Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Book Review: 'Bonaparte Falls Apart' by Margery Cuyler

✰✰✰✰✰ Bonaparte is a little skeleton boy with a BIG problem. He is falling to pieces. Every time he does anything, his bones fall off or roll away. He can't play catch or ride his bike without losing a piece of himself. How will he ever go to school?

His friends try glue, webbing, and mummy wrappings, but nothing works. What's a skeleton to do? Things look hopeless until Bonaparte makes a new friend with a clever idea. Will they figure out how to hold Bonaparte together in time for the first day of school? Visit your local library and check this book out to find out!

The Bottom Line: Adorable illustrations with a muted palette feature kid-friendly monsters and a few hidden gems. Highly recommended read-aloud choice for kids anxious about the first day of school.

Details: Bonaparte Falls Apart written by Margery Cuyler & illustrated by Will Terry. Hardcover picture book published by Crown Books in 2017. 40 p. ISBN: 978-1-101-93768-6

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Book Review: 'Sir Simon: Super Scarer' by Cale Atkinson

✰✰✰✰ Sir Simon is a ghostly Super Scarer. It's okay to be scared of him because that is his job. He has haunted lots of places. It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it.

Sir Simon was recently transferred to his first haunted house. That's the good news. The bad news is that a haunted house calls for extra Ghost chores like causing lights to flicker and stairs to creak. Once he's finished with chores, he can get back to his hobbies. Unfortunately, there's a problem named Chester. All Chester wants to do is play with Sir Simon. How will Sir Simon ever get his chores done? Check out this ghostly tale to find out.

The Bottom Line: This sweet tale of friendship is not too scary. The illustrations are colorful and humorous. A seasonal, spooky read recommended for kids ages 4 - 8, especially for those a bit apprehensive about Halloween.

Details: Sir Simon: Super Scarer written & illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Hardcover picture book published by Tundra Books in 2018. 48 p. ISBN: 978-1-101-91909-5

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Book Review: 'Tales From Beyond the Brain' by Jeff Szpirglas

✰✰✰✰✰ Going to school is just a part of daily life for most kids, but some schools are different from others. Some schools harbor secrets that could be dangerous to the average student. In the terrifying world of author Jeff Szpirglas, kids need to be on the look out for abandoned brains, holes in the universe,and old films. Even bringing your teacher a traditional apple can have disastrous effects. If this sounds like your cup of tea, pick up this book and dive right in for some frighteningly good fun.

The Bottom Line: This delightfully creepy collection of thirteen tales of horror is perfect for the middle grade set. The stories are short and engaging. Kids will easily relate to the troubles the main characters have. Every story features at least one spooky, black and white illustration. These bone-chilling stories remind me of the ones featured in the television series, Tales from the Dark Side. Highly recommended for young fans of horror stories. NOTE: Not for squeamish readers.

Details: Tales From Beyond the Brain by Jeff Szpirglas & illustrated by Steven P. Hughes. Advance Reading Copy published by Orca Book Publishers in 2019. 192 p. ISBN: 978-45982079 NOTE: I received a free advance reading copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Book Review: 'Catch Me If You Can' by Frank W. Abagnale

✰✰✰✰½   Follow the adventures of Frank Abagnale Jr. as he assumes the roles of pilot, doctor, and lawyer, all before the age of 21. As a master of disguise and a brilliant forger, Abagnale charmed his way through a much more innocent time in American history, the 1960s. It was a time of trust, when people generally respected authority, bank security was lax, and people were more gullible.

Throughout his career as a con artist, the FBI was following his trail. There were many close calls; yet, Abagnale was always a step or two ahead of the law. Abagnale was both cunning and very lucky. Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end. It was only a matter of time before the FBI caught up, and Abagnale's inevitable downfall was as spectacular as his life on the run. Follow the author from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows as he gets caught in his own web of lies.

The Bottom Line: This entertaining, quick read is filled with lots of twists and turns. Abagnale's story will keep you on the edge of your seat as he cons just about everyone he meets. A life of crime just came naturally to the author, and yet there is a redemptive quality to his tale. Highly recommended for anyone interested in true crime, con artists, law enforcement, adventure, and ethical dilemmas.

Book Club Notes: In this book club, members can choose to read the book, watch the movie, or both. Many members had seen the film years ago, so reading the book gave us a chance to learn about the man behind the cons.  Needless to say, this was a very animated discussion. We talked about how the author was a smart young man who worked very hard at being a fake. Instead of pursuing a traditional education, he created his own career. He had nerve and confidence, but keep in mind that these events took place at a very different time in American history.

 While we enjoyed the movie, we liked the book better. The book was rich in details, and it was a "rollicking read."  Nevertheless, the movie did genuinely capture the essence of the book better than some other films based on real events. We were left with one question though: Are the events in the book true? We had to conclude that we'll probably never know for sure, and that's part of the mystery.

