Category: In The Library

The Museum of Lost Quilts Book Review

Elm Creek Quilters

Recently released, The Museum of Lost Quilts is a surprise addition to the Elm Creek Quilters series. According to author Jennifer Chiaverini in her author’s note at the end of the story, the Elm Creek Quilters had at least one more story to tell. But the timeline set forth in a previous novel, The Wedding Quilt did need some minor adjustments.

As someone who did not read the previous book (somehow I missed it) I had no trouble at all with The Museum of Lost Quilts. Indeed, I had not read a novel by Ms. Chiaverini in a while and I am now going to go back to the library and read what I missed.

Summer Sullivan-Lead Quilter in The Museum of Lost Quilts

Summer is the youngest of the original Elm Creek Quilters. When almost finished with her master’s degree thesis she attends a conference where a presenter showcases an almost identical research synopsis. Summer is not only devastated by the other researchers coup, she also becomes unable to complete her work. Thus, she does not graduate on time.

Seeking refuge at Elm Creek Manor, she receives full support from the other quilters. They assure her she can finish by the end of her extension. Furthermore, she is asked to curate a quilt display at the Union Hall downtown. Members of the quilting group as well as the local historical society are desperate to save the old building.

The Museum of Lost Quilts Theme

Chiaverini is known to weave contemporary messages into her novels. In this story, two messages evolve. First, Summer is seeking her purpose in life. A struggle for many in this world. Secondly, the author touches upon the debate of rewriting history in an unusual manner.

Since the novel is taking place back in the early part of the century, it predates much of the re-naming currently occurring in the country. So, Chiaverini stresses the need to remember the past as accurately as possible even if the historical past reflects poorly on the inhabitants of that time.  I fully concur.

Recommendation

This is a library check-out, but I would not mind owning a copy. The characters are well-rounded and it is easy to commiserate with the trials of finishing a graduate degree.  Plus, the book does a wonderful job at reminding one that life and purpose need not be a drudgery. Happiness in one’s work is very important. I highly recommend The Museum of Lost Quilts.

Many Reasons to Read

From Entertainment to Gaining Knowledge

There are many reasons to read ranging from entertainment to gaining knowledge. And there are many types of books, articles and blogs to choose from. Plus, “reading” can be done via listening. Think of young children listening to stories at bedtime.

One of the icebreakers I used at the start of the fall semester was to ask each student what book they read most recently. Occasionally, a student would not have read a book just for fun in many years. Others were clearly readers for entertainment purposes. I found a strong correlation between students who read for fun and those students who gained much from the texts used in the classroom. (This was before the push to eliminate textbooks.)

My Many Reasons to Read

Regular readers of this blog know one of the key reasons I read is my hope to stave off memory loss. In 2013 I realized my mom was having memory issues because she could not finish any fiction books. So, this spring when I kept returning library books partially read, I became concerned.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. After struggling with new releases, I borrowed paperbacks from a family member. Two were by often read author David Baldacci and a third was a Stuart Woods. All three were read in timely fashion. They were fun reads.

Knowledge comes from reading. One is never too old to learn. Although I will admit learning about new technologies is difficult. Wrapping my brain around AI is one example. But the knowledge gained aids in investment decision making. Actually, in any decision making.

Reading Formats

Hardcover books are my preference. Paperbacks tend to have a smaller font. Online reading causes eyestrain for me. Even when reading with the blue light lenses. However, many of my family members prefer to read online. Everything from the newspaper to the latest beach read can be found online.

Of the many reasons to read online, convenience is at the top of the list. The Libby app allows you to check-out books online in less than the time needed to drive to the local library. As a bonus, library fines are non-existent as the app automatically returns the book on the due date.

Converting Non-Readers into Readers

Mastering reading is one of the most important tools for life. However, reading does not come easy for everyone. When working with children, it is important to find a genre that encourages the skill. The same holds true for adults.

Then, once a mastery of reading is complete reading across genres and delivery methods provides everything from entertainment to a gain in knowledge. These many reasons to read develop well-rounded, intelligent and thoughtful members of society. We need more readers in this world to produce the critical thinking that keeps the negatives of history from repeating.

I challenge each of you to read for at least an hour this weekend.

Willow Book Review

Coloring Outside the Lines

Willow, a delightful children’s story is penned by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan and illustrated by Cyd Moore. The book is perfect to read aloud to pre-K and the early grades and will also be a favorite of kids who have mastered reading.

The story brings multiple messages to the audience. Creativity is front and center. But kindness and acceptance are woven in as key elements.

Willow the Main Character

Even free-spirited Willow gets the shivers from dour art teacher Miss Hawthorn from time to time. However, Willow loves art. So, nothing and nobody keeps her from expressing herself. She uses her favorite art history book as her back-up.

Unfortunately, the rest of the kids in the classroom adhere to the strict dictates of their art teacher. Of course this creates a uniformity in the art room. Not what one would like to see in a subject based on creativity.

Kindness and Acceptance

Willow is not only creative; she is also kind. At Christmas time she gifts her beloved art book to Miss Hawthorn. The book is the only present the stern teacher receives. And the gesture of acceptance has a profound affect.

Miss Hawthorne sits in the empty school turning the pages of the well-loved book and a change comes from within. By the time the kids return after the Christmas break a major change has taken place.

Recommendation for Willow

Willow was released in 2008 by Sleeping Bear Press, a favorite publisher. The authors wrote a wonderful story. One that encompasses individuality, acceptance and kindness. Art is a subject that calls for individualism and self-expression. Grapes can be green or purple and apples can be blue.

Cyd Moore divinely illustrates the transformation of Miss Hawthorne. And her classroom. I loved the creativity of the story book pictures. Moore conveys the words of Brennan and Brennan-Nelson with ease and expertise.

This book is a great gift. I highly recommend.

The Spy Coast Book Review

Retired Spies

As a retiree, the blurb on the back cover of The Spy Coast spoke to me. A gang of former agents in their sixties at least, combine efforts to aid one of their own. Tess Gerritsen’s writing compels the reader to keep turning the pages. The novel is fast paced, and the storyline is intriguing. It took just three days for our household to read through the action-adventure.

Locations Featured in The Spy Coast

The story opens in Paris and covers the world-Southeast Asia, Italy and the coastal part of Maine, U.S.A. are just a few locations. A more exact locale of the spy coast is Purity, Maine, a small village home to lobstermen, farmers, seasonal tourists and spies. Protagonist Maggie Bird moved to the quaint town two years ago and was finally making a home after years on the run following a disastrous operation which cost lives of innocent-including her unwitting husband.

The descriptions of each location make the reader feel as if they are personally experiencing each place. Gerritson has a knack of bringing the background to life. In turn, the realistic settings bring a reality to the fiction.

