Vampires and Werewolves, oh my.

Sometimes, I just need a book full of bloodsucking vampires and furry werewolves- especially in October when the sights and sounds of Halloween are everywhere.

I love my Jane Austen (yes, she’s mine) and I love so many of the classics and the strong contemporary novels that critics rave about, but I also adore my supernatural thrillers.  They reach some unreachable itch in the back of my mind that realistic fiction can’t touch and make me literarily content and happy inside.

Seriously, there’s nothing like a good ol’ vampiric book high.

On the chance that I’m not the only one who loves all things fang and furry, I thought since it was October that I would compile a list of my favorite supernatural thrillers.  I love you Gentle Reader, and love means never letting your internet friends read subpar books.

If you’re looking for a fabulous urban fiction series full of vampires and shaper-shifters look no further than the Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews.  These books are gritty, fast paced novels lightly kissed with a dystopian flair and they have a hidden depth to them.

The first book is Magic Bites.  I’ll be honest, the first book is good but not full out great.  That is what I love about this series- the author doesn’t give away all the secrets in the beginning.  And unlike any other series I’ve read, the Kate Daniels books get better and better with each installment.  There are now over ten books and novellas in this series, plus a spinoff novel, so you might just get enough vampires and werewolves to satisfy the supernatural freak inside of you.  At least for a while.

If you are looking for a series that is a little less graphic, a bit more idealized, and not quite so raw in terms of language and sexuality, then you cannot go wrong with Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series (despite their slightly pornographic covers on some editions.)  The first book in the series is Moon Called.

These books have action and romance and spunk and wonderful characters that you wished were real and lived next door.  (But I get dibs of Stephen- he’s dreamy- in a slightly scary, blood-sucking way.)  The books are full of vampires and werewolves, but they also have coyotes, witches, gremlins, and fairies- not to mention a scene stealing, homicidal snow elf in one of the installments.

Best of all, more than any other series, these characters are filled with so much diversity.  Additionally, the these books have a nice Southwestern, Native American flavor, which makes them stand out among their supernatural peers.  I give a solid two thumbs up for Mercy Thompson.

Perhaps you don’t want a series, maybe you just want a stand alone work of awesomeness that just happens to have some scary, freaky vampires in it.  I’ve got you covered.  You are looking for Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand times, Sunshine is the ultimate vampire book, my absolute favorite.  The story begins with a rather ordinary appearing heroine who discovers her hidden talents and strengths as the book progresses.  (I should also mention she bakes and this book is full of fantastic descriptions of all sorts of deliciousness- food porn at its vampiric best.)

All in all, McKinley creates an amazing alternative world with fully formed characters and a gripping plot that leaves you wanting more.  So much more.

Now that I’ve shared with you my favorite vampire book of all time, let me introduce you to my favorite supernatural urban fiction book:  Written in Red, by Anne Bishop.

What makes this book so fantastic?  Well, I loved that the monsters in the story were actual monsters, not romantically inclined, sparkly control freaks.  There is a unique feel to the overused tropes of shape-shifters and vampires that made this book feel fresh and new.  The world building was mind blowing and the characters seemed like actual people that somehow got trapped inside the pages of a book.  Best of all the pace was nice and even throughout the entire novel with some extreme tension at the climax of the story.

And my favorite thing about this book?  There was absolutely no cliched love triangle.  Even better- there was no romance, period.  While there are faint hints at future romantic entanglements, this book stands solidly and solely on its story and people rather than embellished and over the top love scenes.

Other honorable mentions in the vampire/werewolf category are:

Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith.  I love this book greatly.  Find my review here.

Chicagoland Vampire series, by Chloe Neill.  The first four books are fun, filled with witty dialogue (so snarky!) and interesting characters.  After those installments, however, I was less than impressed with the quality and writing.

Dead Witch Walking, by Kim Harrison.  This is the first of The Hollows series.  These books are sexy, gritty, dark, and action driven.  The world building is excellent and the characters are nicely fleshed out.  (There also seems to be an inordinate amount of time spent describing clothing.  If you are a clotheshorse or into fashion, this might be right up your alley.)

