Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Book Review: 'Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors' by Christopher Fowler

✰✰✰½ Take a trip back in time to 1969 with Arthur Bryant and John May as they go undercover and leave London for a quiet weekend in the country. Stuck at crumbling Tavistock Hall, the two men stand out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, they must keep the prosecution's star witness safe from harm until he can testify. Despite the quiet setting, Bryant and May run into unexpected trouble when their charge is nearly killed. With an eccentric cast of characters, secret passageways, and a band of hippies on the premises, the detectives have their work cut out for them.

The Bottom Line: It took a while for me to warm up to this novel; however, it may have been  because this is the first installment of the series that I have read. While the story seemed slow to start, I hung in there and was rewarded with deadpan humor and clever fun to liven up this classic manor house mystery. Recommended for fans who enjoy mysteries with a twist of British humor. If you are new to the series, I recommend starting at the beginning.

Details: Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery by Christopher Fowler. Hardcover published by Bantam Books in 2018. 432 p. ISBN: 978-1-101-88709-7     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. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Book Review: 'What Can't Be True' by Bo Thunboe

✰✰✰✰✰ Murder rarely happens in the suburbs. So when  Boy Scouts discover a body in a submerged car in a local lagoon, everyone wants the case. Major Crimes Detective Jake Houser is more than qualified to handle the job, but he soon discovers there are forces working against him. Even his own cousin, Sheriff Bev Warren, seems to be making things difficult for him.

Jake is eager to find the killer and make him pay, but every time he gets close to finding a clue, something gets in his way. With time running out, Jake is determined to uncover the truth, no matter what the cost. Before he can solve the case, he must consider how far he will go to see justice served. Ride along with Detective Houser in this page-turner as he races to solve the crime before someone else gets hurt.

The Bottom Line: This debut novel is dark with lots of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end. With vivid writing, relatable characters, and lots of action, Bo Thunboe is definitely an author to watch.

Very highly recommended for fans of mysteries and police procedurals, especially those with a Chicago connection. If you’ve been looking for a new series to read, check out the Jake Houser Mystery Series. You won’t be disappointed. I’m looking forward to reading the next book myself.

Details: What Can’t Be True (Jake Houser Mystery Series) by Bo Thunboe. Paperback published by Weston Press, LLC in 2018. 342 p. ISBN: 978-1949632002  NOTE: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Review: 'Hidden Figures' by Margot Lee Shetterly

✰✰✰✰ In the era of segregation, the numbers didn’t lie. Math was math, as the professionals at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia knew. Long before machines crunched the numbers for space flights, there were female mathematicians who were known as “human computers.” They answered Uncle Sam’s call for duty to serve their country as only they could do by performing thousands of calculations with paper, pencils, slide rules, and adding machines.

When the pool of qualified white, female applicants dwindled, gifted African American women were encouraged to apply. These women came to the job with as much education and experience as their white counterparts, perhaps even more. At a time when Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required the human computers to be segregated, the “West Computers” held their own in the face of discrimination. The West Computers proved themselves time and again by producing outstanding work.

This book takes a look at nearly three decades of forgotten history starting in World War II. The author takes the reader through the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the race into space, and Star Trek. This little known piece of history follows these amazing women as they served their country, changed their lives, and helped future generations follow in their footsteps.

The Bottom Line: With a focus on women in science and empowerment, this quick read is highly recommended for high school and college students and their parents. This is an excellent choice for Black History month as well. This inspirational read is filled with lots of informational gems. This forgotten piece of American history is well worth the read.

Book Club Notes: This book was well received by the group. Members enjoyed reading about a little known facet of American history that was interwoven with the stories of these fascinating and intelligent women. At times the book was a little technical, and a few of us got bogged down in names and name changes, but overall this book was a gem. It gave us an inside view of how complicated things were during the Civil Rights Movement. We appreciated the vast amount of research the author put into this book. On a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest, we gave it an average of 4.25 stars.

Additionally, many of us had watched the movie as well and thought it was well done. For insights into the topic of human computers, be sure to watch the scene extras that come with the DVD.

Books clubs looking for discussion questions can find them at HarperCollins and Techbridge Girls. For additional information to supplement your discussion, take a look at these documents on the Mesa Community College Book Club page. Finally, for those discussing the movie, here's the Hidden Figures Family Discussion Guide from Twentieth Century Fox.

Details: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. Paperback published by William Morrow in 2016. 368 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-236360-2 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book Review: 'Highest Duty' by Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger

✰✰✰✰½ Ten years ago, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his crew took off on a routine flight that quickly turned into every pilot’s worst nightmare. Although pilots train for emergencies, the chances of that happening are slim. Against all odds, Sully and his copilot successfully landed their disabled airplane on the frigid waters of the Hudson River and saved all 155 aboard. The extraordinary tale of the “Miracle on the Hudson” is one of courage, skill, and luck. It is also a story of survival and inspiration that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Bottom Line: This is a very quick read filled with nuggets of wisdom that will inspire you. Captain Sullenberger takes the reader behind the scenes as he recounts the biggest flying challenge of his life and what led him to that point.  Highly recommended for anyone interested in a career in aviation. This is a fascinating look into how a pilot trains for the worst. Also, recommended for fans of aviation history, survival, and inspiration.

