Category Archives: Fantasy Books

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus by Tim Slover Book Review

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Christmas Chronicles The Legend of Santa Claus by Tim Slover

Author: Tim Slover
Publisher: Bantam (November 2010)
ISBN: 0553808109, EAN: 9780553808100
Page Count: 176 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

In 1343, Klaus was orphaned and adopted by a guild of woodworkers and craftsmen.  Surrounded by tools and wood since a young age, Klaus became a master craftsman at the young age of 17, making a bitter enemy at the same time.  When the Black Death visited his small village shortly afterwards, Klaus was deeply grieved at the losses of others and sought a way to lift the spirits of those around him – particularly the children.  It began with 53 toys made for the children in his own village, which were blessed by the village priest and delivered on Christmas Eve.  And so the legend of Santa Claus begins…

Review:

Ever wondered who Santa Claus really is and how he came to be?  Well, look no further than this charming little Christmas tale that could easily become a classic in your home.  Not only does Tim Slover present a brief, but welcome, back story about Klaus’s mortal life, but he answers all of those questions that children ask around Christmastime.  Why does Santa Claus use reindeer to pull Santa Claus Delivering Gifts with Reindeerhis sleigh?  Because he grew up in the cold, snowy north and they were his wife’s favorite racing animal.  Why does Santa Claus deliver toys down the chimney?  Because Klaus’s mortal enemy, Rolf Eckhof, took half of the toys one year and burned them, which meant it wasn’t safe to leave the toys outside anymore. This also led to the popular belief that you better be good or you won’t get a Christmas toy as all of the parents of those toyless children used the experience as an opportunity to remember all of the things their children did wrong that year.  How does Santa deliver toys around the world in one night?  Through Chronolepsy or time stopping.  How does Santa understand all of the different languages?  By using the Lingua Franca Effect, which means Santa and his reindeer speak and understand whatever language is predominant in the region they are in.  The book also covers the concept of Tarrying (not aging and living a long life), why many believe Santa Claus is a Saint, how he makes toys, how he receives letters, how he travels, who the elves really are and so much more.  Think of a question about Santa Claus and it will probably be answered in this book!

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus begins and ends with a narrative by a person who claims to have seen Santa’s sleigh and to have had the privilege of reading The Green Book, which is a biography of Klaus.  I feel that these sections will be interesting to adults and older children, but they kind of Spirit of Christmasdrag it down a bit for little children.  I understand why Tim Slover, the author, used them here and I appreciate the challenge to spread the true spirit of Christmas in the season, but they were not my favorite parts of the book.  My favorite part was the story of Santa Claus itself.  This book is brief, succinct and there is not a lot of time and effort developing characters, describing locales or going into great depth on any particular point and I think that this was a great way to go.  I envision families around the US including this book as part of their holiday traditions.  This is a wonderful little tale to read aloud to children of all ages.  Santa’s story is only seven chapters long and, while some of the chapters are lengthy, I feel that this book could easily be shared with children over a week or two in December.  Hopefully it will spark a wonderful feeling for Christmas in readers of all ages and draw families closer together during the holiday season as they focus more on the spirit of giving than on receiving.

I have enjoyed reading this book for Christmas during these past two years.  It is He Sees You When You're Sleepinga quick, easy read that only takes an hour and, with a mug of hot chocolate close by and some Christmas carols playing, it always brings a smile to my face and gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling about the holidays.  Again, this is a simple story, told with simple words and, while there is a villain, there is not a lot of excitement or thrill in the book, but I have grown to love it.  If you are looking for a good family gift to purchase for Christmas or enjoying reading holiday books yourself, this is one for the keeper shelf!

Content:

This book has some scenes of mild peril.  Many people die from the Black Death, but there are no details provided and just a general feeling of grief and loss.  There is an attempted murder, but it fails.  There are some brief philosophical and religious questions addressed.  Appropriate for viewers of all ages, recommended for ages 6 and up or to be read aloud to anyone.

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Brownies and Broomsticks (Magical Bakery Mystery #1) by Bailey Cates Book Review

Brownies and Broomsticks

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates

Series: Magical Bakery Mystery #1
Author: Bailey Cates
Publisher: Obsidian Mystery (May 2012)
ISBN: 9780451236630
Page Count: 323 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Katie Lightfoot is tired of being the assistant manager at a Ohio bakery.  She also could use a change of scenery after her engagement falls apart.  When Katie’s Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben open a new bakery in Savannah, Georgia, Katie is thrilled to join them.  The Honeybee Bakery is off to a good start when they host a Downtown Business Association meeting and everyone raves about Katie’s baking – except for Mrs. Templeton.  When Mrs. Templeton refuses to pay for the food, Uncle Ben has a vicious argument with her, only to become the prime suspect in her murder when Mrs. Templeton’s body is found dead outside their bakery a few minutes later.  Katie knows that her Uncle could never murder someone, not even someone as mean as Mrs. Templeton, but what can she do to help solve the crime?  Turns out that Katie has some newfound magic powers that may be just what she needs to solve the murder.

Review:

Brownies and Broomsticks is a delightful cozy mystery.  I loved the setting in downtown Savannah, Georgia and enjoyed brief glimpses into Honey Bee Bakeryother shops, as well as different districts.  The bakery shop sounded absolutely heavenly and I would strongly encourage you to have a few treats on hand as you read this book or you will be certain to have a rumbly tummy!  All of the recipes that Katie is developing for the bakery sounded so yummy!  There are a few recipes at the end of the book that I can’t wait to try.  Though these recipes do not feature the magical herbs and spells that Aunt Lucy uses in the Honeybee Bakery, the peanut butter swirl brownies and cheddar-sage scones will no doubt taste as delicious as they sound!

