Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: 'The Cantaloupe Thief' by Deb Richardson-Moore

✰✰✰✰½ It's been ten years since respected community member, Alberta Resnick, was killed in her own home. The cold case has been nearly forgotten until local reporter Branigan Powers is assigned to the story. Having recently returned to Grambling, GA, Branigan is just settling in and becoming reacquainted with old friends. With the newspaper industry undergoing a transition, Branigan and her colleagues now how important it is to retain readership, but Branigan is up for the challenge. Through her research, Branigan uncovers new leads just as people from the homeless community start dying one by one. With the help of her pastor friend, Liam, and the homeless, Branigan follows the dangerous twists and turns of the case to reveal the town's hidden secrets. 

The Bottom Line: This well-written novel is the first in a new series by a debut author. Besides being an engaging mystery, Richardson-Moore expertly weaves the social issues of homelessness, addiction, and family dynamics throughout. Additionally, the Southern setting adds to the charm of the book. I am looking forward to the next installment. Enthusiastically recommended for mystery buffs. 

Details: The Cantaloupe Thief: A Branigan Powers Mystery by Deb Richardson-Moore. Published by Lion Hudson in 2016. 288 p. ISBN: 978-1-78264-192-3 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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: 'Gratitude' by Oliver Sacks

✰✰✰✰✰ When faced with their own mortality, some people become more productive and insightful. Knowing that your days are limited sometimes gives a person clarity and focus. In the face of death, these people learn what cannot be taught. They possess an appreciation for today; an appreciation for what they have, instead of pining away for things they don't.

Dr. Oliver Sacks was a brilliant physician and the author of more than a dozen books. After his cancer returned, he penned several essays in which he explored coming to terms with death...his death. Rather than feeling bitter and angry, Sacks uncovered a feeling of gratitude for having been a part of this world.

In this book, Sacks describes beauty, love, and adventure in his memories of the past and current thoughts as he faced his own mortality. Sacks also talks about the friends who have passed before him and those he himself would leave behind. This beautiful and inspirational book is all too brief, just like life itself.

The Bottom Line: This quick read will make you think about your own life and what really matters. Composed of just four essays, I read this book several times. This book left me asking myself the following: What are my real priorities? When was the last time I stopped to enjoy what I have? How can I be kinder to others?

Parts of this little, but amazingly powerful book have been previously published. However, when read together these essays bring the reader to a new understanding of what it means to really be alive. As Dr. Sacks pointed out, sometimes it takes being faced with death to learn how to really live. A must-read for everyone!

Details: Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. Hardcover published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015. 64 p. ISBN: 9780451-49293-7

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: 'Amish Grace' by Donald Kraybill

✰✰✰✰ Ten years ago, a local milkman invaded an Amish schoolhouse and took hostages. Before the day was over, ten girls between the ages of six and thirteen had been shot. Five would die, and Charles Roberts committed suicide. As the world watched, at first in horror and then in amazement, the Amish responded to what became known as the Amish 9/11 with grace and forgiveness instead of rage and vengeance.

This is the story of how these grieving families responded together as a devoted Christian community. While many non-Amish observers admired the Amish for their strength and convictions, others criticized them. Did they forgive too quickly? Was their forgiveness authentic? The issues raised in this book illuminate the many different acts of grace that can be found in the most unexpected places. 

The Bottom Line: Amish Grace is a book that inspires the reader to explore their faith. By recounting this tragic incident in the history of the Amish and exploring the acts of grace in the months that followed, the authors raise many questions. This is a story of forgiveness that has been shaped by the history  and culture of the Amish. Recommended for clergy, historians, psychologists, and those interested in personal reflection and religion. 

Book Club Notes: A dedicated group of book club members gave up watching a Cubs game and braved foul weather to attend. They were ready to tackle the topics of religion and forgiveness. By taking an inside look at what the Amish can teach us about forgiveness, grace, healing, and moving forward, each of us reflected upon our own experiences. We all come from different backgrounds, and while we sometimes disagreed, this book brought out a thoughtful, engaging discussion. There is a discussion guide available in the book or you can download a PDF copy here. For those who have taken it a step further and also viewed the movie, you can find sermon outlines here. Also, here is a thoughtful study guide from GodChicks. While this book and the topic of forgiveness were a more challenging read, it provided us with a new perspective. Overall, the ratings in the group averaged 4.5 stars, and we would highly recommend it for book clubs interested in learning about Amish culture, Christian living, faith, and religion.

