Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Book Review Club (May 2017)



Welcome to the May 2017 edition of The Book Review Club. Here's a little May trivia for you...On May 10, 1877, the White House's first telephone was installed. On May 10, 1994, Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa's first black president. And on May 10, 1924, Edgar J Hoover was named acting director of the Bureau of Investigation, which became the FBI in 1935. Whew. And now onto our really amazing book reviews! (This is our last meeting until September 2017. Happy Summer!)


THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE 
by Heather Gudenkauf (adult, mystery/thriller)

Somehow or other, the thriller NOT A SOUND by Heather Gudenkauf made its way onto my radar. I thought it sounded like a book I'd like to read this summer, and I jotted the info on a scrap of paper and stuck it to the fridge. Along came a rainy day, which put me in the mood for a thriller. I thought why am I waiting till May 30th for the release of NOT A SOUND? Why don't I read something else by Heather Gudenkauf? And anyway why haven't I already read something by Heather Gudenkauf? So, I picked up her debut, THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE, which was published in 2009 and was a NYT bestseller. The result? My family ate ordered-in pizza for dinner.

In a nutshell: Early on an August morning in the small town of Willow Creek, Iowa, two seven-year-old girls disappear from their homes. The girls, Calli Clark and Petra Gregory, are neighbors and best friends. Calli has been a elective mute since the age of four after witnessing a domestic violence incident.

The story is told from several points of view (which I love): Calli, her mother, her 12-year-old brother, the local deputy sheriff, and Petra's father. The voices are all distinct and different and really well executed. There is loads of conflict: an alcoholic + abusive father, FBI agents vs the local law enforcement difficulties, previous romantic entanglements, a large uncharted forest, etc, etc. Also, due to the number of narrative perspectives, the reader knows much more than the characters in the story. This heightens the tension enormously.  The plot is very fast faced. The characters are rich and multi-layered. I happened to guess the identity of the villain (something I'm generally bad at), but it was based more on a feeling than anything concrete. And if anyone else has read/reads the book, I have one teeny, tiny question: I kinda would've liked a different character to pull the trigger. How do you feel about that?

All in all, it was a great, edge-of-your-seat read. Any complaints would come from my family because, once I started THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE, I was so absorbed that I ignored everyone and everything around me. It's been several books since I've been this absorbed, and it was A DELICIOUS FEELING.

(Dear FCC: Bought book. Plain and simple.)

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

MIDDLE GRADE AND YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: MAX AND CHARLIE by Zack Lieberman (MG, graphic)

Stacy Nyikos: PLANET JUPITER by Jane Kurtz (MG, contemp)

Sarah Laurence: WILDMAN by J.C Geiger (YA, contemp)

Beth Bonini of TRAC: THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas (YA, contemp)


ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Ellen Booraem: ARABELLA OF MARS by David D. Levin (steampunk)

Jody Feldman: THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD by Agatha Christie (mystery)

Linda McLaughlin: Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD by Therese Anne Fowler
                                SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK by Matthew Quick
                                I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN by Joanne Greenberg

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty (women's)

Ray Potthoff: LILAC GIRLS by Martha Hall Kelly (historical)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid (literary)


Tanya Sutton: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS by Sophie Hannah (mystery)


NONFICTION REVIEW

Alyssa Goodnight: MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS by Gerald Durrell (memoir)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: CLOUD MESSENGER by Karen Trollope-Kumar (memoir)

Margy Lutz: AT HOME IN THE WOODS by Vena and Bradford Angier

Patti Abbott:  MY BELOVED WORLD by Sonia Sotomayor (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, April 5, 2017

The Book Review Club (April 2017)



What would you get if you crossed April1st with a monster? April Ghoul's Day! Ha, ha, groan, groan. April just happens to be National Humor Month. And, now....all joking aside...Welcome to the April edition of The Book Review Club! We've got terrific reviews of terrific books. Please scroll down after my post for links to everyone else's review.



SONIA SOTOMAYOR: A BIOGRAPHY
by Sylvia Mendoza (middle grade, biography)

For whatever reason, I don't tend to read much nonfiction. But when I do, I enjoy it. And I really, really enjoyed this book.

So, what is it about Sonia Sotomayor: A Biography that grabbed my attention?