The Spy Coast Protagonist

Maggie Bird at sixty is the youngest of the retirees. She may have been on the sideline for a while but her skills are not rusty. She easily out-maneuvers Jo Thibodeau a homebred member of the Purity police department who is tenacious toward her duties. Maggie also gets the one-up on her fellow agency retirees when the going gets dangerous. But she faces an unknown and powerful opponent.

Storyline

The agency in Virginia is breached and info about the operation gone wrong is delivered into the hands of one seeking revenge. Maggie, an unwilling field agent in the op in question, is compromised. If she does not find where the threat is coming from she will need to run again. Something she is reluctant to do since finding peace and an opportunity for a new life among former friends and new ones.

As bodies drop all over the place, Maggie’s neighbors and friends are pulled into the mystery. The protagonist is unwilling to share the details of the bitter past. Then, the teenager next door is kidnapped as a bargaining chip. Find a copy to discover what happens next.

Recommendation

Without disclosing too much of the story, The Spy Coast is one of the most satisfying books read in 2024. Good overcomes evil and yes there are many shades of gray. Tess Gerritsen is the best-selling author of the Rizzoli and Isles series and potentially has another series on her agenda. Look for future books featuring the retired spies and their Martini Club. Buy or borrow The Spy Coast if you love a good read. Our family could not put it down.

 

 

The Leprechaun in the Basement Book Review

Holiday Reading for Kids

Artwork from The Leprechaun in the basement showing Michael waking up in bed to new green baseball shoes.Kathy Tucker wrote, and John Sandford illustrated The Leprechaun in the Basement. I checked it out from my local library which always displays holiday themed books just prior to the celebratory day. The book dates back to before the turn of the century but the theme is timeless. A quick search of the Internet yielded prices from three dollars to sixty dollars online. Or you could check your local library.

O’Leary the Leprechaun

O’Leary is an old leprechaun. He lives in a basement and spends his days counting his gold. Once upon a time he had another occupation, but he no longer remembers what job he held. So, sometimes he gets a wee bit bored.

Michael Discovers the Leprechaun

St. Patrick’s Day is not a happy day for the McKeever family. Mr. McKeever is out of work. After hunting for a job all day, he has no energy to play catch with his son Michael. Things are spiraling downhill. Money is tight and reserved for necessities. Michael’s baseball shoes from last year will need to suffice for this season as well.

Performing a chore, Michael happens upon O’Leary singing an Irish tune in honor of the day. He also discovers the pot of gold…gold that could help his family. Cross words are exchanged and Michael stomps upstairs. Both Michael and O’Leary have much to think about.

Fairy Tale Tradition

Much like the fairy tales of old, The Leprechaun in the Basement delivers moral messages. Both Michael and O’Leary learn from their argument. Another missive is given with regards to Michael’s despondent father. All-in-all, the book delivers a meaningful story beneficial to kids and adults.

Recommendation

I enjoyed reading this short tale exploring the real important things in life. Kathy Tucker writes a compelling children’s book, and John Sandford’s illustrations bring the characters to life. The story is appropriate for kids from toddler age to late grade school. Search your library for a copy before the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day.

 

The Edge Book Review

Sequel

Book cover showing man standing at the edge of a cliff looking down,The Edge is David Baldacci’s follow up to The 6:20 Man. Protagonist Travis Devine returns stateside and is deployed to investigate the murder of a CIA operative. Jenny Silkwell was the daughter of a retired Senator from Maine. Thus, Devine and the reader travel to Maine.

As a sequel, The Edge retains the same sense of action-suspense. Devine is a complex character and definitely one of the good guys. Murder and mayhem just happen to follow in his wake. However, the mystery of “whodunit” really wasn’t hard to determine. Fortunately, the mystery was tertiary to the story after the action and the emotional evolvement of the female interest.

The Silkwell Family

Devine’s investigation is complicated by the various personalities of the Silkwell family. The former Senator is at an unresponsive stage in a memory care facility, and his wife has remarried and is estranged from her children. Her input ties to seeing the eldest right before the murder.

The surviving children are a son Dak, and a younger daughter Alex. Dak had received an Other Than Honorable discharge from the Army and Alex is a shell of the girl she once was. The murder of their older sister weighs on both.

Series Development

The Edge certainly acts as a vehicle for developing Devine’s personality. As the second in a series, the book moves beyond introducing the character and his back story. Baldacci uses the wounded Alex Silkwell to demonstrate the caring and compassion of Devine.

Furthermore, the account of the young woman grips the reader as she struggles to remember details of her vicious rape and assault as a teenager. The story line of the talented artist conveys the harsh realities women live with years after an assault occurs. One wonders if she will re-appear in future books given the large role she played in The Edge.

The Edge Recommendation

I enjoyed The Edge even more than The 6:20 Man which I read a year ago. Baldacci is one of those authors that churns out book after book while retaining the reader’s interest. This is a great book to borrow from the library or grab at an airport bookstore. However, a warning for assault victims or their loved ones- Alex Silkwell’s story is very realistic and may be too much for those dealing with their own PTSD.

Survive and Thrive Book Review

Catchy Subtitle

The tag line of Survive and Thrive: How to Prepare for any Disaster Without Ammo, Camo or Eating Your Neighbor caught my attention while perusing the new releases at the library. Bill Fulton and Jeanne Chilton Devon teamed together to write this disaster preparedness how to book. Since spring weather is prone to severe weather and the disasters that accompany it, I checked it out. For the most part the authors stick to their promise. However, there is a small section on ammo and camo. No cannibalism though!

The advice is proactive and non-doomsday. Initial chapters focus on the need to go beyond the government’s three-day preparedness guidelines. And the authors point out that the vast majority of households have at least a week’s worth of food on hand. The first chapters focus on building specific supplies to extend to more than a two-week cache.

Water and Food to Survive and Thrive

A good explanation of the need for uncontaminated water starts the book. Both authors bring an environmentalist approach and prefer larger storage containers to single use bottles. One of the key features is Appendix B which recommends companies and products.

The next two chapters focus on food. First, what types of food to store and how to safely store long-term food. Then a chapter on how to forage for food. Foraging for food is not an everyday event for this blogger as I can count on one hand the times I have come across plants in the wild. (Actually, twice in major cities-Portland, Oregon is rife with blackberries and strawberry plants dot downtown Louisville, Kentucky.)

Farming and micro-gardens finish out this section. A comprehensive look at everything from container gardens to compost piles reminds one of a good gardening book. Like the other chapters, the authors end the chapter with questions to answer and lists to consider.

Organization and the Three S’s

The middle three chapters offer a plethora of tips on organization, shelter, safety and security. This information offers a lot of common-sense tips that are not often followed. And then there is more.

