IGBC: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot

Magic Marks the Spot coverA little over a year ago, both my son and I read and enjoyed The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot. It’s about Hilary, a girl who wants to be a pirate. She applies to the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates training program but is rejected because is a girl and sent to finishing school instead. You can find my review here. When it came time to make the books for my churches Intergenerational Book Club (IGBC) to read, my son suggested it and I agreed to facilitate the discussion.

All of the kids and grown-ups gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. There are a lot of magical objects in the book and the magic was definitely one of the kids’ favorite parts. They had fun talking about how they would use magic both as a regular person and as a pirate.

We have a lot more boys in IGBC than girls and not a single one was phased by the main character being a girl. And of course the females in our group were thrilled to have read a book with a strong female lead character.

Whenever I facilitate the discussion, I like to bring a snack that somehow ties into the book. The pirates in this book eat a lot of hardtack, which is basically a super hard cracker. Because it literally never spoils, it’s great toIMG_1725-001 take on sea voyages. However, it’s not sold in the regular grocery store so I had my husband and son make some. It was pretty easy – just flour, water and salt. I also brought Veggie Pirate’s Booty and Cheese Pirate’s Booty in case the hardtack didn’t go over well. To my surprise everybody loved it! IMG_1726My son said it tasted similar to a saltine cracker only super hard. I tried to taste it but I couldn’t bite into my piece. If we ever make it again, we’ll roll it out thinner – that should help make it more edible.

All in all, this book lead to one of our liveliest discussions. All of the kids were really engaged and excited about sharing their thoughts on this book.

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .


Book Review: One Mile Under by Andrew Gross

One Mile Under (Ty Hauck #4)One Mile Under by Andrew Gross

Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: April 7, 2015
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Leading a tour down the rapids outside Aspen, Colorado, whitewater guide Dani Whalen comes upon the dead body of a close friend. Trey Watkins’s death is ruled an accident. Finding evidence that seems to back up her suspicions that it wasn’t, she takes her case to Wade Dunn, the local police chief and her ex-stepfather, with whom she shares some unresolved history. Wade insists the case is closed, but Rooster, a hot air balloon operator in town, claims he saw something from the air she should know. When he suddenly dies in a fiery crash, Dani threatens to take her suspicions public, goading Wade into tossing her in jail.

When an old friend contacts Ty Hauck and says his daughter is in trouble, he doesn’t hesitate to get involved. Together, the two step into a sinister scheme running deep beneath the surface of a quiet, Colorado town that has made a deal with the devil to survive. But in the square off between giant energy companies and beaten-down ranchers and farmers, one resource is even more valuable in this drought-stricken region than oil. They both will kill for it—water.

I chose this book because one of my favorite book bloggers, Jill at Rhapsody In Books, said in her review that not only was this book a fast paced thriller but the reader will learn about fracking and its implications. I knew this was a good book for me because all I knew about fracking before reading it was that it’s bad. I didn’t know exactly why or even what the process entailed. I had just seen clips on TV of people lighting the water coming out of their faucets on fire. This book was a truly fun way to learn about fracking. The information is seamlessly embedded into the story, there are no awkward character monologues or inauthentic information dumps.

The plot moves quickly and has several twists and turns. I found myself wanting to strangle most of the characters at one point or another, which I usually take as a good sign. If I wasn’t invested in the story, I wouldn’t have such strong feelings. Dani and Wade brought out this feeling out in me the most often. Wade was a selfish jerk and Dani was way too stubborn for her own good.

I enjoyed the relationship between Dani and Ty, who is her god-father. I was waiting for it to turn into a skeevy May-December lust thing, as formula dictates, but it never did. Kudos to the author for keeping Ty’s relationship to Dani paternal. I appreciated that Dani was a strong, smart woman who didn’t depend on Ty to save her most of the time. And Ty wasn’t an infallible macho man. He needed to be saved at times also.

This is the fourth book in the Ty Hauck thriller series but it can easily be read as a stand-alone.

Book Review: Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot by Dav Pilkey

Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot (Captain Underpants #12)Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot by Dav Pilkey
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Release Date: August 25, 2015
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

There’s something rotten in the state of Ohio, and it’s smellier than a pile of putrid gym socks! Steer clear — it’s Sir Stinks-A-Lot!