For starters, Sonia Sotomayor herself is incredible. I mean, come on, she's the first Latina and the third woman appointed to the US Supreme Court. She's your basic American icon!

A few interesting facts I learned about Sonia Sotomayor:
-At the age of eight, she began giving herself insulin shots. And we're talking back in the day when you had to sterilize the needles!
-She grew up in a housing project in South Bronx. Her mother raised her and her brother on $5,000/yr. When her parents fought, Sonia escaped into books, homework and TV. She even read Encyclopedia Brttannica! She decided early on to become a police officer, then changed her goal to lawyer after reading this latter profession was more compatible with  her diabetes.
-As a Princeton undergrad, she joined organizations to help improve the conditions of various ethnic groups. She believed she was "...not a champion of lost causes, but of causes not yet won."
-And this fact just for fun: She applied to Harvard based on the movie 1970 Love Story. (One of my sons applied to Cornell based on The Office. High schoolers! Yeesh!)

Okay. So, Sonia Sotomayor is a great subject. What else makes this book sing?

Details. This book is alive with details. It often reads more like a novel than a biography. Which is infinitely more appealing than a dry account of someone's accomplishments. For example: On Sat. nights, Sonia's extended Nuyorican (Puerto Ricans living in New York) family gathered for good food, music and games. "She wanted to hear every word as they chopped vegetables, talked, laughed, and exchanged gossip. Sonia pressed her ear against the kitchen door to hear. She wanted to be a part of that link of womanhood, of that link to her heritage, of that link to two worlds."

The writing. Sylvia Mendoza writes well, really well. She's obviously done extensive research. (You should see the bibliography!) I was confident I was getting the real deal, the true story of Sonia Sotomayor. As an aside, I think the language is sophisticated enough to appeal to YA readers.

The take-away. Sonia Sotomayor: A Biography is inspirational. It encourages you to be the best you can. To fight for the underdog, to care for your community, to honor your roots. "At the end of each day she asks herself two questions: What have you learned today? What acts of kindness did you perform?"

Seems like an awesome way to live your life.


(Well, well, well, dear FCC: I'm actually lucky enough to know Sylvia Mendoza. And I requested an ARC of this book. I reviewed Sonia Sotomayor: A Biography because I loved it. Plain and simple. )

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


YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Beth Bonini of TRAC: ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN by Gabriel Savit (YA, historical)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: PRADA & PREJUDICE by Mandy Hubbard
                                                            (YA, time travel romance)

Sarah Laurence: THE PEARL THIEF by Elizabeth Wein (YA , historical mystery)

Stacy Nyikos: THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas (YA, contemporary)



ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Linda McLaughlin: PRIDE and PREJUDICE and ZOMBIES
                                by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen (mashup)

Patti Abbott:  2 short stories by Robert Bloch from THE BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER
                      edited by Otto Penzler (horror)

Tanya Sutton: SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel (science fiction, thriller)


NONFICTION REVIEW

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah (autobiography)

Margy Lutz: I MARRIED THE KLONDIKE by Laura Beatrice Berton (memoir)

Ray Potthoff: THE GREAT JOURNEY-AMERICANS IN PARIS by David McCullough (US history)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN by Azar Nafisi (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, March 1, 2017

The Book Review Club (March 2017)



Happy Very First Day of March! And welcome to this month's edition of The Book Review Club.  On this day in 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order which established the Peace Corps. Today also happens to be National Horse Protection Day and National Pig Day. And I'd say that's about enough trivia for one paragraph! And now our book reviews! Interestingly, we have an abundance of reviews of non-fiction books this month. Enjoy!


ON TURPENTINE LANE
by ELINOR LIPMAN (adult, romantic comedy)

Do you want to be charmed and entertained? Fall in love with a crew of quirky characters? Get tangled up in a twisty-turny plot? Yes? Then I have the book for you! On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman.

In a Nutshell: Our sassy thirty-something protagonist, Faith Frankel, buys a small 5 1/2 room quaint but rundown house with an unexpected history. This purchase somehow sets off a crazy chain of events. There's Faith's deadbeat fiancé whose idea of a ring is a piece of red wool that makes her finger itch. He's walking across America. I'm not exactly sure why. I don't think he knows either. Enter Faith's meddling mother, her father and his wandering eye, her snow-plow driving brother with a new relationship. And, and, and a perfectly delightful officemate named Nick. Now, toss in a murder and a few more zany characters. It's all just so amusing!

