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!

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!