Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: 'No Biking in the House Without a Helmet' by Melissa Fay Greene

✰✰✰½ Award winning journalist Melissa Fay Greene and her husband already had four biological children when they decided to adopt a little boy from Bulgaria. Rather than accept the "empty nest" that their home threatened to become when the oldest children headed off to college, the couple kept adopting. The next child was a little girl from Ethiopia. By the time Greene and her husband were finished adopting, their family included a total of nine kids from three continents.

The Bottom Line: Melissa Fay Greene's writing style is approachable for most readers. She writes with humor, tenderness, and honesty as she covers both the joys and the challenges of raising a large family. Recommended for everyone interested in the study of families. Also, for potential adoptive parents.

Book Club Notes: The short chapters and conversational tone of this book made it a quick read. One member pointed out that it was reminiscent of Erma Bombeck's writing style. The discussion was lighthearted as we worked out way through questions available in the reading guide from Macmillan. The anecdotes made for fun reading, and it was easy to get sidetracked by our own stories as we defined what it means to be a family. The discussion turned lively as we debated the pros and cons of domestic vs. international adoption. Furthermore, many of us agreed that we wanted to hear more about Greene's husband, Donny. Some members commented that the book could have been shorter. Also, several members noted that the stories were not all in chronological order. Overall, the group gave the book 3.75 stars and enjoyed reading it.

Details: No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene. Paperback published by Sarah Crichton Books in 2011. 368 p. ISBN: 978-0-374-53338-0

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: 'Dr. Mütter's Marvels' by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

✰✰✰✰½ The world-renowned Mütter Museum in Philadelphia features collections of anatomical specimens, medical instruments, and models. Visitors come from around the world to marvel at the various specimens. But how did these collections come to be housed together? Author Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz brings us the story of the man behind the collection.

Thomas Dent Mütter was orphaned as a young boy. Despite suffering from illness all his life, the young Mütter went on to pursue a degree in medicine. Eventually, his curiosity led him to the practice of plastic surgery, where he dedicated his skills to helping people labeled as "monsters" by society. Mütter's ideas and surgical techniques proved to be innovative, but his flamboyant style and popularity with students sometimes clashed with other doctors. Mütter's forward thinking lead to advances in cleanliness in the operating room, the use of anesthetic, and compassionate care.

Throughout his career, Dr. Mütter collected all types of specimens. While some may view these collections as medical oddities, Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter collected the items with the intent of supplementing his medical lectures. Due to continuing ill health, Dr. Mütter died young, but before he did, he left behind the legacy that is now the Mütter Museum.

The Bottom Line: Despite the length of the book, this was a fairly quick read. Author Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz approaches her subject with enthusiasm and compassion. Dr. Mütter was a fascinating man. He was a pioneer in his field who made many lasting contributions to the field of medicine. I especially enjoyed reading the notes written by Dr. Mütter. This well-written biography is highly recommended for readers interested in medicine, surgery, medical collections, and American history. A background in medicine is not required to understand and enjoy this book; however, descriptions of surgical procedures may bother some readers. This book contains more than 80 black and white photos and illustrations.

Details: Dr. Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. ARC published by Gotham Books in 2014. 384 p. ISBN: 978-1-592-40870-2 NOTE: I received a free copy from Gotham Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program atLibraryThing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: 'The Costume Copycat' by Maryann Macdonald

✰✰✰✰ Big Sister Bernadette always has the best Halloween costumes. Everyone thinks so. That's why little sister Angela decides to wear Bernadette's costume from the previous year. Unfortunately, being a costume copycat doesn't make Angela a star. After several years of being a costume copycat, Angela decides to maker her own costume. She's in for a pleasant surprise when the neighbors see her handmade costume.

The Bottom Line: Sometimes it's better to be yourself than to follow in someone else's footsteps. This is a cute tale of sibling rivalry. Charming watercolor and ink illustrations by Wilsdorf bring the text to life. Enthusiastically recommended for kids in grades Pre-K - 1. This picture book would be great for storytime too.

Details: The Costume Copycat written by Maryann Macdonald & illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. Hardcover picture book published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2006. 32 p. ISBN: 9780803729292

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: 'The Teeny Tiny Ghost and the Monster' by Kay Winters

✰✰✰½ The Spook and Spirit Club is sponsoring a Make a Monster contest for Halloween. All the ghosts in the teeny tiny classroom are excited except for one, the teeny tiny ghost. For the teeny tiny ghost, making a monster is too scary. As the other ghosts draw their monsters and make fun of him, the teeny tiny ghost finds inspiration in an unexpected place. With the help of his two teeny tiny black cats, the teeny tiny ghost just might have a chance of entering the contest after all.

The Bottom Line: This story is for any child who has been picked on and bullied. It can be read to a class, to open up a conversation about bullying. Best for kids in grades 1 and 2.

Details: The Teeny Tiny Ghost and the Monster written by Kay Winters & illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins in 2004. 32 p. ISBN: 0-06-028885-X

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: 'Pumpkin Cat' by Anne Mortimer

✰✰✰✰ One late spring day, Cat wonders how pumpkins grow. Cat's friend, Mouse, decides to show her by helping her plant pumpkin seeds. As the days and months pass, the seeds grow into plants. With time and attention, flowers appear followed by little pumpkins. By the time Halloween rolls around, Mouse has a wonderful surprise for Cat.

The Bottom Line: This gentle story is perfect for any time of the year. It's a charming tale of friendship and gardening. Mortimer's beautiful illustrations are soft and colorful. This picture book will appeal to little ones and their parents. Teachers for grades K - 2 will find the "Instructions for Growing Pumpkins" at the back of the book useful as well.

Details: Pumpkin Cat written & illustrated by Anne Mortimer. Hardcover picture book published by Katherine Tegen Books in 2011. 24 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-187485-7

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Review: 'Then Came Life' by Geralyn Lucas

✰✰✰½ The journey from cancer diagnosis to treatment to survival is different for each patient. Geralyn Lucas has lived under the shadow of cancer for nearly two decades. With lipstick as her shield, she has endured it all to come out on the other side with two miracle babies, a supportive husband, and a “normal” everyday life. Lucas writes with brutal honesty and humor as she describes everything from preschool interviewing and potty training to interacting with her mean tween daughter and couples counseling. Meanwhile, she must face her fears as people important to her face their own battles with cancer. As the years go by, Lucas learns to move beyond the fear of a cancer recurrence and really embrace life.

The Bottom Line: This is a very quick read. Nonetheless, it is repetitive in several spots. For example, there were several references to the challenges of putting on Spanx and the quest for Botox. Each chapter is an essay from a different point in her life, and it is the last few chapters of this book that make it a worthwhile read. Readers will laugh and cry along with the author. Fans of the author's first book, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, will want to pick up a copy. Also, recommended for anyone who has survived an illness and is struggling to move forward. Readers interested in mother-daughter relationships would enjoy this book as well.

Details: Then Came Life: Living with Courage, Spirit, and Gratitude After Breast Cancer by Geralyn Lucas. Advance Uncorrected Proof published in 2014. 240 p. ISBN: 978-1-592-40895-5 NOTE: I received a free copy from Gotham Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: 'The Cruelest Miles' by Gay Salisbury & Laney Salisbury

✰✰✰✰ The harsh winters of Alaska are legendary, but in 1925 a deadly diphtheria epidemic raged through the land and created a crisis like none before. Earlier in the year, the town doctor had realized that his supply of diphtheria antitoxin had expired. Although he ordered more, it failed to arrive on the last ship before the town became icebound. In all his years practicing medicine in Nome, Dr. Welch rarely had call to use the medicine, so he wasn’t worried. Unfortunately soon children were suffering from symptoms of severe sore throats. At first it looked like tonsillitis, but the germs at work proved to be a lot more deadly and fast. With a blizzard rapidly approaching, the only chance to save the people of Nome depended on teams of sled dogs. Twenty mushers and their dogs, the most famous of which was Balto, participated in the 1925 Serum Run. This is the thrilling journey that inspired the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska.    

The Bottom Line: While this debut book by two cousins is sometimes repetitive, it is a quick, compelling read that keeps you hanging. With no roads, rails, flights, or boats available, this is a story of courage, survival, and adventure. It became a race against both time and the elements where the slightest miscalculation can cost you your life. Additionally, this book explores the bond between man and dog. Also, included in the book are many fascinating historical tidbits, black and white photos, and a map. Enthusiastically recommended for dog lovers, nonfiction aficionados, and history lovers.

Book Club Notes: This was a quick read for the group to tackle. While many of us were familiar with the story of Balto, it was interesting to learn about the other mushers and dogs involved in the serum run. The men pushed themselves and the dogs to their physical limits. Without hesitation, many sacrifices were made, not for glory, but simply to help fellow humans. It was also interesting to learn about life in Alaska including local folklore and native culture. It's all about survival and helping others in need. Overall, we gave this book an average of 4 stars. Most of us enjoyed the history and trivia included in the book. However, a few members disliked the trivia while others simply lost interest in the writing style. Groups considering this book can find a reading group guide at W. W. Norton & Company, Inc

Details: The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury & Laney Salisbury. Paperback published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2003. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-393-32570-6