Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Book Review Club (April 2020)

Welcome to the April 2020 edition of The Book Review Club. These covid-
19 times are scary and disconcerting and anxiety provoking. Not everyone could post this month. But we're happy to offer you at least some reviews for books we enjoyed and think you might enjoy, too. My little sister, Sheilagh Scott, very kindly (not surprising as she does all sorts of kind things for people) wrote this month's review. That's my sister on the right!

by Heather Dune Macadam 
(nonfiction, Jewish Holocaust History)

Over the years, I have read many moving books about Auschwitz, but 999 by Heather Dune Macadam stands out for me. This is the story of the first transport to Auschwitz, which was entirely female.  
The author certainly did her research. She interviewed several survivors, their relatives and consulted the USC Shoah Archive and the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Israel. Did you know that this first transport was all unmarried women under the age of 36? This is their story. It’s a shocking story, but also a story of solidarity and sisterhood. 
In March 1942, in the Slovakian towns of Humenn√© and PreŇ°ov (towns that had large Jewish populations), all unmarried Jewish women were called to report for government work. These young women eagerly reported, thinking they were embarking on a great adventure. They quickly learned otherwise, as they went through one dehumanizing experience after another. 
What touched me most was how the women helped each other at great risk to themselves. Most of the young women were deported with sisters, cousins, long-time friends and neighbours. When one in the group had a problem, the others helped. In winter, women stole shoes from the piles of confiscated goods taken from prisoners to give to those with poor footwear. (Interestingly, the women referred to these piles as "Kanada" because Canada was considered the land of plenty.) Women helped each other find less exhausting work stations, especially when a friend was frail. A woman assigned to undergo medical experiments was hidden among her usual work crew as they headed out for the day. The courage of these young women is amazing.
Why was the first transport all women? As Heather Dune Macadam notes, wouldn’t the Nazis want men to do the hard labour? Moreover, many of these women were teenagers, not likely to be used to doing much work at all. As it turns out, according the author, many more women perished in Nazi death camps because the Nazis felt that to eliminate future mothers would hasten the demise of Jews more quickly. 
999 is a heartbreaking account and one that is not well known. It honours the young Jewish women of the first transport to Auschwitz. Their experiences tell the story of humanity triumphing over terror. Definitely worth the read. 

(Dear FCC: library. My sister's library card is well worn.)

And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one! And I can't say it enough: please take care of you and yours and stay safe.


Jody Feldman: MARIANNA MAY AND NURSEY by Tomie dePaola (PB)

Phyllis Wheeler: IGGY AND OZ: THE PLASTIC DINOS OF DOOM by JJ Johnson (MG,


Linda McLaughlin: THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty (historical)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE by Julie Lalonde (memoir)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE SKIN WE'RE IN by Demond Cole (memoir)

Lucy Sartain: IN ORDER TO LIVE by Yeonmi Park (memoir)

Ray Potthoff: OLD MAN RIVER by Paul Schneider (American 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, February 5, 2020

The Book Review Club (February 2020)

And the Book Review Club is back! Welcome to our first meeting of 2020! To offset some of the recent heavy-duty news (Senate trials, Brexit, Iowa caucus issues), here's a bit of fun Feb. trivia: The 3rd weekend this month is Margarita Weekend. This is Potato Lovers Month and Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month. And now onto more erudite matters...our book reviews. Links below my post to reviews of recommended books by fabulous reviewers!

by Greg Van Eekhout (middle grade, adventure, robot)

COG is one of the best middle-grade novels I've read in a while. And I read A LOT of middle grade. Too much, perhaps, for a supposed grownup...

Okay. You're busy. With finite time for reading blogs. Let's get down brass tacks. What was it about this book that so grabbed me?

Cog, short for Cognitive Development, is a robot who looks like a 12 year old boy. Cog was built to learn. Which is why the reader is treated to fun bits of trivia from time to time. Such as info on platypuses. (#1 I loved the humor.)

