Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Book Review Club (March 2019)

Welcome to the March 2019 edition of The Book Review Club! There's a lot going on in March (which was the first month of the year until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1572): International Women's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Daylight Savings Time, Vernal/Spring Equinox, International Fanny Pack Day (I'm not kidding!), and more. And, of course, there's our book review club!

by Patricia Abbott  (short stories, mystery, adult)

You know how one day you wake up and think, wow, I'm craving chocolate or doughnuts or whatever your particular poison? For me, it's short stories (and black licorice). A couple of weeks ago, I was reading merrily along when I suddenly realized it'd been too long since I'd dived into a book of short stories. Luckily, this was about the same time I learned our very own Patricia Abbott had Monkey Justice, a book of mystery short stories, coming out on March 20. The rest, as they say, is history.

I knew exactly what I was getting into when I requested an ARC of Monkey Justice. I've read Patti Abbott's two mystery novels: Concrete Angel (nominated for the Anthony Award and the Macavity Award) and Shot in Detroit (nominated for an Anthony Award and an Edgar Award). Her book of short stories, I Bring Sorrow and Other Stories of Transgressions, got starred reviews from Publisher Weekly and Library Journal.

Patricia Abbott is a prolific short story writer, having written over 150 of them! She is a master of this genre.

Monkey Justice is a collection of twenty-three short stories of mystery and suspense that explore the darker, noir side of human life. Each story is very different from the next: After a house robber breaks his leg, he and his wife find a unique way to end their payments to a loan shark. An elderly man tries to protect his new young neighbor from her abusive boyfriend. A 12-year-old boy enlists the help of his best friend to dispose of the body after his mother kills her unwanted boyfriend. That's just a little sampling. The ending always packs a punch. Always. The writing is terrific. The characters are well developed. To give you a sense of what I'm talking about, here's an excerpt from "Like a Hawk Rising": "She was both the deer caught frozen in the headlights and the Ford pickup speeding wildly toward the blinded animal. You never knew which Marsha you'd find on the road. But letting her get the upper hand too often made him the deer."  See what I mean? Terrific!

If you'd like to learn a little more about the author, here is an interview in Kirkus Reviews.

And here is a recent article by Patricia Abbott about her mystery reading habits.

And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one!


Jody Feldman: THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson (MG, mystery)

Phyllis Wheeler: LOUISIANA'S WAY HOME by Kate DiCamilla (MG, contemporary)


Patti Abbott:  THE VEILED ONE by Ruth Rendell (mystery)

Sarah Laurence: OUR HOMESICK SONG by Emma Hooper (literary)

Scott Parker: FARADAY: THE IRON HORSE by James Reasoner (western)

Tanya Sutton: THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides (psychological thriller)


                                INCREDIBLE STORY OF LOVE, LOSS, AND SURVIVAL
                                by Melissa Fleming (adult and YA appropriate, biography)

Margy Lutz: 5 ACRES AND A DREAM by Leigh Tate (memoir)

                       by Theodore Roosevelt (memoir)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: HUNGER by Roxane Gay (memoir)

Note to Reviewers: Any errors (broken link, missed review, etc), just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Thank you so much for your reviews!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Book Review Club (February 2019)

Welcome to the first 2019 meeting of the Book Review Club! We are back in full force with books to recommend. And what about that Punxsutawney Phil and his Gobbler's Knob prediction of an early spring? Spring is great for reading (as are the other three seasons)!  Links to other reviewers are below my post. Please enjoy.

by Lisa O'Donnell 
(adult, winner of Commonwealth Book Prize 2013)

I think the New York Times said it best: "In this first novel she pulls off the unusual pairing of grisly and touching."

The Death of Bees starts with a wallop:
"Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved."

In a nutshell: Two sisters (15-year-old Marnie and 12-year-old Nelly) bury their parents. I won't divulge how the parents died in case you read the book. Anyway, the girls' goal is is to keep the deaths a secret until Marnie turns sixteen and can be Nelly's legal guardian. I will mention the parents were neglectful, abusive drug addicts. So, you really begin rooting for the girls right off the bat.

The novel is told from three alternating points of view.

Streetwise Marnie may be only fifteen, but she's been caring for Nelly for years. Marnie's smart, pragmatic and a survivor. But she is involved in things she shouldn't be. She has dubious friends. She drinks too much. She's having sex.