Book Club Notes: Most of the members in our group both read the book and watched the movie, Sully. Our preference was for the book. Although I enjoyed the action of the movie, others thought there was too much drama. We supplemented our discussion by listening to the actual cockpit recording and by discussing some movie trivia. One member commented that this was one of the best books she had recently read. Another said she was so happy to read it. As a group we felt that we got to know the man behind the public image, the whole person, better. We also had a chance to reflect on his family as well. This book was a little repetitive, but not too technical. It’s a very easy read that provides insight into what it takes to be a pilot. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest, the group gave it an average rating of 4.5!

Finally, here are some of the questions I created for our discussion:


*Did you know about this story before reading the book or watching the movie? 

*Did you have any preconceived ideas about this story? What did the flight represent to you? To the country? 

*Did you watch the incident on TV? What are some of the images that made an impression on you? 

Biographical Questions: 

*What influence were his parents on his education? 

*Money didn’t motivate his dad. His dad thought of being with his family as his priority; work was secondary. He was content with less money if he could spend more time with his family. Discuss priorities. Have they changed over the years?
*What qualities do you think Mr. Cook saw in the young Sully to make him decide to take him on as a student? 

*Discuss Sully’s relationship with his wife. 

Career/Education Questions: 

*Discuss the qualities of a good leader. Lorrie says that part of what makes Sully a good pilot is his attention to detail. 74 What qualities must a good pilot have? 

*Sully discovered his passion for flying at 5 & turned it into a career. Did you have the good fortune to follow your passion? 

*How did Sully's training in the Air Force prepare him for Flight 1549? 

Airline Industry Questions: 

*Do you feel safe flying? Have you thought about the risks when you fly? 

*Discuss the airline industry culture. Sully studies safety. He believes that “…we can make a company culture, government, or community safer by encouraging people to report their own mistakes & safety deficiencies.” 24 

*Many airlines have outsourced maintenance & component work, sometimes to overseas. Is this reliable? If every choice the airline industry makes is based solely on cost, what are the consequences for safety? 

*Most passengers today select carriers by price, so airlines are under intense pressure to offer competitive fares. P. 40 How does this affect safety? 

Other Questions: 

*The author discusses optimism vs. realism. What is the difference? Which are you? 

*Are there any stories in this book that stood out? 

*Discuss the “bystander effect.”  

*Discuss the Hopi Indian Poem on p. 180  

*The author is not comfortable being called a hero. Define hero. Is Sully a hero?  

*For those who both read the book and saw the film, which did you prefer? Why? 

*Rate the book from 1 – 5. What are the books’ strengths and weaknesses? Would you recommend this book to readers who don’t read nonfiction? Why?

Details: Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III with Jeffrey Zaslow. Paperback published by William Morrow in 2009. 340 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-192469-9 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Book Review: 'Papa Goose' by Michael Quetting

✰✰✰½ As a researcher for the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, author Michael Quetting had the opportunity to be involved in an amazing experiment. His mission: to raise geese from hatchlings, teach them to fly, and gather flight data. For eleven months, Quetting took his charges for daily swims and made sure they were well taken care of. Along the way, he learned that each had its own personality from feisty to cuddly. Just like raising human children, the author discovered there were ups and downs to parenting seven little ones. Check out this book and join the adventure of a lifetime. 

The Bottom Line: The dedication the author had to see this experiment through was amazing. Filled with humor and packed with information, this is a very quick read that will interest nature lovers and students of biology.

Details: Papa Goose: One Year, Seven Goslings, and the Flight of My Life by Michael Quetting. ARC published by Greystone Books in 2018. 248 p. ISBN: 978-1-77164-361-0 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, December 19, 2018

Book Review: 'Tree of Cranes' by Allen Say

✰✰✰✰✰ Faraway in Japan, a little boy breaks the rules. He knows he will be in trouble. When he returns home, he expects his mother to be waiting for him. Instead she ignores him. Is she really so angry she won't even talk to him? After a hot bath and a hot lunch, the little boy is sent to bed. Confused and hurt, he worries about his mother who seems so distant. Why is she acting so strangely?

Soon his mom returns with silver paper cranes, a little tree, and candles. Today is a very special day in the land where his mother grew up. It is Christmas. In the soft glow of candlelight, the little boy shares this special day of peace and love with his mother as she remembers her faraway home.

The Bottom Line: This sentimental tale celebrates the merging of two cultures. Say's gentle words combined with beautiful, soft watercolors highlights a time of peace, love, and hope as a mother shares a treasured tradition with her child. Highly recommended holiday reading for kids ages 4 - 8.

Details: Tree of Cranes written & illustrated by Allen Say. Hardcover picture book published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 1991. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-395-52024-6 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Review: 'Runaway Dreidel!' by Lesléa Newman

✰✰✰✰½ When a little boy plays with his shiny new dreidel on Chanukah, something magical happens. It keeps spinning and there’s no stopping it. It spins across the floor, along the hall, and out the door. The little boy and his family and friends join in the chase, but the dreidel is simply too fast. Where is it going? Will it ever stop? Check out this holiday tale and join in the fun.

The Bottom Line: Children of all ages will love this rhyming, holiday tale. Told in the style of The Night Before Christmas, this easy to read picture book is sure to be a seasonal classic. Illustrated in mixed media of oil paint and cut paper, the illustrations are comical and engaging. Highly recommended holiday reading with your little one.

Details: Runaway Dreidel! Written by Lesléa Newman & illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker. Hardcover picture book published by Henry Holt and Company in 2002. Unpaged. ISBN: 0-8050-6237-8