Category: In The Library

The Whole Truth

Recent Read

The Whole Truth by David Baldacci is a recent read for me even though the publication occurred over a decade ago. The theme of disinformation is current. And with one exception, the book could have been written in the last year or so. The only tell that the novel is not fresh is the mention that Osama Bin Laden was still on the run.The Whole Truth Book Cover

Evil Billionaire

Nicholas Creel is the villain of the story. Philanthropic with one hand and greedy capitalist with the other. He has made his billions selling much inflated goods to the Pentagon as well as defense units in other nations.

Creel wants more money. Countries have been concentrating on non-military projects. Sales are down. So he needs tensions to increase. He hires a PR firm to spin a story. The conspiracy begins.

Unwilling Avenger

A man with no first name, A. Shaw is an operative for a secret government agency. His work takes him all over the world. The position is dangerous. A few years back he met the love of his’ life, Anna Fischer. Now he is ready to retire. And marry. But his employer has other plans.

Anna Fischer and Shaw are drawn into the tensions of the world through their respective jobs. Both are determined to find the whole truth. Neither knows they are up against Nicholas Creel.

Recovering Alcoholic

Baldacci stirs the pot with the addition of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Katie James. An alcoholic struggling with recovery, James is trying to claw her way back from hitting rock bottom. An unwitting pawn in Creel’s ploy to bring the world to the verge of war, James nonetheless senses a story. She too, seeks to discover the whole truth.

The Whole Truth

The topic of disinformation was eerily prescient given the publication date. Current events do not mirror Baldacci’s plot. But the sheer amount of disinformation surrounding the pandemic help one suspend disbelief while reading The Whole Truth. A fast paced thriller, the novel tugs at the heart strings as well as entertains.

Those of you who favorably read Baldacci’s Atlee Pine series will enjoy The Whole Truth as well. The author paints bleak pictures of a corrupt world. But then laces each story with hope. Much needed hope.

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story Book Review

The Premonition

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis is an indictment on America’s response to Covid-19. This non-fiction account is critical of various governmental entities. But the bigger takeaway is the hard work of many individuals. Their attempts to stop the spread were hampered by red tape.

Key Players

The Premonition is like a series of mini-biographies. The opening chapters focus on a school science project. Laura Glass, as a high school student, studied the social spread of pathogens. With the help of her father, Bob, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, a computer model was developed to predict outcomes. The experiment keyed on social distancing. (Fast forward to the crisis in 2020 and the computer model found a real-life application.)

Carter Mecher is another linchpin in The Pandemic narrative. Mecher’s biography is quite interesting. He was raised in a working class household. Nonetheless, he pursued a medical degree and shined in critical care situations. Eventually, he climbed the ranks of the Veteran’s Affairs as a troubleshooter of the program.

He was in this position in 2005 when then President Bush called for a national pandemic plan. Mecher along with Richard Hatchett became the principle authors of the plan. Furthermore, the two men with diverse personalities, remain close colleagues. We also learn Hatchett’s history.

2005 Pandemic Plan

Hatchett and Mecher discover the computer model developed by Glass. Then they incorporate major pieces of Laura Glass’ project into the plan. Vaccines were only a piece of the puzzle. Pathogens are spread in social settings. Since two of the largest places of socialization are schools and work settings, both were addressed. Next, the plan had to be sold to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) and later to the American public.

Another key author of the national pandemic plan is Lisa Koonin , at the time with the CDC. But, her work on the document took place after hours. In the end, the CDC published its’ own work and the Hatchett and Mecher collaboration was published sans Koonin listed as an author. However, the two men gave direct praise to Koonin.

The Premonition

Charity Dean is the woman with the premonition, or more accurately premonitions. Her biography is the most compelling of the bunch. Lewis spends quite a bit of time detailing  her background. And with good reason. Dean is a force to be reckoned with. As is her devotion to public health.

In The Premonition, the State of California employed Dean. Her career spanned from the county level to the position of Assistant Director of the State Department of Public Health. The Premonition details the roadblocks Dean encountered. It is inferred that the pushback experienced during the early months of 2020 led to her new position in the private sector.

Indictments within The Premonition

Criticism of various governmental groups is a part of The Premonition. Neither political party escapes. Both the Trump White House and the Gavin Newsom California administration failed to recognize the talent and expertise available to them. But the most glaring failure of all belongs to the CDC.

Lewis traces the weakness of the CDC back to the Swine Flu debacle of the late 1970s. This is the point the agency lost its’ independence. Since then, politics has played a big part.

He also portrays the agency as a large bureaucracy unable or unwilling to make decisions. Instead, he suggests the CDC prefers to study and analyze problems. Not solve them.

Lewis is not all negative. His mini-biographies demonstrate that the country has many hard-working and brilliant scientists. He blames the pandemic response, or lack thereof, more on process than on people. I agree to a point.

Recommendation

I found a few things missing.

First of all, the lack of accurate statistics is not really mentioned. Lewis cites the U.S.A. as a country with four percent of the world’s population. But having more than twenty percent of the Covid-19 cases. I use the Johns Hopkins Covid Tracker for my data. These numbers do not match. Furthermore, an open society such as the United States will have a more accurate account (although not perfect) of cases. Numbers from communist countries should be taken with a large grain of salt. This leeriness of the presented data is particularly true considering the calculated death rate of the United States is in line with the world rate.

Secondly, Michael Lewis handled several governmental experts with kid gloves. Most notably, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Nothing was discussed about Fauci’s admitted lies to the American public concerning the airborne transmission of the virus and the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) especially masks. I see this as a failure on the author’s part.

Furthermore, I found the delay in recognizing Covid-19 as a concern. I first wrote about the coronavirus in January 2020. Only Charity Dean’s December 2019 premonition predates me.

Overall, the hours spent reading The Premonition were well spent. The individuals above are only a small representation of those highlighted in the book. All give hope for a better future. If you are not tired of the pandemic, this book provides information of interest.

Jack of Spies Book Review

Jack of Spies by David Downing is not a recent release. But I urge you to find a copy. It is that good. The historical fiction with a bit of romance covers the time period just prior to World War I. The book features the many technological advances of that time.

Book Cover for Jack of Spies

Protagonist

Jack McColl is a full time car salesman and part time British spy at the beginning of Jack of Spies, peddling cars in China. And spying on the Germans a year before the start of The Great War was just one of his assignments.

Right from the start, McColl is attracted to American Caitlyn Hanley, a progressive, independent journalist also travelling vast regions of the world. Throughout the relationship McColl struggles with divided loyalties. Will he choose the love of a lifetime or his dream career?

Jack of Spies Plot

The author weaves a tale of espionage involving diverse nations. In addition to the Germans attempting influence in China and Mexico, much is made on an alliance with Irish rebels both in Ireland and abroad. There is no love lost between the Germans and the British even before hostilities break out.

Anywhere civil unrest is occurring, the Germans are nearby to provide a bit of prodding. McColl’s job is to keep tabs and run interference. Also, he is tasked with cover-ups a time or two. But one of the biggest challenges he faces is in America. Early 20th century workers are easy prey for outside groups socialistic in nature.

Downing does a fantastic job of portraying the conditions leading to the movement toward unionization. He also conveys a time of dissension in various locales. This was the time of the Mexican revolution and the prelude to the Irish War of Independence. But most of all the run up to World War I. The history is well weaved into the plot.

Action vs. Intrigue

There is quite a bit of action throughout the novel with multiple attacks on McColl’s life. But, the novel is more than an action adventure. There is intrigue and political commentary. Furthermore, historical facts are woven in with the fiction. Most of all there is a reluctance toward war among the mature and at the same time a bloodthirst by the young.

Recommendation for Jack of Spies

I absolutely loved Jack of Spies. It was a book picked from a pile of possibilities while on vacation. The time period is what sold me as I have not read much fiction set in the early twentieth century. And I feel so fortunate to discover another new to me author. He has written a number of books and I can’t wait to find the sequel to Jack of Spies.

If you are a fan of either spy novels or historical fiction this is must read. Find a copy today.

Head Wounds Book Review

Head Wounds is a Michael Mc Garrity novel and begins in the border country of New Mexico. Additional settings include the Mescalero Reservation and various locations in the northern regions of Mexico. Characters represent a number of diverse cultures. The main characters each have their own moral code- even the killers.

Head Wounds Book Cover

Characters

Even though the book is billed as a Kevin Kerney novel, in my opinion it is not. Kerney makes cameo appearances which really add nothing to the story. Clayton Istee, Kerney’s son, is the key character at the beginning of Head Wounds. But only at the beginning.

