The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

5+ stars Fiction

Once I inside the doors of Big Angel’s house, I didn’t want to leave. I knew exactly how this story would end as I was told that in the beginning pages of this book, yet I grew fond of each individual in Big Angel’s life and my admiration for him soared.  I laughed, cried and flipped my way through these pages until I realized that I was holding just a few unread pages in my right hand.  This was it, I had to finish what I had started.  I eased my pace for I would only be able to hold onto these dear individuals for just a while longer.  My new family knew that change was inevitable but to what decree, was undetermined.

Big Angel had been planning his last birthday party but now mother/grandma would need to be laid to rest before the celebration.  Big Angel knew that this would be his last hurrah, as he gathers his clan together in the family’s home.  As the patriarch, he was actually much more than that to his family and friends throughout the years.  This story of about hope, survival, family, about making a difference, and about being yourself was fantastic and I’m so glad bookclub choose it. 

Big Angel, the family’s leader, feels that he has now been reduced to a child.  This man, that his siblings used to see as a father figure, the punctual, computer-genius he once was, is now using a wheelchair and needs help with most of his daily functions.  As a Mexican immigrant, Big Angel and his family have had some interesting and amazing adventures throughout their lifetime.  As family and friends gather to celebrate Big Angel birthday, their adventures are far from over.  For on this one day, some see Big Angel for who he really is.  

As I listened to all the different individuals in the story, I enjoyed their interactions and how they all fed into the maze of each other’s lives.  As the author blended in all the different time periods, I liked seeing and hearing exactly what had transpired during this time and their account of the event.  Big Angel is a proud man yet he’s also humble.  As he writes in his mole-skinned notebooks, it’s the honesty and the thought that he puts into each entry that makes these books so special.  He’s a man who has accepted what life has given to him and now, he’s appreciating it all.  Speaking from the heart, his comments led me to cry and to laugh, sometimes all within a few pages of each other.  There are tons of great moments in this book, moments that make me smile just thinking about them.  After borrowing this book from the library to read, I realize that I need this book in my collection so I can reread it in the near future. It is definitely a keeper and one that I highly recommend.  5+ stars

“At the end of the day, all he really knew was that he was a Mexican father. And Mexican fathers made speeches. He wanted to leave her with a blessing, with beautiful words to sum up a life, but there were no words sufficient to this day.  But still, he tried.  “All we do, mija,” he said, “is love. Love is the answer.  Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death.”

Skinnytaste One and Done: 140 No-Fuss Dinners for Your Instant Pot®, Slow Cooker, Air Fryer, Sheet Pan, Skillet, Dutch Oven, and More by Gina Homolka

5 stars Cookbook

What a terrific book!  I love a good cookbook and Skinnytaste’s recipes are ones that I know are great on flavor and good on my health.  I don’t have all of the equipment that this cookbook pertains to (instant pot, pressure cooker) but that’s alright.  Some of the recipes give alternative ways to cook the dish, should you not have the proper kitchen cookware.  The recipes in this cookbook look amazing, the ingredients are typical items that I would normally buy, and these are dishes that I would normally prepare during the week.  Sure, there are some recipes that I could prepare for company or for a holiday but these recipes aren’t strictly for high heel and champagne occasions. 

At the beginning of this book, the author mentions each type of kitchen cookware featured in this book. In this one-pot cookbook, Gina covers the basics for each of these options from how to buy them to how to use them.  As I read this section, I thought it was very informative and I learned a few things.  I liked how she broke things down and it gave me an idea of what I should be looking for in the future. 

The cookbook is sectioned off, according to each of the different cookware.  It begins with the Skillet, then onto Sheet Pan & Baking Dish, Pressure Cooker, Air Fryer, Dutch Oven, Slow Cooker, and ends with Grill Pan & Grill.  Each section has an index at the beginning which I felt was very helpful.  I enjoyed seeing all the recipes for that section listed out with their page number and their corresponding-colored dots (see below). There has to be over 15 recipes for each of the different sections in this book. 

Each recipe comes with a brief note about the recipe, the serving size, how many this recipe will serve, the nutritional value of the recipe, an ingredients list, and step-by-step instructions.  There’s also a key on each recipe as to whether it’s: quick (30 minutes or less), vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, or freezer friendly.  Most recipes have 2-4 of these markers (little colored dots) on them.  If you need weight-watchers’ points for the recipes, you can get those on her website.  Most of the recipes get a two-page spread in this book where one side is the recipe and one side is a photograph of the prepared dish.  There might also be additional notes on the page about helpful suggestions or an alternative way to prepare the dish. 

