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!

MIDDLE GRADE/YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

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)


ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

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)


 NONFICTION REVIEW

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!

MIDDLE GRADE/YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

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)

ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

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)


BIOGRAPHY/MEMOIR REVIEW

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!



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Book Review Club (December 2014)




Season's Greetings! It's that gift-buying time of year. It's also that party-going, cookie-baking, house-decorating time of year. But since today's post is all about book reviews, we're focusing on the gift-buying part. And what makes a better gift than a book? Nothing. That's what. So, sit back and enjoy our book reviews...put together to help you with your holiday shopping and, of course, personal reading. Enjoy!


WAGGERS (picture book)
Written by Stacy Nyikos
Illustrated by Tamara Anegon

This is one of the few times I've reviewed a picture book. As a result, I ended up googling "how to review a picture book." I figured you'd want more than just my saying things like: I really think you'd get a kick out of this book or You can't go wrong with giving this book to a child on your gift list or You'll appreciate the unique way the author resolved Wagger's problem.

Anyway, googling "how to review a picture book" wasn't over helpful. Everyone has their own ideas on the subject! As do I! So, here goes...

In a nutshell: When Waggers is adopted, he tries to be good; he really does! But it isn't Waggers's fault that his tail goes crazy when he gets excited. How much harm can a tail do, anyway? Well, his new family is about to find out. (borrowed from amazon)

What Struck Me: There's a delicate dance between the words and the illustrations. They complement and enhance each other. Sometimes the words tell more of the story. Sometimes the illustrations do.  It's beautifully executed in WAGGERS. Also, this book is funny, with unique situations and illustrations full of personality.

Surprisingly: I could relate to this book! Waggers is a lot like my child #3! In fact, the author's solution for Waggers might have worked in my situation, too. Unfortunately, I'll have to leave it at that so as not to spoil anything for you. Ha!

Here's an interesting interview with Stacy about WAGGERS.

Dear FCC: Surely you know me well enough by now to understand no one paid me or badgered me in any way to write this review. Yes, the author is OUR VERY OWN STACY NYIKOS. When I see her next fall, I may convince her to sit next to me at lunch. But she probably would've anyway. She's pretty friendly and sociable. 

To the left is a photo of Desi, the dog who inspired the book.

You can order autographed copies from Best of Books. Because the one thing better than giving a book is giving an autographed book.



Now onto the last reviews of the year. Please click through. We'll make your day!

MIDDLE GRADE/YOUNG ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight: A LITTLE SOMETHING DIFFERENT by Sandy Hall (YA)

Ellen Booraem: EGG AND SPOON by Gregory Maguire (YA)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: AMAZON BURNING by Victoria Griffith (YA)

Stacy Nyikos: BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer (YA)


ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Linda McLaughlin: MAP OF LOST MEMORIES by Kim Fay (mystery/historical adventure)

Patti Abbott:  IN THE MORNING I'LL BE GONE by Adrian McKinley (crime)

Sarah Laurence: THE BONE CLOCKS by David Mitchell



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 5, 2014

The Book Review Club (November 2014)




It's November.  I honestly can't believe it. I will not frighten you off with a countdown of the number of shopping days left till the holidays. I will tell you that November is National Pomegranate Month here in the US. Ignorant of this, I nonetheless bought a pomegranate the other day. As per the all-knowing Wikipedia, the pomegranate originated in the area between the Himalayas and Egypt. I'm actually planning to plant a dwarf tree.  And onto books... (there was no graceful way to segue)



I'm sure you remember KELLY HAYES, one of my Denny's Chicks critique partners? Out of the goodness of her heart, Kelly offered to write this month's review. She'd read a good book and wanted to share it with you. Plus, she owes me money. JOKE! She's just a generous person who reads a lot and likes to promote books.  Thanks, Kelly!

THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French
Tana French’s fifth novel in the Dublin Murder Squad Series was like a long-awaited meal, to be devoured and savored all at once.  As soon as I got it, I cleared my reading calendar in hopes that it would live up to my sense of anticipation and high expectations. Well, I have to say, it did. In spades.

