Category Archives: FRIDAY

First Chapter Friday

It’s finally time for First Chapter Friday!!! This week something different:  what happened is this:  I receive emails every day from authors requesting Big Otter Books to read and review their books.  That’s the cool part about having a blog!!  Sometimes the books are exactly right for us and sometimes they are a bit …not…  Either the genre is not what we read or the content is too much not what we read etc.

The bad thing right now is my time.  There is literally not enough in the day to read all the books I want to read.  Sadly, that means I have to send these wonderful people an email that says, sorry, can’t read your book right now.  It just breaks my heart!!

That’s partly why I blog; because I don’t have that ‘thing’ to write fiction. I’ve tried & tried and the words just don’t flow.  Somebody famous once said the way to write is to sit in front of  your typewriter until blood drops form on your forehead!!  I’ve done that, too and it doesn’t work for me!  But these authors who contact me DO have the ‘thing’ and quite possibly bloody foreheads as well!!

So, even though I don’t have time to read their entire book, I read the first chapters.  These are just two that I think some of my blog followers might enjoy reading; so, I’m featuring them on First Chapter Friday.  Maybe they will be an “OTTER” read for you!!


The Valentine Circly, A Silas de San Michel Mystery by Reinaldo DelValle

The Valentine Circle is set in Boston 1885.  A mystery man has been found on board a ship.  He has no memory and there are odd weapons near him.  This first part was pretty good as the characters were introduced and we got some great descriptions of the ship & area.  The next part got a bit weird for me. The mystery man, now named Silas, joins the police force!  Yep, he’s now a cop with no memory. There is a strange kidnapping of a child and Silas works the case.  This was actually a pretty good first chapter.  A bit convoluted and the author got a bit mixed up on present day & 1885 so an editor would have helped.  But all in all, if you don’t mind taking your time to go through this, it looks like a good book. Based on just this first chapter, I would read the entire book if I just had the time!!  This is a 3 star read.



Final Notice by Jennifer L. Hart

I’ve read Jennifer L. Hart before.  She’s the author of the hilarious Laundry Hag series.  She also has new book out called Murder al Dente, a Southern Pasta Shop Mystery.  In this Final Notice first chapter, Jennifer introduces the reader to Jackie Parker.  Jackie is a process server who quits her job following too much touchyfeely by her boss.  She joins her husband & brother in law in their property management company where she of course finds a body!!

If you enjoy a more adult book (not porn or too vulgar) just a very ‘real’ book about real characters, then you “OTTER” be reading Jennifer L. Hart books!!  This is another one I wish I had time to read the whole thing.  4 stars.

Have a wonderful reading weekend!!


First Chapter Friday

First Chapter Friday!!! I love this weekly post-I get to read the first chapter of various books, and give you my thoughts. I’ve found two great books that your kids “OTTER” be reading!!  Inspirational books for kids and even a West Virginia connection-that’s a bonus!!

Philip and the Thief by John Paulits

Philip has been around for a while-this is the 6th book in a series of 12!  Philip is sort of an ‘everykid’ that has family, friends and school going on with the usual interactions and dramas.  The plot of this book is that Philip uses his skills as Philip the Greatness to become a detective and solve mysteries around the house and neighborhood.  When money comes up missing at school, and a classmate is thrown, Philip solves the case and saves the day.  

Paulits really knows his craft!  He writes very well and the characters speak & act very naturally. This series isn’t promoted as being Christian, but this one is ‘clean’ and reads as a very inspirational book-use your skills, help others and love your family.  I enjoyed the first chapter and will be encouraging my boys to read the entire series.




The Adventures of Shy Spy Time Traveler by Deborah L. Gladwell


I was so excited to find out the author of this book, Deborah L. Gladwell, lives in my home state of West Virginia!  I’m in Missouri now but I still LOVE to promote West Virginians doing all the wonderful things they do.  I have to say that Deborah really embodies the spirit of a Mountaineer with excellent writing and a positive Christian message for kids.

