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Worst Class Field Trip Ever…. A Bookymom Review

The Worst Class Trip EverThe Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Worst Class Field Trip EVER is a middle grade novel about a group of pre-teens from Miami who head off to Washington, DC. From the get go, the kids run in trouble and become entangled with men they believe are terrorists.

I was hoping for a laugh a minute story from humorist Dave Barry. Sadly, the book did not meet my expectations.

I will say the ending of the book when the main character saves the president is just about laugh out loud funny!

My kids (6 and 9) liked the book and I could hear the occasional chuckle coming from the backseat as we listened to the audiobook.

But, at the end of the day, it is not going down in the middle grade book hall of fame.

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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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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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The Family Fang: Easy Summer Reading…

The Family FangThe Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Family Fang features a family of four. The parents Caleb and Camille engage in a strange type of performance art where they attempt to disrupt the world around them by acting in bizarre and unexpected ways. The “art” is based on how normal people react to their chaotic stirring up of reality. Almost from birth, the parents force the children into being a part of the strange scenes they create. They begin recording the “art” and submitting it for grants and other awards. In the “art” pieces the kids are referred to by A and B.

We join the story once A and B have grown up and both move back home after life’s normal chaos takes over their lives. Shortly after returning home, Caleb and Camille disappear. The police contact A and B because they suspect that Caleb and Camille have been killed. The kids think it’s another performance art piece.

I won’t tell you any more to avoid spoilers. But, as you can already tell the story is about issues of self and parental control.

It is a snappy quick book that thrives on the quirky and absurd. The book entertains and compels the reader forward with the desire to know if they parents are dead or crazy. A fun, light, book read perfect for summer.

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Best Book on the Plantagenets Yet!

The Conquering Family (The Plantagenets, #1)The Conquering Family by Thomas B. Costain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally published in 1949, Thomas Costain’s Conquering Family is a history of Henry II and his family. It is the first volume in a series about the Plantagenet Dynasty and is told from a wonderfully British perspective.

The work discusses the succession problems created when Henry I’s son died in the White Ship crash. He continues through the death of that famously hated king, John.

Costain uses his British style to introduce readers to the Plantagenet’s with detail and an entertaining voice. For example, in describing Richard the Loinheart: Richard was always the knight, never the king.

The author also addresses court rumor and works to help readers distinguish fact and fiction. However, because the book has an older publication date there are a few things that historians have discovered in the past 60 years. It seems history is always coming to light. One example of this is Henry II’s illegitimate son, William. New research has discovered William is not Rosamund’s son– the child of one of Henry’s other mistresses, Ida.

Throughout the work, the author provides useful asides. For example, he gives a good description of Strongbow’s conquest of Ireland, the Robin Hood Legend and the life of a villen during the period. These details help paint a picture of the times beyond just what was happening to the Plantagenet dynasty.

One aspect that maybe tough for new readers to this period of history are the author’s speculations. Every once in while he adds his own opinion of events. I enjoyed his ideas, however, people less well versed in the period my be confused and take his musings as fact. As long as you give the book a close reading, I don’t think readers will be confused.

I was reading this concurrent with The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones. Jones’ book is more recent (2013) but Constain’s book is much better, more entertaining and readable. Over and over I found myself wishing I was reading Costain’s when I was reading Jones’.

Finally, I had the extra treat of listening to Conquering Family on audio and the narrator David Case does a wonderful job. His voice, accent, and timing add a lot to the book!

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Welcome Back Bridget!

Mad About the Boy (Bridget Jones, #3)Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ha! Ha! Ha! Bridget Jones is back! Please stop reading here if you don’t want to read any SPOILERS!

I enjoyed the original books (although the second one was not as good) and I was bit nervous to catch up with the crazy Ms. Jones turned Mrs. Darcy all these years later.

In book 3, Darcy has passed away and Bridget is now a “geriatric mother” of two young children and SINGLE. Much like the past books we follow Bridget the ups and downs of dating, only this time we see her as a cougar trying to date a man who is 21 years younger than herself.

Fielding stays true to the character and points out the absurd in everyday life without making us feel guilty and with her snappy brand of humor.

Some of the details are just too real– too many plastic toys from Amazon for Xmas and the ubermom at school.

I also love Bridget’s friends (although they play less of a role in this novel than in the previous ones). And, Tom’s Paltrow obsession is too funny!

The only draw back to the book is the very end. I wish Bridget would have kept going on her own instead of finding a new man. It’s too much like the old ending with Darcy. Plus, I think it would be a good message to women that they can go it alone and don’t always have to the quickly wrapped up happy ending.

I also could have done without all the farting and vomit talk, but I’ll over look it!

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Creepy Books for Halloween?

It may seem like The Bookymom fell off a cliff. But, I promise I haven’t. It’s just that I am working my way through a 900 pager and it’s October — Halloween time which means lots of kid fun, but limited reading time.

