Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Chemist gets 3.5 Stars {adult lit, mystery, action}

The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer is an adult literature mystery, spy, action novel. 3.5 out of 5 stars in my book review. chemistry, action, strong female characters, clean read, book club, fun read, audiobook, Alohamoraopenabook Alohamora: Open a Book

I have a couple confessions to start with today. 

First, I actually liked Twilight and felt the character development was well done.  Though, the remaining books were downhill for me.  I read them, but they were not as good.  I also watched the first couple movies.  I even ran a half marathon while listening to the Twilight movie.  I highly recommend listening to a movie you know while running a race.  It was fun and helped me keep my pace.    
Second, I HATED The Host.  Seriously, it was so long and dragged on and on and on.  I actually stopped reading it twice, but eventually finished the book. 

Third, I was dreading having to read The Chemist for my book club.  I hated The Host and it looked as long as that previously hated book, and I was just not super stoked about reading another Stephanie Meyer book.  In my eyes she was a One-Hit-Wonder.  However, people all have their own opinions.  I know there are some strong Meyer fans.  

Fourth, I was actually surprised with the fact that The Chemist was better than I thought it'd be.  I actually didn't hate it, and I even found parts of the story to be enjoyable.  

The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer gets 3.5 out of 5 Stars from me, and that is surprisingly good for a book I had extremely low expectations for.  All in all, there were several things I liked and several things I didn't like.    

I felt the spy novel based around chemistry was cool and unique; I always loved chemistry. so this was cool.  I liked how the main character was a small girl physically, but she was smart and won a lot of the time.  Brains can most definitely take you places.  I thought Alex's excitement for a common gray car was pretty funny.  I liked the characters, and even found myself liking Val for what she had to offer.  As well, I liked the overall storyline, even with all of it's imperfections.   Honestly, this book exceeded my expectations; it was a fun read with a pretty decent pace. 

Plus, I really enjoyed the epilogue, and especially loved where they ended up moving to.  Love that state! 

I felt the quick attachment Danny had for Alex to be a bit ridiculous; it was a little much a little too soon.  Alex's feelings went from pushing Danny away to truly caring for him seemed abrupt.  I felt some of the action scenes seemed a bit quick and abrupt.  I had to go back and read it again b/c I wasn't sure what happened.  I know action scenes can be hard to write, but it's important to write it well if you are writing a spy/action novel.  For the most part the pacing of the story was well done.  There were a few here and there moments in the book, especially the beginning, that drug a little slow, but overall not too bad.  It's honestly a fun read.       

As far as content is concerned, there were a few swear words, but overall it was a pretty clean read.  

Happy Surprisingly Decent Adult Literature Action, Spy, Mystery reading! 

The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Best For: Adults
Worth a Check Out: Yes.
Buy It or Not: No.
Read Aloud: No.
Book Club Discussion Topics: 
Is the use of chemistry unique in Spy Novels? The Host was a long book, a little drug out in some areas.  Do you feel The Chemist was drug out (no pun intended)? Why are strong female characters so important for women and teen girls to read?  Was the epilogue one of the best parts of the book? Did Meyer write the action parts of the story well, or did it feel rushed and confusing?  Who was your favorite character and why? 

As always, I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on this read? 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Jungle Book gets 4 Stars {manga, graphic novel, classic}

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling in Manga format adapted by Crystan Chan.  This manga/graphic novel version of this classic literature book is a great choice for reluctant readers, kids with a low reading level, and those that have reading challenges/learning disabilities but need to read the book for school or English class. reading. Classic, high school. assignment, required. Reading this book faster and easier with a graphic novel/manga format. Fast read. Quick read. Easy. Alohamoraopenabook Alohamora Open a Book

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is a classic.  Everyone should read the classics.  However, there are many classics that are wordy, and a good group of people just don't enjoy reading them.

Enter graphic novels and mangas, aka books in comic format.  Mangas and graphic novel adaptations of the classic books is a great way for anyone, reluctant readers, busy moms, or high school students, to read this classic story.  This manga version of The Jungle Book is a great way to get the story, and it helps those with reading challenges to understand and comprehend the story better. 

