Book Club Mom’s Short Reviews of Recommended Reads

Weldome to a new feature on Book Club Mom: Short Reviews of Recommended Reads. I hope you’ll take a look!

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave: Hannah Michaels doesn’t know what to think when she reads a hasty note from her new husband, Owen. “Protect her” is all it says, referring, she thinks to his sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. When Owen doesn’t return home from his chief coding job at a California software startup, and when police arrest the CEO for embezzlement and fraud, Hannah suspects that Owen is on the run. But why is Bailey in danger? With limited information, Hannah must decide whether to hide or seek out a hunch she has. Soon they’re in Austin, chasing down memories that lead to Owen’s secret and dangerous past. Here, Hannah faces a difficult and irrevocable choice, but she’ll do anything to protect Owen’s daughter. A fast, light and easy read about families and secrets, good for the beach or a plane ride.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: I liked this book that parallels the story of a young girl sent west on an orphan train from New York City in 1929 and a present-day Native American teenage girl who has struggled in the modern foster care system. I think Kline does an excellent job showing us how Niamh Power and these destitute orphaned children, both numb and frightened, must have felt as they traveled and met up with their matches, which were often far from perfect. In present day, Molly Ayer is a rebellious, Goth girl whose father has died and whose mother is addicted to drugs. Molly meets ninety-one year-old Niamh, now named Vivian, when she is assigned to a community service punishment for stealing a book. The two form a friendship as Molly helps Vivian sort through her attic and together they relive Vivian’s story.

The Giver by Lois Lowry: The Giver is a terrific thought-provoking middle school read, great for adults too. It is the story of a controlled society in which there are no choices or conflict. When Jonas turns twelve, he must train with The Giver and prepare to receive all the memories of love, happiness, war and pain. During his training, Jonas learns the hard truth about his community and its rules and knows he must act decisively to bring about change. The best part about this book is that every word counts. Lois Lowry is great at describing her characters and their community. She includes meaningful foreshadowing that leads the reader through a gradual understanding of what might initially seem like an acceptable way to live. She accomplishes this by revealing just enough details and we realize the facts just as Jonas does. The Giver ends just as you want to learn more. And thankfully, there is more to the story in Messenger, Gathering Blue and Son.

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Book Review – American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse

American Fire
Monica Hesse

Between November 2012 and April 2013, someone began burning down the rural community of Accomack County, Virginia. On the strip of land called the Eastern Shore, nearly every night, more than eighty-six random fires were set to abandoned buildings, garages, and cars. Firefighters were exhausted and investigators were baffled. Who was responsible? It turned out to be former volunteer firefighter Charlie Smith and his girlfriend, Tonya Bundick. Police finally caught Smith in the act. He immediately confessed and claimed he did it for love, all at Bundick’s direction.

I haven’t spoiled anything here because the story behind this true crime mystery is how Smith and Bundick’s relationship went from love to arson and how law enforcement and the community were fooled. Hesse first wrote an investigative article for The Washington Post, but felt there was a bigger story. In American Fire, she chronicles the lovers’ relationship and how it changed. In addition, she describes a once-prosperous area in the early 1900s, when railroad companies made it possible to transport farmers’ produce. Once trucking replaced railroads, Accomack County suffered, but the people who stayed developed a tough resilience.

Hesse describes those who remained, people whose families had lived for generations on the shore. Now, in modern Accomack County, everyone knows everyone and whether they’re a “Born Here,” a “Come Here,” or a “Been Here.” Not surprisingly, firefighters also go way back, joining as apprentices to their fathers or older relatives. As they fought Smith and Bundick’s fires, their camaraderie kept them going, bolstered by the community who regularly stocked their makeshift firehouse kitchens.

The author includes plenty of information about the investigation, who was involved and an interesting group of profilers. As with other good true crime stories, readers get to know the personalities in the community and those behind the sheriff, state police, fire chiefs, fire marshals, firefighters, and other specialists. I also enjoyed learning about the community’s sometimes wild speculations and its self-appointed investigators.

