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.”

My Nana’s Garden by Dawn Casey

5 stars Childrens

With tears in my eyes, I write.  Reluctant to stay with her Nana, she soon realizes how special her Nana really is.  As the little girl spends time with her Nana in her garden, she begins to understand that the overgrown garden is actually an exceptional place.  A place where Nana lets things happen. Where the wildflowers grow for the insects and the critters can run freely, where the apple tree brings forth fruit for harvesting, and that old tree is called home to some animal friends.  The garden is also a special place where Nana and the little girl can spend some quality time together, enjoying each other’s company while appreciating the world around them.  It isn’t long before she starts to enjoy visiting her Nana and tending to the garden space alongside her.   

The book progresses quickly and Nana has moved into a wheelchair.  It is my assumption that this little girl is her granddaughter and she has also grown up quickly.  The daughter now accompanies her granddaughter on the visits to Nana’s.  The three of them now visit the garden together, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.

“In my nana’s garden,

I curl up and cry.

The sun doesn’t shine

in the winter sky.” 

The tone of the book changes after this quote and my mood does also for, I feel that life has changed for this family.  The garden is cold and bare all winter long as the granddaughter looks out the window remembering her Nana.  Come spring, the daughter and granddaughter get to work in Nana’s garden tending to it, just like Nana did. The garden springs to life and there is energy within the book again.  The daughter is changing too and as I flip the page, there are now 3 individuals surrounding the tree in Nana’s garden, “We think of Nana by the trees.”

What a sweet book.  I loved looking at the illustrations and seeing how they changed without any mention of it in the text. I felt the author did an excellent job addressing the relationship of the little girl and her Nana, Nana’s passing, and how they honored Nana by caring for her garden.  With a rhyming text, the words did not feel forced but were smooth and flowing.  This Nana truly enjoyed this book.  5 stars

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.”

Between Heaven and Texas by Marie Bostwick

4 stars Fiction

This is my first book by Marie Bostwick and I enjoyed it much more than I originally anticipated. I don’t think I would have selected this book to read on my own, which is why book clubs are so beneficial. With this book completed, I would love to continue on with the series, to see what the future held for a few of the characters.

Settling down into Too Much, Texas with the Templeton family, I followed a few younger sisters as they matured and became adults. Since the family unit is a huge and important part of being a Templeton, I ended up getting to know quite a few of the girl’s friends and family members. Leading an eventful life, I found that the story moved quickly with an engaging storyline that pulled me in quickly.

As the girl’s become adults, they began to get serious about the men in their lives and unfortunately, they started to drift apart. This begins a “muddy” period for them and their family. They can’t see what the future holds for them so right now, things look great and they’re excited to get their adult lives started. Oh, does it get exciting. Perhaps not the excitement that they were expecting, but it’s exciting! For it’s one thing-on-top-of-another and it-just-will-not-stop.

This book has almost a little bit of everything. I liked that the family ranch is passed down to the women in the family and how they take this responsibility seriously. There are parts in this book that are funny while it also has its serious moments. The family does have its differences and I like that they show this in the book without a lot of negative drama. There is a little bit of religion in the book but nothing preachy and there’s also romance in the book. I’m not one that’s into a lot of romanace but this was just enough for me. I enjoyed this book and Iwould like to read more of this series in the future.

“You wait and see if I’m not right. This boy is going to be something. One of a kind. Aren’t you, Howard?”

The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine

4.5 stars MIddle School

The cover doesn’t do this book any justice but since I’ve really loved a few of the authors other books (The Lions of Little Rock and The Paper Cowboy), I wanted to read a few of her other books.  Twelve-year old Becca is brilliant.  In my world, she’s gifted and Becca’s Doomsday Journals are a testament to this.  If you could ask her, she could pinpoint for you, exactly where she wrote down each anxiety that she has faced, in the numerous Doomsday Journals that she keeps.  And now, Becca is flying to Austria to spend the summer with her father.  Do you realize what this entails? I’m not sure Becca has enough new journals for this trip.

The characters inside this book were fantastic.  We have Becca, who needs to pack-up her anxiety, hop on a plane, and visit her father for the summer.  Wait, it gets even better because her father has a girlfriend with a son, Felix that’s about Becca’s age.  With the adults working during the day, they hired Sara to entertain the kids and take them on trips throughout the city.  I’m getting anxiety just thinking about this, so I can’t imagine what must be running through Becca’s head.  Becca’s mom is flying with her to Austria (thank you, mom) and then, mom’s taking a backpacking trip (I guess she won’t be easily available should Becca need her).  Wow, that’s a lot for Becca to process!

