Sunday, January 14, 2024

Happy New Year! Welcome 2024!

Wishing everyone a belated Happy New Year. 2024 is going to be the BEST year yet. Change is in the air, and it’s time to try new things. Although I will continue to write book reviews as time permits, I have begun a new journey teaching art. As far as the types of books I am reading this year, my goal includes adding more nonfiction books with a focus on self-awareness and self-improvement. I hope you join me on this journey of self-discovery and creativity. Have a Blessed New Year!

[Note: The free animated clip art is available here.]

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Book Review: 'A Joyful Christmas' by James Ransome

✰✰✰✰✰ This beautiful treasury is one that you will want to have on your bookshelf for years to come. It is divided into two parts: Soul and Heart, with a bridge story about the history of Christmas. Selections include both new stories as well as classics along with spiritual themes. This book takes a look at what makes Christmas special to so many. Also, this compilation of stories, songs and poems focus on the historical significance of this Christian holiday.

The Bottom Line: This Christmas treasury features a little of everything: songs, poems, and stories old and new. With beautiful, seasonal illustrations, this book is sure to be enjoyed by the young and the young at heart. Highly recommended holiday reading throughout the season.

Details: A Joyful Christmas: A Treasury of New and Classic Songs, Poems, and Stories for the Holiday collected and illustrated by James Ransome. Hardcover picture book published by Henry Holt and Co. in 2010. 80 p. ISBN: 978-0-8050-6621-0  

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Book Review: 'The Ninth Night' by Erica S. Perl

✰✰✰✰½ When a moving company temporarily misplaces a box of treasured holiday items, a family makes the best of it. Without their family menorah, Hanukkah candles, latkes, gelt, and wrapping paper, the eight days of Hanukkah are nice, but yet don’t quite feel like Hanukkah. Nevertheless, new neighbors help out the best they can by sharing birthday candles and french fries. Inspired by the helper candle, the shamash, the family decides to thank their new friends and neighbors on the ninth day with a special celebration.

The Bottom Line: This clever story of friendship and sharing invites the reader to start a new tradition after reading this picture book. Kober’s humorous illustrations are engaging and fun. Highly recommended holiday reading for storytime for kids ages 4 -8.

Details: The Ninth Night of Hanukkah written by Erica S. Perl & illustrated by Shahar Kober. Picture book published by Sterling Children’s Books in 2020. 40 p. ISBN: 978-1-4549-4088-3

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Book Review: 'A Turkey for Thanksgiving' by Eve Bunting

✰✰✰✰✰  Thanksgiving is best when shared with friends. As Mr. Moose sets out chairs for Mr. & Mrs. Goat, Rabbit, Sheep, and Porcupine, Mrs. Moose reflects that it would be nice to have a real turkey for Thanksgiving. Mr. Moose sets out immediately to find one. With the help of his friends, Mr. Moose finally spots Turkey down by the river.  Alarmed, Turkey tries to make his escape, but alas, he is too fat. As Mr. Moose marches Turkey back to the house, Turkey knows he is doomed. He's in for a surprise though when Mrs. Moose sets her eyes on him. 

The Bottom Line: This seasonal tale if perfect for a holiday story time. With a surprise twist ending, this endearing picture book celebrates friendship. Illustrated in full-color watercolors in a pleasing autumnal palette, this picture book is a classic. Enthusiastically recommended holiday reading for families with little ones ages 4 - 7. 

Details: A Turkey for Thanksgiving written by Eve Bunting & illustrated by Diane de Groat. Hardcover picture book published by Clarion Books in 1991. 32 p. ISBN: 0-89919-793-0 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Book Review: 'The Right Stuff' by Tom Wolfe

✰✰✰✰½ What is it that astronauts possess that makes them want to put their push their bodies to the limit and put their lives at risk? Is it courage? Bravery? A sense of adventure? Or is it patriotism? Author Tom Wolfe takes a look at this topic as he explores just what it was that the original astronauts had that set them apart from everyone else.