Soulless, by Gail Carriger.  This is the first of the Parasol Protectorate series.  How to describe this book?  50% supernatural, 50% steam-punk, 100% good, old fashioned, bodice-ripper romance story.  Additionally, this book is written very much tongue in cheek and refuses to take itself seriously which is why is succeeds so well.  Werewolves, vampires, steam engines, heaving bosoms, and Victorian England, oh my.

The Morganville Vampire series, by Rachel Caine.  I enjoyed the first few books in this series.  Lots of action, lots of mean vampires, lots of snark, and lots of teenagers making out.  After a few books, though, this formula got a little old.  But that’s the nice thing with series- there’s no law you have to finish them.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  You have to love the original classic that started it all.  Seriously, you have to, or you and I will have words.  There is a reason this gothic tale has survived the test of time- it’s fabulous.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova.  An epic scholarly thriller in the gothic style.  Parts of this book scared the pants off me.  And, if I’m completely honest, parts of this book dragged on a little bit and bored me slightly.  Find my more complete review here.

Department Nineteen, by Will Hill (and no, I did not make up that author’s name.)  I thought this was a solid YA novel that felt like a modern day spinoff of the original Dracula.  I liked the whole secret government agency vibe to it and the high tech weapons the soldiers used to fight the evil vampires.  On the other hand, my husband didn’t enjoy this novel and thought the main character was whiny and pouty.  Whatever.  Just one more example of how I’m always right and he’s wrong.

‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King.  Of course the master of horror wrote a vampire story, of course.  And because it is written by Stephen King the pacing is fabulous, the characters feel real, and some seriously scary stuff happens.  (Warning- Mr. King isn’t afraid to kill off your favorite characters, so be prepared.)  However, Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, and in my humble opinion, this is not his strongest work.  Still, a so-so novel written by a great author is better than most stuff out there.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin.  Part of my brain is convinced that this book is pure genius.  Another part of my brain shouts loudly that this book is an incomplete and meandering mess.  Sometimes books make us bi-polar and there’s no shame in that.  I loved the apocalyptic, doomsday first half of the book, it reminded me a lot like Stephen King’s The Stand, but with super freaky, man-made vampires.  However, where The Stand ends in a triumphant finale of good overcoming evil, The Passage only offers an ambiguous conclusion and a lengthy sequel.  Still, this book garners a bunch of devoted, adoring fans.  Try it out, at 784 pages there’s no shame in quitting if this book turns out to be not your cup of tea.

There you have it, Gentle Reader, my top picks in the vampire/werewolf category.  And since I’m always on the lookout of a great supernatural thriller, be sure to shout out your favorite if it didn’t make my list.  Remember, sharing is caring.

 

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A small victory in the pre-algebra war.

I sit at the kitchen table next to my son.  We are both in our pajamas.  The backdoor curtains are open and sunlight pools directly onto his pre-algebra textbook; a spotlight of sorts, highlighting the most challenging thing we do all day.  A gray cat rubs up against our legs and in the other room someone starts to practice her scales on the piano.

It’s not your typical math classroom, but the purring cats, unorthodox background music, and pajamas seem to make pre-algebra somewhat palatable to the both of us.

Today, Will is practicing how to simplify and collect like terms.  I, on the other hand, am practicing deep breathing and patience.

Will does his best to remember all the rules he’s been taught these past few weeks while I try desperately to keep any signs of aggravation out of my voice when I have to repeat myself.  Neither of us are one hundred percent successful.

Still, the math is getting done with a minimum of angst.

After getting several answers right in a row, Will rubs his forehead and says hesitantly, “Okay, I think I’ve got this now.”

“Good job buddy,” I congratulate him and stand up to begin another task on my seemingly endless list of things to get done.

“Wait!” Will stops me with one panicky word.  “Could you just stay here while I do this next problem?”  “Of course,” I answer, “Of course.”

So I do.  I stand silently by his side, as my son tackles the next problem on the page.  I offer no advice while Will uses the distributive property and combines variables and constants.  He multiplies and adds while I stay next to him, reminding him without speaking, that he is not alone in this.

