Monday, August 31, 2015

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan C. Bradley


In the third installment of this bestselling, award-winning, sister-poisoning, bicycle-riding, murder-investigating, and utterly captivating series, Flavia de Luce must draw upon Gypsy lore and her encyclopaedic knowledge of poisons to prevent a grave miscarriage of justice.

My take: 4 looks

Another wonderful book in the Flavia de Luce series! Bradley delights in the same vein as the great Agatha Christie when it comes to British villainy. The protagonist, Flavia, is so very charming, quick-witted, and intelligent. The fact that all of these are far beyond her young 11 years adds to the charm of this larger-than-life heroine.

Faced this time with an injured Gypsy, lots of stolen loot, and a dissident religious sect, it is a mile-a minute romp in which Flavia again turns to her laboratory and reliance on chemistry to find the killer. Working with the police inspector, and sometimes behind his back, Flavia is the precocious girl we all wanted to be when we were young. With her trusty bicycle Gladys and her stalwart groundskeeper, Dogger, she is ready to face the secrets hidden right under her nose.

This book, while it can be read as a stand-alone, provides additional insight into Buckshaw, Harriett, and Falvia's father's financial concerns. The mystery is compelling, introducing temporary characters, bringing back familiar Bishops Lacey's characters, and tying it all up at the end with a nice, tight ribbon.

Bradley has six in this series, and I am keen to read each one.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday Word: Karma


Sanskrit karma fate, work
First Known Use: 1827
: the force created by a person's actions that some people believe causes good or bad things to happen to that person
Remember last week's Wednesday Word, Schedenfreude? It means feeling delight in someone else's misfortune. I cautioned against that, and used this week's word as an example. Karma.
See, Karma holds that what you have done to others will eventually be done to you. Hinduism and Buddhism takes the Christian Golden Rule a step farther here. Kind of like a cosmic balance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Library Look: The Humble Library Card

I found these the other day. These were the first library cards for me and the boys after we moved back to Alabama. Strat was 6 years old, and Jack and Chase were 5 years old. How cute are these little signatures??

That got me to thinking about the humble library card.

The American Library Association has designated September 2015 as Library Card Sign-up Month.

Library cards have come a long way, folks. Libraries have contests now to design new and exciting cards. Libraries want it to be cool to carry one!

So, get a library card today and USE it!!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Heroines by Eileen Favorite


Although a true lover of books, Anne-Marie Entwhistle prefers not to read to her spirited daughter, Penny, especially from the likes of Madame Bovary , Gone With the Wind , or The Scarlet Letter . These novels, devoted to the lives of the Heroines that make them so irresistible, have a way of hitting too close to home -- well, to the Homestead actually, where Anne-Marie runs the quaint family-owned bed and breakfast. In this enchanting debut novel, Penny and her mother encounter great women from classic works of literature who make the Homestead their destination of choice just as the plots of their tumultuous, unforgettable stories begin to unravel. They appear at all hours of the day and in all manners of distress. A lovesick Madame Bovary languishes in their hammock after Rodolphe has abandoned her, and Scarlett O'Hara's emotions are not easily tempered by tea and eiderdowns. These visitors long for comfort, consolation, and sometimes for more attention than the adolescent Penny wants her mother to give. Knowing that to interfere with their stories would cause mayhem in literature, Anne-Marie does her best to make each Heroine feel at home, with a roof over her head and a shoulder to cry on. But when Penny begins to feel overshadowed by her mother's indulgence of each and every Heroine, havoc ensues, and the thirteen-year-old embarks on her own memorable tale. Eileen Favorite's lively, fresh, and enormously entertaining novel gives readers a chance to experience their favorite Heroines all over again, or introduces these fictional women so beguilingly that further acquaintance will surely follow.

My take: 2.5 looks

After reading the summary, I would say that you don't really need to read the book. It pretty much sums up the whole thing. I found it difficult to get into the story, then once I was into the action, I found it hard to understand why Anne-Marie chose the heroines over her own daughter time and time again. As a mother, that is completely unbelievable.

