Archive for October, 2014|Monthly archive page

The Fourteenth Goldfish

In YA Book Reviews on October 27, 2014 at 10:01 pm


by Jennifer L. Holm

Middle Grade Fantasy/©2015/195 pages (including Recommended Resources to Continue the Conversation)/Recommended for Middle Grades

Publisher’s Summary (Goodreads):

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

My Thoughts:

I was hooked from the first page and could not put it down. The story and characters are engaging, compounded by the fact that this author knows how to end each chapter with just the cleverest of lines, so I had no choice but to just keep turning those pages. It is a relatively short book – less than 200 pages – but it packs a punch. The Fourteenth Goldfish is a very clever, humorous book that beautifully deals with the realities of life – dealing with the constant changes, aging, and mortality. The author has crafted a fantasy – a grandfather who has managed to become a teenager again and shows up on the doorstep of his daughter and grand-daughter – that not only entertains, but nudges you to think about some very deep questions. There is opportunity here for some very rich discussions. I also applaud the author for including the element of science in the story, sprinkling so many interesting facts throughout, and chronicling Ellie’s burgeoning  interest in science. All in all, this is just a great read, destined, I am sure, to be a contender for the next Newbery Award.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars


The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

In My Favorites on October 19, 2014 at 7:43 pm


by Gabrielle Zevin

Publisher’s Comments (Amazon):

“This novel has humor, romance, a touch of suspense, but most of all love–love of books and bookish people and, really, all of humanity in its imperfect glory.” —Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child

A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books, has recently endured some tough years: his wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and his prized possession–a rare edition of Poe poems–has been stolen. Over time, he has given up on people, and even the books in his store, instead of offering solace, are yet another reminder of a world that is changing too rapidly. Until a most unexpected occurrence gives him the chance to make his life over and see things anew.

Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books–an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

My Thoughts:

What is there not to love about this book? I love how it was organized. Each chapter begins with the title of a short story or a book and a note from Fikry describing what he likes about it, essentially introducing each character by what they read. I love the quirky characters and how their lives intertwined and connected. I love how A.J.’s sad life gradually changed (as did those of the people around him) and opened up with the introduction of Maya, Amelia, and Chief Lambiase into his life. I loved how Chief Lambiase evolved as a reader. I loved how books played a major role in the story. I love the plot, with all the unexpected twists and turns, with all its tugging on the heartstrings, with all its humor, and with all its references to books and reading. This is a quick read, but it packs a punch. All in all, a gem of a book and well worth a read, especially if you love books and shopping at independent book stores!

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Greenglass House

In YA Book Reviews on October 14, 2014 at 6:23 am


by Kate Milford

Mystery Adventure/©2014/373 Pages/Stand Alone/Recommended for Middle Grade Students

Publisher’s Comments (Goodreads):

A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet’s Chasing Vermeer series.

It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.

My Thoughts:

Greenglass House is a smart, well written novel that will challenge strong middle grade readers. It is filled with unique characters intertwined in an engaging mystery that comes complete with twists and turns and a surprising end. The setting of Greenglass House is an old, intriguing place with its own history and secrets, the perfect backdrop for the mystery. Woven completely into the plot, every floor and every nook and cranny, described in such rich detail, is prominent throughout the story. Also wonderfully interwoven into the plot are a series of folktales and stories, some of which Milo reads in a book, and others of which are told by guests of the inn. They appear random at first, but there is a connection to understanding the characters. A very enjoyable read!

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience

In My Book Club Books, My Favorites, Non-Fiction Reads on October 13, 2014 at 8:51 pm


 Compiled by Shaun Usher


Publisher’s Comments (Goodreads):

This spectacular collection of more than 125 letters offers a never-before-seen glimpse of the events and people of history—the brightest and best, the most notorious, and the endearingly everyday. Entries include a transcript of the letter; a short contextual introduction; and, in 100 cases, a captivating facsimile of the letter itself. The artfulness of Shaun Usher’s eclectic arrangement creates a reading experience rich in discovery. Mordant, hilarious, poignant, enlightening—surprise rewards each turn of the page. Colorfully illustrated with photographs, portraits, and relevant artworks, this handsome hardcover is a visual treat too, making Letters of Note an utterly distinctive gift, and an instant classic.

