Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Book Review Club (September 2021)

Welcome to the September 2021 edition of The Book Review Club. We're back after our summer hiatus! September is a busy month, right? Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, Patriot Day, Yom Kippur, Autumnal Equinox. And then there are the odd celebrations like Nat'l Happy Cat Day, Internal'l Talk Like a Pirate Day and National Punctuation Day. :) Anyway in the midst of all this busy-ness, what better than some recommended books to read?! We've compiled terrific reviews of terrific books. Enjoy!


by Eric Walters (MG, Contemporary)

THE KING OF JAM SANDWICHES tugs hard at your heartstrings. It's the story of two children forced by negligent parenting to grow up far too soon. It's also a story of friendship, resilience, survival and success. And there's humor. And a protective dog named Candy.

Determined to stay out of foster care, Robbie, an eighth-grade boy, keeps his home life secret. His widower father struggles with mental illness which manifests itself in mood swings and unpredictable behavior. Robbie's father disappears for days at a time, leaving Robbie to fend for himself. Robbie studies hard, does chores around the house and works part time at a local butcher shop. His goal is to get to university and be a somebody. See what I mean about heartstrings? You just can't not root for him. 

Enter a new student at school. A feisty, outspoken, tough girl. Harmony is living in a new foster home while her single mom is in rehab (again) dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. Harmony provides most of the humor in the book. 

After a rocky start, the two form a friendship where they're able to share their secrets and help each other through tough times. "Maybe we feel tired because we have to think about things other kids don't have to think about." (pg 118) "You and I know we're broken...If you're broken and you know it, you have to get up every day and work harder and longer than everybody else if you want to get anywhere." (pg 298)

The title? Robbie makes jam sandwiches for lunch every day. They're cheap and easy, but he's sick of them. Hurray for Harmony who figures this out and exchanges sandwiches regularly with Robbie at the school lunch table.

THE KING OF JAM SANDWICHES won the 2020 Governor General's Literary Award for Young People's Literature. It also received a starred review from SLJ. Well deserved!

This story is based on the author's own life. No wonder if feels so authentic. I can imagine THE KING OF JAM SANDWICHES starting conversations about poverty, friendship, unreliable adults,  difficult home lives, secrets and more. Highly recommended.

(Dear FCC: library)

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


Jody Feldman: THE INHERITANCE GAMES by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (mystery/thriller)


Jenn Jilks: NOT A HAPPY FAMILY by Shari Lapena  (mystery)

Lucy Sartain: FALLING by TJ Newman (thriller)

Sarah Laurence: CLOUD CUCKOO LAND by Anthony Doerr (literary)


Margy Lutz: RIVER FOR MY SIDEWALK by Gilean Douglas (memoir)

Patti Abbott:  BRING YOUR BAGGAGE AND DON'T PACK LIGHT by Helen Ellis (humorous essays)

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 2, 2021

The Book Review Club (June 2021)

Welcome to the June 2021 edition of The Book Review Club. We're taking the summer off, so our next "meeting" will be September 8. June is a big month in California as we open up on the 15th. Whew. And a little June history trivia for you: Queen Elizabeth II's coronation was on this very date in 1953. Enjoy the summer solstice on June 20. And definitely enjoy the terrific reviews of terrific books we've compiled for you!

RIVER MAGIC (middle grade, fantasy)

by Ellen Booraem

RIVER MAGIC is one of those books that grabs you from the beginning and doesn't let you go. You think I'm exaggerating? Ha! Try this first paragraph on for size: "The river is wide and calm in front of our house, like it never meant you any harm. But you hear the rapids all the time a quarter mile around the bend. Here's what those rapids are telling you: Do not mess with this river." 

Our protagonist, 13 y.o. Donna, is dealing with a lot. Her beloved Aunt Annabelle drowned in the river about 8 months before the story opens. Donna's living with her difficult teenage sister and her stressed mom. Her best friend has ditched her for new basketball team friends. The outcast kid at school keeps hanging around. Due to financial hardship, Donna may be forced to spend the summer with mean Aunt Betty. 

Now . . .  throw in magic. Throw in lots of it. Thunder mages, dragons, pixies. Transmogrification, powerful gold, a book of spells. Incredible! Fun! It turns the plot upside down!

