Category: In The Library

In Defense of the Reader

Recently, a finance guy I follow on Twitter was very derisive of a claim that someone had read 300 books in one year. I was so disgusted by his sarcasm I almost un-followed him. But I didn’t. I find much that he writes thought provoking. And I don’t know the context or reason for his mockery. However, the whole Twitter feed prompted this post in defense of the reader who was mocked.

Books Read in 2019

Last year I read between 50 and 100 books. I try to review a book a week, but that did not always happen due to various circumstances. Additionally, I do not review each book read. From time to time I even don’t finish a book, but that is a rarity. But as a blogger that tries to review a book a week. I read a lot.

So would someone working in the publishing field. Editors, agents and literary scouts most likely read far more than I do. But, readers are not limited to just one field.

Learners

Books can be divided into many categories. Two of the broadest are fiction and non-fiction. Students read many, many non-fiction publications through the course of their lives. I remember the copious amount required for my master’s degree. One would think I would need a reading break during the Christmas break.

I did, from non-fiction. As soon as a semester was over I immersed myself in fiction. Often I would read two or more quick murder mysteries a day. Or binge on Janet Evanovich for much needed laughs. Diane Mott Davidson was a favorite too. I loved the characters and the recipes. In defense of the reader, I posit that all reading does not need to be non-fiction. Or thought provoking.

Maybe, just maybe, if the adults in my beloved country would occasionally read for fun we would not have the divisiveness that has begun to haunt the presidential election years. As well as the other years. Perhaps snarkiness (if covfefe can be a word why not snarkiness!) would abate.

Parents

I believe the most voracious readers of all are parents. My kids from oldest to youngest are eight years apart. I can remember going from one to another each night reading books as diverse as Dr. Seuss to Roald Dahl. Most nights involved over an hour of reading to them. Those of you who love economics as much as I do will understand I found the time spent reading to the kids far more valuable than an hour or so of television. In defense of the reader who claimed 300 books, I am sure some of those years I read thousands of books.

Perhaps the author of the original snarky comment’s intent was to stimulate responses. Many people use Twitter just to create controversy. I prefer to use that particular social media to stay abreast of news in the world. But I know many, such as the finance guru who spurred me to write this post seek attention through likes and comments.

In Defense of the Reader

From the amount of response generated, he achieved his goal. Aside from those who also doubted an individual’s ability to read almost a book a day and the supporters who brought up parental reading in defense of the reader were the following arguments:

  1. Books are expensive thus the original claimant was wasting money. My response: I know I spend more than the average person on books, but I also regularly visit the public library. Occasionally I visit the Little Free Library in my neighborhood. Libraries exist to reduce costs for the public.
  2. Many hours a day, up to eight would be required to read a book a day. My response: Reading speeds do vary, but for the most part I agree, reading takes time. However, there are others beside myself who choose reading over the television each evening. Time management is after all, basic economics.
  3. Not that many good books the world. My Response: To be honest this comment left me speechless.

Final Thoughts In Defense of the Reader

My final thoughts stemming from the Tweet are varied. How much of social media exists purely to divide the public? Does this happen in other countries? I ask this because much finger-pointing is going on in America regarding outside influences in our elections.

On a local level, the divisiveness does not seem threatening. My neighbors vary in political beliefs but all would pitch in together in face of adversity. We see this each time we experience a blizzard.

So why is this not the case on a National level? Perhaps those involved in the Twitter fest over whether someone can read 300 books a year should take a step back, and read. My recommendation would be any of the Helen MacInnes books. Click here for a review of one of my favorites.

If you are an active poster on any social media, I urge you to think before you post a response. The negativity I see is not healthy. Nor is sticking one’s head into the sand. I believe in the power of reading. Books expose the reader to all subjects. From philosophy to science fiction, autobiography to history, books contain knowledge. I posit more time spent in a book and less watching television or monitoring social media will go a long ways in allowing one to understand the complexities of our world.

Invitation Only Murder Book Review

Invitation Only Murder by Leslie Meier is a good addition to the Lucy Stone series. With the exception of a few scenes, most of the characters are new to the reader. As such, the book does not seem repetitive. Instead, the novel ranks among my favorites of the series.