El Jefe is the antagonist to Istee. Also known as Estavio Trevino and by his true name of Wind Stands with Bear Among the Wallows, El Jefe is an assassin. He has his own code of honor and is a fascinating character. There is good at the core of a very violent man.

By the end of Head Wounds, Istee has taken a secondary role to a pair of federal agents. Yet he is brought back in at the conclusion. Perhaps this is an intentional display of governmental hierarchy. However, to a new reader of McGarrity’s work, it was a bit off-putting.

Head Wounds- Action vs. Plot

The action packed novel opens with a triple murder. The two main victims had ties to a crime committed on the Mescalero Reservation. However, a different crime caused a contract to be issued for their deaths. Thus starts a tangled plot line.

Many characters with overlapping ties create complicated stories. Head Wounds is a prime example of this situation. McGarrity throws in surprise elements in character motivation which add various twists to the plot. But the main driver of the story is action. Time lapses are well-explained and do not detract from the plot. Instead, the passages of time add realism.

Recommendation for Head Wounds

If you are a big fan of Michael McGarrity, I have a feeling this novel will be a “can’t miss” for you. I bought the book on my recent trip to Santa Fe off a local authors’ table. Readers not familiar with his work may want to check out a copy from the nearest library. Head Wounds is a quick read and ideal for settings such as a long plane ride or a rainy day. Engaging and distracting, I finished the book in one afternoon.

A caveat- the book contains a lot of violence along with beautiful landscape descriptions. And lines blur between the good guys and the bad guys. Well worth the time spent reading, yet I will not be anxiously awaiting another.

Liquids Till Lunch Book Review

Mary Ruth’s Liquids Till Lunch

Mary Ruth’s Liquids Till Lunch: 12 Small Habits That Will Change Your Life For Good is an interesting self-help book written by Mary Ruth Ghiyam with Sarah Durand. While the title may hint as a diet book, Liquids Till Lunch encompasses an all-around approach to well-being. Each habit has a designated chapter. Furthermore, the habits fall into a tighter parameter of mental wellness, sleep, nutrition and exercise.

Nutrition

Intermittent fasting is not new. In Liquids Till Lunch there is actually more leeway than other approaches I have read about. Liquids can include juices, smoothies, and limited caffeinated beverages. And of course water. Meals are suggested at noon, three and seven. According to the author this allows your body to both burn more fat and sleep better.

What was new to me was the concept introduced in Chapter 2-Chew Your Food Until It Becomes Liquid. To be honest, I was very skeptical that this was even possible. I was wrong. Furthermore, the author’s key points were right on target. A can’t miss chapter.

Chapters 3-5 offered more nutritional advice from the expert. The tips offered in the “Move Forward Everyday” boxes are great. Advice from using moderation with respect to eating and drinking to canvassing your fridge and pantry on a daily basis are commonsense and useful.

Fifteen Minutes of Sunshine

Chapter six is a bit hard to categorize since it impacts wellness on multiple levels. Natural Vitamin D has been shown to combat Covid-19. Spending time each day in the sun also helps with sleep. This chapter is key.

In addition to the importance of daily sunshine, Liquids Till Lunch addresses the concerns about screen time and blue light. I have invested in blue light blocking glasses and I have my computer settings set to adjust brightness at a certain time of day. Both suggestions from the book. However, I need to incorporate the mindfulness exercises as suggested. Because I still have sleep problems as I discuss here.

Sleep

The chapter on sleep urges all to get seven to eight hours of good sleep each night. As the author emphasizes, good sleep is imperative for mental clarity. Lack of sleep creates poor decision making. New information within this chapter will be tried. I know lack of sleep is an area of concern for me.

Ghiyam stresses that people experiencing insomnia need perseverance. She posits that the regular habit of good sleep will take hard work to achieve. I personally have a task in front of me.

Exercise

Two chapters focus on the benefits of exercise, both calling for daily action. To follow this advice one needs to carve out forty-five minutes a day; fifteen for stretching and thirty of exercise. Difficult, but not impossible.

Stretching and exercising are key components in self-care. In addition to the many tips for working these forty-five minutes into hectic schedules is the health logic behind the need. There are two points offering a differing point of view. The first, stretching is detrimental right before a hard workout and the second is the inclusion of ballistic stretching. I need to ponder these ideas more.

The connection of stretching to mental health is presented. Both stretching and exercise provide mental and physical benefits. As the author presents, life is about choices. Daily stretching and exercise are beneficial choices, ones I hope to continue.

Mental Wellness

The last chapters of the book focus on aspects of mental wellness. Stress Less, Think Positively and Believe in a Universal Force of Goodness are the topics. These self-help chapters are crucial in today’s negative world. The ideas seem simple, yet can be hard to achieve.

In the chapter on stress, Ghiyam discusses the correlation between mental stress and physical illness. Then she offers steps to alleviate the pressures of everyday life. For example, in a Move Forward Everyday box, she suggests packing a lunchbox to alleviate stress caused by hunger (and out of kilter sugar levels), not going to bed angry, and idea I have already adopted, making a to-do list for the following day.

In another box, the author discusses personal relationships. Again, the insights are helpful and positive. As are the many anecdotes and examples throughout. This continues into the following chapter, Think Positively.

To be honest, reading the chapter on positivity kept reminding me of a young blogger I personally know and follow. Madison Dorenkamp posts frequently on staying positive as well as “deleting the negatives.” Click here to read a post on positivity written at the beginning of the pandemic.

Mary Ruth Ghiyam is another positive soul. She is inspirational. Perhaps those individuals that have truly faced hardships are the best role models for facing adversity with a positive outlook. Her thought process shared in the book is one to follow. Stuff happens. The true measure of an individual is how one reacts to the “stuff” of life.

This ties into the final chapter, Believe in a Universal Force of Goodness. This inclusive chapter has a lot to offer the reader. At times, such as this pandemic era, things will be beyond control. Belief can carry an individual past the crisis.

Recommendation for Liquids Till Lunch

I checked this book out of the library. Soon, copies will be purchased. Self-help books are among my favorite gifts. Liquids Till Lunch certainly qualifies for this category. I highly recommend!

Book cover of Liquids Till Lunch

The Scorpion’s Tail Book Review

The Scorpion’s Tail Book Review

I picked up The Scorpion’s Tail in a New Mexico bookstore because it was written by one of my favorite writing duos, Preston & Child. No reading of the front cover or checking of the publication date. So, I was in for a surprise and a treat.

The Scorpion’s Tail belongs to the Nora Kelly series but reads as a standalone-for the most part. One character waltzed in toward the end without much introduction and then quickly waltzed out. It was not a major problem for this new reader although I am sure previous readers of the series had a better idea of the relevancy.

Women Driven

The novel has a wide cast of characters. Young FBI Special Agent Corrie Swanson and archaeologist Nora Kelly drive the action. Sometimes their paths meander apart, but the key action brings them together to unravel the mystery of hidden gold. Female leads make the action interesting, although Nora Kelly is backed up by her brother and the young FBI agent seems to get along quite well with an equally young Sheriff Homer Watts.

There is a balance. The authors do have an action thread toward the conclusion driven by the aforementioned Watts and Supervisory Special Agent Hale Morwood. It is quite refreshing to read an action/adventure where neither sex is diminished.

The Scorpion’s Tail Location

It was a treat to read a novel set in New Mexico. Especially, on my return trip from visiting Santa Fe. The descriptive settings matched the terrain we were driving through. Preston & Child capture the vast wilderness without slowing down the action. Picturesque writing to mirror the gorgeous state.

New Mexico

New Mexico Landscape

Plot of The Scorpion’s Tail

Essentially the tale of The Scorpion’s Tail is a treasure hunt. Multiple entities are on the hunt for ancient gold. During the ensuing search, looting and murder bring in the authorities. Special Agent Swanson enlists the aid of Nora Kelly in order to identify a mummied corpse.

There are only a few twists and turns in the plot. The bad guys are fairly easy to identify. Instead, the plot is a race to find the gold. A highly entertaining race!

Recommendation

I highly recommend The Scorpion’s Tail. Everything about the book is topnotch. Even though part of a series, the novel stands on its’ writing. The characters are well-developed and I plan to go back and read Old Bones where both Kelly and Swanson first appear on the page. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have another hit on their hands.