Hesse takes you through the arrests and trials and I liked following the initial interrogations and courtroom testimonies. The whole story sparked my interest (get it?) and made me want to look up all the news after I finished. She also includes some pictures at the end, which I always appreciate because I like to see the faces behind the names.

I also liked that this was not a violent true crime story. No one was hurt and no one’s homes were destroyed. Just old structures. I recommend American Fire to readers who like investigative stories and psychological studies.

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Book Club Mom’s Short Reviews of Recommended Reads

I’m kicking off the new year with a new feature: Short Reviews of Recommended Reads. Take a look!

A Girl Named Truth by Alethea Kehas – I learned a lot about my blogging friend Alethea in this engrossing and beautifully written memoir about her unconventional upbringing, and more importantly, her struggle to know how truth (her namesake) fits into the narrative of her life. From her early days of rustic camping in Oregon, to life on the run with her mother and older sister in various Hare Krishna compounds, to a new chapters in New Hampshire, Alethea adapts, yet yearns to understand where she fits in. Particularly troubling is her father’s distance, a man who had once searched for his daughters, but gave up. For Alethea, truth and understanding come full circle as she enters marriage and motherhood. There’s lots more in this book. Stay tuned for a special author interview in February!

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben – Nap Dumas is a rogue detective in North Jersey, haunted by the deaths fifteen years earlier of his twin brother, Leo, his brother’s girlfriend, Diana Styles, and the disappearance of Nap’s girlfriend, Maura, When Maura’s fingerprints turn up on a car, Nap becomes obsessed with discovering what really happened during the fall of their senior year in high school. In question are his brother’s Conspiracy Club and the government’s Nike missile base in their town during the 1970s. Now it seems that someone is killing off the other Conspiracy Club members. Captain Augie Styles still mourns the death of his only child and feels particularly vulnerable with these new developments. I’m always drawn to books set in New Jersey and knew nothing about the Nike missile bases planted in the area, so learning about that was interesting to me. Overall, however, a typical fast troubled-detective story.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara – Jai is a nine-year-old boy living with his family in the crowded slums of a large Indian city. When one of his classmates disappears, Jai and his friends form a detective club to solve the mystery, only to discover a series of terrible crimes. This mystery portrays a vivid and sobering look at the desperate lives of many poor people living in metropolitan India. Despite their impoverishment, Jai and his family cling to their beliefs and traditions. The author also shows the conflicts between Hindus and their Muslim neighbors, who are quickly blamed for the crimes. A multitude of terms and references make this a bit of a slow read, but very moving and informative.

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Book Club Mom’s Author Update: News from C. Faherty Brown

Hi Everyone, Happy Friday! I recently caught up with author C. Faherty Brown to learn about her TWO NEW BOOKS. Read more about them here:

I learned years ago that brevity is my friend, so my news is short. I just published SNOW NIGHT, a fictional story inspired by a story my grandmother told me many years ago. It has sadness within, but it is full of love and how we move forward. Earlier this year, I published ANOTHER YELLOW DOOR, a follow-up to my favorite piece of work, YELLOW DOOR, (though SNOW NIGHT runs a close second.)

Website/blog link:

Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.

Email Book Club Mom at for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between

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Book Review: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

I’m Glad My Mom Died
Jennette McCurdy

I’ve been waiting for months to read this memoir about the actress who played Sam Puckett on the popular Nickelodeon show iCarly (and the short-lived spin-off, Sam & Cat). iCarly ran from 2007 – 2012 and my family and I have seen all the episodes. Fans loved Sam’s sassy, strong-willed personality, but off-screen, Jennette fought battles against anorexia and bulimia, brought on by her controlling and abusive mother. As an older teen she used alcohol to escape her mother’s control.

