Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: 'The Sinking of the Eastland' by Jay Bonansinga

✰✰✰✰½ When you think of famous ship disasters, the Titanic and the Lusitania are probably the two names that come to mind. However, there is another disaster that until recently has mostly been forgotten. The Eastland was an excursion boat on Lake Michigan with a reputation for being a bit cranky due to her design. Over the years she had had some near disasters, and the number of people she was allowed to carry was reduced. Her owners, however, were determined to raise her capacity in order to make more money. Thus, shortly before her fateful voyage, lifeboats were added and other changes were made.

On the morning of July 24, 1915, thousands of Western Electric employees and their families arrived at the Chicago riverfront to board several ships that would ferry them to the annual company picnic in Michigan City. While still sitting in port, the Eastland began to list. As thousands of horrified people watched, the ship capsized sending 844 men, women, and children to their untimely deaths. Using eyewitness accounts, first-hand testimony, photographs, and archived materials, author Jay Bonasinga has woven together a gripping tale of greed and tragedy.

The Bottom Line: This is a fast-paced read that focuses on a mostly forgotten tragedy in American history. By placing the spotlight on the lives of the passengers, crew members, rescue workers, and an undertaker, Bonansinga has retold the unimaginable horrors of the day with vivid imagery. Very highly recommended for nonfiction readers of American history, Chicago history, survival, shipwrecks, and other disasters.

Book Club Notes: Summer book club attendance is always lower due to scheduled vacations, but we had a good turnout to discuss this forgotten incident in our local history. Although several participants had grown up and attended schools in the Chicagoland area, most of us were not aware of this tragedy. We agreed that it's best to read the book a little bit at a time, otherwise it can be overwhelming. We also noted that as a work of narrative nonfiction. Thus, the author has taken some liberties with creating dialogues; however, the dialogues were believable. On a scale of 1 - 5, ratings from the group ranged from a low of 2 up to 4.5.

To supplement your book club, questions can be found at the Oswego Public Library District and the Galesburg Public Library. Additionally, several video clips are available, including the ones featured on Chicago Tonight. Lost footage is featured at gCaptain. For more information about the author, visit his website.

Details: The Sinking of the Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy by Jay Bonansinga. Hardcover published by Citadel Press in 2004. 320 p. ISBN: 0-8065-2628-9

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: 'Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge' by Ovidia Yu

✰✰✰ Sidelined with a sprained ankle, Aunty Lee must rely on others to help her run her famous café, Aunty Lee's Delights. Nina, her servant, and Cherril, her business partner, prove to be more than capable. However, when Cherril becomes distracted by the death of a former acquaintance, Aunty Lee steps in to help solve the murder.

It seems that three years prior, Cherril was working for an animal rescue group. She got caught up in a scandal when an expat, Allison Fitzgerald, had the puppy she adopted put down. All of Singapore was in an uproar.

Now Allison has returned and is dead. The unpopular and unpleasant woman had several enemies, but which one actually hated her enough to kill her? Aunty Lee must race against time and solve the mystery before others end up dead as well.

The Bottom Line: Fans of food-themed cozy mysteries will delight in this light series. This weekend read is a little bit predictable, but includes many enjoyable characters. Also, this is the third installment of the series, but you do not have to read them in order. NOTE: Due to references of animal cruelty, sensitive readers may want to skip this one.

Details: Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge: A Singaporean Mystery by Ovidia Yu. Paperback published by William Morrow in 2016. 368 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-241649-0 NOTE: I received an uncorrected proof from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review: 'The Wishing Spell' by Chris Colfer

✰✰✰ Things just aren’t the same after Alex and Connor Bailey’s father dies suddenly. Although their mother tries hard, their finances are stretched to the limit, and she never has time for the twins. Thus, when their grandmother gifts them with a magical book filled with fairy tales, it is only a matter of time before the twins become immersed in it. An accidental discovery takes the twins to a fairy tale land where they meet the characters of their favorite childhood stories. It’s a dream come true, right? Well, unfortunately things are not all they are cracked up to be in the land of stories, and the twins are worried about their mom. As if things couldn’t get any worse, they learn that the only way home is by the wishing spell.