Katie Lightfoot is the main character in the book and I found her endearing, if a bit puzzling.  Katie has no idea that she has magical powers, but soon realizes that she does possess magic of her own.  Both of her parents are witches, but Katie chooses not to confront either of them in this book about the secrets they kept from her.  This doesn’t mean that Katie doesn’t wonder about it, she just doesn’t do anything about it.  It should be exciting to see Katie develop her newfound Witch in Trainingmagical abilities, however, as they seem unnaturally strong.  All of the women in Aunt Lucy’s coven are very different and have different strengths.  If Katie plays her cards right, she can learn a great deal from each of them, though Katie doubts she has any real magical abilities at all.  What Katie does have is a weird sleep disorder.  She only sleeps for a few hours each night and then goes running.  There is a hypothesis for this restlessness at the end of the book, however, so hopefully Katie gets that under control.  No one likes to read about someone who only sleeps for 2 hours a night and gets an incredible amount of work done each day!  Katie really made me feel like a slacker at times, but I won’t hold that against her as I love to sleep!  Mungo the Magnificent was my favorite character, however.  He is Katie’s new familiar and is an adorable little black terrier.  Mungo doesn’t talk, but his meanings come through loud and clear.

Katie seems sweet and nice, but she is a bit of a user or she is just totally clueless (I am going by user myself).  She recently got dumped by her fiancé and has promised herself at least six months of no dating, but finds herself confronted with two very attractive men who seem to be interested in her.  Declan McCarthy is a handsome firefighter who Mungo the Magnificenttrained with Uncle Ben before he retired as fire chief.  He is the type of man who rescues puppies and helps little old ladies across the street and never hesitates to help someone move furniture in his truck.  Steve Dawes is a bit of a rebel and seems to have some magical powers of his own.  He is the local journalist and is always willing to trade for information, even if he does refuse to take no for an answer.  Steve and Declan are bitter enemies so it doesn’t help that they both seem to be interested in Katie.  What frustrated me was that Katie claims that she doesn’t want a relationship, but she keeps calling Steve and Declan to help her with errands, moving furniture, interviewing suspects, etc.  Talk about sending out mixed signals!  These two guys had to be super confused as most of Katie’s requests for help could be construed as wanting to get to know them better and maybe start dating.

The mystery was well thought out and there are plenty of suspects to go around.  Mrs. Templeton was universally despised throughout Peanut Butter Swirl BrowniesSavannah, but was too powerful to ignore or disobey.  The more I found out about her, the more I was surprised that no one tried to take her out sooner!  Katie’s investigative techniques were unorthodox, to say the least, but she did get results.  I confess that I was completely surprised to discover who really committed the crime, but part of that was due to Katie’s inexperience as an investigator.  She had all of the clues she needed, but didn’t follow up on some critical leads that would have helped solve the crime sooner.  Of course, it is a lot easier to spot an important clue when you are comfortably sitting at home on your couch, but still!

There is a great deal of charm in this first Magical Bakery MysteryBailey Cates has left herself a wide variety of options for future books in the series and I cannot wait to see which direction she chooses to go in!  Will we focus on growing their brand new bakery and making it a success?  Training Katie’s newfound magical abilities?  Confronting her parents and putting the past behind her?  Will Katie focus in on one of her hunky new suitors or will we endure a love triangle for many books to come?  Most important, what new recipes will we be reading about!

Content:

This book features a murder victim who has her neck snapped.  There is very little description of the body.  There is some drinking, smoking and drug abuse in this book.  There is some language, though it is relatively infrequent and mild.  Poverty and old age are discussed.  There are several verbal arguments and threats to escalate to physical violence.  There is a scene of attempted murder and some violence.  There is also a backstory of a rookie firefighter who died of smoke inhalation.  Witchcraft, including various rituals and different implements used in witchcraft are discussed in detail.  Spells are cast on unaware humans.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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Chance of a Ghost (Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #4) by E. J. Copperman Book Review

Chance of a Ghost

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Chance of a Ghost by E. J. Copperman

Series: Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #4
Author: E. J. Copperman
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (February 2013)
ISBN: 9780425251683
Page Count: 292 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Ratingimage_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

It’s wintertime in New Jersey and Alison only has two guests to worry about.  This turns out to be a good thing because the weather and her family are going to take up a lot of Alison’s time in the next couple of days!  Alison’s mother confesses that she has been meeting Alison’s father every Tuesday for years now, but he has never once appeared to Alison.  Hurt and confused by her father’s distance, Alison nonetheless rushes to her mother’s side when her father misses too many of his weekly appointments.  Another ghost, Lawrence Laurentz, recently deceased, claims that he can help them locate Alison’s father, but only if Alison investigates his murder.  With a blizzard bearing down on the state, a couple of guests who think Alison is going crazy and more than her fair share of ghosts, Alison will have to work fast to save her father and keep her mother out of trouble.

Review:

A lot has changed in Alison’s life since the last mystery, Old Haunts.  Alison learned that her father has been appearing regularly to Alison’s mother, but has not tried to communicate with her.  This really hurts Alison’s feelings as she can now see just about all ghosts and doesn’t understand why her father wouldn’t want to spend time with her New Jersey Snowlike he does with her mother.  And what about his own granddaughter, Melissa, why doesn’t he spend time with her?  In other personal news, Alison is no longer dating anyone and the field is clear for a new boyfriend to enter the wings. Alison reconnects with an old childhood friend, Josh and I am happy to say that this one actually seems to have some potential.  Alison’s resident ghosts have also been growing and developing.  Maxine discovered at the end of the last book that she can leave Alison’s house and travel anywhere she wants.  She still spends most of her time hanging out and bugging Alison, only now she can go with Alison when she goes to run errands.  Paul is still stuck in the house, but he has grown a great deal in strength and can now manipulate heavy objects.  Meanwhile, Jeannie, Alison’s best friend is completely obsessed with her new baby, Oliver.  Her husband, Tony, begs Alison to help him out and try to get her to leave the house – without Oliver.  Unfortunately, the best Alison can do is get Jeannie to leave the house with Oliver and help her investigate the current mystery.  This leads to some humorous situations, of course, as Jeannie is still completely oblivious to the facts that there are ghosts all around her.  I am confident that all of these characters will continue to change and grow as the series continues and I can’t wait to see what happens!

