Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Dead Wake: A Booky Mom Review

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Erik Larson did it again.

I was first introduced to Mr. Larson when I read his book Devil in the White City. It is a wonderful book that follows the development of the Chicago World’s Fair and the progress of one of the earliest American Serial Killers. A creepy topic to be sure, but Larson ‘executed’ the story very well.

Next, I tried his book In the Garden of Beasts (which I was NOT as impressed with: link here for my review). In the Garden, Larson follows the American Ambassador to Germany in the days prior to WWII. Somehow that book did not have the cleverness of Devil in the White City. It was well researched, but book lacked something.

With these mixed feelings I embarked on reading Dead Wake. This time Larson rebounded with a fantastic book on the Lusitania. While the sinking of the Lusitania was not THE catalyst for America’s entry into the war, it played a big part in moving American public opinion to favor the war.

Larson’s impeccable research is showcased again in this historical work. His attention to detail is seen when he treats readers to a description of what passengers were wearing when the ship went down. However, Larson does not get bogged down in details.

He humanizes the story by focusing on the Captain of the Lusitania, the Captain of the U-boat and US President Wilson. He even notes that U-Boat Captain who sunk the ship, was also a man who rescued puppies from previous vessel he sunk. And, not only kept one of the dogs but gave other U-Boat Captains ship’s dogs. These details saw readers that the people who made major movements in history were, at the end of the day, people.

Larson marries the themes of war, humanity and sailing to create a captivating work of history. Anyone who enjoyed his previous work will not be disappointed with his current release.

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China Dolls Lisa See’s Newest Book Isn’t Her Best: A Bookymom Review

China DollsChina Dolls by Lisa See

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really loved Lisa See’s other books so when this came out I was eager to give it a try. Sadly, the book did not meet my expectations.

China Dolls follows the story of three women– one of whom is NOT Chinese– during the depression, through the war and into to the post-war period.

For me, the characters never really gelled. In other Lisa See books, the characters really came alive. They pulsates with individual spirit and emotion. Even when I read Dreams of Pearl and found Pearl to be obnoxious, she seemed like a real person. In China Dolls, the women are just that dolls, rather lifeless characters following a plot without believable emotion.

If you want to avoid spoilers stop reading now!!

They go through so many things– dead husbands and children, love triangles, Japanese interment, out of wedlock children, marrying gay men, murder, jail! It’s more of a soap-opera than a meaningful picture of their lives. So much happens and so much is revealed that your head is spinning from minute to minute. And, all the drama the emotions and experiences of the characters are either over done or incredibly shallow!

See also doesn’t paint the picture of time and place like she has in her previous novels. In her past works, the location and time period are so well created they almost become a character. She allows the read to be immersed in the period. That did not happen here. What was pre-war San Fransisco Chinatown like? What about post war Miami?

All and I all I recommend skipping this book and reading Lisa See’s other much better novels.

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Judy Moody’s Not So Bummer Summer: A Bookymom Review

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (Judy Moody, #10)Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer by Megan McDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first Judy Moody Book. I don’t always read the same books as my kids nor do I always read the books with my kids. But I did end up reading this one aloud with them over the summer, I am sure you can guess why based on the title.

I must say I much prefer the character of Judy Moody to that nasty little girl, Junie B. Jones. I really can’t stand Junie. Any child who acted the way she did would banned from house forever!

In this book, Judy Moody is left with her aunt Opal for the summer. She plans a summer of adventures that all seem to go sideways. At the sametime, Stink (Judy’s younger brother) is hunting for Bigfoot.

The Bigfoot subplot as well as the crazy aunt add a lot to book and certainly make it entertaining for kids.

As something for kids to read over the summer, this book hits the mark.