Organizational hints in Survive and Thrive mirror those found in both The Home Edit and Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight. Emphasis is put on organization as a de-stressor during emergencies. No need to hunt for necessary items if evacuating is key.

Knowing how and where to shut off the utilities is very important. Most people can flip an electric breaker. Finding the shut-off valves for water and gas is just as important and may require a special tool. The authors provide multiple tips in this area.

The safety and security section brings a bit of doom and gloom to Survive and Thrive. But the authors are not doomsday in their approach to security issues. Again, common sense and specialized gear are mixed in the advice.

Security issues discussed are applicable for every day life and not just during disasters. However, as pointed out in the book, stressful times can bring out the ugliness of life.

Disasters

The most comprehensive chapter in Survive and Thrive covers a host of disasters, both natural and man-made. Climate change is addressed as well. From blizzards to wildfires and everything in between, Survive and Thrive details the planning and action steps that need to occur. The first step is knowing what types of disaster your home is prone to experiencing.

Even though one plans and prepares, the actual experience of each type of disaster is a learning process. Mistakes will occur. Again, many suggestions and lists to follow. Everyone will benefit from reading this particular chapter. I have lived through blizzards, heat waves, earthquakes, hurricanes and a pandemic and I still found the information very valuable.

Recommendation for Survive and Thrive

Bill Fulton and Jeanne Chilton Devon have penned a thoroughly marvelous how-to book. This reference book is a must read no matter what part of the country you live in. Common sense through out and a very different take than survivalist prepper books. The final chapter on mental wll-being sums up the theme. I highly recommend this book.

Important Things in Life

Top Three

Three items top the list of what I think is important to learn in life. First is reading. Once a child can read the door is open to academia and every day how-to instructions. The second is swimming. Even for those far away from the ocean. Finally, everyone needs to learn how to cook. Did the last two surprise you?

Reading is Most Important

As a parent, I stressed the importance of reading and thus books. Bookshelf wealth is now a thing, but our house has always had a plethora of books. Children’s books, cook books, gardening books, novels and how-to books and many, many text books fill a multitude of bookshelves.

My belief is once reading is mastered, any skill or subject matter could be learned. One can literally become a jack or jill of all trades. Instructional books abound and of course every subject taught in school can be learned if one feels the subject is important.

Swimming

My parents prioritized learning to swim before I even started kindergarten. We lived in Florida and water was everywhere! The Red Cross lessons taught floating and diving in addition to several basic swim strokes. In turn, I also felt swim lessons were important even though my kids lived on the high plains and not a hundred yards or so from the Atlantic Ocean.

My insistence that they learned was based on a tragedy from my junior high years. A classmate lost her youngest brother when the preschooler drowned in a neighbor’s pool. Bodies of water are everywhere. Swimming, floating and treading water are necessary skills for everybody.

Cooking is Important Too

Hopefully times have changed enough that learning to cook is important for all. However, I belong to a generation where many males grill burgers and steaks and not much else. Fortunately, my in-laws taught all their kids to cook, and I am married to a man that could be a master chef if he wanted to change careers.

I do not remember the age my kids were when they first started fixing food for themselves. But they needed chairs to reach the counter or the stove top. It was quite important to supervise them in the early years.

Now my grandchildren are picking up skills in the kitchen. All three have multi-functional furniture called learning towers or kitchen helpers depending on the manufacturer. These cool pieces can act as a chair and table/desk when on the side or serve as a very sturdy stepstool when standing on end. The sides provide extra support when they are helping in the kitchen either cooking or at the sink.

The oldest helps grandpa make scones and grandma make brownies. Cooking skills are important to develop from an early age. We just make sure we also emphasize safety.

Enjoying a snack at the kitchen counter.
Learning Tower is in the background.

Basic Skills

Reading, swimming, and cooking are all basic skills. However, each is critically important for living a full healthy and happy life. At first glance all could be placed toward the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Yet each offers an individual a chance to grow toward the pinnacle of self-actualization. Hence, they are important things for all to master.

We Must Not Think of Ourselves Book Review

Warsaw

A recent trip to the public library yielded We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein. Historical fiction, especially any involving World War II interests me. Mostly because I fear a repeat. Those who refuse to learn from history tend to repeat its’ sorrows.

Grodstein’s novel offers a glimpse of life inside the Warsaw Ghetto through the eyes of protagonist Adam Paskow and his journal. He was recruited by Emanuel Ringelblum to participate in the Oneg Shabbat. Both Ringelblum and the Oneg Shabbat existed. For more information on the group, click here.

Protagonist of We Must Not Think of Ourselves

The story unfolds from Paskow’s point of view. Journal entries and flashbacks build the history. Paskow explains what has long been a mystery. Why did so many remain in the year between the German invasion and the relocation to the Ghetto? Why the acquiescence?

Adam Paskow is a teacher and a non-practicing Jew. And a widower. He still visits his wife’s grave and finds comfort in the surroundings they shared. He stays behind in 1938 when the rest of his immediate family relocates to Palestine. Then, it is too late to go.

Paskow is an appealing character even though the detention wears down his morals. He becomes the lover of a woman who shares an apartment with him. Her husband, two children and another family also squeeze into the same small space.

Takeaways

We Must Not Think of Ourselves offers much to the reader. Well researched, the backdrop of the ghetto and its’ inhabitants shares the story of how genocide builds slowly and then happens all at once. The book highlights the importance of documentation. Without historical records, history can be forgotten or even worse-rewritten.

This reader has mixed reactions to the love story. In some ways, the relationship is believable and needed for the ending. However, conducting an affair in such close quarters…this stretches the imagination. Surely there would be more scenes of tension.

Recommendation for We Must Not Think of Ourselves

I found the novel well written and informative. A check-out from your library or an addition to your personal library is highly recommended. Individual cultures and ethnicities are still threatened today. Indeed, the cultural clashes are as responsible for today’s wars and disagreements as the age-old cause of war-land and resources. If world peace is ever to occur, this hatred and fear of those different or merely from different backgrounds must cease.

Hidden Potential Book Review

Another Winner from Adam Grant

Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things written by Adam Grant was one of the books I gifted to a family member this past Christmas. Now that I have read the book, more family members will become recipients. I found that much value in the tome.

Grant pens a book that is not an easy read self-help book. In fact, I slogged through some of the early parts. But it was worth the effort. Hidden Potential inspires. I found the work insightful, thought provoking and educational.

Layout of Hidden Potential

The author separates the book into three main sections sandwiched between a prologue and epilogue. Grant grabs the reader’s attention with a tale of successful high school chess players hailing from a high school in Harlem. Then he arrives at the heart of the work. The first section is Skills of Character.  Focus of the unit is on the need to experience setbacks in order to improve and gain success. Key takeaways include operating outside one’s comfort zone, and learning as much as one can from a wide variety of sources and individuals. Perhaps the most difficult for a perfectionist is the notion that excellence and perfection can be polar opposites.

