Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Book Review Club (September 2014)



Summer is over. And September is here. Trivia you may not have known about September: Neptune was discovered on Sept. 23, 1846. The first comic strip was published in a US paper on Sept. 11, 1875. The First Continental Congress began Sept. 5, 1874.*  AND our first-Wednesday-of-the-month online book review club has returned from its summer hiatus.  Welcome! Weirdly, this month is heavy on reviews of adult fiction. Who knew?
(*creators.com/health/answer-man-andy-seamans/september-trivia.html)


DEATH IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES (adult, mystery)
 by Kathy Aarons

Kathy Aarons is the pen name for my very talented critique partner, Kathy Krevat. Our critique group, Denny's Chicks, has been together several years (8??), during which time we've managed to remain youthful and beautiful. (cough, cough). Here's a link to Kathy's first post on this blog


Something incredibly special happens when a critique partner publishes, especially when she publishes her very entertaining debut cozy mystery. The critique group puffs up with pride. We remember when this book was just a teeny, tiny germ of an idea. We reminisce over all the changes in the various revisions. We laugh about who disagreed with whom over what. We even tear up.

DEATH IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES in a nutshell: Two best friends, Michelle and Erica, own a chocolate shop + bookstore (Chocolates and Chapters) in fictional West Riverdale, Maryland. The town photographer is murdered in their store, poisoned by one of Michelle's truffles. The women must work together to clear Michelle's name.  

What I loved: 1. the humor: In real life, Kathy is laugh-your-head-off funny. It totally translates to the page. 2. the twists and turns: I can't tell you what they are; that would ruin it! Let's just say, Kathy thinks outside the box. Waaay outside. Sometimes it's scary. 3. the details: Kathy did a bunch of research to make sure she got the facts straight. For example, she actually went to Maryland. She interviewed the police there. And she spent an inordinate amount of time at Dallmann Fine Chocolates. 4. It's the first book in a series: And I already know EVERYTHING about book #2. Ha!

I'm not the only one who recommends this book. Mysterious Galaxy, a wonderful local indie bookstore, chose DEATH IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES for their Fabulous Firsts book club, saying, "This fast-paced, entertaining read demonstrates all sides of small town life, and introduces a cast of characters with complicated, messy, interwoven lives. I found every page compulsively readable and couldn't put it down until the final stunning conclusion."

You want to meet Kathy in real life? You're in luck if you live anywhere near San Diego! She's got a signing at Mysterious Galaxy at 4pm on Saturday, September 6. Yes, there will be chocolates.

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

MIDDLE GRADE/YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Stacy Nyikos: ANNA WAS HERE by Jane Kurtz (middle grade)

Linda McLaughlin: LAUNCH WINDOWS by Debra Caldwyl (YA, romance)



ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight: THE OUTSMARTING OF CRIMINALS by Steven Rigolosi (cozy mystery)

Ellen Booraem: EUPHORIA by Lily King

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE SENSE OF DARKNESS by Cinzia De Santis

Patti Abbott:  BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty (women's fiction)

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: FROG MUSIC by Emma Donoghue (historical)



NONFICTION REVIEW

Sarah Laurence: HOW TO SPEAK BRIT by Christopher J. Moore


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 4, 2014

The Book Review Club (June 2014)


Welcome to our June Book Review Club! After this we'll be taking a hiatus until September. During the summer, we'll be grilling, traveling, hanging out with fam and friends and basically having loads of fun. Of course, we'll also be reading, always on the lookout for great books to review. For now, though, please enjoy the JUNI* reviews!  *pronounced "yoonee," that's June in Danish. Yes, yes, there's a reason I'm speaking Danish. See my review. :)


THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE (adult, Scandinavian thriller)
 by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

This is one of those books you finish and immediately start casting about for the next one in the series. It was that good!


THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE was short-listed for the Nordic Glass Key Award (yes, you actually win a glass key) and won the 2008 Harold Morgensen Crime Award. This fast-paced thriller bounces between Lithuania and Denmark and is told from several perspectives. The reader is lost for a while (in a good way) before finally figuring out how all the threads link up.  I loved all the ambiguity.

Nina Borg is a Red Cross nurse working at a refugee center in Copenhagen, Denmark. She gives her all for the underdog. Which makes her a great nurse and humanitarian, but leaves her wanting in the wife and mother areas. A friend from nursing school calls to say she's in trouble and asks Nina to pick up a suitcase from the train station. You can imagine Nina's shock when she opens said suitcase to find a naked, drugged three-year-old boy. When Nina goes to see her friend, she finds her friend's murdered body. Much page time is also given to Sigita's point of view. She's the young Lithuanian single mother of the boy. In addition, there are chapters told by Nina's husband, the kidnappers, and the person who organized the kidnapping.