The Jungle Book gets 4 out of 5 stars.  This classic is fun to read, but the story, with the short stories included, are good stories.  However, this manga version of a classic is a bit choppier than I would like.  I personally wouldn't pick this book for the first classic manga story for a reluctant reader. I would start with either Great Expectations or The Scarlet Letter first b/c it's an easier and more fluid story.   However, if a student needs to read a classic book, and there is a graphic novel or manga version of that book, then a child that doesn't like reading, struggles to read, or has a learning disability would greatly benefit from reading the manga/graphic novel version of that book.   

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling in Manga format adapted by Crystan Chan.  This manga/graphic novel version of this classic literature book is a great choice for reluctant readers, kids with a low reading level, and those that have reading challenges/learning disabilities but need to read the book for school or English class. reading. Classic, high school. assignment, required. Reading this book faster and easier with a graphic novel/manga format. Fast read. Quick read. Easy. Alohamoraopenabook Alohamora Open a Book

Happy Classic Literature Manga Reading! Fun fast read of this classic story. 

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling Adaptation by Crystal S. Chan
Rating: 4/5 stars
Best For: 14+ year olds, 9th grade and up.
Worth a Check Out: Yes.
Buy It or Not: No. Unless you love the classic.
Read Aloud: No.
Lesson Ideas: Classic Literature. Animals. British ruled India. Short stories. 

I received this book from Myrick Marketing in exchange for my review and honest opinion.  All of my thoughts, opinions, and words are my own.

Monday, September 18, 2017

August Owl Crate Something Wicked This Way Comes gets 4 Stars {ya lit subscription box}

August Owl Crate, a YA Lit Subscription Box with teen books/reads.  This box gets 3.5 Stars.  It's a good box with Out of Print socks and 2 books to read.  Alohamora Open a Book alohamroaopenabook

Something Wicked This Way Comes, the theme for the August Owl Crate box was a fun one.  It included all things evil and dark and a lot of fun.  I gave this box 4 out of 5 stars.  It's fun and has some useful items as well.  It wasn't great mostly b/c I personally don't drink coffee and didn't get to enjoy all aspects.  However, I realize that is a pretty selfish reason to lower the rating.   

August Owl Crate, a YA Lit Subscription Box with teen books/reads.  This box gets 3.5 Stars.  It's a good box with Out of Print socks and 2 books to read.  Alohamora Open a Book alohamroaopenabook

These Edgar Allan Poe socks are fun to wear; I just wish I wore socks more here in the Arizona desert living.  

Besides the main Young Adult book, this month's box included an extra book.  It's a short story collection of creepy and/or scary stories including the classic Sleepy Hollow. 

August Owl Crate, a YA Lit Subscription Box with teen books/reads.  This box gets 3.5 Stars.  It's a good box with Out of Print socks and 2 books to read.  Alohamora Open a Book alohamroaopenabook

I also got a cool fountain pen with refills; it makes me want to learn calligraphy and write really cool things.  This bookmark inspired by Six of Crows is simple and fun.  I used to always use a receipt or scrap of paper as my bookmark, but my Owl Crate boxes have changed me.  Bookmarks are fun; no wonder the cool book readers of the world are all obsessed with them. 

August Owl Crate, a YA Lit Subscription Box with teen books/reads.  This box gets 3.5 Stars.  It's a good box with Out of Print socks and 2 books to read.  Alohamora Open a Book alohamroaopenabook

Happenstance Coffee provided this Dark Arts coffee.  I obviously love the Harry Potter connection, but I'm not a coffee drinker.  I ended up giving this bag to a co-worker who later told me it was delicious.  If you are a coffee drinker, you should check Happenstance out.  Apparently they have a subscription service which may be a really cool gift for the coffee fan.  Plus, it's not the obvious Starbucks giftcard; therefore providing a little originality to the gift world.  

August Owl Crate, a YA Lit Subscription Box with teen books/reads.  This box gets 3.5 Stars.  It's a good box with Out of Print socks and 2 books to read.  Alohamora Open a Book alohamroaopenabook

I get an Owl Crate every month b/c it is fun, and I love building my YA book collection.  This month The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones  is a story about friendship, inner strength, and the power of love.  I love the letter we always get from the author which gives a little insight into what inspired the story.  I love the signed name plate, and the unique and exclusive covers.  The little details Owl Crate thinks about is fun, and a reason I love these boxes.  