The second segment is Structures for Motivation. Grant introduces the concept of scaffolding. Many educators will be familiar with the concept. Others will benefit from discovering this learning strategy. This section will take work to comprehend.

Finally, Systems of Opportunity provides a blueprint for educators, managers and motivated individuals to follow. This last part of the book offers the greatest motivation. I found Grant’s anecdotes rejuvenating. His theories have merit. The answers to many contemporary problems are out there, we just need to work together to find them. Teamwork is vital.

Recommendation for Hidden Potential

This is the second work from Grant that I have read and reviewed. Option B co-authored with Sheryl Sandberg was just as powerful albeit different in tone. I encourage anyone in education or management to read this book. Furthermore, individuals with a thirst for knowledge will also benefit. Finally, Hidden Potential is the perfect gift for those stuck in a rut or anyone underperforming due to fear of success.

 

Fake Famous Book Review

Young Adult

Fake Famous by Dana L. Davis is a delightful novel. A blend between a sweet romance and a coming-of-age novel, the story will appeal to a wide range of readers. Even though the concept of strangers switching identities is not new, Ms. Davis offers a fresh, contemporary take.

This selection is a library check-out. The back cover described a prior Davis novel as a YA or Young Adult. Since I am trying to expand genres in my reviews, I quickly picked up Fake Famous. I am happy I did.

Red Morgan-Star of Fake Famous

Red Morgan is a hard-working Iowa farm girl. Her ginger hair is passed down through a Creole ancestor. The opening scenes depict her loyalty to her family and their farm. Additionally, the author provides glimpses of the difficulties farm families have in making ends meet.

The protagonist hits her 15 minutes of fame when her younger sister’s video goes viral. Red is singing when a fence gives out and she falls into a large pile of manure. She doesn’t miss a beat and poses like the famous diva Zay-Zay Waters. Unbeknownst to Red, Zay-Zay has just dyed her hair red and sees the viral video. And, hatches up a scheme. Zay-Zay needs some alone time.

Fake Famous Plot

Harkening back to Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper, Zay-Zay suddenly appears on the farm with a monetary deal Red can’t pass up. The pop star wants Red to fill her shoes for a week of glamorous appearances. Meanwhile, Zay-Zay will go on a soul-finding retreat. The only catch is Red must interact with Koi Kalawai’a, a fellow singing sensation and boyfriend to Zay-Zay. Except, he’s not.

Apparently Hollywood romances are fake too. But the chemistry between Koi and Red is real and so the complications begin. In addition to romance, Davis provides an insiders look into the lives of the rich and famous. Between the paparazzi and the fakeness, it is a different kind of hard work.

Recommendation

Fake Famous is an enjoyable read. The attraction between Red and Koi moves the story forward as each provides growth for the other. The secondary characters are well-developed and add to the story line. The romance is sweet, and the coming-of-age story is insightful. This is the first novel I have read from Dana Davis, but it won’t be the last. A great novel for young teens to adults.

Lessons in Chemistry Book Review

Chemistry 101

Lessons in Chemistry is a melon-colored book cover with a sketch of a female scientist with a No. 2 pencil sticking out a topknot.Lessons in Chemistry has been out for over a year and I am late to the party of fandom. A Christmas gift from one of my family members and one I treasure. The novel earns a place in the permanent home library. The delay in reading is attributed to the difficult year of 2023. So, I am very appreciative of the book as it is a great start to 2024.

Debut novelist Bonnie Garmus impresses with her wit and the depth of her writing. Depending on the individual reader’s experiences, the soul-searching Lessons in Chemistry will evoke feelings running the gamut from regret to resolve. And many stages in between.

Setting of Lessons in Chemistry

The United States of America, specifically the state of California, with a time period of the late 1950s, early 1960s serves as a backdrop of this delightful novel. Protagonist Elizabeth Zott is a chemist. Unheard of for the time period. Very few women earned science degrees in this era.

She is also a feminist. Author Bonnie Garmus does a great job painting a picture of the early years of women fighting for equality. Some of the obstacles and confrontations remain today. However, it is good to note the positive changes that we take for granted, such as wearing slacks to work and a narrowing wage gap.

Lessons in Chemistry Plot

Zott does not fit in. Yet she finds her soulmate in fellow chemist Calvin Evans. Evans is a misfit. Their relationship is told in retrospect. They share work, home and a dog with the appropriate name of 6:30. Zott is teaching the highly intelligent animal English. Not since Remarkably Bright Creatures, have I been so engaged with anthropomorphism.

Unfortunately, Zott ends up as an unwed single mother. And life begins.

Supporting Characters

Garmus uses a wide cast of characters to tell the story of individuals fulfilling their purpose. In addition to Zott, her daughter Madeline, Harriet Sloane and Miss Frask provide an array of positive female personalities. However, mean girls and women were a thing way back when.

Then there are the men.

Calvin Evans, Pine, Dr. Mason and the preacher Wakely line up on the good side while Donatti, the Bishop, Phil and a few others make you wonder why some men walk the earth. Lessons in Chemistry isn’t just about allowing women to reach their potential. Evil is present in both sexes and Garmus provides examples to ponder.

Entertaining

I found the book to be very entertaining with one particular chapter bringing forth loud laughter. A true paradox since the story itself is bittersweet. And yet I think that piece is intentional. As is the discussion on the role of religion between both Wakely and Evans and Wakely and Zott. Thus, Lessons in Chemistry provides food for thought.

Recommendation

I join many, many others in highly recommending Lessons in Chemistry. A few of us are fortunate enough to have our own E. Zott in the family. For the rest, Garmus has provided a glimpse of such a role model. All youth need encouragement and the chance to grow- physically, mentally and spiritually. This debut novel should be required reading somewhere at the high school level. However, senior year is too late.

Truly this book will be another long-term favorite much like Where the Crawdads Sing.

 

Dirty Thirty Book Review

Latest in Stephanie Plum Series

Dirty Thirty Book Cover, fuchsia colored with gold necklace of the word thirty.Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum novel, Dirty Thirty, is a treat for long-time series fans. The bad guys are really the good guys and plenty of sucker punches for characters and readers alike. Once again Evanovich leaves the reader hanging over a cliff waiting for yet another Plum novel.

Dirty Thirty Plot Line

The focus on this latest series entry is capturing skips. Stephanie, aided by the always colorful Lula, is after a wide range of bail jumpers. Some are dangerous and others hilarious. Furthermore, Stephanie is moonlighting for Martin Plover owner of Plover’s Jewelry store and an apparent victim. He was robbed twice. His request is for the recovery agent to also find his missing security guard.

