Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Book Review Club (May 2016)

Welcome to the May edition of The Book Review Club! My marvelous critique partner, Kathy Aarons, wrote today's review about a book she can't stop talking about. I mean, you have to really love a book to beg me to let you write a review for the blog. Well, maybe not so much "beg" as in you owe me. But, hey, it's all good. Also, I just started the book in question, and it's pretty amazing thus far! So, without further ado (love that phrase!), take it away, Kathy!

by Jenny Lawson  (adult, essays)

From Amazon: In FURIOUSLY HAPPY, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jenny Lawson explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

I really enjoyed Jenny Lawson's memoir, LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, which delves into her eccentric childhood growing up in western Texas.

But even that didn't prepare me for all the truly laugh-out-loud moments of her recent book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY: A FUNNY BOOK ABOUT HORRIBLE THINGS.

FURIOUSLY HAPPY is a collection of essays that illustrate Lawson's wacky sense of humor, which is at its best when describing arguments with her husband. I can't help but think he's both the luckiest and most put-upon husband alive. I tried reading a few pages to my husband, but couldn't get through them because I was laughing so hard I couldn't speak.

While these humorous vignettes are worth the purchase price, what makes this book truly important is Lawson's brutally honest explorations of her mental illness. Right when I was crying with laughter, I'd be crying for an entirely different reason.

The combination of humorous stories about koalas with chlamydia interspersed with heart-breaking descriptions of her depression, anxiety and wish to self-harm, made me want to give the author a hug and a high five at the same time.

The expression "furiously happy" comes from a taxidermied raccoon named Rory, whose frozen smile and jazz hands appear to show determination to have a fun time no matter what. Lawson uses it to tell herself and demonstrate to her readers that her mental illness doesn't have to control her life. That sometimes you can choose to be happy even in the face of terrible depression or anxiety. She discusses how she's learned to deal with her complicated issues, but never preaches or pretends to know how any other sufferers should deal with theirs.

I've been recommending this book to everyone I know, whether they suffer from mental illness or not, because it can help anyone understand the day-to-day struggles of someone who does.

And it will make you laugh while you do.

From Barrie: If you're looking for Kathy, author of the nationally bestselling Chocolate Covered Mystery series (yes, I'm proud!), you'll find her on TwitterFacebook or on her website. And Jenny Lawson blogs regularly here: The Bloggess

(Dear FCC: Kathy borrowed this book from the library. Then, she went out and bought two copies. She spends a small (or large, if you believe her husband!) fortune on books.)

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

Alyssa Goodnight: THANKS FOR THE TROUBLE by Tommy Wallach (YA, contemporary)

Ellen Booraem: INSTEAD OF THREE WISHES BY Megan Whelan Turner
                                                                                      (MG, fantasy, short stories)
Sarah Laurence: OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee (YA, historical)

                                                                                      (MG, paranormal mystery/thriller)

Jody Feldman: SCYAMORE ROW by John Grisham (thriller)

Linda McLaughlin: WHEN A SCOT TIES THE KNOT by Tessa Dare (romance)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE NEXT by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (contemporary)

Patti Abbott:  MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante (contemporary, Italian)

Rob Costello: AN ENGLISH GHOST STORY (horror)

Ray Potthoff: AND THEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE by Richard Engel

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 6, 2016

The Book Review Club (April 2016)

Welcome to the April edition of The Book Review Club! Here's a famous first line for you: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." (from 1984 by George Orwell) We have loads of reviews this month, which means we've all been reading good books and want to pass on the word!

 by Fran Cannon Slayton (middle grade, historical)

I met Fran in March of 2010 at the Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville, VA. She might not remember (there were scads of kid lit authors), but Fran made an impression on me: smart, articulate, helpful, genuine. Above all, genuine. Her middle-grade novel, WHEN THE WHISLE BLOWS, has been on my TBR list since that meeting. Yes, yes, my pile of to-read books is totally out of control! It's threatening to take over the bedroom! Anyway, I finally read WHEN THE WHISLE BLOWS last week during my Oklahoma trip, and I LOVED IT!

This past January, Fran was diagnosed with brain cancer. She writes a very honest and heart-warming/heart-wrenching blog about this ongoing journey. Here's the link to Fran's My Unexpected Journey.

WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS opens on Halloween 1943 in the small mountain town of Rowlesburg, West Virginia. Jimmy Cannon is in seventh grade and wants nothing more than to grow up and, like his dad and older brother, work for the railroad....the "iron horse." Unfortunately, the steam engine is on its way out, and, like the rest of us, Jimmy is unable to stop change. Jimmy's dad, whose birthday is on Halloween, predicts the coming of the diesel engine. By the end of the book, this prediction comes true. Each chapter is the next Halloween. Which is pretty cool because you see Jimmy growing up a year at a time, all the way to 1949. Also, each chapter gives us a slice of Jimmy's life: pranks with his friends, a robbery, his uncle's wake, a high-school football game, etc. A great strength of this book lies in the characters. They are well developed and authentic. I was sorry to reach the last page and know my time with them was over. As the mother of three boys, I can attest that the author really and truly captured the boy perspective. Another strength is the historical details. They are woven seamlessly into the narrative and dialogue. For me, WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS is reminiscent of a Jack London or a Richard Peck novel. Yes, it's that good.

Not something I normally do as part of a book review: Fran will need help to cover medical expenses. Buying this book would help. For other ways to pitch in, click here.

(Dear FCC: I bought this book. Plain and simple. And I'm glad I did.)

And staying on track (oh, come on, you were waiting for at least one train pun!) ...onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one! Choo choo! (That's it! Seriously, I'm done :) )

Ellen Booraem: GRAYLING'S SONG by Karen Cushman (middle grade, fantasy)

Jody Feldman: THE MYSTERIOUS MOONSHINE by Eric Luper (middle grade, mystery)

Beth Bonini of TRAC: ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (YA, science fiction)

Rob Costello: BUTTERFLY by Sonya Hartnett (young adult)

Sarah Laurence: THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU by Beth Kephart (young adult, contemporary)

Stacy Nyikos: THE PASSENGER by Alexandra Bracken (young adult, science fiction)

Alyssa Goodnight: FLIGHT OF DREAMS by Ariel Lawhon (historical)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: YOU'RE ONLY OLD ONCE by Dr. Seuss (humorous)

Patti Abbott:  ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr

Linda McLaughlin: THE DOG WHO KNEW TOO MUCH by Spencer Quinn (mystery)
                                 PAW ENFORCEMENT by Diane Kelly (mystery)
                                 A DOG'S PURPOSE by W. Bruce Cameron

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE by Simone St. James
                                                            (part romance, part historical, part mystery, seriously creepy!)

Ray Potthoff: THE REVENANT by Michael Punke (historical)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE by Melanie Benjamin

Jenn Jilks of Cottage CountryALL-ELECTRIC AMERICA by David Freeman & Leah Parks
                                                  THE LIFE & TIMES OF LILIAN J. RICE by Diane Welch

                      by William Shatner (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 2, 2016

The Book Review Club (March 2016)

Welcome to the March edition of The Book Review Club. You're in for a marvelous March treat as my critique partner, Kelly Hayes, is in charge of the review on my blog this month. Take it away, Kelly! And thank you bunches!

by Jessica Knoll (debut, mystery/thriller)

This is a tricky book review to write without spoilers. I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible because the slow reveal is so important to the plot of this book. So here goes.

The first storyline starts in present day New York City where 28 year-old women's magazine writer, Ani, is gearing up for a big expensive wedding to her silver spoon fiancé, Luke. It isn't long before we realize that all is not right in Ani's rarefied world. For one thing, she's non too thrilled to be getting married, even as she obsessively plans every detail of the wedding. Not to mention her 700 calories per day diet and her manipulative, controlling, judgmental inner dialog. And what's with the name change from Tifani to Ani? It seems like way more trouble that it's worth to constantly correct people when they use her old name. That's when we realize this character has gone to great pains to reinvent herself and it's taking all her energy to keep up her new, sleek, engineered persona.

Enter the ticking clock. Ani has committed to being the main subject of a documentary about a traumatic event she was involved in at her upper crust prep school when she was fourteen, which made the headlines and gave her a strange sort of fame. Filming starts just two weeks before the wedding and her fiancé does not want her to participate.