This is a story about family ties, repairing old friendships and making new ones. It's about dealing with grief and fears. It's about saving the day in contemporary world that has magic in it. 

Looking for summer reading for your 10-12 year old (the ages are a loose guide)? Pick up a copy of RIVER MAGIC for the win! Highly recommended. Did I mention the starred review from Kirkus?

(Dear FCC: bought at Mysterious Galaxy, my local Indie bookstore. While I know the author, I reviewed RIVER MAGIC because I loved it.)

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


Phyllis Wheeler: I AM DAVID by Anne Holm (MG/YA, historical)


Patti Abbott:  KLARA AND THE SUN by Kazuo Ishiguro (literary)

Sarah Laurence: THE CARPENTER'S PENCIL by Manuel Rivas (historical, translated)

Scott Parker: DEATH AT THE SALON by Louise R. Innes (cozy mystery)


Jenn Jilks: POLICE LINE: DO NOT CROSS by Kelly Donovan (memoir)  

Margy Lutz: THE AGE OF GREAT DREAMS: AMERICA IN THE 1960S by David Farber (historical)

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 7, 2021

The Book Review Club (April 2021)

Welcome to the April 2021 edition of The Book Review Club. I'm thinking we could all use a brief break from things serious and news-y. So, here's some April frivolity! April is Grilled Cheese Month, National Humor Month and Soft Pretzel Month. In French, someone who is tricked on April Fool's Day is a "poisson d'avril" or an April fish! Ha! And now to the task at hand...we've compiled a bunch of terrific reviews of terrific books just for you guys! Enjoy!

by Marie Arnold (middle grade, magical realism)

In THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY,  10-year-old Gabrielle Jean leaves her family in Haiti to start a new life in America with her aunt, uncle and three cousins. Right off the bat, there's a lot of built-in conflict: Gabrielle leaves warm Haiti for winter in Brooklyn. Brrr. The students at school make fun of her accent. She has trouble making friends. One of the cousins is an unfriendly teen. She's lonely and homesick.

You might think this is enough tension for our middle-grade protagonist? Enter Lady Lydia, a witch. Lady Lydia offers Gabrielle three wishes. Of course, the witch, as witches are wont to do, has her own agenda. So, each wish comes with a (secretly hefty) price. 

This book easily opens the door to discussions about immigration, assimilation, acceptance, celebrating differences, and bullying. All important discussions to be having in the current climate. One of my favorite lines from the book: "Yeah, but you should know that until you tell the truth about who you are and where you're from, no one sees the real you."

THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY is author Lola StVil's first middle-grade novel. Incidentally, the author emigrated from Haiti to New York in the middle of the winter as a child to live with her aunt, uncle and cousins. I'm not sure if there was a witch.

Highly recommended.

(Dear FCC: library, which is appropriate given that it's National Library Week)

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


Phyllis Wheeler: A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON by Kate Albus (MG, historical)


Jenn Jilks: VERONICA SPEEDWELL series by Deanna Raybourn (mystery) 

Lucy Sartain: BLACK WIDOWS by Cate Quinn (domestic thriller)

Linda McLaughlin: THE BOOK OF LOST NAMES by Kristin Hamel (historical)

Patti Abbott:  REMAINS OF THE DAY by Kazuo Ishiguro (literary)

Ray Potthoff: SMALL GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult 

Sarah Laurence: SMALL ISLAND by Andrea Levy (historical)

Scott Parker: MURDER AT THE BEACON BAKESHOP by Darci Hannah (mystery)

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, 2021

The Book Review Club (February 2021)

Welcome to the February 2021 edition of The Book Review Club . . . our first meeting of this new year! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday, predicting 6 more weeks of winter and extra reading time! You're in for a marvelous treat as my critique partner, Kelly Hayes, is in charge of the review this month. Take it away, Kelly! And thank you bunches!


by Rumaan Alam (adult, psychological literary fiction)

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam opens with a middle-class white couple, Amanda and Clay, and their two kids leaving New York City behind for a couple of weeks of relaxation in an airbnb in a remote part of East Hampton. But what begins as an ordinary getaway for a fairly ordinary family turns into an accidental journey into the unknown and unknowable.

