book review Chicago nonfiction

Book Review-An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago

My takeaway after reading the true stories in this book include the fact that there is nothing any one person can do about the ongoing violence in Chicago. No mayor or police chief can fix this mess. We all know that summer is the worst season. The warmer the weather, the higher the gunshot count will be.

Kotlowitz’s previous book, There Are No Children Here (the written account of two boys growing up in the Henry Horner Homes)  is 28 years old and the violence is worse than ever. Obviously no one has the answer that everyone in Chicago wishes to find.

What we can’t do is ignore it just because it isn’t happening in our neighborhood. I think there needs to be sweeping changes in job creation/training, medical/mental health care, housing/food availability before we can turn the tide.

Most of this book is hard to read and accept as the reality of every day life in Chicago, but you need to read it anyway.

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowicz

March 5, 2019

book review nonfiction

Book Review: Dutch Girl

Loved this historical nonfiction book up to the top. The author clearly liked Audrey, and after reading this, I did too. It’s hard not to. I mean just about everyone likes the Audrey of film fame, but after I read more about her life during World War 2, I liked her more like a real person. I could see how it affected her life going forward.

When Audrey was 11 years old, the Germans began their occupation of the Netherlands. At first, life didn’t change much for her, but as time went on, her life began to change, and she had to give up her much-loved ballet lessons.

In 1944, the Allies started bombing the town that she lived in. She and her family spent much of their time in the cellar of their home hoping to survive while bombs exploded all around them.

Following that came the ‘hunger winter’. There wasn’t enough food, and many people starved to death. Audrey commented that this was the first time she had ever seen starvation. I can understand how she ended up being a UNICEF ambassador when she got older.

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War 2 by Robert Matzen

book review nonfiction

Book Review: Year of Yes

Shonda Rhimes is the creator and writer of the TV I watch. I spend a reasonable amount of time reading, and when I’m ready to turn my brain off her shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder are my go-to viewing. That’s why I haven’t read a lot of women’s fiction or romance. I watch Shonda’s shows instead. So, I’m a fan, and until I read this, I hadn’t even realized that she’s from suburban Illinois. What I do know is that her storytelling inspires my own. Shonda’s characters don’t all get happy endings, they aren’t all good people, but they are real, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more. I don’t even like medical shows- I spend the entire time with my hand over my eyes, but I watch it anyway.

I grabbed this on Audible months ago (maybe on sale?) just on the strength of her name. I started listening to it with a slip of my finger while I took one of my new fast walks that are not quite running yet. I meant to turn on the lecture I started in the car and instead downloaded and began this book- and then didn’t stop until the end.

I read some reviews that said it’s just her bragging, that nothing profound happened, that this book is more of an autobiography- huh. I didn’t see it that way.

I found her to be delightfully honest and at about the one hour mark I started taking notes. My takeaways:

I don’t have the same problems that a mega show runner has, yet as women, mothers, trying to balance work and home we did have much in common.

Know your healthy boundaries. They won’t be the same as mine or Shonda’s. Saying yes doesn’t mean saying yes to everyone. It means saying yes to you and your personal self.

In the past when I’ve said yes (outside my comfort zone) it hasn’t worked out. I made some poor choices that cost time, money, too much emotional work, or all of the above to both my family and me. Hearing about Shonda’s year of yes made me realize what areas saying yes it would work for me.

When I can I try to listen to autobiographies if the author reads them as I feel it adds so much to hear the tone of their voice. This one is no different. I hear more than a bit of Olivia Pope in Shonda’s voice, and that was what I wanted to hear. She is confident,, and sassy. All the things I value in my friends. Listening to this was like sitting down with a friend and discussing life over the beverage of your choice.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

book review fiction

Book Review: The Farm

Imagine spending some time at a fancy resort where everything is free. Anything you need is provided to you quickly and cheerfully, and you get to stay for nine months. The only catch? You are a surrogate, and after you give birth, you’ll be sent on your way-richer and yet emptier.