Shy the dog accidentally stows away on a time machine and goes back to the time of Moses!!  You can’t resist that kind of awesomeness!!  Gladwell has a very well written, well plotted book that surprised me.

I wasn’t expecting a Christian book for kids to be such a good story.  The book reminds me of the Magic Treehouse books because of the total immersion into a historical subject.  The Christian message and scriptures enhance the book and take Shy to a whole ‘nother level.  I was so engaged in the plot and what was going to happen next, I couldn’t believe I had to stop at one chapter!

Most definitely pick up these “good, clean” books for your kiddos.  There is enough negative out there-let’s do some positive for a change!!  Have a great reading weekend-Cozy Mystery Monday will be here before you know it!!

First Chapter Friday

Need some ideas for books for your 8-12 year old? You’re in the right place as I’ve read the first chapter in three YA/middle-grade books this week:


The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

My first book up for First Chapter Friday is The Iron Trial. It was just released on the 9th and I am already hearing so many good things about this book. You know these authors: Holly Black is The Spiderwick Chronicles and the super creepy Doll Bones and Cassandra Clare is of course The Mortal Instruments books. You just know any book they collaborate on will be excellent. The plot starts out like every other magic/fantasy/YA book out there: kids must pass the Iron Trial to be admitted to the Magisterium to study magic. Ho hum so far, right? WRONGO, me hearty (sorry, Talk Like a Pirate Day just got me!) The twist to this book is that Callum Hunt wants to FAIL the Iron Trial, so of course he passes and must enter the Magisterium.  Despite some comparisons to Harry Potter in the reviews, I thought the first chapter was pretty good and different enough to rate a full book read.

Spirit Animals #4 Fire and Ice by Shannon Hale

The Spirit Animals series has been on my radar for a while since Brandon Mull and Garth Nix wrote books in the series.  This is book 4 of the series and in this one, the four kids (Greencloaks) travel to the far, frozen North to try to stop “The Conquerors” using their “spirit animal” powers.

I didn’t finish the first chapter-VERY bloody/violent killing in the first two pages. Definitely NOT for the age 8-12 range that is the target market. NO NO NO. I’m not sure what Shannon Hale was trying to accomplish in using this to set up the plot but it is an epic fail for me.  I’ve read the reviews and I’m seeing lots of comments about the humor and character interaction later in the book but I just can’t get past chapter one–this series goes to our do NOT read pile.


Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

OH!! You know how you get that tingly feeling when you read a really good book and you don’t want to put it down? Nightmares is THAT book!! Now this is a book for the 8-12 crowd-funny, scary and you will want to be Charlie’s friend as he tries to figure out what is going on in his new home.

His father has married a woman Charlie is sure is a real witch and they have moved to her purple mansion that may or may not be haunted. There is a touch of sadness when you read that Charlie can see his old house from his new bedroom window 😦 What a great plot point, that one sentence gives the reader more about Charlie than you could tell in 20 paragraphs. Authors Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller have done a fantastic job with the writing. Top of the to be read pile for this one.

One clunker this week but two your kids definitely “Otter” be reading!!

First Chapter Friday

A new type of post starts today on Big Otter Books.  We are calling it First Chapter Friday and it’s just what it sounds like:  I’ll read the first chapters of some great books and let you know what I think! Easy, peasy, right?  Might be …meh… might be …WOW… , you just don’t know what you’ll find in the first chapter of a book.  Today it’s two Cozy Mysteries–let’s take a look and hopefully they will be just what we “Otter” be reading!

Murder Al Dente by Jennifer L. Hart

Oh, my goodness-the first chapter of this book is GOOD!  There is an introduction that gives us the background on Andy (short for Andrea) and her short-lived TV cooking show.  Then the first chapter sets up the plot with Andy’s family, her life after the TV fiasco, some hard decisions to be made at the family pasta shop and a hunka hunka potential love interest.  Jennifer Hart writes like I think she probably talks-if you know what I mean!  I’ve read several of her books and this goes to the top of my must read now list.