Island Adventure

Most of the novel takes place on a privately owned island off the coast of Maine. “Fletcher’s Island” was purchased by super wealthy Scott Newman who restored multiple buildings on the island. His purpose was to create an off grid idyll in an effort to protect the environment.

The Newman family contains two sets of twins, Parker and Taylor, twenty-something sisters are involved in the family business. The younger set are Fred and Walter. Filling out this family dynamic is Lily, step-mother to the elder twins and mother of small boys.

Also on the island is the Hopkins family. Inhabitants of the island for generations, the Hopkins’ now work for the Newman family. This is the perfect set-up for conflict and tension. As well as finger pointing once a murder occurs.

Invitation Only

After viewing the restorations during an invitation only event, Lucy returns to the island to write about the successes of the Newman family. Unsurprisingly, Lucy finds a body along the coast and the plot thickens. Naturally, the heroine survives a number of unpleasant tasks. And unsuspected attacks. Before long she regrets her invitation only acceptance.

Leslie Meier

Meier does a good job of writing the story and keeping things fresh for her loyal readers. I first started reading this series decades ago when my children and Lucy’s were both young or twinkles in the eye. Now both of us have four adult children and the kinship remains.

Although a series can get quite formulaic, Invitation Only Murder broke slightly from the mold. Meier deftly incorporated contemporary issues into the story without making the text preachy. Instead, the topics seemed on point to me.

If you are looking for an easy entertaining read, look for the Lucy Stone book series at your library or favorite bookstore.

 

The Deception Book Review

Mixing romance, action, and social awareness is a difficult task. But Kat Martin attempts this cocktail with The Deception, her latest in the Maximum Security series. For the most part, the novel is a success.

Action-Packed Plot

The Deception begins at a Dallas honky-tonk where bounty hunter Hawk Maddox is meeting with a snitch. On his way out of the bar he is attracted by Kate Gallagher. She is dancing the night away while trying to drown out her sorrows. Kate comes to her senses before hooking up with Hawk.

Then fate intervenes. Kate is determined to find the person responsible for her younger sister’s death. Research leads her to Maximum Security. And back into the arms of Mr. Maddox. The bounty hunter is also a private investigator and goes by Jason in the office.

The two begin working together. Their investigation winds across Texas and the seedy sides of Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Martin is accurate with her geography, capturing the rougher areas of these large cities.

Social Awareness

The underlying story is one of human trafficking. In addition to Kate’s younger sister, the pair discover a number of victims killed in their attempts to escape the organization that has turned them into sex slaves.

One of the best parts of the novel occurs over half way through. A virginal thirteen year old is introduced to the readers. She is given her own point of view. As a reader, I became very involved. This plot development created urgency. Would the trafficking ring be exposed in time?

Problems with The Deception

For this reader, there were a few problems with the novel. The juxtaposition between the romance and the action was difficult for me. The Deception is not a sweet romance. So, I found it difficult to go from the consensual bedroom scenes to the action scenes of both brothel and street walkers.

Additionally, I found the chemistry not quite right. Also, I felt the author did not quite succeed in her character of Kate. No way would I hit the dance floor following a trip to the morgue. Furthermore, her friends were more like afterthoughts. Lastly, I found it hard to believe she had never met her stepmother nor her half-siblings.

This is the first Kat Martin Book I have read. The Deception held my interest long enough to finish. But I am glad it was a library check-out.

Quantum Book Review

Quantum by Patricia Cornwell is the first of a new series. The protagonist is Captain Calli Chase. Chase is both a scientist and a security officer for NASA and is based at Langley Research Center in Virginia. The novel involves murder and intrigue. But, the greatest take-away is the great advances in technology with application both on the ground and in space.

The plot revolves around the secret placement of a quantum node on the ISS. For those not used to the space jargon and seemingly endless acronyms used by NASA and other governmental agencies, ISS stands for International Space Station.

The opening pages are laced with acronyms and not all are easily identified. Thus, a start to a new series weighed down with both backstory and jargon. For me, this approach made enjoying the novel difficult at first. However, by page 50 mystery and murder appear and I am hooked.