The Bounty Book Review

The Bounty is a Fox and O’Hare adventure written by Janet Evanovich with Steve Hamilton. The series features mastermind Nick Fox and his FBI handler Kate O’Hare. A series that I started reading with the first release- The Heist. But the series has had a change of co-writers through the years. And I will admit, The Bounty is the first of the series I have read in a while.

Plot of The Bounty

The Bounty is one of those around the world adventures. The opening scene has Fox and O’Hare consulting with the Vatican Security to stop a theft. However, a problem arises and it is a huge conflict of interest for Nick Fox. The successful burglar is none other than Quentin Fox. Nick’s Dad.

For readers, the action scenes at the Vatican provide the hook to keep reading the novel. This remains the case throughout The Bounty. Each time I was tempted to stop reading, the action pushed me forward. From one country to another. All in pursuit of gold-stolen by the Nazis.

In other words the action is quick paced. So the story shouldn’t drag. Yet at times there was drag…something was off.

Writing Duos

I have reviewed many books featuring co-authors. The most recent, the excellent offering by Christina Lauren with The Soulmate Equation. I also enjoy novels by popular duo Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Further, I love the combination of Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison.

Since The Bounty is the first collaboration between Evanovich and Hamilton, I am willing to read a follow-up attempt. I will be looking for more tension between the main characters as well as quick paced action.

I envy prolific writers. There are times when I struggle with each sentence. Furthermore, I respect authors such as Evanovich that can capture the reader with the same character such as Stephanie Plum for decades. So, I was a bit disappointed in the characters of The Bounty. The personal interactions were forced and out of character.

Recommendation for The Bounty

The copy of The Bounty that I read was a large print edition borrowed from the public library. Perfect for reading on a day one needs to stay indoors. My suggestion is to look for a copy at your local library or read an E edition. And if you are not fans of either author, another book choice may be for you.

Meant to Be Book Review

Small Town America

Fictional Mason, Kansas, the setting for Meant to Be, is representative of hundreds of small towns across the Great Plains. And thousands of similar communities all across flyover country. Even though Jude Deveraux paints a less gritty picture than those of author Kent Haruf, the depiction of small town life hits a bull’s eye.

Outsiders to rural America are not immediately accepted. Adapting to places without stoplights and shopping malls can be difficult. Unravelling who is related to whom and how, is even more challenging. Over time individuals either become part of the community. Or move away.

The roadblocks in life are just as taxing for those born and bred in small towns. The yearning to explore the outside world can run strong. The struggle between desire and duty to family is very real. Deveraux captures this conflict in her latest novel.

Meant to Be

Growing up I often heard the phrase “It wasn’t meant to be.” My paternal grandmother used it most often. The words were an effort to console a youngster when she couldn’t have everything she wanted. Deveraux’s use of the phrase takes a slight twist. Sometimes things are meant to be-regardless of what life presents. In this book, true love among the key characters is inevitable. Life delays, but doesn’t erase.

The storyline revolves around the Exton sisters. Close in age, but far apart in dreams. Vera yearns to explore the world while Kelly desires to make the small town of Mason her world. Throw in multiple love interests and you have an intriguing tale of passion and true love.

Generational Themes

Meant to Be begins in the early 1970s and continues to the present day. The sisters age and remain close in heart if not proximity. There are twists and turns as each generation faces consequences stemming from the actions of the initial characters. The author’s writing tugs at the heart strings. Life is messy and world events impact small towns on a grand scale.

I thoroughly enjoyed Meant to Be. Deveraux captures the conflict of the Vietnam War, the complexity of Equal Rights and many other challenges of the past fifty years. Both technological and sociological. She paints a picture of change without preachiness. Or superiority. Instead, her writing reflects the culture. All while weaving a story of love, lost and found.

Book Cover of novel Meant to Be

The Soulmate Equation Book Review

Dynamic Duo Writes The Soulmate Equation

The writing duo Christina Lauren pen a winning romance in The Soulmate Equation. The novel is a classic example of the genre. And fun to read. As typical for this type of novel, the initial antagonism gives way to mutual attraction. Only to have an event occur to put the couple back at square one. True romance.

 

Big Data

This is the first romance I have read that incorporated the element of Big Data into the equation. Hence the title Soulmate Equation is very apropos. The main characters are both geeky data analysts at their core. A mutual interest in stats paves the way for harmony-once the initial clashing is overcome.

The authors treat the background scenario appropriately. The mathematics adds to the storyline but does not usurp the theme of romance. This is nicely done by the duo.

Single Mom

The main character is Jessica Davis, a thirtyish, never married single Mom. She is supported by grandparents and a best friend in raising her young daughter Juno. As a free-lance statistical analyst, she often works from an independent coffee shop. The perfect setting to observe and reach her own conclusions about “Americano” Dr. River Peña.

Jess is portrayed as a hard-working and always harried single mom. So, juggling a career with school and after school activities leaves no room for romance. Let alone genetically driven dating apps. But she reaches a breaking point after one stressful day and sends in a sample. Then the fun begins.

Soulmate Equation

The authors do a great job of tapping into the idea of the perfect one in The Soulmate Equation. Surely, somewhere, sometime there is that lifetime match for everyone. If only we could know when and more importantly who.

In addition to the theme, the writing flows for the reader. The science is believable as are the characters. Human fallacies and personal doubts are explored all while showcasing personal growth for the characters. Both main and secondary. The Soulmate Equation is a fun read and a perfect romance. Well worth the price to purchase.

Cover of Soulmate Equation
Cover of The Soulmate Equation

A Distant Shore Book Review

A Distant Shore Is Christian writer Karen Kingsbury’s latest. This book of faith combines romance and finding faith while spotlighting the seamy underworld of child sex trafficking. The main characters each have their own reasons for doubting their faith.

Tragedy on A Distant Shore

The novel opens up with an American family vacationing on a beach in Belize. As two teenage brothers toss a football back and forth, a very young girl purposely swims too far from shore. Eliza sees the rip current as a way to reunite with her mother and brother who drowned at sea. She believes God will bring them together again. But He has other plans.

Jack, the oldest brother, immediately swims out to the rescue. He warns his younger brother to stay onshore. To no avail.

The young girl is saved. But the brother is lost.

Fast Forward

The story resumes a decade later. Jack is now a top notch FBI agent. Not caring whether you live or die helps. His new assignment is to infiltrate a sex trafficking ring by marrying the daughter of the owner. Unbeknownst to Jack, she is the same girl he saved years ago. Before he lost his faith.

Eliza is turning twenty. She has been “saved” for this day. Her father hopes to expand his business by marriage. Eliza is being sold. The horrors of her life have taken a toll. She no longer prays.

Sex Trafficking

The author creates a heart-wrenching story of a young girl forced to entice other young girls into her father’s brothel. The details of human trafficking are accurate. Victims are often young runaways, but not exclusively. Very young girls do get kidnapped and forced into this life of slavery.

The use of older girls to trick younger ones off the street into a forced life of a sex worker as depicted in the story is well documented. Kingsbury thoroughly researched the topic before weaving this tale of trafficking, faith and romance. Often this mix does not work, but in A Distant Shore the sex trafficking is an integral part of the story.

Finding Faith

A Distant Shore is a faith based story. The characters have lost their belief in God. Once Jack realizes who Eliza is, he re-evaluates his relationship with God. And with her. However, the weaving of faith into the story is not as seamless as it could be.

Struggling with one’s faith after a tragedy is natural. The concept is good.

The execution needs fine tuning. There was only one hiccup in the story line. Eliza’s father discovers Jack’s identity before the denouement, yet the author depicted a smooth rescue. At least to this reader.

Recommendation

I think all who enjoy Christian fiction will like A Distant Shore. Karen Kingsbury does an excellent job with the mix of rediscovering faith and the very ugly story of sex trafficking. My one complaint mentioned above does not negate the writing. Others have tried to mix romance with sex trafficking. (See my review of The Deception.)  Kingsbury strikes the right mix with her approach of romance and finding faith. A Distant Shore is a good addition to this genre. And the book accurately depicts the ugliness of human trafficking. This deserves a read.

Dial A For Aunties Book Review

An Unintended Murder

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto is a chick read and soon to be Netflix chick flick. The book is delightful and I am considering signing up for the streaming service just so I can see how the characters are brought to life. Yes, that good!

The book is a murder without the mystery. Plenty of mayhem surrounds the “accidental” death. Hilarious mayhem. I will try not to give away too much of the story.

Meddelin Chin- Protagonist

Meddy is an American of Asian descent. Specifically Chinese and Indonesian.  The main character introduces the reader to her multi-lingual Asian family with much humor. The males fly the coop and Meddy, the obedient female, stays close to home. But she did have a secret life; during college. And her secret lands her in trouble.