The first recipe in this cookbook caught my attention, right away.  Fiesta Chicken and Carrot Rice sounded interesting and the photograph looked delicious!  The Lazy Veggie Lasagna, and the Spinach, Bacon, and Cheddar Hasselback Chicken looked super good in the photographs.  And yes, this is a healthy cookbook and I did say bacon.  Mom’s Skillet Chicken Pot Pie with 1/8 of a serving at 333 calories. I couldn’t get past the Carne Asada Fries – yum!  2 cups of fries at 19 grams of fat and 456 calories.  I’ll take fries any day. Let’s not forget the soup.  American-Style Cheesy Beef Goulash and Macaroni and the Creamy Cheddar-Broccoli Soup.  Did I mention the Stromboli, the chicken nuggets, or the calzones?  A fantastic index rounds out this book.  This book is a beauty, it’s definitely a keeper! 5 stars

Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner

3.5 stars Children’s Nonfiction

The illustrations inside this book are what makes this book for me. I like everything about them from the color selection, to the details included in them, to how simple the designs really are.  I also liked how the book addressed Covid-19. When I think of Anthony Fauci, I think of Covid-19, for he was the one who talked to me on the news about this pandemic and he seemed to know what was really happening. Many pages of this book addressed Anthony’s part in the Covid-19 crisis.

I thought this book was okay.  I was hoping it would have a lot more personal or entertaining information about Anthony than it did.  I thought the book contained a majority of general information about him.  Information that seemed boring or trivial.  I did find a few pieces of information that I thought, gave me an inside look at who Anthony really was. 

The book mentions some of Anthony’s attributes that began when he was child which have helped him as an adult.  Anthony loved playing basketball but he was short individual.  Determined to play, Anthony found that his speed and his ability to communicate would be his way to contribute to this game.  Anthony’s determination was also a huge asset.  Having these qualities also helped Anthony survive in the tough neighborhood that he lived in.

The book in general, gives general information and walks the reader through how Anthony found his way working on some of the toughest diseases in our nation.  It’s a book that shows children where it all began for Anthony and that anyone, can reach for the stars, if you keep reaching.

There is a lot of other pages full of added material, in the back of the book.  There are some pages dedicated to “How Do Vaccines Work?” Are Vaccines Safe?’  “Dr. Faucis’ Five Tips for Future Scientists.”  There’s also a timeline of some of Fauci’s milestones, a page of recommended reading, and a sources page.  A few pages of black-n-white photos of Anthony with a short author’s notes and acknowledgements, rounds out this book. 3.5 stars    

Princesses Are Not …….. by Kate Lum

4 stars Children’s

I’m reviewing three different books about three princesses. These are children’s books and you don’t need to read them in any specific order but they do feature the same princesses in all the books. I found the books funny, cute, and I liked how they each had a different lesson(s) attached to them.

Princesses Are Not Perfect

Let me introduce the three princesses that are featured in this book series: Princess Allie, Princess Mellie, and Princess Libby.  Princess Allie has blond hair and she likes to bake.  Princess Libby has red/pink hair and she likes to build things.  Princess Libby has purple hair and she likes to garden.   With their own special talents, they think of nothing else but what they’re good at. 

Let me introduce the three princesses that are featured in this book series: Princess Allie, Princess Mellie, and Princess Libby.  Princess Allie has blond hair and she likes to bake.  Princess Libby has red/pink hair and she likes to build things.  Princess Libby has purple hair and she likes to garden.   With their own special talents, they think of nothing else but what they’re good at. 

Allie is the happiest when she’s baking and her cakes are delicious.  Mellie can make anything grow and like Allie, when she’s gardening, this is her happy place.  Princess Libby can build anything you ask her to and she loves doing it. 

Some children are coming for the Summer Party tomorrow at the palace and the princesses are now making plans.  Suddenly, Mellie decides that she’s had enough gardening and she wants to try baking.  What?!?  Mellie explains that “princesses are good at everything,” so she wants to do something different now.   Allie doesn’t know what to think about Mellie taking over her what she loves to do plus…….what was she supposed to do now?   Mellie explains to the other princesses that Allie can now build things and Libby will now do the gardening.  Everyone will do something different and it all be great. 