Close- knit Characters

Cornwell has created a cast of characters that is tightly woven. For example, the earliest scene involves Chase and NASA police Major Fran Lacey. Later, it is revealed that Lacey and her son live adjacent to Chase and her parents thus creating quite a compound.

Furthermore, Chase has an identical twin Carme (pronounced Karma) who figures prominently in the story yet is more an apparition than a person. The backstory Cornwell weaves provides rationality for the diverse personalities of the twins. Additionally, Carme is a prime suspect in the murder and mayhem that occur. Of course this creates conflict and tension for the protagonist.

Quantum Leaps of Technology

A major plot point is the secret placement of a quantum node on the ISS. To be honest, I did not know if this was real technology. An Internet search concludes the technology exists. Click here to see if you can understand the theory.

The novel also addresses other cutting edge technology such as the exoskeleton suits used by the military. My first encounter with this product came in Break Point by Richard Clarke. Click here for a review of that fact laced novel.

It is obvious that Cornwell spent much time researching this field. She weaves details of the technology as well as the security protocols in place to guard advances and advantages of the U.S. governmental agencies. The book is fictional, but just how much truth supports the novel?

I recommend this book with the caveat that the jargon and initial pages are a bit tough to read. Those readers interested in the ongoing research into quantum physics will find an excellent tale weaving fact into fiction. Cornwell’s latest mystery is worthy of reading.

 

 

This Tender Land Book Review

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger is a brilliant tale worthy of reading. However, I am not sure how to categorize the novel.  Perhaps it belongs to the coming-of-age genre, or maybe included with the mystical. Nonetheless, this story of faith or lack thereof is a compelling one.

Krueger uses the Great Depression as the backdrop for This Tender Land. The story weaves through many complexities of life as it follows four young vagabonds down river. They struggle not only with life and death but also good and evil.

The Storyteller, The Genius, The Giant and The Princess

Odie is The Storyteller of the four. He describes himself as the imp, the one always dragging others into trouble. This reader found a tremendous depth of character in one so young. After a series of disastrous events, Odie sees God as a Tornado God- one that wreaks havoc everywhere. His older brother Albert, The Genius of the Vagabonds concurs.

The other two leading characters are Muse and Emmy; The Giant and the Princess. Muse is a compelling character. He is an orphaned Sioux Indian made mute when someone cut out his tongue after killing his mother. Krueger expounds on the unjustness encountered by the American Indian, deftly weaving the history of the Plains Indians into the story.

Emmy the Princess is just a little girl. But she is a mystic and so many events in the story as well as the Faith questions revolve around this young orphan cherished by the others as a sister.

This Tender Land

This Tender Land presents the harsh realities of the Great Depression. The reader visualizes the Hoovervilles, the Indian School, the Revival Tent, even the Brothel with clarity. Indeed this reality lends the depth desired for inclusion in an English Lit class.

Even though parts of the story may make one uncomfortable, the struggle with faith is an important one. This Tender Land in the end is more than just a story of four young vagabonds escaping an untenable life.  The tale is wrought with the meaning of life. One that Krueger points out is worth living regardless of the heartache along the way.

Jan Brett

Serendipitous Event

Illustrated Tiger  by Jan Brett on Book CoverRecently, I traveled a few hours to a city of 100,000. The purpose of the trip was last minute Christmas shopping. The first stop was a Barnes and Noble where I expected to spend at least an hour. I ended up staying all morning.

I noticed a big travelling bus as I parked. It was hard to miss, taking up a large spot just outside of the store. The sides of the vehicle were covered end to end and top to bottom with beautiful illustrations. Tigers were prominently featured.

The store had a normal crowd for a Thursday morning. Young mothers with toddlers and retirees made up the bulk of the customers. The only noticeable change from any other day was a doubling of the staff. However, it was anything but business as usual.

Since I was Christmas shopping (I love to give books) I wandered throughout the store. Eventually, I made it to the back where the children’s area is located. A large display featuring tigers was surrounded by an open area and then some chairs at the back. Just in front of the display was an easel and a blank pad of paper. A demonstration was clearly in the making.

Those of you very familiar with children’s books may recognize the presenter, Jan Brett. Her wonderful illustrations have captivated children for many years. But her appearance and actions at the book signing far exceeded my expectation.