Toward the end, there was a spark of whether or not Penny may be a heroine. I would have LOVED that twist in the story. It would have made it more compelling.

While this is an intriguing storyline, I can't recommend it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Plumdog by Emma Chichester Clark


The irresistible illustrated diary of one very special London dog--the perfect gift book for dog lovers of all stripes (and spots!)

Hello. My name is Plum and I'm a whoosell--a whippet mixed with Jack Russell and poodle. I especially like swimming, leaping, and croissants, and my favorite fragrance is fox poop. I live with Emma, an illustrator, and Rupert in London.

Over the last year, I've been keeping a diary. Emma helped with the pictures, but the words are all mine.

My take: 4 looks

A super cute idea for a book! Chock full of daily musings, activities, trips, and friendships with both animals and humans, this was a delight to read.

Plum's language skills are admirable, love of swimming and diving impressive, and circle of friends extensive. This is a dog used to exercise, travel, and slumber parties. I truly enjoyed each page of this book, enhanced by the printing that looked like it was done in pencil. A very realistic take on what a dog's journal would look like.

The only thing keeping me from giving a full five looks is one use of an unnecessary expletive, making this PG instead of G-rated.


Thank you to BloggingForBooks for providing a copy for this honest review.

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh


For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six—in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.   Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future. 

My take: 2.5 looks


I know that second books are difficult. As a matter of fact, Diffenbaugh opens her Acknowledgments section with this statement. After reading her first book, The Language of Flowers, in 2011, I note that I had the same kinds of issues with that story asI have with this one.

First of all, the main character, Letty, was more irritating than ingratiating. I think I was supposed to feel that she was struggling to fit into the role of parenting, and feel sympathy and compassion for her path from bystander to caretaker. Instead, she irritated at almost every turn. Her constant giving in to Luna, her constant brushing off of Alex, her constant excuses and ignoring things which demanded her attention because she just didn't feel up to all wore very thin for me.

It started, as a matter of fact, with the grandmother leaving. Why would a grandmother completely hijack the raising of Luna, only to completely abandon her years later? It just didn't make sense. And why on earth did Letty feel such a compulsion to continue to send her mother money, even after the abandonment? Not only that, but the very idea that her mother enclosed a self-addressed envelope for money, knowing that Letty would be struggling to make ends meet as it was. Perhaps it is a cultural thing, but it was not realistic in the least.

Then there is the love triangle. I am sick of the literary device that a woman can't make a decision because too much is happening too fast in her life. That is just not the reality of things. And the fact that Letty waits almost too late for a happy ending, again very contrived.

In the end, if I want to recommend a Diffenbaugh novel, it will be Flowers and not this one.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for this honest review.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

House Rules by Jodi Picoult


Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject -- in his case, forensic analysis. He's always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do...and he's usually right. But then his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's -- not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect -- can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them. For his mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication of why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?

My take: 3 looks

The cover of this book is very deceiving in that the boy on the cover is NOT the main character. As a matter of fact, the boy on the cover doesn't even make an appearance in the book. Jacob is eighteen years old, over 6 ft tall, and weighs 185 pounds. A formidable man. His younger brother is Theo, a 15-year-old on the cusp of getting his driving permit. The boy on the cover, I suppose is a red herring.

Emma is the mother of these two. Caught in the world of being a single parent to a special-needs child who doesn't look so special needs, and a "normal" teenager who is constantly bearing the brunt of broken promises, unmet expectations, and hurt feelings. All through no fault of his own.

The story is riveting, following the characters through their own chapters of first-person narration. As is usual for Picoult, the tale is timely and hard to put down. I found myself pulling for each character, even the hard-boiled police detective; Henry, the absentee father; and, Oliver, the fresh-from-school attorney Emma happens upon because he's open on Sunday.

The ending, however, leaves me in a quandary. Without giving away any spoilers, we find what happened to our victim, who is responsible, and ... well ... that's about it. There is no other resolution, no moving forward. It just kind of ends. Because this is not the first Picoult book I've read, I have to assume that this was a tactic that she chose intentionally, and have thought through how she intended this to add to the reading experience.