The three main characters are Jane, an immigrant already has a young daughter and works low wage domestic jobs when she can find them. Reagan is a stereotypical white girl who has nothing better to do and signs up just for the cash. And Mae, the tiger mom like Asian-American woman who runs the facility where Jane and Reagan end up. There isn’t much Mae won’t do to ensure a positive outcome for her clients. We also get to see how unprepared Jane is for this kind of situation, where her background and experience only make her more vulnerable. None of the characters are completely good or bad, and it definitely makes you think about our society today.

“….in America you only need to know how to make money. Money buys everything else.”

Isn’t that the truth. This isn’t a Handmaids Tale scenario, it isn’t romance, or even women’s fiction exactly. I’d almost call it horror-lite.

I was waiting for a shocking twist that didn’t appear. After I let the book sit with me a few days I started thinking about the premise and how the fact that this seems plausible and legal is maybe the most dystopian ending of all.

I think it would make an excellent book club read.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos May 7, 2019

book review fiction

Book Review: The East End

The East End is a book you could pick up now if you’ve got a Mother’s Day gift card burning a hole in your pocket. Hint, hint. It’s the kind of caper where the main character has it all figured out. Nothing can go wrong with his plan- so of course, everything goes wrong with his plan. LOL. Corey lives in the Hamptons year-round like he’s a townie, not someone who owns one of those huge houses there. But, he does house-sit in them. The plot stands out for me in that it is such a good example of class assumptions in this country. Being rich does not mean everything is great or that you’ve got your act together. Although Corey is apt to break the law, he feels justified, and you don’t hate him for it for which I give Jason Allen full credit. It isn’t easy building a character that lives within the gray area of society. One night he decides to go over to Sheffield’s when he thinks no one will be home and ends up seeing some things he shouldn’t. It all wraps up, but not in the way I expected, which is always nice! The entire twisty story takes just three days and you’ll want to read it that fast as well. A warning that it contains a lot of swearing, and adult situations. The East End by Jason Allen
book review fiction romance

ARC Review: Crashing the A List

Grown Up Books for Summer Reading a series all week long right here while I wish that I was going to have a Summer full of lounge chairs instead of drywall…

Loved this- it's only the second romance novel I've read this year, and I am getting more and more positive That I'll be reading more. 
The whole premise of regular gal ending up with a celebrity because of unusual circumstances- pulled me right in. Add in the fact that she worked in publishing and it was right up my alley. Clara loses her job in as a book editor, has to move in with her brother and ends up taking a job cleaning out storage units- yuck. 
A series of events lead her to a famous guy, and she ends up "fake dating" him- which turns into real dating- which made me laugh out loud. This is hilarious and real and perfect for reading at the beach this summer. July, 2019  
Crashing The A List by Summer Heacock 

book review MG fiction

ARC Review- The Oddmire, Book 1: Changeling

You all know I’m always relieved to see #1 in the title of a new book- I double puffy heart love a new series.

Also, I apologize in advance for teasing you with a book you can’t read until July. After researching just how much it helps authors to get pre-orders I decided to try and post my reviews early and then share them again on release day for an extra boost. You don’t even have to pre-order it yourself, almost all libraries have an online form so that you can ask them to order it for you. Bonus points for getting to the top of the holds list before they even have a copy!

So, hey here goes: What an amazing story! I probably broke some kind of reviewer code of conduct by reading most of this aloud and I’m not even sorry. This book is simply delicious, the names and prose roll right off your tongue. People like
“The Queen of the Deep Dark” will stay with you long after you finish reading this story.

If you are familiar at all with fairy tales you’ll know that a changeling is a goblin left behind by magical folk when they want to steal a human child.

In this book, both the Changeling and the human child are left in the human world after a switch goes wrong and are now both around the age of twelve. Cole and Tinn are inseparable. No one knows which one is the goblin and which is human but everyone in the town knows one of them isn’t human.

This story is jam packed with fun characters, scary creatures in the darkest part of the woods, goblins, witches, shapeshifters and more. The humans are strong and resourceful too. I love when a story doesn’t depend on “magic” saving the day.

Without giving too much away, the magic of the goblins will be lost forever unless the Changling presents himself on the day of his 13th birthday. And so, the boys set out together, following a map that shows the way into Oddmire, a forest where they hope to work out the truth, save magic and each other.