Fortunately for Meddy, her mother and her mom’s three sisters are tight knit. So when the heroine shows up at home with a dead body, the foursome swing into action. Meddy must come into her own in order to keep the Aunties out of trouble. It is refreshing to see her character grow. And heartwarming to witness the family love and loyalty, amongst the bickering.

Additionally, Sutanto includes the right amount of romance. Meddy runs into her former love while trying to juggle a big wedding event with disposing of the body. Her stress levels increase exponentially as wedding drama entwines with the dead body. Fortunately, all is hilarity for the reader.

Dial A For Aunties

Dial A For Aunties is full of good humor, sibling rivalry and family love. The endings are happy in both the main and sub-plots. There are a few twists and surprises. The topics are modern and the language can get a bit “R” rated. Love and acceptance are key themes.

Secondary themes are mother-daughter relationships and the age old story of lost love rediscovered. The author does a nice job of introducing the reader to the Asian culture as they assimilate into urban America. Communication in a multi-generational family of immigrants can be difficult. The United States is behind other parts of the world when it comes to second and third languages.

I highly recommend Dial A For Aunties. Lighthearted reads are so important in breaching cultural differences in this day and age. Sutanto is already working on a sequel and one hopes she has a role in the film adaptation as well. Pick up a copy today!

The Four Winds Book Review

Epoch Times-Epoch Story

The Four Winds represents the best part of Kristin Hannah, her originality. The novel is set during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Mother Nature challenged many during these harsh years. Life revolved around survival.

Hannah often rotates between present and past in her novels. But, The Four Winds stays focused on this historic era. This change in style is appealing. Readers are caught in the dirty thirties. One feels the hopelessness experienced by this generation considered our Greatest Generation.

Protagonist

Elsa Wolcott Martinelli is the heroine of the story. Overlooked by her parents and sisters due to a childhood illness, she clings to words of a beloved grandparent in her most trying times. The love of her youth and the father of her children is Rafe Martinelli. But Rafe cannot handle the harshness of the land. Fortunately for Elsa, his parents provide the love, acceptance and strength she needs.

As the story progresses, Elsa is forced from the land she loves in order to save her son. The bulk of the story takes place in California. The small family of three end up in migrant camps. Elsa, and later the children, work at any day job available. The poverty is abject. The love profound.

Strength of The Four Winds

Hannah provides rich detail. The reader is transported to this unrelenting time period. Historical events are weaved into the story. But, The Four Winds really excels on the emotional level. Somehow, Hannah’s mastery of writing transports the reader into this epoch era.

The Four Winds is one of those books that draws the reader like a magnet. A page turner, but not because of suspense or mystery. Instead, one is compelled to continue the read by emotion. Will the plight of the Martinelli’s end? Is the never waving hope misplaced?

Recommendation

The Four Winds is an incredible tale of survival. The will to withstand a harsh climate. Fortitude to keep on despite rejection. Endurance of a personal nature.

But the greater theme is love. Multiple types of love.  A mother’s love, a child’s love, love thy neighbor and love of the land. Most of all, belief in one’s self.

Kristin Hannah has surpassed herself. Don’t miss The Four Winds. This novel is suitable for all.

The Four Winds Cover

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue Book Review

Never make a Deal with the Devil

V.E. Schwab is the author of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue. This lengthy, intense book rotates back and forth between New York City in recent times and various locations in Europe starting in the early 1700s. The ping pong action is necessary to understand Addie Larue. But it takes a while to catch the rhythm.

The protagonist is Addie Larue. She is not quite an ordinary girl. Unlike other young women of her time she has no wish for domestic life. Instead she desires travel and adventure. However, her parents have other ideas. So, she is pledged to a widower.

In order to escape her destiny, Addie makes a deal with a very handsome devil she calls Luc. Life is tough at first. But after the first hundred years or so, Addie makes a go of the circumstances.

Dark Blue book cover of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

Addie’s Invisible Life

As part of the deal, Addie becomes invisible in a way. She no longer has the ability to make a mark on the world. This invisible life is almost her undoing. Over time, she pushes limits by influencing various artists. Thus a whisper of who Addie is, lives through art.

Centuries pass. Addie leaps from the old world to the new continent. Time ticks on. And then she meets Henry.

I Remember You

Henry sees Addie in the present as others do. But he also remembers her from one encounter to the next. This impossibility occurs for one reason only. Henry has also bargained with the evil of the night. However, his deal is vastly different.

Naturally, Addie and Henry fall in love.

Their love story is what kept me reading The Invisible Life of Addie Larue. One cannot help but hope for a happy ending for these star crossed servants of the dark. But true love involves sacrifice.

Recommendation for The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

To be honest, I struggled to connect with this book at first. If I did not need a very long book to occupy a five hour wait, I might not have finished it. But, in the end I found it enjoyable. The reader will need a suspension of disbelief.

Furthermore, I believe The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is not appropriate below a high school senior level. In fact, college lit classes would be a better fit. Older generations may be put off as well. As for my millennial friends- I think you will adore the Invisible Life of Addie Larue.

The Survivors Book Review

Another Winner

Jane Harper has another winner in The Survivors. Harper is one of my favorite authors. Her characters are compelling and the plots twist and turn. Furthermore, the books go beyond just a mere mystery. They offer a plethora of literary meaning and insight into the human condition. The Survivors is a great stand-alone novel.

The Symbolism of The Survivors

An artwork entitled The Survivors is a local landmark. The iron sculpture dominates a series of cliffs and caves above an ancient sea wreck. The spot also marks a more recent tragedy. A major storm a dozen years back took the lives of two young men and forever changed the life of the sole survivor.

More mystery surrounds that fateful storm as a young teenager disappears, never to be found. This is the backdrop for The Survivor. The story takes place in a small beach town on the island of Tasmania. Like many small towns, the community of Evelyn Bay is tight-knit on the surface with jagged scars beneath.

The Protagonist

The novel centers on Kieran Elliott. As the sole survivor of the storm, he battles survivor guilt as he makes a new life with his partner Mia and their newborn. Both grew up in Evelyn’s Bay. But a four year age difference kept them apart before adulthood.

A return to their home town highlights the various coping mechanisms of survivors. Further, it shows the devastation parents face after the loss of a child. Finally, the importance of living life and finding love is featured.

Harper’s use of flashbacks provide an understanding of the trauma and tragedy. Short passages provide great insight into the difficult task of living with survivor’s guilt without distracting from the story. Indeed, these flashes of memory fully flesh out the protagonist.

Additionally, the young man and his partner must deal with the great changes in Elliott’s parents. Verity and Brian Elliott still reel from the loss of their older son in that terrible storm. But in different ways. Verity is ultra-controlled. Brian has early onset dementia.

Storyline of The Survivors

Harper deftly weaves the theme of survivor’s guilt and the loss of an offspring around a new mystery-one of murder. A young waitress from off island turns up dead. The investigation turns up new information on the earlier tragedy. And the small community begins to rip apart. Neighbor turns against neighbor. Women are afraid to walk alone.

Kieran Elliott and his young family are the most affected by the discoveries. Misplaced and misdirected guilt test the young man. Yet he manages to piece together the evidence of what really happened long ago as well as the current murder.

Recommendation

I highly recommend The Survivors. The pace of the novel is quite a bit faster than the two earlier Harper penned books I reviewed, The Dry and Force of Nature. And I have yet to read The Lost Man. Plus, in my opinion, The Survivors focuses more on the growth (or lack thereof ) of the characters. And also the ability to survive. The murder is secondary.

Perhaps it is the inclusion of the infant. Little Audrey has her own personality at just three months. Even though the book ends on yet another death, the final feelings of this reader were of love and hope. Put The Survivors on your reading list!

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World Book Review

Ten Intriguing Lessons

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria is another library find for me. Obviously, the book is recently written. Much like The New Great Depression, the push to publish detracts from the author’s insights. Both writers and publishing houses are guilty. The Covid 19 pandemic is worthy of study. In depth study. Unfortunately, the publishing houses of the world fear a loss of interest in this topic. I believe they are wrong.

Well Organized Book

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World is well organized in its presentation. First, the ten chapters are bookended by an introduction and a summation. The lessons range from What Matters is Not the Quantity of Government but the Quality, to Life is Digital. Zakaria is left of center, but not an extremist. He presents his ideas in a logical manner. The writing is concise. And insightful.

