The full April list is here. Get a sneak peak at the 2nd half of the month and stock up for summer vacation too!


Spring is upon us, and you can prepare for both Spring and Summer vacations with plenty of good books! Check out recommendations for all ages, plus DVD’s and teaching too!

An elevator ride that’s too short?

Who ever heard of that? We all stare at the numbers on the panel waiting for our floor # to flash and then push out the doors rapid-fire. No matter how few floors, elevators always seem too slow, like watching a pot of water come to boil.

But today the elevator ride was too short. Too quick for me to act.

I’m in Denver, in the midst of some of the tallest young ladies under 20 I’ve ever seen. It is the US national volleyball tournaments and I’ve been surrounded by these impressive teens everywhere I go.  Healthy, clean cut, pleasantly mannered, each having lots of fun with family & friends.

Except one, who looked about 16.

She followed me into the elevator, then her parents. They stood in front of us with their back to her. Their daughter. Dad started saying she had her worse day ever, clearly talking about her performance in the day’s match. She said her serves were bad but her total day wasn’t bad. Not everything she did was bad. Her mom scoffed, glancing at her and made some cutting wisecrack. They stomped out of the elevator deriding her, and she following in their dust saying Fine, be that way.

When it first started, I waited to see how she reacted to them. Amazingly competent. Clearly hurt and hurting badly, yet maintained composure and didn’t lash out at them.  They couldn’t see how hurt she was BECAUSE THEY WOULDN’T LOOK AT HER OTHER THAN TO GIVE HER PARTING GLARES, but surely, as parents, they knew it in their hearts. I tried to open my mouth, to tell her how honored I was to be next to one of the best in the entire country regardless of how lousy her day was.  The doors opened and they left before I could croak out a sound.

She shuffled behind them with her head hanging down. Isn’t it bad enough to know her teammates will likely rib her too? That, in her eyes, the whole world saw her lousy serves? That she needed their hugs more than anything today and instead they ganged up on her like bullies? With parents like that, who needs enemies?

The elevator ride was just too short.


No need to wait until the end of February for the complete list. Here it is–plan ahead! Click on the link above, and also follows us on Facebook at Litland Reviews


Here it is! The book of the day challenge, to recommend a new book or related media every day in 2012. January is complete, and attached for handy download–just click on the above link. February is on the way! “Friend” Litland Reviews on Facebook to see daily recommendations as they post.

Grimes, Martha. Fadeaway Girl. Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Books. (February 7, 2012) ISBN-13: 978-0451235640. Written for adults. recommends age 16+. 

Watch out small town America: Emma Graham is back! Having read both The Belle Ruin and its sequel, Fadeaway Girl, I can understand why its author, Martha Grimes, says it isn’t a mystery. And yet it is, since at the core of the plot is a series of related, unsolved mysteries! However, it is simultaneously a character portrait in a historical fiction setting.  Admittedly, at times in the Belle Ruin the irritating & ignorant dialogue with Delbert (the taxi driver), or Will & Mill (brother & friend) would go on longer than needed to build depth in the character. Or maybe it just seemed this to me since I was listening to the audio book version. Regardless, this is cleaned up in Fadeaway Girl. And otherwise both books are great historical fiction (and yes, mysteries too!).

 This story has lots of colorful characters richly described and whose behaviors remain consistent with their personas throughout. Wiley and cunning, we see the world through Emma’s 12 year old eyes; sometimes her view is limited while at other times, more attentive than the adults. Added to that, the adults around her are painted with sufficient depth to permit us to imagine the care and concern behind their acts of kindness to Emma, and their affection for her. Ultimately that is a hallmark of good fiction, isn’t it? That the reader, being so able to understand the many characters, can imagine them beyond the pages? It certainly is of Fadeaway Girl.

 Not a Catholic yet speaking often of the local parish priest, Fr. Freeman, Emma (with a vague belief in God but little respect for the priest) stops in the church in her moment of crisis.  The story is otherwise absent of religious references.  Given all other descriptions to set the scene and context of post-WWII small town America (Knee Hi Grape sodas, sprinkle donuts at the diner, drugstore with soda counter serving ice cream sodas, Perry Mason, Bing Crosby and others), the local church would have been part of that community culture and, so, an odd  omission to not have one of its numerous characters attending a service in one of these two stories. On the other hand, as with other Martha Grimes novels, attention is paid to new age practices in this series. In Bell Ruine and continued into Fadeaway Girl, Emma is a regular customer for tarot card readings.   