There are a few new characters that I really enjoyed in this book.  Morgan and Nan are the retired couple staying with Alison during this difficult case.  At first, Alison thinks they hate her and her guesthouse, but she comes to find out that Morgan is just missing investigating crimes as he recently retired from the police force. This works out great for Alison as she can pick his brain on the Lawrence Laurentz case.  And speaking of the alleged victim, Lawrence is Old Peter Panhilarious!  He is a wanna-be actor who took himself fairly seriously in life, but didn’t seem to have many friends.  The list of suspects includes the New Old Thespians, a theater group that Lawrence was briefly involved with and it is worth reading the book for the Peter Pan performance that the group puts on later in the book!  The descriptions of the reimagined story with Peter Pan wanting to remain old forever and never get younger are hysterical!  These characters are not funny in and of themselves, but when you see them through Alison’s eyes and read her inner dialogues as she describes them, you will grow to see how everything has a humorous side to it.

The mystery is pretty interesting this time as none of us are sure if there really is a mystery to solve.  Alison and her mother are very concerned about Alison’s father, but neither one of them know enough about the spirit world to know if he is being held against his will or if he just doesn’t want to see them right now.  To get an answer, Alison is forced into investigating Lawrence Laurentz’s death, which was ruled a heart attack.  Lawrence insists that someone threw a toaster in the bathtub with him and that he was murdered, but there is no evidence that backs this up.  Since ghosts are not cognizant until a few days after their death, Lawrence cannot identify his murderer or give any additional details.  Fortunately, Alison is a much better investigator now that she has some experience and Paul, her Canadian private investigator ghost, and Morgan, her retired-investigator guest, are able to help her a great deal when she gets stuck on this case and she actually manages to solve the crime.

I love the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series and look forward to each new installment with great pleasure.  These books are consistently well written and feature interesting mysteries presented by a very entertaining lead character in Alison Kerby.   Chance of a Ghost delivers the same high-quality characters and humor that I have grown accustomed to and I was not disappointed!

Content:

This book contains tales of multiple deaths, some of which are murder victims.  There is a scene of attempted murder, as well.  There are scenes of mild violence and arguments.  There is some mild language.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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Old Haunts (Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #3) by E. J. Copperman Book Review

Old Haunts

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Old Haunts by E. J. Copperman

Series: Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #3
Author: E. J. Copperman
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (February 2012)
ISBN: 9780425246207
Page Count: 290 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Alison Kerby’s guesthouse is always busy, but now it is full to the brim!  Her resident ghosts, Maxine and Paul, are both having issues.  Maxine is mad at Alison (what else is new) and then demands that Alison investigate the murder of her ex-husband, biker Big Bob, whose body was found recently nearby.  Alison steers clear until a paying client, Luther, one of Big Bob’s biker pals, hires her to look into the matter.  Paul can’t seem to get his body upright and is stuck in the horizontal or upside down position.  He seems to be really concerned about the girl he left behind and begs Alison to find her, but it is easier said than done.  To make matters worse, Alison’s ex, The Swine (aka Steven), shows up out of the blue and is intent on proving himself as the favored parent to their precocious daughter, Melissa.  Add in a new karaoke machine, skeptical senior tourists who don’t believe the daily ghost occurrences are real and Alison will have to be on top of her game to stay out of trouble!

Review:

Alison’s guesthouse has been open for a few months now and everything seems to be going fairly well.  She has regular bookings with the Senior Plus tour groups, but Paul and Maxine don’t seem to be putting much effort into their performances.  These tourists expect proof of ghosts twice daily so Alison has them on a regular schedule – 10:00 am and 4:00 pm on the main floor.  This gives Alison time to try to distract or get rid of the non-Senior Plus tourists staying with her New Jersey Guesthousewho have no idea that she has ghosts in the house.  Alison is seeing more ghosts now and is trying to keep herself from reacting when she sees them so people don’t think she’s crazy.  Alison has finally finished renovations on Melissa’s attic loft bedroom and now just has to figure out a safe and easy way for her to get up there.  Maxine seems happy being Melissa’s roommate and spends a great deal of time hanging out in the attic with Alison’s ancient laptop.  Alison is no longer dating Melissa’s teacher and that relationship just seems to have fizzled out without ever really going anywhere.  I can’t believe he stuck around for all of the craziness in the first book and then just kind of disappears between books 2 and 3!  It would have been great for Alison to have a handsome new guy by her side when The Swine, her ex-husband, shows up, but Alison is never really lucky like that.  I was not at all sure what her ex wanted when he showed up, but he is definitely making Alison look like the mean parent.  Melissa seems torn between trying to get her parents back together, enjoying time with the father that she rarely sees and standing up for her mother, whom she knows truly loves her.

We learn quite a bit about Alison’s previous life before she was divorced in Old Haunts, but I was much more interested in Maxine’s and Paul’s lives when they were actually alive.  Turns out that Maxine was married briefly to a biker called Big Bob.  Her mother never really approved of the relationship and was instrumental in breaking them up Biker Dudeafter Big Bob hit Maxine once when he was drunk.  Maxine and Alison have had their share of arguments in the past, but they seem to do nothing but disagree in this book.  When Big Bob’s body is discovered buried under a nearby pier, Maxine insists that Alison investigate.  After several close calls with past murderers, Alison is not about to get involved in the murder of a biker that involves a drug deal gone wrong.  Until she meets Luther, a handsome, successful biker who offers to hire Alison to look into the crime.  That doesn’t make Maxine feel better, of course, and she goes out of her way to try to steer Alison into trouble, but in a funny way.  Maxine really gets Alison back with the “advice” she offers to Alison about dressing to blend in at a biker bar!  Alison doesn’t seem that interested in solving the murder until Maxine’s mother is arrested for the crime and then she goes all out to try to uncover the identity of the real murderer.