Nelly is autistic. She speaks like a Victorian novel. Where Marnie is hardened and suspicious of adults and their motives (who can blame her?), Nelly is more childlike and trusting. The juxtaposition of the sisters' perspectives adds to the storytelling.

Lennie, a neighbor, is older and dealing with his own issues. One in particular is his grief over his partner's death. He takes the girls under his wing in an effort to give them a home and keep them safe.

There's lots of conflict, which I love. Various people are trying to locate the parents, such as a drug dealer, a grandparent, a school administrator. The girls grapple with daily life (paying for food, rent, etc.). The girls live in poverty in a housing project in Glasgow, Scotland. Through all this, I was rooting hard for Marnie and Nelly!

I don't remember how I heard of this book or what compelled me to order it from the library. But The Death of Bees stayed with me for several days after I'd closed the cover. Actually, it's still with me. I'm glad I read it.

And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one!


Phyllis Wheeler: FLIGHT OF THE BLUEBIRD by Kara LaReau (MG, adventure)

Jody Feldman: FIRE and HEIST by Sarah Beth Durst (YA, fantasy)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: A TRICK OF THE LIGHT by Louise Penny (mystery)

Linda McLaughlin: THE TUSCAN CHILD by Rhys Bowen

Ray Potthoff: SAFE FROM THE SEA by Peter Geye

Sarah Laurence: TRANSCRIPTION by Kate Atkinson (historical spy)


Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: BECOMING by Michelle Obama (memoir)

Margy Lutz: EDUCATED by Tara Westover (memoir)

Patti Abbott:  INHERITANCE by Dani Shapiro (memoir)

                      GEORGE WASHINGTON by Brad Meltzer

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: PURE by Linda Kay Klein

Note to Reviewers: Any errors (broken link, missed review, etc), just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Thank you so much for your reviews!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Book Review Club (December 2018)

Welcome to the December edition of The Book Review Club, our last meeting of 2018! With all the holiday shopping, it's a good time of year to be buying books. Books make great gifts! And our reviews might just help you pick out the perfect book for someone on your list. Happy Holidays!

Adapted by Ari Folman
Illustrations by David Polonsky

The Anne Frank Foundation (founded in 1963 by Otto Frank, Anne's father) wanted to update Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl so that Anne's story would be more accessible, more relevant to young people of the 21st century. To this end, the Foundation commissioned Ari Folman to adapt the diary and David Polonsky to illustrate it. The two are co-creators of the Waltz with Bashir,  a critically-acclaimed animated film about Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Mr. Folman and Mr. Polonsky say right off the bat they aren't trying to improve on Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. And let's face it; they couldn't. In fact, I was a little trepidatious about reading the graphic version because I so, so love the book.

As it turns out, the graphic version is terrific. I read it in two sittings and bought the hardcover for one of my sisters. The graphic version captures Anne's teenage attitude, her issues with her mother, her jealousy of her "perfect" sister, her romantic interest in Peter van Daan. The graphic version captures Anne's humor and insights. And it captures the ups and downs of hiding for two years with several people in the Annex, the horrors of what was happening outside the Annex in 1942-44 Amsterdam and the fears of discovery by the Gestapo. An example of how the graphic version is updated for today's reader is a page entitled "It's always about me and my sister." Fun, right?! I'm looking forward to the animated version, which will be released next year.

To give you a sense of the exquisite illustrations, here's a somewhat blurry photo (sorry!) I took with my phone of the Characters' page.  The illustrations are truly magnificent. They're very detailed. I laughed at the illustration of the bossy Mrs. van Daan on the chamber pot.

Here's a link to a short, but lovely, trailer for Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptationclick here for trailer

And here's a synopsis of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl from Barnes and Noble: In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a 13-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, the Franks and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building...In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period.

(Dear FCC: Bought)

And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one!


