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!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Book Review Club (February 2015)

And you thought I'd post a picture of a heart for Valentine's Day! Uh, no. Not when our February Book Review Club meeting actually lands on Rosa Park's birthday! Happy Birthday, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913-2005). There's really no way to segue seamlessly from that, so I won't even try.  Under my post are terrific reviews for terrific books. For all that is good and right in the world of reading, please click through.  

ALL THE ANSWERS (middle grade)
 by Kate Messner

Twelve-year-old Ava Anderson is a big hot mess of anxiety. She worries about everything. And I mean everything. From failing a math test to a band audition to the state of her parents' marriage to goats ... and the list goes on. So, when she finds a pencil that gives her answers to factual questions, you'd think she has it made in the shade. Right? Wrong. When the pencil tells her of something serious in the future for a family member (trying not to spoil anything!), Ava "realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers."

I was a really anxious kid who had loads of stomachaches that were no doubt stress related. In the diary I kept at age 10, I worried about millions of things, including my piano teacher's choice of pieces for me! For pages and pages and pages! Yeesh.  If I could just travel back and tell myself to go enjoy a bike ride or a game of Barbies or a a book.

So, yeah, I could definitely relate to Ava. Also, I thought it was clever how sharpening the pencil shortened the life of the magic. And I loved the whole you-only-think-you-want-the-answers theme.

But what really grabbed me about this book was how true the characters felt. Even the secondary and more minor ones. Here's one example: Ava's little sister, Emma, is in a class with several Emmas. So, she wears a different name tag to school every day in an effort to be individual. I don't know a girl like this, but I can easily imagine meeting one. The book is filled with these kinds of humanizing, believable idiosyncratic details about the various characters.

In a word: recommended!

Dear FCC: The Yellow Book Road, my local children's bookstore, gave me the ARC for this book. I'm sure they had no idea I'd review it. They're just kind, generous, book-loving folk. 

Other business: A huge welcome to our newest reviewer: Rob Costello! Congratulations to Scott Parker who has started his own publishing company, Quadrant Fiction Studio. And sending bone-healing, quick-recovery vibes to Ellen Booraem who had surgery on Monday for a broken femur.

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


Alyssa Goodnight: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor (YA)

Beth Bonini: I WAS HERE by Gayle Forman (YA)

Rob Costello: JACKABY by William Ritter (YA paranormal mystery)

Sarah Laurence: NO SURRENDER SOLIDER by Christine Kohler (YA historical)


Jenn Jilks: CROW LAKE by Mary Lawson

Linda McLaughlin: JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER by Jodi Taylor (time travel)

Patti Abbott:  CLOSE TO THE BROKEN-HEARTED by Michael Hiebert (mystery)

Sarah Laurence: THE REMEDY FOR LOVE by Bill Roorbach (romantic suspense)

Scott Parker: ICERIGGER by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction)

Stacy Nyikos: THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH by Richard Flanagan 
                                                                                                                    (Man Booker winner)             
Stacy of the Cat's Meow: TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt (literary)


Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: THE 20-30 SOMETHING GARDEN GUIDE by Dee Nash
                                                              HELLSTRIP GARDENING by Evelyn Hadden
                                                              TAMING WILDFLOWERS by Miriam Goldberger

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, January 7, 2015

The Book Review Club (January 2015)

Happy New Year! And welcome to our first Book Review Club of 2015! Interesting January-author trivia: This past Saturday was JRR Tolkien's birthday. He was born in 1892. And speaking of great books, we've all been been busy reading over the holidays. Please scroll down for our reviews. Wishing you many happy hours of reading in the upcoming year.

THE COLD COLD GROUND (adult mystery)
by Adrian McKinty

Unputdownable. That is my word for this book. Unputdownable. 

Which is normally a good thing, right? Except that I began reading THE COLD COLD GROUND last month. As in December. Now, December is a pretty crazy month around my house. And THE COLD COLD GROUND is the first in The Troubles Trilogy. Yikes. So....I got hold of all three books and their audio counterparts. (Great narration by Gerard Doyle, btw and here's a fun interview with Mr. Doyle in AudioFile Magazine.) I managed to power through my holiday shopping, baking, cleaning, partying and "read" the entire trilogy. Quite a fine example of multi-tasking, wouldn't you say? Ha!  

THE COLD COLD GROUND, a gripping, gritty, edge-of-your-seat peeler (police) procedural, takes place in proddy (protestant) Carrickfergus (a town near Belfast), Northern Ireland in 1981. The backdrop is one of extreme tension with a country in civil unrest, IRA hunger strikers in the Long Kesh prison and riots and violence on the streets. Our detective, fenian (Catholic) Sean Duffy, constantly checks under his car for a mercury tilt bomb. Duffy faces his first big case when it looks as though a homophobic serial killer is on the loose. But then come the marvelous twists and turns. 

I loved following Duffy, determined to solve this case against all odds. The supporting characters (both his neighbors and his work colleagues) were interesting. Of course, Duffy was looking for love in all the wrong places, and that added another layer. The dialogue was incredible, as in Elmore Leonard incredible. The 1980s details (Atari, the Ramones, the upcoming marriage of Charles and Lady Di, the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands) brought richness to the story. And the humor was great.

On a personal note, my parents emigrated from Belfast. They're both deceased, and many details in the book coupled with listening to Gerard Doyle's narration sent me tripping down memory lane. Not that my parents talked much about serial killers or murder or drugs! They certainly didn't toss around the f bomb! :) Anyway, I bought the audio version for one of my sisters. I'm sure she'll enjoy it.

THE COLD COLD GROUND won the Spinetingler Award for best crime novel of 2013. A fourth Sean Duffy book will be out in the US in March. Woohoo! And just to tie up this review, here's a blog post by the author about The Hobbit.

Dear FCC: I used hard-earned cash to buy this book and its audio counterpart. Nothing tricky going on here. And Happy New Year to you!

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


Jody Feldman: THE TERRIBLE TWO by Mac Barnett and Jory John (MG)

Stacy Nyikos: DON'T CALL ME ISHMAEL! by Michael Gerard Bauer  (MG)

Alyssa Goodnight: THE GLASS SENTENCE by S.E. Grove (YA) *reviewed by Alyssa's son*

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: TOMORROW COMES by Donna Mebane (YA)

Sarah Laurence: HOLD TIGHT, DON'T LET GO by Laura Rose Wagner (YA)


Ellen Booraem: ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline (women's lit)

Linda McLaughlin: DOG ON IT by Spencer Quinn (mystery)

Patti Abbott:  ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger  (mystery)


Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR: LIFE WITH HARPER LEE by Marja Mills

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!