George and Harold, and their doubles, Yesterday George and Yesterday Harold, have a good thing going. Two of them go to school, while the other two hide in the tree house and play video games all day — then they switch! But when their malicious gym teacher, Mr. Meaner, creates a method of mind-control that turns their fellow students into attentive, obedient, perfect children, the future of all humanity will be in their hands!

My boys LOVE the Captain Underpants series and have read all the books but this is the first one I’ve read. I was actually pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t nearly as gross as a thought it would be and had some adult humor thrown in that would probably go over most kids heads. For instance, one of the teachers is named Miss Anthrope. There were also some big words (e.g. megalomaniac) that can build up kids’ vocabularies. Lastly, I loved that there is a same-sex couple and people of different races in this book.

I’m not sure my 11 year old cared about any of that. He just thought it was hilarious. And that’s okay too.

(I received a complementary copy of this book for review.)

Book Review: I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

I Still Dream About YouI Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg
Publisher: Random House
First released in 2010
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Meet Maggie Fortenberry, a still beautiful former Miss Alabama. To others, Maggie’s life seems practically perfect—she’s lovely, charming, and a successful agent at Red Mountain Realty. Still, Maggie can’t help but wonder how she wound up living a life so different from the one she dreamed of as a child. But just when things seem completely hopeless, and the secrets of Maggie’s past drive her to a radical plan to solve it all, Maggie discovers, quite by accident, that everybody, it seems, has at least one little secret.

Let me start off by saying I love Southern fiction and I especially love Fannie Flagg. She’s been one of my favorite authors for a long time. I think that’s probably why I was so disappointed with I Still Dream About You. It doesn’t have nearly the depth or charm of Flagg’s other novels. It does have some quirky characters like Flagg’s other books. Hazel Whisenknott was my favorite. She was a little person full of spunk and optimism. I like that she was a little person but that it wasn’t the focus of her character’s storyline. I’m guessing there aren’t many books where one of the characters just happens to be a little person.

Maggie plans to commit suicide and has a detailed plan of what it will entail. Then her friend invites her to see the whirling dervishes later that week. She can’t say no to that so she has to put her plans off until that’s over with. After that, things just keep coming up and she keeps putting it off. I can appreciate dark humor but even so, I didn’t think Maggie had enough reasons to commit suicide. The problem was her character wasn’t developed enough. And her arch rival Babs was an over the top caricature of an evil person. If she was a man, she would have had a mustache she could twirl!

This review sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book. I actually did but it didn’t live up to my expectations for a Fannie Flagg novel. If I didn’t have those expectations going in, I think I would have liked it better. It is a quick, light read and could be a good beach book – just keep your expectations in check.

Her latest book, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion (released in 2013) has gotten better reviews than this one so I’m hopeful that this book was an anomaly. I’ll let you know – stay tuned!

Reviews of other Fannie Flagg books (I read several more pre-blog):
A Redbird Christmas

Book Review: Second Life by S.J. Watson

Second Life: A NovelSecond Life: A Novel by S.J. Watson
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: June 9, 2015
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia’s quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she’s losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

After Julia’s sister Kate is murdered, Julia learns that Kate had been a member of an Internet hookup website. Julia joins the site with the intention of investigating her sister’s murder but soon finds herself in way over her head.

I really liked the author’s first book, Before I Go to Sleep, and was hoping that this book would be just as good. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Firstly, Julia is supposed to be a devoted mother but she appears to have little to no interaction with her son, even at the beginning of the book before she gets involved with the Internet hookup website. Secondly, parts of the book are repetitive and could have been edited down. Finally, there are plenty of surprising plot twists but they required a healthy suspension of disbelief and relied too much on improbable coincidences.

I’m afraid Second Life is the victim of the dreaded sophomore slump.

(I received a complimentary  review copy of this book.)

Book Review: We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

We Never Asked for Wings: A NovelWe Never Asked for Wings: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Release Date: August 18, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six—in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

I loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s first novel, The Language of Flowers. I went into We Never Asked for Wings hoping I would like it as much as I know the “sophomore slump” is common with new authors. Thankfully, it turned out I didn’t have anything to worry about.

