Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Book Review Club (November 2015)

It's the first Wednesday in November (November?! Already!?) and time for a meeting of our monthly Book Review Club. A little trivia: November comes from the Latin "novem" meaning "nine" because November was the ninth month in the ancient 10-month Roman calendar. When January and February were added in 713 BC, November kept its name. Similar story for December. Could be useful trivia at a holiday party? Onward!
by Kenneth Oppel (young adult)

Kenneth Oppel is a prolific Canadian writer. By prolific, I mean he's written close to 30 books. We're talking picture, middle grade, young adult, and even a little adult fiction. He wrote his first novel, Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure, while in high school. He wrote his second, The Live-Forever Machine, while a student at the University of Toronto.  In 2004, his young-adult novel, Airborn, won the Michael L. Printz Award and the Governor General's Award. His Silverwing trilogy has sold over a million copies. Uh, wow! Just wow!

And now that you're all properly impressed, let's talk a little about Oppel's young adult novel, Half Brother.

In a nutshell: It's 1973, and a few really big changes take place in the life of only child, 13 year-old Ben Tomlin. His parents move him across country from Toronto to Victoria. He has to get used to a new school and new friends. On top of that, his mother brings home from Africa a newborn chimp. His behavioral-science parents want to raise the chimp, Zan, as a member of the family and teach him American Sign Language. It's all part of an experiment to see if Zan can acquire language.

What I Loved: The author draws heavily on similar kinds of chimpanzee language experiments from the 1970s. Think Nim and Washoe. There was a lot going on the book. Ben falls for a girl, makes new friends (not all appropriate), struggles in school. Zan matures, learns signs, grows stronger. The funding for the experiment is pulled, and decisions about Zan's future are up in the air.

In the Final Analysis: This is a book about relationships, especially family relationships and what constitutes a family. Also, as you can imagine, it raises questions about the ethics of animal experiments. Readers will get caught up in rooting for Ben and Zan.

-Here's a link to the author's website: Kenneth Oppel
-Here's a YouTube link to a short book trailer: Half Brother
-Here's a link to a short interview with the author talking about his inspiration for Half Brother and for the main character, Ben:  interview with Kenneth Oppel

Dear FCC: I actually forget where I bought this book. But I did pay for it, and it is mine. 

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

Beth Bonini of TRAC: THE MONTMARAY JOURNALS by Michelle Cooper (YA historical)

Rob Costello: SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS edited by April Genevieve Tucholke
                       (YA short story collection, horror)

Sarah Laurence: KISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb (YA, contemporary)

Stacy Nyikos: EVIL LIBRARIAN by Michelle Knudsen  (YA)

Ellen Booraem: THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erika Swyler (fantasy)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE by Samuel Shem
                                                  DYING TO LIVE by S. Derek Shelly (novella)

Linda McLaughlin: PEONY: A NOVEL OF CHINA by Pearl S. Buck

                                                  by Cecilia Williams and Paula White


Ray Potthoff: THE LAST HERO--A LIFE OF HENRY AARON by Howard Bryant (biography)

Sarah Laurence: H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald (nature 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, October 14, 2015

The Book Review Club (October 2015)

Happy October and Belated Canadian Thanksgiving! October is also Breast Cancer Awareness month (see Lucy Sartain's review below). And today is National Dessert Day. So, grab a couple of desserts and settle in for some thoughtful book reviews. Weirdly, we have more reviews of nonfiction books than usual. Something's in the autumn air... 
by Karl Pillemer (adult, nonfiction)

Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., a gerontologist, interviewed over one thousand Americans elders (the average age was 78 yrs) to discover the most important lessons these people have learned during their lifetime. We're talking about "80,000 years or so of combined life experience"!

The reason behind the book: "Older people have one unique source of knowledge that the rest of us do not: they have lived their lives. They have been where younger people haven't."

30 Lessons for Living is divided into eight chapters. Each chapter covers a different aspect of your life: marriage, career, parenting, aging, living without regrets, happiness. There are lessons, tips and many real-life anecdotes from a broad variety of people across the country.