When he compares his answer to the key in the back of the book, Will’s stiff shoulders loosen and I know he has gotten it right, without him having to say a word.

I relax too.  I have not yelled or lost my temper once this morning.  I have not shaken him and shouted, “Why are you forgetting about negative numbers?  We learned them two weeks ago!” even though I wanted to at one point.

Will and I smile at each other.  Each of our morning objectives has been achieved.  He was a good student.  And I?  I was a good teacher.

Tomorrow we will do this all over again.  Today’s math battle has been won, but the pre-algebra war lingers on.  Tomorrow, my son will face the unknown with a loosely cobbled, rickety confidence and I will fight against my own impatience and imperfections as I struggle to teach him in a way he will understand.

Tomorrow we might fail spectacularly, but today we celebrate the small victories that have come our way.

JUST WRITE.

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Posted in Homeschooling, The Boy | 2 Comments

Reorganized priorities.

I’m waiting at the stoplight, hoping to get a green arrow through this crowded intersection, wondering if I managed to trip that elusive trigger in time.  I have eight million things I desperately need to accomplish tonight and shaving a few minutes off my time sitting in traffic somehow seems vital to getting everything done.

From the back of the car, my seven year old clears her throat and says, “Do you know what troubles me?”

I mentally swear in my head as the capricious traffic gods deny my heartfelt prayers for the green arrow and I reluctantly resign myself to remaining in this intersection for a few more minutes, waiting for a chance to turn left in bumper to bumper traffic.  There is no way I’m going to get all my errands finished now.

My daughter’s words sink in through my internal rampage on overpaid city engineers who have obviously no clue what they’re doing as they destroy innocent citizens’ lives.  “Wait.  What?  You’re what?”

Eden, pleased she finally has my attention, sighs dramatically and asks again, “Do you know what troubles me?”

Smiling at her choice of words, I reply, “No, please tell me all about what is troubling you.”

Eden sighs again, but with less Diva and more worry.  “It’s that whole breathing to the side thing in swimming.  It’s really, really hard.  Especially when I get tired because my head is so, so heavy and hard to turn.”

My first instinct is to point out exactly how little and insignificant this problem of hers is.  Seriously, breathing to the side?  Isn’t that rather on the small end of the scale when it comes to calamities and problems?  Especially when I think about my own issues?

But up ahead I see a small pocket where I just might be able to make my left turn.  This quick navigation takes all my focus for a few moments and I am unable to respond to my daughter.

Driving again, I’m silently applauding my quick thinking and rejoicing over the extra 30 seconds I’ve managed to save when suddenly it hits me that perhaps I am the ridiculous one.  It was just a traffic light, just a left turn, just a couple of moments spent.  Why did I feel that it was so important?  Why was I so consumed with saving those minutes?

“Mom!”  Eden chastises me, “Are you even listening?  Breathing is important!”

And she is right.  Breathing is a necessary, vital thing.  We have to breathe to live.  We do not, however, have to make the green light or check off our to-do list to live.  Life will go on, even when we’re stuck in traffic.

I make brief eye contact with Eden through the rearview mirror.  “You are absolutely right,” I answer her.  “Breathing is important, especially when you’re in the middle of the swimming pool.”

“And I can’t even touch!” Eden exclaims loudly, relieved that I seem to understand her problem, that I can recognize the enormity of it.

As we pull into the parking lot I continue to commiserate with my youngest daughter on the difficulty of side-to-side breathing.  I encourage her to do her best, remind her of what a good swimmer she is becoming, and comfort her with the fact that Coach Britney won’t let her drown.  By the time the car is parked, Eden is no longer troubled but smiling.

As she dashes through the doors to the high school swimming pool, beach towel trailing behind her, goggles clasped tightly in her fist, I take a few moments that I didn’t think I had to express gratitude for my newly reorganized priorities.

JUST WRITE.

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Posted in just everyday life, The Little Girl | Leave a comment

Flashback Friday: He’ll always be my baby.

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This week my son turned thirteen years old.  Not coincidently, this same week Will has officially grown taller than me.  I am convinced that somehow he planned this willful height rebellion to occur at the precise moment when he became a bona fide teenager.

