Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Book Review Club (March 2018)

Welcome to the March edition of The Book Review Club. Some of us are dealing with weather. Some of us aren't. But it's always good to learn of books others have enjoyed. Your To-Be-Read Pile can never be high enough! After my post, please scroll for links to everyone's reviews. Remember to wear green on the 17!

by Susan Hughes (author)
and Carey Sookocheff (illustrator)

A bully has popped up in my current manuscript. I decided I needed get to know her and her motivations a little better, this character that has unexpectedly taken over pages and somewhat changed the storyline (as bullies are no doubt wont to do!).

So, I read a few books about bullies, fiction and non-fiction. And today I'm reviewing a superb picture book about bullying.

What Happens Next really touched my heart. It's the story of a young boy* who dreads going to school because of Bully B who blocks his way, shoves his books, calls him names. We see how the victim sometimes feels: "Bad. Very bad." We see how the bully's friends respond: "Laugh." We see what others do: "Nothing." Eventually, the child confides in his mother who helps him plan a conversation with the bully about what the two of them, what humans, in general, have in common. And can I just say I love the unconditional love of Sparky, the dog.

*The protagonist could as easily be a girl. We don't learn the child's name. I suspect this ambiguity is intentional. After all, any gender can be bullied. At the end of the book, we do learn the bully's name.

Here's the mother explaining the bully's behavior (and this really spoke to me):
What Mom Says Next:
That everyone has their own way of looking at things and people. That each person's way of looking is made up of where they're standing and how they got there. It's made up of what's in their mind, what's in their heart, and what's in their imagination.

What Happens Next is about empathy and courage and giving power to children and finding commonalities. The ending is not pat, but, instead, encourages healthy conversation for all ages about dealing with bullies. The format is interesting. The illustrations compliment the message.

Heartily recommended. And did I find help for dealing with the bully who wandered into my work-in-progress? I did.

Here's a link to the book trailer: right here

(Dear FCC: Don't fall over in a dead faint, but I actually requested this ARC. Good thing I did because I LOVED the book. Hence, the review.) 

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


Phyllis Wheeler: THE HOSTAGE PRINCE by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple (fantasy)


Patti Abbott:  WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A.J. Finn (thriller)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES by Carmen Maria Machado 
                                         (short stories)


Ellen Booraem: BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah (memoir)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: -THE PLOT TO HACK AMERICA by Malcolm Nance (political)
                                                  -FIRE AND FURY by Michael Wolff (political)

                                THUCYDIDES'S TRAP? by Graham Allison (political)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE RHINO WITH GLUE-ON SHOES
                                                            edited by Lucy H. Spelman and Ted Y Mashima (zoology)

Margy Lutz: THRU-HIKING WILL BREAK YOUR HEART by Carrot Quinn (memoir)

Ray Potthoff: LOST IN THE WILD by Cary J. Griffith  (adventure/survival)                        

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 7, 2018

The Book Review Club (February 2018)

Welcome to the Feb 2018 edition of The Book Review Club. THIS MONTH MARKS OUR NINE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY! Sorry. I couldn't help but yell. That's a lot of reading and reviewing! Click below my post for links to good reviews of good books! And Happy Belated Groundhog Day!

by Hyeonseo Lee (memoir, North Korea)

I gravitate toward books about North Korea. I visited the DMZ and looked across into North Korea. One of my sisters has traveled twice to North Korea to help with food aid. I always wonder if our daughter, adopted as a baby from South Korea, might have relatives in the North.

The Girl with Seven Names is Hyeonsea Lee's memoir of her escape from North Korea to China. She eventually made her way to a life in South Korea. Lee left N. Korea as a seventeen year old!

This book is divided into three sections: Lee's childhood in North Korea, Lee's escape to China and South Korea, Lee's efforts to get her brother and mother to defect to South Korea. Each section is equally riveting.

Lee talks of witnessing her first public execution at age seven. She describes the weekly "life purification sessions" where "everyone took turns to stand up, accuse someone and confess something." She talks about the racism and isolation she faced as an illegal North Korean in China. She bribed officials with the little money she had. She worried constantly about being turned in and then repatriated. She feared for the family she left behind.

