Wednesday, November 18, 2015


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

In 1939 Kraków, 7-year-old Anna Łania lives with her linguist professor father. Anna's father teaches her many different languages and encourages her to befriend all kinds of people in order to practice her linguistic abilities. One day, Anna's father leaves for a meeting at the local university and never returns. None of Anna and her father's friends take her in and she must fend for herself. One day, Anna meets a very unusual man who seems to be able to talk to birds. This mysterious man allows Anna to accompany him. The two become wanderers and skilled in the art of deception. The mysterious man does not allow Anna to use her name and never gives her his own so the two become known by the psedonyms of "Sweetie" and "Swallow Man."  As the two travel through Poland and beyond, they encounter a variety of individuals--some friendly and some not. As their years together pass, readers get a glimpse into turbulent WWII Poland and the atrocities of war through the eyes of Anna and the Swallow Man.

While this book has been suggested for the Young Adult reader, I think it is most appropriate for high school age students and beyond. There is some very difficult content within the book. The story is beautifully lyrical and the characters are complex and interesting. However, the narrative may be difficult for some to understand. Much has to be inferred rather than explicitly spelled out. Readers may draw different conclusions about both the motives of the characters and who they really are. Even the ending is ambiguous. The story offers a different look at WWII Poland as told through the eyes of people living on the fringe rather than directly on the war front.  I think this book could offer some great discussion for book club groups as readers puzzle out the meaning of different moments within the story.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A lovely and often heartbreaking look at the hard lessons of war. Readers who like very clear cut motives and endings may struggle with this one. There are no definitive explanations of character motives or even of what happens at the end.  Much like war itself.

ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN will be published on January 26, 2016.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

THE SECRET CHORD by Geraldine Brooks and **GIVEAWAY**

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

Geraldine Brooks has a real talent for helping readers connect to history in a very personal way. In her latest book, she turns to the Biblical story of David for inspiration. We are given the basic of David's life in the Bible. We know of his fame in youth from his battle with Goliath. We know of his difficult rise to power through conflict with Saul and the punishment brought on through his misstep with Bathsheba. We also know of his famed son Solomon. Brooks takes the bare bones of David's story and fleshes them out so that readers can see David in his his flawed glory.

THE SECRET CHORD is told from the perspective of the prophet Nathan. Brooks uses the traditional Hebrew names in the book so Nathan is referred to as "Natan" and Solomon as "Shlomo." The book begins with Natan looking back on his life with David and remembering one of the tasks that David gave to him. When David no longer took to the battle field, he grew restless and lacked occupation. Natan took the project of writing David's biography and left to interview the key figures in David's life. Through the stories of these characters as well as Natan's own memories, we begin to see the story of David come to life. It is a far darker and unpleasant story than the Sunday School version. However, David's flaws humanize him as much as they also tarnish his golden image.

As someone who regularly attends church and teaches Sunday School, I found myself drawn into this story on a very personal level. I am not sure how the experience would change for someone who is either not religious or not at all familiar with David's story in any form. One of the things I found so interesting about this book was comparing my memory of David's story with the one that Brooks presents in the book. It definitely made me want to get out my Bible and go back over the Biblical story of David.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I found this book to be quite enjoyable. Some more conservative Christians may take issue with David's portrayal but I found it compelling and sympathetic. When the book was over, I found myself wanting more. Perhaps a follow-up on the life of Solomon?


I am so lucky to be able to offer a copy of this book to one winner!  (United States address only, please)

To enter, leave a comment telling me your favorite story from the Bible. (if you have one)

Make sure I have a way to contact you if you win.

This giveaway ends on October 5, 2015 at 8:00am PST.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

FEAR OF DYING by Erica Jong

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

I am embarrassed to say I have never read FEAR OF FLYING. It seems like a serious reading omission for any feminist worth her salt. After reading FEAR OF DYING, I have decided I need to immediately run to the library and pick up the one I missed.  Jong returns to the familiar territory of sexuality and marriage with FEAR OF DYING.  Vanessa is a 60-year-old actress happily married to a man 25 years her senior.  Vanessa's parents are both very old and ill. She is facing the hard realities of age while fighting to remain youthful and relevant. In an attempt to deal with everything happening in her life, Vanessa decides to post an ad in a Tinder-like service called Zipless in the hope of making a sexual connection and feeling alive again.