I haven’t read the author’s super popular Jackaby series and I hear there are references to that world within this book. I’ll be checking it out soon while we wait for Oddmire #2!

This book is a great read aloud candidate for all ages who enjoy a good fantasy. You can safely go above and below middle grade if you are comfortable with scary fairy tale danger.

The Oddmire, Book 1: Changeling by William Ritter

July, 2019



What happened to my older reviews??? Ugh. Typing this for the third time because I’m about to read Book 2: Splintered and I’m a huge fan of this series.

This story probably isn’t meant to be an allegory to the current state of attitudes towards minorities, but once you start reading it, you can’t help but notice the parallels to modern society. The topic at hand draws inspiration from various sources – from the discrimination against people of the LGBT community (in particular against transgender people), against people of color, immigrants and also from draconian legislation passed in regards to human rights. I moved this review up on my schedule so that I could help (in my smallish way) to build some buzz for this title. First, a definition:

Chimera (ki-mir-a) n. A person who pays back-alley geneticists to splice animal genes into their own illegally.

The MC Jimi was a bit aggravating at the start of the book, with her ‘disgust’ about the ‘terrible mistake’ the chimeras are making. She doesn’t understand her friend Del and worries about all the implications of becoming a Chimera, especially after they witness a police officer becoming overly violent while he is apprehending some chimeras.

I’m not sure if I would call Spliced science fiction or dystopia? It is a world in which human gene editing has become possible, and human-animal chimeras exist. In this dystopia, climate change has taken its toll, and only cities have power- the suburbs (zurbs) are kind of no man’s land where people live off the grid. Spliced imagines a world where local legislation robs the chimeras of their rights as humans, and how quickly the hate-groups can utilize the neutrality of people who stay silent on the issue to harm the disenfranchised. I think this is an excellent book for parents and teens to read and discuss.

Bonus, the author, has a website where you can upload a photo and get Spliced!

Spliced By Jon McGoran September 29, 2017

book review nonfiction

Book Review- Three Stones Make A Wall: The Story of Archaeology

I grabbed this book on Audible as teacher prep for myself before I get into teaching the Ancients for the umpteenth time. Because I combined the kids in history I have an almost 14 yo who has studied the Ancients three times already. We’re starting his 8th grade year in June and because he wants to dual enroll in a couple years this may be his last time through this time period with me.

So, this is in prep for a light rhetoric stage jaunt through time as we amp up to high school work. He may have time in his senior year to revisit these topics if he doesn’t dual enroll, but since we don’t know, I’m planning it like it is his last time passing through.

This is the kind of book I choose for myself anyway as I am a huge nonfiction book fan. I love hearing about the “how’s and why’s” of things. Eric starts you off with a brief history of archaeology and then begins telling stories of different discoveries through time. You’ll learn how the science has changed along with some modern missteps that occur now with modern tech that couldn’t have happened in the past.

If you like to indulge your inner geek you’ll probably like this book. I especially liked the chapters that were technical in nature. What tools do you use to dig in Europe vs. the Americas? Do you ever get to keep things you find? How do you even decide where to look and then who pays you?

You could use this as an elective for high school as the text for a survey of Archaeology class if you wanted to. I’m not sure if we’ll fit the whole book into our history study but I did bookmark sections that he’ll be reading for sure.

Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology by Eric H Cline

book review MG fiction

Book Review: Guardians of the Wild Unicorns

I literally ” awed” out loud while reading this late one night. Lewis and Rhona are at sleepaway camp when they discover a real life- Unicorn!! Then they find that there are more- which was awesome!

Unicorns aren’t all cuddly and sweet either, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need saving. Poaching is a real threat to them, and only Lewis and Rhona can help. I’d love to hear an audio version of the Scottish Highland Brogue that Rhona sports and the descriptions of the surroundings are lovely.

Being a middle-grade book, the main characters have some issues at home and while they aren’t resolved the kids bond together and have each other as they become guardians of the unicorns.

All in all, it was a fun romp through Scotland with some of my favorite mythical (or real?) creatures.

Guardians of the Wild Unicorns by Lindsay Littleson April 30, 2019