In the meantime, I have taken a break from the 900 pager to read something that I was hoping would put me in a spooky/creepy mood. I picked up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Let me start by saying it did not meet my spooky expectations. But, before I start with what was lacking in the book, I’ll say what I did like.

Miss Peregrine is published by Quirk Books, a publishing company that is always printing clever and interesting concept books.  Think:  , and . My favorite of these was Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

Miss Peregrine follows the pattern of Quirk Books and is an interesting and clever idea.  Author Ransom Riggs collected old pictures and pieced them together into a story about children with strange talents/supernatural powers.  They are being hunted by evil creatures and hidden by special women who watch over and protect them.  I love the idea.  Very clever and the pictures add a lot to the story.

However as I read the book, I could tell that certain elements of the story were thrown in so Riggs could make use of a certain photo. Additionally, the story development leaves a little something to be desired and the plot is not as well as developed as I would like.

I also have an issue with the “love interest” aspect of the story.  It seems to happen a little quickly and (without giving too much away) I think the main character Jacob’s attitude toward his love interest is a little to simplistic and not written with enough emotion/conflict.

Based on my criticism you may wonder why I am looking forward to the next book, . As Miss Peregrine ends the kids are about to embark on an exciting time traveling adventure. I am interested to see where Riggs is going to take these special children.

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Orange is the New Black: A Bookymom Review

English: Concertina razor wire at a prison

English: Concertina razor wire at a prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People who have known me a long a time know my fascination with prisons.  It started to creep up on me in my 20s in college.  I was taking some class–the name of which is now long forgotten– and we watched this wild documentary on the Stanford prison experiment.  If you are not familiar with this experiment from the early ’70s you should check out the documentary about it.  But, basically a group of young men are chosen to simulate a prison environment.  Some are the prisoners and some are the guards.  The “prisoners” in this case have not committed any real crimes and assignment into one of the two groups is completely random.  This gets crazy fast!  And, as I recall the experiment was cut short because it was becoming a little too realistic. This is what got me interested in prison dynamics.

As a result of my curiosity I have read a number of texts on the history of prisons and the rise of the American for-profit prison industry, toured both closed and operating prisons, and served on a citizens panel about prison funding in my state.

None of this prompted me to read Piper Kerman’s book.  Instead, it was the good old Netflix series.  I started watching and got hooked.

While I can say I have been interested in prisons, I cannot say I have been interested in prisoners. They are very much “the other”.  Aside from a friend or two picked up on a DWI (and that’s no laughing matter) I haven’t really known any prisoners.  But, a nice upper middle-class white girl who pretty much had it together and then ends up in jail on an old charge…now there is a person I can relate to.  So, after watching the whole season, I got a hold of the book.

It is different from the show.  Many of the stories in the book are dramatized in the show.  But, many of the characters from the book make it into the show.

One aspect that really struck me was the non-violent nature of Kerman’s experience.  Of course, she was in a low-security facility for non-violent offenders and it was a women’s prison not a men’s facility.  But, so many of my own ideas of prison include fights and physical abuse.  This was not really a major factory in Kerman’s experience.

This is also different from the Netflix series. Now I know, I shouldn’t compare the book and the show, but I am going to any way.  What disappoints me about the show after reading the book is that Kerman takes a lot of time to paint a very real experience of her time in prison.  And, because of her background has cross-over appeal to a lot of people who might not take the time to read about a woman’s prison experience.  The show seems to feed into all the stereotypes that the media has been showing us over the years.  Stereotypes the author wants the reader to move beyond.

As for the book and writing, it is a fine, easy read. It is certainly not earth shattering and the book is not going to be added to the list of the great American memoirs.  But, I do think it will appeal to middle and upper-middle class white women, because Kerman is so relatable.  I think book clubs across America will be zeroing in on this work.  And, they should. It is immeasurably better than other book club best-sellers such as Eat, Love, Pray and Julie Julia (both of which I hated!).  At least this is a look behind the curtain of America’s growing prison system.

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Booky Mom meets Penumbra: A review

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me say, that any book that sites House of Leaves is speaking to my heart. But, don’t worry Penumbra’s is not what I would consider Meta-fiction.

The book revolves around a store clerk with a job at a rather odd bookstore. Strange patrons come in and treat the place more like a lending library than a bookstore. The clerk decides to try and figure out what’s up and the adventure begins.

Sloan combines technology and tradition in a story that explores people’s need to understand: What’s IT all about?

The plot is great, the writing strong, the characters completely in tune with themselves.

Throughout the book, I kept wishing there really was a bookstore like Penumbra’s and better yet, a Penumbra himself. Describing the bookstore owner Sloan writes: He’s like a storybook spirit, a little djinn or something, except instead of air or water his element is imagination.

It’s completely worth five stars. And, should not be overlooked simply because it might not meet highbrow standards.

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