This is where the second storyline creeps in. As the date of filming looms, Ani begins to relive the months leading up to the traumatic event. And this is when her carefully constructed life begins to crumble bit by bit, just as it did fifteen years ago when she was so desperate to fit in at the prestigious Bradley School.

The author skillfully feeds us intriguing details and yet holds back the crucial information. About halfway through the book, just as a major traumatic event is revealed, and we're reeling from the shocking details, we realize it's only the tip of the iceberg. There's way more to come, as TifAni spirals down into the depths of teen despair, and her precarious new social standing disintegrates.

I think Luckiest Girl Alive defies classification and genre parameters. I started reading it, thinking it was psychological suspense, and it does have some of those elements. But, ultimately, I think this is a story about how reinvention only works on a surface level. Because buried secrets don't stay buried forever. Eventually they will rise to the surface and demand your attention. And when they do, you'd better be ready.

(Dear FCC: I don't actually know where Kelly got her copy of this book. But I do know her well enough to say she wouldn't give a positive review if she didn't believe in it. So there.)

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

Beth Bonini of TRAC: SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli

Alyssa Goodnight: LOVE IN LOWERCASE by Francesc Miralles (romantic comedy)

Ellen Booraem: HONEYDEW by Edith Pearlman (short stories)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: DECEPTION ON HIS MIND by Elizabeth George (mystery)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE FOREST by Edward Rutherford (historical)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty (women's)

Ray Potthoff: STONE COLE by David Baldacci (thriller)

Scott Parker: BOUNTY ON A BARON by Robert J. Randisi (western)


Sarah Laurence: THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS by Sy Montgomery (adult)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: MY LIFE ON THE ROAD by Gloria Steinem (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 3, 2016

The Book Review Club (February 2016)

Greetings and welcome to our first Book Review Club meeting of 2016! I gather  we're in for an early spring as per several groundhogs, including Punxsutawney Phil, Shubenacadie Sam, Staten Island Chuck, General Beau Lee. None of these saw his/her shadow yesterday. No matter the season, it's always good to have a book to curl up with. Please scroll down under my review for links to our awesome reviewers. P.S. A little trivia: a group of groundhogs is a repetition.

by Kelly Jones (debut, middle grade, fantasy)

If I had to choose one word to describe this book, I'd choose "delightful."

In a nutshell (or should I say "in an egg basket"! ha!): Twelve-year-old Sophie and her parents move from LA to a rundown farm they inherited from a great uncle. On the farm, Sophie discovers her great uncle's leftover chickens. But these are not ordinary chickens. These are chickens with super powers. Take Henrietta, for example. She rules the roost. She lays glass eggs and is telekinetic. She's quite moody, and her feathers are often ruffled. Then there's Chameleon who disappears. To avoid spoilers, I won't list the talents of the whole, er, unusual flock. Of course, every book has its bad egg. In Unusual Chickens, it's Ms. Griegson, a local farmer, who wants to steal Sophie's chickens. Sophie must figure out how to outsmart the poultry-napper for good and keep her chickens safe. There are some nice life lessons along the way.

What I Loved (in no particular order): The format. This story is told through letters from Sophie to her grandmother and great uncle (both deceased), letters between Sophie and the mysterious Agnes of the Redwood Farm Supply Company, a correspondence course for looking after chickens, recipes, newspaper articles, amazing line drawings and a quizz (as per the quiz, I would make a very excellent chicken farmer!). Sophie's sunnyside-up, resourceful, plucky attitude. I fell in love with that girl. How the diversity blends into the story and feels realistic. Sophie has brown skin, and her mother is Latino. Sophie is aware they are in the minority in the small town. At one point, they are even mistaken for migrant workers. All the chicken facts. Because there's just something about chickens, right? Lastly, the humor.

Highly recommended. Quit clucking and go get yourself a copy!

In 2012, my little town approved backyard goats, bees and .... chickens! Just saying...

(Dear FCC: Happy New Year! I bought this book.)