Even though it is Maxine who seems to be going through a crisis, it is Paul that is worrying everyone.  Paul is no longer capable of controlling how he appears.  He is stuck upside down for quite some time and then seems to be stuck in the horizontal position.  The whole house is worried about him, but Paul seems unable to get himself upright and really doesn’t seem to care.  Usually Paul is full of tips and suggestions Engagement Ring in Boxfor Alison when she is investigating cases, but not this time.  When Alison finally weasels information out of him, she discovers that Paul was on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend when he died.  He still has the diamond engagement ring in his pocket and is really concerned about how she is dealing with his death.  Alison has a difficult time finding information on Paul’s girlfriend and I was immediately suspicious.  Paul is such a nice guy that I really wanted him to have someone who loved him and was sorry he was gone in his life.  I got bad vibes about the case from the first, though, and I was right to be worried.  Still, it was great to get a glimpse into Paul’s life before he was murdered and I hope that we will continue to learn more about him and his fellow ghost, Maxine, in future books.

The murderer’s identity is fairly obvious if you are paying attention while reading the book, but that does not negate the charm of the story.  I enjoyed reading about Alison’s adventures, as always.  I love the way that the author juggles the different plotlines in the book to keep me entertained and engaged.  While Alison’s guesthouse business may be on the back burner, she is still worried about her guests and trying to improve their experience.  The game room is being underutilized and the library seems small and a bit dim.  Alison doesn’t think much of her ex-husband’s idea of a karaoke machine, but that first night was pretty hilarious to read about when Alison and her guests take it for a spin!  Humorous additions and scenes are placed throughout the book to keep this cozy mystery series light-hearted and fun.  I enjoy the mysteries, but I love the characters and cannot keep myself from coming back for more!

Content:

This book contains a murder with a brief description of the body.  Illegal drug dealing, drug use and drug sales are an integral part of the mystery.  Bikers are discussed in regards to their stereotypes, as well as what they are really like.  There are a couple of scenes that take place at a bar.  There are scenes of drinking and smoking.  Spousal abuse is discussed.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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An Uninvited Ghost (Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #2) by E. J. Copperman Book Review

An Uninvited Ghost

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

An Uninvited Ghost by E. J. Copperman

Series: Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #2
Author: E. J. Copperman
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (April 2011)
ISBN: 9780425240588
Page Count: 293 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Alison Kerby’s guesthouse is finally open and she has her first group of guests in residence.  They include a Senior Plus tour and a teen reality show.  The Senior Plus guests expect daily proof of ghosts so Paul and Maxine, Alison’s resident ghosts, put on a show at 10 am and 4 pm.  In return, Alison promises to help Scott McFarlane, another local ghost, investigate a murder he thinks he might have committed.  Meanwhile, the teenage reality stars of Down the Shore are busy filming their next season when one of them goes missing.  They try to hire Alison to look into the disappearance, but she has her hands full with her guests, her ghosts and a murder investigation.

Review:

In the first book, Night of the Living Deed, Alison purchased a seashore mansion in New Jersey.  She is divorced from her ex-husband, aka The Swine, and has primary custody of their only child, nine-year-old Melissa.  Alison’s ability to see ghosts is relatively recent, but Melissa and Alison’s mother have both been seeing ghosts their whole lives.  At this time, Alison can only see Paul and Maxine, but she is still Haunted Guesthousedeveloping her abilities and is beginning to see more ghosts.  At first, Alison thought that her ghostly abilities would ruin her new guesthouse, but she is saved by Senior Tours, who specialize in vacations that feature haunted hotels.  The funny bit is that Alison’s guests are so accustomed to seeing ghostly performances that they have no idea that Alison’s house possesses the real thing.  Paul and Maxine are pretty creative in their “appearances” and seem to be having fun with it, but their participation came with a price.  They agreed to perform if Alison would get her private investigator license and help any ghosts who asked for it.  Alison recently completed the requirements for her license and is now ready, but not willing, to investigate.

Alison’s first case comes much more quickly than she hoped.  Her guesthouse is full and Alison desperately needs some positive reviews from the tour group to keep additional tourists coming, but Paul insists that Alison hold up her end of the bargain.  Scott McFarlane, a blind, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         hippy ghost, was hanging out at an abandoned hotel nearby when he claims that he accidentally murdered someone.  Alison begrudgingly goes out to investigate the potential victim, Arlice Crosby.  Arlice is a wealthy widow in town and well-known for her charity work.  She is also very much alive and extremely interested in the séance Alison is putting on that evening at her guesthouse.  Feeling awkward, Alison invites Arlice to attend, but soon regrets it when Arlice drops dead in the middle of it of an insulin overdose.  Who wanted Arlice dead and why?  With a whole guesthouse of suspects, including a former military nurse who carries insulin with her at all times, a guest who is diabetic, a woman who is obsessed with the occult, a couple no one ever sees and a host of other suspicious characters, Alison has a long list of people to investigate to solve the crime!