Becca doesn’t want anyone to know about her anxiety and she tries to hide it but obviously, she can’t.  As Sara tries to show them a good time, Becca’s hesitation and reluctancy shows.  When Becca comes clean, she realizes that she’s not alone but what’s next? Now that the three of them have come together, how can they move forward? 

I loved how they worked together and encouraged one another.  I enjoyed the inspiration, the motivation, and the friendship that they built.  Although they each felt alone with own challenges, they really had similar feelings that when they finally expressed them, they could worked together/help each other to find solutions.  Another great book. 4.5 stars

Shark Summer by Ira Marcks

4 stars Middle School graphic novel

What a great adventure! Gayle had led her team to the Championship but now, the star pitcher was nursing her wrist and reflecting back on that flyball that landed her in the emergency room.  With her mother’s dream on hold, Gayle’s shoulders felt heavy with guilty. Her mother would now have to seek employment at a hotel and the doors to the Black Cat Creamery would stay shut.  Gayle’s medical bills needed to be paid off before she could continue on with the store’s grand opening.

I liked how honest Gayle’s mother was, how responsible Gayle felt and how Gayle wanted to help remedy the situation.  Gayle being a teen, sees beyond herself while at the same time, she acts like a kid.  When Gayle comes across a flyer for a contest, she’s determined to win the cash prize, and she begins putting in motion, what she has to do to get that accomplished.  

To win this contest, it’s not as easy as it first seems.  In their effort to win, the small group discovers an old mystery which they attempt to solve……….

There’s a lot of activity in this graphic novel.  This being said, I think that they did a great job with the panels in this book.  They provided a variety of sizes to keep the story interesting and to keep the story flowing smoothly.  There’s just enough detail in the artwork and the color choice was on the darker side, which added to the mystery and drama of the story.  I enjoyed how this new group of friends worked together also.  

Alone by Megan Freeman

4.25 stars Middle School

I have to admire an author that can take me on a journey using verse.  The word selection, the sentence structure, the punctuation, everything about the story has to be carefully selected by the author so they can lead their reader on a magical journey.  Set in Colorado, Megan introduces us to 12-year-old Maddie, who thought she was going to pull a fast-one on her parents but unfortunately, in the long-run Maddie ends up paying the price for what she did.  Alone, is a fantastic book about a world in which Maddie finds herself alone in, which had plenty of emotions as Maddie tries to survive on her own. 

I think we all have done something like this before but now, it was Maddie’s turn to try it.  She was telling her mom that she was staying at her dad’s house and then, telling her dad that she was staying at her mom’s house. Her friends are telling similar lies. Goal: sleepover at Maddie’s grandparent’s empty apartment.  Sounds like a great time but her friends get caught lying.  Maddie is by herself at her grandparents’ empty house. There’s noise outside the apartment during the night, but she’s technically not there so she stays hidden. In the morning, with her phone charged, alerts and warnings pop up on her screen. Imminent threat? Alert? When no one picks up or returns her calls, Maddie races home.  What is happening? Why isn’t anyone picking up their phone or returning Maddie’s phone calls?

Dang! What Maddie found is not good! Cell phones abandoned and individual houses look like people left in a hurry?  What was so urgent?  Maddie found the neighbor’s dog George, so at least she has someone to talk to but everyone, and I mean everyone is gone.  Eventually, Maddie has to start looking for food and supplies.  Searching in other people’s houses Maddie finds other pets that were left behind, some alive and some dead, they have been trapped in their houses. The two of them seem to be making it but for how much longer?  When Maddie has a question, the internet is no longer an option nor can someone provide the answer for her so Maddie takes her questions to the library.  Maddie looks up her questions at the library and while she’s there, Maddie begins to bring back books with her to read.  I liked reading about her experiences with the library.

It’s Colorado and the days are getting shorter.  Oh, I hate winter and just thinking about Maddie and winter, gave me the chills.  There’s also no electricity so Maddie has this to consider.  Would she be better off just packing some stuff and traveling to another city?  A year has passed and Maddie still wonders “when” they will be coming back for her.  I wonder, “if” they will be coming back.

I thought Maddie’s actions were typical for someone her age and I was happy to see that she didn’t get depressed or angry about her situation.  She addressed it a few times but she knew that she couldn’t just sit around and wait for someone to come rescue her.  She had to actively try to get food and supplies for herself and her dog so they could stay alive till someone came.  For more than 3 years, Maddie fought the elements, from the weather, to food, to emotional, and onto physical factors.  From snow and horrible rain storms, to fighting for food and hunting for it, to anger and being scared, and also enduring physical pain and exhaustion.  I still had some questions at the end of the book about the whole emergency situation, why Maddie was left alone so long and I really felt that the ending was rushed but I really enjoyed this book and the author use of verse to do so.  4.25 stars.

