Saturday, June 6, 2015

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pierce

ISBN 10: 0545709261    Hardcover   $16
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (April 28, 2015), 192 pages.
  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers program.

The blurb:
Fuzzles are everywhere. In your kitchen. In your backpack. In your underwear drawer.  Which is problem, since Fuzzles burst into flame at the worst possible moments...

Pip Bartlett can talk to magical creatures. It's a talent that nobody around her can understand.  Unfortunately, this talent can get her into trouble.  Like the time the unicorns stampeded her school.  Fortunately, Pip's aunt is a vet for magical creatures in a different town, and can take Pip in.

Unfortunately,  Pip's new best friend, Tomas, is allergic to magical creatures.  And unfortunately, Fuzzles have invaded Pip's new town, bursting into flames at all the wrong times.

It's up to Pip, Tomas, and a strange assortment of magical creatures to solve the mystery of what's going on with the Fuzzles. . . . and hopefully save the town from burning down.

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures begins with Career Day and an incident with unicorns. It turns out that Pip is the one person who can communicate with magical creatures. After the unicorn incident, nine-year old Pip is sent to assist her veterinarian aunt in her practice of magical creatures and her unique ability results in all sorts of complications and misadventures.

We follow Pip as she makes friends with an allergy prone boy her age and charms all sorts of magical creatures. While there Pip doesn't go on a quest or big adventure, she brings fun to an otherwise quiet suburban town. Fun read!

About the Authors:

Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater first met online through their shared love of reading, writing, and adorable animal photos.  They have since become good friends, and despite living in different states, talk daily (to plan mischief) and visit one another often (to execute mischief).

With the Pip Bartlett series, they decided to join forces to tell the sort of story they wanted to read: One with clever kids, plenty of magic, and as many animals as they could fit into the page.  Maggie's favorite magical creature in the Pip series is the Scottish Bogwallow; Jackson's is the Flowerbeast.  This is their first collaboration.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby

  • ISBN-10: 0553446797 - Paperback $16
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 7, 2015), 288 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill.  It began:    "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children."  It wasn't until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the New York Times had devoted several hundred words to her life:  Brill was a rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communication satellites in orbit, and she had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.  Among the questions the obituary -- and consequent outcry -- highlighted were, Who are the role models for today's female scientists and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response.  Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientist who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby's without vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each woman's ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they're best known.  This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best -- while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

Headstrong introduces us to 52 women scientists from a range of fields expertise, nationalities, backgrounds, and periods in history. While the profiles are limited to a few pages, the entries give us a strong sense of what obstacles they faced, their professional and personal successes, and the role that they've played in moving science forward.

I wasn't sure what to expect because the write-ups are brief, but Rachel Swaby does the women justice. The book is just a starting point, it encourages us to learn more about these outstanding, persistent, gifted women, about science, and about pushing forward.

About the Author:
Rachel Swaby is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Runner's WorldWiredO, The Oprah Magazine, New, Afar, and others. She is a senior editor at Longshot magazine, the editor-in-chief of The Connective: Issue 1, a former research editor at Wired, and a past presenter at Pop-Up magazine. She lives in Brooklyn.  Learn more about her at

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Memory Man by David Baldacci

  • ISBN-10: 1455559822 - Hardcover $28
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition / First Printing edition (April 21, 2015), 416 pages.
  • Series: Amos Decker series
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
Amos Decker's life changed forever--twice.

The first time was on the gridiron. A big, towering athlete, he was the only person from his hometown of Burlington ever to go pro. But his career ended before it had a chance to begin. On his very first play, a violent helmet-to-helmet collision knocked him off the field for good, and left him with an improbable side effect--he can never forget anything.

The second time was at home nearly two decades later. Now a police detective, Decker returned from a stakeout one evening and entered a nightmare--his wife, young daughter, and brother-in-law had been murdered.
His family destroyed, their killer's identity as mysterious as the motive behind the crime, and unable to forget a single detail from that horrible night, Decker finds his world collapsing around him. He leaves the police force, loses his home, and winds up on the street, taking piecemeal jobs as a private investigator when he can.

But over a year later, a man turns himself in to the police and confesses to the murders. At the same time a horrific event nearly brings Burlington to its knees, and Decker is called back in to help with this investigation. Decker also seizes his chance to learn what really happened to his family that night. To uncover the stunning truth, he must use his remarkable gifts and confront the burdens that go along with them. He must endure the memories he would much rather forget. And he may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

While I've enjoyed David Baldacci's thrillers, this first novel in the Amos Decker series is my favorite.  It's partly because we're introduced to a former detective that's been damaged by the world.  The alcoholic, haunted detective is a familiar character, but in Amos Decker we have a man whose dreams of playing professional sports was battered out of him. He dies twice on the field and the blunt force trauma has affected his brain. It's left him able to recall everything that he comes across, the information is available for him to access should he realize where to look.  The tradeoff is that he's lost much of his brain's emotional skills, such as the ability to empathize, pick up social cues, and put up with bullshit.  

Amos Decker picked himself up from the loss of his old self and life and worked to become a police officer and detective. He proved to be exceptional as a detective until the night that his wife and daughter were brutally murdered.  This was the tragedy that he couldn't recover from.  His particular abilities left him with the inability to escape the horrors of their deaths - the brutal details would not fade from his mind.  His grief and loss led him to lose everything - his home, his old job, his life.  He slowly moves back to self-sufficiency just as there's a break in the investigation in his family's murders.  

