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Archive for September, 2015

Historical Fiction Review – Ross Poldark

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall (1783-1787) by Winston Graham


Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)


I am a huge fan of almost anything shown on Masterpiece Classic.  I get a lot of my reading suggestions through these television programs.  This year a new version of Poldark was added to the Masterpiece schedule and it was a huge success.  When I learned more and discovered it was based on a book series, I had to do some research.  Much to my joy, there are twelve books in the Poldark Saga!

In the first installment, Ross Poldark is just returning from fighting for the British in the Revolutionary War.  He is battered and tired and ready to settle back into a life in England.  Ross is looking forward to being reunited with his love Elizabeth but his return is not the happy one he envisioned.  Elizabeth is no longer his love, his father has passed away, and his homestead is in shambles.  Thus begins the battle to bring order and purpose back to his life under unexpected and dismal circumstances.  Ross must deal with family drama and ridicule from many in the district.  He doesn’t live up to the expectations many people have for him and is forced to forge his own path without their stamp of approval or assistance.  Graham gives Ross a rich voice with dialogue that is witty and direct, a style that was often avoided in those times because of tradition and social graces.

Ross has definite flaws and I found myself occasionally getting frustrated with him but he is also very mindful and, at a time when others are warped and controlled by greed, he remains a step above.  I absolutely love his cousin Verity and hope she is a prominent character in the future novels. Set in Cornwall, the landscape and descriptions of the mines and mining practices of the time were very interesting and not belabored (I’m thinking of the utterly painful pages and pages of descriptions of Russian farming practices in Anna Karenina).  I really enjoyed this first novel in the series and I look forward to learning more about the future of the Poldark family.  5 stars for Ross Poldark!


Non-Fiction Review – A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

by Bill Bryson

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

The author Scott Corbett once said, “I often feel sorry for people who don’t read good books; they are missing a chance to lead an extra life.”  I love this quote, because it’s so true.  Reading books can allow you to do things and go places in a split second; books let you become immersed in other times and even in other worlds.  I find this irresistible…that’s why I love to read.

This week I want to recommend a travel book of sorts called “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” by Bill Bryson.  Reading this book has allowed me to experience hiking the Appalachian Trail from the comfort of my favorite chair.  Sometimes this is the only way I get to travel!

Bill Bryson is an experienced travel writer.  He has written for National Geographic magazine for years.  Born and raised in Des Moines, Bryson moved to England in the late 70’s.  After living there for 20 years, he decided to move back to the United States with his English wife and their four children.  And he decided that, one of the best ways to try and reconnect with the country of his birth, after being gone for so long, would be to hike one of its most beautiful nature trails.

The problem was, he didn’t want to go alone.  He managed to hook up with an old school buddy, Stephen Katz.  Bryson and Katz took a walking tour of Europe 25 years earlier, which Bryson wrote about in his book “Neither Here nor There.”  Katz assured him that he was in top physical condition and eager to hike the AT.  And so, A Walk in the Woods begins….

Bryson’s book is a memoir, a history of the Appalachian Trail and surrounding region, and a hilarious travelogue.  We discover along with Bryson that Katz has exaggerated the level of his physical fitness just a wee bit.  And Bryson has not confided to Katz his fear of bears, which borders on the pathological.  He does extended research into bear attack statistics, and finds out that only 500 people were attacked by black bears between 1960 and 1980 (he works this out to 25 attacks a year from a population of roughly half a million bears).  Bryson worries:  “…is 500 certified attacks really such a modest number, considering how few people go into the North American woods?  And how foolish must one be to be reassured by the information that no bear has killed a human in Vermont or New Hampshire in 200 years?  That’s not because the bears have signed a treaty, you know.  There’s nothing to say that they won’t start a modest rampage tomorrow.”

In spite of all this, Bryson and Katz set out on the journey of a lifetime.  Do they hike the entire 2000+ miles of the trail?  You’ll have to read this one to find out.  I’ve heard Bill Bryson described as a cross between Garrison Keillor and Dave Barry, and I think that’s a pretty accurate description.   He can be very sarcastic; if he sees something absurd or ridiculous, he doesn’t hesitate to point it out.  On the other hand, if he experiences something wonderful, he writes in such a way that you experience it too.  I love his writing!






Banned Book Week 2015

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Each year the American Library Association compiles a list of books targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools across the county. The ALA says, “Banned Book Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read”.

Below is the list of the most challenged book of 2014. How many have you read?

The Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2014:


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

(Reasons for challenges: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.”)

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

(Reasons: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions.”)