Things get tense when, on their second night in the charming house, an older black couple knocks on the door claiming to be the homeowners. They explain that there's been a massive blackout in the city, and they've come seeking shelter, unable to return to their high-rise apartment. 

Amanda doesn't believe they are who they say they are, even when they offer proof. This is the first disturbing note in the story. Would she believe them more readily if they were white? Suspicion turns into denial. If they give this couple refuge, then they have to accept that something bad has happened.

But the tension fades to the background in the face of what is happening in the outside world. If only they could find out what actually is happening. No one's cell phone is working, and neither are the TVs. Amanda gets a couple of maddeningly incomplete and uninformative alerts on her phone that soon disappear, leaving them to speculate what catastrophic event might have occurred. They can't be truly scared when they don't know what to be scared of. So they live in a kind of limbo, while unusual things start happening to their bodies, highlighting how vulnerable we are to even the slightest changes in our environment.

Still, they have electricity. They have good food. They have booze. And they have one another. Everyday problems and prejudices give way to shared fears and comforts. Money, social status differences have no meaning for them any longer.    

Then strange things happen around them, things that show them the world is not as it was. And the existential fear sets in.

Alam doesn't spell it out for us, leaving us almost as much in the dark as the characters about what has happened. But he knows how to play on our fears because they are universal. What if the apocalypse sneaks up on us and looks a lot like ordinary life? What if there is nothing to do but wait for it to come? And who will you be when it does?

I won't lie. This is an unsettling book. But it was that very sense of unease that kept me turning the pages. With all that is going on in the world right now, this story doesn't feel all that farfetched. And it is a story I won't soon forget. 

Check out Patti Abbott's Nov. 2020 review of Leave the World Behind, the best book she read in 2020. 

(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: EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE by Daniel Nayeri (MG, "autobiographical" novel)

Jody Feldman: THE NATURALS by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (YA, thriller)

Linda McLaughlin: THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon (YA, multicultural romance)


Lucy Sartain: YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN by Jean Hanff Korelitz (psych thriller)

Lucy Sartain: THE PUSH by Ashley Audrain (crime, domestic thriller)

Patti Abbott:  THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim Michelle Richardson

Ray Potthoff: THE PRIVATE PATIENT by PD James (crime)

Sarah Laurence: THE FEAST OF THE GOAT by Mario Vargas Llosa (historical/political thriller)

Scott Parker: SPACE TEAM: A FUNNY SCI-FI SPACE ADVENTURE by Barry J. Hutchison (Sci Fi)


Margie Lutz: THE FIFTIES by David Halberstam (historical)

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 9, 2020

The Book Review Club (December 2020)

BOOKS MAKE GREAT GIFTS! Now that I've shouted that loud and clear, welcome to the final edition of 2020 of The Book Review Club! We've written reviews for books we really enjoyed in the hopes of adding to your to-be-read pile and giving you gift ideas. So... (in chrono order): Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and whatever else you may celebrate! Enjoy our reviews!

SAVING MOKA (PB, nonfiction, contemp)

by Georgeanne Irvine 

SAVING MOKA is part of San Diego Zoo's "Hope and Inspiration" children's book series. We're talking heartwarming true stories of San Diego Zoo and Safari Park animals who overcome challenges. Stories that can jumpstart conversations with kids about caring, friendship, determination and more. The writing is delightful and the photographs are divine!

The most recent book in the series is SAVING MOKA, the True Tale of a Rescued Tiger Cub. 

In a Nutshell: A few years ago, a Calif teen was caught trying to smuggle a male tiger cub (5-6 weeks old, about 6 pounds) into San Diego from Mexico. The US Fish and Wildlife Service transported him in a dog crate to the Safari Park where he was checked out by vets and deemed healthy and friendly and very hungry. But...he was also very young, so was moved to the Park's Animal Care Center. Moka ("chance" in Hindi) loved playing with the keepers and chewing on stuffed animals. He settled down for his nap to rhythm and blues and tunes from Frozen. The problem? Moka didn't know how to be a tiger. Enter Rakan ("friend" in Malay), a Sumatran tiger cub whose mom wasn't interested in being a mom anymore.  Rakan flew on Southwest from the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC to San Diego. Within 30 minutes of meeting, the two cubs were fast friends. And guess what? Rakan had been with his mom long enough to know how to act like a tiger. He taught Moka stalking, ambushing, roughhousing, etc. You know, regular old tiger stuff.