When his programmer, Gina, informs Cog we learn from mistakes, he sets out to make some mistakes. He sneaks out one morning, sees a truck barreling toward a Chihuahua and decides to save the dog (#2 Who doesn't love a compassionate protagonist?). Unfortunately, the truck damages Cog who ends up at UniMIND,  a nasty corporation who cares about the bottom line, but not about people or robots. (#3 I love it when adults are the bad guys in middle grade fiction. Just a little personal thing.) Gina is taken away...somewhere. She's in trouble with UniMIND for programming a special talent into Cog. (no spoiler from me :)) Also, uniMIND wants to take out Cog's brain to see what's in there. Yikes.

Cog gets together a band of robots. They break out of the UniMIND building and will help him find Gina (#4 I love a clear goal. #5 friendship! #6 road trip!). The other robots are: a car, a dog, a trashbot and ADA (Cog's sister, who was also programmed by Gina). And, and, and...the stakes get higher and higher (#7 because I love the added tension, and I personally find this tough to pull off). By higher, I mean Cog ends up fighting for everyone and everything as UniMIND threatens to take over.

For me, though, the biggest and best thing about COG (#9) was its message about free will. Everybody has choices in life. People or robots might not always choose what you want them to, but they still get to have a choice. What a powerful message for young readers: You have agency.

Last, but not least, I love a book I can highly recommend (#10)!

(Dear FCC: I actually know Greg, but he wouldn't have any idea whether or not I bought (I did) or read COG. I doubt he even knows about this blog. Although I will tell him about today's review.) 

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


Phyllis Wheeler: ROAR LIKE A DANDELION by Ruth Krauss and Sergio Ruzzier (picture book)

Jody Feldman: THE GHOST IN APARTMENT 2R by Denis Markell (MG, paranormal mystery)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: SAVANT by John D. Richmond (mystery)

Linda McLaughlin: FORBIDDEN by Beverly Jenkins (historical romance)

Lucy Sartain: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by JaneAusten (classic)

Patti Abbott:  THE CHESTNUT MAN by Soren Sveistrup (thriller)

Ray Potthoff: KILLING ROMMEL by Stephen Pressfield (historical)

Sarah Laurence: DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz (historical)

Scott Parker: ORPHAN X by Gregg Hurwitz (thriller)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE LADY WITH BALLS by Alice Combs (memoir)

Margy Lutz: DANCING IN GUMBOOTS by Lou Allison and Jane Wilde (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, December 4, 2019

The Book Review Club (December 2019)

Welcome to the December 2019 edition of The Book Review Club. of the craziest, busiest months of the year! With lots of shopping and gift giving. Books make great gifts. Check out our reviews of books we recommend. Could be a gift-giving match made in heaven! Happy Holidays! Happy Reading!

by Richard Shenkman & Kurt Reiger
 (nonfiction, history, recommended)

This will probably be the shortest review I've ever posted. Which might be good for you in the midst of this very busy season. Anyway, I'm headed to Toronto and still have way too much to do before boarding that plane. Here goes.

I love finding the perfect book for a reader. So, this time of year in particular, I'm on the lookout. Of my four "kids," I have one who leans toward nonfiction and trivia. I forget how One-Night Stands with American History (clever title, right?) crossed my path, but, in any event, it tweaked my curiosity. Enough that I read it myself. And then bought my son a copy. No worries about spoiling a Christmas morning surprise. I don't, in a million years, believe he reads this blog.

One-Night Stands with American History begins with a quotation about Puritanism: "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." ~H.L. Menken. The book ends with a discussion of Kennewick Man, a 9,200 year old skeleton found by the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. In between, are all sorts of obscure facts and anecdotes. Did you know J. Edgar Hoover wouldn't let people walk on his shadow? Or that in 1721 France shipped 25 prostitutes to Louisiana to help with the shortage of women? Or that the last words of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall were, "Good-by. I am sorry to have kept you all waiting so long"?

This is a book you can sit down and read or sample a little at a time. It's definitely a book for that trivia-loving or history-loving person on your gift list. Imagine going to a holiday party and sharing some of these fun, odd facts? Such as (just one more, I promise): Brides in colonial New England often got married in the nude. Why? So the groom wouldn't have to pay off her pre-marriage debts.