Jody Feldman: MASCOT by Antony John (MG, contemporary)

Phyllis Wheeler: THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley (fantasy)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer (women's)
                                                  MOON OF THE CRUSTED SNOW by Waub Rice (sci fi)

Linda McLaughlin: A BRUSH WITH SHADOWS by Anna Lee Huber (historical mystery)

Margy Lutz: DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN by Mikel Martin (Canadian mystery)

Patti Abbott:  NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles (historical)

Sarah Laurence: KILLING COMMENDATORE by Haruki Murakami (magical realism)


Ray Potthoff: SERGEANT STUBBY by Ann Bausum (historical)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE GIRL WITH SEVEN NAMES by Hyeonseo Lee

Note to Reviewers: Any errors (broken link, missed review, etc), just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Thank you so much for your reviews!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Book Review Club (October 2018)

Welcome to the October edition of The Book Review Club. As Anne of Green Gables said, "I'm so happy I live in a world where there are Octobers."  Do take a moment in your busy life to stop and smell the . . . marigolds! It's October's flower. I hope you enjoy this month's book reviews. (Pictured on the left is a marigold from my garden. )

by Marie Miranda Cruz (middle grade, contemporary)

Manila is the capital of the Philippines and is bursting at the seams with a population of about 10 million. The North Manila Cemetery is very busy and overcrowded and hosts 70 to 80 funerals daily. Around 10,000 poor live in shanties on tombstones and in mausoleums in the cemetery.

In EVERLASTING NORA, Nora and her mom take up residence in the North Cemetery following a fire that took Nora's dad's life and burned down the family house. Nora is forced to quit school (she would've been in sixth grade) and help earn money by selling flowers to mourners and washing laundry with her mom.

And then one night, Nora's mom doesn't come home.

Imagine that for a moment. A twelve-year-old girl is alone in her father's mausoleum. In the middle of a large cemetery. At night. And she doesn't know where her mother is.

Tagalog words are sprinkled throughout the book. (There's a glossary in the back if you get lost. I didn't.) There are many references to local dishes. Sensory and plot details highlight the Filipino setting.

EVERLASTING NORA is a story about extreme poverty and gambling and a child who must deal with her world that has completely fallen apart. This is also an uplifting story where friends become family, and people change for the better.

Well done, Marie Miranda Cruz!

Here's a photo from last night when I got to play "host" at Mysterious Galaxy for Marie's book signing. Fun!!!  Photo credit: Kathy Krevat    (Dear FCC: ARC)

And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one!


Jody Feldman: MAXI'S SECRETS (Or What You Can Learn From a Dog) by Lynn Plourde (MG)

Linda McLaughlin: THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill (MG, fantasy)
                                 SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS by Laura Amy Schlitz (MG, Victorian Gothic)

Phyllis Wheeler: MY YEAR IN THE MIDDLE by Lila Quintero Weaver (MG, historical)

Sarah Laurence: SADIE by Courtney Summers (YA, contemporary)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: SMALL GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult (women's)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE WIFE BETWEEN US by Greer Hendricks and
                                                            Sarah Pekkanen (thriller)

Patti Abbott:  IN A DRY SEASON by Peter Robinson (mystery)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: LESS by Sean Greer (literary)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: UNHINGED by Omarosa Manigault Newman


Ray Potthoff: HUNDRED MILES TO NOWHERE by Elisa Korenne

Note to Reviewers: Any errors (broken link, missed review, etc), just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Thank you so much for your reviews!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Book Review Club (June 2018)

Welcome to the June 2018 edition of The Book Review Club. We'll be taking a two-month summer hiatus to read and play and generally enjoy life. We'll return in September. Today we bring you more reviews of books we've enjoyed in the hopes of adding to your To-Be-Read pile. Please scroll down after my review where you'll find everyone's links. We wish you a terrific summer!

by Sheila Turnage 
(middle grade, mystery)

I'm a little late to the "Mo and Dale" (the BFF 6th grade detectives in THREE TIMES LUCKY) party. While I was reading my way through my TBR pile, this gem of a mystery was busy becoming a Newbery Honor and a NY Times Bestseller!

From the back cover: Meet Mo LoBeau: natural-born detective. Mo's summer is looking good. But that's before the murder, the kidnapping, the car crash, and the hurricane. If ever there was a time for Mo to put her detective skills to work, this is it. Good thing Mo's always been lucky.
There's lots to ❤️ about this quirky, upbeat, Southern-flavored mystery.  

The characters are odd and interesting and layered. Moses "Mo" LoBeau is outspoken and loyal. Her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson, III, is the best of best friends, a bit of a worrywart and more of a risk taker than Mo. Miss Lana, the only mother Mo has ever known, dons a variety of wigs and outfits and constantly changes the theme of the cafe she runs with the Colonel. The Colonel lost his memory years ago and has a secret past. Then, add in a host of off-the-wall Tupelo Landing residents.