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

This tender tale of two male penguins raising a baby penguin together is based on actual occurrences at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. Of all the penguins around, Roy and Silo choose each other and spend all their time together: swimming, walking, and singing. They even make a nest with stones for eggs, and carefully tend to it, though nothing ever hatches. A watchful zookeeper places an abandoned egg in their nest, and the two joyfully hatch and raise Tango, their very own chick.
Illustrated with delicate watercolors, this touching story focuses on the wonderful diversity that can make up a family.

(Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homo-sexual agenda.)

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye, published in 1970, is the first novel written by Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. It is the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove — a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others — who prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

(Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues.”)

It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris

Ages 10 and up. — When young people have questions about sex, real answers can be hard to find. Providing accurate, unbiased answers to nearly every conceivable question, from conception and puberty to birth control and AIDS, It’s Perfectly Normal offers young people the real information they need now more than ever to make responsible decisions and to stay healthy.
Frankly written with nicely done cartoon-like illustrations. Plus there is a bird and a bee who have side dialogue that is delightful.

(Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it [to be] child pornography.”)

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Written by Eisner Award-winning “Best Writer” Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, The Private Eye) and drawn by Harvey Award-winning “Best Artist” Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40) Saga is the story of Hazel, a child born to star-crossed parents from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war. Now, Hazel’s fugitive family must risk everything to find a peaceful future in a harsh universe that values destruction over creation.

(Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.)

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This powerful first novel tells a story of fierce cruelty and fierce yet redeeming love. Both transform the life of Amir, the privileged young narrator, who comes of age during the last peaceful days of the monarchy, just before his country’s revolution and its invasion by Russian forces. But political events, even as dramatic as the ones that are presented in The Kite Runner, are only a part of this story. Hosseini gives us a vivid and engaging story that reminds us how long his people have been struggling to triumph over the forces of violence, forces that continue to threaten them even today.

(Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence.)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Standing on the fringes of life…offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.

(Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation.”)

A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard

In the summer of 1991 I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother who loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen. — For eighteen years I was a prisoner. I was an object for someone to use and abuse. — For eighteen years I was not allowed to speak my own name. I became a mother and was forced to be a sister. For eighteen years I survived an impossible situation.
On August 26, 2009, I took my name back. My name is Jaycee Lee Dugard. I don’t think of myself as a victim. I survived.
A Stolen Life is my story — in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.

(Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.)

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier! Following the success of SMILE, Raina Telgemeier brings us another graphic novel featuring a diverse set of characters that humorously explores friendship, crushes, and all-around drama!
(Reasons: Sexually explicit.)

This Week’s Book Review Contest Winner!

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Congratulations jjares!











Suspect by Robert Crais

Winning Review by jjares


This is my first book by this author and I was wowed by the tight plot and excellent writing. This story grabbed me on the first page and didn’t let go. I certainly hope this is the beginning of a new series for Robert Crais.

The book opens with Maggie’s story; this German shepherd survived three tours in the Middle East sniffing explosives before her partner (handler) dies in a sniper attack. She’s been turned over to LAPD but they have found that her PSTD is too severe to use her.

LAPD cop Scott James is recovering from a night-time attack that killed his partner Stephanie and nearly ended his life. Because Scott was such a good cop, he has called in chips to work in the K-9 group (he could have been given a permanent medical retirement). When Scott goes to collect his K-9 partner, he demands the opportunity to work with Maggie. They are two lost souls that bond with each other; it’s interesting that Scott has more to learn than Maggie. The info about the training and commitment between a dog and his handler is fascinating and is woven skillfully into the story.

Nine months later, Stephanie’s death is still an open case and the new man investigating the case calls in Scott for his insights into the disaster. Before long, Scott isn’t just a side-liner; he and Maggie push buttons that bring new clues to light.

This is a masterful, tension-filled race to the finish. The relationship between Maggie and Scott is intense and emotional. This is a great story.




Audio Book Review – Agnes and the Hitman

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015


Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer


Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)


I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but what about making an initial judgment based on its cover combined with the title?  When I saw the title of this book I had to take a second look.  When I looked a little more closely, I saw the image of Agnes (the short-ish dark hair and glasses reminded me of yours truly!) with flamingos and bullet holes in the background and I had to give Agnes and the Hitman a chance.  What I got was a wild, somewhat neurotic, mob tale complete with hitmen, wedding planning, flamingos and attempted dognapping.

I decided to listen to this audiobook last week while traveling for work…it was going to be a somewhat long, tedious drive so I thought something fun and light would be just what I needed. I was right; I thought it was fun with just enough of a ‘serious’ family storyline woven throughout to keep it from being ridiculous.

Agnes has had some issues with previous fiancés…I’ll just say there was mistrust and frying pans involved.   Joey is her best friend…and an ex-mobster.  Or is he really an ex-mobster?  And who is this mysterious Shane who Joey sends to protect Agnes and her dog Rhett?  Bring on two controlling mothers trying to take over a wedding, mob tales, missing money, and a little love (and/or lust) and you have some laugh-out-loud entertainment.