Naturally, my favorite chapters  revolve around my topics of interest. And in some cases agreement. For example, Lesson Four- People Should Listen to the Experts—and Experts Should Listen to the People covers a topic I harp on frequently. My noggin nodded up and down while reading this portion. A key take; mutual respect seems to be missing in many parts of the world.

Agree To Disagree

However, I could not  agree with many parts of the book. Personally, I believe the differences stem from locale. New York City is central to the author. But, I live in a very rural part of the country. Remote too. Since moving here three decades ago, I gained new insight. Rural life is a vast change from living in major cities. So, I now have a rural perspective. Yet, I still recall life in a big city.

One of the key ideas put forth by Zakaria revolves around urbanization. He sees a push globally for continued urbanization. Yet, he also sees a natural limit to population living in the cities. That natural limit is close to 90%. Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World supports a city-centered world. Thus, he posits the pandemic inspired “work from home” will be short-lived. I disagree.

Zakaria cites Aristotle often in Lesson Six, including the great philosopher in the title, Aristotle Was Right –We Are Social Animals. Yet, I believe the workplace will see some of the greatest changes post-pandemic. Again, my perspective is different. Young people are returning to the small towns dotting the High Plains in numbers not seen in over a generation. Covid-19 has accelerated this.  I hope Zakaria can agree to disagree.

Furthermore, education will be changed. Remote learning will replace snow days. Online and hybrid teaching will gain traction. These and other alternative instruction models will keep any future educational shutdowns at bay. Thus, the pandemic work-arounds will remain an option.

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World

I found the book interesting. There are a few shortcomings. For example, the lack of widespread Covid-19 outbreak among the American homeless population was not addressed. Perhaps not enough space, or perhaps because this oddity is counter to one of the theories.

Another concern arises from the treatment of China and the U.S.A. in the lesson, The World is Becoming Bipolar. Perhaps it is misplaced patriotism on my part, but I felt this chapter was unequal. Furthermore, the premise leaves out both the EU and Russia. Economically neither may be on par with China and America, but both greatly impact the world. As do many other nations.

The publication of the book prior to the end of the pandemic impacts the analysis. For example, the vaccine rollout turns the analysis upside down. Countries lauded for their early action are lagging in vaccinating their populace. Other nations, stumbling at first, are now leading in the eradication of the virus. Thus, another reason for writers and publishers to either update publications, or better yet not rush to publish.

Recommendations

Fareed Zakaria is an accomplished writer. Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World is well written and documented. I liked both the literary and historical references throughout. Readers interested in current topics will appreciate the book.

Politically, the writing is left of center. Those on the far right may not appreciate some of the writing. Neither will readers identifying with the far left. For the rest of us, there is merit to be found. I hope there are many of “the rest of us.” A divisiveness in culture is blamed for many of the pandemic failures. I concur.

Anyone tuning into major networks will recognize Zakaria.  His ideas are interesting. Even though studying in New Haven had an opposite impact (I became more conservative, Zakaria more liberal) I encourage the reading of his work. Regardless of ones political leanings, there is much to ponder. This latest best seller is available on audio as well as in print.

The Authenticity Project Book Review

A Novel Idea

If you are looking for a unique story, The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley should be your next read. The novel has an ensemble cast. (Perfect for a movie!) The characters range from “almost” octogenarian Julian, the catalyst of The Authenticity Project to newborn Bunty. Yes, a newborn adds to the plot line. For the most part, the setting is suburban London. The author brings the neighborhood to life.

The Authenticity Project Book Cover

Simple Premise

The Authenticity Project begins with protagonist Monica, proprietor of Monica’s Café, finding a notebook left behind by one of her elderly customers. Julian Jessup, Wikipedia worthy artist, purposely leaves the journal. His entry challenges the finder to enter the truth and then pass along as he has done. Thus, starting a chain of truths.

As the journal travels from place to place, secrets are revealed and souls unburdened. Additionally, real life connections are formed among the participants. Then, these connections bring other characters into the fray. Each new character adds to the story. And each provides food for thought.

Through her characters, Pooley touches on quite a few societal controversies and phobias. She is not preachy. Instead, she tackles a variety of topics injecting fear of the unknown as well as acceptance of new ideas. Above all, there is a sense of humbleness.

Protagonist

Monica is responsible for holding things together. A take charge personality, she too, jumps to conclusions about others as well as about her own failings. She is such a real character, I wanted to travel to England just to visit her café. While all the characters show growth throughout the novel, Monica’s is most evident. As a reader, I was always pulling for her to have a happy ending.

The Authenticity Project Twists and Turns

The novel yielded a few plot twists and turns as the collective stories unwound. Thus the final outcome for each character yields a few surprises. The overall tone is uplifting, but like the rollercoaster of life, there were a variety of ups and downs. Not everyone ends happily ever after.

Clare Pooley is commended for writing such an authentic tale. I bought this copy and it is one that will find a permanent place in the home library. Buy or borrow a copy of The Authenticity Project. This refreshing novel is a must read.

The New Great Depression Book Review

The New Great Depression: Winners and Losers in a Post-Pandemic World by James Rickards beckoned from the new releases stand at the public library. This non-fiction work strives to evaluate the possible economic fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic. The book includes a recap of early 2020 events as well as the author’s thoughts of outcomes in 2021 and beyond.

Rickards uses the first two chapters as a summary of 2020 social events. Naturally the novel coronavirus features prominently. But he also discusses the important consequences of political responses to the pandemic.

First, is the outcome of lock down’s. Rickards evaluates both the economic and health responses to the strict governmental edicts in 2020. He also discusses the tentative connection between the virus, the lock down and the social unrest that roiled through the United States and spilled over to other parts of the world.

The New Great Depression

The author turns toward economic thoughts in Chapter Three. He posits that a new great depression will mark the February 24, 2020 market downturn as a pivotal date. However, he believes the economic weakness began in the latter part of 2019 and the pandemic accelerated the time table.

Unemployment due to lock down layoffs figure prominently in the discussion. The service industry accounted for many of the job losses. Unlike manufacturing, lost services are just that-lost. A missed haircut in June will not be recaptured work.

Rickards theorizes a second wave of unemployment among higher paid labor due to the output loss from the first wave. He further postulates that output and job recovery will be hindered by the June 4, 2020 Congressional Budget Office report of unemployment benefits greater than employee earned income. This disincentive to work, if lasting, is of great concern. Rickards expounds on this point.

Modern Monetary Theory

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) features heavily in the author’s warning of possible deflation and a potential for a new great depression. Much of this economic discussion is compelling. MMT and the overwhelming National Debt are the backbone of the author’s theory of deflation. His analysis is a bit depressing. As it should be, if his analysis is correct.

The three arguments for deflation hinge on a greater savings rate, a decrease in spending and a tightening in money velocity. All three are occurring now. But will that change once the pandemic recedes? Rickards says no. I am not so sure, although I concur with his thoughts on the dangers of MMT and the horrific level of debt.

Investment Possibilities

Even though much of The New Great Depression is sobering, the author outlines steps for individual investors to prosper. His proposal relies heavily on Bayes’ theorem, an applied math formula which many may not be familiar with.

Rickards also discusses diversity in investment. He does not consider a wide array of stock companies as diversity. I found his break down of investment disbursement quite interesting. And contrary to current thought.

While I am a bit more optimistic about a return to consumer spending and firmly believe in pent-up demand, I am not totally opposed to Rickards thinking. As readers know from my Inflation Check Challenge, I tend to think inflation is in store. But, The New Great Depression definitely provides a legitimate counter point. I believe all those in the audience with interest in the economy will greatly benefit from reading this author’s point of view. Much food for thought!

Instant Karma Book Review

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer is an excellent Young Adult (YA) novel. The author weaves a teenage love/hate relationship with environmental social awareness, old fashioned right vs. wrong and a drop of karma mysticism. Growth of character is also a strong part of the narrative.

Instant Karma for the Protagonist

Protagonist Prudence Barnett is finishing up her sophomore year of high school. Her Type-A personality clashing with lab partner Quint Erickson. Quint is a laid back, always late even for the final presentation, popular personality without a care in the world. Or so Prudence thinks.

They earn a C for their collaborative work. But even worse, Quint outscores Prudence individually. A rough start to the summer. Things get complicated from there.

Meyer does an excellent job creating the characters. Over-achieving Prudence is so sure she is right-all the time. A bump to the head gives her super karma powers. Instant Karma both good and bad befalls others. But she really doesn’t have total control. Her maturity needs improvement as well. Instant Karma helps Prudence grow.