Jan Brett

Shortly before the author took center stage, a school bus full of fifth graders arrived. They sat quietly in the open space that had been cleared for them. Most of them cross-legged but a few at the back up on their knees for a better view. Their good behavior was well-rewarded.

Jan Brett did not read the story. Instead she gave them a lesson in drawing. But first she introduced her husband and explained his job as a member of the Boston symphony. This too incorporated instruction.

Since she is promoting The Tale of the Tiger’s Slippers, she drew a tiger. Like many artists I have watched, she began with a rectangle and a sphere. But then she explained how an eraser is part of drawing.

Brett shared her travel experiences as she worked on her sketch. She talked about the importance of seeing the animals in nature. But all along she was giving tips on how to draw. She also gave encouragement.

An Inch an hour

Brett told the audience that it takes a lot of time to work on her illustrations. She took her time with the tiger she was drawing. Best of all, she shared some of the ways to let creativity take over. Time and practice were words she used over and over. She explained how it could take an hour to fully develop an inch of drawing.

She is an artist first. But she became a writer at the urging of editors. I found that part of her talk particularly inspiring. My understanding is that she is self-taught in art and bases many of her stories on ancient folk tales. But she likes to use animals for main characters instead of people.

People Person

Jan Brett is clearly a people person. She visited with each person-kid or adult- as she signed the books. I was next to last in line and asked if she signed board books. The answer was affirmative and she explained that most board books have a page for the child’s name.

I love the Jan Brett books in my home library. I am in awe of the person. Yes she was performing. But she was a genuine person, as was her husband. Both took their time to visit with a perfect stranger. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled across this appearance. It was an experience that I will relish for quite awhile.

 

 

Before We Were Yours Book Review

Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours has been on my To Be Read list for over a year. In fact, the book resided on a coffee table much of that time. Each time I passed by I thought, I really need to start that one next.

I finally did. I am sorry I waited so long. Before We Were Yours belongs on my top books of the year list I released last week.

Past and Present

Wingate uses the tough to write but a joy to read when done right technique of rotating between the past and the present. The current storyline revolves around Avery Stafford. She is a lawyer and dutiful daughter of South Carolina Senator Stafford who is battling cancer.

A further contemporary story line involves her paternal grandmother who has recently been placed in a senior care center due to her dementia. Both aspects of the present day story appealed to me. They hit close to home.

Avery runs into May Crandall, a ninety-year old at another facility for seniors and Wingate begins to dovetail the past history of Crandall into the present. Crandall’s past is not pretty as she was a victim of the scandalous Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Even though the story is fictional, the TCHS existed for several decades.

Lisa Wingate

The author is outstanding on multiple levels. The writing is crisp. Plot lines are so believable it is hard to remember this is fiction. Finally, the characters tug at your heart strings. For those prone to tears, you will shed some.

Before We Were Yours is another winner by Wingate. The novel is well-researched. But what most impressed me was the way this reader was invested in both story lines. The transition between Avery’s story and May’s flowed smoothly. Each time one chapter ended and the other began, I readily switched back to the other story line. There was not a favorite, one story did not outweigh the other-at least in my mind.

Before We Were Yours

The historical aspect of Before We Were Yours begets many questions. Did orphanages fall by the wayside because of this scandal? Is this how the Foster Care system began, a better alternative? Or just a different option, fraught with different problems? Furthermore, a Pandora’s Box of questions could apply to modern day solutions of unwanted childlessness.

Before We Were Yours deserves a place in any library, public or private. It is entertaining and informational. I highly recommend this book.

 

The Gifted School Book Review

Book cover of the Gifted SchoolThe Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger caught my eye. The inside jacket narrative piqued my interest. Finally, the author’s writing style kept me glued to the pages. I finished this 400 plus page book in one sitting.

Since the publishing date is 2019, there is a good chance the book was written prior to the college admission scandal that opened eyes in the United States to the fact admissions are anything but equal. While The Gifted School centers on admission into a public middle school, the same ploys to gain a spot for one’s offspring is evident in fiction as in reality.