The mystery was a good one, but it was the humor and the characters that kept me coming back for more in this series.  The cast and crew of a reality TV show, Down the Shore, are staying on Alison’s property in trailers.  It seemed like the author was having some tongue-in-cheek Jersey Shorefun with the reality TV show scene and I couldn’t help but think of Jersey Shore.  I think that, by now, we are all aware that reality shows aren’t really real and E. J. Copperman has some funny commentary on what we believe is reality on TV.  There are two male and two female stars and all of them are focused on what they look like and how much camera time they are getting.  All of the scenes are set up in advance and almost scripted.  Alison’s descriptions of the cast, crew and sets are laugh-out-loud funny and I thoroughly enjoyed this subplot.  The returning characters from book one are just as much fun and I was thrilled to get to know them a little bit better.  Jeannie, Alison’s best friend, still refuses to believe that ghosts exist and denies all proof of their existence.  Tony, Jeannie’s husband, is totally creeped out by Maxine after what she did in the first book and avoids going to Alison’s house as much as possible.  Melissa, Alison’s daughter, is determined to be as involved in the new case as possible, something that Alison definitely doesn’t want.  Too bad Melissa has the best suggestions about how to investigate the crime!  Alison’s mother still believes that her daughter is practically perfect in every way and fortunately has a bigger role as her relationship with her daughter and granddaughter is pretty funny.  Paul, a Canadian private investigator who is stuck in the house where he died (now Alison’s house), is still trying to train Alison how to be a better investigator.  Maxine, Alison’s other ghost and the former house owner, is determined to help Alison come up with a solution for the attic and to butt her nose into Alison’s business as much as possible.  There is a sweet storyline about Maxine getting some closure with her mother in this book, however, that opened up a new side to Maxine that I really enjoyed seeing.  One of the most underrated characters in the series that I would love to see more of is McElone, a local cop who dreads any involvement with Alison or her cases.

The Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series is a delight to read and I always enjoy myself reading them.  If you enjoy cozy mysteries, these books are well-written, interesting and funny at the same time!  I look forward to each new book in the series as I cannot wait to hear what is happening to some of my favorite characters!

Content:

This book contains an attempted murder and an actual murder.  The victim dies of an insulin overdose and just drops unconscious to the floor so there is nothing gruesome described.  There are some scenes of drinking and smoking.  There is a lot of teenage attitude.  There is some mild language.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Night of the Living Deed (Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #1) by E. J. Copperman Book Review

Night of the Living Deed

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Night of the Living Deed by E J Copperman

Series: Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #1
Author: E. J. Copperman
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (June 2010)
ISBN: 9780425235232
Page Count: 336 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Newly divorced from Steve, a.k.a. The Swine, Alison Kerby and her nine-year-old daughter, Melissa, move to a New Jersey town on the seashore to open a bed-and-breakfast, minus the breakfast.  Their new home is a beautiful seven bedroom, four bath fixer-upper that stretches Alison’s budget to the limit.  Repairs are going great until a bucket of compound falls on Alison’s head, knocking her unconscious.  When Alison wakes up, she can see ghosts.  Not just any ghosts – the ghosts in her house, Maxine Malone and Paul Harrison.  Both of them were found dead in Alison’s house (then Maxine’s house) and it was ruled a double suicide, but Maxine and Paul insist that they were murdered.  Desperate to get rid of them, Alison finally agrees to help and almost immediately regrets it when a mysterious villain starts threatening Alison and her daughter.  Will Alison be able to solve the double murder without becoming a ghost herself?

Review:

I read a lot of cozy mysteries and most of them are just average, but Night of the Living Deed is something special.  I may not always agree with Alison’s motives or decisions, but I absolutely loved her as a character!  Alison is a confident, 30-something single mother with the dream of becoming a successful bed-and-breakfast owner.  Alison is New Jersey Seaside Guesthouseslaugh-out-loud funny with most of her reactions and reasonings.  I love being able to “hear” her inner monologues and think I have found a kindred soul in the way that she reacts to situations beyond her control.  Melissa, Alison’s young daughter, acts like all young girls I know – a preteen going on forty.  She is very mature for her age and is able to help out the investigation quite a bit, not that Alison wanted her to be involved, of course!  Melissa and Maxine become BFFs immediately, which drives Alison crazy.  Maxine is an artistic, free-spirited soul with a singular dress style and a witchy, sarcastic sense of humor.  She was an interior designer in the middle of renovating the beachside mansion when she was murdered and has definite opinions about how the house should be decorated.  Alison and Maxine clash quite a bit, but I think, deep down (way deep down), they both secretly enjoy their arguments and have quite a bit in common.  Paul Harrison is a Canadian private investigator Maxine hired right before they were killed.  He seems handsome and charming and is very courteous and polite.  Paul is the driving force behind Alison’s investigation into their murders and is super helpful, even though it must have been extremely frustrating for Paul to have to work through a rookie investigator with no experience and no idea what she is doing.  I feel like there is a special spark between Paul and Alison, but I am not sure if the author will choose to go this route with a romance as Melissa’s teacher seems to be in the running for Alison’s new boyfriend.

The characters were wonderful and the mystery is interesting, but it was the ghost aspect of the book that attracted me to it and I was not disappointed!  The ghosts interact with the living who can see them in a very organic, normal way.  They argue, lie, complain and act a great deal like they did when they were alive only now they can do it 24/7 without getting tired.  It was hilarious to see how people who cannot see ghosts try to explain away the strange occurrences in Alison’s Ghostly Hand Typing on Laptophouse!  Alison’s best friend, Jeannie, and her husband, Tony, really struggle with Alison’s newfound talent.  I was impressed that the author made a point to note that ghosts have different abilities and distinct personalities.  Maxine is quite good at manipulating objects while Paul is better at communicating with other ghosts through something they call the Ghosternet.  Neither of them are capable of leaving the house where they were killed so they are solely reliant on Alison’s investigation to solve their murder.  Maxine spends most of her time surfing the internet on Alison’s ancient laptop, changing her outfits for every appearance (apparently she has full access to her closet at home, but doesn’t need to go there to change into the clothes, she just thinks about them and then she looks different), adjusting her hair and makeup and making a general nuisance of herself.  It was Maxine’s constant interruptions into Alison’s renovations that convinces Alison to investigate rather than Paul’s polite charm so I guess it goes to show that the squeaky wheel will get the grease, right?  Paul doesn’t seem to do a lot other than pop up when called for.  He looks thoughtful a lot and strokes his goatee.  Poor guy, must be super boring to be dead and stuck in a house so far away from home.  It was very interesting to meet both of these ghosts and, while Paul and Maxine are the only ghosts that Alison can currently see, there are some other characters who can see all the ghosts around them so it will be interesting to see what happens as Alison’s talents develop.