 All in all, this portrait of Americana, enlarged with a kidnapping and murder, keeps the reader in constant motion with sufficient twists, people and settings to be is very enjoyable to the end! And since the Fadeaway Girl remains a mystery, perhaps we will see a 5th Emma Graham story in the future :>)

 This is another example of a book written to adults, even though the protagonist is a 12 year old girl. It will be of interest to adult women. However, older teen girls who enjoy sharing cozy mysteries with their moms will also enjoy Belle Ruin & Fadeaway Girl. Mild profanity and use of God’s name throughout; some occult practices. Otherwise, a fairly clean story of suspense without gore, humourous reference to Emma’s not quite knowing about sex. recommends age 16+. Get your copy to share!

Berry, Jedediah. (2009) The Manual of Detection. Penguin Group. ISBN-10: 0143116517. recommends ages 14+ and acceptable for advanced readers.

 Charles Unwine is a reluctant hero. He wants nothing more than to return to his desk performing his clerical work. Instead, he is pushed forward seeking truth by an underlying thread of virtue in his otherwise feeble personality. And by the unfortunate incident of stumbling upon a corpse.

And so the story begins with this clerk at a detective agency suddenly being promoted to rank of detective himself. Left to investigate the past cases of his esteemed predecessor, Travis Sivart, the situation is hilarious because of Berry’s tongue-in-cheek treatment of the agency bureaucracy. We are captured into a surreal existence which at times is touched with a Dick Tracy style while remaining quite unique all its own. As the story progresses, its plot joins the realm of sci-fi espionage complete with dream spies. Yet it never runs out of speed, twists, and motion to hold reader interest.

Berry’s writing style is colorful and the humor never ends. Each of Sivart’s past cases has a hilarious title like The Man Who Stole November 12; its characters suffer narcolepsy while “coincidentally” the town’s alarm clocks disappear. The numerous characters intertwine as one sub-plot builds onto another. And the rich dialogue and narrative capture the reader into another world.

Honestly, I chose to read this book because its description used the word “gumshoe”. I figured any book with a gumshoe couldn’t be too profane. With only a few instances of mild profanity, no unnecessary sexuality or gore, this book is pure enjoyment. It is an optimistic portrayal of an underdog persevering to the end, relying upon his strengths and virtue to outsmart the bad guys. Yet the story is stylistically unique. Written to adults, it will also hold the imagination of teens and even younger advanced readers. Highly recommended for class, homeschooling, and family book clubs! Check out our review against character education guidelines and pick up your own copy in our bookstore!

End of the Line: A Parker Noble Mystery


Manno, Mike (2010) End of the Line: A Parker Noble Mystery. Five Star Publishing of Gale, Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1594148637. Litland recommends of interest to adults, acceptable for older teens.

 Publisher description:  When former banker R. J. Butler is found murdered on a city transit bus, police take little time making a connection with the embezzlement at his former bank. But is that the motive for his murder? State police detective Sergeant Jerome Stankowski and his persnickety “partner,” Parker Noble, are called to investigate and run into a host of possibilities including a trophy wife on drugs and an ex-wife desperately needing a church annulment R. J. was blocking..

 Our thoughts:

 The second installment of the Parker Noble series, End of the Line, is a fun yet engaging, quick-paced detective mystery. Parker Noble may be the genius who solves the crimes, but it is Detective “Stan” Stankowski’s antics both on and off the job that lighten the story. Truly a man’s man, Stankowski enjoys girl watching while being easily manipulated by his somewhat-girlfriend Buffy the reporter.  He  tries to juggle dating 3 girls at the same time, each end up having a role in solving the mystery. Meanwhile, the contrast of Parker’s rigidly-ordered life to Stan’s adds color, and both humor and clues surface throughout the story just often enough to keep the reader alert. My favorite dialogue pertains to Parker’s dog, Buckwheat Bob the basset hound, who listens to talk radio while Parker is at work:

(Stan) “I take it that the human voice is soothing for him?”…(Parker) ”Not really, he likes to listen to the political talk”…”You don’t think he understands all of that, do you?”…”Don’t know, Stanley. All I can tell you is that he’s turned into quite a Republican.” LOL!

 A cozy mystery written for adults, it would probably have a PG rating if a movie: use of the bird finger; one suspect referred to as tramp, hussy, nude model; Buffy pressuring Stan into taking a vacation together. However, Stan remains chaste in his girl-chasing and the story is focused on the relationships between all the characters, which adds depth, interest and a few chuckles along the way. A fun story available in the Bookstore.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

 Bradley, Alan. (2010) The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. (The Flavia de Luce Series) Bantam, division of Random House. ISBN 978-0385343459. Litland recommends ages 14-100!