Sandra Burr is the narrator, and overall, I think she does a great job keeping the story light and the variety of accents (from South Carolina to New Jersey) fun.  My only complaint on the narration is in the editing and production of the character’s thoughts…the vocalized thoughts sound like Burr is in an echo chamber and the volume decreases quite dramatically.  I had to listen to the entire audio book a little louder than I would have liked so I didn’t miss these vocalized thoughts.

Have about 12 hours on your hands and need some fun, lighthearted entertainment?  Give Agnes and the Hitman a try.








Monday Mystery Review – The Girl With the Long Green Heart

Monday, September 14th, 2015

The Girl With the Long Green Heart by Lawrence Block


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


I confess that I used to be sniffy about readers who dug whodunits just because it was set in a city or region that they knew. I mean, I like recognizing streets and landscapes, but for whodunnits it’s not the setting but the story and the characters. Lew Archer doesn’t have to be in L.A. for Ross Macdonald to have him go through lots of satisfying and universal twists and turns.

I’ve seen the light, I’m not condescending anymore. I really liked the Western New York touches in this novel; he even mentions now defunct Mohawk Airlines, a regional carrier back in the day. The other nostalgic point is that this is set in the long gone Sixties, before transportation pattern changed and oil and gas got expensive, when places like Jamestown and Olean could hold their own economically.

Lawrence Block says,

I was living in Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, when I began the book, and I went to Toronto, Canada, and Olean, New York, to research the scenes I set there. Year later a professor at Olean’s St. Bonaventure University booked me for a talk and reading. The book was a hot ticket in Olean, let me tell you, if nowhere else in the known universe. 

He’s selling the book short. The 1965 novel, re-printed by Hard Case Crime in 2011, rocks as a caper novel. Two veteran con-artists and one greenhorn line up an Olean, New York real estate wheeler dealer on a phony “land in Canada” deal. Block gives the feeling that he has insider knowledge of con artistry. The swindler’s assumptions and concerns are narrated persuasively. Just so, because the narration is an interior monologue of a veteran con man.

The characterization of the Olean moneybags mark and the novice con artist are both excellent. The mark is so shrewd that the con artists play on his shrewdness. Illustrating W.C. Fields’ aphorism, “You can’t cheat an honest man,” they use the larceny in the heart of the mark against him.

The action moves steadily, without needless explication or cute complications. The climax has both minor and major surprises that make the ending more credible. I highly recommend this novel even to people not keen on caper stories. Years ago I stopped reading Block because the burglar and hit man hero didn’t appeal to me (I’m a prude), but his early ones, like this one, might be worth seeking out.




Book Review Contest Winner!

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

brc pen med

Vengeance is Mine by Reavis Z Wortham


Winning Review by Cathy C. (cathyskye)


Wortham has completely won me over with his blend of humor and seriousness. With one word, he can have me reliving my youth in my own central Illinois version of Center Springs. Last time in The Right Side of Wrong, that one word was “bobwire” (barbed wire). In Vengeance Is Mine, it’s “worsh” (wash). Even if you didn’t grow up in a small town in the 1960s, you’re certainly going to know what it was like by reading Wortham.

There’s a seriousness to Wortham: big city problems moving into small towns, the effects a new dam is going to have on the area, the fact that white adults always have to think of the consequences if they or their children are seen mixing with black people. Drugs, technology, violence, racism. Pretty important– and serious– stuff, but Wortham is an expert at leavening the grim with laugh-out-loud humor. In this book the author taught me about some of the lyrics to a Little Richard song, city slicker Tony walking into a country store and quizzically eyeing a tin of Bag Balm, and Top being told a few facts of life by Pepper and two other young girls.

There’s usually a scene towards the end when all Hades breaks loose, and Vengeance Is Mine is no exception. What makes it one of my favorites in this series is its “Witness”- like quality. (Remember the movie where Harrison Ford lives among the Amish for a while?) Yes, bad things happen in small towns, but folks there still know that they’re all in this together. And it’s the working together that makes things better.

These Red River mysteries have turned into one of my favorite series– for the spot-on setting, for one of the best casts of characters going, for the humor, and for some high-octane action scenes that make my socks roll up and down. Each book does well as a standalone, but don’t deny yourself one second of enjoyment. Begin at the beginning with The Rock Hole. You’ll be glad you did!


You can enter the Book Review Contest yourself, by reviewing a book and sharing the review to Facebook.
Read details here:http://www.paperbackswap.com/help/help_item.php?id=699
Stay tuned for this week’s finalists!