I didn't agree with all the lessons. But I may change my mind with a few more years under my belt! And some of the advice seemed a little simplistic. But perhaps that's my problem; perhaps I'm making life more complicated than it needs to be! I'd like to discuss some of the lessons with Mr. Summy's parents, who are in their early eighties. (Sadly, my own parents died many years ago.)

All in all, the book made me stop and think. It's uplifting and sends the message that life is doable, being happy is doable.

Here are a few random lessons:
*Say yes to opportunities.
*Marry someone a lot like you.
*Happiness is a choice. Not a condition.

I particularly like that third piece of advice.

Dear FCC: I own this book. 

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

Beth Bonini of TRAC: CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge (MG)

Ellen Booraem: THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier (middle grade fantasy)

Stacy Nyikos: **THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES: FRIEND OR FOE by Jody Feldman** (MG)

Sarah Laurence: I CRAWL THROUGH IT by A.S. King (young adult)

Alyssa Goodnight: GIRL WAITS WITH GUN by Amy Stewart (historical)

Ray Potthoff: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr (historical)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: THE FINE ART OF F**KING UP by Cate Dicharry

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE CAREGIVING TRAP by Pamela D. Wilson

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: BETTER by Amy Robach

Patti Abbott:  THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK by Kevin Birmingham

                      WRITING by Libbie Hawker

**Written by our very own Jody Feldman**

 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 9, 2015

The Book Review Club (September 2015)

Welcome to the September meeting of The Book Review Club! We're back after a summer of fun and reading. Please click through below my post for links to smart, thoughtful reviews of a variety of books. You will not regret it. Promise! A little trivia: On this day in 1850, California became the 31st state. And in 1956, Elvis Presley debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. Happy Birthday to Michael Keaton! I've always had a bit of a celebrity crush on you.
by Alyssa Goodnight (adult, romance, contemporary)

It's the end of the summer. I've been reading a lot of middle grade and young adult. And I'm really in the mood for a break. So, I pick up JUST SAY YES by our very own Alyssa Goodnight. I expected to enjoy this book. After all, I'm already in the know re Alyssa's snappy writing and her terrific sense of humor. What I didn't expect was to enjoy it oh so much!

In a nutshell: Jade Moran is a single mom in desperate need of a kitchen remodel. She's not looking for romance, and she has her reasons. Max Gianopoulis, contractor, doesn't get involved with clients. He has his reasons. Toss in some wacky family, a teenage daughter (yes, I could relate!), a bunch of humor, a little magic and...voila...a fun, entertaining romance.

The thing with romance is you pretty much know the ending from the start, right? Boy and girl wind up together. What's tricky is the journey, how the author manages to get the hero and heroine together by the last page. And Alyssa does it seamlessly, in small, believable steps. Loved this!

The dialogue is smart and witty:
Her: "I didn't lure you here as a part of a ploy to seduce you."
Him: "I've seen your kitchen...your alibi is rock solid."

Something a Little Different: Each chapter begins with a description of a food and how it relates to life. You know how addicted I'm majorly addicted to licorice? Here's the food description from the top of chapter 5: Licorice can rein in the emotions and foster a sense of control over tricky situations, but it should only be a temporary fix. Ha! Who knew?!

Thank you, Alyssa Goodnight, for JUST SAY YES, a very entertaining romantic read!

Dear FCC: No subterfuge here. Bought JUST SAY YES for my kindle. 

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


Rob Costello: WHAT JAMIE SAW by Carolyn Coman (middle grade)

Jody Feldman: DIME by E.R. Frank (young adult, contemporary)

Sarah Laurence: TONIGHT THE STREET ARE OURS by Leila Sales (young adult, contemporary)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: THE CURE FOR DREAMING by Cat Winters (young adult)


Patti Abbott:  THE PAINTED VEIL by Somerset Maugham

Alyssa Goodnight: SPOTLESS by Camilla Monk (humorous adventure)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: MY TOWNIE HEART by Diane Sperrazza

Linda McLaughlin: MAISIE DOBBS by Jacqueline Winspear (mystery)

Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

Ray Potthoff:   THE DOG MASTER: A NOVEL OF THE FIRST DOG by W. Bruce Cameron

Stacy Nyikos: EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: BEING MORTAL by DR. ATUL GAWANDE

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 17, 2015

The Book Review Club (June 2015)

We're meeting late this month. I was off galavanting in Canada, hanging out with fun family and friends, attending my high school reunion and various The Disappearance of Emily H.-related activities. But I'm back home and settled and ready to talk books. We have reviews of quite a variety of books today. All to get you ready for summer. And, before I forget, we're taking July and August off. The Book Review Club will resume September 2. 
by Annabel Pitcher (mystery, young adult)

Many people have sung the praises of Ketchup Clouds. It got starred reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. It won the 2013 Waterstones Children's Book Prize, was a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Pick and won the 2014 Edgar Allen Poe Award. It may well have been nominated for and won other awards, but those are the ones I know about.

Listen to this brilliant premise: A fifteen-old-year British girl named Zoe (fake name) committed murder and writes to Stuart Harris, a Texan inmate on death row for killing his wife. Zoe wants someone to know her story. Someone who can relate. Brilliant, right?

The novel is epistolary in style. One sided. Zoe goes out to the family shed at night and writes her letters. The letters span a little over a year, detailing the events leading up to Zoe's crime as well as chronicling her daily life. We learn of her romance triangle with two brothers, her relationship with her sisters, one of whom is deaf, her best friend, her parents' financial difficulties after her dad is made redundant.

And, through it all, we fall in love with Zoe and her guilt and her angst and her sharp wit and her observations on life.

In case I haven't done Ketchup Clouds justice, here's The Beginning of the Book: Dear Mr. S. Harris, Ignore the blob of red in the top right corner.  It's jam, not blood, though I don't think I need to tell you the difference. It wasn't your wife's jam the police found on your shoe.

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


Ellen Booraem: ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams Garcia (MG)

Lucy Sartain: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF EMILY H. by Barrie Summy (MG, mystery)

Stacy Nyikos: ALWAYS OCTOBER by Bruce Coleville (MG)

                                      by Todd Hasak-Lowy (YA)


Alyssa Goodnight: ARTIFACT by Gigi Pandian (mystery)

Lucy Sartain: QUEEN OF THE TRAILER PARK by Alice Quinn (A Rosie Maldonne mystery)

Patti Abbott:  NOVEMBER by Georges Simenon

Ray Potthoff: THE DREAM LOVER by Elizabeth Berg (historical)

**Scott Parker: CONCRETE ANGEL by OUR VERY OWN Patricia Abbott (domestic suspense)**



Rob Costello: SO YOU'VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED by Jon Ronson (adult)

Sarah Laurence: I WILL ALWAYS WRITE BACK by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda
                           with Liz Welch (young 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!

Dear FCC: Oh, you are so nosy. I bought this book. Nothing tricky going on here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Book Review Club (May 2015)

Happy May, and welcome to this month's meeting of The Book Review Club! We have a lot of good reviews today. Please click through below my post. You will not regret it. Promise! Before I forget, next month we'll be meeting a little later than usual...On WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17.  May trivia: Happy Birthday (in alpha order) to George Clooney, Sigmund Freud, Willie Mays and Orson Welles!
by Heather O'Neill (debut bk, adult, literary)

I can say unequivocally that LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CHILDREN is one of the best adult books I've read in the last couple of years. It was published in 2006 by Harper, which means a) I've been living under a rock for nine years or b) my to-be-read pile is out of control. Your choice. :)

A lot of people loved this book. In 2007, it won Canada Reads AND the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction AND was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award. Wow! It was short and long listed for too many other awards to list. Let's just say my love of LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CHILDREN puts me in good company!

In a Nutshell: The novel follows 12/13 year old Baby (yes, that's what her 15 year-old parents named her!) for two years while she lives in rundown apartments with her heroin-addicted father, does a stint in foster care, goes to school, looks for love, and survives, survives, survives.