And that is why I am giving 3 looks instead of 4. Because I could not figure out what it was.


Wednesday Word: Schadenfreude

scha·den·freu·de often capitalized \ˈshä-dən-ˌfri-də\

German, from Schaden damage + Freude joy
First Known Use: 1895

: a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people

There is a LOT of schadenfreude going on lately, isn't there? People getting pleasure from the misfortune of others.

The lastst I can think of is one of the Dugger sons has been caught in a marital affair. People seem absolutely delighted that he has committed such a public sin. The other example is Jarod from Subway fame has been caught having/wanting/soliciting sex with minors. Again, people seem to thrill at the news of his downfall.

Remember when Michael Phelps smoked marijuana and it was all over social media? We loved that!

Why are we like this? Because it makes us feel better to see others around us fail in such spectacular ways. But be careful. Next week's word: karma.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Library Look: University of Washington Information School

First of all, if a group of bibliophiles do a Lady Gaga parody video, you have GOT to give them a spotlight:

These are students and faculty from the University of Washington's Information School. I love several things about this video, which was made in 2010. I love that these people love books, the science of libraries, and making the library look fun. I love that it appears that almost everyone was involved. There are 23 people in front of the camera during the song. I love that it made me look up the Big 6 to find out more about it.

Who says that libraries are full of stodgy old prunish women? These MLIS recipients prove otherwise!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Looking for Alaska by John Green


The main character in this book is Miles “Pudge” Halter. Pudge moves from Florida to a boarding school in Birmingham, Alabama where he meets a girl named Alaska. Pudge spends his time trying to “figure out” Alaska. Pudge has some terrible pranks pulled on him being the new student at school and during his free time he enjoys sneaking around drinking and smoking with his friends. Fiction- boarding schools, death

My take: 1 look

All due respect to fans of John Green, but you may  not count me among your number. This is the fourth book I have read by Green, and can only recommend one (The Fault in Our Stars).

Let me start by saying that Green has a good niche with teenage girls and boys. It is very important to solidify a love of reading in the younger years, and Green seems to have tapped into this, much the way John Hughes tapped into teenage angst in his slew of 1980s coming-of-age films. Hughes spoke to my generation. Green speaks to today's generation.

That being said, I found this a sad redo of 1999's The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Perks is better written, more compelling, and less irritating (by far) than Alaska.

Alaska is the epitome of teenage angst. She is moody, spontaneous, insistent, volatile, and charismatic to all of the teenage boys around her. I found her to be extremely irritating and developed no sympathy for her whatsoever. When her fate was sealed (no spoilers here), I couldn't have cared less.

The Colonel was just as irritating. Honor, retaliation and a sense of duty seemed to drive him. Unless, of course, these things were required of him. Then it seemed to be every man for himself.

Pudge, bless his heart, was at the middle of this gang of miscreants. He seemed to be so enamored by the other's dominant traits that he just blew where ever their wind gusts carried him.

All-in-all, these characters were caricatures of the aspects of growing up a teen in a boarding school. Living in Alabama, I am very familiar with Indian Springs School, on which this was patterned. There is nothing flattering in here, I assure you. Nor is there anything compelling. Green must have hated his time there.

Not recommended. Read Chbosky's Perks instead. You'll thank me.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Moving Day by Jonathan Stone


Forty years’ accumulation of art, antiques, and family photographs are more than just objects for Stanley Peke—they are proof of a life fully lived. A life he could have easily lost long ago. When a con man steals his houseful of possessions in a sophisticated moving-day scam, Peke wanders helplessly through his empty New England home, inevitably reminded of another helpless time: decades in Peke’s past, a cold and threadbare Stanislaw Shmuel Pecoskowitz eked out a desperate existence in the war-torn Polish countryside, subsisting on scraps and dodging Nazi soldiers. Now, the seventy-two-year-old Peke—who survived, came to America, and succeeded—must summon his original grit and determination to track down the thieves, retrieve his things, and restore the life he made for himself. Peke and his wife, Rose, trace the path of the thieves’ truck across America, to the wilds of Montana, and to an ultimate, chilling confrontation with not only the thieves but also with Peke’s brutal, unresolved past.