Character Development

Holsinger does an excellent job of developing all the characters. The women are upper middle class and the plot really follows the entwined lives of their four families. A side development revolves around the family of a woman who cleans house for two of the families.

The four women have been close friends since a Mom and infant swim class. The children are about to enter middle school. A new public magnet school which will focus on gifted and talented children is about to open. Thus, the competition begins.

Elitism in America

In not so subtle ways, the author explores the concept of elitist education in America. While I did not see the big twist in the plot, I did accurately guess which of the children would gain admission to the school. Three of the seven won admission. In some ways I would have added a fourth. But realistically, having three make it in was against the odds.

Holsinger does use his characters to show how education can improve one’s status. He also paints an accurate picture (as illustrated by the college admissions scandal) of the lies and underhanded actions parents will go to in order to provide the edge often needed for success.

The Gifted School

In the case of the three students admitted to the school, all were well deserving. Of those not admitted, a case could be made for most of them as well. The testing and then portfolio process was not random in the book. However, in many Colorado Magnet and Charter schools the process is one of a lottery. But that would not make for an entertaining tale.

The key point of The Gifted School however is the many arguments that such a school triggers. I felt that the author shared the opposing viewpoints. Although as stated above, I felt I could read his bias.

The major twist in the story, I did not see coming. Brilliant plotting by the author results in an “aha” by the reader once a key relationship is revealed. But the other characters also reach a climax in their stories. With the exception of the character of one of the middle school kids, I felt very satisfied with the outcomes.

Furthermore, I feel the author has made key points about education and about friendships. Society in the United States is very competitive. Often, competition is a double-edged sword.

I highly recommend The Gifted School.

Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019

 

Compiling the list for Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019 is proving quite difficult. One reason is the number of books read. Over the past 12 months, a book read and reviewed each week was the goal. A few weeks I read more, but that was offset by a stray week here and there where nothing was reviewed. And one week where nothing was even read.

Furthermore, if I use the same format as Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2018 (Click here to read.) I need five fictional entries and five books in the non-fiction category. Herein lies the problem. I am short in the non-fiction category of books I care to recommend. But, the number of books for the fiction side is too numerous.

Statistical Favorites

Bloggers have many tools at their disposal to analyze the posts they publish. The backside of a website is quite complex, but also useful. Basic analytics include the number of times a post is accessed. The book with the greatest number of clicks is The Only Woman in the Room, a fictionalized account of the life of Hedy Lamarr. Heads You Win was a close second. I enjoyed both and both are on my list, but not at the top.

Debut Novels

I love discovering new authors. So each year I look for debut writings. Quite a few caught my attention in 2019. Allison Schrager’s An Economist Walks into a Brothel leads the way in the non-fiction category. The fictional counterpart listed in Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019 is Disappearing Earth which is the debut work of Julia Phillips.

Other outstanding new voices include Lydia Fitzpatrick with Lights All Night Long, and Maura Roosevelt’s Baby of the Family. Each provide food for thought while entertaining the reader. I highly recommend both.

Almost There

I have six titles that were in contention to make Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019. Each is worth the read. Look for them at your nearest library or book store. In no particular order: Last Woman Standing, Break Point, The Break Down, The Last Second, The Black Ascot and Only Killers and Thieves.

Since I am short on the non-fiction list, I offer one combined list. The designation follows the title. As with last year’s list, Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019 reviews can be accessed by clicking on the title.

 

Top Ten List

 

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips                                                       Fiction

Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick                                            Fiction

An Economist Walks Into a Brothel by Allison Schrager                    Non-Fiction

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center                                     Fiction

Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer                                                             Fiction

Baby of the Family by Maura Roosevelt                                                  Fiction

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman                                                  Fiction

Don’t Stop Believin’ by Jonathan Cain                                                     Non-Fiction

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict                                 Fiction

Firefighting: The Financial Crisis And Its Lessons by Bernanke, Geithner and Paulson, Jr.    Non-Fiction

The Personality Brokers Book Review

I struggled with The Personality Brokers:The Strange History of Myers-Briggs And The Birth of Personality Testing written by Merve Emre. Biographies were my bread and butter as a grade-school reader. I have read several this year, although some were a bit fictionalized. The Personality Brokers is my least favorite. But I did not expect it to be.