Informing their housekeeper of their new roles, the princesses inform the housekeeper that they’re excited about their new responsibilities and they get their first list of jobs.  Boy, what a list!!  It’s time to get working for the summer party is tomorrow! 

The princesses definitely worked.  They tried but the end result, looked nothing like the 100 small baskets of berries, the 100 little chairs, or the 100 cupcakes with pink roses that they needed for the party.  You need to sit in chairs, right?  As they get ready for dinner, the princesses aren’t their cheerful selves and after eating, they drag themselves to bed. 

In the morning, the princesses awoke, excited for the party.   At lunchtime, the children arrive and everything was perfect.  What?! From the treats, to the chairs, to the little baskets of fruit.  It was as if magic had occurred overnight and transformed the items the princesses had originally created.   The magic of love.

This was a cute story.  I liked how the princesses tried to do something different, for they at least tried.  They also didn’t brag or criticize each other during the process.   The princesses did what needed to be done and they moved on.   The illustrations are funny and complete this book.   5 stars

Princesses Are Not Just Pretty

I laughed when I read this book as it reminded me of some elementary students.  Some elementary students always seem to want to compare things: which one writes better, who is faster, who can jump higher, who is taller, who colors better?  In this children’s story, we again have the three princesses, Princess Mellie, Princess Libby, and Princess Allie from the previous book.  Each of them feel that they’re the prettiest.  They each have different attributes to claim the title and to me, I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for in a princess, to give her that title but in this story, they’re going to have a beauty contest to decide the winner.

Four clever girls get to judge the princesses and zoom, off the princesses go to get ready!  They prep and they pamper themselves getting ready and when they’re finally ready, each of them sets off for the contest.  As they make their way, they each discover someone that’s dealing with a crisis that needs their immediate help.  Not wasting a minute, each of the princesses jumps in and assists.  Mud, smoke, water, the princesses tackle them all.  Each emergency is a success but the princesses do not fare so well.   Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I say.  Arriving at the contest, the princesses take the stage.

In all, being pretty isn’t everything.   There are other qualities that should be admired and respected and the judges take that approach.  I enjoyed the last illustration as there are some of the individuals/animals that the princesses assisted in their cries for help with them on the stage.  I think that by showing this, it helps emphasize one of the books main ideas.    The illustrations in this book are super cute too.

5 stars Childrens

Princesses Are Not Quittes!

Once again, we’re in the huge silver palace with Princess Mellie, Princess Libby, and Princess Allie. I like that in this book, we actually get to see on the beginning pages, just how huge their palace is. I don’t think huge accurately describe it, I would use words like enormous or gigantic.

Eating their breakfast in the garden, one of the princesses mentions how boring being a princess really is. As a group of girls now moved past the princesses, the princesses notice that these girls were again having all the fun! They were out in the fresh air and they were again doing something interesting. It just wasn’t fair! Calling these girls over, the princesses tell the girls that they’re going to switch places with them. They immediately, exchange clothing.

When the housekeeper hears of this switch, she questions the princesses but they’re determined to keep their new roles. From now on, the princesses will be the servants and the servants will be princesses. How funny!! The princesses can’t wait to get to work but by lunch time, they’re already behind schedule and I’m exhausted even thinking of them doing everything on the list the housekeeper gave them. I liked how the princesses kept going even though they were exhausted and I loved the amount of work that was included on the list. The illustrations were cute and entertaining too. There were some good points in the book and I liked how they were presented.

This is a fun series and I like how there are ideas/lessons in each of the stories. I thought the ending of the book was excellent and I really enjoyed this book.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

5 stars Historical Fiction

This novel covered only three days yet those days felt longer than the typical 24-hours.  I enjoyed the diversity among the characters in this novel, as they balanced each other out.  Inside this makeshift maternity ward, the mothers are facing a lot of uncertainty.  Although one might have experience working with expectant mothers, the Spanish Flu was a variant that no one had experience with.  As Julia dives into her new position, Bridie walks into her life.  Bridie, her honest and accommodating spirit, I loved everything about her. 

When I first met Bridie, I had a tender spot for her.  There was this warmth and grace about her, it was just something that I felt as I read the book. Julia and Bridie build this great relationship in the book as they work with each other and their patients. Even though one had more experience, they balanced each other as Bridie kept Julia grounded.  They nurtured each other.  I liked the uncertainty of the situations that they were facings, the characters, and the relationships that transpired. I thought this was an excellent audio as I listened to it on a Playaway (an audio).   

