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!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Book Review Club (March 2019)

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

by Patricia Abbott  (short stories, mystery, adult)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

                       by Theodore Roosevelt (memoir)

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

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Book Review Club (February 2019)

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

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

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

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

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

The novel is told from three alternating points of view.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Linda McLaughlin: THE TUSCAN CHILD by Rhys Bowen

Ray Potthoff: SAFE FROM THE SEA by Peter Geye

Sarah Laurence: TRANSCRIPTION by Kate Atkinson (historical spy)


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

Margy Lutz: EDUCATED by Tara Westover (memoir)

Patti Abbott:  INHERITANCE by Dani Shapiro (memoir)

                      GEORGE WASHINGTON by Brad Meltzer

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Book Review Club (December 2018)

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

Adapted by Ari Folman
Illustrations by David Polonsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Dear FCC: Bought)

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Ray Potthoff: SERGEANT STUBBY by Ann Bausum (historical)

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

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