Subject Matter

Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs-Myers are the subjects of The Personality Brokers. After suffering multiple miscarriages, the elder Briggs compensated by focusing on her only surviving child, Isabel. Emre provides great detail in the early successes of Katherine Briggs both as a mother and as a published writer.

The dual biography is also adept at giving the reader a glimpse of how the Myers-Briggs personality test sprang to life. Katherine Briggs is portrayed as a determined woman with eccentricities. The odd behavior is reflected in her studies of children other than Isabel as well as her infatuation with Jung’s philosophy as well as with Carl Jung himself. It was not surprising to discover her diagnosis of dementia.

Isabel Briggs-Myers survives her mother’s child-rearing experiments. But she does not escape the author’s contempt. Merve Emre depicts Isabel as a Jill of all trades and master of none. I think this is a bit harsh. Briggs-Myers developed the personality assessment mid-20th Century. While women were beginning to work outside the home in part due to WWII, it was by no means common. Briggs-Myers worked tirelessly to promote the typing still in use today.

Merve Emre

The author was previously unknown to me so I did a bit of research. She is an alumnus of both Harvard and Yale and currently attached to Oxford University as an Associate Professor. So her credentials are weighty.

Her background is in English. This explains why I can find no fault in the writing itself. My criticism stems from my belief that biographies are historical in nature. As such, I am uncomfortable with an author freely interjecting personal bias. Throughout The Personality Brokers, Emre shows disdain.  For example, after quoting Briggs-Myers from a letter comparing a need for personality evaluations and careers to the fit of shoes, Emre writes:

Here was a fairy tale with a perfectly modern twist—the glass slipper screened, scrutinize, and labeled before it ever touched Cinderella’s foot, the employer restless to find the right match; the whole thing an example of the same romantic capitalist pursuit that Adorno had denounced. (p.135)

A further glimpse into the motivations of the author is found in the final chapter. During a course to become certified in “type” in hopes of gaining access to personal papers of the mother-daughter duo she writes:

Other times I played an extreme version of my ENTJ self: Brash, snobby, impatient, cocksure, a real bitch. I wanted to see who I could irritate and, more telling, how the conflicts that might arise between me and my fellow types would be resolved. (p. 265)

The Personality Brokers

I plan to look for other books involving the subject matter of The Personality Brokers. Merve Emre did pique my interest in both the Myers-Briggs exam as well as the women behind the letters. I would like to discover more about the field as well as the individuals.

My experiences with the different types is limited. While I concede that Emre has legitimate criticisms of Myers-Briggs, I disagree with her tactics and conclusions. Literary criticism, or criticism of any type, when tied to an agenda, loses its’ bite.

The Defector Book Review

I found The Defector by Daniel Silva intense. In fact the further into the book, the harder it was to put down. It was the first book I have read by Silva. If any of you follow Silva closely, you may have read the novel a decade ago. Since the book is over 450 pages and upon my dad’s bookcase, The Defector was the perfect companion for my week of waiting rooms and just plain waiting.

Book Series

The Defector is part of a book series. The series revolves around Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon. This particular thriller has a very large cast of characters. Indeed, I was a bit lost at first. Perhaps a reader needs to be more familiar with the series. Regardless, I found the story entertaining and I am glad it was close at hand.

Revenge for The Defector

The plot line revolves around the disappearance of the defector Grigori Bulganov. Unlike most men in hiding, Grigori flaunted his presence in London. Thus it was easy for the Russians behind his kidnapping to trick the Brits into believing a re-defection occurred.

However, Gabriel Allon did not fall for the ploy. He sets out to find the truth and the cloak and dagger commences. The twists and turns of the story were only outnumbered by the bodies left in the Israeli spy’s wake.

As referenced above, I believe reading the earlier novels would have helped. Silva does try to weave previous books into the narrative. But, I personally needed more. The large cast of characters demands a familiarity by the reader. One that I did not have.

Revenge is a great motivator. In The Defector both sides of the fight are driven by this most dangerous of emotions. As a consequence many lives are lost. The deaths are brutal but I did not find the writing too graphic. It is designed for entertainment with just a bit of politics thrown in. And lots of action.