Lee had to come to grips with the North Korean propaganda she grew up with. Think of all the unlearning. She fell in love with an American despite the well-known North Korean saying: "Just as a jackal cannot become a lamb, so American imperialists cannot change their rapacious nature."

You may have seen Lee's Ted Talk. Millions have watched it. The link is ... here.

I like the Ted talk. It's 12 or 13 minutes. But the book has so much detail. And it's all those big and little details I love. Such as: "I wanted to be an accordionist. It's a popular instrument in North Korea and a woman who could play it well had no difficulty making a living." A woman can earn a living playing the accordion in North Korea. Who knew?!

I'lll end with this: "People are probably asking themselves why a country such as mine still exists in the world. Perhaps it would be even harder for them to understand that I still love my country and miss it very much. I miss its snowy mountains in winter, the smell of kerosene and burning coal. I miss my childhood there...I should be comfortable with my new life, but I'm still the girl from Hyesan who longs to eat noodles with her family at their favorite restaurant."

(Dear FCC: Keeping it short and sweet: Bought for Kindle)

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


                         by Mark Twain and Philip Stead with Illustrations by Erin Stead


Margy Lutz: ARTEMIS by Andy Weird (sci fi)

Ray Potthoff: FRONT by John Sanford (mystery/thriller)

Sarah Laurence: PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee (historical)


                                                  by Kurt Andersen (social commentary)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER by Lawrence Anthony
                                                             with Graham Spence (memoir)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson (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, January 3, 2018

The Book Review Club (January 2018)

Happy New Year! Bonne AnnĂ©e! Frohes Neues Jahr! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! You get the gist. It's a brand new shiny year. Full of possibilities. And adventures. And books. And, of course, our reviews. Enjoy!

by M.J. McGrath (adult, crime)

WHITE HEAT is the first of three books in the Edie Kiglatuk mysteries. It received starred reviews and was longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award.

Here's the Amazon plot synopsis: Half Inuit and half outsider, Edie Kiglatuk is the best guide in her corner of the Arctic. But as a woman, she gets only grudging respect from her community's Council of Elders. While Edie is leading two tourists on a hunting expedition, one of them is shot and killed. The Council wants to call it an accident, but Edie and police sergeant Derek Palliser suspect otherwise. When the other tourist disappears, Edie sets off into the far reaches of the tundra for answers.

Who doesn't love a mystery with a no-nonsense, tradition-bucking, bilingual (Inuktitut/English), Arctic hunting guide protagonist who boils iceberg chips for tea and chews wedges of igunaq (fermented walrus gut)? Not saying Edie doesn't have her demons. She does. She battles alcoholism ("The years of drinking had taken away what pride she might once have had.") and harbors mixed feelings about her ex-husband. But our Edie has ethics and courage in spades. When the elders, who "huddled together like a group of harried musk ox" wanted to ignore a qalunaat's (white man's) death, Edie takes matters into her own hands.

As Melanie McGrath, the author researched and wrote THE LONG EXILE, a non-fiction book about Inuit families. So, she definitely knows her stuff! In WHITE HEAT, the Canadian Arctic itself is a character. You practically need to wear a winter coat to read it!

I love everything Arctic. Visiting that area is on my bucket list. But I do believe anyone who enjoys a well-crafted, well-written mystery set in an exotic locale with a spunky, but flawed, heroine will enjoy WHITE HEAT.

(Dear FCC: Bought for my Kindle. Happy New Year!) 

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

Jody Feldman: JASMINE TOGUCHI: MOCHI QUEEN by Debbi Michiko Florence (chapter bk)

Sarah Laurence: FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway (YA, contemporary)

Ellen Booraem: GLASS HOUSES by Louise Penny (mystery)

Linda McLaughlin: LADY DARBY MYSTERY SERIES by Anna Lee Huber (historical mystery)

Margy Lutz: A TANGLED WEB by Mike Martin (mystery)

Patti Abbott:  SILENCE OF THE GRAVE by Arnaldur Indriadson (crime)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn (psychological thriller)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE GREAT GOULD by Peter Goddard (biography)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: WE'RE GOING TO NEED MORE WINE by Gabrielle Union

Ray Potthoff: THE CRUSADES by Thomas Asbridge (history)

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 6, 2017

The Book Review Club (December 2017)

Welcome to the final edition of 2017 of The Book Review Club. December is a busy time of year. All the better to learn of a good book and sit down quietly with it and a cup of tea. AND what are the bests gifts in the world to give? Books! So, please click through to other reviews at the end of mine.