The only thing that was a meh for me was the kidnapper. He or she (see? no spoiler!) seemed too carboardy, too black and white. He or she had endured an abusive childhood, blah, blah, blah. The other characters, particularly Nina and Sigita are so incredibly human and flawed and real, that I expected a similar treatment of the villain.

That aside, I truly, truly enjoyed this book and have already ordered Nina Borg's 2nd adventure: INVISIBLE MURDER

"Her er resten af vores anmeldelser. Nyde!" This is apparently Danish for: Here are the rest of our reviews. Enjoy!


MIDDLE GRADE/YOUNG ADULT BOOK REVIEWS

Sarah Laurence: BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican (YA/adult)

Stacy Nyikos: WE WERE LIARS by E LOCKHART (YA)

ADULT BOOK REVIEWS

Linda McLaughlin: NAAMAH'S KISS by Jacqueline Carrey (fantasy)

Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd (historical)


NONFICTION REVIEWS

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE BILLION DOLLAR PAPERCLIP by Gregory Short

Lucy Sartain of Ranting and Raving: LOVE LIFE by Rob Lowe (autobiography)

Patti Abbott:  UPDIKE by Adam Begley



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, May 7, 2014

The Book Review Club (May 2014)


Welcome to our May Book Review Club! Did you know that it used to be considered bad luck to get married in May. "Marry in May and you'll rue the day."* However, it's always been considered good luck to read our book reviews. We won't steer you wrong. That goes for any month! Enjoy!
*From:http://www.ducksters.com/history/mayinhistory.php 






THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES: THE NEW CHAMPION
 by Jody Feldman

This middle-grade novel by our very own Jody Feldman (click through for cute website) is a companion to the wildly successful THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES. By wildly successful, I mean it's on TWENTY-SIX state reading lists. I expect we'll see the same kind of love for THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES: THE NEW CHAMPION. Because it's that good.


In a nutshell (stolen from the Harper Collins website): 
The Golly Toy and Game Company's Gollywhopper Games was such a big success the first time, the company's executives have decided to host the competition again. Cameron and Spencer Schein have scored two highly sought-after slots in the regional round—will one of the Schein brothers make it all the way to the finals? Favorite characters from the first book make guest appearances, and a new cast of competitors, both boys and girls, get set to compete against (and with) Cameron and Spencer. There are twists and turns and complications in this page-turner of a race to the finish line!
What I loved:  the puzzles. They are seriously fun. Here are a couple of examples. 1. What is a normal decibel level for everyday conversation? Greater or less or equal to 85? 2. How many species of flightless birds are there? More or less or equal to 4? 3. What rhymes with a synonym for "more angry"? And the answers are... Ha! I am so not giving you the answers!

What else I loved: You definitely do not have to read the first book before reading this one. The author has written this companion in such a brilliant way that it works as a standalone. That said,  you'll want to read both books. Because once you find your way into the world of the Gollywhopper Games, you'll try to hang out there as long as you can.

What else I loved: You only think you figured out the ending!

An unexpected bonus: Okay, this is going to sound weird. But we're all friends. Plus, what gets posted on The Book Review Club, stays here.  Right?  Anyway, this middle-grade fiction actually made me stop and think, in an adult way, about sibling rivalry. What kinds of rivalries have gone on, are going with my own four kids? How well have I handled it over the years? How much sibling rivalry have I been unaware of? I don't expect a middle-grade novel to make me mull things over. But I love that this one did. Thank you, Jody Feldman!

 To the FCC: Jody Feldman is a friend of mine. In fact, we've broken bread together in two different states. At my request, Jody sent me an ARC of this book. But no one paid me or compensated me in any way for this review. I wouldn't have reviewed this book if I hadn't loved it. And Jody would've understood. Because that's the kind of awesome she is.

And now . . .  links to the rest of the reviews. Click through, kick back and enjoy!


MIDDLE GRADE/YOUNG ADULT BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight: A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd (MG)

Jody Feldman: THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER by Kevin Henkes (MG)


Linda McLaughlin: DIVERGENT trilogy by Veronica Roth (YA)

Stacy Nyikos: THE LUNAR CHRONICLES (CINDER, SCARLET, CRESS) by Melissa Meyer (YA)

ADULT BOOK REVIEWS

Patti Abbott:  ORDINARY PEOPLE by Judith Guest

Sarah Laurence: TEMPTING FATE by Jane Green

 POETRY

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: LIVING WITHOUT THE ONE YOU CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT
                                                  by Natasha Josefowitz



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 2, 2014

The Book Review Club (April 2014)


Welcome to our April Book Review Club! It's April 2, so you don't have to put up with all kinds of annoying April Fool's Day jokes. Nope. We're simply bringing you a bunch of good book reviews about good books. I think you'll enjoy the lineup: middle grade, young adult, adult and, even, non-fiction. 






TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD by Ellen Booraem

This middle-grade fantasy by our very own Ellen Booraem received a starred Kirkus review. Having read all of Ellen's books, I wasn't surprised.


In a nutshell (stolen from Ellen's website)
Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O’Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is—as all banshees are—a harbinger of death, and she’s sure someone in Conor’s family is about to require her services. But she’s new at this banshee business, and first she insists on going to middle school.
Even as Conor desperately tries to hide her identity from his classmates and teachers, he realizes there’s no way to avoid paying a visit to the underworld if he wants to keep his family safe. 

What I loved:  The tension. It was page-turning incredible. Take a scared-of-his-shadow kid like Conor and give him spiders, a falling out with his best friend, a trip to the Underworld, a banshee who shows up to kill a member of his family, this same banshee who follows him to school, dreams that don't make sense. Give him all that and a little more. And what do you get? A book you can't put down.

What else I loved: The language. Ms. Booraem has quite the way with words. For eg.: "Conor sank down on his bed, legs spaghettified." Spaghettified???? Brilliant!!

What else I loved: The fantasy. That Ms. Booraem has imagination galore. Even jelly beans are useful in the Underworld!

What I didn't like: It ended. The book ended. Sure, it was a great, fulfilling, creative ending. But, still... Hurry up and finish your next book, Ms. Booraem! TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD was amazing!


 To the FCC: Yes, Ellen Booraem is a friend of mine. My goal is to one day meet her in real life. Anyway, I bought her wonderful book and only reviewed it because I loved it. No one paid me or compensated me in any way. Neener. Neener. Mind you, I'd be a happy camper if a certain someone sent me a signed bookplate. :)

And now, people, I present to you the links for the rest of the reviews. Click through and enjoy!


MIDDLE GRADE/YOUNG ADULT BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight of the Writers' Road Less Traveled: THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray (YA)

 Sarah Laurence: GOING OVER by Beth Kephart (YA)

ADULT BOOK REVIEWS

Ellen Booraem of Freelance Ne'er-do-well: THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

Linda McLaughlin: AMPED by Douglas E. Richards (thriller) 

Patti Abbott:  THE HUSBAND'S SECRET by Liane Moriarty

Stacy Nyikos: THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir (science fiction)


NONFICTION REVIEWS

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO ECHOLOCATION FOR THE
                                                  BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED by Tim Johnson

Scott Parker: PLOTTING: A NOVELIST'S WORKOUT GUIDE by Aaron Allston



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 5, 2014

The Book Review Club (March 2014)


Happy March Book Review Club Day! One of my favorite days of the month. And...Happy Multiple Personalities Day*. And I will wish you Happy Frozen Food Day* (March 6) and Happy Potato Chip Day* (March 14) in advance.  But mostly I hope you enjoy the wonderful book reviews we've put together for you.
(*source:  http://listverse.com/2009/03/10/31-wacky-holidays-in-march)






DYED AND GONE by Beth Yarnall 
(adult mystery)

Yes, I know it's a shocker. I'm actually reviewing an adult book.

In a nutshell: To snap her out of a depression brought on by relationship woes, hairstylist Azalea March's friends drag her to Las Vegas for a weekend of fun and games and a huge hair show. What follows is a fast-paced, SUPER humorous, over-the-top cozy mystery. You can expect dead bodies, a cast of wacky characters and a lot of unexpected twists. I especially loved the discovery of that first body. So creative and ghoulish.

What I loved: THE HUMOR. There are lots of great, laugh-out-loud lines. I especially loved the references to hairdressing.  Here's an example: "I was sure he'd scared at least three years off my being a natural brunette." THE ATTITUDE. Azalea is beyond spunky. She's fun to read. THE ROMANCE. Romance for several characters was woven into the plot and enriched the book. THE ENDING. I did not figure it out. THE COVER. You have to admit it's very cute.

Beth Yarnall is one of our very own reviewers. And she used to be a hairdresser. So, you know all the hairdressing stuff is authentic.  Thanks for trusting me to review DYED AND GONE, Beth.


DYED AND GONE will be available  March 25. You can pre-order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Okay, people. Below are links to everyone else's reviews. Please click through. It'll make your day!

MIDDLE GRADE (MG) /YOUNG ADULT (YA) BOOK REVIEWS

Ellen Booraem of Freelance Ne'er-do-well: HOW I BECAUSE A GHOST by Tim Tingle (MG fantasy)

Sarah Laurence: THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER by J.C. Carlson (YA Fiction/Middle Eastern Politics)

Stacy Nyikos: MIDWINTER BLOOD by Marcus Sedgwick (YA)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE BROKEN CIRCLE TRILOGY by Cheryl Potter (YA, fantasy)

ADULT BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight of the Writers' Road Less Traveled: THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

Patti Abbott: GHOST TOWN by Ed Gorman

Linda McLaughlin: WRAPPED IN THE FLAG: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF AMERICAN'S RADICAL RIGHT by Claire Connor

Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: JUST ONE EVIL ACT by Elizabeth George (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!


Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy Belated Saint David's Day

Saint David (Dewi Sant in the Welsh language) is the patron saint of Wales. March 1st is a Welsh national holiday.

You might be wondering why I'm celebrating Saint David's Day. (My family is wondering the same thing.) There isn't a drop of Welsh blood in me. That I know of, anyhow. But one of my New Year's resolutions is to have more fun. And what could be more fun than celebrating other countries' special days? Actually, quite a lot could be more fun, but it's only the beginning of March. I'll have to ramp up the "funness factor" as the year progresses.

So, here are a few facts about Saint David:
-He lived in the 6th century and was into spreading Christianity to the Celtic tribes across western Britain.
-He founded a very strict monastery where the monks farmed, celebrated mass and kept bees.
-He was a fiend for water. A fiend. For his entire life, he only drank water. Things might have been different had diet Coke been invented during his lifetime.
-Sometimes, he submerged himself up to his neck in cold water and spouted (pun intended) Scripture.
-He mostly ate breads and herbs, especially watercress, yet was apparently very strong.
-He lived for over 100 years. Obviously breads, herbs, with an emphasis on watercress, and gallons of water is a winning combo for longevity.

In honor of St. David's Day, I'm cooking the national dish of Wales: cawl.

I'm sure my family will rave over it. Well, perhaps not Child #3 because cawl doesn't resemble rolled tacos from the taco shop down the street or pizza.

Sorry for the blurry pic of my bowl of cawl. Here's a link to the slow-cooker recipe I used. Oh, and a "swede" is not a person. It's a rutabaga. And, of course, there are leeks in cawl because, as you well know, leeks are a national symbol of Wales. They're even on the flag.




Happy Belated Saint David's Day. Let the fun begin!


sources: http://sucs.org/~rhys/stdavid.html, www.foodsubs.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_David

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Child #3 hits a parked car: a cautionary tale

Last week, I received a text from Child #3: "i just clipped someones side mirror and left a note with my cell and our home numbers"

I texted back, "good thinking"

Now, we know it wasn't good thinking. At least, it wasn't enough good thinking.

What happened: Child #3 came home for lunch from high school and was driving to his afternoon science class. He dropped his chocolate bar, leaned over to pick it up (argh!!), and swerved into a parked car, knocking off the mirror.* He pulled over to the curb, tore a page from his notebook, wrote his name, two contact phone numbers and an apology. He slid said note under the windshield wiper, placed the mirror on the sidewalk, texted me and went on to class.

What happened next: A couple of hours later, a man phoned our house. He was the son-in-law of the car owner. Grandma was babysitting when my Twix-munching son hit her car. Anyway, I was running out the door to pick up Child #4 from school and take her to ballet class, so we (the man and me) agreed to all meet that evening and figure out how we'd (the Summys) pay for the damage, hopefully without involving our insurance.

Then: I'm sitting on a bench, watching Child #4 twirl and point her toes, when I get a panicked call from Child #3. To put this in perspective, Child #3 rarely panics. Perhaps this is due to years of water polo. Or perhaps he has a special keep-cool gene (probaby from Mr. Summy's side of the family). Perhaps he figures life will work itself out. Anyway...

Child #3: "Mom! The sheriff just called my cell and said I have to come back to the car I hit immediately, or I'll be arrested."
Me: "What?"
Child #3: "He said it was a hit and run."
Me: "What? Don't go by yourself. I'll call Dad. He can come home from work and go with you. I'm stuck at ballet."

The cautionary part: In California (I don't know about anywhere else), when you leave a note on a car you've hit, the note must include your name, your address, your phone number, your car insurance info including company name and policy #. Otherwise, it's considered a hit-and-run.

Odds and ends: The daughter of the car owner called the sheriff. I have no idea why. Maybe she just wanted a police report? The sheriff was pretty rough on Child #3, reiterating that he'd be arrested and accusing him of avoiding phone calls. Which wasn't true. There were no missed calls. Our incident got a bit more complicated because the insurance card in Child #3's glove box was expired. This was cleared up with an email from the insurance company. In Calif, you can show proof of insurance on your smart phone.

On the bright side, no one was hurt. And we learned a good lesson.

*The damage was more than a knocked-off mirror. There were 3 dents, to the tune of $3,000 + in body work repairs. Apparently, Nissan Maximas are made of cardboard. Our Toyota Rav 4 is fine. So, if you happen to be in the market for a car...