Monday, June 6, 2022

Book Review: 'The Littlest Airplane' by Brooke Hartman

✰✰✰✰✰ There's an airport way up north where airplanes come and go all day. The turboprop is reliable, and the cargo plane is strong. The jet plane is super quick, but the littlest plane is always left behind. All the little bush plane can do is watch the others as they fly around, until one day, a storm blows into town. With people stranded in the snowy mess, the turboprop, cargo plane, and jet plane all try to rescue them. All three fail leaving the people struck. Who will save them now? Surely not the littlest plane. But the bush plane is not scared; slowly and surely he sets out. With the odds stacked against him and time running out, will the littlest plane be able to save the day? Check out this inspiring tale to find out. 

The Bottom Line: This sweet, inspirational tale reminds me of The Little Engine That Could. With rhyming verse and colorful, snowy illustrations, this picture book is sure to please. The book also contains information about the parts of a bush plane and a little bit of history at the end. Highly recommended for kids who need a little boost of self-confidence. Also, enthusiastically recommended for story times.

Details: The Littlest Airplane written by Brooke Hartman & illustrated by John Joseph. Picture book published by Alaska Northwest Books (am imprint of West Margin Press) in 2022. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-51312-864-1 [Note: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.]

Monday, May 23, 2022

Book Review: 'Girl, Interrupted' by Susanna Kaysen

✰✰✰✰½ When does a person cross the line from normal teenager to mental patient? Back in 1967 Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and ended up at McLean Hospital. Under the impression she was just going there for a little “rest,” Susanna checked herself in at just eighteen years old and soon discovered that she couldn’t leave until the doctors said she could. While the hospital was progressive at the time and featured an A-list of patients including Sylvia Plath and Ray Charles, life at McLean Hospital was anything but a vacation.

A bewildered Susanna navigated the system while taking an endless supply of pills, attending therapy sessions, and following the rules. Along the way she met the other patients, each with their own mental health issues varying from anorexia to sociopathy. Susanna herself was dealing with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, which she is acutely aware of and yet voices her doubts. Nevertheless, she took advantage of the resources available to her and was eventually able to be released from the hospital.

The Bottom Line: Although Kaysen’s experience happened in 1967, her story is still relevant today. Kaysen included files from her case record, which adds to the veracity of her accounts. Supplemented with anecdotes and observations from her journal, Kaysen’s perception of mental illness and the treatment she received provides valuable insight into life as a patient in a mental hospital. Highly recommended for college students, mental health professionals, and anyone interested in mental health issues.

Book Club Notes: Similar to the late 1960s, the current world is a chaotic place overwhelmed by social issues, racism, and war. Adding in a pandemic and the pressures of economic instability have resulted in a mental health crisis. My hope in choosing this title was to open the door to discussing these issues.

Although this book is slim, it is not an easy read by any means and sensitive readers may want to skip this one. Nonetheless, those that read this book found it worthwhile. The author’s writing is genuine and vulnerable as she provided insight from firsthand experience. We appreciated the straightforwardness of her writing style. The movie, on the other hand, received mixed reviews. Those of us who had seen the movie when it first came out over twenty years ago had very different perspectives now. The experience was similar to the author describing Vermeer’s painting, Girl Interrupted at her Music. Sometimes perspectives change with the experience of living.

Overall, on a scale from 1 - 5, with 5 being the highest, we rated the book an average of 4.75, and the movie received a 4. While the movie is well done, if you are looking for the real story, check out the book.

To help guide your discussion, check out this reading guide for thought provoking discussion questions: Penguin Random House

Details: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Paperback edition published by Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc. in 1993. 192 p. ISBN: 978-0-679-74604-1 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Book Review: 'Ordinary People' by Judith Guest

✰✰✰✰✰ Cal and Beth Jarrett are the All-American dream couple. With successful careers and two outstanding teen sons, the Jarretts are comfortable in their lives. Unfortunately, life can change in an instant. After a tragedy leaves the family with only one son, the Jarretts must learn to move forward, but how? The loss of their oldest, Buck, is too much for them to process as each turns inwards. 

Without the support and attention of his parents, Conrad, the remaining son, attempts to take his life. The aftermath of this second tragedy is an even bigger struggle for Cal and Beth as they continue to deal with the loss of Buck. As Conrad returns to high school and tries to navigate his classes, Cal & Beth are at odds with how to help. Will they be able to find the support they need to heal as a family or will the aftermath of tragedy be too much for the Jarretts? Whether you are reading this book for the first time or the tenth time, the ending will haunt you.

The Bottom Line: Although first published in 1976, this novel still deserves a place on your bookshelf. It's a quick read that immediately connects and stays with the reader. Guest has an innate understanding of the internal dialogue people experience when faced with personal loss, grief, and depression. Each character expresses their grief differently, and Guest did a superb job tackling a tough subject. Highly recommended for teen, new adult, and adult readers. This novel would be perfect for discussion groups. Additionally, this book was made into a movie with a stellar cast you won't want to miss.

Details: Ordinary People by Judith Guest. Paperback published by Penguin Books in 1982. 272 p. ISBN: 0-14-006517-2 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Book Review: 'Cress Watercress' by Gregory Maguire

✰✰✰✰ When Papa Watercress doesn't come home one morning, Mama must figure out how to make ends meet. That means moving out of their cozy burrow, and moving into the basement apartment at the Broken Arms. Although rabbits don't usually hang out with birds, mice, and squirrels, young Cress Watercress has no choice but to make friends with a hodgepodge of animals. 