By Kathi Daley TJ Jensen Paradise Lake Mystery #1

I always enjoy spending time in the worlds of Kathi Daley!  She writes these great books that are all about small towns/extended family/close-knit communities with a twist that always includes a super mystery to be solved by our intrepid heroine!  This one is the first in a series so there is some scene setting & character introductions at the beginning but it just whets your appetite to read more.  TJ is a very likeable lead character with some secrets & back story that I can’t wait to explore; she seems like a girl we all could have known in high school!  The first chapter doesn’t get to the mystery/murder part of the plot but I know it’s coming up!  Another #1 on my must read list.

What do you think of First Chapter Friday?  I enjoyed it taking a quick look at these books and adding to my ever lengthening “Otter” read list!  Have a great reading weekend and join me for Cozy Mystery Monday!!

Throwback Thursday

The elementary school book sale flyer!  I remember we got them on Friday so we could take all weekend to look them over and pester our parents to let us place a HUGE order.  Oh, maybe that was just me?

The ones my kids get are from Scholastic but it seems to me like there was another company back in the day.  No matter who the flyer has come a long way since I was in school:  now it’s eight pages and there are at least 2 different ones for each grade level.  There is a key for reading level for the various scoring systems and teachers can even set it up for their class to use online ordering.  The best part is the more orders, the more free books are earned for the classroom.  Nice system!

The system is so convenient, there is NO excuse not to let your child order something.  Well, that’s the argument my kid used on me today!  What is on the must-buy list of a ten year old boy for this flyer?

Well, let’s take a look at what he says he “really, truly, Mom” “Otter” be reading!!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (Book 9)Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Can you believe this is #9 in the Wimpy Kid books?  This is a great series and in this outing, the Heffley’s are going on a ROAD TRIP!!!   The Long Haul will release on November 4th but ordering from the Scholastic flyer gets you some extras:  a “sneak peek” booklet and 4 postcards that will arrive with the classroom book order.  Then, the actual book will be sent to your school to be delivered to you on the release day-kind of cool if you’re in 5th grade!   This one goes to the top of the order form for us.


The Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79 (I Survived, #10)The Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79


Lauren Tarshis is one of my son’s favorite authors, he devours everything she writes.  She does exhaustive research on her subjects and the books give kids an accurate look at history with a huge resource list at the end of every book.  I like that they don’t flinch from the tough parts of history.  If your kids are history buffs and you don’t mind answering questions or looking at tons of websites to get a fuller understanding, then definitely start your kids on books by Lauren Tarshis.

This was just released 8/26 and tells the story of Pompeii and the destruction of the volcano.  I have it from a very well-informed source that since the Doctor (Doctor Who / Peter Capaldi) also appeared in a Pompeii-themed episode of that BBC series, that this book must be on our shelves immediately!


Minecraft: Redstone HandbookMinecraft: Redstone Handbook
This is the only picture I could find but the actual Scholastic order will be for a 3 volume set of Minecraft titles:  Redstone Handbook, Combat Handbook and Essential Handbook.  I’ll admit I was late to the “minecraft party”.  I couldn’t figure out what the heck the kids were doing with all those little blocks. Then, I tried it and WOWZERS, what a cool game!  The graphics are minimal and everything is square but it is so much fun-mostly I build little railroads and watch my trains go around my cow pasture, so I guess it’s sort of a Zen thing-yeah, let’s go with that instead of old broad playing video games instead of doing housework 😉

The kids LOVE this game and use something called texture packs and mods to build amazing things. They can play alone or with friends so there is actually a redeeming value to a video game.  These handbooks are official Mojang books and have tips and advice for players.  This was actually on an early Christmas list I saw (I know, already-it’s August!!) so we’ll be ordering these, too.

This is why I have no money-BOOKS!  Don’t miss the post I’ll have up tomorrow for Funday Friday with REVIEWS of a few books you “Otter” be reading this weekend!!