Night of the Living Deed is well written, interesting and entertaining.  The mystery kept me guessing, the ghosts kept the plot lively and the characters are extremely likeable.  If you enjoy cozy mysteries, you will not want to miss the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series!

Content:

This book contains the story of multiple murders.  The crimes are briefly described, but not in any gruesome detail.  There are threatening phone calls, strange messages left in the house, break-ins, a kidnapping, breaking and entering and other crimes committed in the book.  There are scenes of mild violence and peril.  There is some mild language and social drinking.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (a Magic Shop Book) by Bruce Coville Book Review

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville

Series: a Magic Shop Book
Author: Bruce Coville
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (November 2007)
ISBN: 9780152062521
Page Count: 176 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: children ages 8 and up
My Ratingimage_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Jeremy is trying to escape some bullies when he stumbles across a shop he has never seen in his small hometown before.  It is some kind of magic shop, but the items for sale are unlike any Jeremy has ever seen.  A beautiful, colorful stone catches his eye and Jeremy persuades the shopkeeper to let him buy it.  Special instructions come with Jeremy’s purchase – instructions that tell Jeremy how to raise a dragon from the egg!  This stone couldn’t possible be a real dragon egg, could it?

Review:

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher is the first book that I read in the Magic Shop Book series and it is still one of my favorites.  There is something so magical about having a dragon in your life for a short while!  The dragon, whom Jeremy names Tiamet, has a huge Dragon Eggpersonality and gets Jeremy into quite a bit of mischief while he tries to take care of her and learn all he can about dragons.  Jeremy does his best to keep Tiamet calm and quiet, but she can feel his emotions and definitely reacts when Jeremy has strong feelings about something!  To make matters worse, no one else can see Tiamet but Mary Lou (Jeremy’s arch-nemesis, aka the girl who has a crush on him at school!) so everyone thinks that Jeremy is acting a little crazy!  Tiamet accidentally destroys a dinner party, sets a teacher’s shoe on fire, and eats up all of Jeremy’s allowance in chicken livers and milk.  I couldn’t stop myself from smiling as I read about Jeremy’s adventures while trying to take care of Tiamet and believe that all pet owners will find something to relate to as they both learn how to take care of the other!  If you have ever dreamed of taking care of a dragon, you may be a little surprised to learn that it is a great deal more difficult than you think!

All of the Magic Shop Books have little morals to them, and Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher is no different.  According to all appearances, Jeremy is an ordinary 12-year-old boy.  He doesn’t have very many friends and some boys pick on him, but he gets by all right most of the time.  His father is a veterinarian and runs his office out of the barn in the backyard.  His mother is at work during the day and Jeremy is often left to his own devices.  The only thing that makes Red DragonJeremy special is that he loves to draw and has a real talent for art.  So it is especially frustrating for Jeremy that all of his school teachers like him – except for his art teacher.  Why does his art teacher always pick on him?  The other problem Jeremy is dealing with is what to do with Mary Lou, a fellow classmate who seems to have a crush on Jeremy.  What is Jeremy supposed to do to get rid of her?  These problems are normal and something that most 12-year-old boys deal with, but Jeremy is fortunate in that he gets an unexpected boost: a baby dragon.  When Jeremy decides to hatch the dragon egg, his new pet teaches him more than he ever thought possible, and helps him come to terms with his new problems.

The Magic Shop Books are perfect for younger fantasy readers who want some magical adventures, but are not ready for something longer.  Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher is one of the longer books in the series and is a quick, easy read for older readers, but an unexpected delight for readers who are first branching out from chapter books.  There is something exciting that happens in every chapter and the story moves along at a rapid pace so children should not lose interest.  This book is perfect for reluctant readers, especially boys!

Content:

This book contains scenes of teasing and bullying.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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Jennifer Murdley’s Toad (a Magic Shop Book) by Bruce Coville Book Review

Jennifer Murdley’s Toad

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Jennifer Murdley's Toad by Bruce Coville

Series: a Magic Shop Book
Author: Bruce Coville
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (November 2007)
ISBN: 9780152062460
Page Count: 176 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: children ages 8 and up
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Jennifer is desperately trying to escape her fifth-grade nemesis, Sharra, the most popular and beautiful girl in the class, when she stumbles across a magic shop in her small town.  Needing a pet for a class assignment, Jennifer purchases a toad named Bufo.  Jennifer is absolutely shocked when Bufo starts talking to her on the way home!  She tries to keep Bufo’s abilities a secret, but events quickly spiral out of her control when Bufo’s kiss turns Sharra into a toad!  How will Jennifer be able to turn her classmate back into a girl?