Picture books! Why picture books? Well, I'm reviewing a few seasonal picture books for a couple of reasons. First, it's good to read picture books. Even as grownups. Rebecca J. Gomez lists here 10 (sometimes very funny) reasons why adults should read picture books. Here's one of my (serious) favorites: "A picture book could teach you something new." Second, picture books are part of how I decorate my house for various holidays. On the coffee table, I fan out picture books relating to the holiday. They're short; they're colorful; they're unintimidating (it should be a word!). Everyone flips through them. They're conversation starters. My children trip down memory lane. Picture books are a very good thing.

THIS NEXT NEW YEAR by Janet S. Wong, Illustrated by Yangsook Choi: This Korean-English bilingual book follows a half-Korean boy as his friends and family prepare to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Pasadena, CA. It's about fresh starts, bringing luck into your house, being the best you can be and feeling comfortable about celebrating in the way that fits you. Very uplifting. At the back, there are facts about the Korean language and the lunar year. And here's a link to Duk Gook soup (Korean Rice Cake New Year's Soup). I'm going to make it this year. Let me know if you do. Duk Gook Soup

THE LEGEND OF POINSETTIA by Tomie dePaola: This folk story of a young girl, Lucida, who lives with her family in a small village in the mountains of Mexico. Her plan to weave a new blanket for the Christmas Eve Nativity scene falls through. She doesn't want to be the only one without a gift for Jesus and grabs an armful tall green weeds and places them by the manger. After Mass, all the tall green weeds throughout the village shine with red stars. The weeds have turned into la Flor de Nochebuena (the Flower of the Holy Night--the poinsettia). There are great details about life in rural Mexico and Christmas preparation. There is a nice moral about the power of simple gifts that come from the heart. At the back, the author explains how the poinsettia ended up in the United States.

A KENYAN CHRISTMAS by Aunty Kiko, illustrated by Moses Wanjuki: Filled with Kenyan details like bare Jacarandas and hornbills and peppered with Kenyan words, this rhyming picture book is very atmospheric. It follows Akinyi who is at first stuck inside due to the short rains, but then goes to the fair and the beach and finally celebrates Christmas with her extended family in the country. At the back, there is a glossary and facts about Kenya.

(Dear FCC: Bought. Bought. Bought. Oh, and Season's Greetings to you!)

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

Jody Feldman: FINDING WINNIE: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear
                         by Lindsay Mattock and Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
                         THE YOUNGEST MARCHER: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks
                          by Cynthia Levinson and Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: CASTLE IN DANGER by Karen Lautenberg (MG,  historical)

Sarah Laurence: A SEASON FOR DARING GREATLY by Ellen Emerson White (YA, contemp)

                                                                                                                    (YA, contemp)

Ellen Booraem: A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles

Linda McLaughlin: BRAT FARRAR by Josephine Tey (mystery)

Patti Abbott:  THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY by Louise Penny (mystery)

                       by Nick Adams (historical, also appropriate for YA)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS by Sy Montgomery

Margy LutzAT HOME IN NATURE by Rob Woods (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, November 1, 2017

The Book Review Club (November 2017)

Happy November 1st and welcome to the November meeting of The Book Review Club. As per Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and other books, "November is the most disagreeable month of the whole year." Whether you agree or not (I don't, but perhaps t's because I live in So Cal!), we can improve your November with great reviews of great books. Enjoy!

by Misty Simon (adult, cozy mystery)

As a girl who was raised on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for cozy mysteries. In fact, I'll read a bunch of books from a variety of genres and then wake up one morning and think, "Time for a cozy mystery." So, not too long ago, I woke up, emailed my dear friend Misty Simon and asked, "Got a spare ARC of your upcoming cozy?" And, voila! That's how I wound up with the first book in the Tallie Graver mystery series.