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Zombie Baseball Beatdown: Why Middle Grade Books Are So Hard…

Zombie Baseball BeatdownZombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi My rating: 2 of 5 stars First of all, I would qualify this as a middle grade book. In general, I find middle grade books very difficult reads. So many kids I know are reading above grade level and get into the middle grade books at younger ages– don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. However, the content of middle grade books can be rather ify. The language is boarder line with insults like ‘dumbwad’ (used in this book and the wimpy kid series). The plots and subplots also cross the line at times. For example, I don’t really care for the anti-biz and pro-illegal alien messages in this book. They are not appropriate for the age group and I would consider a subtle form of propaganda. I loved the Origami Yoda series until the Princess Leia book. Again, it dealt with the issue of students being gay. I simply don’t think that is appropriate content for a middle grade book. So, if I was frustrated with the content and language, why 2 stars and not just 1? The story flowed well and kept me and the kids interested. The author did a nice job of knitting the plot together and coming up with devises for the kids to be on their own and without parental supervision during a zombie brake-out. Also, for a book called Zombie Baseball Beatdown, I didn’t feel as if there was enough baseball action in the book. The baseball content skirts the beginning and ending of the story and is missing from the middle! Personally, I don’t recommend the book, but other readers are free to make their own choices. View all my reviews

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The Dinner: Summer Reading Anyone?

The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Food and family always seem to go together, take Thanksgiving for example. This combination is played out in Herman Koch’s The Dinner. Two brothers meet for a meal to discuss the state of the children as readers are offered a glimpse of a dysfunctional family. (Reading about dysfunctional families seems to be a trend for me this summer!)

I won’t say much more about the plot, it has a few twists and turns. (Although particularly, surprising). I am sure you will want to come to the book with fresh eyes!

Personally, I disliked all the characters, from start to finish. But, I think that may be Koch’s point. The story is told from the point of view of Paul–one of the brothers. He fixates on all kinds of small details over the dinner— the price of the food, the wait staff, his brother, his sister in-law. I get the point, but after awhile I was tired of his obsession with the staff and their over explanation of all the food.

All and all, the book is a quick read and it is certainly worth a bit of summer entertainment. Friends have recommended his other books as well, but I think I might pass on them.

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Ender’s Game: The Booky Mom Finds It At Last

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet, #1)Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some how in my youth I missed out on reading Ender’s Game. I am wondering how it happened. I liked the sci-fi genre but spent most of my time reading Philip K. Dick. Reading the book is an interesting experience. While the story is told from a child’s point of view, its themes are adult.

The themes and topics of the novel are complicated. I found the us vs them issues to pervade the novel— human vs. bugger, children vs. adults, free world vs. communist. The idea of competition and survival were highly relevant in the Cold War period. But, it is a universal struggle that people and animals face. Card does a nice job dealing with that on many levels to high light his themes for the reader.

I am also reminded of the classic example of “Game Theory”, The Prisoners’ Dilemma. A game that encourages both plays to betray each other rather than co-operate. As in the case of Human-Bugger relations without communication there is no option but destruction.

Card also addresses human manipulation through words and language. He gives power to words and shows that a lack of words has power also. This is a theme seen most clearly with Peter and Violet. But, also comes forward in the Human-Bugger relationship.

SPOILER ALERT!!! Read no further….

Still, with everything going in the novel I was truly caught off guard by the ending. Ender’s roll as the Speaker for the Dead and the power that words and understating that Card highlights through Ender’s transformation were unexpected. Although, I do find it to be the most interesting aspect of the story.

I find the pseudo-religious aspect of pouring out your life to a third person who then tells people who then retells it when you’ve passed intriguing. It seems that Card is telling us communication is vital to understanding others point of view. But, he presents us with a structure where the point of view of the other is not reveled until the other is dead. Does death make it easier for us to accept the other as a whole? Do we reserve judgement for the dead because they cannot speak for themselves? Or is that that they are no longer a threat thanks to their departure from earth? Being magnanimous is now easy for us because the other is no real threat?

I am very interested to follow this book up with Card’s Speaker for the Dead.

Finally, I listened to Ender’s Game on audio book. It was a dramatic narration with multiple actors and was a very agreeable way to follow the book. Included at the end of the recording were a few comments from the author about the book and his writing which I also enjoyed. This is another case where the audio version is worth it!

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MaddAddam: A BookyMom Review

Disclaimer: I am going to be a spoiler and the content of this review is absolutely NOT for kids!!!

MaddAddam is the final book in a three book series by Margaret Atwood. Now, if you haven’t read the 1st two books, this review and this book is not for you.

In this novel we finally see what happens in the aftermath of a human created plague. There are genetically engineered “new human beings” and strange engineered animals and a few surviving people running around.

We pick up with Zeb and Toby and the engineered Cracker people. Painballers (ex-cons who have fought to the death in gladiator style shows meant to entertain the old world before most people where killed) are still on the loose and the Crakers have come to live with what’s left of the MaddAddamites and God’s Gardeners.