I am the Storm by Jane Yolen

5 stars Children’s

Mother Nature throws at us some fierce storms, whether that be hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, or blizzards but as humans we are fierce too. Jane Yolan does an excellent job showing that although we have no control over Mother Nature, we can control how we react to what happens in our area.  Each of these situations are unpredictable, yet in this children’s book we find comfort and strength to weather any storm that should come our way.

The illustrations inside this book are just wonderful. From the purple-orange swirl of the tornado to the burning marshmallow, for each of these little details brings this book to life.  I enjoyed the diversity as each of the families as they dealt with their disaster.  Although their situations weren’t as devasting as we witness on the news, there was still work to be done and emotions that need to be addressed, after their event had passed.  Yolan text is soothing and instills with her readers that the disaster will eventually end and they too, will survive.  Things might look different outside for them but “It’s okay to be scared” for they are “strong and powerful” and each of them have characteristics of the storms within them.  In the back of the book, Yolan gives a brief description about each type of storm. 5 stars

“And when the storm passes,

as it always does,

I am the calm, too.”

The Invisible Alphabet by Joshua David Stein

3 stars Children’s

This book is very creative.  By itself, I don’t think the book is a hit but grouped with other books, I liked it.  I think by itself, it’s boring and I don’t think most young children will find it appealing yet if you group this book with other ABC books or other black/white books or other books with a theme, you’ll have something.  On the other hand, older teens might like the book and find it humorous.   

The author created this ABC’s children’s book with mainly black and white illustrations.  Adding just a bit of orange color to each illustration, the author gives each letter of the alphabet at least one page in this book.  The words selected for each letter are what sets this book apart from other ABC books, as his concepts are centered around “gone.”  Whether that be physically gone, permanently gone, or just the concept of being gone, something on the page is missing.  N is for Nothing and that blank page says it all.  S is for Secret and by the look on the children’s faces on this page, that secret was a good one.     

While flipping through this book, I thought of a great activity to use with this book.  How about having your students/child create their own ABC book, using the opposites of this book. This would be a fun, entertaining challenging for you also as there are plenty of different words you could use for each letter in this book.  Example: O if for Out in this book. For your own book, you could use P is for Plenty, E is for Enough, T is for Too much, etc.  I think this would be an interesting activity for an extension on this book. 3 stars.   

The Bat Book by Charlotte Milner

5 stars Nonfiction

I’m not bat savvy so I needed this book.  I thought I knew a few things about them and I knew I had some “deceptions” about them but now, I feel knowledgeable.  In our neighborhood at night, you can see a few bats soaring in the sky come dusk.  I’m grateful that they’re eating the insects yet, I’m also thinking how dirty those little guys are and how I don’t want them to get tangled up in my hair.  At least now, after reading this book, I feel educated and grateful that they picked our air space to do their hunting.

I have to share this eye-opening moment for me first.  I never realized that bats pollinate. Bees, yes but bats?  It makes sense but I never really thought about it until I read about it in the book.  A few pages were focused on this topic and I guess looking back over the years, pollination was always about bees and birds. 

I enjoyed this book immensely as I do with most DK books.  The paper is the thick matte finish which compliments the illustrations/text.  I think the paper provides a richness to the book and will hold up better over time.  The illustrations are fantastic, with their convincing drawings that pull your eyes in to pagefuls of helpful information.  I liked the contrasting text colors and the use of graphs, text boxes, and the how everything is labeled and arranged. 

I found plenty of information inside this book which was presented in an easy-to-read format.   From different types of bats and their body types, to why they are so important, to myths about them, the author gives us plenty to think about.  A great book! 5 stars    

Every Minute is a Day: A Doctor, An Emergency Room and a City Under Seige by Robert Meyer MD

5 stars Nonfiction

I know, I know, I know.  People are tired of hearing about Covid but I really wanted to hear from someone different.  Someone who actually worked on the front lines, in an area different than my own and I wanted to hear his own words about what he experienced and witnessed with his own eyes.  I really enjoyed this book, in fact, the book exceeded my expectations.  At first, I hesitated on reading it, afraid it might contain difficult medical jargon but the book was very down-to-earth.