My Comments:

This book is, indeed, an Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience. Each letter touched and enlightened me in some way. A few of the ones that especially stand out for me include Bill Hicks on Freedom of Speech, the two letters from former slaves to their former masters, Jackie Robinson’s letter to President Eisenhower, Alabama attorney-general Bill Baxley’s 1976 response, on official headed paper, to a white supremacist’s threats (“Kiss my ass”), Dr. Ernest Shuhlinger’s response to a question about why we explore space, JFK’s correspondence carved on a coconut shell to the Allied Forces letting them know he and his men were alive, and Francis Crick’s letter to his 12-year-old son Michael explaining, with illustrations, his joint discovery of the “very beautiful” structure of DNA. There are more, and each one is well worth reading. The book’s size and content make it the ultimate coffee table book, where the letters can be conveniently read or constantly re-read and enjoyed. I found this to be an absolutely fascinating read.

Book Club Discussion:

Our discussion started with one member stating that she thought this book was the best book she has ever read for our book club. That was high praise, indeed, and a great start to a great discussion! We all took turns talking about the different letters that spoke to us, and those included most of the ones that I mentioned above. Additional letters that were singled out for discussion included the two letters written to the London Times regarding the man known as The Elephant Man (such empathy and compassion for a fellow human being!), the Kurt Vonnegut letter to one of the school boards that banned his book Slaughterhouse Five, the letter written by Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald, a young boy’s letter to Frank Lloyd Wright asking him to design a dog house for his dog, the letter of condolence written to the aunt and uncle who had raised James Dean, and Einstein’s response to a sixth-grader who had asked him if scientists pray. There was just one letter after another, each one meriting the spotlight.

We also agreed that Shaun Usher did an amazing job compiling this collection. It is truly a work of art, with each letter getting an introduction with a short descriptor piece giving invaluable background and context to the letter. Each entry also contained the formal transcript of the letter itself, and, in most cases, the copy of the actual letter, as well as an additional photo or illustration that added the perfect extra touch. It is an absolutely visually stunning book, as well as an absolutely stunning reading experience.

Our Rating: 5/5


Menu – Book Club Luncheon – October 12, 2014
Eclectic Collection of My Favorite Recipes Deserving of A Wider Audience

Sunday October 18

Eclectic Collection of Cheeses

Autumn Chopped Salad

Caramelized Onion Quiche

Apple Crepes


Nightmares (Book 1)

In YA Book Reviews on October 7, 2014 at 6:12 am


 by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Children’s Fantasy/©2014/355 pages/First in a Trilogy/Recommended for ages 8-12

Publisher’s Comments (Amazon):

Jason Segel, multitalented actor, writer, and musician, teams up with New York Times bestselling author Kirsten Miller for the hilariously frightening, middle-grade novel Nightmares!, the first book in a trilogy about a boy named Charlie and a group of kids who must face their fears to save their town.

Sleeping has never been so scary. And now waking up is even worse! Charlie Laird has several problems.

1. His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch.
2. He had to move into her purple mansion, which is NOT a place you want to find yourself after dark.
3.He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap.

What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world—that’s a line that should never be crossed. And when your worst nightmares start to come true . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird. For good.

My Comments:

Interestingly, the nightmares in the book are based on the actual ones that the author had as a young child. The storyline is very Tim Burton/Roald Dahl, not Stephen King, but it still comes with a healthy and humorous dose of scary things. It is an engaging story with likable characters that pretty much makes it quite clear that everybody is afraid of something, but you can conquer your fears. A fun read for the middle grade set especially close to Halloween!

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Other Resources:

Nightmares Web Site with Activities, Videos, and More Information:

Jason Segel on the Colbert Report:

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

In YA Book Reviews on October 4, 2014 at 7:47 pm


 by Chris Grabenstein

Mystery Adventure/©2013/288 Pages plus Bonus Stuff/Recommended for 5th-7th Graders

Publisher’s Comments (Amazon):

Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.

Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.

In this cross between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and A Night in the Museum, Agatha Award winner Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters. Old fans and new readers will become enthralled with the crafty twists and turns of this ultimate library experience.

My Comments:

An interesting group of 7th graders compete to find the secret passage out of their new public library. – and what a library it is! This is quite the story with lots of clues, puzzles, literary references, and a wide assortment of interesting facts. All in all, a great combination of adventure, mystery, and humor that I am sure will engage middle school students (and hopefully encourage even the most reluctant to read more!). A fun read!

My Rating:

4/5 Stars