With the help of frog, a journal filled with riddles, and a bit of luck, the twins quickly gather the items needed to activate the spell. However, someone else is also longing for the wish. With the clock ticking, the twins are running out of time before they will be trapped forever in a fairy tale land filled with danger. Will they be able to make their escape in time? Check out this first, fast-paced book in The Land of Stories series to find out their fate.

The Bottom Line: Most of the characters in this charming tale will be familiar to middle grade readers. Recommended for readers who enjoy fairytale mash-ups, this book contains lots of adventure with plenty of twists and turns to keep kids interested.

Details: The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories) by Chris Colfer. Paperback published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2013. 464 p. ISBN: 978-0-316-20156-8

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review: 'As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust' by Alan Bradley

✰✰✰✰ After finally putting her mother to rest, Flavia de Luce is suddenly banished from her beloved ancestral home, Buckshaw, and England. Transported to Canada, Flavia is enrolled in Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy like her mother had been. Before Flavia has time to settle into the boarding school, a gruesome corpse is discovered. Quick as a wink, Flavia is on the case. In between attending classes, making friends, and avoiding new enemies, Flavia must navigate a minefield of dangerous situations. Along the way she discovers that students have gone missing and that Miss Bodycote’s is no ordinary school. With danger around every corner, the stakes are high as Flavia rushes solve the mysteries and discover more information about her family’s secrets and her own personal destiny,

The Bottom Line: In this installment Flavia faces new challenges, while continuing to be as charming and brilliant as ever. This cozy series is a must-read for both adult and young adult mystery aficionados. Like previous installments, this book is a quick and fun read perfect for weekend or beach reading.

Details: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press in 2015. 416 p. ISBN: 978-0-345-53993-9


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book Review: 'The Smallest Gift of Christmas' by Peter H. Reynolds

✰✰✰✰✰ On Christmas morning, Roland wishes for a big gift. What he finds is the littlest gift ever. Is this all? It just can't be, so he wishes again and again. The gifts become bigger and bigger. Still Roland wants something even bigger. As he searches the universe for something bigger, he realizes that maybe he already has what he really wants. Sometimes the biggest gifts really do come in the smallest packages.

The Bottom Line: This holiday tale reminds us that happiness can be found in your heart rather than in material things. Sometimes even though we don't get what we wish for, we find something better. Highly recommended for story time reading for kids in grades Pre-K – 1. The author's digitally created illustrations are simple, yet colorful and comical.

Details: The Smallest Gift of Christmas written & illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Hardcover picture book published by Candlewick Press in 2013. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-6103-8

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: 'Night of the White Stag' by M. C. Helldorfer

✰✰✰✰½ After the King's war ended, Finder's father never returned. With his family starving for food, young Finder sets off for the castle on Christmas Eve in search of some. When he loses his way, he stumbles upon an old blind man who is hunting for the mythical great white stag. Finder has his doubts, but he helps the old man in his quest. With a little trust, Finder discovers that miracles can happen.

The Bottom Line: This story was inspired by medieval literature and folklore. It takes the reader along on a wintry dream vision. Lavishly illustrated in detailed colored pencil, this tale of bravery will pull you in as good prevails. For children in grades 3 – 4.

Details: Night of the White Stag written by M. C. Helldorfer & illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert. Hardcover picture book published by Random House in 1999. 32 p. ISBN: 0-385-32261-5

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: 'The Nutcracker Doll' by Mary Newell De Palma

✰✰✰½ After seeing The Nutcracker for the very first time, little Kepley decides to try out next year. She pays extra attention in class. She practices and smiles. Before too long, it's Nutcracker audition day. Despite being nervous, Kepley does her best and is rewarded with a small role. As the big night approaches, Kepley is fitted for a beautiful dress. She'll never forget the thrill of the bright lights. Being on stage is a dream come true for this little ballerina.

The Bottom Line: This special holiday story will appeal to any child who has ever dreamed of dancing on stage. Mary Newell De Palma's soft watercolors with pen and ink are pleasing to the eye and capture the excitement of the season. Check this one out for your little dancer in grades K – 2.

Details: The Nutcracker Doll written & illustrated by Mary Newell De Palma. Hardcover picture book published by Arthur A. Levine Books in 2007. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-439-80242-0