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!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Book Review Club (September 2020)

Welcome to the September 2020 meeting of The Book Review Club! These are strange times indeed. I spent much of the summer in lockdown. So, I'm really glad to be here today...with all these book reviews of recommended reads. A little slice of normal on the first Wednesday of the month. Enjoy the reviews. Take care of yourself and those around you.

SAVE ME A SEAT (Middle Grade, Contemporary)

I listened to the audio version and read the e-book. The takeaway: I loved this book. It was on the master list for 10 state awards. So, I'm in good company. :)

SAVE ME A SEAT takes place over five school days. It's told from two points of view, in alternating chapters. And it was written by two authors. Each author was in charge of a POV character. How fun is that?! 

The Story Behind the Story: Gita Varadarajan turned in a short story for a writing class taught by Sarah Weeks. Sarah Weeks thought the story could be a book and suggested they write it together. And they did.

In a Nutshell: Ravi's family moved from India to New Jersey. The book opens with his first day at his new school. He doesn't understand some US customs. He has trouble fitting in with his classmates. He's an outsider. Joe sits behind Ravi. Joe has been a student at Albert Einstein Elementary his entire academic life. His two friends moved away, and he's facing fifth grade alone. He deals with an auditory processing disorder. He is also an outsider. One huge thing the two boys have in common: the class bully.

The Takeaway: This is a story about inclusion, discovering what you have in common with others, finding your place in fifth grade and helping the bully have a very humorous comeuppance.

And here's a link to Phyllis Wheeler's review of SAVE ME A SEAT.

(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: A WISH IN THE DARK by Christina Soontornvat (Fantasy)

Phyllis Wheeler: LIAR AND SPY by Rebecca Stead (mystery)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: ICEAPELAGO by Peter Brennan (Eco-Thriller)

Lucy Sartain: THE VANISHING HALF by Britt Bennett (Historical Literary)

Patti Abbott:  THE DUTCH HOUSE by Ann Hatchett (Literary)

Ray Potthoff: AS THE STARS FALL by Steve N. Lee (Contemporary)

Sarah Laurence: OLIVE, AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout (Literary)


Margy Lutz: WILD FIERCE LIFE by Joanna Streetly (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, June 3, 2020

The Book Review Club (June 2020)

The Book Review Club, middle grade fantasy
Welcome to the June 2020 edition of The Book Review Club. Let's take a deep breath...inhale... and think . . .  exhale . . . books. And maybe think "chocolate," too. That can never hurt. :) We have some terrific reviews of terrific books. Time to stock up for summer and dive into reading!

Also, Stonehenge is live-streaming its summer solstice celebration on Sunday, June 21! Here's the link for more info.

by Henry Clark (middle grade, fantasy) 

WHAT WE FOUND IN THE CORN MAZE AND HOW IT SAVED A DRAGON is a Junior Library Guild selection, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, got a starred review from Booklist and a handful other accolades. Oh, it's also a Washington Post's KidsPost Summer Bookclub pick. So, when I suggest you steer your 8-12 year old kids/students in the direction of this book, I'm in good company. :)

In a Nutshell: Twelve-year-old Cal (Calvin) Sapling and his friends use magic spells found in a mysterious notebook to save Cal's family's farm. AND they save an alternate world whose magic is leaking out and whose climate is getting colder. AND they save dragons from extinction. Yes, those kids are busy! The magic only works during certain minutes of the day. And it takes some thinking to make spells like "walk on stilts" help your cause. Yes, those kids are busy and ingenious!

What I Loved: Fun stuff like peanut-butter-chicken soup (blech!) and a governing council called the Weegee Board. A town called Dire where there are three levels of magic: Everybody, Somebody and Very Few. So much humor. The smart stuff like a dragon called Phlogiston. (18th century chemists believed phlogiston was a fire element.) Looking for names of vegetables hidden in the computer code in chapter 21. And'll have to read the book to understand that reference. This is a crazy, inventive action-packed story about friendship and self-esteem and using wits and magic to save a family farm, an alternate universe, and dragons. It doesn't get much better!

Reading WHAT WE FOUND IN THE CORN MAZE made me happy!

A Request to the Publisher: Please make an audio version!

(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!


Jody Feldman: THE WATER BEARS by Kim Baker (contemporary)

Phyllis Wheeler: ORBITING JUPITER by Gary D. Schmidt (contemporary)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country:ONE TUESDAY MORNING by Karen Kingsbury (Christian contemp)

                                 by Kim Michele Richardson (historical)

Lucy Sartain: SURRENDER AT CANYON ROAD by Debora Dale (romantic thriller)

Margy Lutz: FIRE, FOG AND WATER by Mike Martin (mystery)

Ray Potthoff: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen (classic)

Sarah Laurence: IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES by Julia Alvarez (historical)


Patti Abbott:  HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD by Robert Kolker (biography, mental illness)

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, May 12, 2020


Below is only the most wonderful trailer in the world! Watch it. I'm sure you'll agree!

Raine Watson, the 12 year-old detective in  THE DISAPPEARANCE OF EMILY H., is in THREE WHOLE episodes of Apple TV+'s GHOSTWRITER TV show! With her special power that lets her read memories left behind by people, Raine is an amazing asset to the four Ghostwriter kids!

GHOSTWRITER is a reboot of a 90s' show. A friend group of middle schoolers get messages from a ghost (a ghostwriter!) to help them solve a mystery. Characters from different books (like Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, Frankenstein, and more, including The Disappearance of Emily H. (I know! I know! I can't stop repeating this! So exciting!) show up to help the kids with the mystery. Raine is in episodes #8, 9, 10.

Click here to go to the oh-so-good, amazing AppleTV show GHOSTWRITER!

(who is not drinking coffee, but is dancing around the house and watching episodes of GHOSTWRITER over and over and over...)

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 left!

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!