On a scale from 1 - 5 with 5 being the highest, ratings ranged from 3.8 - 5 resulting in an average of 4.5. We enthusiastically recommend this title for book clubs looking for an entertaining book or film to discuss. The following sources are available online for discussion questions for this book/film: BookRags, ESL Movie Lesson, and the USNA.

However, for this particular book, it was easiest to organize the questions by following the chapters. Here is my list of questions supplemented with a few from the above resources:

Chap. 1: Frank's own father was his first mark (the checking account & the Mobile credit card scam). Why did his father allow it? Would you have allowed it?
Frank said he thinks a lot of people fantasize about being a super criminal. 14 Do you agree?
Frank says women were his downfall. How did he treat women?
Chap 2: When things get difficult, Frank always chooses to run away. Why? Was he too pampered as a child?
Discuss his family dynamics growing up.
Discuss the effects of his parent's divorce on him? And for children in general.
Frank soothed himself with con man’s salve that “…if people were stupid enough to cash a check without verifying its validity, they deserved to be swindled.” 25 Do you agree? Discuss.
Chap. 3: Frank enjoyed the respect & attention he received by pretending to be a pilot. Why didn’t he actually pursue a real career?
Why didn’t anyone ever question him? He wore the uniform of a Pan Am pilot, so he must be one. Why do people just accept?
He kept a journal of phrases, technical data, information, names, dates, places phone numbers, thoughts,…anything necessary to pull off the scam. “It was a combination log, textbook, little black book, diary & airline bible…” 63 Discuss Frank’s Journal.
Discuss living a lie…for years. And multiple lies at that. How difficult is it to keep track of everything?
Chap. 4: Frank switched from being a “pilot” to being an “MD” after a close call. He had lots of close calls. Discuss his luck.
Frank enjoyed the perks of being a doctor; and it was more relaxing. How do you feel about Frank impersonating a medical doctor? Do you think it was ethical?
Chap. 5: Frank reinvents himself as a lawyer this time. By the end of the chapter, he is a professor of sociology. Discuss how he learned all of his different roles.
Chap. 6: Discuss life on the run.
Frank says the most successful check swindlers have 3 factors in their favor: 1.) Personality – charming, well dressed, courteous. 2.) Observation is the only necessity for successful innovative larceny. 3.) Research – A con artist’s only weapon is his brain. 129 Do you agree? Discuss.
Discuss how paperhanging is a numbers game.
Frank had so many scams going throughout his career. Question: Was the author just a juvenile delinquent or something more? 
Chap. 7: Discuss bank security in the 1960s compared to today. How have things changed? What role did Frank have in the changes?
Sometime in Boston he skipped out of bail. He upheld his "code of honor." In his entire career, he never swindled a regular person as an individual. He sent money back to the bail bondsman. 182 Discuss Frank’s "code of honor." When did he break it? (Cheryl in Ch. 8)
Chap. 8: Frank was back to impersonating a pilot. Discuss the Pan Am recruiting scam. What kind of women did he choose for his make-believe crew?
Chap. 9 & 10: With O’Riley hot on his trail, Frank moved to France. Discuss this decision & his life in France.
Discuss his time in Perpignan prison.
How does French prison differ from American or Swedish prison?
Did Frank learn anything in prison?
Eventually Frank made a break for it when he got back to America. Discuss his decision to run.
Other questions:
Upon being up for parole, why did Frank ask not to be sent to New York?
Why was it hard for Frank to work a regular job?
Why didn’t he return to his illicit lifestyle?
Discuss his work for the FBI.
Today, Frank is a security consultant and assists the FBI with fraud prevention programs. Discuss how Frank is doing today & why did he change? Do you believe he has truly changed?
Do you think he regrets his criminal past?
Why did Frank embark on a career of crime in the first place?
Miscellaneous:
Which scam was the most outrageous?
What allowed Frank to evade authorities for so long?
Would he have been as successful today?
Do you think Abagnale was truthful in his book? Or were some of the escapades embellished?
What motivated Frank to share his story.
How would you describe Frank?
Talk about the writing style of the book.
Please share a specific passage or quote from the book/film that left an impression on you.
Please rate this book/film on a scale from 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest and tell us why you gave it that rating.
Details: Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding. Trade paperback published by Broadway Books in 2000. 294 p. ISBN: 978-0-7679-0538-1

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Book Review: 'Into Thin Air' by Jon Krakauer

✰✰✰✰½ Tag along as best-selling author Jon Krakauer recounts his harrowing journey to the summit of Mt. Everest back in 1996. Fraught with mishaps, drama, and delays, the expedition was the perfect storm for disaster. Challenged by the confusion brought on from lack of oxygen, Krakauer struggled to make sense of the emerging situation he and others suddenly found themselves in.

Imagine climbing 29,028 feet with little sleep and pushing your body to the limit. Just when you think you should be celebrating, you suddenly realize that reaching the summit is actually just the halfway point. Somehow you have to get yourself back down the mountain, and do it quickly because clouds are forming. Although the clouds look innocent at first, things quickly take a turn for the worse. Before everything is said and done, tough decisions must be made and people will die. Who will be left behind and who will survive? Told in a journalistic style, this a classic tale of survival will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Bottom Line: Even though the events in this book took place over twenty years ago, this is a timely read. With the passage of time, the warnings in this book have faded. Highly recommended for people who enjoy mountain climbing, extreme sports, and physical challenges. Fans of survival stories will want to revisit the issues raised in this riveting read.