Summing Up: SAVING MOKA is about family and friendship. It provides an opportunity to talk about wildlife smuggling. The book is full of incredible photos and fun facts. And there's lots more to the story...Moka gets sick. There's a surgery. But enough with the spoilers. :)

I will tell you that Rakan is still at the Safari Park. Moka is now living at a local sanctuary. The Zoo had agreed to keep him till he was healthy and on his paws, so to speak. He's currently hanging out with a certain female tiger named Nola. Perhaps a tiger romance is in the offing? 

I'd recommend this book for anywhere you find children (schools, libraries, hospitals, home).

Here's a link to the San Diego Zoo. Lots to check out. We're back in lockdown, so the Zoo and Safari Park are closed. But you can watch the live cams (I'm partial to the polar bears). And you can order from the store. There's a two-for-one sale on the "Hope & Inspiration" books. Here's the link to the online store. All purchases support the zoo's wildlife conservation efforts. A noble cause. :)

(Dear FCC: I rec'd a copy of SAVING MOKA from the SD Zoo. I was pretty sure I'd want to review and recommend because I'd already read two other books in the series. And I did.) 

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


Phyllis Wheeler: ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk (historical)

Jody Feldman: FINDING LANGSTON by Lesa Cline-Ransome  (historical)


Lucy Sartain: TWENTIES GIRL by Sophie Kinsella (women's)

Linda McLaughlin: THE ACT OF INHERITING SECRETS by Barbara O'Neal (women's)

Margy Lutz: CHRISTMAS IN NEWFOUNDLAND by Mike Martin (mystery & memories)  

Patti Abbott: MY DARK VANESSA by Kate Elizabeth Russell (literary)

Sarah Laurence: WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES by Georgia Hunter (historical)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: A PROMISED LAND by Barak Obama (memoir)

Ray Potthoff: D-DAY JUNE 6, 1944 by Stephen Ambrose (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!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Book Review Club (November 2020)

Welcome to the November 2020 edition of the Book Review Club. It's our post-election, post-coronavirus-vaccine-news meeting, and we have books to recommend! A little trivia: Shakespeare didn't like November; he never mentions the month in any sonnets or plays. Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating in whatever shape or form. We're thinking of spatchcocking our turkey. Yes, it's a real thing! Enjoy the reviews! (trivia from

 (MG, contemporary)
By Joanne Levy

WHO IS TANKSY? (MG, contemporary)

Interesting quandary for me this month: I've read several terrific books and couldn't decide which one to review. Nice problem! Many people tell me they have trouble reading during these troubling times. Not me. I could read till the cows come home or till the gray whales swim by in both directions (trying to inject a Calif vibe here :) ). To be honest, it's writing that's giving me fits.

Anyway . . . the quandary got me thinking about kids and reading and reluctant and developing readers. This led me to Orca Publishing and then to Orca Currents. Of which I have never read a single one. Orca Currents are high interest, low reading level (2.0 - 4.5 grade level) for a middle-grade audience (10-14 year olds) and short (14,000-16,000 words). Put all this together and, frankly, it sounds like no mean feat to write.

Both FISH OUT OF WATER and WHO IS TANKSY? knock it out of the park. (I've given up on the Cali vibe) Both books are interesting, age appropriate, move quickly, deal with big topics, and have relatable, growing characters who resolve their issues. In under 150 pages! It's incredible. It's masterful. It's a good read.

In FISH OUT OF WATER, 12-year-old Fish Rosner deals with gender stereotyping. He's interested in knitting and Zumba as opposed to watching sports and playing water polo or hockey. Various adults and friends are unhappy with Fish's choices. He is alienated by his best friend. Fish learns to be true to himself and his mitzvah project. He's definitely a hero readers will root for and learn from.