After reading the first fifty pages or so I looked up from the book and sighed, wondering if I had the time and patience required for this level of detail. Because, as anyone who has read one or more of her novels  can attest, a flare for detail is one of French’s many literary talents. I reminded myself that my time investment has always paid off before with French’s novels, and went back to my reading.

And that was the last I thought about time investment versus payoff. I was pulled into the darkly rich world of eight teenage girls in an Irish all-girl boarding school, where a popular boy from the neighboring boy’s school was brutally murdered.  

If you’ve read Faithful Place, the third book in the series, you might remember Stephen Moran, the ambitious young detective who assisted Frank Mackey. Since then he’s moved up on the professional ladder and is now firmly entrenched in the cold case division. But he’s not satisfied and when new evidence in the cold case at St. Kilda’s school drops into his lap, he jumps at the chance to work with lead Homicide detective,  Antoinette Conway.

Conway is a tough nut with an inner city Dublin background and an extra large chip on her shoulder about it. She has no respect for these children of privilege, and it shows. Which is one of the reasons she failed to solve the case a year ago.  She spots Moran’s sensitive guy demeanor and decides it might be just the approach she needs to crack this complex case. 

So she sits back and plays silent bad cop while Moran asks all the questions and tries to unpick the web of lies the girls have woven around themselves. And what a tangled web it is. The dynamics and psychological interplay among the eight girls will make your head spin. And you might even feel a chill or two.

I admire French’s many gifts as a writer, but when I realized that this 452 page book spans just one day, I have to admit, I said to myself, “She can’t possibly pull this off. Can she?” When I finished the last page and felt like I’d been through the wringer, just like those two detectives had, I knew the answer. She can pull it off. And she did. 

Dear FCC: Kelly Hayes borrowed this book from the library. I promise she was not compensated for this review. Most definitely not by me! Please do not harass her. It's a real treat for all of when she posts. And we want to have her back again.

 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

Sarah Laurence: BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson (MG, memoir)


ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Linda McLaughlin: SO BIG by Edna Ferber

Patti Abbott:  BROKEN HARBOR by Tana French (mystery)

Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: CRITICAL MASS by Sara Paretsky (mystery)

Stacy Nyikos: ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie (science fiction)


NONFICTION REVIEW

Jenn Jilks: ALL ABOUT CARPETS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW by Glenn Revere




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 1, 2014

The Book Review Club (October 2014)




It's October and officially autumn. The nights are getting longer, and the weather's getting chilly. (At least in the mornings and evenings. Apparently, we're in for a heatwave this weekend. Ugh). It's still the perfect time to plump up your to-be-read list and settle in for a cuppa something warm, a bite of something sweet and a great boo

MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD (young adult)
 by Francisco X. Stork

I had a book all picked out to review this month. It was a good, solid book, and I felt fine recommending it. Then Child #4, my reluctant reader and 9th grader, told me about her weekend English homework. She had to respond with five written sentences to a prompt for every 20 pages read of her free-choice book. Cause that wouldn't kill a book for any reader! (another discussion for another time) Anyway, she chose to respond to the prompt: Would your parents like this book? Why or why not? And she wrote that her mother would love MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD because it's about an underdog teenager with autism and because it would remind her of WONDER


Naturally, I abandoned my chores and sat down immediately to begin reading MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD. I read the ENTIRE book. All 312 wonderful pages. And, believe me when I say I had buckets of things on my to-do list. Buckets of things that got ignored. But, oh well.  When a book grabs you, everything else goes out the window, right?


In a nutshell: Autistic-like 17 year-old Marcelo is safe and comfortable at his special needs school. Determined that Marcelo learn to function in the real world, Marcelo's father forces his son to work in his law office's mail room for the summer.

What I loved: It's fascinating to watch Marcelo navigate the real (?) world of the law office and figure out who is friend versus who is foe.  The plot is very, very clever. I'm sure by the end, Marcelo's father is sorry he forced his son to work at his law firm. Ha! The characters are fleshed out and feel real.

What was a little meh: I could've done with less religion. Marcelo is really into religion and confides in a rabbi when trying to decide how to handle sensitive info he comes across at the law office. At times, I felt preached at. Although I'm particularly sensitive to that, and other readers may not feel the same way.