(Dear FCC: bought)

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


Phyllis Wheeler: FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate Dicamilo (middle grade)

Sarah Laurence: THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL by Stacey Lee (YA, historical)


Linda McLaughlin: THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: A NOVEL by Marie Benedict

Patti Abbott: ONCE, AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout (literary)


Margy Lutz: CHASING SMOKE: A WILDFIRE MEMOIR by Aaron Williams (memoir)


Ray Potthoff: THE PIONEERS by David McCullough (American 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 6, 2019

The Book Review Club (November 2019)

Welcome to the November edition of The Book Review Club. Here's a little Thanksgiving trivia to help you dazzle everyone at the holiday dinner table. Turkey chicks are called pults or turkeylings. That wobbly bit on top of a turkey's beak is a snood. Minnesota raises the most turkeys. End of trivia.  Below my post are links to great reviews of recommended books. May they spark some holiday shopping. Books do make terrific gifts. Happy Thanksgiving in advance to all who celebrate. Gobble. Gobble.

by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman 
(children's non-fiction)

"Confidence is what turns our thoughts into action." (pg. 9).

The Confidence Code for Girls is a practical, accessible and encouraging book for tween and teen girls. Co-authored by two broadcast journalists, this book is written using lists (eg. Top Ten Failure Fixes), quizzes (eg. What's Your Failure Style?) comic strips, scientific research, exercises, and interviews with real girls from different cultures and backgrounds. A wide range of topics is discussed such as social media etiquette/safety, friendship choices, wearing a hijab, speaking up for yourself and much, much more. The tone is friendly, empowering, down to earth.

I love how the authors approach the F word. Failure. "But failure really does have an upside. It's not so much the failing, actually, but the recovered and learning that can be really valuable. It's all part of that critical confidence-building process...The lessons of failure get stamped onto our brains, something scientists call imprinting, more deeply than other kinds of experiences. When you fail, you can learn a ton of useful stuff, if you pay attention." (pg. 54)

I wish The Confidence Code for Girls had been around when I was in middle school and high school.  Recently, I was talking to a female friend, and we agreed we would've made some different choices back in the day if we'd had more self-assurance. If we'd learned to look at failure as a stepping stone instead of, uh, failure. If we'd learned to take action and smart risks early on.

There's an interesting section on female stereotypes and facts about women around the world (eg. "Countries with more gender equality are wealthier and healthier.")

I plan to read Kay and Shipman's The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance--What Women Should Know.

The Confidence Code for Girls: Taking Risks, Messing Up, & Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self is a book to have in your home, your classroom and your library.

(Dear FCC: library)

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


Phyllis Wheeler: DIARY OF A WIMPY KID #1 by Jeff Kinney (MG, contemporary)

Sarah Laurence: HOW TO BUILD A HEART by Maria Padian (YA, contemporary)


Linda McLaughlin: THE VINE WITCH by Luanne G. Smith (fantasy)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: FINDING DOROTHY by Elizabeth Letts (historical)
                                                      THE SECRETS WE KEPT by Lara Prescott (historical)

Margy Lutz: THE TESTAMENTS by Margaret Atwood (dystopian science fiction)

Patti Abbott:  THE BODY IN QUESTION by Jill Ciment (literary)


Ray Potthoff: THE BRITISH ARE COMING by Rick Atkinson (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, September 4, 2019

The Book Review Club (September 2019)

And just like that, summer is over! Welcome to the September 2019 edition of The Book Review Club. We have reviews of a variety of books.  You know our goal: topple your to-be-read pile! Interestingly, there are more reviews of nonfiction books than usual. Enjoy!

by Margaret Peterson Haddix 
(middle grade, sci fi, mystery)

The Strangers is, hands down, one of the best middle-grade mysteries I've read in a while.

The Greystone siblings (Chess--12 yrs, Emma--10 yrs and Finn--8 yrs) all get along and live happily with their mother in Ohio. Until the day they come home from school to find their mother distraught over a news story. Three siblings in Arizona with the same names, ages and birthdates as the Greystone kids have been kidnapped. WEIRD. The next day their mom goes on a business trip,  but leaves behind her cell phone, laptop and a coded letter for her children. WEIRDER. Chess, Emma, Finn and their new friend, Natalie, take a wrong turn in the Greystone basement and find themselves in an alternate universe. WEIRDEST!