There is a lot going on in this novel. I would say Vanessa's frustrated sexuality is probably one of the least interesting parts of the novel. I love the fact that Jong is delving into the complexities of life at 60 for women. When I was in my twenties, I looked at the women in "Sex and the City" who were in their thirties and forties and marveled at how glamorous they were!  Now, I am 40 and looking ahead to Vanessa and her peers for guidance as to what comes next. Instead of dealing with common aging subjects such as menopause and body changes, Jong instead chooses to focus on not only desire and sex but also at the complex emotions that rise out of the deaths of our parents. The fact that Vanessa's husband is so much older than her also offers an interesting side to the story. The whole book gave me a lot to think about.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I can't really explain why but I loved this book. I thought Vanessa was a wonderful character and found her struggles with death and aging incredibly compelling and interesting.  The ending was a little out there but I thought the book was really terrific overall.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

When my son started Kindergarten two years ago, I was afraid about what knew social pressures he would face. Our Back to School theme for that year was taken from Sting: "Be Yourself No Matter What They Say."  I didn't want him to lose those parts of himself that were so special just to fit in with the other kids. So far so good!  If this book had been around two years ago, it would definitely have been one of his first day of school gifts.

ALLY-SAURUS AND THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL follows the adventures of an imaginative little girl named Ally who loves dinosaurs and likes to pretend that she is one. Ally hopes to meet other dinosaur-loving children at school. Ally quickly discovers that not all kids love dinosaurs as much as she does. Some love space and some love lions and some even like (gasp!) princesses. Ally has a difficult moment with the "princesses" when they tell her that dinosaurs are not allowed to eat at their table. She quickly meets other friends, however, and the children figure out how to play together in all their imaginative forms.

The illustrations in this book are so charming.  I love that Ally and her friends reveal their alternate identities through child-like scribbles.

I also really enjoyed how the book included some conflict and demonstrated how the children worked through this conflict. I think it is important that children understand that they will be facing new ideas and situations at school and that there are ways to figure out how to work out differences in a positive way. The book is very sweet and I loved how it ended with a visit to the school library!

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended!  Very sweet illustrations and a charming message about being yourself while letting others be themselves as well.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


(I received a copy of this book from the publisher.)

THE DRESSMAKER is one of those books that manages to be funny and sad and dark and infinitely readable all at the same time. Tilly Dunnage has finally returned to her small Australian hometown after twenty years ago.  She left in the midst of scandal and spent her years away learning about fashion in Europe. She returns home to take care of her ailing mother and discovers that the past has never really left.

Ham has come with an amazing and interesting cast of characters. The small town of Dungatar is filled with all manner of scandals behind closed doors--illicit affairs, children out of wedlock, cross-dressers, madness, financial ruin. Ham's vision of small-town life is utterly captivating even if it can be difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters. As the bastard child of the town "harlot," Tilly was ruthlessly bullied as a child. The flashback scenes to her childhood are horrific and painful. The scandal behind Tilly's departure is slowly revealed throughout the story.

While the book is often funny and always entertaining, it is also very dark and sad. This is a revenge story and no one really gets a happy ending. I found the book very hard to put down. I was a bit disappointed with the ending. There is a complicated plot line involving a play that I felt caused the story to drag. It was necessary in order for the ending to occur but I felt it was a bit of a letdown after such an entertaining story.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This book is currently being made into a movie starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth. I am interested to see how a story with so many characters and so many plot lines can be developed into a movie. I am hoping the movie will have a little more humor and a little less darkness. While I was disappointed in the ending, I found this book to be a very enjoyable read overall.

See the international trailer for the new movie here.

Monday, August 03, 2015


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

I have been getting so many quality children's books to review lately.  This one is no exception.  I was immediately charmed by this book because of our recent addition to the family:

(Bacchus the Brave)

MAX THE BRAVE is about a fearless and brave kitten named Max. Max desperately wants to chase mice but he doesn't know what a mouse is. Max visits a variety of animals trying to find a mouse to chase. Through some clever misdirection, he is eventually led to a monster and told that the monster is a mouse. Brave little Max decides to take on the monster. In spite of the monster's big teeth!

This book is absolutely adorable.  This was my very favorite illustration:

I love the simple and graphic illustrations and the story is quite amusing. The little kitten's journey will remind some readers of I WANT MY HAT BACK.  I think this would be wonderful to pair with SKIPPYJON JONES.  Skippyjon is another kitten with delusions of grandeur and I think the two go together quite nicely.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  A charming book about one kitten's quest to be a brave mouse-chaser.  Very sweet story with wonderful illustrations!

Friday, July 31, 2015

YOUR ALIEN by Tammi Sauer and GIVEAWAY!!!

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I am so excited about this one!  YOUR ALIEN is an absolutely charming children's book from Tammi Sauer and Goro Fujita.  A little boy looks out his window one day to see an alien spaceship crash landing. He and the cute little alien become good friends and have a lot of fun together. That night, however, the alien gets sad and the boy has to figure out how to comfort his new friend.