The bulk of the story is about Letty and her relationship with her children. When her mother moves back to Mexico, Letty is becoming a real mother to her kids for the first time. She struggles and she makes bad choices. The author does an excellent job of filling in her back story such that I felt like I understood her and rooted for her to overcome her shortcomings as a mother.

I was really impressed with the author’s attention to detail. A lot of research was required for this novel on several seemingly unrelated subjects. Alex’s grandfather makes art with feathers and there is much information about feathers and birds. In addition, Alex is a star student obsessed with science so there is a lot of scientific information in this book that went completely over my head. That was okay though, it wasn’t necessary to understand Alex’s science project to understand his character. Finally, the complex immigration laws played a part in this book.

The best thing about We Never Asked for Wings is that it humanizes the plight of undocumented immigrants in this country. Of course the characters are fictional but they still serve as realistic examples of what is happening in real life. It’s important to know that there are all kinds of reasons that people are in this country without documentation and they shouldn’t all be judged as a group.

With this second outing, Diffenbaugh has proven that she can consistently write books with well-developed characters and compelling plots. I’m looking forward to reading whatever she comes up with next.

(I received a complementary copy of this book for review.)

Week In Wardrobe: Get Your Pretty On Work Wear 2015 Challenge

I love the Get Your Pretty On Style Challenges! Here’s how they work: You sign up for the challenge and are sent a shopping list of all the items you will need to style the 21 challenge outfits. This challenge is not about buying an all-new wardrobe. Alison encourages shopping in your own closet for the items first. All of the items mix and match – you will be building a work wear “capsule”. Ten days after the shopping list is released, Alison starts releasing the daily outfits. Then dressing for the day becomes a snap – you have all the items needed for the outfit, just put them together and go! There is room for creativity too – you can use a different color scheme than the sample items on the shopping list or make substitutions. You will be granted access to the challenge Facebook page where you can post your daily outfits and see how other people put their outfits together. It’s a fun, supportive community.

Now is the time to sign up for the Work Wear Challenge. Alison says, “Are you tired of waking up every morning to an uninspiring work wardrobe? Get a shopping list of on-trend work wear essentials plus three weeks of outfits that make getting dressed a breeze.”

The shopping list for this challenge will be released on August 21st and the outfits begin on September 6th. You can sign up by clicking here.

Here are some of the outfits I wore for the Summer 2015 challenge:

Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler

Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest TeaDarjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler
Publisher: Audible Studios for Bloomsbury
Release Date: May 12, 2015
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea because as we all know, I love learning about all things Indian. Also, they drink this tea on Downton Abbey and I was curious about how an Indian tea came to be popular in England – if the characters on that show drink it, it must be good tea!

The history of the tea is fascinating. It arrived in India in a dramatic fashion – being stolen from China. Today the tea is grown in tea gardens, which are really huge plantations. The relationship of the tea garden workers to the owners is a totally different arrangement from anything I’ve ever heard of before. This book also touches on the state of Darjeeling tea today. The regulation process needs some work – there is a lot of fake Darjeeling tea out there.

Koehler goes into a lot of detail about the physical properties of the tea and how it’s grown and harvested. This part didn’t interest me nearly as much as the history aspect of the book but that’s probably because I’m not much of a tea drinker myself. Incidentally, I tried some Darjeeling tea for the first time after finishing this book and I thought it was really good. I don’t care much for regular black tea so I think there must truly be something special about it.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. The narrator had a mellow voice with just a touch of an Indian accent that made it a pleasure to listen too. The only thing I didn’t like was that he used a full-on Indian accent when reading a quote from an Indian person. It seemed odd to do that for a non-fiction book.

I really enjoyed learning about a tiny subset of Indian culture that I knew nothing about before. I think tea drinkers of all sorts will enjoy it as well.

(I received a complementary review copy of this audiobook.)

Plenty Ladylike: A Memoir by Claire McCaskill

Plenty Ladylike: A MemoirPlenty Ladylike: A Memoir by Claire McCaskill
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: August 11, 2015
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

The female senator from Missouri shares her inspiring story of embracing her ambition, surviving sexist slings, making a family, losing a husband, outsmarting her enemies—and finding joy along the way.Claire McCaskill grew up in a political family, but not at a time that welcomed women with big plans. She earned a law degree and paid her way through school by working as a waitress. By 1982 Claire had set her sights on the Missouri House of Representatives. Typically, one voter whose door she knocked on said: “You’re too young; your hair is too long; you’re a girl….Go find yourself a husband.” That door was slammed in her face, but Claire always kept pushing—first as a prosecutor of arsonists and rapists and then all the way to the door of a cabal of Missouri politicians who had secret meetings to block her legislation.