Bev Katz Rosenbaum tackles finding your voice and speaking up against adults in power in WHO IS TANKSY? No one listens to 14-year-old Tanya Kofsky, not at home or at school. She notices social injustices everywhere, especially those involving the authoritarian administration at school and spray paints very clever messages at night on the school wall. Other students, faculty and even the lunch ladies join Tanya's rebellion. Tanya also finds the courage to stand up to her narrow-minded grandfather. Tanya makes a difference. What a powerful message! 

Kudos to Joanne Levy and Bev Katz Rosenbaum! 
(reviewed in order read :) )

(Dear FCC: bought and bought)

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


Phyllis Wheeler: SAVE ME A SEAT by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (MG, contemporary) 

Jody Feldman: COO by Kaela Noel (MG, contemporary with a hint of magic)


Lucy Sartain: YOU HAD ME AT HALO by Amanda Ashby (YA, fantasy romance)

Margy Lutz: INDIAN HORSE by Richard Wagamese (historical, Canadian)

Patti Abbott:  LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND by Rumaan Alam (literary)

Linda McLaughlin: THE BOOKISH LIFE OF NINA HILL by Abbi Waxman (humorous, contemp)

Ray Potthoff: FALLOUT by Sara Paretsky  (thriller)

Sarah Laurence: WRITERS AND LOVERS by Lily King (literary)   


Jenn Jilks: KAMALA IN CANADA by Kaj Hasselriis (middle grade, graphic, biography)

Jenn Jilks: TREE BEINGS by Raymond Huber & Sandra Severgnini (middle grade, environmental)

Scott Parker: THE WAY WE ALL BECAME THE BRADY BUNCH by Kimberly Potts (popculture)

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 7, 2020

The Book Review Club (October 2020)

Welcome to the October 2020 edition of The Book Review Club. The craziness of this year continues, and who knows what plot twists are still ahead.
Reading and writing are keeping me sane. And bike riding, which I've taken up after a hiatus of ages and ages. Anyway, back to reading. We've compiled a bunch of terrific reviews of terrific books. Here's hoping you can lose yourself in these stories the way we did. Hang in there. ❤️


by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (MG, contemporary)

FIGHTING WORDS is the story of two sisters: Suki (16 yrs old) and Della (10 yrs old). Suki has always taken care of Della. Like when their mother was imprisoned for cooking meth. Like when they went to live with Clifton, their mom's boyfriend. Like when a situation arose that forced them to run away from Clifton's house. 

This is a story of learning how to speak up. Della uses "snow" in place of swear words. 86 times! :) ("Don't you take snow from nobody.") She promises, "I'm going to tell you the whole story. Some parts are hard, so I'll leave those for later." She also says, "I've learned that some things are almost impossible to talk about because they're things no one wants to know."

This is a story of sexual abuse and an attempted suicide. 

This is also a story of sisterhood and resilience and empowerment. It is an uplifting read. And Della? She is spunky and original and fierce and very funny. You'll want to take her to a restaurant and let her order whatever she pleases and then some.

This book should be in every classroom and library. Because, unfortunately, there are children who need this book.

In the Author's Note, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley writes, "The first thing I want you to know is, it happened to me. The second thing is, I was able to heal...People can always heal."

See what I mean about uplifting and empowering?

FIGHTING WORDS is a finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Children's Literature. The book has received seven starred reviews. 

And, finally, here's a link to Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's blog. You'll want to read the entry "Wizard Merlin"...with a tissue nearby.

(Dear FCC: bought for Kindle)

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


Phyllis Wheeler: RANGER IN TIME: A NIGHT OF SOLDIERS AND SPIES by Kate Messner                   (MG, contemporary)

Jody Feldman: THE KIDNEY HYPOTHETICAL by Lisa Yee (YA, contemporary)


Lucy Sartain: FIFTY WORDS FOR RAIN by Asha Lemmie (historical)

Margy Lutz: A PERFECT STORM by Mike Martin (light crime mystery) 

Patti Abbott:  MEET ME AT THE MUSEUM by Anne Youngson (Women's Lit)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country:MOP RIDES THE WAVES OF LIFE by Kim Michele Richardson                  (Self-Help Picture Book for ages 4-8 years)

Linda McLaughlin: BLACK KLANSMAN by Ron Stallworth (biography, adult)

Sarah Laurence: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In                                                              by Phuc Tran (memoir, 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!