Chapters are told in alternating voices, which I love. Each sibling has a distinct voice and a distinct take on how to interpret clues and find their mother. It warms the heart to see how these kids work together, appreciating each other's strengths. The Strangers offers twists and turns and switchbacks and red herrings and clues galore. Which I also love. And...the book ends on a cliffhanger. Which I normally don't love, but do appreciate this time. The story is so dense and intense I don't think it could've been tied up properly in one book. Of course, now I'm waiting impatiently for The Deceivers (Greystone Secrets #2), which comes out in about a year!

On a personal note, I had a hard time tying up the middle-grade mystery I'm working on. I may just take a page out of Margaret Peterson Haddix's book (ha, ha!) and leave a couple of loose ends. I'll decide for sure after plowing through this next revision.

(Dear FCC: I borrowed The Strangers from my local library. Then, our very cute goldendoodle puppy, Sadie, developed a taste for the book and chewed up a corner. I ended up buying a new copy for the library and keeping the munched-on version for myself. )  

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


                          by MT Anderson & Eugene Yelchin (MG, fantasy)

Phyllis Wheeler: THE BOOK OF THE KING by Jerry B Jenkins & Chris Fabry (MG, fantasy)

Sarah Laurence: ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS by Francesca Zappia (YA, fiction/hybrid graphic)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: UNDER COLD STONE by Vicki Delaney (mystery)


Linda McLaughlin: THE LITTLE BOOK OF TOURISTS IN ICELAND by Alda Sigmundsdottir
                                THE LITTLE BOOK OF ICELANDIC by Alda Sigmundsdottir (travel)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving:MY FRIEND ANNA by Rachel DeLoache Williams (memoir)

Margy Lutz: OUT OF THE SILENCE by Eduardo Straugh & Mireya Soriano (memoir)

Patti Abbott:  WHAT THE EYES DON'T SEE by Mona Hanna-Attisha

Ray Potthoff: A PASSIONFRUIT COOKBOOK by Patrick Jesse Pons-Worley
                       (cookbook with some 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, June 5, 2019

The Book Review Club (June 2019)

Welcome to the June edition of The Book Review Club. You're in for a real treat. My critique partner, Kelly Hayes, is in charge of the review on my blog this month.  The Book Review Club will be on summer hiatus for July + August. We'll be back in September. Happy Summer Reading! And, now, drum roll...Take it away, Kelly!

by M.R. Carey (adult, science fiction, dystopia)

Before I read The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey I almost wrote it off as just another in a long line of zombie tales. I mean I enjoyed The Walking Dead but only up to a point. Also I made one of the biggest mistakes a reader can make—I saw the movie first. And ,unfortunately, the movie wasn’t great. Even with those two strikes against it, I gave the book a chance. And I’m really glad I did.
            In a dystopian future England, humanity is almost wiped out by a virulent fungal infection. Those that are left are either “Hungries” (flesh-craving zombie predators who move really fast), fungus-free humans, or a new mutation—young Hungries that can think rationally and feel empathy, as long as they don’t smell humans. Oh, and there’s a fourth group, Junkers, humans who are fungus-free but who have completely lost their humanity.
            Helen Justineau is a teacher charged with “educating” a group of these young hybrid Hungries at Hotel Echo, a remote base set up to study this group. Dr. Caroline Caldwell is the one charged with “studying” them. And Sergeant Parks is there to “protect” them all. My quote marks are meant to imply that these characters' jobs are not what they seem. No one is really who they say they are.
            And then there’s Melanie, the adolescent hybrid Hungry with a brilliant mind and tremendous powers of empathy who fixates on Miss Justineau as the mother figure she so desperately needs. Especially when Dr. Caldwell sees her as nothing more than a test subject and Sergeant Parks treats her like a vicious animal.
            The characters in this book are all well drawn, but it is Melanie who is the most sympathetic and the most interesting. As long as she has her Hannibal Lecter-like face mask on and keeps her distance from the healthy humans, she can deny her baser instincts and fool herself that she is mostly human. It’s only when she fully experiences her Hungry side that she wakes up to what she is, and is horrified by it. Pretty existential stuff for a zombie tale.
            To me, that is the real strength of Carey’s book, the existential question at the heart of it. If you were aware you were losing your humanity, would you fight it or give in? And what would be the benefit of keeping it in a world full of predators?
            Because that’s what a good zombie tale is all about, right? The fight to keep our humanity in a world gone insane with blood lust and violence? I can think of few questions more relevant  than that.
            Oh dear, it seems I have developed a taste for a good zombie tale after all.