As Amos Decker maneuvers a way to meet the possible killer, there is a burst of crime in his small town.  He's invited to help the police - and though he's lost much, he discovers that his abilities can be called back.  Soon, he dives into the investigation, spotting clues and coincidences that others do not. His skills and his pain make him an exceptional detective and Memory Man a gripping read.

About the Author:
David Baldacci is a global #1 bestselling author. His books are published in over 45 languages and in more than 80 countries, and have been adapted for both feature film and television. David Baldacci is also the cofounder, along with his wife, of the Wish You Well Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across America. Still a resident of his native Virginia, he invites you to visit him at and his foundation at

Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann

ISBN 978-1-4976-6570-5  Trade Paperback $17.99
  • Publisher: Open Road Media Teen & Tween (August 11, 2015), 412 pages.
  • Age Range: 12-17 years
  • Series: The Wildenstern Saga (Book 1)

The blurb:
The slow collapse of the British Empire in the 19th century meant opportunity for anyone with ammunition and wit.  Now the Wildensterns are by far the most powerful family--and the most ruthless.  Trained from childhood in the arts of assassination and conspiracy and endowed with the supernatural ability to live for more than a century, the clan has grown rich, vicious, and seemingly invincible.

After nearly 2 years away, eighteen-year-old Nate has returned. But his homecoming is shattered when his eldest brother, Marcus, is mysteriously killed. Following the Rules of Ascension, which allow one male family member to murder another, Nate is being blamed.  Nate knows he isn't the murderer, but who is?  With the help of his sister-in-law, Daisy, and his cousin Gerald, Nate intends to find out. Their investigation brings them into the underbelly of the Wildenstern empire, where living machines, conspiring relatives, and undercover mercenaries do their dirty work.   But when a disaster uncovers the ancient remains of Wildenstern ancestors, the lives of the family members and their struggle for power will take a bizarre and gruesome turn.

It's a parallel universe during the Victorian Era, the time of the Industrial Revolution, with Steampunk animals that combine aspects and physical characteristics of machines. The Wildenstern family has its hand in many businesses but captures, tames, trains and harnesses the powers of these dangerous creatures. The Wildensterns have amassed one of the largest fortunes in the world. But beyond their reputation for almost limitless wealth and good fortune, the Wildensterns have a reputation for exceptional physical strength and endurance - the power to survive that which would kill ordinary men. The family is known for its ability to survive mortal attacks and dangerous situations. Like some of the other powerful and wealthy clans, they are gifted with the ability to heal faster and better by physical contact with gold. Unlike most other powerful families, the males in their line are allowed to murder or assassinate family members if it brings them closer to the line of succession.

In Ancient Appetites, Oisin McGann has created a fascinating world with clear complex rules of behavior, hierarchy and class. There's family drama, a dashing young male lead, spirited young women eager to find their place in the world, vast wealth and power, treacherous and jealous relations - a wonderful, gripping read with much humor. I'm looking forward to the next books in the series.

About the Author:
Oisin McGann was born and raised in Ireland. Before becoming an author, he worked as a freelance illustrator, serving time along the way as a pizza chef, security guard, background artist for an animation company, and art director and copywriter in an advertising agency.

In 2003 he published his first two books in the Mad Granddad series for young readers, followed by his first young adult novel, The Gods and Their Machines. Since then, he has written several more novels for young adults, including the Wildenstern Saga, a steampunk series set in 19th century Ireland, and the thrillers Strangled Silence and Rat Runners.

A full-time writer and illustrator, Oisin is married, has three children, and lives somewhere in the Irish countryside.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

White Fire (Pendergast, #13)White Fire by Douglas Preston
  • ISBN-10: 1455525847 - Mass Market Paperback $10
  • Publisher: Vision; Reprint edition (May 27, 2014), 512 pages.
  • Series: Agent Pendergast series (Book 13)

I'd known about the writing team of Preston & Child years before I'd read their series with FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast.  But you don't have to have read the earlier books to dive into White Fire.

The book opens in London 1889 with a young Dr Arthur Conan Doyle joining Oscar Wilde and wealthy US publisher Joe Stoddart for dinner at the Langham Hotel.  Wilde and Conan Doyle don't just begin a friendship; Wilde relates a true story that he heard in the US, this story leaves Conan Doyle deeply disturbed.

Years later, Conan Doyle's diary entry for that night directs Corrie Swanson, a young student of criminal studies, to a topic for her junior thesis and brings her to the former mining town turned playground of the rich Roaring Fork to examine the remains of 6 miners who had reportedly been attacked and eaten by a grizzly bear.

Corrie's research leads her to other mysteries and possible foul play during the early years of Roaring Fork.  As she delves further into the past, she catches the attention of powerful leaders in Roaring Fork.  Roaring Fork also faces a deadly arsonist who has begun to target prominent families and destroy homes in the town.

FBI agent  Pendergast joins Corrie in Roaring Fork to help extricate her from town politics and the growing danger.

Arthur Conan Doyle, a long lost Sherlock Holmes story, and the unusual history of Roaring Fork combine to give White Fire an unusual and gripping story.  As a new reader of the Pendergast series, I'm hooked.