What I Loved: 1. This book is beautifully, perfectly, wonderfully plotted. The plotting is a work of art. 2. The dialogue is spot on to the point you feel you're right there with the characters, perhaps sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of coffee with them. 3. Great humor. And lots of it. 4. The writing is so damned good. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
~"...Windexed at the first sign of a fingerprint..."
~"His next question, eyes never leaving a colorized Kris Kringle, was..." (character is watching Miracle on 34th Street)
~"One of the things I love about you is your doomsday outlook based on affection for whoever's at risk."

What I Didn't Love: I have to wait another year or so for the next Elinor Lipman novel!

Kirkus Reviews describes On Turpentine Lane as "warm, clever, a little silly, a lot of fun." 

I'd say it's all that and more! Heartily recommended!

(Dear FCC: Bought it.)

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

YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEW

Stacy Nyikos: THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon (contemporary YA)


ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead 
                                          (historical, literary)

Tanya Sutton: BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty (contemporary women's lit)


ADULT NONFICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight: TALES OF HISTORY'S BOLDEST HEROINES, HELLIONS, AND HERETICS
                                by Jason Porath (biography/folklore)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE BLUE SATIN NIGHTGOWN by Karin Crilly (memoir)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: BORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN
                                                            CHILDHOOD by Trevor Noah (memoir)

Linda McLaughlin:WHITE TRASH: THE 400-YEAR UNTOLD STORY OF CLASS IN AMERICA
                                by Nancy Isenberg (sociology)

Margy Lutz: TIDE RIPS AND BACK EDDIES by Bill Proctor and Yvonne Maximchuk
                     (autobiography)

Ray Potthoff: THE PATRIARCH by David Nasaw (biography about Joseph P. Kennedy)                            

Sarah Laurence: BECOMING NICOLE by Amy Ellis Nutt


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 1, 2017

The Book Review Club (February 2017)




Welcome to the first 2017 meeting of The Book Review Club. You're in for a fantastic February treat as my critique partner, Kelly Hayes, is in charge of the review on my blog this month. Here's my rule of thumb: If Kelly recommends it, I read it!




THE ICE BENEATH HER 
by Camilla Grebe (psychological thriller, Scandinavian)

I don't know about you, but lately I can't seem to get enough of Scandinavian crime novels. There's just something about the moody atmosphere, not quite Noir, which can oftentimes be too dark, and not the sanitized commerciality of a lot of American crime fiction. There's a low-key authenticity to most Scandinavian crime fiction that juxtaposes nicely with its more fantastic elements, making it feel universal and yet somehow exotic.

THE ICE BENEATH HER by Camilla Grebe is one such crime novel. It takes place in Stockholm, Sweden where a woman's body is found brutally beheaded in the home of Jesper Orre, the controversial CEO of a huge fashion chain. Of course, Orre is the main suspect, but seems to have disappeared into thin air, leaving his cell phone and wallet at home. And then there are the gruesome similarities between this case and an unsolved one from ten years before where a man was beheaded in the same way.

We get the story from three different perspectives: Peter Lindgren, one of the detectives investigating the case, Hanne Lagerlind-Schon, a criminal profiler who has had a past relationship with Peter, and Emma Bohman, a young sales clerk who worked for Jesper Orre's company and had a secret affair with him.

For the first half of the book, the plot kind of takes a backseat to the three main characters, as we live inside their heads and see the story through their eyes. There's Peter with his crippling fear of commitment. Hanne has early onset Alzheimer's which threatens her brilliant work as a profiler. And then there's Emma whose story takes place months before the murder. Her naivete and abusive background make her the ultimate target for a playboy like Jesper.

Emma is the character that really stood out for me. There's something so sadly inevitable about the tragic chain of events in Emma's life and her inability to pull herself out of the mire that got to me emotionally. And kept me turning pages.

But nothing in this book is as it seems. Just when you think you'e figured it out, it changes. And even if you do deduce who did it, it doesn't really matter because there's still plenty more tension to come, and plenty more to discover.