Social Issues at Play

A key part of the novel focuses on the marine animal shelter run by Quint’s mother Rosa. The center relies heavily on volunteers. Quint is naturally a volunteer. Prudence becomes one as well. However, her initial motive is self-serving. She hopes to improve her lab grade.

Meyer uses the shelter as a vehicle to discuss the harm of ocean pollution. The rescued animals have been harmed in many ways, including plastic. The author deftly weaves the needed social awareness into the story. Thus, the focus on environmental harm to the ocean is an integral part of the story, not just a contrived add- on.

Relationships and Growth

The love-hate relationship between Prudence and Quint is the basis of Instant Karma. Both characters show considerable growth in the story. Each wrongs the other. In the end all is well.

Secondary characters are also important to the interaction. Both teenage and adult characters are highlighted. There is a nice flow between the two groups. One would hope the give and take between the generations exists in reality as well as fiction.

I highly recommend Instant Karma. This is YA fiction entertainment at its best. The subject matter of karma may call for a bit of suspension of disbelief. But the characters and story line feel all too real. While YA literature can be dark and gloomy, Instant Karma messages with uplifting pleasure.

Spin Book Review

Spin, the follow up to Quantum, continues the action from the latter as if an old time serial. Patricia Cornwell’s Captain Chase series picks up the pace of technology. And the protagonist, Calli Chase develops a second skin. But once again, the acronyms are distracting.

Contemporary Science Fiction

Cornwell thoroughly researched the latest robotics and space technology before beginning the series. Thus much of the technology discussed carries a paradox of both realism and an “out of this world” vibe. Cloaking devices, fabric made with electrical “thread”-I have actually witnessed this technology with my own eyes-interactive AI and eye wear are novel but apparently no longer experimental. So, if you love reading about these advances, Spin is definitely for you.

A key component of the novel is the use of interactive AI (artificial intelligence.) ART is one with Captain Chase. The repercussions are scary and not far off. Cornwell is masterful at revealing the complex decisions we face with the continued development of this technology. Science fiction is now fact.

Spin Characters

However, I feel there is a danger of the novel, and indeed the series, focusing too much on the technologies and not enough on the characters. As a sequel, many of the same characters returned. There was an unevenness in the development of these roles. The greatest growth was naturally in the personality of the protagonist. But few of the other players evolved.

An exception is that of four star General Dick Melville. He plays a very large role in the story. Much like the military plays a large role in the development of new technology. The symbolism is not lost. I think Melville is a good guy, but often it is hard to tell. So true to life.

Of the new characters introduced, young Lex, a boy genius is most appealing. An orphaned teen on the threshold of choosing between right and wrong, good and evil. I hope we see more of this character in future books. The chemistry between Captain Calli Chase and Lex is believable. Furthermore, the technical abilities of the young versus the older generations’ grasp of today’s tech mirrors the real world. Small truths lend credibility to fictional story lines.

Recommendations

Spin is well written by a master storyteller. Yet the book may not be for everyone. Once again jargon is a predominant part of the problem. Individuals not fluent in NASA speak or tech terms may feel weighted down.

Another problem is the serial approach. Truly, this book series needs to be read in order. So, if you haven’t read Quantum yet, find a copy of that book first. (Click here for the review.) And be prepared for an ending that is the beginning of the next.

American Nations Book Review

American Nations: A History of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard is a thorough history of political and cultural divisions. Family members highly recommended the book. I concur. This account of the area from Northern Mexico to the North Pole is thought provoking, detailed and a bit unsettling. American Nations is well researched and annotated.

The information may provoke differing reactions. The described nations are easily identified, even today. So, readers from rival regions may not agree on the implications. Indeed, I believe readers will not agree. Thus, the book is ideal for book clubs and college classrooms.

Furthermore, Woodard offers great insight into recent events. The responses to the pandemic mirror the philosophies of the American Nations. Even more telling is the reaction to the 2020 Presidential Election.

Well worn cover of the book American Nations
The wear and tear of the cover is indicative of the many readers.

American Nations Part One

Four sections comprise the book. In Part One, Woodard concentrates on the historical details behind the settlement of North America. First, is the Spanish establishment of the nation “El Norte.” The founding of “New France” follows. Subsequent nations established during colonial times are “Tidewater” and “Yankeedom.”  Englishman settled both.

“New Netherland,” now the New York City area, formed shortly thereafter. The Dutch brought their own ideals to the new land. These beliefs created the diverse culture of  today’s inhabitants. But the unique culture clashed with the other nations throughout history.

Barbados citizens of English descendant shaped the “Deep South.” These men sought to copy the island’s slave based society. The last two nations to develop during this time period are labeled “Midlands” and “Greater Appalachia.” The inhabitants of the latter are referred to as Borderlanders. Both groups retain initial traits.

The author distinguishes between the nations. The explorers  and settlers of North America pursued different goals. Each region developed independently. Thus, divergent entities arose. Those distinctions remain today. Woodard is excellent in his presentation of conflicting ideals. And he provides implications for current events.

American Nations Part Two

Woodard uses the second part to explain alternating alignments of the various nations. The various wars from 1770 to 1815 reflected divergent goals. Sides changed often. So, the unification against the British:

….was a profoundly conservative action fought by a loose military alliance of nations, each of which was most concerned with preserving or reasserting control of its respective culture, character, and power structure. (p. 115)

As the shortest of the sections, Part Two offers much insight into the differences between the many regional divisions. Indeed, this portion reminds one of the difficulties in founding the United States of America. Furthermore, in light of the history presented, the continued struggles among the founding nations are not surprising. The greatest divisions align along political and religious beliefs. Moral compasses differ creating a divided people.

Part Three: Wars for The West

The third section of American Nations demonstrates the bellicosity of the various nations. Competing interests sought to populate the vast regions of North America. Tensions were high even before the outbreak of the Civil War. Yankeedom and its’ coalition tried to impose their beliefs on newcomers. Meanwhile, the Deep South and its’ allies desired control over large swaths of unsettled territory. Both nations tried to influence El Norte and The West. Both feared a dilution of power.

Woodard clearly indicates disdain for the ideals of the Deep South. It is clear he has no sympathy for the slave owners.  The faults of the other nations are also discussed. This section is well documented with sources and paints an accurate picture of divisiveness.

Part Four: Culture Wars

The last section of the book spans over a hundred years. Woodard does an outstanding job of explaining how and why the original nations evolved. Furthermore, he outlines the switch in the make-up of the two major political parties. In his discussion of Blue, Red and Purple Nations, Woodard explains how the party of Lincoln is now central to the Deep South. Once again, the information is well researched. And well presented.

Part Four also describes the start of the guest worker program. One of the many military involvements overseas left El Norte with a labor shortage. Implications of this program remain. Indeed, the resurgence of El Norte influenced the most recent elections.

Additionally, the author offers insight into the love/hate relationship between the Far West and the federal government. Internal conflicts are a reflection of independent-minded people dependent on governmental spending. Geography plays an important part.

The current status of New France is discussed as well. Woodard points out the divisions found within Canada. Then, he differentiates between the two countries. He posits the original nations reached a compromise in Canada. Further, Woodard puts forth a similar status is unlikely to occur within the U.S.A.

Finally, he introduces the “First Nation.” The author highlights the communal nature of the original inhabitants. He credits their diversity in leadership. Finally he issues kudos on their environmental stand.

Conclusions Drawn

2011 marked the publication of American Nations. Time marches on. The insight into the presidents of the 20th and 21st centuries is excellent. As is the analysis of the “Nations” influences today. But, the Obama era is the last discussed. Conflict among the nations is accelerating. North America is changing.

In his Epilogue, Woodard is eerily prescient:

Another outside possibility is that, faced with a major crisis, the federation’s leaders will betray their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the primary adhesive holding the union together. In the midst of, say, a deadly pandemic outbreak or the destruction of several cities by terrorists, a fearful public might condone the suspension of civil rights, the dissolution of Congress, or the incarceration of Supreme Court justices. (p. 317)

Woodard posits the break up of the federation of “Nations.” And possible realignments. He sees a changed future for North America.

I might have dismissed the author’s ideas as farfetched before 2020. However, after witnessing the disparate approach to the Covid-19 pandemic followed by the events of January 6, 2021, Woodard’s assessments are more realistic. But not palatable. Nor wanted. Indeed, his analysis causes concern.