Review:

All of the books in the Magic Shop series have a moral to them and, in Jennifer Murdley’s Toad, it is extremely obvious what the moral is: don’t judge people by what they look like.  Poor Jennifer struggles with self-esteem issues.  She may not be superficially pretty like her classmate, Sharra, but Jennifer is a sweet girl and is kind and helpful.  Unfortunately, she would give up just about anything to be beautiful.  Nothing hurts Jennifer’s feelings more than her mother’s description of her as “a kid in a plain brown wrapper.”  Just in case you miss the fact that Sharra is a spoiled brat (but beautiful) and Jennifer is unfailingly kind and willing to do whatever it takes to help her (but plain or ugly depending on who you talk to), Bruce Coville relates an old fairy tale.  He adapts it to suit his needs, but Diamonds and Toadsit is called “Diamonds and Toads” or something like that (Coville does not refer to it by name), but it is the story of two sisters.  One is beautiful and one is quite plain.  One day, a witch blesses the plain one for her kindness and now precious gems drop from her mouth whenever she speaks.  Determined to gain the same gift, the beautiful sister encounters the same witch, but is unkind.  Now the beautiful sister is cursed to have vermin like lizards, snakes, rats, and toads drop from her mouth when she speaks.  One of the toads that dropped from her mouth is Bufo, which explains his magical abilities.  Tied up in this fairy tale is a hint of “The Frog Prince,” as Bufo’s kiss turns the other person into a toad.  At first, I thought that his kiss turned Sharra into a toad because she is really an ugly person on the inside, but his kiss can be transferred to anyone and turns them all into toads.  Regardless, Bruce Coville is trying to relay an important message – it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, it is what is on the inside that counts.  I think that every girl needs to hear this message and hope that young readers will find this series and enjoy reading it as much as I have.

While I love and appreciate the message found in this book, the plot can get a bit murky at times.  There is a lot going on and not very many pages to tell the story in.  Jennifer must find a way to transform Sharra back into a human girl.  Bufo wants Jennifer’s help to find his true love, a toad that disappeared several years earlier.  A mysterious beauty Do Not Kiss a Toad!shop owner seems to know more about Bufo than she should.  Jennifer’s little brother disappears and seems to have fallen into enemy hands.  And, the fairy tale Bruce Coville tells about the two sisters is more than just the background to Bufo and Jennifer will have her hands full when Bufo’s past collides with his present.  It is not complicated to follow everything that is going on, but it would have been nice to have a more isolated story that focused in on Jennifer and her problems.  I did like Jennifer and had no problem relating to her.  I felt like an ugly duckling when I was her age and still have days where I think that I am nothing better than plain.  I was so proud of Jennifer for facing her fears and refusing to give in the villain in the end!  Jennifer could have sacrificed her friends for beauty, but she was strong enough to realize that she would be a great deal happier living life the way she is.  Hopefully Sharra learned to be a little nicer through their adventures, too.

Even though Jennifer Murdley’s Toad deals with some serious issues, there is still plenty to laugh at.  Bufo has an interesting sense of humor and can mimic anyone’s voice.  This gets Jennifer into a bit of trouble at school, but I think it was worth it.  Bufo helped loosen Jennifer up and see the fun side of life, regardless of what she looks like.  Jennifer’s younger brother is a sweetie and has some funny moments, too, as he has no idea what is going on, but wants to be involved.  If you have a young reader at home who is looking for a fast-paced series, make sure to check out the Magic Shop Book series.  There are both male and female protagonists in the books and all of them are appropriate and enjoyable for readers who are of either gender.

Content:

There are some scenes of mild peril.  There are scenes of bullying and verbal teasing.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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The Monster’s Ring (a Magic Shop Book) by Bruce Coville Book Review

The Monster’s Ring

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Monster's Ring by Bruce Coville

Series: a Magic Shop Book
Author: Bruce Coville
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (October 2008)
ISBN: 9780152064426
Page Count: 128 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: children ages 8 and up
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Russell is the smallest boy in school and is always being picked on.  To escape another fight, he darts down an alley and finds himself in a magic shop he has never seen before.  Inside, Russell purchases a ring that claims to be able to turn him into a monster.  Russell doesn’t believe it will change him, but he follows the instructions for fun – and finds himself turning into a hairy beast!  Thrilled with his new purchase, Russell uses the ring for a Halloween costume, but finds that the ring changes more than his outside appearance when he uses it.  Will Russell be able to control the beast within?

Review:

This is one of the shortest books in the Magic Shop Book series and I wanted it to be longer.  I loved that it took place during Halloween and can definitely see little glimpses of horror books and scary scenes that Bruce Coville is so well-known for in his Goosebumps series.  All of the Magic Shop series deal with important morals and The Monster’s Ring is no different.  Russell hates Eddie, a bully at school.  Eddie trips Monster Ringshim, stuffs food in his face, punches him and just makes his life miserable.  Russell spends most of his time trying to avoid Eddie, but that isn’t always possible in a small town.  When Russell has the chance to get even with Eddie by transforming himself into a real monster, Russell doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of the situation.  He takes the time to absolutely terrify Eddie and now Russell knows what it is like to be a bully.  And he likes it.  Will Russell choose to continue along his beastly path or will he find that even bullies have their reasons for picking on others?  I think that this is a very timely book for children to read as bullying has been in the news a great deal lately.  While the children will not have a monster ring to help them out, The Monster’s Ring should help children see bullies in a different light and hopefully help them deal with their situation better.

This book has a strong moral, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t entertaining!  Russell gets himself into trouble pretty fast with the magic ring he purchases and doesn’t bother to follow all of the instructions he is given. “Twist it once, you’re horned and haired; Gargoyle MonsterTwist it twice and fangs are bared; Twist it thrice? No one has dared!”  Russell begins with one turn, but cannot resist two turns for a special Halloween party at school.  When Halloween arrives, Russell has to see what three turns will do and this is when the book gets really exciting!  Russell could hardly control his beastly impulses at two turns and is now a completely different person!  He gives the town some spooky moments that they will be talking about for years to come and completely changes his life in the process.  I would not be a bit surprised that to learn that children of all ages find themselves wishing for a monster ring of their own (though I would like a dragon egg myself!).

My main complaint with this book is that it is very short and there is very little character development.  Settings are sketched out with the descriptions of Russell’s monster and his actions take up the bulk of the book.  If you have a reluctant reader at home or a younger reader who is looking for something more challenging than chapter books, The Monster’s Ring is a great choice.  There is plenty of action and some deliciously spooky moments, but nothing too scary.  Bruce Coville has a knack for tapping into childhood dreams.  I wish that I had discovered these books when I was a child!