Discovering that someone you once pushed through a ten centimeter opening is now taller than you is quite a disconcerting and unwelcome feeling.  A few weeks ago when Will had reach my same height I had forbidden him from growing another centimeter.  But, apparently, my son is determined to thwart me- even on a cellular level.

Ppfftt. Teenagers.

One of the things I love best about my son is his ability to connect to anyone, at any age, in any walk of life.  He is as comfortable playing peek-a-boo with a one year old during church service (which he would get in trouble for, if I didn’t do the same thing) as he is approaching an adult and complimenting him on the talk they gave from the pulpit.

Will can socialize with anyone.  He as friendly talking to our next door neighbor who ends every single sentence with a four letter expletive and the phrase “pardon my French” as he is conversing with a Sunday School teacher in grad school, who’s wearing a nice suit and tie.

I also love that my son doesn’t easily fit into any box.  He enjoys watching Project Runway with me or any cooking show ever invented, but he also is completely obsessed with watching football (or any other sport for that matter) with his father or uncles.  When a thirteen year old boy can use the words ‘saute’ and ‘poach’ correctly and knows the difference between a fumble and an incomplete pass, you know he’s going to go far in life.

There are some things that trouble me.  Will is a teenager after all.  I don’t quite understand how he can remember the score and game highlights of the past thirty-five Superbowls (most of which happened before he was born) and yet he cannot remember that five minutes ago I asked him to make his bed.  The inner workings of his mind are all very mysterious to me, they really are.

I also don’t quite understand where Will puts all the food he consumes.  He must have a hollow leg or something because the boy can inhale 7 slices of pizza and then complain twenty minutes later that he is starving.  And Will’s extreme devotion to all meat products is…disturbing.  And expensive.  I look at my friends who have multiple teenage boys in their household and why they aren’t bankrupt is beyond me.  Feeding teenage boys is a very pricey pastime.

But the thing I understand least of all is how I can look at my thirteen year old son, this man-child who is taller than me, whose legs are longer than his father’s, who has become his own person and is crafting his own future separate from mine, and I still see him as a tiny baby.  My baby.

It is the great maternal mystery of the universe.

So my son, no matter where life may take you, no matter what paths you choose to travel, no matter how tall and big you may grow, no matter how proud I am of the man you become, remember this eternal truth:

You will always be my baby.  Always.

 

Posted in flashback Fridays, The Boy | 4 Comments

Fall is my favorite.

We seem to be having a lovely, leisurely, albeit early autumn here in Indiana.  In the morning the air feels downright chilly and you can see all the children at the bus stops wearing their jackets and sweatshirts.  Later in the afternoon, however, the air warms up and those same kids get off the bus, lugging a backpack that’s had a jacket stuffed into it or with a sweatshirt tied around their waist.

My own children seem to go through several outfits daily.  In the morning they wear long sleeved shirts and cozy sweatpants.  Then after lunch they change into short sleeved t-shirts or maybe capris.  Then after dinner for swimming practice they put on sweats again.  I tell them everyday to fold up those warmer clothes and put them back in the drawer for later, but I don’t think they’re listening as we’ve had a sudden large increase in laundry.  Autumn = mucho laundry.

In our house, we all sleep with the windows open, letting in the colder night air.  When the kids are tucked in at night they are under one blanket.  In the morning, as I make my way downstairs, I notice that there are now multiple comforters cocooning my babies from the brisk chilly air.

Sleeping all bundled up with the windows open is my most favorite way to slumber.  Then, in the morning, when I go to put in my contacts which got chilled during the night- whoa Nellie.  It’s like a shot of adrenaline directly in my eyeballs.  GOOD MORNING.

(Believe me, Gentle Reader, I agree that it is completely ridiculous that such little things make me happy.  But a ridiculous life has proven to be quite a good life.)

This time of year my body seems to crave pumpkins and squash- despite the fact that I don’t actually like eating those things.  This week alone I’ve pinned dozens of acorn squash recipes, knowing full well I will never buy an actual acorn squash, ever.  In April, I do a nice spring cleaning of all my pinterest boards, getting rid of all those recipes I’ll never make in a million years, but in the fall I’m helpless against a dish that contains pumpkin, squash or cinnamon.

