Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Deep Down Dark' by Héctor Tobar

✰✰✰✰½ When the San José Mine collapsed in Chile in 2010, 1.2 billion people watched the rescue on television. Never before had anyone survived such a long time underground...69 days. How did the miners survive? What happened during their time in the caverns And how did they adjust to life back above ground?

It’s been more than seven years since the thirty-three men were trapped. Their plight captivated the world. For seventeen days no one even new if they were alive or dead. With meager resources, somehow all of the miners survived.  Tobar's narrative moves between the stories of the men trapped beneath thousands of feet of rock to the political battles above ground.

While the miners struggled to make their limited rations last, their families fought to keep the rescue mission alive. Harsh conditions challenged the miners physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The drama and suspense of their story will keep you turning the pages of this quick read.

The Bottom Line: This is a riveting story of workplace disaster, politics, family, physical endurance, and survival. It's also a story of hard working men and the people who love them. Chances are you remember the story, now read about what really happened. Enthusiastically recommended for readers who enjoy survival stories.

Book Club Notes: Our group thrives on exploring different opinions, so this was a lively discussion. With 15+ participants we really had to be respectful of the amount of time each person had to talk. Several people mentioned that they didn't like the journalistic style of the book and would have liked to know more about the miners' private lives. Others enjoyed the style and said the author did a good job of respecting the privacy of the survivors. A few people said that the beginning of the book (the first 75 pages especially) was slow. It was difficult at times to keep track of who was who as there were so many people involved. Several of us were wanting of more information about mining and drilling. I supplemented the discussion with diagrams, maps, photos, and a timeline as these items were sparse in the hardcover book. Several members had watched documentaries online. Also, a few checked out the movie, The 33, after the discussion. Overall the ratings (on a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the highest) ranged from 3.5 to 5 with an average of 4.5. 

To sum, this is an inspirational and education story of faith, friendship, and teamwork. While this may not have been their first choice in books, this title was an awesome book club pick. This was our best discussion of the year, and it's always great to end the year on a high note. For book clubs considering this book, check out the discussion questions at Reading Group Guides. 
Details: Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Héctor Tobar. Paperback published by Picador in 2014. 320 p. ISBN: 978-1-250-07485-0 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: 'Boris and Bella' by Carolyn Crimi

✰✰✰✰✰ Everyone in Booville seems to get along. Everyone, that is, except for neighbors Bella and Boris. Bella Legrossi is the messiest creature in town, while Boris Kleanitoff is the tidiest.

Bella and Boris argue all the time. As Halloween rolls around, each tries to outdo the other with a spectacular party. When all the other monsters turn them down to attend Harry Beastie’s party, Bella and Boris are left out and all alone again. Together they decide to find out what all the other creatures are shrieking about. And together they stumble upon a nice surprise.

The Bottom Line: This tale of two opposites is witty and clever. This spooky tale of friendship is one of my favorites this year. Kids in lower grade school will love Gris Grimly’s spooktacular illustrations in ink and watercolor. This Halloween treat is sure to be a winner for story time reading as well.

Details: Boris and Bella written by Carolyn Crimi & illustrated by Gris Grimly. Hardcover picture book published by Harcourt, Inc. in 2004. 32 p. ISBN: 0-15-202528-6 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review: 'Trick or Treat?' by Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson

✰✰✰✰ A little boy goes trick-or-treating in his apartment building. He goes from floor to floor and door to door, asking, “Trick or Treat?” Each person answers, “Treat!” and hands out candy. However, when the little boy reaches the tenth floor, Merlin answers, “Trick!” Magic Merlin waves his wand and suddenly everything is WackBards! On the way back down to his apartment, the little boy’s treat bag is filled with backwards treats. When he gets home, his daddy knows just the trick to undo Merlin’s spell.

The Bottom Line: This Halloween-themed counting book is recommended for kids in grades PreK – 1. Meisel’s whimsical drawings will make kids laugh. Also, recommended for story time.