I highly recommend American Nations. The book is not an easy read. But, the information is well researched. History fans will appreciate this book. So, too will those seeking a better understanding of the conflicts within North America’s shores. Lastly, the events of January 2021 demand a reading. Buy a copy today. Then consider reading Colin Woodard’s most recent book. Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood is now available.

December 2020 Wrap-Up

Today is the last of December 2020 and the end of a very long year. 2020 was unique and not necessarily in a good way. Yet the year will be long remembered, and that is historically positive. Therefore, this wrap-up will extend beyond a monthly account and provide glimpses of what the entire year felt like here on the High Plains.

Change can be difficult. Self-discipline even more difficult and 2020 required both. Our household is inching closer and closer to the Over-The-Hill category. One of us has multiple “co-morbidities” and we both have thyroid issues. A year ago I would have said we both had another fifteen to twenty years on our lifespan. Now, who knows? So we are and will continue to be cautious with respect to Covid-19.

December 2020

Our month started out with the dreaded news that multiple family members had contracted the virus. Not all at the same time. The earliest was an octogenarian uncle who contracted the disease just prior to Thanksgiving. He died in early December. He had many co-morbidities. So his death was not unexpected. We were able to watch the graveside service via a livestream video. It was hard not being there in person.

Norman was a special man. A farmer by trade, he could have easily been a minister. His Thanksgiving 2001 grace still registers with my offspring. The prayer was both spiritual and patriotic. Perfect for those trying times. I will never forget the support he gave me in the early 90s after one of our little ones was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. The sporadic phone calls always seemed to occur when I most needed them. Rest in peace Uncle Norman.

A Low Key Christmas

A few days later, my spouse brought home a Norfolk Pine from the grocery store and we decided to use it as a Christmas tree. The live plant stands about three feet high and we placed lights upon the branches and packages underneath. Low key, yet the cheery tree greeted us each time we opened the front door.

Lights were hung on the front porch and the Christmas dishes were used throughout the month. Determined to keep with the spirit of the season, I made multiple batches of cookies to distribute to neighbors and family. We enjoyed our fair share as well.

I brined a turkey for the first time, and I will never roast one again without brining first. First of all, I really did not know what I was doing. However, I tossed some fresh garden herbs into the boiling salted water along with turmeric. The result was fantastic. I added little in the way of spices for the leftover dish Turkey Tetrazzini, yet it was one of the most flavorful dishes I have ever made. Brining the turkey is a new requirement in this household.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Chocolate Cship
Chocolate chocolate chip cookies
Pecan Pie Bars
Chocolate Fudge shortcake Pan cookies
Tumeric flavored brine

Celestial Delights for December 2020

Perhaps due to the brilliant clear skies we have in this part of the world, we are avid stargazers. December 2020 brought us several opportunities to embrace the cold nights by gazing at the above sky. The Geminid meteor shower is one of my favorites. One evening we spotted ten meteors in about thirty minutes.

But the highlight of the month was the appearance of the “Christmas Star.” The great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is one I will remember. I place it with the Total Eclipse of 2017 as a treasured event. Truly, some things only occur once in a lifetime.

Other December 2020 Highlights

I continue to post my top list of books for the year. Click here for the 2020 list. My reading has fallen off a bit the last few weeks, but I am currently reading a Christmas gift, American Nations by Colin Woodard. Look for the review in January of 2021.

I also began another garden experiment. The remainder of my sweet potato crop was too small to cook. The root vegetables were less than an inch across and only numbered three. So two were tossed in the compost and the third was placed in a glass jar to hopefully spout. All through December 2020 I changed the water and watched roots slowly form. I was delighted to find sprouting stems and leaves on the 29th. I hope to grow slips from this plant as ordered slips often arrive in poor condition and weeks after the earliest planting time.

My quilting by hand continues. Christmas movies are great to have on while the tiny stitches are made. Many a cold December afternoon was spent in this way. However, I will need to begin cutting and piecing another baby quilt in January. My second grandchild is due late February.

Sweet Potato start in glass jar just beginning to sprout
Two quilts in hops for hand quilting

The Year of the Pandemic

It will be interesting to see how 2020 is treated by historians. While some countries have kept the numbers low, others have not. We are still in the middle of the pandemic and many countries are seen as having failed. My country is included among the failures. However as I wrote in my Successes and Failures post last January, we just need to keep trying. The Spanish Flu (which you can read a review of a good account by clicking here) came to an end and so will Covid-19.

My 2020 resolutions flew out the door rather quickly. In fact I had to look them up for this account. However, I was quite pleased that I managed to keep the third without trying. If there was ever a year for negativity, 2020 comes to mind. For the most part I stayed positive. A pandemic is something beyond my control. No need to be glum when something is out of your hands.

Gardening in 2020

Two items shine when I reflect on 2020. The first is my garden. I continue to advocate for the Raised Row technique first discussed in this March 2018 book review. The yields are great and the weeds are sparse. We are still enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor each time we open a jar of home produce.

Furthermore, I really enjoy the multiple experiments. I wrote numerous times about last spring’s peanut experiment which yielded a fair amount. I will use some of this year’s harvest to start next year’s plants. The legumes are great for the soil in addition to our eating enjoyment. As mentioned above, I am excited about my new sweet potato experiment. 2021 looks to be another good year in the garden.

Econogal 2020

Perhaps my greatest success has been my writing. Econogal readership is expanding, although not exponentially as viruses do. My favorite posts include Striking a Balance in May, Vail Valley Escape in July, Patience with a Side of Self-Discipline in November, Rainy Day Fund and Brave New World.

November was a key month with the number of hits on the blog almost tripling that of October. Perhaps people were just bored or stuck at home. However, I do appreciate the comments and the new followers. The community of bloggers is a solid one of support.

Superstitions

For the most part I am not a superstitious person. A key exception revolves around sports. Horse racing in particular evokes various superstitions. But I am a bit superstitious this New Year’s Eve. Last year I was full of expectations of 2020. This year I have absolutely NONE regarding 2021.

Furthermore, as you can see in the picture below, my planner for 2021 is not the artsy one of 2020 (that I had been so thrilled to find and purchase) but one much closer to the earlier years. I use planners extensively to keep track of my writing, the garden activities, and the weather. We have so little moisture on the High Plains, rain and snow measurements are key. Hopefully, a return to a plain, unexceptional planner will yield a less intense 2021. Happy New Year Everyone!

Planning calendars

Christmas Shopaholic Book Review

Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella is a must buy to put under the tree or into a stocking. The spirit of Christmas peels from the pages along with much mirth and holiday joy. I did not realize this novel was the eighth in a series. It reads as a standalone, but I plan to find the earlier editions once the New Year arrives.

Becky Bloomwood Brandon – Christmas Shopaholic

The protagonist, Becky Bloomwood Brandon is in search of the perfect gift for her husband. And for everyone else on her list. She goes to great lengths and is thwarted in so many ways. She is a true shopaholic-spending so much in the quest for the great “sales.”

Her devotion to family and friends is evident throughout the book. So is her empathy for others. But she does have one key fault. Her penchant for assumptions.

Lighthearted Read

Christmas Shopaholic is a lighthearted read. The humor is outstanding and the characters are fun. And there is a little more. Kinsella sprinkles the true meaning of Christmas throughout the book. The underlying message is as rewarding as the therapeutic laughter derived from the madcap actions of the lead character.

Books serve many purposes. Christmas Shopaholic provides a wonderful escape from holiday stresses. Perhaps by showing what not to do. The novel, released just over a year ago, is a perfect relief for those experiencing the dual stressors of pandemic and holiday.

I read Christmas Shopaholic on the Libby App, but I may buy a copy for myself. Much like a desire to watch White Christmas and Die Harder each holiday season, I know I will want to re-read Christmas Shopaholic this time next year.

Christmas Shopaholic

To be honest, I almost didn’t finish the book. I started reading last week and then our family faced loss from Covid-19. But, I am so glad I picked back up where I left off. Life continues with laughter leading the way. Thank you Sophie Kinsella for a wonderful, wonderful reminder of the power of the Christmas season.

Econogal’s Top Twenty Books in 2020

Even though I am doubling my list and issuing the Top Twenty Books in 2020, I am still leaving some great reads on the shelf. This really isn’t surprising given the events of 2020. Pandemics by nature require solitude. Reading fills the time.

Favorite Writers

If I made a list of favorite authors, many more than twenty names would appear. Such is a life of an introverted avid reader. Several of the Top Twenty Books in 2020 are penned from old favorites. New series debuts and stand-alone books from familiar names such as Patricia Cornwell, Nevada Barr, and William R. Forstchen are on the list. Sequels from Jane Harper and Nora Roberts are also noted.