I also find myself craving caramel apples like nobody’s business.  There’s that recipe going around on facebook that has a hollowed out apple filled with a caramel sauce, then sliced into wedges.  I would normally copy that recipe in a heartbeat, but hollowing out that apple looks like a pain in the butt, and not even I can lie to myself good enough to make me believe I would ever really do it. Especially when you can just have regular ol’ apple slices and dip them into carmel.

Autumn also makes me want to cook everything over a campfire.  Hotdogs, the grossest of all processed food, sound delicious when our fire pit is put into use.  Smores seem like a dietary necessity.  Apparently in the fall time our bodies require copious amounts of additives and preservatives.

Steak and Shake, a local fast food chain, can apparently sense my weakness.  This time of year they offer carmel apple shakes and smores shakes.  It is very hard to restrain myself and not go down there every single day between the hours of 2 and 4 when half price happy hour is going on.

The ultimate enabler to all this gastrointestinal excess is the fact the fall time clothes are very forgiving.  Stretch pants and sweat pants and yoga pants- pretty much anything with an elastic waist- can hide a multitude of carmel apple shakes.  I know this from personal experience.

A don’t get me started on the sweaters.  Autumn is the season of sweaters and I love mine wholeheartedly. I’ve had some of them longer than I’ve had my children. They’re like old, familiar, 95% cotton friends that make me feel cozy and cared for. Last year I got a new sweater for the first time in years and when I put it in the closet for the first time I gave all my older sweaters a good pep talk on the importance of being good friends. I mean, nobody likes snobby sweater cliques.

Sometimes I think that Spring is my favorite season, but every fall I change my mind and decide that Autumn is the best. The scenery is gorgeous- and without all the weeding and pruning and digging that comes in the springtime.  Then when you add in all the food, the clothes, and the smells it’s really no contest.

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Fall is my favorite and my best.

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The chicken circle of life.

This year our house has been remarkably fly free, despite the cooler and wetter summer we’ve had.  There are rarely any flies that buzz into our home through that tiny hole in the window screen that never seems to get fixed, nor are there many out there annoying the chickens in our backyard.

I puzzled over this until we had a dewy and misty morning the other day and I realized that there are approximately four billion spider webs in our backyard.  Most of which can be found in close proximity of the chicken coop.

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It was then that I had the following epiphany.

The chickens eat and eat and eat (these are some pampered ladies.)  Chickens then poop (one of the few slightly disgusting things regarding chickens.) Flies are attracted to the chicken poop, while spiders are attracted to the flies.  Hence the spiders hang out with the chickens.  The owner (me) spends more time with the hens due to the lack of annoying flies (and because I can’t see all the spiders) and inadvertently feeds the chickens more, resulting in more poop.  More flies come but are quickly consumed by the increased population of spiders.

My feathered ladies seem to have their own sort of backyard ecosystem going on.  It’s like one big circle of life revolving around (as all things do at our house) the chickens.

It fills me with a strong desire to lift a chicken high above my head and start chanting the opening song to The Lion King, except of course, the minute I hoist that chicken up, I’m sure to get pooped on.

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My summer of fiction.

In the Bunkersdown world it is officially fall, despite what any calendar says.  Over here we have a very scientific process called, “When do I have to bust out the pants and sweaters?” method to determine the change in seasons.  That method was put into play this weekend and so, for all intents and purposes, I’m convinced autumn is here.

Another way I can gage if summer is over is by monitoring my reading.  Once fall arrives and school begins, the amount of books I’m able to read on a weekly basis shrinks dramatically.  It’s not that I don’t want to read, because I do, it’s just that I only have twenty four hours in the day, sadly, and three children to educate and take care of, not to mention a newfound obsession in watching The Blacklist episodes on Netflix.  (Seriously, this show is brilliant and James Spader is amazing.  I love him.)

Luckily for me, I took advantage of the time I had this summer to read almost 50 books, knowing a literary draught was ahead of me.  Because I have a deep love for you, Gentle Reader, and a compulsion to share reading material, I’ve comprised a list of the very best books I enjoyed this summer.