Details: Trick or Treat? written by Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson, & illustrated by Paul Meisel. Hardcover picture book published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2002. 40 p. ISBN: 0-689-84968-0 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Book Review: 'How to Make Friends with a Ghost' by Rebecca Green

✰✰✰✰½  Ghosts need friends just like we do. It might be a bit scary at first to be friends with a ghost, but this helpful guide will show you how. The tricky part is finding a ghost. Rather then looking for one, it's better to let the ghost find you.

Once you are acquainted with your ghost let the fun begin. Ghosts have special needs, and this how-to book will help you care for your new friend. You can make snacks for it, take walks with it, and tell it funny jokes. If you move or when you grow older, your ghost will still be there for you. Your ghost is your true friend to the end...forever.   

The Bottom Line: Rebecca Green's debut picture book is a delightful winner. This quirky and sweet tale of everlasting friendship is great for kids who are a little bit shy. This ghostly tale is not scary at all. Green used a soothing, limited color palette resulting in charming illustrations with gothic, retro feel. Highly recommended for kids in grades K – 2. This is the perfect seasonal reading for kids interested in fantasy and make-believe.

Details: How to Make Friends with a Ghost written & illustrated by Rebecca Green. Hardcover picture book published by Tundra Books in 2017. 40 p. ISBN: 978-1-101-91901-9  NOTE: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book Review: 'How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?' by Margaret McNamara

✰✰✰✰✰ Charlie is the smallest kid in class. One day his teacher brings in three pumpkins in three different sizes and asks, "How many seeds in a pumpkin?" Everyone guesses that the largest has the most. Maybe, but not so fast. The class sets out to count the seeds in groups of twos, fives, and tens. When everyone is finished, the class is surprised by the results. It just goes to prove that sometimes good things come in small packages.

The Bottom Line: This book is enthusiastically recommended for story time reading for kids in grades K – 2. The children work together in teams and learn about counting and perception. The engaging illustrations rendered in gouache, acrylic, and pencil help drive the concepts home. Finally, the book includes some cool facts about pumpkins too.

Details: How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom series) written by Margaret McNamara & illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Hardcover picture book published by Schwartz & Wade Books in 2007. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-375-84014-2 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: 'Ollie's Halloween' by Olivier Dunrea

✰✰✰✰ It’s Halloween and the goslings are out prowling. Each is dressed up for the festivities as they hoot like owls, scare frogs, and gobble up treats. But Ollie is too busy to eat. When lightning flashes in the dark sky, the goslings run into the barn. There they find one last feast of treats. Will the others share with Ollie? Check out this Halloween treat to find out.

The Bottom Line: This tiny tale of big Halloween adventure is sure to please little ones familiar with Gossie, Gertie, Peedie, BooBoo, & Ollie. Delightful pen and ink and gouache illustrations set a festive tone. The large print is perfect for beginning readers. Enthusiastically recommended for little ones in preschool. Includes a fold-out poster.

Details: Ollie’s Halloween written & illustrated by Olivier Dunrea. Hardcover picture book published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-618-53241-4

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: 'It Takes a Witch' by Heather Blake

✰✰✰✰ After the recent death of their father, Darcy Merriweather and her little sister, Harper, need a change. When their only living relative, Aunt Ve, invites them to live with her in the Enchanted Village in Salem, Massachusetts, they jump at the opportunity. It seems they never got to know their mom very well and after joining the family business, Darcy and Harper learn a family secret. They come from a long line of witches known as Wishcrafters, who have the power to grant wishes with spells. What could possibly be better?

As Darcy and Harper take new jobs and get to know the residents, they quickly discover that things aren't so rosy in this magic-themed tourist town. With a pickpocketer running amok, more trouble soon arrives in the form of a dead body. When the obvious clues point to Aunt Ve and her beau, Darcy pushes her newfound abilities to the max. Meanwhile, a handsome widower mysteriously appears every step of the way as Darcy follows the twists and turns of this charming mystery to a surprising conclusion.

The Bottom Line: This supernatural cozy mystery is a quick read. After finishing the first installment, I can't wait to read the rest. Highly recommended for fans of cozy mysteries who enjoy a little romance as well. This would be fun to take to the beach or on vacation.

Details: It Takes a Witch: A Wishcraft Mystery by Heather Blake. Paperback published by OBSIDIAN in 2012. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-451-23552-7