However, I heartily, heartily recommend MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD. Heartily!

Dear FCC: I borrowed this book from the library. I know neither the author, Francisco X. Stork, nor his editor, Cheryl Klein. But I'd drop everything in a heartbeat if either one wanted to meet me for coffee. 

 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: MAGGOT MOON by Sally Gardner (YA)


ADULT FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

Alyssa Goodnight: JANA BIBI'S EXCELLENT FORTUNES by Betsey Woodman
 
Ellen Booraem:  QUEEN OF THE TEARLING by Erika Johansen

Linda McLaughlin: WHAT ROUGH BEAST by H.R. Knight (paranormal mystery)

Patti Abbott:  WELL READ, THEN DEAD by Terrie Moran (mystery)

Sarah Laurence: EUPHORIA by Lily King

Stacy of the Cat's Meow: THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker (historical/paranormal)


 NONFICTION REVIEW

Jody Feldman: MATH DOESN'T SUCK: HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL MATH WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND OR BREAKING A NAIL by Danica McKellar




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, September 29, 2014

Meet My Character (a blog tour)

A huge shout-out and thank you to Alyssa Goodnight for twisting my arm suggesting I participate in this Meet My Character blog tour! (Hi Alyssa! You know I'm just kidding. Look! I linked to you twice!)


1. What is the name of your character? 
Raine Watson. I know, I know. Raine is kind of a weird name. And, believe me, I was pretty sick of it by the time I finished the last revision. But the name does have a bit of history. Thirteen years before the book opens, this character was born in the middle of a storm in the back seat of a car. And that's how her free-spirited mom came up with the name Raine. Hey, I could've gone with Pontiac!

2. Is he/she fictional or a historic person? 
Fiction all the way.

3. When and where is the story set? 
Modern day in a made-up town named Yielding in upper New York state. The geography is similar enough to where I grew up (Ontario, Canada) that it felt like a little trip home to the Muskoka area.

4. What should we know about her?
Besides an interesting name, Raine has an interesting gift. She can pick up other people's memories from objects. I actually think I wouldn't mind having this gift myself. Especially when I sense there's more to the story than one of my children is admitting!

5. What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?
So, Raine and her mom move to Yielding and a rented house in time for Raine to start 8th grade. Turns out a girl, Emily H., who used to live in the same house . . . disappeared about six months earlier. The police never found Emily. They never even found one solid clue.

Raine starts picking up memories of Emily H. Can Raine figure out what happened? Throw in the person or persons who don't want the truth to surface, a new school, lying mean girls, a certain boy and, yeah, there's a bunch of conflict.

6. When can we expect the book to be published?
TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2015! I sweated bullets over this book. In fact, there was a point when I wondered if I'd ever get it right. I suspect my editor had the same worry. TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2015. Whew. I will be dancing all over San Diego.

What happens next? See the names below...bolded, enlarged and linked to websites? Those authors will be posting on Oct 6, 2014 about one of their characters. In fact, you might want to click through now...

Alli Sinclair combines her passion for exotic destinations, the quirks of human nature and the belief that everyone can dance, even if it's to their own beat. Luna Tango is the first in The Dance Card Series, published by Harlequin MIRA. Flamenco and the Russian Ballet will be released in 2015 and 2016 respectively.


Maureen McGowan is the Amazon bestselling author of the action-packed YA sci-fi thriller series The Dust Chronicles: Deviants (2012), Compliance (2013), and Glory (2014).

Misty Simon loves a good story and decided one day that she would try her hand at it. Eventually she got it right. There’s nothing better in the world than making someone laugh, and she hopes everyone at least snickers in the right places when reading her books. She lives with her husband, daughter and three insane dogs in Central Pennsylvania where she is hard at work on her next novel or three.

After a fifteen-year stint as an electrical engineer, P. J. (Tricia) Hoover started writing books for kids and teens.  Her middle grade novel, Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life was released this month by Starscape/Macmillan and tells the story of a young immortal King Tut, who's been stuck in middle school for over 3,000 years. Her first novel for teens, Solstice was published in 2013 by Tor Teen/Macmillan.


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!