Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book Review: 'Survival Lessons' by Alice Hoffman

✰✰✰✰✰ When confronted with a time of crisis, it's easy to forget the beauty in the world. Fifteen years after a bout of cancer, author Alice Hoffman wrote this book to remind herself of the beauty of life. By doing so, she also reminds readers that although we may not have chosen our situation, we do indeed have choices in how we face it. Hoffman reminds us that without sorrow, there would be no joy. Without heartache, there would be no love.

Survival Lessons is like having a conversation with a trusted best friend. Hoffman's life observations will help those who have experienced trauma to move forward and reclaim their lives. You will see yourself and those around you differently after reading this book.

The Bottom Line: This book includes twenty short chapters that present the reader with choices one can make to move forward in life. Sprinkled with photographs and inspirational quotes, Hoffman even includes a knitting pattern and a recipe or two. This book is small and can easily be read in one sitting, which is great when you are recuperating from an illness and don't have too much energy. Hoffman's words are gentle and honest; her writing will leave your spirit feeling refreshed. Highly recommended for anyone who has survived a crisis whether physical or emotional.

Details: Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman. Hardcover published by Algonquin Books in 2013. 96 p. ISBN: 978-1-61620-314-6

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review: 'The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story' by Lily Koppel

✰✰✰ When the Mercury 7 astronauts were introduced back in 1959, there was a surprising amount of interest in their wives. These ordinary women suddenly found themselves in the center of attention. The wives of the Mercury 7 astronauts were traditionalists in every sense. Each woman was expected to be calm and composed. The Astrowives, as they became known, were judged on their clothes, hair, complexion, parenting skills, charm, and patriotism.

During this era, women were expected to excel in housekeeping, raising children, and cooking. Many had dropped out of college early to get married. However, they were not to be underestimated. Each Astrowife was expected to show "the right stuff" just like her astronaut husband. This is their story. A story about female friendships, American identity, and history.

The Bottom Line: This quick read will appeal to readers of American history and women's issues. Fans of television series like Mad Men may also be interested. The chapters were short, and the writing style was easy to read. The beginning of the book includes a list of wives arranged chronologically by mission, making it easy to keep track of who's who.

Book Club Notes: Surprisingly the attendance for this quarter was much lower than previous discussions. Several members simply were not interested in the topic. Nevertheless, those of us who attended had a great discussion. Our conversation focused on the friendships of the women and the courage it took for them to support their husbands while finding their own identities. One thing we all agreed upon was that we disliked the choppy, journalistic writing style. Ratings ranged from a low of 2 stars to a high of 4 stars, but most of us gave the book a rating of 3 stars. In short, this is an average book about a fascinating topic.

The paperback edition includes a Reading Group Guide in the back of the book. However, the same questions are also available by visiting The Astronaut Wives Club website. More discussion questions are available at LitLovers.

Details: The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel. Trade paperback published by Grand Central Publishing in 2014. 288 p. ISBN: 978-1-4555-0324-7

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Book Review: 'Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye' by Tania Del Rio

✰✰✰✰✰ The Warren Hotel has seen better days. After twelve generations of Warrens taking care of it, Warren the 13th is eager to assume the responsibility as caretaker. Although he already serves as the hotel's long bellhop, waiter, groundskeeper, and all-around gofer, Warren the 13th is too young to take over. After all, he is only twelve.

So when his uncle's new wife, Annaconda, tears up the hotel by searching for something, Warren the 13th sets out to put things back together. Unfortunately, Aunt Annaconda won't give up. She's determined to find the mythical and legendary All-Seeing Eye and have it all for herself. When Aunt Annaconda brings in reinforcements in the form of her two witch sisters and an evil little apprentice, things really start to heat up. Suddenly the once very empty hotel is full of people searching for the All-Seeing Eye. It's up to Warren the 13th and his new friends to find the eye before the others. Can they discover the hotel's secrets before Aunt Annaconda, her witch sisters, and the other guests destroy it? Pick up this engaging book to find out.

The Bottom Line: This quick read for middle grade readers is wonderfully Gothic in style. The book includes fun puzzles and gorgeous illustrations. The book uses a Victorian style layout with two columns combined with the limited color palette of red, black, and white. It has an almost Steampunk feel to it. Warren the 13th is a sweet young boy who posses a sparkling optimism and good work ethic. This charming tale of friendship and family with eccentric characters will appeal to kids who enjoy something a little different. Enthusiastically recommended for kids in grades 5 - 9. Fans of Edward Gorey may also want to check this out. I'm looking forward to the next installment; I hope it includes more puzzles and cleverness.

Details: Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye: A Novel written by Tania Del Rio & illustrated by Will Staehle. Published by Quirk Books in 2015. 224 p. ISBN: 978-1-59474-803-5 NOTE: I received a free advance reading copy from Quirk Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: 'Halloween Night' by Marjorie Dennis Murray

✰✰✰✰½ Monsters, zombies, witches, and ghouls prepare for their very own Halloween party. When the giggling children finally arrive, they are in for a big surprise. A feast of treats with fish tails, lizards, mice, and crickets awaits them. It's enough to make the children shiver and run which is just fine for the ghoulish crew. With leftover bugs and grubs galore, the monsters agree it was the best party yet.

The Bottom Line: You'll have a spooky good time when you read this Halloween themed take on "The Night Before Christmas." This picture book is filled with clever rhymes and creepy, colorful illustrations that will appeal to kids in grades 1 - 3. Highly recommended for classroom or library storytime.

Details: Halloween Night written by Marjorie Dennis Murray & illustrated by Brandon Dorman. Hardcover picture book published by Greenwillow Books in 2008. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-1351877

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: 'One Witch' by Laura Leuck

✰✰✰✰✰ One witch with an empty pot has a plan. As she visits all her friends, each provides a tasty, ghoulish ingredient for to fill her pot. When she finally has enough items to create a spooktacular stew, she sends out invitations. Cats, ghouls, mummies, and vampires are all eager to sample the delectable dish, but there's something missing. You'll never guess what it is unless you check out this spooky tale.

The Bottom Line: This creative, Halloween-themed take on the classic Stone Soup folktale is super fun to read. Kids will enjoy counting up to ten and back down again with Leuck's spooky and silly rhymes. Children and adults alike will delight in Schindler's wonderful ink and watercolor illustrations which are colorful and detailed, but not too scary. This is one picture book you'll read over and over again with your little ones. Also, highly recommended for storytime for children in Kindergarten and Grade 1.

Details: One Witch written by Laura Leuck & illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Hardcover picture book published by Walker & Company in 2003. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8027-8860-2

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review: 'Inspector Specter' by E. J. Copperman

✰✰✰✰½ In the sixth installment of E. J. Copperman's A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery, we find Detective Lieutenant Anita McElone asking the 'ghost lady' for help in solving a case. Alison Kerby is shocked, but the lieutenant is not joking. It looks like McElone's former partner may have met with foul play. With Alison's ability to speak to ghosts and the help of Paul and Maxie, ghosts who reside at the guesthouse, the case should be a cinch to solve. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned. This fast-paced mystery will keep you guessing until the very end.

The Bottom Line: This charming cozy is the perfect weekend read for anyone who loves mysteries with a paranormal twist. Although I have not read the other titles in the series, I had no trouble picking up this installment and following along. In fact, I'm looking forward to reading the others as the characters are engaging and fun. Highly recommended for mystery buffs.

Details: Inspector Specter (A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery) by E. J. Copperman. Paperback published Berkley Prime Crime in 2014. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-425-26926-8

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: "Who Will I Be?' by Shirley Neitzel

✰✰✰½ When an invitation for a Halloween party arrives in the mail, a little girl must come up with a costume to wear. With a few odds and ends, she mixes and matches to create not one, but two different costumes. Which one will she choose? Don't be too sure. Just when she figures it out, a surprise arrives just in time.

The Bottom Line: With lots of repetition and rhyme, this rebus book is great for kids just learning to read. Charming colored pencil, watercolor, and pen drawings help early readers associate words. Little ones in preschool and kindergarten will have a fun time learning new words.

Details: Who Will I Be?: A Halloween Rebus Story written by Shirley Neitzel & illustrated by Nancy Winslow Parker. Hardcover picture book published by Greenwillow Books in 2005. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-056068-3