Book Club Notes: This book was very well received by members in our group; some recalled reading it many years ago. With the events that took place on Mt. Everest earlier this year, there was a lot to talk about. There are many sites with discussion questions online; however, we had so much to talk about that we didn't need formal questions. This was a very animated discussion, and we took a look at overcrowding, the business of mountain climbing, the individual fitness to climb, the effects of high altitude on the body, nature conservation, Sherpa culture, survivor's guilt, and much, much more. Many of us wondered why anyone would want to undertake such an endeavor. Really, why? 

We enjoyed the author's investigative journalistic writing style, and several of us expanded our vocabulary due to Krakauer's illustrative wording. In fact, a comment was made that Krakauer's writing is so vivid, it's like watching a movie. As we retraced the missteps to this disaster, it was almost like being on the mountain with him. Yet, we could relive the drama from the safety of our own living room couches. For some in our group, Jon Krakauer is their favorite author. The only negative comments were about the large number of names included, but since this was a true event, there was little the author could do about that.

In sum, we agreed that Into Thin Air is a real page-turner that keeps you coming back, and we highly recommend it to other book clubs interested in survival stories. On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the highest, the group gave it an average of 4.5 (ratings ranged from 4 - 5).

Details: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. Paperback published by Anchor Books in 1999. 332 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-49478-6

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Book Review: 'When You Are Brave' by Pat Zietlow Miller

✰✰✰✰✰ Sometimes the world is full of things we don’t want to do. That’s exactly how a little girl feels as her family packs up and moves to a new home. Will she like the new house? Will she make new friends? Will the neighbors be friendly?

The little girl worries about the all the unknowns as her family drives to their destination. Along the way she remembers other times that seemed scary, but turned out alright. Little by little she realizes that deep inside of her there has always been a little bit of courage when she needed it the most. Once you know where to find it, courage is always there for you.

The Bottom Line: While the beautiful illustrations in this picture book put the focus on a family moving to a new house, the text can easily apply to many situations. The thoughtful lesson of finding the courage within yourself to tackle things you don’t want to do shines through. Children in grades PreK – 1 will appreciate the stunning illustrations, and the powerful message in this picture book will encourage kids to believe in themselves.

Details: When You Are Brave written by Pat Zietlow Miller & illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Picture book published by Little, Brown and Company in 2019. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-316-39252-5

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book Review: 'Same Kind of Different As Me' by Ron Hall & Denver Moore

✰✰✰½ If there were ever two men who were complete opposites, it would be Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Ron was white, wealthy, and married. Denver was black, poor, and had spent time in jail. Ron was an educated art dealer who despised the homeless. Denver was a modern-day slave who was as tough as they come.

Yet, somehow their paths crossed. They would have completely ignored each other if it weren’t for one thing…Ron Hall’s wife. Deborah Hall was full of unconditional love,  and she didn’t hesitate to reach out to people in need. She dedicated herself to serving others, and in the wake of discovering her husband’s infidelity, Deborah felt called to serve the homeless. Ron, feeling the call to be a better husband, agreed to help out.


Deborah recognized Denver as the poor, wise man from her dream, a man who would change the city. In order for the dream to come true, Deborah asked Ron to befriend Denver. The two get off to a rocky start, but God works in mysterious ways. With a little persistence, faith, and trust, a bond began to develop, but who will really be helped by the friendship? The answer may surprise you.


The Bottom Line: The book is written in the perspective of both men. The chapters alternate between Ron and Denver, with each man giving his version of the events. Each has a very distinct voice, and it's fascinating to read. Recommended for people who are interested in social issues including homelessness and volunteering. Also, recommended for readers who enjoy inspirational books about friendship and faith.


Book Club Notes: Overall, this was an enjoyable book to read. It was fascinating reading about the same events from the point of view of two very different people. General comments from the group included that this was a story that needed to be told. We learned about modern-day slavery and the issues the homeless face on a daily basis. Our favorite story from the book was when Denver talked about the fishing technique called "catch and release" and how some people apply that technique to friendship. Denver was indeed a wise man.


This was a good story worth reading about or watching the movie; however, the movie left a lot of our favorite scenes from the book out. Nonetheless, those who watched only the movie really liked it and were able to grasp all the major themes. As a group we liked the book just a little bit better than the movie though. On a scale from 1 – 5 with 5 being the highest, the book received an average of 4, while the movie received a 3.5.


To supplement this discussion we watched the following video featuring both Ron Hall and Denver Moore.  It illustrates their friendship and is definitely worth watching.


Details: Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall & Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent. Paperback published by W. Publishing Group in 2006. 272 p. ISBN: 978-0-8499-1910-7