My take: 3 looks

What a great premise! A elderly man and woman welcome movers to take a lifetime of treasures cross-country from New York to California. The movers show up a day before they thought they were expected, but chalk it up to their old age. Man and wife spend the night in their newly empty house, only to have the doorbell ring the next morning. It's the REAL movers.

The story was fast-moving and easy to read. The protagonist, Peke, has a past that has prepared him to retrieve his possessions, which is exactly what he intends to do. Despite his age, he is sharp in his mind and fast on his feet.

Surrounded by a cast of interesting characters, and equally bad villians, the only reason to give this a middle-of-the-road three looks is the writing. I found the writing to be loose and redundant. Stone seemed to make the same point over and over, and it weighed down the flow of the storytelling. It was a nice read, and had a satisfying ending, though. I will read another by this author, and do recommend it simply for the intriguing premise.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Man Booker Long List Announced


I am a few weeks late on this, but the Man Booker long list was announced at the end of July. It is a list of 13 books, and the short list will be announced September 15. The judges chose this list from a total list of 156 books.

The nationality is listed this year because, for the second time in the history of the Man Booker Prize, the prize is open to any nationality. Normally, it is a very British list, open only to UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. As you can see, the US is well represented!

Author (nationality) - Title (imprint)
Bill Clegg (US) - Did You Ever Have a Family
Anne Enright (Ireland) - The Green Road
Marlon James (Jamaica) - A Brief History of Seven Killings
Laila Lalami (US) - The Moor's Account
Tom McCarthy (UK) - Satin Island
Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) - The Fishermen
Andrew O’Hagan (UK) - The Illuminations
Marilynne Robinson (US) - Lila            
Anuradha Roy (India) - Sleeping on Jupiter
Sunjeev Sahota (UK) - The Year of the Runaways
Anna Smaill (New Zealand) - The Chimes
Anne Tyler (US) - A Spool of Blue Thread
Hanya Yanagihara (US) - A Little Life

On a side note, the list of 13 books is called The Man Booker Dozen. I love that!

So, pull out your TBR, and get ready to add some books.

Wednesday Word: Careen


verb ca·reen \kə-ˈrēn\

to go forward quickly without control

This is probably not a new word to you, but it is one that we just don't use enough. I think most often of an out-of-control vehicle: The car careened off the road.

At my age, though, the ultimate careen was forever solidified in a few seconds of footage of ski jumpter Vinko Bogataj on the Wide World of Sports:

Week after week for years, American's saw this as the "agony of defeat" as the show opened. Thank goodness, Vinko was okay, and lived a quiet life in his home country of Yugoslavia.

He careened down that hill. And probably careen a bit when he tried to walk away from it.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Library Look: Deschutes Public Library

The Deschutes Public Library in Oregon has got it going on! Not quite the library they wanted to be, the library director decided to take several steps to be more in touch with his community and patrons.

Now, the Deschutes formula for library success is clear: know your users; partner with the community; identify the needs; offer solutions to problems (even before the become problems); and act with enthusiasm. Besides, of course, being attentive to your books.

An article in the August 2, 2015 issue of The Atlantic brought this great community library to my attention. Read more of what they did, why they did it, and how it is turning out by accessing the article here.

I love it when a library makes a video! Watch this one, and I guarantee a smile!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez


The Civil War has ended, and Madge, Sadie, and Hemp have each come to Chicago in search of a new life. Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others’ suffering, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. To mend herself and help those in need, she must return to Tennessee to face the women healers who rejected her as a child.

 Sadie can commune with the dead, but until she makes peace with her father, she, too, cannot fully engage her gift.

Searching for his missing family, Hemp arrives in this northern city that shimmers with possibility. But redemption cannot be possible until he is reunited with those taken from him.

In the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war, as a divided nation tries to come together once again, Madge, Sadie, and Hemp will be caught up in a desperate, unexpected battle for survival in a community desperate to lay the pain of the past to rest.