What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty)  Imagine passing out and waking up to discover ten years had past.  Instead of being pregnant with your first child, you now have three.  Instead of being passionately in love with your husband, you are getting a divorce.  What happened to your life?  That is what Alice has to discover.

I will just state right now that I loved this book.  I loved that the characters and situations felt recognizable, that they weren’t merely cliches.  I felt the writing was incredibly strong and clear (oh, Ms. Moriarty, I’m such a fan now.)  Best of all, I loved how this novel made me look at my own life and my own marriage.  This story is something that I’m going to carry with me for a long time.

Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver)  This is a stunning piece of Young Adult fiction.  The whole story centers around a popular “mean” girl and her group of high school friends.  Which, frankly, doesn’t sound amazing but it is once you throw in the whole Groundhog’s Day device of how she relives the same day (her last day) over and over until she gets it right.

There are two things I love particularly about this novel.  The first is how the author takes this ridiculously horrid person and slowly redeems her in a believable and realistic way.  The second is that none of Ms. Oliver’s characters feel flat, none of them are black and white, which makes the story feel alive.  Let me throw in this disclaimer:  some of the bullying scenes are brutal, some of the language is quite salty, and some of the scenarios make you never want to send your children to public high school.  But I truly feel that adds to the authenticity of the book as a whole.

Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)  Devastating.  If I had to describe this book in one word, that’s the one I’d chose.  If I had two words I’d say “emotionally eviscerating.”   But that shouldn’t deter you from checking out this book.  No, sometimes you need to be punched in the gut by your reading material.

Set in World War II, this book contains the most amazing friendship I’ve ever seen.  It is a story filled with spies, intrigue, love, devotion, and courage.  And it will make you do the ugly cry, but afterwards you will feel cleansed and grateful in a way that’s hard to explain.  So read it already, okay?

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage (Molly Wizenburg)  This book is a bit of a two-for-one kind of deal: part memoir, part recipe book, all fantastic.  I love Molly Wizenberg’s writing.  She could write about the subdued antics of caged monkeys and I would find it fascinating.  Fortunately, this book is not about primates, but rather the opening of her husband’s restaurant.  It chronicles the highs and lows and everything in between from the restaurant’s conception through its opening.

This is the second memoir by Ms. Wizenburg, but it’s not absolutely necessary to read her first book before this one (although, I highly recommend that you should read A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table because it’s lovely, lovely, lovely.)

The Golden Day (Ursula Dubosarsky)  This is a difficult book to classify.  It is not exactly a horror story nor a mystery, despite being a bit horrific and mysterious is many places.  This deliberately short novel tells  the story of eleven school girls whose teacher goes missing one day while on a field trip.  It is beautifully written and wonderfully voiced with gorgeous descriptions and similes throughout.  It is a very quick read, but one that lingers in your mind for some time after the last page has been turned.

The Invisible Boy (Trudy Ludwig)  It’s not often that I fall in love with a picture book.  The story, the text, and the illustrations need to be top notch to get a recommendation from me.  Fortunately for you, this children’s book has all of those things.  Moving, uplifting, and entirely relatable to both kids and adults, this is a story everyone should read.

Dark Triumph (Robin LaFevers)  This is the second installment in the His Fair Assassin series, which isn’t exactly fair to you, Gentle Reader, because you really do need to read the first book before you tackle this fabulous piece of fiction.  But life is rarely fair, so suck it up.

The first book, Grave Mercy, wasn’t one of my favorites, despite being full of what I can only call “assassin nuns” and their incredible training.  However, many people I know and respect loved that book, so there’s every indication that you will too.  However, this second installment in the series is a wild, dark delight.  The writing is superb (Robin LaFevers really finds her groove in this novel), the villains are suitably ghastly and heinous, and the romance is subtle and sweet, which contrasts nicely with all the violence and fighting. I give it four and a half stars.

So there you have it, the top picks from my summer reading list.  Now play nice and share with me some of the great books you read this summer in the comments below.  Friends don’t let friends go bookless.

Posted in books | 2 Comments