 Publisher’s description:  Flavia de Luce, a dangerously smart eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders, thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey are over—until beloved puppeteer Rupert Porson has his own strings sizzled in an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. But who’d do such a thing, and why? Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What about Porson’s charming but erratic assistant? All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head? (Bantam Books)

 Our thoughts:

 Flavia De Luce is back and in full force! Still precocious. Still brilliant. Still holding an unfortunate fascination with poisons…

 As with the first book of the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, we begin with a seemingly urgent, if not sheer emergency, situation that once again turns out to be Flavia’s form of play.  We also see the depth of her sister’s cruelty as they emotionally badger their little sister, and Flavia’s immediate plan for the most cruel of poisoned deaths as revenge. Readers will find themselves chuckling throughout the book!

 And while the family does not present the best of role models (smile), our little heroine does demonstrate good character here and there as she progresses through this adventure. As explained in my first review on this series, the protagonist may be 11 but that doesn’t mean the book was written for 11-year olds :>) For readers who are parents, however (myself included), we shudder to wonder what might have happened if we had bought that chemistry kit for our own kids!

 Alas, the story has much more to it than mere chemistry. The author’s writing style is incredibly rich and entertaining, with too many amusing moments to even give example of here. From page 1 the reader is engaged and intrigued, and our imagination is easily transported into  the 1950’s Post WWII England village. In this edition of the series, we have more perspective of Flavia as filled in by what the neighbors know and think of her. Quite the manipulative character as she flits  around Bishop’s Lacy on her mother’s old bike, Flavia may think she goes unnoticed but begins to learn not all are fooled…

 The interesting treatment of perceptions around German prisoners of war from WWII add historical perspective, and Flavia’s critical view of villagers, such as the Vicar’s mean wife and their sad relationship, fill in character profiles with deep colors. Coupled with her attention to detail that helps her unveil the little white lies told by antagonists, not a word is wasted in this story.

 I admit to being envious of the author’s creative writing talent and assume he must be a killer competitor in Scrabble!

 If this were a movie (and I wish it were!), it would likely be PG. We have a tasteful treatment of unwed traveling companions and their pregnancy. Rather than being addressed in direct and vulgar manner, the author has Flavia make a correlation of their relationship to one in Oliver Twist. Her attempt to learn about the birds and the bees is thwarted by the well-meaning adults in her life. Very few instances of slang profanity.  See our review against character education guidelines for the first book in the series for more detail

 Ultimately, the reader is left with a smile on her face, and moving the next story in the series (A Red Herring Without Mustard) to the top of her reading to-do list. Excellent read! Grab your copy at the bookstore.


 The Wild West: 365 days


 Wallis, Michael. (2011) The Wild West: 365 days. New York, NY: Abrams Press. ISBN 978-0810996892 All ages.

 Publisher’s description: The Wild West: 365 Days is a day-by-day adventure that tells the stories of pioneers and cowboys, gold rushes and saloon shoot-outs in America’s frontier. The lure of land rich in minerals, fertile for farming, and plentiful with buffalo bred an all-out obsession with heading westward. The Wild West: 365 Days takes the reader back to these booming frontier towns that became the stuff of American legend, breeding characters such as Butch Cassidy and Jesse James. Author Michael Wallis spins a colorful narrative, separating myth from fact, in 365 vignettes. The reader will learn the stories of Davy Crockett, Wild Bill Hickok, and Annie Oakley; travel to the O.K. Corral and Dodge City; ride with the Pony Express; and witness the invention of the Colt revolver. The images are drawn from Robert G. McCubbin’s extensive collection of Western memorabilia, encompassing rare books, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts, including Billy the Kid’s knife.

 Our thoughts:

 This is one of the neatest books I’ve seen in a long time. The entire family will love it. Keep it on the coffee table but don’t let it gather dust!

 Every page is a look back into history with a well-known cowboy, pioneer, outlaw, native American or other adventurer tale complete with numerous authentic art and photo reproductions. The book is worth owning just for the original pictures.  But there is more…an index of its contents for easy reference too! Not only is this fun for the family, it is excellent for the school or home classroom use too. A really fun way to study the 19th century too and also well received as a gift.  I highly recommend this captivating collection! See for yourself at the Bookstore.