The Bottom Line: Although lengthy and detailed, this book gives the reader a look back in time when the American space program was young. With the technology we have today, it's easy to forget how different things were at that time. Recommended for readers interested in aviation, space, and biography.

Book Club Notes: This was a spirited discussion about what exactly the right stuff is. It's definitely up for debate considering the astronauts were so different from one another. It turns out that the right stuff is a combination of many things. As contemporary readers, our group found that the language and style of this book were somewhat dated. However, if you are able to use your imagination to transport yourself back to that era, then the style is more readable. On a scale of 1 - 5, the book received an average of 4.5, while the movie garnered a 4. Recommended for book clubs interested in science, space travel, American history, and aviation.

Discussion questions can be found at Teach with Movies and the Chicago Public Library    .

Details: The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Paperback published by Picador, Second Edition, Revised in 2008. 352 p. ISBN: 978-0-312-42756-6 

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Book Review: 'Young Men and Fire' by Norman Maclean

✰✰✰½ Today the Smokejumpers are an elite group of men and women who face the forest fires that are otherwise unreachable. The Smokejumper program was founded in 1939, and this true story takes place only ten years later when the group was just coming into its own. The Mann Gulch fire initially seemed like an ordinary mission. The fire had started by lightning, and the crew thought they would mop it up in no time. However, a perfect storm of circumstances led to them reversing course, even abandoning their tools, and running for their lives.

Of the survivors, one lived due to inventing the “escape fire” on the spot. But what saved his life would end up igniting a controversy that would span decades until the author took it upon himself to flesh out the truth. Part study of fire science, part survival story, and part quest for discovery, this book also looks at the philosophical points of life and insures that the men will never be forgotten.

The Bottom Line: Published posthumously, this true story about the Mann Gulch fire tragedy takes the reader on a quest to discover the mystery behind why so many lost their lives. This mystery almost became an obsession for the author in the last chapter of his life. Having been a firefighter, the author brought personal experience to his telling of the tragedy. Recommended for individuals interested in survival, science, and philosophy. [Note: This was the author’s second book. His first, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories was made into a movie.]

Book Club Notes: This was only the second meeting of this book club, so I give them a lot of credit for reading this challenging book. Parts are difficult to read, but the sacrifice these men made led to developments in firefighting techniques and safety as well as made people think about how to escape a forest fire. After this tragedy, the focus of saving people became the priority over extinguishing the fire if the choice presented itself. On a scale of 1 - 5, ratings averaged 3.3. The writing style with long run-on sentences was difficult for many to read. Also, a good portion of this book was philosophical, which led us to a completely different discussion than planned. Overall, recommended for groups interested in fire science, survival, and philosophy.

Details: Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean. Paperback (25th Anniversary edition)  published by The University of Chicago Press in 2017. 369 P. ISBN: 978-0-226-45035-3

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Book Review: 'Murder in the Mystery Suite' by Ellery Adams

✰✰✰✰½ Jane Steward is a single mom of twins trying to save her family's literary themed resort, Storyton Hall, from financial disaster. As she learns the ropes of running the fabled resort from her Aunt and Uncle, she's inspired to host a Murder and Mayhem Week for fans of mysteries. Chock full of role-playing and crime solving events, the event is sure to attract mystery lovers from afar. All is fun and games until the lines between fiction and reality become blurred. With a real crime or two to solve in addition to keeping guests happy, Jane quickly realizes there's more to the hospitality business than just booking guest rooms.

The Bottom Line: This is the first book in the Book Retreat Mystery series. It was recommended to me by a fellow mystery buff, and I'm glad she did. With a quick pace, likable characters, and a literary theme, this cozy mystery is an action-packed weekend read with a surprise twist ending that I didn't see coming. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of cozies and literary themed books. I'm looking forward to book #2. 

Details: Murder in the Mystery Suite (A Book Retreat Mystery) by Ellery Adams. Paperback published by Berkley Prime Crime in 2014. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-425-26559-8