While Mama struggles to pay the rent, Cress stumbles into a journey that will lead to new friendships and danger. Cress learns that if she is going to help her Mama, who always behind on the rent, she must grow up fast. With a sneaky fox, slithering snake, and terrifying bear to look out for, Cress has no time to complain. Check out this witty tale of family, friends, and hope for an engaging read.

The Bottom Line: This delightful tale comes from the fantastical mind of author, Gregory Maguire of Wicked fame. Perfect for kids in grades 4 - 7, this coming-of-age story will appeal to kids facing challenges and changes at home. While I have not seen the final illustrations, the proof illustrations are entertaining. Recommended with enthusiasm for all.

Details: Cress Watercress written by Gregory Maguire & illustrated by David Litchfield. Paperback uncorrected proof published by Candlewick Press in 2022. 224 p. ISBN: 978-1-5362-1100-9 [NOTE: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.] 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Book Review: 'Cash: The Autobiography' by Johnny Cash

✰✰✰✰  When you pick up this book, set aside your preconceived idea of what it is like to be a celebrity. Here, Johnny Cash tells his story in his own words. He doesn’t sugarcoat much, but instead tells it like it is. Cash has been everywhere and done it all. This book is a roller coaster ride full of life's ups and downs with thoughts about the wisdom of life on the road and a sprinkling of religious undertones. Cash openly shares what life both on and behind the stage was really like. 

The Bottom Line: Recommended for fans of Johnny Cash and country music in general. This book features short chapters that are easy to read, and the black and white photos offer a glimpse into Cash’s life.

Book Club Notes: Our spring meeting was a much smaller group this time around. Maybe we are just getting tired of Zoom, and are looking forward to in-person meetings. Reviews for both the book and the movie mirrored the current weather here in Chicagoland, dreary. Both received a rating of 3.9 on a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the highest. Members commented that the book was realistic and didn’t paint a pretty picture. Some liked the diary-like style while others did not appreciate it. However, we agreed that Cash was open to being vulnerable in his words and seemed down to earth. Additionally, the book reads like a who’s who in country music. Meanwhile, the movie, Walk the Line, is entertaining; however, it only shows part of Johnny Cash’s life. Many details of his life were left out, and the scenes depicting his first wife, Vivian Liberto, may have unfairly put her in an unappealing light. We concluded there is probably a lot we’ll never know about the legend, the man, and the myth that was Johnny Cash. 

Discussion questions were not that easy to find for this book, but here are a couple of links: Docslib and BookRags. Recommended for book groups who enjoy music, biographies, and history about music.

Details: Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash with Patrick Carr. Paperback published by HarperOne in 1997. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-0727-53-6

Monday, February 14, 2022

Book Review: 'Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink' by Diane De Groat

✰✰✰✰½ It's that time of year when everyone in class is expected to create sweet Valentine's cards for their classmates. As Gilbert finds out, it sure is easy when you like someone, but what are you supposed to do when you don't? When Gilbert decides to use his Valentine's to get back at two students who wronged him in the past, things don't go quite as he planned. Check out this heartfelt picture book of friendship and forgiveness to read with your little one before the holiday.

The Bottom Line: This sweet tale is perfect for kids in grades K - 2. Students tempted to use their Valentine's to get back at someone might think twice after reading this story. Children and adults alike will appreciate the engaging illustrations in watercolor. Highly recommended for school and library story times. 

Details: Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink written & illustrated by Diane De Groat. Picture book published by Morrow Junior Books in 1996. 32 p. ISBN: 0-688-13605-2 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Book Review: 'Just Mercy' by Bryan Stevenson

✰✰✰½ Decades ago Bryan Stevenson was a law student who really didn't have any idea of what he wanted to do. Fate intervened, and Stevenson ended up in an internship that sent his to tell a prisoner that he wasn't going to dies within the next year. That encounter became the catalyst for what would become Stevenson's life's work, helping individuals on death row.

A few years later, Stevenson met Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian on Alabama’s death row. McMillian, an African American, had been found guilty of murdering a young white woman, Ronda Morrison, even though he had a solid alibi for the time of the murder. As Stevenson learned more about McMillian’s case, there were just too many red flags. This book takes a look at the issues surrounding McMillian’s conviction and eventual release. Stevenson also includes stories about other cases that are equally troubling as well as information about the work of the Equal Justice Initiative.

The Bottom Line: This prize winning book is sure to provoke serious discussion about capital punishment. Throughout the book Stevenson asks thoughtful questions as he tells the stories of several incarcerated individuals. Highly recommended for colleges and individuals interested in death penalty and social justice issues.

Book Club Notes: On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the highest, the book averaged 3.67 stars. Several in our group were not able to finish the book, but the parts they finished provoked strong emotions. This book could have almost been two books: one about McMillian’s case and the other about social justice issues.

The movie, on the other hand, averaged 5 stars. Our group was in agreement that the movie was excellent. It portrayed the essence of Stevenson’s message without getting bogged down with details like the book.

On a final note, it troubled us that the murder of Ronda Morrison remains unsolved. We longed for more information about Morrison, but there was little in the book.

Recommended for thought-provoking discussions in criminal justice classes, church groups, and others concerned with social justice. This is a challenging, but timely, topic.

Discussion guides are plentiful. Here are links to several different ones: Equal Justice Initiative, Teach With Movies, Beaverton Library, Mount Prospect Library, Define American, Freshman Year Reading Guide from Random House, Georgetown Public Library, Catholic Mobilizing Network, and St. Mary Immaculate Parish. Finally, you can supplement your discussion with the interview on 60 Minutes

Details: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Paperback published in 2015. 368 p. ISBN: 978-0-8129-8429-8496-5