This book centers on Montefiore Health System in Harlem which serves about 1.5 million people annually.  With their staff including their medical students, their facilities including their modern equipment, they feel that there’s no better equipped hospital to serve Covid patients than their building.  Within one month of receiving their first Covid patient, the hospital gets control of the situation but there’s no end in sight.  They were able to manage the shortages that came with the demand of this illness while still providing what they could to their patients and staff.  The hospital experienced highs along with the lows while they provided care for their patients, those highs amongst all the chaos and despair provided hope and strength for another day. 

There were many references that I enjoyed in this book, remarks that stood out as I read them.  The first one referred to how the hospital dealt with the crisis.  This state of mind continues today as officials examine the booster vaccine.  The doctors learned as they go. They learned about the illness from others, they learned from doing something different, and they learned from going outside-the-box. This illness is new, it’s something our society has not dealt with before.  This is a new crisis- there are no set rules, there is no handout to follow, no set procedures in place.  We are creating the handout and the rules as the days on the calendar move forward and unfortunately, as people get sick, die, and refused to believe that this illness really exists.  The second comment that stuck with me was how the medical staff put everything on hold while they dealt with Covid. How will that effect our future?  What will happen if we encounter another untreatable illness?  I stop and think about the implications of this time?  What has this done to us as a nation and to us around the world? Has this united us or tore us apart?  According to a few surveys, our children’s education has suffered.  That’s our future.  How long will we continue to argue and battle what is “right?”

There was a wake-up moment in Harlem when other colleagues in other areas of the hospital started to offer their help.  Months earlier they’ve been too scared to help but now, they see how things are not letting up and they feel the need to pitch in but how? They don’t have the training to work in the ER.  The emergency doctors took them, they trained them on something/anything that they thought they could do, they needed another pair of hands, someone to provide some relief.  These newly trained ER staff members thought they were scared before, well working on the front lines now, they’re realizing just how bad Covid really is.

I didn’t expect a happy story and I found myself crying a few times while I read this book, the emotional toil and the personal stories hit me.  You never knew how things would turn out.  An image that stayed with me as I read this book was the person lying in the hospital, just waiting, all alone.  Imagine yourself lying there, alone, isolated, no TV or entertainment, all you hear is the constant beeping of the monitors all around you and the noises of the staff as they scramble to assist the others that are lying nearby.  How do you feel?  Sick, helpless, defeated, worried, deflated…..

It’s a crisis that’s hitting every continent and not everyone is able or willing to stop/control it.  You need to be able to live your life, not just survive but live.  We need to remember all of those who have died, what we have learned through these individuals, and we need to honor those who have helped us along the way. 

It’s a great read and one that I highly recommend.  I appreciate the two cousins getting together and sharing this story with us and although, I haven’t witnessed it firsthand, I have heard enough stories from friends and loved ones that I don’t want to nor do I need to, to understand how serious this crisis is. Emergency medicine is constantly changing and you have to remember that no one has all the answers yet. Stay well everyone.  5 stars

Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey

4 stars Mystery

This was dark.  I felt as I was reading this novel that I was being led down different paths, roads that never really connected to one another till later in the book. I knew immediately when Emma left Abigail at the party that she had made the wrong choice.  The beer is flowing freely, the bonfire is hot and the guests are ready to party.  Abigail leaves Emma behind as she walks off into the woods with the boy.  Abi tells her friend that she’ll be fine and that, she’ll find a ride home later.  Abigail never made it home that night.

So, where is Abi?  To answer that question, we’ll need to time travel and return to “Then” and get some history on our characters. Throughout this book, you’ll be rotating time periods from “then” and “now”, so don’t lose track of where you are. 

Welcome to Whistling Ridge, a small community, where not-even the preacher was honorable.  It seemed as if every citizen has a secret side of themselves, a side that only a few others see.  That hidden side can hold many different attributes and, in this town, it holds a great number.  From prejudices, abuse, phobias, anger and lying, these are just some of the issues that you’ll find on their city blocks.  I really find it interesting how all these individuals can live together in one small community and they can actually exist with one another. With everything that is dividing our country now, how can such a small town have such a high number of issues and still function as a community?  The history of these individual play a major role as they investigate where Abi went.

I, myself have never lived in a small town but my grandparents did when I was growing up and I visited there quite frequently. My grandfather owned the general store in town and we’d see lots of folks stop in.  I don’t remember hearing or hearing my grandparents talk negatively about their neighbors.  Perhaps, it depends on where you live and perhaps, they kept that information away from my ears.  I seem to gravitate towards dark stories and this one definitely checked that box, while also keeping me engaged and energized.

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.