Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Book Review Club (December 2021)

Welcome to the December 2021 edition of The Book Review Club. It's that time of year when we're rushing around, buying gifts and wrapping gifts and writing cards and baking and, and and! Here's our holiday tip: Books make the best gifts. For everyone on your list. While you're at it, buy one for yourself. Then grab a tea/coffee/hot chocolate, a cookie and some quiet reading time. Below my post are links to more book reviews. Terrific gift suggestions. Enjoy!

by Merrill Wyatt 

If I had to choose one word to describe this humorous middle-grade mystery, I'd choose "fun."

Much to their chagrin, seventh-graders Sloane Osburn (popular volleyball star) and Amelia Miller-Poe (melodramatic misfit) are partnered up for a class project. Their task? To find the jewels that went missing in their town of Wauseon, Ohio way back in 1887. We're talking graveyards, hidden compartments, family secrets. There is serendipity (great luck) and zemblanity (horrible luck). A mysterious someone is also after the jewels. This someone is following the girls and the centuries-old clues. Who will get there first? Fun! Fun! Fun!

TANGLED UP IN LOVE is a twisty-turny mystery with well-rounded characters (my favorite is Amelia) and a satisfying ending. Secondary characters, such as Sloane's grandmothers, provide great comic relief. A narrator ups the tension with ominous pronouncements. The girls learn about friendship and family and standing up for yourself and standing up against bullies. And they learn that luck isn't really all that important. It's "how you choose to live your life around that luck" that counts.

And hurray! There will be a sequel. Also, I'm not the only one who loved this book. Kirkus gave it a starred review: "Funny, cheering, and narratively fulfilling."

P.S. I will attempt to use the word "zemblanity" in a sentence daily.

(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: THE STRANGEWORLDS TRAVEL AGENCY by LD Lapinski (fantasy)                 


Jenn Jilks: mysteries by three different female authors (mystery)

Linda McLaughlin: THE LIEUTENANT'S NURSE by Sarah Ackerman (historical)

Lucy Sartain: STATE OF TERROR by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton (thriller) 

Patti Abbott: OH, WILLIAM by Elizabeth Strout (literary)

Ray Potthoff: LIGHTNING STRIKE by William Kent Krueger (mystery)

Sarah Laurence: THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW by Alice Hoffman (historical, magical realism)


Lucy Sartain: I'LL TAKE YOUR QUESTIONS NOW by Stephanie Grisham (memoir)

Lucy Sartain:  THE BOYS by Ron and Clint Howard (memoir)

Margy Lutz: FOR JOSHUA: AN OJIBWE FATHER TEACHES HIS SON by Richard Wagamese (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, November 3, 2021

The Book Review Club (November 2021)

Welcome to the November 2021 edition of the Book Review Club. My fun and smart critique partner, Kathy Krevat, wrote today's review about LAST REDEMPTION, a terrific adult PI crime novel by local San Diego author Matt Coyle. Kathy is the author of the GOURMET CAT MYSTERY series and the CHOCOLATE COVERED MYSTERY series, so this woman knows her way around a mystery! 🕵️‍♀️  If she recommends it, it's good. And she recommends LAST REDEMPTION. Below the post are links to great reviews about great books. Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving in advance to those who celebrate. 🦃

(adult crime fiction)

In LAST REDEMPTION, Matt Coyle has once again succeeded in making us root for PI Rick Cahill as he investigates a sensitive case for his dearest friend Moira McFarlane. In each book of the Rick Cahill series, Coyle allows his hero to evolve by meeting challenges. LAST REDEMPTION is no different. 

Rick is facing his toughest trial yet – a possible brain-altering disease caused by past choices. And it comes at a time when he’s most happy in his new settled life, with a desk job that’s financially secure and a fiancé who is pregnant with their child.

But even Rick's desire to stay alive and well for his future wife and baby can’t keep him away from a case that starts off simple, but quickly escalates. Rick is involved in a dangerous mission to find Moira’s missing son Luke and solve a murder mystery while evading sadistic killers intent on stopping him. 

LAST REDEMPTION is fast-paced while allowing Rick to explore his complicated emotions of upcoming fatherhood, marriage and serious illness. 

Coyle is one of the best PI noir writers out there today. His books have won several awards: the Anthony, Shamus, Lefty, San Diego Book, Ben Franklin. And they've been nominated/finaled for several.

Fans of PI noir, suspense and mystery readers will love this book as a stand-alone or as the next in the series.

LAST REDEMPTION publishes November 30. And for us local yokels (or anyone visiting San Diego), Matt will be Warwick's Nov 30, 7:30pm for an in-person signing.

(Dear FCC: ARC)

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


Phyllis Wheeler:  BEING CLEM by Lesa Cline-Ransome (historical)             

Jody Feldman: THE UNSUNG HERO OF BIRDSONG, USA by Brenda Woods (historical)


Lucy Sartain: THE HUSBANDS by Chandler Baker (thriller)

Margy Lutz: BURIED SECRETS by Mike Martin (police procedural) 

Linda McLaughlin: THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn (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, 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!