Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Dear Mr. Knightley

by Katherine Reay
Rated PG

A captivating tale, told in letter form, of a seemingly tough but oh-so-vulnerable young woman who is trying to find her place in the world after growing up in the foster care system. Completely unsure of her own opinions, she has always hidden behind dialogue crafted by her favorite authoresses, namely Austen and Bronte, when she can't think of anything original to say, which is nearly always.

Our heroine, Sam, receives an incredible offer of support to get her through college from an anonymous benefactor, who requests only that she write to him occasionally to update him on her progress. This book is the collection of her letters to this benefactor, whom she addresses as Mr. Knightly. She opens herself up to him on paper as she never would in person, and her story unfolds as one of perseverance, grit and compassion.

If you love Jane Austen, you'll be captivated by the little inside jokes Sam creates as she uses Austen's dialogue as her own. And if you don't love Jane Austen, give this book a try anyway. It's got a good heart.

Rated PG, it's a clean book with some darkness as different characters grapple with past tragedies.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


by Jessica Fechtor
Rated PG

I had a craving for memoir, and I picked stir up by happenstance. By which I mean, it happened to catch my eye from a display at the library, so I checked it out. And ended up loving it so much I will probably buy it as well.

Fechtor weaves the story of an unlikely brain aneurysm that struck in her 20s with her love of cooking, and even more, of feeding those she loves. She writes gently, as though stirring something that mustn't be handled too much, as in, when entering her apartment after ages in the hospital, she writes, "I felt shy but welcome, as though I'd shown up late somewhere important to find that someone had saved me a seat." In this way she leads the reader through years where her memories of and experiences with food finally awaken in her the truth that she is still "she", still Jessica Fechtor. Deliciously, every chapter culminates with recipes for the foods most important to her.

I admit I'm not an accomplished cook, only a good enough cook. This is why Fechtor has so endeared herself to me by taking her time with the recipes she writes. She's in no hurry to lead you along to the finished product. Ingredients, methods, even sometimes utensils or receptacles are explained and even adored. For example, where most people would write "saute the onion", Fechtor writes, "...add the onion, and saute until it softens, goes translucent, and browns a little around the edges." When it comes time for you, the cook, to saute the onion in this recipe, there will be no doubt when you've done it right, will there?

And certainly, the book is sparkling clean. Not a drop of bad language or anything else to besmirch this beautiful memoir.

Get a glimpse of this author's writing style and recipes on her food blog at

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Alchemist

By Paulo Coelho
Rated: PG

Santiago was just a shepherd boy - but not just a shepherd boy. He was a boy who had already left his family to become a shepherd in order to follow his dream of traveling. For several weeks, while resting in a field with his sheep, he had a recurring dream in which he was led to a place where he would find a hidden treasure. In confusion he went to a woman who could interpret dreams. What she told him and guidance provided by a mysterious king led him on a journey to find his personal legend; a trip that takes him over the sea, into foreign lands, through desert sands and through a war.

A story with a strong philosophical bent, I found there were many interesting coincidences and links between characters that a reader may not fully realize until reading through it second time. The book is spotlessly clean and would be an interesting read for teenagers, adults and seems to cry out for a book club.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Giver

by Lois Lowry
Rated: PG

The community Jonas lives in is extremely orderly: fifty new children birthed every year and assigned to a designated family unit - one mother, one father, one boy and one girl. At age 8, they begin volunteer assignments to identify future areas of work in which they may excel, at age 9, they get a bicycle, at age 12, they get assigned their career and start specialized training after school. Jonas was both excited and nervous about the upcoming Ceremony of the 12. Some kids had shown strong skills in one area or another and felt fairly confident about where they would be placed. But Jonas had no idea - nurturer? pilot? engineer? laborer? In his wildest dreams, Jonas would never have imagined the unique role he would be assigned, nor imagine how dramatically his life would change. "The entire ocean is affected by a pebble" (Blaise Pascal) and it turns out one small boy may change a world.

For all the fans of dystopian fiction out there, The Giver is an excellent - and clean - option. It's appropriate for tweens and teens (and it's also an enjoyable quick read for adults). There are a few mild descriptions of suffering and death, reference to the "stirring," and zero curse words. I highly recommend this book. I would have loved it as a tween and am a little sad it wasn't around then. It's deserves to become a classic because it entertains while helping to shape perspective about freedom and personal agency.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

These Is My Words

by Nancy E. Turner
Rated; PG-13

Sarah Prine is just a teenager in July of 1882 when her family decides to move from the west end of New Mexico Territory to San Angelo, Texas. Although not well educated, she decides to write her experiences ". . . so if we don't get to San Angelo or even as far as Fort Hancock I am saving this little theme in my cigar box for some wandering travelers to find and know whose bones these is." This book follows the joys and travails of Sarah's life as she records them in her diary, her discovered love of learning, and her indomitable spirit that leads her to not only survive but flourish in a harsh frontier world full of myriad dangers.

Full of fine details of life in those times, we watch Sarah grow from an uneducated teenager to a self-educated, determined young woman to a woman who is a force of nature. Truly a well-written book that grabs you and pulls you into Sarah's life (I had a hard time putting it down) but definitely not for everyone and absolutely not for the kiddos due to the many dangers and harsh and sometimes disturbing situations Sarah was involved in. Punches are not pulled in describing scenes that show almost too well the dark side of human nature. This book is PG-13 - a hard PG-13 approaching being non-recommendable for the purposes of this blog. There is frontier violence, reference to sexuality and an attempted rape although, surprisingly, only a few curse words.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


by Jessica Khoury
Rated PG-13

Everything was all planned. The five teens would arrive on their educational trip to the Kalahari, and Sarah and her dad would teach them about living the way of the bushman. But when Sarah's dad goes missing and the campsite is deliberately burned to the ground, Sarah and the other teenagers are left to find their way across the Kalahari wilderness using whatever survival skills they have.

As if that's not enough, a group of mercenaries is after them as they make their way across the desert (semi-desert, the know-it-all Avani would correct me). Every time they get close to safety, another disaster strikes.

As Sarah learns the truth about what is really happening to them, and how her mom really died, her hope for survival dims, and she must call upon all her strength to lead her little group to safety.

Full of action and some science-fiction thrown in, this is a great book for teens who like a fast paced story.

Naturally, there are some love interests woven throughout (it wouldn't be a group of teens without that, I guess!). However, the author has chosen not to take that too far, which I applaud. I got nervous at one point when a kiss is described with some detail, but it never went beyond the one kiss.

The PG-13 rating is for some violence, a somewhat grotesque disease and, you know, the kiss.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Calvin Sparks and the Crossing to Cambria

 by Rusty Anderson
Rated PG

  Calvin Sparks and the Crossing to Cambria, by new author Rusty Anderson, is the first in a series of fantasy adventure books.

Obviously, Calvin Sparks is the luckiest kid in the world. Not only does he come from a lineage full of magical powers  - powers that he has inherited - but he also has access to Cambria, a world hidden from most people, a secret land full of magical creatures, incredible powers, and loyal dragons.

As Calvin and his two best friends spend more and more time in Cambria, Calvin begins to realize that he has a crucial role to play in the intense battle of good vs. evil that is going on in the land, a battle that was fought before him by the father he never knew.

Calvin Sparks is whistle clean, the PG rating is for some mild violence. As I read the book, I kept thinking that, because it is so clean, it's a great candidate for a read-aloud with your kids. Tweens and young teens will also appreciate it.