“If a birthday falls in the forest

but there’s no one there to celebrate

do we still get older?”

“Loneliness and insanity

are twin houseguests

and

it’s hard to entertain one

without inviting the other in

as well”

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

4 stars Middle School

I listened to this book on audio and I really enjoyed the voices. I don’t know why I picked up this book, it must have been the title and the synopsis that lured me in.  I enjoy Star Wars but I can’t say that I’m a huge fan but I can say that I’ve known my share of students in school who stood out as being “different.” 

I thought Dwight was rather creative.  As the voice of Yoda, what advice does he actually give to those who call upon him?  What stake does Yoda have in the lives of the individuals around him? What a creative way for Dwight to find his way into the lives of his peers.  I thought the book was rather interesting and said a lot about Dwight.  Not having any illustrations to look at, I think that I processed this book differently than someone who actually read and looked at the illustrations.  Fun, entertaining, and short story. I highly recommend the audio. 4 stars

Kate the Chemist: Dragons vs. Unicorns by Dr. Kate Biberdorf

4 stars Middle School

I was impressed how this middle school fiction story mixed in as much science as it did, without the story sounding ridiculous or too nerdy.  You mix in too much information and you lose too many readers, you provide minor information and you lose readers, you do this and you lose readers, I feel that there’s this fine line of what information you can include in these types of books to be successful.  I’ve read a couple of the author’s science experiment books so I thought it was only fitting that I try one of her fiction stories.  My advice: if you’re thinking about this book, do it!  Dr. Biberdorf mixes in science terminology, knowledge, and excitement into a fictional story of a small group of fifth grade friends who find that their fall break camp has more drama than they signed up for.

I liked Kate’s excitement about science.  Her willingness to try and her great attitude even if things get out of control, she’s giving it everything that she has.  She really wants others to love science and experience it like she does. I loved how the author mixed in the science terminology within the story.  I found this book to be a fast read, containing short chapters with just a handful of important characters.  I hope that the author includes more male characters in this series as I feel both boys and girls would enjoy reading them.  This looks to be a great start to a fun, educational series!    

No Exit by Taylor Adams

5 stars Thriller

I’ve read this book almost 2 books ago and I still can’t get this book out of my head.  The ending of the book had more twists than a rollercoaster and boy, do I love rollercoasters.  Once the adrenaline rush came, it came crashing down on me again and again, as Darby struggled to outwit her opponents in a war where she mentally or physically she could not rest. 

I don’t like snow or driving in snow yet where I live the possibility of snow is about 40% to 50% of my entire year.  It’s the unpredictability of snow and how other individuals behave in the snow, that makes me not like to drive in it.  Sitting behind the wheel with Darby, the snow creating a lacey veil for the struggling car to stay onto the assigned path, I’m finding myself, holding my breath.  Darby was stressed before hitting the road and now, the weather just adds to her frustration.  Since receiving the news, Darby just wanted to see her mother but now, just finding somewhere to park her car for a bit, would be a great relief.  When the windshield wiper flew off her car, I knew she was in trouble and as she limped into the rest area parking lot, I thought if she could at least stay in her vehicle, she would be fine.  But, had she pack her car for winter driving? I had a feeling that she didn’t. 

Oh Darby!  Making her way into the rest area, Darby takes in her surroundings.  The individuals hanging around inside and the location of different parts of this rest area.  When she hears that they’ve closed some of the roads due to the blizzard, she immediately began assessing the situation.  I wish she would’ve been this detailed before hitting the road, for I think it might have helped her considerably.  Darby is now stuck at a rest area with some total strangers, with no cell service and with a phone that’s almost dead. They won’t be coming to clear the roads for quite some time and when Darby goes back outside, she notices someone caged in a van.  Yes, I said caged and this someone is a small girl. 

Who is this girl?  Which one of the individuals inside the rest area owns the van?  Oh, the questions just start coming as nothing about what has just transpired is good.  Darby can’t keep still as she needs to do something to correct the situation but where does she begin? 

Thank goodness that Darby has an almost dead cell phone and no, my friends she hadn’t packed her car for winter driving nor had she prepared herself for any type of an emergency before she left.  She’s surrounded by a blizzard, alone, confronted with a nightmare which she has to put an end to tonight. 

This was a fantastic, high-energy book. It definitely got my adrenaline going and it still gets me pumped up when I think about it.  I would recommend it but with a warning, you might not get any sleep once you start it.