Besides solving the mystery both Mo and Dale deal with personal issues. Eleven years ago, Mo floated into Tupelo Landing during a hurricane. She wants to find her mother and sends messages in bottles up the creek. Dale's dad is an abusive alcoholic.

And, and, and....there's an actual murder. Two, in fact!

If  I still haven't convinced you to pick up THREE TIMES LUCKY for your classroom, your library, your 10+ year-old kids who need to lose themselves in a book this about this quotation from Newsday:

"An irresistible narrator - a literary descendant of Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird."

(Dear FCC: Bought. And I plan to buy the other books in the series, including THE LAW OF FINDER KEEPERS, which comes out in September. )

And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one!


Phyllis WheelerTHE JOLLY REGINA by Kara LaReau 
                            THE UNCANNY EXPRESS by Kara LaReau


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: EXCESSIVE FORCE by Alok Mukherjee (adult, memoir)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: MADE FOR WALKING by Andy Peake (history of the boot)

Linda McLaughlin: DESPERATE DUCHESSES by Eloisa James (romance)

Patti Abbott:  THAT KIND OF MOTHER by Rumaan Alam

Ray Potthoff: COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier (historical)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: THE FEMALE PERSUASION by Meg Wolitzer (literary)


Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: MY PRIDE AND JOY by Adamson (memoir)

Margy Lutz: THE GOLDEN SPRUCE by John Vaillant (biography)

Sarah Laurence: HUNGER: A MEMOIR OF (MY) BODY by Roxane Gay (memoir)

Note to Reviewers: Any errors (broken link, missed review, etc), just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Thank you so much for your reviews!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Book Review Club (May 2018)

Welcome to the May 2018 edition of The Book Review Club. Apparently, the first weekend in May is World Naked Gardening Day. Who knew!! If you're so inclined, here's a link to WNGD: right here. In the meantime, please scroll down after my review where you'll find links to terrific reviews of terrific books.

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted 
(middle grade, historical, fiction)

A little from the flap: It's 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie and her classmates are given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong ("so dreamy") and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin ("he's got the great name!"). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut who will come so close but never walk on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship.

I'll be honest. I was hooked from the flap copy.  Who doesn't love a story about space travel? With a feisty, independent protagonist? Especially one who's only ten years old! Listen to this: When asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, all the girls in the class wanted to marry an astronaut. All the boys wanted to be an astronaut. What did our independent, free-thinking protagonist respond to the teacher? "How should I know?...I'm ten!"

Yes, there's humor in this book. There's natural opportunity for humor with Mamie's self-absorbed teen sister, her gifted best friend and, of course, Mamie's own forthrightness.

Sprinkled throughout the story are interesting tidbits of history. Take Tang, for example. Because the astronauts drink Tang during their travels, Mamie and her best friend, Buster, drink Tang while watching the Apollo 11 on (color!) TV. There's a a suggested reading list at the back of the book.

I do love a book told in letters. I love the way it lets you get inside a character's head. Personally, I've never been able to write an epistolary novel, but that Lauren Baratz-Logsted is some kind of brilliant! Mamie begins writing to Michael Collins as part of a school assignment. She continues writing to him as her family life becomes more and more complicated. In fact, Mamie ends up home alone. You can see the parallel: Michael Collins alone in the spaceship and Mamie alone in her house. Both do what it takes to keep things running smoothly for those they're waiting for.

I Love You, Michael Collins is an entertaining, heartwarming, informative read. It'd make a great addition to your school library. It'd be a terrific summer read for your 4th through 7th grader (roughly speaking). Oh, and I'm not the only person who loves this book. I Love You, Michael Collins was recently nominated for the Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award.

(Dear FCC: One magical word: library. Although I wish I knew the author. I have a feeling we'd get on great and have lots to gab about over a coffee. All that to say, this is an independent book review of a book I loved. Next I plan to read Zombie Abbey, also by Lauren Baratz-Logsted.)

And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one!


