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!


  1. Wow, as good as Jack London! That is high praise. My son would have loved this book when he was in his train phase. I do hope the author wins her battle against cancer.

    There's a word missing in my title, it should be: THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU.

    Thanks for hosting and making my TBR stack even taller!

  2. Thanks for the head's up re missing word, Sarah. Fixed and I updated your link to go directly to review. There's a reason I'm not a copy editor... :) Oh, and you're welcome for the addition to your TBR stack. Mwahahah!

  3. This is in my to-read pile since that conference too! You are not alone. And you've inspired me to get to it! Thanks for sharing about Fran. I had no idea. I'm so saddened. She's such a great person and writer.

  4. Wonderful review, Barrie. This sounds like an amazing book. And I've just ordered a copy from Amazon, so I'll soon find out for myself. Sending all the best thoughts and hopes and mental vibes to Fran. Thanks for tipping me off.

  5. I suspect we all have out-of-control TBR stacks, but what avid reader can resist adding just one more book!? I adore historical fiction, and this sounds fab. I'm so sorry to hear about the author's cancer.

    (May I also just mention that Whistle is missing a letter in two different places? More editing . . .)

  6. I love and hate it when something that has been hiding in my TBR pile for a long period of time turns out to be fabulous. I love it because I finally read it, of course, and hate it because of the time I wasted not reading it.

    I am sorry that Fran is battling cancer. How terribly sad.

  7. Ah, Jack London... Never would I have expected to like White Fang and The Call of the Wild, but I DID!! So this is high praise! Thanks for reviewing. I'm so sorry about the author though...

  8. Sorry about you friend and a great review of her book. I've got two grandson in the train, fireman and rocket stages so thanks for the heads up...:)

  9. What a sad event.
    I'm glad you are able to share her book, though.
    My dad had a brain tumour. It's a tough journey for both family and the person confronting cancer.

  10. Fascinating idea, to set the chapters on a sequence of Halloweens. Sounds like a lovely book, and I certainly wish the author all the best. Thanks for sharing ALL of this, Barrie!

  11. Message for Rob Costello (because I can't comment on Tumblr): Loved your review! The excerpt you post would have won me over even without your expert analysis. Thanks so much!

  12. Ellen, I'll make sure Rob sees this. :) Thanks for commenting.

  13. Thanks, Ellen! (And thanks for the heads up, Barrie!) The whole book is as compelling as that excerpt.

  14. The books sounds great and I think it would be perfect for my great nephew who is 15 and loves all things mechanical. So sorry to hear about Fran's unexpected journey. That sucks.

    Thanks for the review.

  15. Wanted to say I enjoyed Rob's review, too, though I didn't leave a comment. I hate having to give my passwords to yet another third party company like Discus.


Comments are always welcome!