I've just started this book, but it's a blend of sci-fi, fantasy and romance.  Since, it may be a little bit before I give you a full review of The Hearts We Sold, the book description will have to do.  

"When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a devil--her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life--she finds her trade may be more than she bargained for. And becoming "heartless" is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she ever could have imagined. 

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something like love grows between them amidst an otherworldly ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: can she give James her heart when it's no longer hers to give?
The Hearts We Sold is a Faustian tale for the modern age that will steal your heart and break it, and leave you begging for more. " 

What do you think?  Sound like a worthy read?

As always, if you get a different book subscription box that you love (it has to include a book b/c that is what I love the most) please share it with me.  I'm open to trying something new, even if I do thoroughly enjoy Owl Crate.  

Also, the Owl Crate links are referral links; it is just in case you are interested in a subscription for yourself or a friend.  Owl Crate also has a Junior box which is perfect for upper elementary school kids.  

Happy reading!  Happy fandom fun!  Happy Monday! 

Friday, September 15, 2017

S'mores Cookie Bars {recipe, dessert}

S'mores Cookie Bars- simple, unique, homemade dessert.  Just like a s'more, but better b/c it has a cookie bar base.  Delicious. Easy to make. Homemade. Chocolate. Marshmallow. Recipe. Alohamoraopenabook Alohamora Open a Book

Tomorrow it is my birthday!  Yay for another year older. *sarcasm*  Hopefully, this next year will have more ups and less surgeries.  Hopefully this year will come with better health, and continued knowledge. Hoping this year is full of family, fun, and adventure. Hopefully this next year is the best yet!

I might as well start the birthday off with some yummy treats. Sure, cake is always involved, but these S'mores Cookie Bars are pretty darn delicious!  You might as well enjoy them too.  

S’mores Cookie Bars

Recipe: Alohamora
Active Time: 20 minutes
Inactive Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 9-12, 1 9x9 inch pan

1 c. butter, softened
2/3 c. brown sugar
3 Tbsp honey
1 ¼ c. flour, unbleached
1 1/3 c. graham flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ c. peanut butter
2 XL Hershey candy bars, chopped
Scant 2 c. mini marshmallows

  1. Grease and flour with a baking spray a 9x9 inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl or a stand mixer, mix on low the butter, brown sugar, and honey for a few minutes or until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the graham flour, unbleached flour, baking soda, and salt and mix until just combined.
  4. On a clean floured surface separate your graham cracker dough into two.  You should have one slightly larger half and one slightly smaller half. 
  5. Take the slightly larger half and use your clean hands to press it into the bottom of the prepared 9x9 inch pan. Cover that half with plastic wrap.
  6. Take the slightly smaller half and place it on a long (about 20 inches) piece of plastic wrap.  Roll the smaller half into an almost 9x9 inch square. Wrap the square up and place it on top of the covered half in the pan.
  7. Place your pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes to an hour.
  8. Remove pan from the fridge, place the wrapped smaller half on the counter, and remove the plastic wrap top from the bottom larger half. 
  9. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  10. Melt your peanut butter in the microwave for 30 seconds, and spread the melted peanut butter evenly over the graham cracker dough that is pressed down in the pan.
  11. Top the peanut butter with the chopped candy bars, spread the chocolate evenly and completely over the entire pan. 
  12. Top the chocolate with the mini marshmallows, and evenly spread them over the top of the chocolate.
  13. Finally, top the cookie bars with the remaining dough in a cobbler like, scattered, and evenly distributed manner.
  14. Bake the s’more cookie bars at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the dough isn’t shiny and the bars are cooked with a light golden color.
  15. Allow your bars to cool for 5-10 minutes before enjoying.
  16. Cookie bars are delicious warm or cooled.
  17. Enjoy!
  18. Store leftovers covered in an airtight container on the counter for 3-5 days. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Carve the Mark gets 2 Stars {sci-fi, ya lit}

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, the author of the Divergent series, gets 2 stars in this book review.  Slow, boring, unoriginal, boring characters, space, racism, insensitive writing.  Alohamora Open a Book alohamoraopenabook

I thoroughly enjoyed the Divergent series.  It was fast paced, lots of action, likable characters, and enough quirky and unique aspects but not completely out there.  It was a fun series.  However, everything I liked about Divergent was not in Veronica Roth's new book.  Sadness.  

