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.

(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!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Book Review Club (February 2020)

And the Book Review Club is back! Welcome to our first meeting of 2020! To offset some of the recent heavy-duty news (Senate trials, Brexit, Iowa caucus issues), here's a bit of fun Feb. trivia: The 3rd weekend this month is Margarita Weekend. This is Potato Lovers Month and Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month. And now onto more erudite matters...our book reviews. Links below my post to reviews of recommended books by fabulous reviewers!

by Greg Van Eekhout (middle grade, adventure, robot)

COG is one of the best middle-grade novels I've read in a while. And I read A LOT of middle grade. Too much, perhaps, for a supposed grownup...

Okay. You're busy. With finite time for reading blogs. Let's get down brass tacks. What was it about this book that so grabbed me?

Cog, short for Cognitive Development, is a robot who looks like a 12 year old boy. Cog was built to learn. Which is why the reader is treated to fun bits of trivia from time to time. Such as info on platypuses. (#1 I loved the humor.)

When his programmer, Gina, informs Cog we learn from mistakes, he sets out to make some mistakes. He sneaks out one morning, sees a truck barreling toward a Chihuahua and decides to save the dog (#2 Who doesn't love a compassionate protagonist?). Unfortunately, the truck damages Cog who ends up at UniMIND,  a nasty corporation who cares about the bottom line, but not about people or robots. (#3 I love it when adults are the bad guys in middle grade fiction. Just a little personal thing.) Gina is taken away...somewhere. She's in trouble with UniMIND for programming a special talent into Cog. (no spoiler from me :)) Also, uniMIND wants to take out Cog's brain to see what's in there. Yikes.

Cog gets together a band of robots. They break out of the UniMIND building and will help him find Gina (#4 I love a clear goal. #5 friendship! #6 road trip!). The other robots are: a car, a dog, a trashbot and ADA (Cog's sister, who was also programmed by Gina). And, and, and...the stakes get higher and higher (#7 because I love the added tension, and I personally find this tough to pull off). By higher, I mean Cog ends up fighting for everyone and everything as UniMIND threatens to take over.

For me, though, the biggest and best thing about COG (#9) was its message about free will. Everybody has choices in life. People or robots might not always choose what you want them to, but they still get to have a choice. What a powerful message for young readers: You have agency.

Last, but not least, I love a book I can highly recommend (#10)!

(Dear FCC: I actually know Greg, but he wouldn't have any idea whether or not I bought (I did) or read COG. I doubt he even knows about this blog. Although I will tell him about today's review.) 

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


Phyllis Wheeler: ROAR LIKE A DANDELION by Ruth Krauss and Sergio Ruzzier (picture book)

Jody Feldman: THE GHOST IN APARTMENT 2R by Denis Markell (MG, paranormal mystery)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: SAVANT by John D. Richmond (mystery)

Linda McLaughlin: FORBIDDEN by Beverly Jenkins (historical romance)

Lucy Sartain: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by JaneAusten (classic)

Patti Abbott:  THE CHESTNUT MAN by Soren Sveistrup (thriller)

Ray Potthoff: KILLING ROMMEL by Stephen Pressfield (historical)

Sarah Laurence: DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz (historical)

Scott Parker: ORPHAN X by Gregg Hurwitz (thriller)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE LADY WITH BALLS by Alice Combs (memoir)

Margy Lutz: DANCING IN GUMBOOTS by Lou Allison and Jane Wilde (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, December 4, 2019

The Book Review Club (December 2019)

Welcome to the December 2019 edition of The Book Review Club. of the craziest, busiest months of the year! With lots of shopping and gift giving. Books make great gifts. Check out our reviews of books we recommend. Could be a gift-giving match made in heaven! Happy Holidays! Happy Reading!

by Richard Shenkman & Kurt Reiger
 (nonfiction, history, recommended)

This will probably be the shortest review I've ever posted. Which might be good for you in the midst of this very busy season. Anyway, I'm headed to Toronto and still have way too much to do before boarding that plane. Here goes.

I love finding the perfect book for a reader. So, this time of year in particular, I'm on the lookout. Of my four "kids," I have one who leans toward nonfiction and trivia. I forget how One-Night Stands with American History (clever title, right?) crossed my path, but, in any event, it tweaked my curiosity. Enough that I read it myself. And then bought my son a copy. No worries about spoiling a Christmas morning surprise. I don't, in a million years, believe he reads this blog.

One-Night Stands with American History begins with a quotation about Puritanism: "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." ~H.L. Menken. The book ends with a discussion of Kennewick Man, a 9,200 year old skeleton found by the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. In between, are all sorts of obscure facts and anecdotes. Did you know J. Edgar Hoover wouldn't let people walk on his shadow? Or that in 1721 France shipped 25 prostitutes to Louisiana to help with the shortage of women? Or that the last words of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall were, "Good-by. I am sorry to have kept you all waiting so long"?

This is a book you can sit down and read or sample a little at a time. It's definitely a book for that trivia-loving or history-loving person on your gift list. Imagine going to a holiday party and sharing some of these fun, odd facts? Such as (just one more, I promise): Brides in colonial New England often got married in the nude. Why? So the groom wouldn't have to pay off her pre-marriage debts.

(Dear FCC: bought)

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


Phyllis Wheeler: FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate Dicamilo (middle grade)

Sarah Laurence: THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL by Stacey Lee (YA, historical)


Linda McLaughlin: THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: A NOVEL by Marie Benedict

Patti Abbott: ONCE, AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout (literary)


Margy Lutz: CHASING SMOKE: A WILDFIRE MEMOIR by Aaron Williams (memoir)


Ray Potthoff: THE PIONEERS by David McCullough (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!

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!