Familiar Names

Many of the books I read this year were either checked out online through the library app, Libby, or purchased on Kindle. In the case of Libby, long holds indicated top sellers. Several of these check-outs made the Top Twenty Books in 2020. New to me writers including Susan Mallery, Laura Silverman and Lorena Mc Courtney (and her Ivy Malone series) became mainstays. Escapism through books certainly was a theme for my personal sojourn through 2020.

However, quite a few books on the list are from established writers I had not read. Peter Heller, Kim Michele Richardson and Brenda Janowitz fall into this category. Discovering new to me writers became commonplace this year.

One Debut Author

Perhaps the inability to wander through bookstores or peruse the new arrivals table at the library can be blamed for the lack of new writers on the Top Twenty Books in 2020. The solo exception is Diana Giovinazzo. Her debut, The Woman in Red, is a fascinating story of Anita Garibaldi. I am still unsure of what moved me most, the descriptive settings of South America and Italy or the history of the woman behind the man. Giovinazzo is an inspiration. Her transition from podcast co-host of Wine, Women, and Words to published author gives hope to all unpublished scribes.

Favorites

Below are my favorite books from 2020. This list does not include any non-fiction. So, I failed in my goal of reading more from this category. However, Gina Kolata’s history of the 1918 Flu pandemic, published in 2011 is well worth a read. Unless you are tired of pandemics.

Clicking on each of the titles below will connect you to a book review from this past year. Most of the titles are releases from 2019 and 2020. Various genres are represented. I am sure you can find a great gift to put under the Christmas tree from Econogal’s Top Twenty Books in 2020.

Top Twenty Books in 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Woman in Red by Diana Giovinazzo

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr

Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde

48 Hours by William R. Forstchen

The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz

The River by Peter Heller

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Girl He Left Behind by Beatrice MacNeil

The Lost Girls of Paris– Pam Jenoff

The Rise of Magicks by Nora Roberts

Quantum by Patricia Cornwell

The Third to Die by Allison Brennan

Contagion by Robin Cook

Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

One Last Lie by Paul Doiron

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Invisible by Lorena McCourtney

Post-pandemic Travel

On this snowy December day, news of the United Kingdom giving the ok to distribute the first Covid-19 vaccine allows me to dream of post-pandemic travel. I am by nature a traveler. This year I have only stepped foot in four different states, two of which are within an hour of the one I live in. A far cry from 2017 when I traveled to twenty states. Since I do not fall into one of the early vaccination groups and because I may want to wait for one of the traditional vaccines, I doubt I will resume my travel habits until late in 2021. But I can dream. And compile a list of spots to visit.

Old Favorites

During this year of staying home, reminiscing about former trips has been a pleasant past-time. Many a summer and fall evening was spent talking on the back porch about favorite haunts. Concern was expressed as well, knowing how hard the lack of travelers would impact the destinations.

Santa Fe

We had hoped to visit Santa Fe in early October. The state opened travel just after Labor Day. But by the time our schedules opened up, New Mexico was closing down again. I know of at least one restaurant shutting down. Fortunately, one of my favorite art galleries on Canyon Road, the Wiford Gallery, has taken a pro-active approach. They have emailed and snail mailed updates on their artists and offered discounts on shipping. Additionally, I have received communications from Gruet Winery. I hope the many places highlighted in Wintertime Santa Fe will weather the storm. Santa Fe may very well be my first post-pandemic travel destination.

Nola

The best part of travel is trying the local cuisine. New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the top spots for Cajun cooking. One can order fried rabbit and fried gator. A tasty dish of shrimp and grits or a spicy shrimp poor boy are on many menus. Tasty beignets can follow a morning run along the Mississippi River. Trips to the Big Easy occur every few years. My last trip, which you can read about here, took place in March of 2018. So it is almost time to return.

Beaded Mardi Gras Mask
Mardi Gras Decorations
Paddle boat
View of Natchez from paddle side.

San Diego

San Diego is another favorite spot. If all goes well, I could see a possible return in November of 2021. Like New Orleans, San Diego has a wonderful place to run along the harbor. But the wide sidewalk gets crowded with tourists so it’s best to run early in the morning. Another great thing about San Diego is how bike friendly the town is. But don’t let this coastal town fool you. A ride to the top of Point Loma contains quite a bit of elevation.

Food again plays a large part of San Diego’s appeal. Both fresh seafood and spicy Mexican dishes are found in abundance. One of my favorite memories is of a catered event at the ball park. Great food and great views. During lulls in the ball park a simple glance to the west brought the harbor into view. A nice evening to cap off a conference.

New Destinations for Post-pandemic Travel

Of course my self-imposed stay close to home lockdown has generated a long list of new places to visit. This year’s reading has produced a diverse group of destinations. Domestic and international locales are on the list. I recently discovered a great website, Visit the USA.com which offers planned stops along multi-length trips. Since I like spontaneity, I tend to use travel articles, books and sites as starting points. Flexibility allows time to further explore and discover.

Book Inspired Travel

Last week’s review of One Last Lie, returned to mind a desire to visit upper Maine. Houlton, Maine looks like the perfect place to serve as a base for exploration. This international border town actually is West of New Brunswick, Canada. I so enjoyed my fall trip to Quebec in 2018, that I think a return to a nearby part of the world is likely.

Many of the books read during this pandemic were set in the Pacific Northwest. Although I vacationed in Oregon back in 2004, with a quick detour to climb Mt. Saint Helen’s, I have never been to Seattle nor to the Puget Sound. So this area is on my post-pandemic travel list.

Diana Giovinazzo, author of The Woman in Red, paints such wonderful descriptions of both South America and Italy, one wants to explore both regions. I have not experienced much intercontinental travel but maybe the opportunity exists in post-pandemic travel.

Most Likely Travel

The future is impossible to predict. But I hazard to guess that my first travel will be to see family in Central Florida. It has been over a year since I have seen two of my family members residing in the land of Mickey Mouse.

However, once that trip is made, I fear my pent up demand for travel will be further restricted by work constraints. The days of carefree travel are many years in the future for my travelling companion. So my list will grow longer.

What destinations are on your post-pandemic travel list?

One Last Lie Book Review

To be honest, the cover artwork for One Last Lie grabbed my attention the last time I was in a bricks and mortar bookstore. Stars are twinkling above a canoeist as the last filtered light from the setting sun gives off just a bit of light on the water. The font for the author’s name, Paul Doiron, was smaller than that of the title-but not by much. I had heard of neither the book nor the author. But at the very bottom were titles of two previous books and one sounded familiar, so I added the book to my pile. I am so glad I did.

Setting for One Last Lie

The opening pages of One Last Lie depicts the protagonist performing an in-person background check on an applicant for the Maine Warden Service. The investigation takes place in South Florida. The description of the climate, topography and current wildlife concerns were on target. Furthermore, the narrative captures ones interest quickly.

Then, Doiron makes a swift and successful transition from the swamps of Florida to the backwoods of Maine where the remainder of the story takes place. This reader is not as familiar with Maine but trusts the author does not repeat the one (possible) small background error made with respect to Florida. An error only SEC fans or little ones living in Gainesville learning Gator chants on bus rides to school may pick up on. Unless Vaneese’s question re: Gainesville was a non-sequitur, in which case I erred.

Mike Bowditch

The protagonist in One Last Lie is Mike Bowditch. An entire series has been built around this character and with reason. He is one of the good guys. But someone you would not want to cross. Determination exudes from this complex human.

Much credit is given to Doiron for creating such a compelling leading character. Furthermore, the secondary characters add more interest without stereotyping. Native Americans are integral in both the Florida and Maine settings. Competing love interests are also part of the narrative. So, while One Last Lie is great as a stand-alone novel, I hope my local library possesses the earlier books in the series.

Paul Doiron

Readers can develop an affinity for a particular writer. Examples are Janet Evanovich, James Peterson, or for horror fans Stephen King. Once a reader latches on to a writing style and/or a particular fictional character demand is created for more. I think Paul Doiron falls into this category.

The descriptive settings transport the reader to the locale. One easily forms a connection with lead character Bowditch. The action is exciting with limited gore. Perfect for readers who differentiate between mystery and mayhem.

I doubt my path has ever crossed with Doiron’s although the possibility exists. Yet I feel such a strong connection. Successful writer’s truly have this relationship with their readers. I envy the gift. One Last Lie is a 2020 release. It makes my list of books to give this Christmas.