Carve the Mark is Roth's latest book, and I will say I am not a fan.  I give this book 2 out of 5 stars, and the only reason this book received 2 instead of 1 star is b/c I did finish this book.  To be honest, this book is slow-paced, boring, scattered and hard to follow plot, boring characters. and some sensitive topics, like racism, poorly presented.  

I would be surprised if Roth purposely wrote this story with a racist undertone; however, the characters and different groups of people with different skin colors (one peaceful and the other savage) was poorly written and editors should've caught it.  Shame on everyone involved.   

All in all, I was highly disappointed with Veronica's latest book.  I truly hope she can publish another great one so she is not known as a one-hit wonder.    

When was the last time you were thoroughly disappointed by a book? 

Happy Sci-Fi YA Lit Space reading! Though, if you really want to read this book I suggest you read/listen to the audiobook.  That may be the only way you'd be able to get through it.

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Rating: 2/5 stars
Best For: 14 - 18 year olds, 9th grade and up.
Worth a Check Out: No.
Buy It or Not: No.
Read Aloud: No.
Lesson Ideas: Portrayal of sensitive subjects like race. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Chicken Tamale Casserole {gluten free, dinner}

Chicken Tamale Casserole - Easy to make, kid friendly dinner, gluten free, simple and delicious.  This made can be on the table in under an hour.  Fast to make. Weeknight meal. Use up the end of the tortilla chips bag. Alohamoraopenabook Alohamora Open a Book

I've been gluten free for about 9 months now per doctor orders.  I personally haven't seen any changes in my well-being, but I don't go back to my endocrinologist for another month.  We'll see what the doctor says.  

Throughout those nine months I have grown a ton in my gluten free baking and cooking.  I know how to make cookies taste better without the funky gf texture.  I know that an extra egg should be added to most sweet breads and muffins.  I've learned how to adjust and change a recipe from using flour to thicken the sauce to cornstarch.  I'm comfortable with gluten free eating, and I personally think it is easier to be gluten free than dairy free.  It's not convenient, but it is totally doable. 

I initially spotted this casserole recipe in the Food Network Magazine. It was called Spicy Chicken-Tortilla Chip Casserole.  I made some adjustments to make it gluten free, and even used organic canned chicken I got from Costco.  Hello, I was happy with that find.  After making this recipe multiple times I decided I needed to share it with y'all.  

After tasting this recipe we felt it had more of a tamale flavor, but healthier than a tamale.  #win!   

Chicken Tamale Casserole
Recipe: Alohamora adapted from Food Network Magazine
Active Time: 20 minutes
Inactive Time: 40 minutes
Servings 8-10

2 Tbsp butter
1/3 c. onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 tsp cumin, dried
1/2 tsp oregano, dried
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 c. milk
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 (7oz) cans salsa verde
2 (12.5oz) cans chicken, drained or 2-3 cups rotisserie chicken, chopped
1 (15oz) can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp cilantro, dried or 1 c. fresh cilantro
4 c. tortilla chips, crushed (about 8oz bag)
1 1/2 c. cheese, shredded
Optional Topping: chopped green onions or fresh chopped cilantro)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare a 3 quart baking dish or an 9x13 inch pan greasing it or rubbing with butter. 
  2. In a large pan melt the butter over medium heat.
  3. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes or until softened. 
  4. Add the cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper to the pan and stir until flavorful, about 30 seconds. 
  5. Add the chicken broth and a half a cup of milk to the pan and bring it to a simmer.  Simmer it all for 2-3 minutes. 
  6. Combine and stir the remaining half a cup of milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl or cup, and add it to the simmering pan mixture.  Cook and stir the sauce until it is thickened.  
  7. Stir in the salsa verde. 
  8. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the chicken, white beans and cilantro until combined. 
  9. Spread a layer of crushed tortilla chips on the bottom of the prepared dish.
  10. Top the chips with half of the chicken mixture.  
  11. Spread another layer of chips on top and sprinkle it with cheese (no more than 3/4 cup). 
  12. Top the cheese with the rest of the chicken mixture. Sprinkle chips on top, and finally top the entire casserole with the remaining cheese.  
  13. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. 
  14. Uncover the foil and bake for 8-10 more minutes until the casserole is bubbling. 
  15. Finally, top the casserole with more cilantro or green onions. 
  16. Serve hot.
  17. Enjoy!
  18. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator.  
  19. I prefer to reheat the casserole in the oven, but the husband prefers the speediness of the microwave. Do which ever you like with the tasty leftovers. 