Funday Friday

The first back to school week is over!  My kids need to chill out and enjoy the weekend and I’ll bet yours do as well.  How about something for the kiddos to read while they are sitting around dreading Monday:

 Galaxy’s Most Wanted by John Kloepfer

Aliens invade and it’s up to the science camp nerds to save the world!  This book just came out in July  and is by the author of the hilarious Zombie Chasers series.  Looks like tons of fun for the 8-12 age range; not just boys, Kloepfer gives the girls a reason to read with a super smart, multi talented female character!

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson is always a favorite around here.  Great characters, interesting stories with tons of historical details.  Greek Gods was just released last week and is already getting lots of attention from the kiddos.  This one is more of a history than a stand alone story as the character of Percy Jackson tells the stories of the Greek Gods.  Lots of humor as Poseidon’s son gives his take on how it all began.  I can see this one being purchased in hardcover just for the illustrations!  Lovely book.

A Kid’s Guide to Awesome Duct Tape Projects from

AWESOME, indeed!  Duct tape can fix anything and a kid with a supply of duct tape and a rainy weekend will no doubt be able to take over the world!  This is a hardcover must-have book that is entertaining for the whole family.  Released on August 5th, so your kids can be the first to show off these cool projects!

Grab a book and enjoy the weekend!!  Remember to join us next week for Mystery Monday and more great books you “Otter” be reading!!




Is there anything better than a good cozy mystery?  Especially a funny one with goofy people and lots of animals?

I just finished Pall in the Family by Dawn Eastman, the first in the new Family Fortune series.  This book is a cute cozy about an ex-cop who returns to her hometown (under a cloud, of course) and finds murder all around her!  Her family tree is full of nuts, psychics, tarot readers and her dad is so droll he is the funniest one of all.

Clyde (Clytemnestra!) prefers to ignore her own psychic gifts to the consternation of her mother & aunt.  They want her in the family fortune-telling business but Clyde doesn’t know what she wants so she passes the time working as a dog walker.  When a local psychic is killed, her Shih Tzu is the only witness.  Clyde steps in to investigate, her family helps, and the usual cozy mystery ‘things’ happen:  misdirection, eavesdropping, lots and lots of dogs & cats and an ex-boyfriend that is the actual ‘real’ detective investigating the case.

Some slow spots as Eastman takes us through the back story on these characters but a really good little mystery that has me wanting more.  The next book:  Be Careful What You Witch For just came out in July and the third book: A Fright To The Death is due out next April.  Thanks for stopping by for a fun Friday read!


Are you ready for a fun reading weekend?  I sure am; it’s been a long week so I want a good book to take me away with an engaging plot, great characters and lots of fun.

YAY!!  Top Secret Twenty-One is on my pick up list at the library.  I was 332th in line when I first reserved it so I’m super happy that it finally got here.  I’m taking the weekend off to curl up and read read read-hope you are able to do the same.  Thanks for stopping by the blog-see you Monday!!

Friday Funday-Lets Get Ready To READ All Weekend

Friday Funday means:  I’m taking the weekend off from reading books I agreed to review; I’m hiding out from the July heat with books I just want to read for me.  My plan is to read Help For the Haunted by John Searles and The Outlaw Demon Wails by Kim Harrison.

Help For the Haunted has been on my TBR list for a while and it just came through at the library so, Yay!  It looks so creepy I can’t wait to get started.  It is the story of Sylvie Mason and what happens after her parents disappear…parents who helped ‘haunted souls’ find peace.  Brrr, I shivered when I read the blurb so I have high hopes for leaving the lights on all night with this one!!

I’m less sure about The Outlaw Demon Wails.  I’ve read a couple in this series and thought, ‘meh’ but I keep hearing from other readers about this entry.  It supposedly wraps up loose ends in the series and is much better than a few that came before it.   So maybe yes/maybe no, I will give it a try and see how it goes.  If nothing else it was free at the library!

Life will no doubt intrude but I’m hopeful I will get through at least most of them by Monday (ugh, only 2 days away!)

Have a wonderful weekend and read something, please!!

Vanessa Fernandez Fitness

mom of four / fitness coach / business mentor

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