As usual, things are complicated in the Burg. The missing security guard may have ties to the jewel thief, and they may or may not have the goods. Both these characters will be new to faithful readers.

Returning Characters

Dirty Thirty has a wide host of characters. At times I would mix the new characters up. Fortunately, the supporting cast remains constant-much like an old sitcom. Stephanie’s boyfriend Joe Morelli makes brief appearances but for the most part the romantic tension is sparked by Ranger.

Comic relief is provided by Lula, Grandma Mazur and Bob, Morelli’s shaggy dog. Evanovich is still golden with her quips and actions. Many smiles as well as laughs keep the reader engaged. Not to mention the double entendres all the way through Dirty Thirty. But even the foreshadowing will leave readers (like I was) surprised at the outcomes of the various plot lines. I will have a tough time waiting for the next in the series.

Recommendation for Dirty Thirty

I love this series and this book is no exception. However, I do not see it as a stand-alone. Dirty Thirty will be enjoyed the most by readers engaged in the series. Indeed, the biggest surprise will fly over the head of a reader brand new to the series. So, if you have read previous books featuring Stephanie Plum, this is a shouldn’t skip. If you are a novice, find the original-One for the Money and proceed from there.

Thanks for the entertainment, Ms. Evanovich.

Econogal’s Top Book Selections of 2023

The Best of 2023

The top book selections of 2023 are broken into three categories, fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. The non-fiction selections were few and far between. And the top selection in the category actually hails from late December 2022. But recent events make it imperative to include.

As usual, the fiction list is the most difficult to produce as more than ten vie for just ten spots. And the children fiction list contains holiday specific titles so Christmas buying might not be appropriate. However, books for kids tend to stand the test of time. And at least one is appropriate for gift-giving this holiday season.

Non-Fiction Book Selections of 2023

My top selections in Non-Fiction:

  1. Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry
  2. Home Grown Herbs-A Complete Guide to Growing, Using and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hartung
  3. Adrift: America in 100 Charts by Scott Galloway
  4. More Twist-and-Turn Bargello Quilts by Eileen Wright
  5. The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration by Jake Bittle

 

Of the above books, the most impactful was Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing. The reading will be even more poignant in light of the author’s recent death. I consider this an incredibly important read. Both Home Grown Herbs and More Twist-and-Turn Bargello Quilts have become handy reference guides for my hobbies. Clicking on each title will direct you to the individual review.

Children’s Book Selections of 2023

Again, click on the link for the individual review.

  1. Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora
  2. Con Pollo by Jimmy Fallon and Jennifer Lopez
  3. The Great Eggscape! By Jory John
  4. Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie by Jack Bishop
  5. Thanksgiving Here I Come by D.J. Steinberg

 

The Childrens’ books reviewed in 2023 are all geared toward the younger set. Con Pollo is a board book and the remaining titles are story books for preschoolers through early grade school. All tested and loved by my trio of grandkids.

Fiction Book Selections of 2023

The fiction category always serves as a challenge and the book selections for 2023 could have included top reads such as Livid by Patricia Cornwell. The following books moved me the most. Warning- a few are tear jerkers.

  1. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
  2. The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland
  3. Zero Days by Ruth Ware
  4. Exiles by Jane Harper
  5. Nightwork by Nora Roberts
  6. Dead Mountain by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  7. Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea
  8. Bright Lights, Big Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
  9. The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich
  10. The Downstairs Neighbor by Helen Cooper

 

I made it through my personally horrendous year of 2023 by reading fiction. Some escape in front of the television but I turn to books. The fiction book selections of 2023 list includes a variety of genres. Each individual review can be accessed by clicking on the title of the book. I hope you can find something of interest as well as gift ideas on these lists.

Bright Lights, Big Christmas Book Review

Christmas Time in the City

Cover of Bright Lights, Big City novel featuring outline of city buildings and a string of Christmas lights as a backdrop to title and author name.I found Mary Kay Andrews’ Bright Lights, Big Christmas on the new release table at my local library. The book is perfect for getting one in the mood for Christmas. A heart-warming story of friendship and new love, you won’t want to put it down. In fact, I read it cover to cover even though I started the novel just after supper.

Setting for Bright Lights, Big Christmas

The novel takes place in New York City, specifically the West Village. Each year for decades, the Tolliver family from North Carolina sells their Christmas trees in the same spot. Fixtures of the neighborhood from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until the trees are gone.

However, this year there is a late start. Old Jock Tolliver is ill. His somewhat estranged daughter, Kerry, is roped into helping her older brother. Her brother Murphy is like a stranger. Both are casualties of divorce, each raised by a different parent. However, Kerry and Murphy grudgingly form a bond in a neighborhood known for creating ties. Much of the story focuses on the pair discovering the talents of the other.

Storyline and Characters

Multiple challenges complicate this year’s sales. In addition to the late start, competition has moved in bringing pitfalls. But as the siblings overcome the obstacles thrown their way, they also forge new bonds.

Key to the story are the many residents of the street. Most know Murphy and befriend Kerry as well. Another thread to the tale is the budding relationship of Kerry and divorcee Patrick. He and ex-wife Gretchen move in and out of their flat while young son Austin stays put. Thus, providing stability for the precocious kid.

The final piece is the mysterious Heinz. Scruffy and possibly homeless, Heinz captures the devotion of Austin and the respect of Kerry. The cantankerous old man constructively critiques her artwork, pushing her to improve. Heinz disappears and everyone in the neighborhood contributes to the search.

Feel Good Novel

Bright Lights, Big Christmas is an uplifting novel perfect for reading during the Christmas season. Caring characters serve as a reminder the importance of family and friends. Andrews skill weaving plot and persona results in a page-turning novel sure to please both her long-time fans and those just discovering her writing. I highly recommend Bright Lights, Big Christmas.

 

Thank You, Omu! Book Review

Learning the Importance of Unselfishness

Book cover of Thank You, Omu! Showing Omu holding a big bowl of stew.One of the recipients of the 2019 Caldecott Honor Book awards, Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora tells the story of giving. Since sharing can be difficult for youngsters, this is a perfect book to illustrate the importance of unselfishness. Furthermore, readers will be entranced by the original artwork. The illustrations are collages of acrylic paint, printed materials and waxed pencils. Thank You, Omu! was Mora’s capstone project while a student at Rhode Island School of Design.

Plotline of Thank you, Omu!

Omu lives on the top floor of a tenement. She has a pot of delicious smelling stew simmering on the stovetop. As the fragrant aroma wafts out the window, Omu sits to read a book. Then a loud knock and a little boy from down the hall appears. Naturally, he asks about the savory smell.

Omu barely hesitates before offering to share the stew meant for her evening meal. This scene is repeated throughout the day as everyone from the mayor to the hot dog vendor stops by drawn by the delectable scent of the stew.