Happy Chicken Tamale Casserole eating!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wolf Hollow gets 4 Stars {newbery honor, middle grade fiction, historical fiction}

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, a Newbery Honor 2017 book, gets 4 out of 5 stars in my book review of this historical 1940s book set in rural Pennsylvania. This book is a great read aloud for teachers and parents.  Best for 5th through 8th graders and up.  middle grade fiction, historical, bullying, dealing with bullies, what to do, veterans, WWI, WWII, impacts from war. Alohamoraopenabook Alohamora Open a Book

Newbery Honor Award
Helping Others
1940's Pennsylvania
WWI and the after affects. 

These are just a few of the tags you could give Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.  This book is incredibly well written with a beautifully story with depth and a wonderful coming of age story.

Annabelle is a 12 year old girl in rural Pennsylvania.  She lives with her two younger brothers, parents, aunt, and grandma and grandparents on a farm.  There are forests, rolling hills, and a lot of history.  The telephone was just coming about, WWII had begun, and the people were still feeling the effects of the last world war.

Wolk did a fantastic job writing this story, and she is well deserving of the Newbery Honor.  The character development for the main characters was well done.  The story had depth with history, and the reader is able to gain a new perspective about that time period in rural America.

Wolf Hollow gets 4 out of 5 stars.  It truly is a beautiful story, and I highly recommended it for 5th grade and up.  I loved the way Annabelle grew and was able to stand up to Betty the bully.  I loved how kind and compassionate Annabelle was to Toby but also Mr. Ansel.  I loved how Annabelle felt sorry for Betty and felt like she was partly responsible, even though she wasn't.  I liked the relationship Annabelle had with her parents.  The story, in all of it's "not a happy ending" or "perfect family" portrayal felt real yet entertaining and relatable.

The setting and description of Wolf Hollow was just enough for the reader to picture it in his/her head, but it didn't overwhelm the reader with details.  The story felt homey and comfortable, but it wasn't predictable either.  I really enjoyed so many aspects of Wolf Hollow; it's a fabulous story.

With all of my praises for this book you may be curious why Wolf Hollow lost a star in my book review rating.  The story is a touch slow to get going; this was actually my 3rd time picking it up before I was able to finish it.  I also felt the transformation of Henry, Annabelle's younger brother, to be far to quick and abrupt.  He acted childish the entire story, but suddenly at the end he was mature.  I would've loved to have seen a slower more realistic development for this minor character.   Now you may be thinking people grow up in tough situations, but Henry's transformation seemed forgotten until the end.  My last reason for a less than perfect rating is the fact that few students will pick this book up to read.  This may have to be a Battle of the Books selection, or a teacher/parent will need to read it aloud with students to get them to read it.  I guess in general, this book doesn't grab a reader, even though there is a lot of value and literary merit for it.   

I do love that the way Creech wrote a Walk Two Moons seemed similar to Wolk's writing style in Wolf Hollow.  Also, the storyline of Wolf Hollow seemed similar to To Kill a Mockingbird.  Basically, Wolf Hollow is in good company, and it is a great book you should definitely check out.    

Happy Award Winning Well Written Historical reading! 

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Rating: 4/5 stars
Best For: 10 - 13 year olds, 4th through 8th grade.
Worth a Check Out: Yes.
Buy It or Not: In should definitely be in school collections, but probably not personal collections. 
Read Aloud: Yes, a great historical read aloud for 5th grade and up.  
Lesson Ideas: History, 1940s, WWI, Veterans, Rural Pennsylvania, Farming, Bullying, Kindness, Photography, No judgement.