What I Loved: EVERYTHING! Oh, what? You want more detail than that? Well...the voice pretty much jumps off the page and hits you right between the eyes. It's that perfect. Baby is very pragmatic, smart, often humorous (I bet you didn't see that coming) and is trying to come of age on the streets of Montreal. Of course, she's looking for love in all the wrong places. Of course, she makes mistakes with drugs and alcohol. But, oh my, you are rooting for this character till the wee hours of the morning. And the ending? Let's just say I cried. I'm not saying whether it ended on an upbeat note or not (no spoilers from me!). I'm just saying it was an emotional ending.

From the Book: "That first night in the new place, Jules dismantled the fire alarm so that he could smoke in peace. I loved when he smoked a cigarette with the lights off. The smoke in the dark looked like the dove that whispered the future to saints in paintings."

What I Must Mention: This book is gritty. We're talking child prostitution, heroin addition, abandonment. Personally, I'm fine with reading gritty. And it's not in-your-face graphic or anything. In fact,  I'd say another strength of the book is that it deals with some tough subject matter and keeps the reader turning pages.

Dear FCC: Bought this one with my own credit card. 

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


 Jenn Jilks: PLASTIC ISLAND by David Cuellar


Alyssa Goodnight: IF YOU FIND THIS by Matthew Baker (MG)

Jody Feldman: ROLLERGIRL by Victoria Jamieson (MG)

Sarah Laurence: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF EMILY H. by Barrie Summy (MG)

Beth Bonini of TRAC: THE DOOR THAT LED TO WHERE by Sally Gardner (YA)


Ellen Booraem: THE SILKWORM by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) (mystery)

Linda McLaughlin: MIDNIGHT ROSE by Lucina Riley

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn(thriller)

Patti Abbott:  WADE INTO WAR by Scott Parker (mystery) **Yes, it's our very own Scott Parker**

Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: THE DOG WHO SAVED ME by Susan Wilson

Ray Potthoff: BLACK RIVER by S.M. Hulse (western)

Stacy Nyikos: MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: MISSING REELS by Farran Smith Nehme

Jenn Jilks: THE ANTHROPOCENE by Christian Schwagerl

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 1, 2015

The Book Review Club (April 2015)

No doubt you remember my critique partner, Kelly Hayes. Well, she's back to review a book she thoroughly enjoyed. No, this is not an April Fool's joke. (Sorry, but you know I had to fit in something about April 1st!) Kelly really did write the review below! Thank you, Kelly, and I owe you breakfast next week. Take it away! 

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (adult, psychological thriller)
 by Paula Hawkins

I don’t know if it’s because we as readers have become more jaded or if it’s that the real page-turning plots have been done and redone, but it seems like the books that you can’t put down are getting fewer and fewer these days. You know,  that book you read late into the night even though you have to get up early in the morning or the one you wish you could call in sick to work to finish? Well, for me, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was one of those books. The kind of book that is so riveting, so compulsively readable, that you’ll go anywhere the author wants to take you.

I was originally drawn to this story by the element of lives glimpsed from a moving train. I lived in England for several years and took the over-ground trains more times than I can count. On those journeys I often occupied my mind by imagining lives lived in the houses we passed. But that is where the similarities between Rachel, the book’s titular main character, and I end. Because Rachel is a sad alcoholic who has lost her job, but still gets dressed and pretends to go to work so that her kind hearted roommate won’t find out, all the while drinking warm gin & tonics from a can. The words ‘train wreck’ come to mind.

It isn’t long before we come to understand that the cozy identities and back-stories Rachel makes up for the attractive couple in one particular house she passes every day are not just a means to occupy her time on the train. It’s all part of a coping mechanism. Because just two houses down is where Rachel used to live with her husband, Thom, who now lives there with the woman he left her for, and their baby daughter.  This is where my sympathy for Rachel ratcheted up several notches.  

When Megan, the attractive neighbor, disappears, Rachel’s delusional obsession intensifies. She thinks she has important information regarding the case, but the police soon dismiss her as the pathetic drunk she proves herself to be. At this point the narration begins to alternate between Rachel, Megan, and Thom’s new wife, Anna. And we learn that Rachel is not the only one who has fabricated an elaborate web of denial for herself. It’s now the unreliable narrator times three.