Even the youngest listener will not be surprised by the outcome-no more stew. And then the giver becomes the recipient.

Oge Mora

The author/illustrator Mora achieved success with her first picture book. In addition to the Caldecott Honor, she earned awards from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent and Ezra Jack Keats. Her mixed media illustrations garner praise from multiple sources including The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Forbes.

In addition to Mora’s second release, Saturday, the gifted artist has illustrated a number of books including I’m From and Everybody in the Red Brick Building. Click here for her website.

Recommendation for Thank You, Omu!

I loved this story of giving and included it in my gifts of Thanksgiving books for the oldest grandchild. Even though the book is not holiday related, it carries a similar theme of sharing. This world we live in needs more books showing kindness and love. Thank You, Omu! Belongs in every library and is highly recommended.

Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie Book Review

A Thanksgiving Celebration

America’s Test Kitchen produced Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie as a complement to their many cookbooks. This wonderful story geared towards young grade school kids was written by Jack Bishop with illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter. Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie is a multi-layered tale rich with life lessons. And the story is a perfect fit with the message of Thanksgiving-food, family and friends gather to give thanks and share.

The Picky Eater

Peyton doesn’t consider herself picky, she is just rather particular about her food. For example, she doesn’t like her foods touching. Nor does she like certain colors of food. But most of all, she doesn’t like “gooey, or gummy, sticky or slimy, frosted or flaky…chunky or lumpy” foods. However, she’s decided to try one new food at Thanksgiving dinner–pie.

Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie

Open pages from the story book Peyton Picks a PieExpanding one’s food likes is the foundation of the story. However, Bishop kicks it up a notch. Peyton has a wide range of choices because all the dinner guests arrive with a different kind of pie. No cookie cutter pies and neither are the guests. The all-inclusive message is subtle and as rich as the desserts. So, while Peyton is having second thoughts about leaving her comfort zone, readers will glimpse the message of inclusiveness.

Multi-layered Message

At heart, the story is about trying new things. In this case new food. But the story and illustrations provide so much more. Harkening back to the first Thanksgiving, friends and family with different backgrounds and experiences are gathering together to celebrate another year. Food, family and friends is what Thanksgiving is all about.

Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie is author Jack Bishop’s first picture book. However, I hope the veteran cookbook author and editor, considers writing another. I love the wittiness of the story and Michelle Mee Nutter does an outstanding job with the paired drawings. Each pie coming in the front door made me hungry. As a bonus, the book includes the recipe for the pie Peyton decides to try. Consider giving this book to a youngster this Thanksgiving.

Illustration of a Thanksgiving gathering passing food around the dinner table.

Thanksgiving Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Three Thanksgiving Books

Three Thanksgiving Books geared towards preschoolersI am on a reading jag. My current interest is Thanksgiving books for kids. The board books reviewed in the previous post are geared towards infants and toddlers. Now, this review showcases books geared for a slightly older age range of toddlers and preschoolers. All three are delightful storybooks geared for longer attention spans. And all three include interactive components.

Thanksgiving Here I Come

D.J. Steinberg pens the delightful aggregation of story-telling poems themed around Thanksgiving. The opening entry entitled The Biggest Turkey in the World is perfectly illustrated by Sara Palacios. Steinberg engages the audience with the comic prose of each story and all vary in length. The humor carries through Thanksgiving with titles including Wacky Friday and Turkey Again? Finally, the book includes a page of stickers.

Pete the Cat-The First Thanksgiving

Pete the Cat lovers will delight in this contribution to Thanksgiving books. Kimberly and James Dean mix traditional lore into a lift-the-flap book. So, a story highlighting Pete’s role as a pilgrim in the school Thanksgiving play is also an early history lesson. I found the presentation of historical facts well done. Kids will delight in discovering the illustrations hiding behind each flap. At the end, Pete and his family share how they are thankful.

Thanks for Thanksgiving

Finally, Thanks for Thanksgiving is the last of the three Thanksgiving books. Julie Markes writes the simple story of thankfulness. And I was enchanted by the beautiful illustrations of Doris Barrette. The details bring the pictures to life. Plus, the final page records what the reader is thankful for in successive years. Unlike the previous two books, Thanks for Thanksgiving is not part of a series.

My youngest was upper grade school when this delightful book was published. So, this 2004 book focusing on gratitude is new to me. I am thankful for the grandkids-so many books to discover! Unsurprisingly, I highly recommend this trio of Thanksgiving books geared toward toddlers and preschoolers.

Thanks for Playdates

Thanks For School

Two Board Books for Thanksgiving

Celebrating Thanksgiving with Books

Thanksgiving display with two board books, cornucopia and ceramic figures of Pilgrims and Indians.I love giving books to the little ones and here are two board books for giving this Thanksgiving. The first is You’re My Little Cutie Pie by Nicola Edwards with illustrations by Natalie Marshall. The pair have released a series of books which I classify as peek-a-boo instead of lift-the-flap.

The second book is Where is Baby’s Turkey by Karen Katz which is a traditional lift-the-flap board book. These two board books are perfect for the chubby fingers of the sixteen-month-old in the family. And they celebrate one of my favorite holidays. Thanksgiving is about family.

You’re My Little Cutie Pie

At first glance, I thought You’re My Little Cutie Pie was the similarly titled You’re My Little Pumpkin Pie. However, the latter-a Halloween book- was still on display. Both books feature fall-themed covers, however the Cutie Pie version features the squash as a pie topped with whipped cream.

Rhyme and cadence make these books by Edwards favorite bedtime books. Plus, the cut-outs highlighting the raised illustrations pull the prose together as well. Marshall’s artwork is perfect for the little ones. Even though this book will go to the youngest, I am sure the toddler and preschooler will also enjoy the Thanksgiving themed book.

Where is Baby’s Turkey?

Karen Katz writes a delightful tale of a baby searching for his toy turkey on Thanksgiving morning. This lift-the-flap book reveals all the delightful “ingredients” which comprise the traditions of the day while hunting for the plush toy. My grandchild will delight in lifting the flaps and discovering the clever illustrations. This is the first Katz board book I have read.

Two Board Books

Both of these Thanksgiving themed board books are sure to delight the youngsters in your family. The two board books have different approaches to entertaining the reader. The pages of You’re My Little Cutie Pie have cutouts that allow the reader to peak ahead. The raised area peaking through is the focus of the rhyme for those pages.

Where is Baby’s Turkey has a simple plot aided by the lift-the-flap technique. In this release, the flaps are quite sturdy although supervision of young children is still a good idea. These two board books will make a great addition to the little guy’s home library. I can’t wait to read them to him!