And that, I think, is the key to the success of Scandinavian crime fiction. It doesn't necessarily rely on plot devices to keep you reading. The characters often seem so real, you want to know what happens to them even after then mystery is solved.


(Dear FCC: I forgot to ask Kelly where she got her copy of this book. But if I were a betting woman, I'd bet her local library.)  

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

MIDDLE GRADE AND YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Jody Feldman: COSMIC by Frank Cottrell Boyce (middle grade)
                         This review examines a medley of humorous middle-grade novels.

Sarah Laurence: THE LOOSE ENDS LIST by Carrie Firestone (contemporary YA)

Stacy Nyikos: SPARE AND FOUND PARTS by Sarah Maria Griffin (horror YA)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold (contemporary YA)



ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight: AGATHA RAISIN AND THE QUICHE OF DEATH by M.C. Beaton 
                               (cozy mystery)

Ellen Booraem: HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi (historical, literary)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: NEW PLANET, NEW WORLD by Ian Prattis (futuristic, time travel)

Linda McLaughlin: IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE by Sinclair Lewis (Classic Fiction)

Patti Abbott:  TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis (western)

Tanya Sutton: SECURITY by Gina Wohlsdorf (horror, thriller)


NONFICTION REVIEW

Jenn Jilks: WOMAN INCOGNITO: TRANSGENDER WITHOUT TRANSITION
                   by Transcender Lee (autobiography)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE BIOGRAPHY OF NATALIE WOOD by Suzanne Finstad

Ray Potthoff: I COULD TELL YOU STORIES: SOJOURNS IN THE LAND OF MEMORY
                       by Patricia Hampl (memoir)

Scott Parker: THE PULP JUNGLE by Frank Gruber (autobiography)



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 7, 2016

The Book Review Club (December 2016)



Welcome to the December edition of The Book Review Club. I can't believe it's our last get-together of 2016! It's a great time of year to read reviews and get ideas for books to buys as gifts. Even as gifts for yourself! I highly recommend the book I reviewed this month. Please scroll down for the links to everyone's reviews. You'll be glad you did.


THE JOLLY CHRISTMAS POSTMAN

by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

As part of the decorations at Halloween and Christmas, I set out the books I used to read to my children back in the day. They inevitably pick them up and thumb through the pages, making comments like "I remember when this was my favorite book" or "I can't believe you still have this, Mom." It's a little trip down memory lane for them. For me, too.

THE JOLLY CHRISTMAS POSTMAN (the sequel to the wonderful The Jolly Postman) is a particularly special picture book. It's the story of a postman cycling around Banbury Cross (so clever!) to deliver Christmas letters, cards, games and other gifts to various fairy tale characters like the Gingerbread Man and Humpty Dumpty and even The Big Bad Wolf (a stop he doesn't want to make). Janet Ahlberg's illustrations are delightful. Allan Ahlberg's rhyme is really entertaining. Even for adults. :)  This is an interactive book, and the envelopes inside hold the cards, etc. Below is the "hazardous board game," Get Out of the Woods (more cleverness!) sent from the Wolf to Little Red Riding Hood (ever more cleverness!).  You remove it from the envelope and unfold it to play. I have won at this game!


The British authors married and created many children's books together over a twenty-year period. Probably their most well-known book is Each Peach Pear Plum. Sadly, Janet died of breast cancer at age 50 in 1994. According to Wikipedia, Allan said after her death that that they "made an absolute fortune" but "never really had holidays." So, there's a little gem of wisdom for you. And here's a link to an interesting and very recent Telegraph article about Allan who remarried (to his editor) and has created a couple of books with his daughter. Among other things, he talks about his writing routine (he writes daily in his shed) and the vagaries of the publishing industry. It's quite an intimate article. I think you'll like it.

(Dear FCC: Happy Holidays!)

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

MIDDLE GRADE/YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Ellen Booraem: GOODBYE, STRANGER by Rebecca Stead (MG, contemp)

Stacy Nyikos: THE GREENGLASS HOUSE by Kate Milford (MG, mystery)

Sarah Laurence: YOU KNOW ME WELL by Nina LaCour & David Leviathan (YA, contemp)


ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: TIMESHIFT by Kris Trudeau (futuristic techno-thriller)

Linda McLaughlin: LORD PERFECT by Loretta Chase (regency romance, audio)

Patti Abbott:  MISS JANE by Brad Watson

Ray Potthoff: DARK EAGLE by John Ensor Harr (historical)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett (literary)


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!