                                                                                                                       (contemp, MG)
Phyllis Wheeler: LITTLE BIGFOOT, BIG CITY by Jennifer Weiner (fantasy, MG)

Sarah Laurence: SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE by Lindsay Champion (contemporary, YA)


Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: SWEET TEA TUESDAYS by Ashley Farley (women's)

Linda McLaughlin: A BACHELOR ESTABLISHMENT by Jodi Taylor (historical romance)

Patti Abbott:  THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER'S BOY by Barbara Vine (mystery)

Ray Potthoff: VARINA by Charles Frazier (historical)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: GRANDMOTHERING by Linda Eyre

Margy Lutz: DRAWN TO SEA by Yvonne Maximchuk

Note to Reviewers: Any errors (broken link, missed review, etc), just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Thank you so much for your reviews!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Book Review Club (April 2018)

Welcome to the April edition of The Book Review Club. You're in for a marvelous spring treat as my critique partner, Kelly Hayes, is in charge of the review on my blog this month. And she's reviewing the most recent book by Patricia Abbott, one of our very own reviewers. Win-win! Oh, and did I mention I Bring Sorrow has a starred review from Publishers Weekly?! So, win-win-win! Please scroll down after Kelly's posts to links to everyone else's reviews.

by Patricia Abbott (short stories)

The short stories in Patricia Abbott's new collection, I Bring Sorrow and Other Stories of Transgression,  are incredibly varied in genre, style, and time period and so rich in unique characters and subject matter, I worry I won't do them justice in just a few paragraphs. But I will do my very best. Perhaps my best bet is to share the impressions that still linger with me after reading this collection.

The last three words of the subtitle: "Stories of Transgression" offer a clue as to the underlying themes and motifs that run through these stories. Almost all the characters have transgressed somehow, gone awry, or off the deep end. There is a haunting sense of lapse and failure, all the more moving because it is so recognizable.

For instance, Andrea, narrator of the first story, "On Pacific Beach," who flies into San Diego periodically to check on her aging homeless mother who no facility can keep off the street for too long and who long ago stopped recognizing her daughter. Andrea's anxiety for her mother's safety is palpable and her feeling of helplessness is universal.

Or Gas, the failing old school fisherman in "Um Peixe Grande" who saves the life of a gangster whose gratefulness is a double-edged sword. Complacency makes Gas eventually ignore his warning first impression of the gangster, and take a reward from him. Gas thinks he can tell good guys from bad guys and friends from enemies. But he's wrong.

And then there's the sci-fi story, "The Annas," set in the year 2097 in a post apocalyptic society where fifty women are taxed with nurturing and preparing fifty android copies of themselves for the new world. Our narrator, the original human Anna is a stickler for excellence and has a rather Eugenicist bent. She takes her role as mentor very seriously and even hatches a plot to overthrow the other mentors. One could say she is a victim of her own success.

One thing is clear from reading these stories: Abbott is not concerned with giving her main characters the moral high ground which is one of the things that makes her stories and her characters so interesting. Another is her obvious mastery of the suspense element. Many of these stories have twists, which I find an added bonus in a short story, especially when it's done well.

Despite their myriad transgressions, the characters in these stories don't just bring sorrow. They bring the heat of human connection with all its jagged edges and the inevitable transgressions.

(Dear FCC: Kelly received an ARC to read for this review. But do you know Kelly? She has strong ideas and can't be budged. She wouldn't review a book she didn't like, ARC or no ARC. 

And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one!


Jody Feldman: THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH'S by Lee Gjersten Malone (MG, contemporary)

Phyllis Wheeler: ALCATRAZ VS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS by Brandon Sanderson (MG, fantasy)

Ellen Booraem: TESS OF THE ROAD by Rachel Hartman  (YA, fantasy )


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: BONE BOX by Faye Kellerman (mystery)

Linda McLaughlin: A CURIOUS BEGINNING by Deanna Raybourn (historical mystery)

Patti Abbott:  THE PERFECT NANNY by Leila Silimani (crime)

Ray Potthoff: THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd (historical)

Sarah Laurence: THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden (fantasy, historical)
                           THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine Arden (fantasy, historical)
Tanya Sutton: THE LONEY by Andrew Michael Hurley (horror, mystery, historical)


Margy Lutz: GUMBOOT GIRLS by Jane Wilde and Lou Allison (memoir)

Note to Reviewers: Any errors (broken link, missed review, etc), just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Thank you so much for your reviews!