Book Review: Shock Point by April Henry

August 27, 2009

Shock Point

Sixteen-year-old Cassie is being kidnapped by two men in a van parked in her driveway. She fights like mad until her mother shows up with a suitcase, letting Cassie know she’s being sent off to a school for troubled teens. It seems that Cassie’s step-dad, psychiatrist Rick, has found crystal meth in Cassie’s room, so he’s found a place that will help her turn her life around.

But Cassie has never used drugs, and the school she’s being sent to in Mexico is more like a prison and less like the tropical spa Cassie’s mom thinks it is. Cassie soon finds out there’s a slim chance she’ll even make it out before she turns 18. Can she find a way to escape and tell the world the secret she discovered about Rick before he sent her away?

Shock Point by April Henry opens with an adrenaline rush and doesn’t let up until the last page is turned. Henry offers a glimpse into the abuse that’s possible when teens are sent out of the country to be reprogrammed by parents who don’t really know or don’t really care about the means used to accomplish the goal. It’s a cautionary tale as well as an adventure story of how one teen fought back.

Middle Grade Book Challenge

August 26, 2009

MG Book Challenge

I’ve never participated in a book challenge, but I’ve decided to join my friends Julie at Booking Mama and Jenn at Jenn’s Bookshelf by embarking on the Middle Grade Book Challenge.

My goal is to read one or two middle grade books each month, then post a review about it. I often do that anyway, so this will keep me on my toes reading and posting about middle grade books. These are the kinds of books that will appeal to readers aged 8 to 12, and of course I plan to pick books that will also appeal to those readers’ moms. Also, by participating in the challenge I let you in on more links to more reviews each month. Lots of middle grade book suggestions are already up at Better With Books, the blog hosting the challenge. If you have a book to recommend for me, please leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list.

The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway Will Soon be Here

August 25, 2009


My good friend and writing mentor Christina Katz is once again offering her Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway where she gives away one book or magazine subscription every day in September. That’s right, every day. And I’m happy and honored to be included on the list of authors giving away a book this year.

My book, Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs, is up on September 14, which is my mom’s birthday (Happy Birthday Mom!). To see a complete plan for what you can win during the month, visit Christina’s Writer Mama blog. You can even enter every day if you want to win the book on offer. So bookmark her site and go back again and again. Good luck!

Interview on Euphoria with Author Heather Vogel Frederick

August 24, 2009

Heather Vogel Frederick’s third book in her mother-daughter book club novel series, Dear Pen Pal,  is about to hit the stands. I can’t wait to read this new release, as I’m a big fan of Heather and her previous books, The Mother-Daughter Book Club and Much Ado About Anne. Here’s a link to a great interview with Heather, and a note about an appearance she’s making at A Children’s Place bookstore in Portland.

Heather Vogel Frederick interview on Euphoria.

15 Books on Facebook

August 24, 2009

I just got a post from a friend on Facebook who took the 15 Books Challenge. The idea is to list the top books that will stick (or have stuck) with you for years. I’ll go one step further. I’m listing my top favorites as well as favorites for mother-daughter book clubs. If you’d like to check out the Facebook page and post your own list, here’s the link. 15 Books on Facebook.

Here are the rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

My favorites:

  1. The Book Thief—Markus Zusak
  2. Huckleberry Finn—Mark Twain
  3. A Winter’s Tale—Mark Helprin
  4. Burr—Gore Vidal
  5. Gone With the Wind—Margaret Mitchell
  6. Outlander—Diana Gabaldon
  7. Stone’s Fall—Iain Pears
  8. A Lesson Before Dying—Ernest J. Gaines
  9. Prodigal Summer—Barbara Kingsolver
  10. The World is Flat—Thomas Friedman
  11. The Count of Monte Cristo—Alexandre Dumas
  12. A Tale of Two Cities—Charles Dickens
  13. Meely LaBauve—Ken Wells
  14. The Pillars of the Earth—Ken Follett
  15. Wild Life—Molly Gloss

Mother-daughter book club favorites:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird—Harper Lee
  2. Boy—Roald Dahl
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—Sherman Alexie
  4. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging—Louise Rennison
  5. A Year Down Yonder—Richard Peck
  6. Framed—Frank Cottrell Boyce
  7. Flipped—Wendelin Van Drannen
  8. Al Capone Does My Shirts—Jennifer Choldenko
  9. A Northern Light—Jennifer Donnelly
  10. Tangerine—Edward Bloor
  11. Zlata’s Diary—Zlata Filipovic
  12. The House of the Scorpion—Nancy Farmer
  13. Hattie Big Sky—Kirby Larson
  14. Light Years—Tammar Stein
  15. Caddie Woodlawn—Carol Ryrie Brink


Book Review: White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages

August 21, 2009

White Sands

It’s such a pleasure to read a sequel that lives up to and possibly even surpasses the original. White Sands, Red Menace, Ellen Klages’s follow up to The Green Glass Sea is a wonderful continuation of Suze Gordon and Dewey Kerrigan’s story.


When The Green Glass Sea ends, Dewey’s dad has died and the Gordons have taken her in. With World War II over and the atom bomb no longer a secret, they move from Los Alamos to Alamogordo, New Mexico, where Suze’s dad is one of the General Electric scientists working with the Army to perfect a rocket that can go into space and carry a nuclear bomb. After seeing the results of their work in Los Alamos, Suze’s mom, Terry Gordon, works to let the world know of the dangers of atomic bombs. She’s fighting a rising tide of Americans’ fascination with all things atomic.