Not only is this book incredibly sweet but the illustrations are so charming!  The rhythm and style of the text are reminiscent of Numeroff's IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE books. My 7-year-old son read the book out loud to me. There were only a few tough words and he was able to use picture clues to figure them out.  He laughed out loud several times during the story and told me this was his favorite part:

I loved that this picture book was both funny and sweet.  It has lovely things to say about friends, family, and helping others. I think kids of all ages will like this one but especially Preschool through 2nd Grade.  Even if your child is already a good reader, the story and illustrations will draw him/her in.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Incredibly sweet and charming. Lovely illustrations and a great message.


Want to win a copy of this wonderful book?
Leave a comment telling me your favorite alien in books, television or film. 
Open to US residents only.  Contest closes August 7, 2015 at 8:00am PST.

SUSIE IS THE WINNER! Thanks for playing!  I will have more giveaways soon!

Monday, July 27, 2015

NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

Jennifer McMahon writes really creepy books. And this one is no exception. Some of you may remember my review of her book THE WINTER PEOPLE.  McMahon returns to the supernatural suspense genre with her latest book entitled THE NIGHT SISTER.  As in THE WINTER PEOPLE, McMahon moves back and forth through time to set up her story.  In 1955, sisters Rose and Sylvie are growing up at the 28 room motel that their parents run in a small town off Route 6 in London, Vermont.  The Tower Motel is known for its tower feature that the girls' father built for his English wife. Sylvie is the golden child and Rose is struggling to grow up in her shadow. Sylvie has big plans to run off and be a famous Hollywood actress. She idolizes Alfred Hitchcock and writes him letters about her life in London.  One day, Sylvie disappears and leaves a letter behind about her desire to leave and start a new life.  In 1989, Rose's daughter Amy is living at the crumbling motel with her English grandmother.  Her best friends are sisters Piper and Margot.  As the girls run wild around the motel, they discover a dark secret.  In 2013, Piper receives a call from Margot saying Amy and all of her family are dead supposedly killed by Amy's own hand. Amy leaves a cryptic note behind that says "29 Rooms."  Piper and Margot immediately know what it means.

THE NIGHT SISTER is a really creepy book.  I couldn't put it down. I had to know what was going to happen. There are supernatural elements to this book so do not read it expecting a traditional suspense/mystery. I think McMahon does a great job in developing characters.  Although there are quite a few heavy hints that point to what is going to happen, it is still an enjoyable read.  I was a little disappointed by the ending. It felt a little too far-fetched. Even for a supernatural thriller. But, overall, I thought it was a fun read.  Perfect for a rainy night.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for lovers of suspense.  Save this one for a rainy night or a cold Winter evening.  A fun, quick read for lovers of supernatural suspense.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


(I received an advance copy from the publisher)

This novel was perplexing.  I had a hard time trying to figure out what it is about.  A woman named A lives with a female roommate named B.  A dates a man referred to as C. A's life is defined by the consumer world around her. Her time with C is spent watching either television or porn. A finds herself mesmerized by a news story about a man who became a celebrity by buying all the veal he could get his hands on. She constantly refers to animated commercials for an artificial food product called Kandy Kakes and spends her time outside of her apartment at either her boyfriend's, her job, or the nearby Wally's supermarket. A's relationship with B has a "Single White Female" quality to it. B's behavior seems bizarre and she appears to be trying to make herself look more like A. C has all the control is his relationship with A and is the only one allowed to define their interactions. One day, A looks out the window to discover her neighbors leaving their home covered in white sheets. She begins to learn about the cult they have joined and decides that this group may have the answers to her questions about identity and self.

I think there are some truly inspired moments in this book. Kleeman is so gifted at description. I could instantly visualize the Kandy Kake commercials and setting that she described in such detail. I had a very clear idea of setting and character. However, I was completely confused most of the time about everything else. I feel like Kleeman has important things to say about identity and self in our consumer culture but I had a hard time following the thread. I was confused in a way I haven't been since reading A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.  Because of this, I just didn't enjoy the book. It was very difficult to get through and I didn't find the ending particulary satisfying or enlightening.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  Although Kleeman is clearly a gifted writer, I just couldn't follow the story. I found the whole thing very confusing.  This very well may be my fault as a reader. I would definitely read future works by Kleeman but this one was a miss for me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Meet Max the Brave!

“Are You My Mother?” meets “I Want My Hat Back” in the hilarious new picture book, Max the Brave (Sept. 8), by author and illustrator Ed Vere. Follow fearless Max as he encounters every other creature except the one he’s searching for…mouse. Check out the trailer!

Full review coming soon!