In her memoir, Jennette takes an honest look at her mother, Debra, their intense relationship, and the manipulative pressure Debra put on her to act. The youngest of four children, and the only daughter, Jennette describes a chaotic and dysfunctional family life, homeschooled in a nearly unlivable house because of her mother’s hoarding and their parents’ unstable relationship. Debra, who survived cancer when Jennette was two, used her illness for attention, and every week forced the family to rewatch a home video about her battle. For Jennette, relief came only once a week when they went to their Mormon church.

At age six, Jennette began acting, the career her mother had wanted for herself. Debra controlled her daughter’s every move and taught her how to cut calories to delay puberty, a strategy to prolong her child acting career. Wanting to please her mother, she agreed. “If I start to grow up, Mom might not love me as much,” she writes.

Jennette talks about her experience on iCarly, her close friendship with Miranda Cosgrove (Carly on the show) and of “The Creator” (Dan Schneider), who once forced her to model a skimpy bikini for him. She writes “I feel like The Creator has two distinct sides…He can make you feel like the most important person in the world.” She adds, however, “The other side is mean-spirited, controlling, and terrifying. The Creator can tear you down and humiliate you.”

Oh, what a sad trap. Jennette only wants to please her mother and her mother won’t let her go. Jennette recognizes the trap while Debra is alive, but can’t break away, out of guilt, loyalty and things she doesn’t yet understand. She’s free in a sense when her mother dies, but it takes years of therapy to overcome her eating disorders and learn how to develop normal relationships. As an adult, Jennette must also process a shocking revelation about her father.

I’m Glad My Mom Died is a fast, engrossing read, written in humble humor. It’s not the typical celebrity memoir in the sense that McCurdy focuses on her own battles and does little name dropping. I don’t think she wrote this to impress readers. I think she wrote it to help others better understand abusive relationships and eating disorders. A few sloppy errors took away from the reading experience, but that’s on the editors and publisher. The message rings true, however and provides a good reminder that actors aren’t the people they portray.

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In case you missed them! BCM post recap August 2022

Hey Everyone,

In case you missed them, here’s a quick look at Book Club Mom’s posts in August.

I read five books this month, one up from my normal four.

Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan – 5 stars. I’ve always liked survival stories and became totally engrossed in Steven Callahan’s first-hand account of how he survived for more than two months, alone in the North Atlantic.

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards – 4.5 stars. This Young Adult thriller is just as good or better than many of the adult thrillers I’ve recently read!

Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe – 4 stars. I was immediately affected when I listened to the audiobook of Toya Wolfe’s debut novel (published June 2022) about four young girls who live in the projects in Chicago and even more so when I learned that the author grew up in these projects.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex – 4 stars. This is a slow-burn atmospheric psychological drama that looks at the effects of isolation and separation.

The Party by Robyn Harding – 3.5 stars. About a month ago, I was getting a haircut and my stylist, knowing I have a book blog and work in a library, recommended this book, about a sweet sixteen party that went terribly wrong. I find books like this hard to resist and I wasn’t disappointed.

I made two YouTube videos and in one of them, I play the piano for you. I’m busy practicing and have a few more pieces that are almost ready to go.

RETRACTION!! Paperless announcement no good!

Book Club Mom is playing Bach!

I introduced two indie authors this month. Make sure you stop by
and read about their books and writing experiences!

Jacqueline Church Simonds

Jacqui Murray

Miscellaneous posts

First Novels by Famous Authors

BCM’s Touchy Topic Discussion: Should book bloggers rate books with stars or just review them?

Book on my radar: The Measure by Nikki Erlick

Grammar check: inbetween, in between, in-between or just plain between?

Book Club Mom’s Blog WOES and Other Obsessions

Thank you to these superstar commenters!

I hope you all had a great month. On to the next book!

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Book Review of Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan

Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea
Steven Callahan

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve always liked survival stories and became totally engrossed in Steven Callahan’s first-hand account of how he survived for more than two months, alone in the North Atlantic after his boat sank. In 1980, Callahan entered the Mini-Transat Race from France to Antigua, but less than a week out, his boat was hit and destroyed by what he thinks was a whale. With only minutes to escape, he grabbed what he could and jumped in the inflatable life raft. His supplies consisted of a few items of food, minimal water, some tools and twine, desalination equipment, emergency flares, a signaling device with limited battery and a survival book he’d picked up at a used book sale.