I don't want to give too much away because, uh, I don't want to spoil the mystery for you.

I will say that I giggled my way through the book. Here's an example of a bit of the humor: I took a sip of perfectly doctored tea--lots of cream and more sugar than my mother would have been happy with--and tried to quell the shaking in my hands. My adrenaline was fading...I had seen shock before when I'd shown Waldo my monthly bills for new shoes, but had rarely experienced it firsthand. (pg 39)

There's a body with a knife in the chest, a stun gun, embezzlement, a break-in, a nasty ex-husband, some light romance (not with the ex!), a difficult cop, a nosy cookie-baking mother, flower deliveries from a dead woman, and a protagonist who needs to clear her name. Everything gets tied up and solved by the final page so you can sleep easy.

CREMAINS OF THE DAY. Ya gotta admit, Misty comes up with the best titles.

If you're into cozy mysteries, this one's for you! Clever, funny, satisfying!

(Dear FCC: I know Misty. She sent me an ARC. Guilty as charged. BUT I did truly enjoy the book.  And you would, too!)

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


Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE HANGING GIRL by Eileen Cook (thriller)

Sarah Laurence: STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman (debut, contemp)

Stacy Nyikos: SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo (fantasy)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: DRESS CODES FOR SMALL TOWNS by Courtney Stevens (contemp)


Linda McLaughlin: THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE by Lisa See (women's lit)

Patti Abbott:  LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng (literary)


                                                  by Gail Harris, Marilyn Lesser, Cynthia Soloway

Margy Lutz: HARRY: A WILDERNESS DOG SAGA by Chris Czajkowski (memoir)

Ray Potthoff: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE by Edward Gibbon (history)

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 4, 2017

The Book Review Club (October 2017)

"From ghoulies and ghosties/And long-legged beasties/And things that go bump in the night,/Good Lord, deliver us!" (Scottish prayer) Welcome to the October edition of The Book Review Club! Please be sure to scroll down after my review. There are links to reviews of good books in a variety of genres (more adult fiction than usual this month). Enjoy!

by Ruth Ware (adult, British psychological thriller)

Because I figure you'll hear about them from other sources, I don't often review books that hit the NYT bestseller list (In a Dark, Dark Wood was a NYT, USA Today, LAT bestseller and more. Plus Reese Witherspoon's developing it as a movie.). BUT a psychological thriller makes for a great Halloween month review. AND this book kept me on the elliptical way, way past 30 minutes! WHICH MEANS In a Dark, Dark Wood totally grabbed me.

In a Nutshell: Six twenty-somethings celebrate a bachelorette weekend in a remote house in Northumberland, England. Some of the characters know each other. Some are meeting for the first time. The house is creepy and surrounded by a forest (hence, the title :) and has sketchy cell phone service. Voila! You have all the ingredients for a thriller.

So What?: But what makes this story stand out? Believe me, I don't stay, huffing and puffing, on the elliptical for any old thriller. Two things, I think. Number one is the characters. They are so very multi-dimensional.  For example, the protagonist, Leonora Shaw (who goes by several names, depending on the stage of her life) is a runner. Which is handy in a thriller. A runner can run away from the bad guy. But more than that, Leonora has the loner mentality of a runner. And it's that loner mentality that directs how she reacts, how she makes decisions, how she interprets information. And all these things drive the plot. Number two is the moving parts. There are a lot of them. And they are handled expertly and fit together perfectly. Leonora Shaw is our point-of-view character. The story begins with her receiving an invitation to the bachelorette weekend. Fairly early on, though, Leonora wakes up in a hospital room, trying to remember how she got there. From this point, the author is juggling two time lines (before the murder and after the murder). I can imagine Ms. Ware sitting with a cup of tea, thinking and planning and scheming to make sure there are no loose threads and no clunky plotting. Much appreciated!

I listened to In a Dark, Dark Wood. Imogene Church is a terrific narrator. Also, I enjoyed all the British-isms in this book, such as "hen" party in lieu of "bachelorette." Ruth Ware's most recent publication, also a psychological thriller, is The Lying Game (July 2017). It's certainly on my list!

