Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Westies by T.J. English

The term mobsters conjures up in my mind an image of the 1920s and speakeasies and Al Capone. The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob by T.J. English is the story of more recent mobsters, an Irish gang from the Hell’s Kitchen part of Manhattan in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, known as the Westies (because they were on the west side). I vaguely remember headlines in the late 80s proclaiming that violence in New York City was going down and some of that was directly attributable to the takedown of the Westies (as well as a gang of Italian mobsters nearby).

There were things I really liked about The Westies. The killings were told in a very straightforward manner without too much gore (some gore was inevitable since many killings were downright vicious). The author chose to loosely follow one specific man throughout and you know right from the start that he had turned on his friends and was working with authorities which gave it a nice continuity flow even when the timeline was strange. The end included a sum up of what happened to the major players, both mobsters and police/lawyers, which I always like.

On the other hand, there were also things I didn’t like about this book. I didn’t like some of the language. I totally expect bad language when conversations are recounted, however the author would be going along fine and then suddenly there’d be a random f-word or s-word that was truly unnecessary. The timeline was a bit confusing sometimes, particularly in the first half of the book. We’d be going along reading about something that happened in 1975 and then, bam, 1966. The biggest problem I had with the book, however, is that sometimes it just dragged on and on and got rather boring. Many parts were quite fascinating and kept my attention, but those other parts quite literally put me to sleep.

Overall, The Westies is a good book, and one that is unexpectedly also about redemption and the ability to rise above a life of crime. It’s not the best book out there, but it’s certainly not the worst either. Anyone who likes to read true crime or stories about the old-time mobsters would likely enjoy this book.

3 (out of 5) Stars

Book Number: 6
Pages Read: 1523
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Filed under Non-Fiction, True Crime

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Have you ever sat and thought about just how little sense Little Red Riding Hood (and other fairy tales for that matter) makes? Well, apparently Vivian Vande Velde did and the result was Cloaked In Red. She starts out by outlining some of her problems with the original fairy tale and then she tells eight short new versions of Little Red Riding Hood. They each focus on a different character (including one focused on the cloak itself). Hints of other fairy tales and even the Brothers Grimm pop up on occasion.

Cloaked In Red is very short and is suitable for children or adults, though some of the humor would probably be lost on a younger child. I laughed a lot and just plain enjoyed reading this silly book.

5 (out of 5) Stars

Book Number: 5
Pages Read: 1124
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Filed under Fairy Tale, Middle Grades

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is a retelling of the Cinderella story complete with wicked stepmother and stepsisters, a fairy godmother, and a lost glass slipper. The twist that makes it not like the Cinderella story we are used to is that at birth Ella was given the “gift” of obedience from a fairy. This “gift” makes it so she must obey every command (though she can ignore it if it is phrased as a request and sometimes the difference isn’t extremely obvious). If she fights obeying she gets physically sick.

Ella Enchanted is the typical fairy tale. Ella was not born poor (though bad business deals by her father do make her end up poor) and at her mother’s funeral she meets the prince. They fall in love, but her “gift” stands in the way of happiness. Ultimately, there is a happily ever after for Ella, but getting there isn’t easy. It’s a fun, sweet read, even for an adult (and, as is typical, the book is WAY better than the movie!).

5 (out of 5) Stars

Book Number: 4
Pages Read: 997
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Filed under Children, Fairy Tale

Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum by Stephen Prosapio

I don’t like very scary books. I don’t watch ghost hunter shows. I get scared very easily. But Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum by Stephen Prosapio was recommended to me so I read it even though it’s not a book I’d “typically” read and I am very glad I did!

In Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum two rival ghost hunter shows have the chance to investigate a supposedly haunted asylum together. Sometimes I was sure there were no ghosts and other times I was sure it was all ghosts. Occasionally I could guess what was going to happen (which sometimes meant I was pretty anxious reading – as I said, I scare easily), but the writing was extremely engaging and the story was told in a way that really kept my attention (to the point of staying up until 3am to finish it – very, very unusual for me).

Right from the start I had lots of questions and just couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to find the answers. The only problems I had with Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum were minor. One is the number of characters. Both paranormal shows had several kids in it and sometimes a character would pop up that I had forgotten about or it would take me a few moments to remember which show various minor characters belonged to. The other is sometimes the scene would change and it wasn’t clear. That was confusing a few times (this could possibly be an issue with the Kindle version – but stars or something indication time passage or a scene change would have been useful). Other than those little things, I, much to my surprise, really loved Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum!

5 (out of 5) Stars

Book Number: 3
Pages Read: 758
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Filed under Thriller

Balancing It All by Candance Cameron Bure

Most people my age remember Candace Cameron Bure as DJ Tanner on Full House. Those a bit younger may remember her as Summer van Horne on ABC Family’s Make It or Break It. I was born almost exactly two years after her and got married almost exactly two years after she did. My oldest and her second child were born within days of each other. I grew up “with” her, watching her every week on TGIF. Now, I follow her on Twitter and Facebook and read her blog. I read her first book, Reshaping It All and found it to be very useful so I looked forward to the release of her new book, Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose.

Balancing It All is part memoir, part self-help/motivation, and part Bible study. Most chapters are laid out starting with a Bible verse (she uses the Holman Christian Standard Bible) that relates to the topic for that chapter. Topics include marriage, parenting, friends, service, education, and more. Most chapters give a story from her life that relates to the topic. Then she ties it all together with ideas that have worked in her life for maintaining balance when you are being pulled in a hundred different directions and feel like it’s all going to crash down on you.

There is nothing new, no earth shattering ideas in Balancing It All. What there is is a lot of support and motivation and a few reminders to do things we know we should (like pray!) but often forget. Candace Cameron Bure is extremely honest in this book. She is not perfect, her family is not perfect (it sounds like her daughter is a little harder to handle like my daughter and just knowing that is comforting to me). Sure, she’s had life experiences that are unlike most people, but she still has a lot of the same struggles as everyone else. In short, she’s human and she doesn’t try to portray herself as anything but human. She is very clear that what works for her won’t necessarily work for someone else. We are all at different points in our lives, but I suspect that every woman can take at least one thing away from Balancing It All, apply it in her life, and end up happier and more balanced for it.

5 (out of 5) Stars

Book Number: 2
Pages Read: 464
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Filed under Memoir, Religious, Self-Help/Motivation

Exiled: Memoirs of a Camel by Kathleen Karr

Exiled: Memoirs of a Camel by Kathleen Karr tells a little bit of the story of the Camel Corps from a unique point of view: a camel named Ali. I never knew that the US Army brought two loads of camel to the US in the 1850s. They were trained in Texas (which, honestly, is what caught my attention when reading the synopsis) and then taken to California where they helped build roads and run mail to areas not easily accessible by other animals. Mostly, though, the experiment failed and was ended with the outbreak of the Civil War. Some camels were sold to circuses and private owners. Some escaped. Some were set free (and feral camels were spotted in the southwest for several decades after).

Exiled follows Ali from the time he is a baby in Egypt through being sold at a market and then later transferred to another owner and eventually purchased by “Major-Sir” and taken to the United States. The story continues through his life of work in the camel corps and, finally, what happens to him after the experiment is disbanded. At times it is funny, at times it is sad, and at times it is touching. It is always interesting, and, even though it is aimed at kids in the middle grades, it easily kept my attention. The only oddity is Ali is very much a Muslim camel, and a rather religious one at that. His words for some things (Texas-America, Infidels) are based solely on what he hears humans that he trusts say.

5 (out of 5) Stars

Book Number: 1
Pages Read: 240
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Filed under Historical Fiction, Middle Grades