Callahan endured blazing sun, huge waves, storms, shark attacks and a never-ending assortment of life-or-death situations, including the constant pressure to find food. His salt distillers malfunctioned, his raft leaked and he was hundreds of miles out of range for anyone to hear his signal. When he finally made it to the shipping lanes, ships didn’t catch the signal or see him, despite the flares.

Equally challenging were feelings of worry and hopelessness, but Callahan had a mental resiliency like no one else. He writes:

“Mountain climbing, camping, Boy Scouts, boat building, sailing, and design, and my family’s continued encouragement to confront life head on have all given me enough skill to ‘seastead’ on this tiny, floating island. I am getting there.”

Callahan speared dorados and trigger fish, journaled, drew, and calculated where he was with a sextant he made out of pencils, but over time, especially after the raft was punctured while he wrestled a dorado, he questioned if he had the strength to keep fighting. By then he was emaciated and dehydrated and was covered with cuts and sores.

One of his only comforts was the relationship he developed with the schools of dorados that followed him and nipped and bumped his raft, feeding off the barnacles on the bottom.

“The dorados have become much more than food to me…I look upon them as equals—in many ways as my superiors. Their flesh keeps me alive. Their spirits keep me company. Their attacks and their resistance to the hunt make them worthy opponents, as well as friends.”

Later, he wrote: “I needed a miracle and my fish gave it to me.”

On land, Callahan’s family notified the Coast Guard and conducted their own campaign to find him. But on the seventy-sixth day, a fishing boat from the tiny island of Marie Galante spotted his raft. He’d floated all the way from France to just south of Guadeloupe!

Callahan survived because of his unique skills and mindset and I wonder if anyone else could have made it. I marveled at how he used his mind to find solutions to a continuous run of seemingly hopeless situations. This is an example of perseverance like no other.

Adrift was first published in 1986 and despite being an older book, I think this excellent account has stood the test of time.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Charlie Mackesy

I’ve been wanting to read this short graphic novel for a long time, but it’s always checked out at the library! I finally got my hands on it and, in an effort to tell you more about my new experiences reading graphic novels, I want to share my review of this lovely little book.

While the beautiful illustrations suggest that this is a children’s book, the author clarifies in his introduction that this collection of encouraging sayings is for readers of all ages. We may have heard most of these adages, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be reminded, for example, to be kind to ourselves and others, that it’s okay to be scared of the world out there and that friendship and love are the most important things in our lives.

In a simple style, Mackesy covers all the fears and insecurities we experience. He writes that it’s okay to cry, for example because “Tears fall for a reason and they are your strength not weakness.” I especially like the line, “When the big things feel out of control focus on what you love right under your nose.”

I enjoyed reading this inspirational book and looking at the illustrations. I will note that the pictures and sentiments remind me a lot of Christopher Robin and Pooh, however, which diminished my feelings for the book a bit (honest opinion). But I suppose there’s nothing wrong with being reminded of the wonderful adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood, especially when the message is so positive.

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In case you missed them! Book Review Recap Jan-Jun 2022

Hi Everyone,

My monthly blog recaps have fallen by the wayside, but I’ve decided to bring them back. In this post, I’m just sharing book reviews from Jan – June. Later today, I’ll share all the other posts so far this year. Then next month I’ll be back on track for a monthly recap.


