes Books support Indy Reads’ adult literacy programs in Central Indiana. The book features fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and puzzles centered around bookstores and reading, and was funded by a grant from The Margot L. and Robert S. Eccles Fund, a fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Indy Reads Books is Indy Reads’ independent bookstore; the bookstore relies on donations of used books from the community, is staffed by volunteers, and donates all of its revenue to Indy Reads. It’s the only bookstore in downtown Indianapolis selling new and used books. They also host more than 250 cultural events annually, including author events, art exhibits, concerts, workshops, and lectures.

In addition to individualized tutoring, Indy Reads offers an inmate outreach program, neighborhood literacy labs, family workshops, library student outreach, and ESL and creative writing classes. They are the only organization in Indianapolis that is a partner of ProLiteracy Worldwide, the oldest and largest nongovernmental literacy organization in the world. 


Indy Reads’ Executive Director and editor of the collection, M. Travis DiNicola says, “Indy Writes Books is a celebration of literacy, and a celebration of the amazing authors who are making Central Indiana a thriving literary community. This collection is for anyone who loves books and bookstores. Not only is it a great read, but every purchase helps support adults learning how to read.”

INDY WRITES BOOKS, Edited by M. Travis DiNicola and Zach Roth
Cardinal Publishers Group, July 1, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-692-30029-9
$25.00 -- 400 Pages -- Hardcover -- Anthology -- 1900 Church Street, Suite 300, Nashville TN 37203
Angelle Barbazon -- 574-350-4501 --

Book Review: The Lives Between Us by Theresa Rizzo

How far would you go to save the one you love?

Reporter Skylar Kendall has run from commitment all her life, pushing people away before they leave her, until her niece worms her way into Skye’s heart and settles in tight. Skye relaxes into a career she enjoys and relishes being a doting aunt.

Then her niece becomes gravely ill. Unable to bear yet another loss, Skye is determined to find a cure, but the girl’s only hope lies in the embryonic stem cell therapy Michigan Senator Edward Hastings repeatedly opposes. When Skye fails to find alternative treatment in time, she vows to end the senator’s political career.

Curious about the woman behind the scathing articles on his best friend, Mark Dutton pursues Skye. Dating Mark gives her access to Hastings’s life and secrets that would launch Skye's career and satisfy her need for retribution… Only she hadn’t counted on falling in love.

Can she avenge the lives lost to politics at the expense of her new love and friends?

Release Date: July 1, 2015
Age Group: Adult
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kelli

I adore Theresa Rizzo's writing, and The Lives Between Us was a great reminder of why she is on my auto-buy list.  This book was so emotional and engrossing.  I loved every minute of it!

I love contemporary fiction novels that are more than just a love story.  And The Lives Between Us was SO much more than a love story (although the romance was an added bonus).  Theresa Rizzo tackles tough subjects in her novels, and I admire her for that.  It's not easy or safe to take on topics like embryonic stem cells, but she does it with aplomb.  I love that I learn something from her books.  I can't say that about many fiction authors, so I consider that high praise.  I could tell from the way Rizzo wrote so authoritatively about stem cells that she'd done an enormous amount of research on the subject.  I appreciate that!  It would be easier to skim over the 'hard stuff', but Rizzo tackles it and explains things to the reader without sounding didactic.

To be perfectly honest, I've never spent a lot of time thinking about the difference between embryonic and cord blood stem cells.  I had the mindset of: it's all stem cells, right?  Boy, was I wrong.  There is a huge difference and the politics of using embryonic stem cells for treatment of diseases and injuries are heavy and twisted. 

This compelling story line on its own would have been enough to make The Lives Between Us a great read.  But Rizzo went even further and added a love story, a mystery, and a little bit of politics.  She brought it all together for an amazing read.  I loved that the story took me into the life of a senator.  I had never really considered the pull they must feel, the constant battle between their commitment to their constituents and family.  Rizzo's characterization made her story even more intense for me.

Some of you might be thinking: I'm pro-life and I don't want to read about embryonic stem cells.  Or you might be thinking, I'm pro-choice and I don't want to read about cord blood stem cells.  I'm here to tell you that this book is not about pro-life versus pro-choice.  It's about how we handle devastating circumstances, the hard things in life.  It's about the choices we make for our family, and how far we would go for the ones we love.  It's about reconciling your long-held beliefs with new challenges to those beliefs.  And, mostly, it's about love: the love between friends, family members, and partners. 

Rizzo very honestly portrays the daily life of people with terminal conditions and also people with spinal cord injuries.  The Lives Between Us was an honest, heartbreaking look into what life is like for people suffering in those situations, as well as their family members and caregivers.  I loved that she didn't shy away from the truth about what it's like have one of those conditions.  It made the story so authentic and emotional.
I really loved everything about this powerful book, and highly recommend it.

Author Bio

Theresa Rizzo is a bestselling, award-winning author who writes emotional stories that explore the complexity of relationships and families through real-life trials. 
Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, she currently lives outside of Boulder, Colorado with her husband of thirty-two years. She’s raised four wonderful children who are now scattered across the country.

Theresa's debut book, He Belongs to Me, won the 2014 National Indie Excellence Award for romance and the 2014 Readers Crown Award for Mainstream Women’s Fiction and was a finalist in the General Fiction Category of The 2013 USA Best Book Awards.  

Find Theresa on the web at, or connect with her on Facebook, twitter or and Goodreads.

Buy Links: