Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Book Review: 'Triangle: The Fire That Changed America' by David von Drehle

✰✰✰✰½ Travel back in time to a fine spring day in 1911. It was a Saturday, the end of the work week, and payday. The workers of the Triangle Waist Company were eager to collect their pay and head out with their friends. As workers waited by the only open exit, a fire broke out on the eighth floor. Within minutes the top three stories of the building were consumed by flame. Employees had just minutes, sometimes seconds, to make a decision. Choices were limited and the wrong choice was fatal. 

When the blaze was finally extinguished, 146 workers were dead. The city of New York began to ask, "Who was to blame?" What followed was a courtroom spectacle. Eventually, from the ashes of death, new reforms rose. This is a riveting look at a forgotten piece of history.

The Bottom Line: This compelling read reconstructs the worst workplace disaster in New York City until the events of 9/11. Once you pick this up, you won't be able to put it down. Highly recommended for history buffs, college students, architects, and politicians. Note: Sensitive readers may want to skip over the graphic descriptions of the fire and the victims.

Book Club Notes: Our group met for a fast-paced and emotional discussion. At 4.75 stars on a scale from 1 - 5, this was one of the better reads for this year. We enjoyed the writing style. The author seamlessly wove together topics of immigration, history, suffrage, unions, workplace safety, and politics. One member noted that there was something for everyone in this book. Another liked the informative, engaging style; it reminded her a "Dickens-like" era. The book also gave the reader a sense of the culture of the era. Plus, it was interesting to note how history seems to repeat itself again and again.

This discussion was supplemented with information from Cornell University, short video from the History channel, and questions from Reading Group Guides and an AP U.S. History Class.

Details: Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle. Paperback published by Grove Press in 2004, reprint edition. 352 p. ISBN: 978-0-8021-4151-4

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review: 'Friday Night Lights' by H. G. Bissinger

✰✰✰✰½ It’s Friday night in the late 80s, and the town of Odessa, Texas is deserted. Where has everyone gone? Chances are they went to the Permian High School football game. Follow the 1988 Permian Panthers as they face the ups and downs of a tough season including injuries, losses, and controversy.

With a steep tradition of winning, the young men on the team face incredible pressure to be perfect and deliver what everyone wants – another state championship. In an odd twist straight out of a movie, it could all end in a three-way coin toss. In a town that is larger than life, these young men will face the biggest challenge of theirs. Win or lose, this is the stuff of dreams and memories.

The Bottom Line: Sports fans will want to check out this pager-turner that inspired the movie and the TV series. With a main focus on sports, this book also takes a look at education, American culture, local history, economics, and politics. The updated version is just as riveting as it was when it was first published and features a look at where the young men are twenty-five years later. Still relevant today, Friday Night Lights” will keep you on the edge of your seat as you read (or reread) this classic sports story. Highly recommended for sports fans, educators, parents, students, and history buffs.

Book Club Notes: Although this group had a small turnout, the discussion about race, sports, and education was very animated. The book emphasized the importance of athletics over education time and again. There was also more concern about economic issues in the book than in the movie. Both the book and the movie feature racial tension with the book using strong language.  
Additionally, we spent some time discussing the obvious differences between the movie and the book. For example, McDougal isn’t even featured in the film, and the portrayal of Winchell’s mother in the move is not accurate.

Overall, we rated the book 4.5 on a scale from 1 – 5. We liked the journalistic writing style, and highly recommend both the book and the movie. Book clubs can find a Reading Group Guide here. Also, to supplement the discussion, here are more current articles of what the players are up to now: Article 1 and Article 2.

Details: Friday Night Lights: A Town, a team, and a dream by H. G. Bissinger. 25th Anniversary edition paperback published by Da Capo Press in 2015. 413 p. ISBN: 978-0-306-82420-3 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Book Review: 'Night of the Pumpkinheads' by Michael J. Rosen

✰✰✰✰✰ The pumpkinheads are tired of sitting on porches while kids dressed up in Halloween costumes have all the fun year after year. They just aren't going to take it any more. So this year the pumpkinheads set out to transform themselves into scary creatures to frighten the children instead. With a swarm of bees, giant dinosaurs, gargantuan spiders, and slime, the pumpkinheads are sure to be a scary hit. Or will they? It seems the pumpkinheads are in for a big surprise.

The Bottom Line: Master carver Hugh McMahon lends his talents to his first children's book. The result is a visual treat. You'll never see pumpkins the same way once you've read this book. Highly recommended for kids in grade school. Also, enthusiastically recommended for crafters looking for new ideas and inspiration. It includes instructions for carving a pumpkin and a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds too. Yum!

Details: Night of the Pumpkinheads written by Michael J. Rosen with pumpkin carvings by Hugh McMahon. Hardcover picture book published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2011. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-8037-3452-4

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Book Review: 'The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery' by Allison Rushby

✰✰✰✰ Twelve-year-old Flossie Birdwhistle may have thought death meant peaceful rest, but she was wrong. She has a job in the afterlife, a very important job. As turnkey of London's Highgate Cemetery, she cares for all the souls buried there making sure they are content and at rest. Unfortunately, this is especially difficult during World War II.

When Flossie happens to spot the ghost of a German soldier, she has a feeling it is up to no good. It's only a matter of time before she uncovers a plot that could jeopardize both her cemetery and all of England. Flossie and her ghost friends must find a way to save both and set things right before it is too late.

The Bottom Line: This Gothic mystery for middle grade readers is a delight to read. Filled with relatable characters, a bit of history, and a dash of the supernatural, this quick read takes the reader on many twists and turns. Highly recommended for middle grade and YA readers looking for a slightly dark, but engaging mystery. I hope there are more books to follow.

Details: The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby. Hardcover published by Candlewick Press in 2018. 256 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-9685-6 NOTE:  I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Book Review: 'The Runaway Pumpkin' by Kevin Lewis

✰✰✰✰✰ Join the rollicking fun as a giant pumpkin is set loose and wreaks havoc on a family farm. As it makes its getaway, the pumpkin bumps along ‘round and ‘round. What will they do? Lucky for everyone, Poppa knows the answer to their problem.

The Bottom Line: This humorous, rhyming story is perfect for reading aloud. Kids ages PreK – Grade 1 will want to join in the fun. The comical, colorful illustrations make this a great pick for story time. Highly recommended for libraries and schools.

Details: The Runaway Pumpkin written by Kevin Lewis & illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Hardcover picture book published by Orchard Books in 2003. 32 p. ISBN: 0-439-43974-4 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Book Review: 'The Magic Pumpkin' by Bill Martin Jr.

✰✰✰½  The perfect pumpkin is chosen to be a guard on Halloween night. It is given eyes, a nose, and a grinning mouth, and it came to life with candlelight. It seems the jack-o'-lantern was up to no good though. So just like that, the magic disappeared in a puff of smoke.

The Bottom Line: Lee’s whimsical illustrations bring this seasonal story to life. Read this tale of mischief and magic with little ones ages 4 – 6.

Details: The Magic Pumpkin written by Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault & illustrated by Robert J. Lee. Hardcover picture book published by Henry Holt & Company in 1989. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8050-1134-X 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book Review: 'The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim' by Shane Peacock

✰✰✰½  Edgar Brim is an orphan who has suffered from night terrors for as long as he can remember. Things only get worse when his guardian sends him to a school for boys on The Highlands of Scotland. Life at school is miserable for Edgar until a new student arrives. Tiger is everything Edgar isn't. Tiger is brave and athletic. The two soon become fast friends, but as graduation nears, tragedy strikes and secrets are revealed. With guidance from a trusted teacher, Edgar and his friends set off on a dark, supernatural mission that leads them to the Royal Lyceum Theatre in London. Here Edgar will have to confront the very terrors that have haunted him his entire life. And just when Edgar and his friends think they are in the clear, a surprise twist sets the stage for the second installment of the trilogy. 

The Bottom Line: From the author of the Boy Sherlock Holmes series comes a new Gothic trilogy for teens. Readers will identify with the characters as they struggle to face both their fears and awkward social angst. Although parts of the book drag at times, there are plenty of thrills, mystery, and creepy moments to keep you turning the pages. The book also highlights themes of teamwork and friendship. Recommended for teens and adults who enjoy Gothic literature, horror, and the supernatural. I'm looking forward to reading the next one.

Details: The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim by Shane Peacock. Paperback edition published by Penguin Teen in 2018. 368 p. ISBN: 978-0-7352-6311-6 NOTE:  I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.