Run by Ann Patchett – 4 stars, slightly dated family drama tied to social and political ideas

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby – 2.5 stars, lots of hype, but this book disappointed me.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – 3.5 stars, fast, twisty domestic thriller


The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson – 4 stars, interesting nonfiction about a strange crime and the quirkiness of an offshoot of the fly-tying hobby

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – unrated, massively long murder mystery about a Franciscan abbey in 1327, heresy and a secret book

If I Were You by P.G. Wodehouse – 4 stars, amusing standalone story in typical Wodehouse fashion about love, marriage, money and family secrets

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow – 4.5 stars, moving story about a young biracial girl who is the only survivor of a tragic family accident


Something She’s Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell – 3 stars, domestic thriller about a woman who kidnaps her boyfriend’s niece and the family’s mad race to rescue the girl before something bad happens

The Second Mrs. Astor: A Novel of the Titanic by Shana Abé – 4 stars, engaging historical fiction about Madeleine Talmadge Force and her brief marriage to Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, cut short when they boarded the Titanic

My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni – 3.5 stars, crime and courtroom series starter about Tracy Crosswhite, a homicide detective with the Seattle Police Department

Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta – 4 stars, 999-page account of Highsmith’s personal struggles with depression and her prolific writing career


House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg – 3.5 stars, middle-grade book about the beloved author of Anne of Green Gables and her battle with depression

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler – 4.5 stars, slightly dated Pulitzer Prize winner about marriage, family, disappointments and growing older, published in 1988

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson – 4 stars, excellent nonfiction narrative about wireless inventor Guglielmo Marconi, murder fugitive Hawley Harvey Crippen and a transatlantic escape attempt

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – 4.5 stars, 2020 Booker Prize winner set in Scotland about a young boy and his alcoholic mother

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 4 stars, gothic horror story about a Mexican debutante who travels to the family’s mining town to rescue her cousin

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo – 3.5 stars, psychological drama about a family after a robbery and kidnapping


One by One by Ruth Ware – 4.5 stars, very good thriller about a members of a tech-start-up on a retreat in the French Alps as they go missing, one by one

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – 5 stars, excellent classic mystery from 1860 about a mysterious woman who escapes from an asylum

The Songs of Trees by David George Haskell – unrated, interesting look at the deep connection between trees, nature and humans

Kusama by Elisa Macellari – 5 stars, graphic novel/biography about Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who became a pop art sensation, all the while struggling from severe psychic disorders


Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson – 3 stars, atmospheric thriller about a young woman on her honeymoon

French Braid by Anne Tyler – 4 stars, Anne Tyler’s 24th very enjoyable novel about uncomfortable family dynamics and how people connect

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow – 4 stars, still-good courtroom thriller from the 80s, the first in the Kindle County series

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain – 3.5 stars, fictional account of famous war correspondent Martha Gelhorn and her tumultous marriage to Ernest Hemingway

What good books have you read this year? What are you reading now? Leave a comment!

Looking for more?

BCM Post Recap Jan-Jun 2022
Spotlight on Indie Authors Jan-Jun 2022
What’s that Book Recap Jan-June 2022

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Books from the sea

Read and reviewed

Summer is a great time to read books about water and the sea. Take a look at this mix of classic tales, popular fiction and nonfiction:

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens to a group of young British schoolboys when their plane is shot down and they land on deserted island in the Pacific?

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The classic Hemingway story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has not caught a fish in eighty-four days

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Light historical fiction and romance written into the history of the Titanic’s voyage, its passengers and the disaster’s aftermath

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
A story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife, who live alone on an island off Western Australia

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Fast-paced, coming-of-age fantasy tale for adults about the mysteries of life, death, nature, the past, and the present

We Are Water by Wally Lamb
A rotating narrative about abuse over time and generations, and its range of effects

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Touching coming-of-age story about an eleven-year-old American boy living on the island of Curaçao during World War II

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
True survival story of the whaleship Essex, attacked and sunk by an eighty-five foot sperm whale in the Pacific

Read but not reviewed

Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
A classic Melville story about the battle between good and evil

Jaws by Peter Benchley
Gripping suspense novel about a killer shark off a Long Island beach

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ahab takes on a killer whale.  Classic story inspired by the whaleship Essex

Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh
Meditations about love, marriage and family written by Charles Lindbergh’s American wife

Old-time classics

The Happy Return by C.S. Forester

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Shōgun by James Clavell

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Do you have any favorite tales about the sea?

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