Daniel Silva

Even though the novel is set in the 21st Century, Silva likens the fictional Russian government to the post-monarchy dictators and revolutionists of the early 20th Century. While a few scenes take place upon American soil, the bulk of the story occurs east of the Atlantic Ocean.

Silva’s writing subtly and not so subtly hints at the true differences between socialist and capitalist countries. He pulls no punches. Even a first time reader easily discerns his political leanings. In this respect Silva reminds me of the late (and in my mind, great) writer Helen MacInnes. Both write strong plot driven spy novels with plenty of twists and turns. Furthermore, both are unabashed proponents of freedom.

I am not sure how I have missed Daniel Silva’s previous novels. Granted thousands of books are published each year, but I should have discovered this series long ago. I enjoyed The Defector. Now I need to check out his previous works.

Book Cover of Daniel Silva's The Defector

 

 

 

Board Books at Halloween and Anytime

Alphabet book highlighting fruits and VegetablesThis weekend I will spend some time with the youngest member of the family. So I have picked out a handful of board books that I think will entertain. Youngsters can enjoy books from a very young age and board books are perfect for chubby hands as well as drooling mouths.

Halloween Board Books

Since Halloween is just around the corner, two of the four books are holiday related. The first of these is titled Peek-A-Boo. It is published by Simon & Schuster under their Little Simon imprint. This is truly a board book for the very young with virtually little writing but lots of drawing. Ellen Appleby is the illustrator. Each page has a different type of Halloween costume. This book is a great way to prepare little ones for their first Trick-or-Treat experience.

The second book could easily be attacked by the anti-capitalist crowd, but I love it. The Cheerios Halloween Play Book is another production by Little Simon. Lee Wade is the author. This Halloween-themed board book has an interactive component. Each page spread asks the child to fill in empty spots with Cheerios. I only wish this book had been available when I had toddlers at home.

Instructional Board Books

The remaining two board books are among my favorites. The first is one of the alphabet books I reviewed earlier. Click here to read that post. Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert is one of the Red Wagon Books by Harcourt Brace and Company. I have owned it for over twenty years and it was a favorite of my youngest child.

Each letter of the alphabet is represented by one or more healthy, delicious fruits or vegetables to eat. The author manages to creatively portray an edible item even for the “difficult” letters. I consider Eating the Alphabet a classic. Every home should own a copy.

The final selection is simply titled the horse. The book was originally published in Italy. The author is Emanuela Bussolati with illustrations by Carlo A. Michelini. This board book is more advanced with the text.

Basic information about horses is given regarding the types of horses, their markings, as well as how to care for them. The author shows the many places horses live and the type of jobs they perform. This is a perfect book to read before visiting a ranch, farm or even a race track.

Books All Life Long

I believe books are an important part of life. So, board books have an integral place in the family home. Occasionally, they do fall apart. But many others can last for decades and for multiple generations. Those like Peek-A-Boo are primarily an early introduction to words or themes. But others, like the horse impart far more information.

All have a place in the home library. Reading to a child, even one that has yet to form words, is an essential first step toward education. Learning is more than attending school. While one can learn without reading, the written word makes life for most of us so much easier.

If you have an infant in your life, buy them a board book. Read to them and let them handle the pages. Board books are the first step in a journey that should last a lifetime.

Four Board books
Four Favorites

 

Lights All Night Long Book Review

New literary voices are fun to discover. Lydia Fitzpatrick’s debut novel Lights All Night Long will appeal to readers of multiple genres. Unsolved murders lurk in the background of this novel exploring contemporary issues.

Exchange Student

The protagonist is high school exchange student Ilya Alexandrovich from a remote part of Russia. The town is connected to an energy company which arranges exchanges of students to a Louisiana town also revolving around an energy company. Hence the title Lights All Night Long.

Fitzpatrick utilizes flashback chapters to explain how and why Ilya arrives with a burden. The change of location keeps the story line straight. But there are many similarities between the two towns which reach far beyond the refineries. One could substitute for the other.

Contemporary Issues

The author subtly presents the split between students who become engaged in learning and those that fall prey to outside sources. There is a large presence of drugs in both towns and the writer successfully demonstrates the many forces involved in drug abuse. Along with the use of drugs and alcohol, the novel touches upon teen sex as an outgrowth of the disengagement of students from school activities.