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

Beth Bonini of TRAC: THE WOLF WILDER by Katherine Rundell (MG, historical fantasy)

Stacy Nyikos: ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (YA, sci fi)

Alyssa Goodnight: THE WILD GIRL by Kate Forsyth (historical)

Ellen Booraem: THE DOOR by Magda Szabo (realistic)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: LO! JACARANDA by Harry Freiermuth (historical)

Linda McLaughlin: JUST LIKE HEAVEN by Julia Quinn (historical, romance)

Patti Abbott:  THE COLD SONG by Linn Ulman (mystery)

Ray Potthoff: DEVIL'S BROOD by Sharon Kay Penman (historical)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE PLANET FRIENDLY DIET by Cat Smiley (self help)

Sarah Laurence: BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates (adult)

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 2, 2015

The Book Review Club (December 2015)

Welcome to the last Book Review Club meeting of 2015! It's been a great year....full of good books and wonderful reviews. Books make the best gifts. If you're looking for ideas....check out our current and past reviews.
Happy Holidays!
by Ali Benjamin (debut, middle grade)

I decided to end the year with a review of The Thing About Jellyfish, one of the best middle grade novels I read in 2015.  I'm in good company; many people loved this book. It was a NYT bestseller and National Book Award finalist and got starred reviews from the usual suspects (Kirkus, SLJ, Booklist, etc.)

The Thing About Jellyfish is the story of 12-year-old Suzy "Zu" Swanson as she deals with her parents' divorce, the loss of a friendship, and the death of her friend. A chatterbox, Suzy chooses to stop talking, and there's a nice thread running through the book about communication.

Suzy and Franny Jackson have been friends for years. But they're very different. Always have been. Suzy is bright, interested in all things science, socially awkward.  Franny struggles academically, but fits in well with others. You can imagine what happens when they hit middle school.  Franny joins a popular clique and ditches Suzy. There's a particularly poignant scene in the school cafeteria when Suzy tries to eat lunch at the same table as Franny and her new friends. It hurt to read. The author captured the awkwardness and humiliation so well that I was cringing. I pulled into a parking lot to finish the chapter.  (I was listening to the book on audio). Anyway, the girls' friendship spirals downward and ends on a very sour note. And then Franny dies.

This book is full of lots of interesting scientific facts, especially about the Irukandji jellyfish. (I'm guessing the author enjoyed all the research. I know I would've!) Suzy becomes convinced this transparent, venomous jelly was  responsible for Franny's death.  Suzy wants a scientific explanation for why Franny, an excellent swimmer drowned in a calm ocean. Continuing with the scientific theme, The Thing About Jellyfish is organized into seven parts, like the scientific method.

And here's a quotation from the book, just to showcase the exquisite writing:
“In the end Suzanne, it's a gift to spend time with people we care about. Even if it's imperfect. Even if that time doesn't end when, or how, we expected. Even when that person leaves us.” 

Highly recommended.

Dear FCC: Thank you for checking in on me. I bought this book, fair and square. 

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


Stacy Nyikos: HUSKY by Justin Sayre (MG)

Sarah Laurence: THE WRATH and THE DAWN by Renée Ahdieh (YA)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: NIGHTFALL by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski (YA)


Linda McLaughlin: THE SISTERS WEISS by Naomi Regan

Patti Abbott:  BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin

Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton (mystery)

Rob Costello: MONICA NEVER SHUTS UP by A.S. King (short stories)


                       by Timothy Snyder (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, November 4, 2015

The Book Review Club (November 2015)

It's the first Wednesday in November (November?! Already!?) and time for a meeting of our monthly Book Review Club. A little trivia: November comes from the Latin "novem" meaning "nine" because November was the ninth month in the ancient 10-month Roman calendar. When January and February were added in 713 BC, November kept its name. Similar story for December. Could be useful trivia at a holiday party? Onward!
by Kenneth Oppel (young adult)

Kenneth Oppel is a prolific Canadian writer. By prolific, I mean he's written close to 30 books. We're talking picture, middle grade, young adult, and even a little adult fiction. He wrote his first novel, Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure, while in high school. He wrote his second, The Live-Forever Machine, while a student at the University of Toronto.  In 2004, his young-adult novel, Airborn, won the Michael L. Printz Award and the Governor General's Award. His Silverwing trilogy has sold over a million copies. Uh, wow! Just wow!

And now that you're all properly impressed, let's talk a little about Oppel's young adult novel, Half Brother.

In a nutshell: It's 1973, and a few really big changes take place in the life of only child, 13 year-old Ben Tomlin. His parents move him across country from Toronto to Victoria. He has to get used to a new school and new friends. On top of that, his mother brings home from Africa a newborn chimp. His behavioral-science parents want to raise the chimp, Zan, as a member of the family and teach him American Sign Language. It's all part of an experiment to see if Zan can acquire language.