Details: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher. Paperback published by Jossey-Bass in 2007. 288 p. ISBN: 978-0-470-34404-0 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Book Review: 'Spell Booked' by Joyce & Jim Lavene

✰✰✰✰✰ Who knew witches have to find their own replacements before retiring to Boca Raton? I didn't, but that's exactly what Molly, Elsie, and Olivia are trying to do. Unfortunately, before they can even seriously begin to recruit and train new witches, Olivia ends up dead and their prized spell book has disappeared. With their magical powers beginning to fade, the witches must face an evil so powerful, that even the Grand Council is keeping quiet. Nevertheless, Molly and Elsie do their best to find their dear friend's murderer and defeat the rogue witch that is terrorizing their small town.

The Bottom Line: This charming, fast-paced cozy mystery was so much fun to read. This is the first book in the series, and I am really looking forward to reading the others. Enthusiastically recommended to fans of cozies who enjoy a paranormal twist. This is the perfect weekend read.

Details: Spell Booked (Retired Witches Mysteries) by Joyce & Jim Lavene. Paperback published by Berkley Prime Crime in 2014. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-425268254

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Review: 'Who Let the Ghosts Out?' by R. L. Stine

✰✰✰½ Max is just your average eleven-year-old with the same problems as any kid. However, he has one problem that you probably don't. His bedroom is haunted by two ghost kids. When the ghosts were alive, they used to live in Max's house. They have returned looking for their parents. Unfortunately, they don't live there anymore, and no one knows what happened to them. 

The only one who can see and talk to the ghost kids is Max. So it's up to Max to help them. Unfortunately, in order to find out what happened, Max must battle with the most evil spirit of all, Phears. Will Max be able to help the ghost kids find their parents and get his bedroom back?  Only time will tell. Pick up this quick read at your library today! 

The Bottom Line: This is the first book in the series. It will appeal to kids in upper grade school and middle school as the main character, Max, has the typical problems of any eleven-year-old. This is a fast-paced read. 

Details: Who Let the Ghosts Out? (Mostly Ghostly) by R.L. Stine. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press in 2004. 144 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-74663-2 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review: 'Queen of Halloween' by Mary Engelbreit

✰✰✰✰✰ Ann Estelle is excited about her Halloween costume. She is the fairy queen. Her friend Michael is a pirate. Together they are going trick-or-treating. Even though Michael doesn’t think they need grown-ups, Ann Estelle’s father comes along. The night is really dark, and there are lots of ghosts and witches running around. Ann Estelle and Michael get lots of candy and treats until they come upon the very last house. It is scarier than the rest, and Ann Estelle’s father doesn’t go with them. All they have to do is walk up to the house and ring the doorbell. Will the two friends have the courage to complete the task? Together they find out that being brave has its rewards.

The Bottom Line: Filled with Mary Engelbreit’s signature illustrations, this charming and vibrant Halloween book is a winner. Little ones who are just a tiny bit afraid to go trick-or-treating in the dark will identify with Ann Estelle and her friend. Highly recommended reading for kids ages 4 – 8.

Details: Queen of Halloween (Ann Estelle Stories) written & illustrated by Mary Engelbreit. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publisher in 2008. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-008191-1

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Book Review: 'Ready for Pumpkins' by Kate Duke

✰✰✰✰ Hercules is a classroom guinea pig. It’s an easy life, but he wants to do more. He wants to grow things. So during summer vacation he plants the pumpkin seeds he saved from last Halloween. Hercules can’t wait, but plants don’t grow overnight. Hercules and a friend wait and wait; at last the seeds sprout. It takes a lot of patience to grow a garden. The pumpkins are still growing when it is time to go back to school. However, Hercules has plenty of class activities to keep him busy until a surprise arrives.

The Bottom Line: Watercolor illustrations in soft colors help tell a seasonal story of patience and friendship. Fun classroom reading for grades K – 2.

Details: Ready for Pumpkins written & illustrated by Kate Duke. Hardcover picture book published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2012. 40 p.  ISBN: 978-0-375-870068-2