Content:

This book contains several scenes of bullying, many of which involve physical attacks.  Russell turns into a monster and acts like one for much of the book.  He has horns, fangs and fur, but doesn’t really hurt anyone.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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Spellcast (Crossroads Theatre #1) by Barbara Ashford Book Review

Spellcast

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Spellcast by Barbara Ashford

Series: Crossroads Theatre #1
Author: Barbara Ashford
Publisher: DAW Books (May 2011)
ISBN: 9780756406820
Page Count: 433 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Ratingimage_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

When Maggie lost her job in Brooklyn, NY, she has no idea what to do next.  Panicked, Maggie decides to take her severance pay and escape for a little while.  With no firm destination in mind, Maggie finds herself stopping in Dale, Vermont.  She impulsively auditions at the nearby Crossroads Theatre and finds herself cast in all three musicals that they are putting on that summer.  Remembering how much she loved acting, Maggie sublets her apartment and moves to Dale for a few months.  They begin with Brigadoon, then move to an original musical named The Sea Wife and conclude with Carousel.  Along the way, Maggie will rediscover herself, heal old wounds with her father and find a bit of magic with the Crossroads’ director, Rowan Mackenzie

Review:

Spellcast is a charming bit of fantasy-romance for those of us who enjoy musical theatre and acting.  I myself am not a great actor and have only participated in local theatrical events, mainly as a dancer or a Brigadoon Rehearsalchoir singer, but I understand the concepts.  There are some brief introductions to the stage for amateurs, but they are brief enough that professionals should not get bored.  I loved learning about the cast and crew and found all of the characters fascinating, if a bit overwhelming.  There are so many people to keep track of!  I know if I was actually in the cast, I would have no trouble keeping people straight, but I am better at face recognition than remembering names so I found the book’s cast of characters a bit overwhelming at times.  There is no cheat sheet at the front or back of the book, either, so you might have to flip back to the front of the book to the first couple of chapters to “meet” the characters with Maggie again and remember who they are.  As the book proceeds, you will quickly uncover that it is really the crew that the book focuses on and that you can let the cast’s names wash over you.

Rowan Mackenzie is the most fascinating character in the book.  I won’t spoil the book and reveal anything about him that you get to discover while you are reading, but it is going to be obvious from the get-go that Rowan is no ordinary theatre director.  He is able to take a group of amateurs and turn them into performers in a matter of days.  Rowan also seems to cast people in the roles where they will have the most Selkie Girlopportunity for growth rather than where they are most suited.  This provides some challenges for Maggie, as she struggles with her role of hopeful Nellie in Carousel.  Maggie resists growing in the book for a long time and then finally is able to find some peace with her past.  The journey takes awhile for her and she hurts a lot of people along the way, but change is never easy.  Hal, who run Hallee’s, a lingerie store in town, with his partner, Lee, does makeup and costumes.  Reinhard helps direct and acts as a kind-of father-figure to the group.  Alex handles the music, Mei-Lin terrifies them into following her choreography and sweet Helen offers them peace after rehearsal is over.  There is something magical about the Crossroads Theatre, but I was a bit shocked when I found out what the magic was an where it was coming from.  That story is rich, well-developed and incredibly interesting!

Most of the story deals with the magical aspect of the Crossroads and how people like Maggie find themselves mysteriously drawn to it, but a good deal of the book deals with performing.  If you are not familiar with the musicals being performed, Barbara Ashford does a splendid job at recapping the story and briefly describing the characters that are involved.  If you are not familiar with the songs and/or have never seen Carouselthese musicals performed, they are readily available online and I strongly recommend that you take the time to watch/listen to Brigadoon and Carousel as it will really enhance your enjoyment of the book.  The Sea Wife is an original musical composed by Rowan and Alex so, obviously, you cannot look up the music for that one.  However, the author describes the musical in just as much loving detail as she does in the other two so it really comes to life.  At first, I agreed with Maggie and was very disappointed that they were performing Carousel, as it is not a musical that I enjoy watching or remembering.  I particularly do not enjoy hearing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which every famous singer insists on recording a version of.  I really bonded with Maggie over her dislike of “Clambake Nellie” as she calls her character because she sings the “Clambake Song,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  It was a learning experience for me, along with Maggie, as we came to understand how Carousel is about hope and not just a depressing story about an abusive husband and a hopeless romantic of a wife.  Not that I suddenly discovered a love of Carousel, but I feel that I look at the story in a whole different way.  This musical in particular proved to change the cast and crew in the most remarkable ways.

Spellcast is well written and you will find yourself captivated in the first couple of chapters.  There is not a lot that happens in the book, but Barbara Ashford has a way of writing to make you feel that there is a lot of action, even though it is just some wonderful character development.  Barbara Ashford’s greatest strength is her ability to Rowan Treecreate memorable, loveable characters.  You do not love them because they are perfect, but because they are imperfect.  I grew to love the characters in Spellcast and was sad to reach the end.  I was also absolutely devastated, but unsurprised by the ending.  If you pay particular attention to Rowan’s musical, The Sea Wife, you will realize that it is foreshadowing the future and that the author is trying to brace you for the inevitable ending.  I was heartened to see that Maggie created a new future for herself, however, and was absolutely delighted to discover that there is a sequel – Spellcrossed!  I cannot wait to see if my same beloved characters come back and to spend another summer in the magical town of Dale with its special Crossroads Theatre!

Content:

This book contains stories of torture, imprisonment and death.  There is nothing too explicit or gruesome described, it is mainly left for you, as the reader, to imagine.  Sex out-of-wedlock, extramarital affairs, illegitimate children, homosexual relationships and unconventional families are all part of the character group.  There are scenes of drinking, smoking and mild drug use (marijuana).  There are some scenes of sensuality and descriptions of orgasms.  There is some language.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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