What I Loved: The author draws heavily on similar kinds of chimpanzee language experiments from the 1970s. Think Nim and Washoe. There was a lot going on the book. Ben falls for a girl, makes new friends (not all appropriate), struggles in school. Zan matures, learns signs, grows stronger. The funding for the experiment is pulled, and decisions about Zan's future are up in the air.

In the Final Analysis: This is a book about relationships, especially family relationships and what constitutes a family. Also, as you can imagine, it raises questions about the ethics of animal experiments. Readers will get caught up in rooting for Ben and Zan.

-Here's a link to the author's website: Kenneth Oppel
-Here's a YouTube link to a short book trailer: Half Brother
-Here's a link to a short interview with the author talking about his inspiration for Half Brother and for the main character, Ben:  interview with Kenneth Oppel

Dear FCC: I actually forget where I bought this book. But I did pay for it, and it is mine. 

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

Beth Bonini of TRAC: THE MONTMARAY JOURNALS by Michelle Cooper (YA historical)

Rob Costello: SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS edited by April Genevieve Tucholke
                       (YA short story collection, horror)

Sarah Laurence: KISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb (YA, contemporary)

Stacy Nyikos: EVIL LIBRARIAN by Michelle Knudsen  (YA)

Ellen Booraem: THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erika Swyler (fantasy)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE by Samuel Shem
                                                  DYING TO LIVE by S. Derek Shelly (novella)

Linda McLaughlin: PEONY: A NOVEL OF CHINA by Pearl S. Buck

                                                  by Cecilia Williams and Paula White


Ray Potthoff: THE LAST HERO--A LIFE OF HENRY AARON by Howard Bryant (biography)

Sarah Laurence: H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald (nature 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, October 14, 2015

The Book Review Club (October 2015)

Happy October and Belated Canadian Thanksgiving! October is also Breast Cancer Awareness month (see Lucy Sartain's review below). And today is National Dessert Day. So, grab a couple of desserts and settle in for some thoughtful book reviews. Weirdly, we have more reviews of nonfiction books than usual. Something's in the autumn air... 
by Karl Pillemer (adult, nonfiction)

Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., a gerontologist, interviewed over one thousand Americans elders (the average age was 78 yrs) to discover the most important lessons these people have learned during their lifetime. We're talking about "80,000 years or so of combined life experience"!

The reason behind the book: "Older people have one unique source of knowledge that the rest of us do not: they have lived their lives. They have been where younger people haven't."

30 Lessons for Living is divided into eight chapters. Each chapter covers a different aspect of your life: marriage, career, parenting, aging, living without regrets, happiness. There are lessons, tips and many real-life anecdotes from a broad variety of people across the country.

I didn't agree with all the lessons. But I may change my mind with a few more years under my belt! And some of the advice seemed a little simplistic. But perhaps that's my problem; perhaps I'm making life more complicated than it needs to be! I'd like to discuss some of the lessons with Mr. Summy's parents, who are in their early eighties. (Sadly, my own parents died many years ago.)

All in all, the book made me stop and think. It's uplifting and sends the message that life is doable, being happy is doable.

Here are a few random lessons:
*Say yes to opportunities.
*Marry someone a lot like you.
*Happiness is a choice. Not a condition.

I particularly like that third piece of advice.

Dear FCC: I own this book. 

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

Beth Bonini of TRAC: CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge (MG)

Ellen Booraem: THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier (middle grade fantasy)

Stacy Nyikos: **THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES: FRIEND OR FOE by Jody Feldman** (MG)

Sarah Laurence: I CRAWL THROUGH IT by A.S. King (young adult)

Alyssa Goodnight: GIRL WAITS WITH GUN by Amy Stewart (historical)

Ray Potthoff: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr (historical)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: THE FINE ART OF F**KING UP by Cate Dicharry

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE CAREGIVING TRAP by Pamela D. Wilson

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: BETTER by Amy Robach

Patti Abbott:  THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK by Kevin Birmingham

                      WRITING by Libbie Hawker

**Written by our very own Jody Feldman**

 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!