(Dear FCC: library)

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


Phyllis Wheeler: SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE by Carlos Hernandez (MG, sci fi)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: A HARVEST OF THORNS by Corban Addison

Linda McLaughlin: CARNEGIE'S MAID by Marie Benedict (historical)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal (literary)

Ray Potthoff: SULFUR SPRINGS by William Kent Krueger (thriller)


Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: IN PIECES by Sally Field (memoir)

Margy Lutz: BECOMING WILD by Nikki van Schyndel (memoir)

Patti Abbott:  THE WIDOWER'S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer (memoir)

Sarah Laurence: RUTH BADER GINSBURG: A LIFE by Jane Sherron de Hart (biography)

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 3, 2019

The Book Review Club (April 2019)

Welcome to the April 2019 edition of The Book Review Club! In April 1828,  Noah Webster, at the age of 70, copyrighted his first dictionary. April is the birth month of Charlotte Bronte. It's also the birth and death month of William Shakespeare. Actually, a lot of authors were born in April: Poet Williams Wordsworth, Harper Lee, Henry James and more. So, it's a perfectly good month to bring you reviews of books we'd like to recommend. Please scroll down after my post.  Enjoy!

by Margaret Dilloway (middle grade, contemp fiction)

Summer of a Thousand Pies is one of those terrific middle-grade books that gets kids thinking about tough stuff.  It's also a great story, so entertaining and heartwarming that readers won't be able to put it down.  Win-win.

When 12-year-old Cady Bennett's dad ends up in prison, she goes to Julian, CA (I was there last week for lunch!) to live with an aunt she'd never met. Cady makes new friends, discovers the town, works in her aunt's pie shop (Julian is famous for apple pie!), learns to bake pies. and helps save the pie shop from financial ruin. It's a story about family and friends and community and, yum, pie!

 It's also a story about homelessness, parents with addictions, undocumented immigrants and Dreamers. See what I mean about tough stuff? But the tough stuff is deftly and naturally woven into the story in the most perfect of middle-grade ways.

In fact, one of my favorite scenes is when Cady's new friend shares that he and his family don't ride the public bus for fear of getting caught up in an ICE sweep and deported to Mexico. Jay and his family are undocumented immigrants. What follows is an interesting, thoughtful conversation about immigration between two 12-year-old kids. Beautifully written. With only the kinds of insights 12-year-olds can have. We're in Cady's head as she puzzles through the complex issue as it pertains to her. (Eg. My grandfather wasn't born here. Did he come to the U.S. legally?) She considers the difficulties in her own life (and there have been several), but concludes they don't match up to the worry of being kicked out of the country.

Also, there are scrummy* recipes at the back of the book!!!
(*British for delicious)

Summer of a Thousand Pies goes on sale April 16. There will be a book signing (with pie!) at Mysterious Galaxy on April 20 where I will be interviewing Margaret Dilloway with hard-hitting and embarrassing questions. Or we might just have a friendly chat. Details here.

(Dear FCC: I was given an ARC of this book. That said, I only review books I want to recommend.)

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


Jody Feldman: SAVE ME A SEAT by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarjan (MG, contemporary)

Phyllis Wheeler: HOW I BECAME A SPY by Deborah Hopkinson (MG, historical mystery)


Linda McLaughlin: MADAME PRESIDENTESS by Nicole Evelina (biographical, historical)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: HANGOVERS AND HOT FLASHES by Kim Gruenenfelder

Patti Abbott:  MAISIE DOBBS by Jacqueline Winspear (mystery)

Scott Parker: CRASHING HEAT by Richard Castle (mystery)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE REASON YOU WALK by Wab Kinew (memoir)

Margy Lutz: THE TREES IN MY FOREST by Bernd Heinrich (memoir, natural history)

Ray Potthoff: BECOMING by Michelle Obama (memoir)

Sarah Laurence: THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES by Edmund De Waal
                           (family biography/art 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!