Sanibel Flats Book Review

Action Adventure Series

Three paperback books including Sanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White

Randy Wayne White penned Sanibel Flats over thirty years ago. This first in a long series is an action adventure featuring Doc Ford as an ex-operative returning home to focus on marine biology. His hopes for a quiet life are shattered by a request from an old high school buddy. The author creates plausibility for a return to action along with a gorgeous description of Florida’s barrier islands.

Key Characters Introduced

To be honest, I have read other entries in this series out of order. And I enjoyed them without the back story. However, if you have not read any of White’s novels, I suggest you begin with this one. He does an outstanding job of building character. After reading Sanibel Flats, I realize the depth of the various personalities throughout the series. And I understand how the serious character of Doc Ford and the laid-back hippie Tomlinson (one of my favorites) become so tight.

Furthermore, the author gives you a glimpse of Doc Ford’s double-standard thinking with respect to love interests. Every character needs a flaw. And each also needs hope.

Plot of Sanibel Flats

Doc Ford is newly returned to Sanibel Island. He is contacted by his long-ago best friend for help. Apparently, high school buddy, Rafe Hollins, kidnapped his son from a drunken druggie ex-wife only for the boy to be kidnapped by a Central American crime lord. Then Ford finds Hollins dead and knows rescuing 8-year-old Jake Hollins is his duty.

Convincing fellow marina dweller Tomlinson to come to the jungles of Central America is easy. And the action adventure begins. Moreover, the author introduces the many grey areas of a moral life. Sanibel Flats is not a novel for those who see the world as black and white. However, good and evil are easy to decipher.

A Descriptive Sanibel Flats

White excels at bringing locales to life. The descriptions of coastal Florida ring true for this former inhabitant. Thus, his jungle scenes of Central and South America are given credence. If a few readers get bogged down by the settings, action awaits at the turn of a page.

Sanibel Flats does not shield one from descriptions of violence and gore. Between the gunfights and the bedroom scenes, this book belongs in the hands of a mature audience. Since the book takes place in an area known for growing drugs, there are those who may find that objectionable as well. However, the story of rescue from a foreign locale without military aid merits the above-mentioned scenes.

Recommendation

The Doc Ford series is pure entertainment with moralism thrown in. The characters are human and very relatable. While I may not read the entire series as my spouse has, I know Sanibel Flats will not be the last. However, I do think I will go back and read the series in order.

 

Save What’s Left Book Review

Debut Novel

Book cover of Save What's Left depicting a small beach house next to a cubical McMansion.The debut novel, Save What’s Left by Elizabeth Castellano is hard to pigeonhole. The story is set in a beach town and yet more than a summer beach novel. The main character, Kathleen Deane, is a newly retired, middle-aged woman recovering from the shock of being dumped after thirty years of marriage.

Candidly, the protagonist lets the reader know that the marriage wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. So, after decades of muddling through life, her husband Tom decides to travel the world to discover the meaning of life.

Meanwhile, Kathleen decides a change of scenery will get her life back on track. She buys a beach house. Sight unseen except through a grainy video. Then the “fun” begins. Environmental activism stirs the growth of the lead character as she struggles to reshape her own identity.

Many Levels of Save What’s Left

The characters in Save What’s Left were quite unique. Some were likeable. And a few were grating. However, most perplexing is Kathleen. She becomes a strident advocate to save what’s left of the natural beachscape. Thus, much of the story is told through her numerous complaint letters concerning the McMansion materializing just outside the window of her humble home.

Castellano does justice to this theme of urban growth crowding out natural landscape in former rural areas. So, those from coastal areas grasp the dilemma immediately. Furthermore, the activism of the lead character and the roadblocks she encounters ring with truth.

Plot

Save What’s Left does have a storyline. Local corruption circumvents covenants protecting the seashore. Furthermore, the misconduct goes beyond the boardroom complicating Kathleen’s advocacy. And involving secondary characters important to the growth of the protagonist. Tangling matters more, Tom reappears. Their tenuous relationship weaves its’ way into the plot. Tom’s character is quite interesting.

Recommendation for Save What’s Left

I picked up Elizabeth Castellano’s novel at the bookstore for multiple reasons. First, the name jumped out at me. One of my favorite East Coast based jockeys shares the same surname. (Highly doubtful they are related, but one never knows.) Then, the fact it was a debut novel. I love giving new authors support. Finally, the cover design. A small beach house much like I grew up in juxtaposed with a sugar cubed McMansion.

I didn’t quite like a few of the characters, nor the plot structure. The numerous complaint letters often interrupted the action flow. (However, the letters are integral to the story.) Yet I could not put the book down! A key win for Ms. Castellano. I can’t wait to see what she publishes next.

 

Dead Mountain Book Review

New Release

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child pen a new winner in the 2023 release Dead Mountain. The latest in the Nora Kelly series involves a cold case mystery.  How did nine veteran climbers perish under unusual circumstances? Of course, Halloween as the date of the event adds to the eeriness.  Furthermore, only six bodies were recovered in the aftermath.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Dr. Kelly is an archaeologist frequently contacted by young FBI agent Corrie Swanson to either give expert opinion or handle ancient finds uncovered during investigations. Previously, the two teamed up in several Preston & Child novels including The Scorpion’s Tail. Both women are strong likeable characters. Neither gives up until the truth is found.

Dead Mountain- A Cold Case Never Closed

Two young men stumble over human remains inside a cave. In the process of verifying the remains as ancient, Kelly and Swanson stumble upon more skeletons. But these remains were much younger. Thus, the Dead Mountain case becomes active once again.

The story line is actioned packed. The FBI takes a lot of heat for never discovering the truth from the 2008 event. Backstories of the families and former agents create a nice subplot. Additionally, Dr. Kelly’s brother Skip lands in hot water once again. This subplot mostly serves to show the corruptness of Sheriff Hawley. The bones were discovered in his county. To be honest, Skip is a character that grates on one’s nerves, even if he’s with the good guys.

Top Secret Bunker

At the heart of the mystery is a secret bunker originally built to protect President Eisenhauer. Agent Swanson surmises the scared hikers were headed for the safety of the bunker. Perhaps the remains of the still missing final member of the expedition will be found there. Unfortunately, she cannot gain access. Instead, she is ordered to cease and desist with the investigation. Furthermore, she is ordered to pretend to continue investigating. Naturally this does goes against her moral compass.

So, Agent Swanson pushes on with the help of Dr. Kelly. They discover the missing hiker and his journals and camera-only to be ambushed. Fortunately, Swanson’s new mentor Agent Sharp and Sheriff Watts arrive just in time. Watts reveals his feelings for Swanson adding just the right touch of romance for the end.

Terrific Duo

Preston & Child the talented duo behind Dead Mountain are prolific authors. And they work well as a team. Each also writes solo books. Both have a long list of impressive credentials. So, it is not surprising how well researched their books are. This is important to me because nothing encourages me to stop reading a book more than inaccurate details.