In this candid, lively, and forthright memoir, Senator McCaskill describes her uphill battle to become who she is today, from her failed first marriage to a Kansas City car dealer—the father of her three children—to her current marriage to a Missouri businessman whom she describes as “a life partner.” She depicts her ups and downs with the Clintons, her long-shot reelection as senator after secretly helping to nominate a right-wing extremist as her opponent, and the fun of joining the growing bipartisan sisterhood in the Senate.

From the day she was elected homecoming queen in high school, Claire has loved politics and winning. Her memoir is unconventional: unsparing in its honesty, full of sharp humor and practical wisdom, and rousing in its defense of female ambition.

I chose this book because Claire McCaskill is my senator and I was interested in learning more about her personal life and political career. At just under three hundred pages, she just hits the highlights which was perfect for me. It made it a quick read and kept it entertaining. Most of it is about her struggle to be accepted in the good old boy network that’s so prevalent in politics at both the local and national levels.

I loved that Claire was honest about her almost House of Cards level of scheming to set Todd Akin up as her opponent in her most recent Senate race. You may recall that that he’s the candidate who said, ““If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” – meaning that if a woman is raped, she can’t get pregnant. Claire wanted him to be her opponent because she knew she could beat him easily after he made that comment. She’s also not afraid to admit that she’s made mistakes along the way and to write about them specifically, like when she said she wouldn’t let her daughters near Bill Clinton, which of course Hillary was not happy about. It’s refreshing to read such unflinching honesty from a politician.

If you are interested in politics and especially women’s role in them, then you’ll like this book even if you don’t live in Missouri.

(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)

Book Review: Becoming Ellen by Shari Shattuck

Becoming EllenBecoming Ellen by Shari Shattuck
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: August 11, 2015
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Ellen Homes is done being invisible. Well, sort of.

Living with her closest friends, Temerity and Justice, has helped her step out of the shell of invisibility she once hid away in. She still seeks refuge in solitary time and observing from afar, but she has pushed herself to open up to others in ways that bring her unexpected happiness.

But when a terrible bus crash upends her normal routine, Ellen finds herself on a whirlwind crusade for the unseen and downtrodden. Only this time, helping others—including two young children with no one else to turn to—will mean facing a pain from her past that she’s long tucked away.

Picking up where
Invisible Ellen left off, Becoming Ellen returns us to the touching, poignant, and compassionate world of Ellen Homes as she learns how to navigate the world she has decided to become a part of.

***This review has spoilers for Invisible Ellen but not for Becoming Ellen***

Becoming Ellen is the sequel to Invisible Ellen. I highly recommend reading that book first to really understand who Ellen is. And Ellen is a very damaged individual. She has a paralyzing fear of interacting with other people and has used food as an emotional crutch in the past, although not so much in this book.

As with Invisible Ellen, there are several subplots that have Temerity and Ellen involving themselves in sticky situations to try and help people. Some of these situations involved the foster care system and as foster parent myself, I was bothered by the inaccuracies of how the system works. It’s probably not enough to concern someone who isn’t familiar with the system but I didn’t like it.

Ellen still struggles with anxiety and extreme shyness in the book but she is slowly coming out of her shell. She lives with Temerity and her brother Justice now instead of living isolated and alone. Her scar has been fixed for the most part and her relationship with food is healthier, although still not perfect. We learn more about Ellen’s childhood which is the reason she became the person she is now.

I liked this book but I didn’t love it like I loved Invisible Ellen. I think it’s because Invisible Ellen was mostly focused on Ellen and developing her character. Becoming Ellen is more focused on action and plot. If there is another book, I would like it to explore the character of Temerity more deeply in addition to following Ellen on her journey.

If you read Invisible Ellen then I recommend Becoming Ellen. I enjoyed checking in with Ellen, Temerity and Justice.

(I received this book courtesy of Amazon Vine.)