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Visit Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore for Indies 1st Day + Small Business Saturday on Nov 26!


Next Saturday, November 26, 2016 is ...drum roll...

INDIES FIRST DAY + SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY!

I'll be at the one-and-only Mysterious Galaxy, 5943 Balboa Ave, Ste 100, San Diego, 92111.*

And...I'll be working...as a bookseller! Yes, it's true. No bonbons or couches for me from 1:00-3:00pm. 

Mysterious Galaxy let me order for their shelves six of my favorite mysteries and fantasies. Please stop by and talk books. Or just come see me putting in an honest 2 hours of work. Or bring me a coffee.

Other bookselling authors will be: Mishell Baker, Lisa Brackmann, Nick Cole, CB Lee, Cindy Pon, Kat Rocha and Laura Tims.

We're all very friendly. :) And it's always good to support a local independent bookstore.


*store hours=10am-5pm

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Book Review Club (November 2016)



Guess what Emily Dickinson said about November? "November always seemed to me the Norway of the year." What's a really great way to cheer up a dreary month? AND to take your mind off the elections? BOOKS! How propitious (there's your $5 word for the month!) that you stumbled upon this blog. Presenting: the November 2016 edition of The Book Review Club with reviews of books we want you to read! Welcome!

13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL 
by Mona Awad (debut, adult, literary)

I'm trying to write this review carefully because 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL is a very, very good book. I want to do it justice. Actually, a lot of people think highly of this book. For example, it's: a finalist for the Giller Prize, winner of the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, one of the most anticipated books of 2016 according to Elle, Bustle, and The Globe and Mail. Whew.

The book consists of thirteen interconnected vignettes that follow Lizzie/Beth/Elizabeth/Liz from teenage hood through college, temp work, inappropriate relationships, marriage and more until her early thirties. Lizzie changes her name depending on her weight. (See how FAT is partially erased on the cover?!)

In the first story, "When We Went Against the Universe," Lizzie is an overweight high schooler, hanging out with her best friend, Mel, at a McDonald's in suburban Toronto ("...here in Misery Saga which is what you're allowed to call Mississauga if you live there.") By the last story, "Beyond the Sea," Lizzie is in her thirties, thin, unhappy, divorced and living in a gated community where she fights for time on the Lifecycle and questions the point of all her exercising and neurotic, cautious eating/starving.

13 WAYS is the story of Lizzie March, a multi-dimensional character we see interacting with several other characters, in a variety of settings, from a dressing room to a nail salon to her bedroom to a hospital waiting room to various restaurants and the list goes on. 13 WAYS is also the story of women in today's society. How we're pressured to look a certain way, dress a certain way, even to think in certain ways. And how we're so very often ill at ease in our very own skin.

13 WAYS is witty, caustic, insightful. I laughed. I cringed. I kept turning pages.

I think perhaps People magazine said it best: "A hilarious, heartbreaking book."

Highly recommended.

(Dear FCC: I bought this book.)

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

YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Ellen Booraem:  DREAMHUNTER by Elizabeth Knott (YA Fantasy, bk #1)
                           DREAMQUAKE BY Elizabeth Knott (YA Fantasy, bk #2)

Jody Feldman: THE CANDYMAKERS by Wendy Mass (middle grade, bk #1)
                         THE GREAT CHOCOLATE CHASE by Wendy Mass (middle grade, bk #2)

Stacy Nyikos: THE ADVENTURERS GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL ESCAPES by Wade Albert White
                        (middle grade, fantasy, sci fi)

Beth Bonini of TRAC: ASKING FOR IT by Louise O'Neill (mature YA)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys  (YA historical)

ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight: A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN by Sherry Thomas (historical mystery)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE HUMMINGBIRD by Stephen P. Kieran (contemporary)

Linda McLaughlin: THE LAST WALTZ by G.G. Vandagriff (Historical/Saga)
                             
Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THREE WISHES by Liane Moriarty (contemporary)

Ray Potthoff: PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks (historical)



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!