(Dear FCC: library. And I heartily recommend this book!)

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


Sarah Laurence: THE RATTLED BONES by S.M. Parker (YA, ghost story)


Ellen Booraem: NORSE MYTHOLOGY by Neil Gaiman (mythology/folklore)

Jody Feldman: THE SHADOW by Todd Moss (thriller)

Linda McLaughlin: SISI: EMPRESS ON HER OWN by Allison Pataki (historical)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving:  LOVE THE WINE YOU'RE WITH by Kim Gruenenfelder

Ray Potthoff: THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE by Jessica Shattuck (historical)

Scott Parker: HEAT STORM by Richard Castle (mystery/thriller)

Stacy Nyikos: THE OTHER EINSTEIN by Marie Benedict (historical)

Tanya Sutton: MISSING, PRESUMED by Susie Steiner (mystery)


Alyssa Goodnight: HALF BAKED HARVEST COOKBOOK by Tieghan Gerard (cookbook)

Margy Lutz: THIS IS ME by Danny Wilks (memoir)

Patti Abbott:  MORNING STAR by Ann Hood

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, September 6, 2017

The Book Review Club (September 2017)

Welcome to the September edition of The Book Review Club. We're glad to be back following our hiatus and have lots to recommend after a summer of reading. We never know from month to month who will choose to review in which genre. It's always fun to see if there's a pattern. This month, we have more reviews of adult fiction and nonfiction than of young adult/middle grade. Must've been something in the water, I guess. Enjoy!

by Dr Amit Sood (self help)

I don't often read a book from the self-help shelf. But in August, I had an interesting chat with someone who is physically disabled. She described the accident at age 25 that broke her neck, the rehab for learning to walk again, the return to college for a new career. "I met a lot of depressed, bitter people in rehab and decided not to be that way." It was the word "decided" that grabbed me. This person consciously decided to be happy. I thought back to my twenty-something self, to a time when I was profoundly miserable (relationship, job and grad school angst).  Could I have chosen to be happy or, at least, less unhappy? Maybe? And this is how I ended up reading The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness.

In a nutshell, Dr Sood divides brain activity into "focused" and "wandering." When we're in the default wandering mode, which is over 50% of the day, we stress and worry and drift toward depression. I swear there are days when my brain wanders 90% of the time! Social media has only worsened the condition. I could join Wandering Brains Anonymous (if such a group exists)!

The Handbook for Happiness is a four-step, 10-week program. The steps are: Train Your Attention, Cultivate Emotional Resilience, Start a Mind-Body Practice, Pick Healthy Habits. Each step comes with a series of exercises. For eg., Cultivate Emotional Resilience (weeks 3-8) provides strategies to "refocus thoughts" away from stress.

Does this all sound a little simplistic? Yes. Maybe. But, yet, yet, there could be something to it. Something important. We all know if you want to improve at a skill, you need to practice. On some level, it makes sense to practice being happy. I think the book is worth the read. I love the "Food for Thought" maxims, such as "A step back is often a move forward." I'm going to try some of the exercises.

(Dear FCC: Bought the book)

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


Jody Feldman: A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME by Phil Binder (MG, contemporary)

Sarah Laurence: AMERICAN STREET by Ibi Zoboi (YA, contemporary)


Ellen Booraem: HONEYDEW by Edith Perlman (historical)

Linda McLaughlin: THE MOON IN THE PALACE (Bk 1 of duology) by Weina Dai Randel

Patti Abbott:  IN A LONELY PLACE by Dorothy Hughes

Stacy Nyikos: A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Armor Towles

Tanya Sutton: EMMA IN THE NIGHT by Wendy Walker (suspense/thriller)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: UNSETTLING THE SETTLER WITHIN by Paulette Regan (adult)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer (biography)
                                                            THE WILD TRUTH by Carine McCandless (biography)

Margy Lutz: LISTENING TO WHALES by Alexandra Morton (memoir)


Stacy of the Cat's Meow:  CORK DORK by Bianca Bosker (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!