Praise for this duo is found in the previous blog posts Library Book Sale and City of Endless Night. To be honest I have read more of Mr. Child’s work since supernatural thrillers are often read in this household. For anyone with a non-fiction preference, Mr. Preston brings fine detail to all of his work. Needless to say, I enjoyed Dead Mountain and highly recommend this novel.

 

The Recovery Agent Book Review

New Evanovich Series

I first encountered recovery agent Gabriela Rose in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series release Going Rogue. I was delighted to spot the book on the new release table at my local library. Gabriela Rose promises to be a character worthy of a spin-off series. As the first in the sequence, The Recovery Agent proves delightful with strong characters able to support a new direction for Evanovich’s writing.

Plot of The Recovery Agent

Altruism is the motive for finding hidden treasure. In a straightforward plot, Gabriela Rose and ex-husband Rafer Jones crisscross the continents of North and South America. Encountering danger and dangerous people, the two remain true to the idea of saving their hometown, Scoon, South Carolina with any found fortune. Devastated by a hurricane, Scoon needs rebuilding. Naturally, opportunistic developers are swooping down on the seaside hamlet creating a time crunch. Can Gabriela and Rafer set aside differences for a shared goal?

Since action scenes dominate Evanovich novels, readers will find plenty of scenes reminiscent of the type of adventure found by swashbucklers on screen as well as in print. Ms. Rose is quite skilled and delightfully unique from many of author Evanovich’s previous heroines. The quick-thinking protagonist more than her carries own weight. However, Mr. Jones does get to play the role of the rescuer upon occasion. (And sometimes he needs rescuing.)

Secondary Characters

One of Evanovich’s greatest talents is fleshing out secondary characters. She creates a strong supporting cast with The Recovery Agent. Indeed, the seriousness of the primary character is complemented by the (sometimes) unintended humor of those surrounding her.

Best of all, bad and evil are differentiated. Lots of grey areas in The Recovery Agent. Drug dealers are favored over psychopaths. Readers can decide just how often to look the other way, much like Gabriela Rose must.

Chemistry in The Recovery Agent

True to Evanovich form, the novel includes romance. So, sparks fly between the exes. And the two seem more compatible than most. Perhaps they married too young. Furthermore, the reader keeps wondering if or when something will happen. Just the right amount of tension.

Unlike recent attempts at new series, Evanovich penned this refreshing story alone. Her distinctive style makes The Recovery Agent a fun book to read. I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story with appealing characters.

Exiles Book Review

Cold Case

Australian author Jane Harper’s 2022 release Exiles once again features federal investigator Aaron Falk. However, in this recent release financial gain does not seem to factor into the disappearance of Kim Gillespie.

The cold case comes to the forefront as the one-year anniversary arrives and a teenager is desperate to locate her missing mom. But Falk has more than one motive for returning to the Maralee Valley Festival. In addition to helping long-time friend Greg Raco and his family find their missing relative, Falk seeks to reconnect with the festival director, a widow still grieving the unexpected loss of her husband-missing and then found dead.

Are the two cases related?

Life’s Exiles

Harper instills great meaning in her titles and Exiles is true to form. Readers of the Aaron Falk series know the background to his ‘exiles’ status. However, the missing mother becomes an exile from her own family. Estrangement from family and friends creates its own form of aloneness. Thus, suicide is a plausible outcome.

However, Harper writes murder mysteries. So, Falk sets out to find the truth behind the disappearance. And the truth should give anyone experiencing alienation from family members great pause. Does that family member really want severed ties? In Gillespie’s case the answer was no. But too often family are blind to reality.

Recommendation for Exiles

Since Jane Harper has been a favorite ever since reading The Dry, naturally I enjoyed Exiles. However, for new readers, her writing style is one that unwinds at a measured pace. The action is tempered by the protagonist’s point of view as well as provoking dialogue and thoughtful character development.

The best part of Harper’s writing are the twists and turns of the plot and yet after the reveal everything falls in place. No loose threads from this talented author. Plus, as alluded to above, Jane Harper gives the reader ‘something’ to think about long after closing the book. I highly recommend Exiles with a caveat that her message may leave anyone with an estranged family member more than just a bit uncomfortable.

 

The Sweet Goodbye Book Review

Danny Barrett Series

Ron Corbett writes the Danny Barrett series and The Sweet Goodbye is the 2022 release featuring the undercover man. The setting is the area surrounding the North Woods of Maine. Long forgotten, has-been mill towns and the people struggling to make a living in a changed world. Now, the easiest way to make money is making and distributing illegal drugs. And then laundering the cash.

Danny Barrett is working undercover as a tree marker. A job learned from growing up in Michigan. His knowledge saves him. But will he figure it all out before it is too late?

Good Guys and Bad Guys

It is hard to tell the good from the bad in The Sweet Goodbye. Even harder to define competence among the authorities. A major SNAFU through and through, with a story to touch the heart of the most hardened FBI agents.

Beau Lafontaine is the lead bad guy. Drug runner extraordinaire with his only soft spot, Cousin Pearl, a diner waitress and a key character in the story. Beau is in business with Travis and Tucker Lee. His drug money is laundered through their timber company. Neither brother is stellar in character, one is a glutton and the other a drunk. All become implicated in the murder of a banker.

In The Sweet Goodbye, Pearl is a long-standing mistress of Travis Lee. The relationship of the hard-working waitress and the drunken lawyer dates to their teenage years. And his marriage to Amanda Lee.

Danny Barrett is undercover trying to find evidence to convict the Lee brothers as well as their handler. He answers to two other Feds. Special Agent Paul Linton is ambitious and angling for a management spot in Boston and the legendary FBI agent Jim Flanagan. Complicating the action, the two senior agents are at odds with each other.

The Sting of The Sweet Goodbye

Barrett’s role expands from surveillance to setting up a sting. But everything backfires as bad guys drop like flies. Before long the authorities only have Pearl and Travis to pin all the charges on. Neither seem capable of being a mastermind. But someone needs to pay. After all, the FBI has been building a case for the better part of a year.

Flannagan, Linton and Barrett press each of the lovers to turn on the other. In the end, love conquers all.

Recommendation for The Sweet Goodbye

This murder mystery was anything but cozy. And the ending has a bit of an Agatha Christie type twist. A few things are not spelled out or were missed by this reader. Most notably, how and why Amanda Lee disappears. Yet The Sweet Goodbye is truly a page-turner and I couldn’t put it down, stopping only to eat. Upon finishing, I put it atop my husband’s pile of to be read books, I enjoyed the characters, the plot, the scenery…the everything! Find a copy and enjoy this suspenseful novel.