Hawkins uses Rachel’s drunken blackouts and her resulting fractured and incomplete memories to wonderful effect. The suspense is palpable as Rachel grasps for the missing pieces that seem always just out of reach. And yet she knows deep in her gut, as we do, that she holds the key to finding out what happened to Megan. 

The Girl on the Train is top-notch psychological suspense wrapped around a core of gritty realism that hooked me from page one. Like the proverbial train wreck, it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

Dear FCC: Kelly works at a library. So, as you can imagine, she borrows a lot of books from the library. Just like this one. 

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


Alyssa Goodnight: THE FALCONER by Elizabeth May (fantasy)

Ellen Booraem: SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman (young adult fantasy)
                          SHADOW SCALE by Rachel Hartman (fantasy, sequel to Seraphina)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: REMEMBER by Eileen Cook (mystery)

Rob Costello: REVOLVER by Marcus Sedgwick (thriller)

Sarah Laurence: BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN by Elizabeth Wein (historical)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: SECRETS OF THE LOST CAVE by Cheryl Potter (fantasy)

Linda McLaughlin: GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE by Susan Vreeland

Patti Abbott:  HUSH HUSH by Laura Lippman (crime)

Ray Potthoff: A KING'S RANSOM by Sharon Kay Penman (historical)

Scott Parker: CANARY by Duane Swierczynski (crime)


Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: OWLS OF THE US AND CANADA by Wayne Lynch

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, March 4, 2015

The Book Review Club (March 2015)

I'm not going to spend much time on an intro this month. Because...we have so many great reviews for you. I know your time is precious, and I don't want to take it up with bits of trivia about March. Not when you can read our reviews and discover new books to add to your TBR pile. Enjoy!

PICTURE ME GONE (young adult)
 by Meg Rosoff

With the exception of her picture books, I've read all Meg Rosoff's books, and the experience is always beyond enjoyable. The woman can write; there's no two ways about it. Each novel is filled with what I call "literary gems." You know, those insights that are so perfectly captured, the sentences echo in your mind after you've closed the book.

In Picture Me Gone, 12 y.o. Mila and her father, Gil, travel from London to upstate NY to find her father's oldest friend, Matthew, who has gone missing. Now, Mila is no ordinary girl. She can "read" people. She senses what others, including a baby and a dog, are thinking or feeling and can suss out a situation like nobody's business. One review described her as a mentalist, and that's as good a description as any.

The characters are quirky, but still very real. The various relationships between them are complicated and interesting. The author is a master at revealing just the right amount of information at just the right time. The banter is pitch perfect between Mila and Catlin, her friend with a messy home life.

The one stumbling block I had is this: Our uncannily perceptive Mila gets tricked. Someone close to her keeps a huge secret from her, and she doesn't suspect it for many, many pages. I don't know that this is an inconsistency. I can just say that it struck me.

Picture Me Gone is beautifully written. On several occasions, it kept me on the treadmill for well past 30 minutes. And this is no mean feat! Highly recommended.

Dear FCC: Bought this book. Listened to it in my car. On the elliptical. On the treadmill. That's all I have to report. Goodbye. 

A warm welcome to Ray Pothoff, a brand new reviewer.  And  welcome back to the fabulous Beth Bonini. We are very happy to have you both with us. Very happy.

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


Ellen Booraem: BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson (MG, in verse)

Alyssa Goodnight: VANGO by Timothy de Frombelle (YA)

Beth Bonini of TRAC: BUFFALO SOLDIER by Tanya Landman (YA, historical)

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: IN THE BLOOD by Sara Hantz (YA)

Sarah Laurence: I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson (YA contemporary, Printz Winner)

Stacy Nyikos: LIKE WATER ON STONE by Dana Walrath (YA)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart (YA)


Rob Costello: LOCKE & KEY by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez


Linda McLaughlin: ROMANCING THE DUKE by Tessa Dare (romance)

Prairie Rose: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doer (historical)

Ray Potthoff: ONE GOOD DOG by Susan Wilson

Scott Parker: STAR TREK LOG ONE by Alan Dean Foster (SF)



Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE CANCER OLYMPICS by Robin McGee (autobiography)

Patti Abbott:  THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown

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!