Suze and Dewey are starting all over again at a new school and hoping to fit in better than they did at Los Alamos. They have each other, but they hope to make new friends as well. Klages has done a masterful job of capturing the time period and the small town in New Mexico in which the story takes place. It was a time when kids had a lot of freedom to roam, time on their hands and not a lot of money or electronic attractions. This often meant they had to get creative to kill their boredom.


Dewey’s interest and ability in science pairs well with Suze’s interest and ability in art. In their attic room, they go to work on a wall that showcases both their talents. The story moves at a leisurely pace that’s somewhat like the slow summer days the girls experience at the beginning of the book, and I found myself matching my reading pace to their exploits. I also found myself dreaming of a time that was simpler in many ways and more complicated in others.


There are also plenty of family dynamics for mothers and daughters to discuss: the tension between Suze’s parents as her mom becomes more pacifist and her dad is caught up in the atomic craze. The tension between the two girls over parental love and attention and what makes a family. The tension between whites and those of Mexican descent in this small New Mexican town. It all adds up to a great book to read and talk about.


New Facebook Fan Page for Book by Book

August 20, 2009


I just created a new fan page on Facebook for my guidebook that comes out at the beginning of October: Book by Book: TheComplete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. I’ll be posting book updates there, tips for mother-daughter book clubs, photos, notes on places I’ll be appearing in the coming months and more.

Here’s the link if you’d like to become a fan: Book by Book fan page on Faebook.

Volunteering with Kids

August 18, 2009

This week Catherine is working on several projects for the Oregon Humane Society. She’s on her way to logging 40 hours to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award. She’s doing the work, of course, but that doesn’t mean I get a free pass to work on my projects while she’s working on hers. She’s sewing blankets for kitties, which means frequent problem solving with the sewing machine since she’s a novice at sewing. So we work on it together to some degree.

While she’s working on this project for Girl Scouts not as part of book club, I know many members of mother-daughter book clubs who choose to volunteer together and have a great time when they do. Some of them even start younger than I would have guessed was a good age, eight years old, and let their kids be in charge of planning.

As a mom, I know how difficult it can be sometimes to stand back and let the kids be in charge. Activities tend to be messier and less organized when the younger set is calling the shots. But I see a real advantage to it as well, especially with volunteering. Kids can build confidence while seeing that they can make a difference in their community. I definitely saw that with my older daughter Madeleine and her friends when they volunteered (again through Girl Scouts) to work with Habitat for Humanity last spring. The girls worked slowly, but they gained a lot of confidence learning to swing a hammer and hang drywall in a home where a needy family was soon to move in.

I think it’s most important to let the kids be in charge when deciding what kind of project to take on and how much they want to be involved. Getting this kind of buy in is most likely to lead to a successfully finished project, because kids are more likely to stay interested until the end.

If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities where you live, you may want to check out your local United Way, which often keeps a database of volunteer opportunities. I’ve also found great information using

Web sites That Let You Trade Books

August 17, 2009

I’ve just been introduced to two sites that let you trade paperback books with other readers. They are called and You do have to pay for the postage to send your books out, but then the books coming to you are postage paid, so in most instances you can get a book for around $2.50 in postage.

I see several advantages to using these kinds of sites:

  • If you don’t live near a library, you can still access low-cost books
  • If you want to keep a title on your shelf for others in your family to read you don’t have to worry about whether you can renew it at your library or not.
  • Both sites seem to have lots of available titles, so if you have books you’re willing to list and send to someone requesting your copy, you have lots of titles to choose from.

I’ve never used either of these sites myself, so this is not an endorsement. And those of you who read my site regularly know that I don’t accept any compensation from companies for the books or services I talk about.  But I do like to pass along information that may help readers connect with books through a variety of ways.

Book Review: Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli

August 14, 2009

Alligator Bayou

Calogero is a 14-year-old immigrant to Louisiana from Sicily, and he lives in the small town of Tallulah where his cousins and uncles sell groceries and produce. The year is 1899, and the small band of Sicilians find the constraints that won’t let them mingle with whites because their skin is dark also keeps them from socializing with blacks.

Calogero and his 13-year-old cousin Cirone are lonely and want to fit in: they work to learn English, eat American food and try to learn the customs of their new country. But tight economic times lead to tension between the white Louisianans and the Sicilians, who the whites see as taking business away from them. When Calogero and his relatives become friends with blacks, tensions escalate.

Based on a true event, Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli brings this powerful clash of cultures to life with tales of alligator hunts in the bayou, Italian immigrant communities, picking cotton, selling watermelons, cooking sweet potatoes and eating alligator.

This tale reminds us that the immigrant story in the U.S., like the story between whites and blacks, was and is often wrought with difficulties. The story was particularly poignant for me, because I grew up in Louisiana amongst many long-established Italians, and I had no idea of the hardships many of their ancestors endured so their descendants could one day become part of the accepted American community.

Napoli understands the time period she writes of well, and there are references to the all-but-gone Tunica tribe of Mississippi and Louisiana and the 1890 U.S. Census, in which some blacks found out for the first time they were free from slavery. It’s truly amazing to look back on the time and issues that dominated the day: Jim Crow laws, the relationship between white and blacks, and the threat immigrants posed to the normal routine of life. Mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 10 to 13 will find a lot to talk about.