There are three main narrators, Toby, a third-party that priced Zeb’s point of view and a young Cracker.

It’s been so long between the release of the three books that I feel as if I need to go back and re-read Crake and Oryx (which is still the best of the three).

I do love the Crakers and their simple approach to the world around them. Toby is recruited by them to tell quasi-religious stories. The best is when “FUCK” is transformed into some-kind of invisible spiritual protector.

So reviewers find the relationship between Toby and Zeb bothersome, ESP Toby’s female jealousy. That didn’t really bother about her character. It’s a little immature, but I think it’s supposed to help her seem less one-dimensional.

We find out what happens to Adam One. And, we discover Zeb and Adam have different fathers. I didn’t like that and I am not really sure why it was added. It doesn’t do much to move the story forward in my opinion.

All and all– it’s any okay book. I am screaming from the hills to advise people to get the book. As I said before, the biggest thing to come out of reading this is my desire to re-read book one— because that is excellent!

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Ben Kane’s Spartacus: A BookyMom review!!!

Spartacus: The Gladiator (Spartacus, #1)Spartacus: The Gladiator by Ben Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first in a series of novel by Ben Kane about the famous gladiatorial slave and warrior. Like most people I’ve seen and enjoyed the 1960’s film about the slave turned rebel. I’ve also enjoyed the recent Stars TV series. And, just so you know my Spartacus knowledge is NOT exclusively limited to popular culture portrayal. I have read The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss.

Armed with my own ideas of Spartacus, I started Kane’s novel. My previous reading left me with the impression that the known historical information about Spartacus is limited. He’s from Thrace, served in the Roman Legion before his enslavement and somehow ended up in Capua as a gladiatorial slave. He had limited successes in launching a slave revolt and dealt Rome some embarrassing defeats. That is until Rome’s wealthiest man and later member of the 1st triumvirate with none other than old Julius Caesar himself!!!

This makes Spartacus a wonderful subject for a historical fiction novel. Enough of a skeleton to have something to work with, but plenty of opportunity to build an interesting character.

So how does Kane do?

In book one, not too poorly. Be prepared for lots of fight scenes and pretty brutal rape and pillaging sections. It’s war and its not for the faint of heart.

I like that Spartacus is cast as a Prince of Thrace thrown out and sold into slavery. I also think the love interest is well done.. As for the early part of their relationship, it’s a little goofy. Really? A saved damsel in distress… But their ‘romance’ gets better as the story moves.

The Crixus character and relationship is as expected. I’d like to see a historical novel from Crixus’ point of view.

I also enjoy Crassus. He’s simply so unrelentlying a power hungry, money hungry stereotypical Roman you have to love him!

The writing is fine. Not overly amazing, but good.

I am ready to move on the next Spartacus novel in series. So, I’ll let you know how it develops. I am hoping for more Crassus time!

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Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Everyone who’s graduated high school in America has heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his “Great American Novel” The Great Gatsby. Fewer people know about his wife, Zelda. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald seeks to fill-in the gaps.

I received this book from my husband, as a gift. The Captain (as I call him) knows I am a huge F. Scott fan and think Gatsby maybe the best American work of fiction EVER!!! So, The Captain picked this up for me and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

Right way, I am forced to think of The Paris Wife–a book about Hemmingway’s first wife. I know I shouldn’t compare books, but it is difficult to avoid it. I am also drawn to Hemmingway’s A Movable Feast. In order of preference:

1. A Movable Feast
2. The Paris Wife
3. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Now other reviewers seemed to have some issues with the book. They felt that Scott and Zelda’s characters were ‘off’. I don’t know enough about them or their relationship to judge.

Zelda’s character is lacking a certain level of depth. Additionally, writing her character must be something of a challenge because of the time she spent in the sanitarium. Still, I feel as if the author glossed over those periods and avoided tackling them because it is difficult. None-the-less, Fowler choose to take on this character and should have engaged more with her ‘mental illness’. I would suspect anyone faced with her trails would feel more anguish, helplessness and despair. Those emotions did not come through in the writing.

The book has inspired me to learn more about Zelda and Scott both individually and as a couple.

All and all, this book is certainly not a must read. But, if you are interested in the Jazz Age and the expat experience its not a time consuming read and maybe be worthwhile to you.

Other BookyMom Reviews On Similar Books:

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