My take: 3 looks

An odd combination of magical realism, historic fiction, and the paranormal, there was almost too much here for me. Any one of them would have been great for the story, and allowed the author to expand and develop that one trait and character. However, all three main characters with such strong storylines left me feeling that none of them was drawn as fully as they could have been. I admit that I have not read Wench, but I think the two are standalone stories. My suggestion to Perkins-Valdez would have been to write three books, each telling the in-depth story of one character's perspective, while introducing the others as part of the periphery. That would have been a much more satisfying read.

While I think it could have been better, I was able to read this in one day, beside the pool, under the Alabama sun. With that, it's a recommended light read.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katrina Bivald

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy's funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don't understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that's almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend's memory. All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town.

My take: 3 looks

Sara travels from Sweden to meet her bibliophile penpal Annie, only to make it to town just after Annie's funeral. Everyone just assumes that Sara will stay in Annie's home, and allows her to pay for nothing at all. Sara becomes uncomfortable with all of the attention, and soon comes up with a plan that will forever change the town.

A bit predictable in what happens throughout the book, but I don't think Bivald set out to change the world with this one. I'll admit that I had a bit more of a nefarious idea about the town and why they brought Sara there, in much the same vein as this video.

Perhaps Annie never existed, but the town was looking for a book lover. Perhaps to replace one that had just passed. The members of the town assumed a persona and corresponded with various people until the perfect person was found in Sara. Then they enticed her to visit.

I think it may have been a more engaging book, if it were to go according to my thoughts. However, it was entertaining and easy to read. It was a nice, light, summer read.

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wednesday Word: Egregious


adjective egre·gious \i-ˈgrē-jəs\

very bad and easily noticed

Latin egregius, from e- + greg-, grex herd
First Known Use: circa 1534

I love using this word. It means that it's bad; just terrible; the worst.
Outstandingly bad.

His behavior at school was acceptable, but at home it was egregious.

His misuse of "I" and "me" was egregious.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Library Look: Little Free Library

"Take a book. Return a book." That is the catch phrase of Little Free Library.

Started in 2009 in Wisconsin, the brilliant idea of placing a small structure to house books in someone's front yard, with access to a variety of books at all times of day and night, is thanks to Todd Bol.

The first Little Free Library looked like a miniature red schoolhouse. All Little Free Libraries have the unique style of their stewards, but all provide a place safe from the elements for books. Little Free Libraries have spread all over the world, with the number of registered building over 25,000. To learn more about Little Free Library, go to their website.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach



Caleb Kaltenbach was raised by LGBT parents, marched in gay pride parades as a youngster, and experienced firsthand the hatred and bitterness of some Christians toward his family.   But then Caleb surprised everyone, including himself, by becoming a Christian…and a pastor.   Very few issues in Christianity are as divisive as the acceptance of the LGBT community in the church. As a pastor and as a person with beloved family members living a gay lifestyle, Caleb had to face this issue with courage and grace.   Messy Grace shows us that Jesus’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” doesn’t have an exception clause for a gay “neighbor”—or for that matter, any other “neighbor” we might find it hard to relate to. Jesus was able to love these people and yet still hold on to his beliefs. So can you. Even when it’s messy.

My take: 4 looks

 I have many friends in the LGBT community, and I am a committed evangelical Christian. When these two aspects of me come in contact, there is collision. I have never seen a thoughtful, personal, Christ-centered book on how to deal with these two world. Caleb Kaltenbach comes at this subject with a heart's desire to love everyone as Christ did. He points out that it is not up to the Christian community to change anyone. Our job is to introduce people to Jesus, and let the King of Kings do the rest.

Especially now that the LGBT is becoming more mainstream, we need to know today more than ever how to embrace members of this community in the arms of Christian love and welcome them into a loving, Christ-centered fellowship. Written with love, respect and full of practical advice, this is a MUST-READ for all Christians.

Highly recommended.

This book is available for purchase in October, 2015, and was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.