Murder Plot

Entwined with the story of Ilya and his brother Vladimir are a series of brutal murders. A major twist occurs when Vladimir confesses to the crimes. But Ilya does not believe the confession. Furthermore, he is determined to prove the confession was coerced.

Lights All Night Long in America

Ilya’s exchange family is given the contemporary stereotype of Evangelical Christians. But the oldest child, Sadie, does not quite fit in. Yet, she has her own reasons for staying out of the hardcore drug scene.

Between Ilya and Sadie, Fitzpatrick demonstrates through the actions of her characters the close binds of family. Both youngsters rise above the drug drenched culture found in many places today. But both are loyal to those captured by drug addiction.

Lights All Night Long is an excellent debut novel. The chapter flashbacks are a key part of the story. Lydia Fitzpatrick does a good job of moving the story along during the flashbacks and the current day chapters. The twists and turns in the murder plot keep the reader turning the pages.

But what I liked best about the book were the characters. At first glimpse many seem stereotypical. But they are not. Each develops into a complex human being. Perfection does not exist, but neither does total failure. Above all, there is love.

 

 

 

The World That We Knew Book Review

Cover of The World That We Knew

 

Alice Hoffman has long been a favorite of my offspring. So, when I saw The World That We Knew perched on the new arrivals at the local library I picked it up. I am so glad that I did. The book is moving.

World War II

The Second World War is the backdrop of Hoffman’s novel. The story opens in Berlin. A mother is torn between getting her 12 year old daughter to safety outside of Germany and honoring her duties to her own mother. In the end she stays in Berlin while arranging for the safe passage of her young daughter.

The safety factor is a golem. This mystical creature of Jewish lore is created by the daughter of a revered rabbi. Ettie is the rabbi’s daughter. She violates many traditions creating the golem. The price she charges is two train tickets so she and a younger sister can also flee the Nazi’s.

The World That We Knew

Ettie and her sister and young Lea and her guardian golem leave their old world behind. The novel follows their separate paths until they again merge. The reader experiences the terrors of the Third Reich through these protagonists. But the characters that will steal your heart are the Levi brothers.

Hoffman shows how class systems and age differences break down during wars. Furthermore, she explores the responsibilities of parents and the connections made by blood and love. Each character, including that of the golem, face soul-searching decisions. Life or death decisions. The World That We Know explores how often sheer chance weighs into decision making.

Good vs. Evil

Finally, the novel showcases good vs. evil. The Nazi’s were truly evil and Hoffman makes that clear. But, she also shows the struggles of those who are inherently good when they choose immoral actions to combat the evil.

I know there are many novels on the market with World War II as the setting. This is an excellent account. It is fiction, but I believe the book portrays the resistance in France accurately. The World That We Know is a worthy addition to any library, public or private.

Paradox Book Review

The latest Savich and Sherlock FBI thriller from Catherine Coulter that I have read is Paradox. Since these two characters are among my very favorites, it is only fair to warn you I may be biased. Nonetheless, I think Paradox is worth reading. There are plenty of psychological components to make it a thriller.

Coulter’s opening scene captures your attention. There is a break-in and an unknown man is found looming above a sleeping Sean Savich. His mom, FBI agent Lacey Sherlock, interrupts the kidnapping. The couple, familiar to many readers, race to discover the identity of the would-be kidnapper of their son Sean.

Parallel Stories

Simultaneously, Chief Ty Christie witnesses a murder from her back deck. She is helpless to do anything but watch since the event takes place in the middle of the lake. Coulter melds the two stories into one in prime fashion.

Christie is the protagonist for the parallel story line. Coulter does a good job with her character. She becomes a friend more than a love interest to another key character. This is refreshing.

Paradox

A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement that when investigated may prove well-founded or true according to my online dictionary. There are multiple instances of paradox in this novel. All but one proved easy to understand.

People act against or outside their personality for a variety of reasons. Coulter is masterful at manipulating the actions of characters both main and secondary in ways that are paradoxical throughout Paradox. The title truly fits the story.

Earlier editions of the FBI series which featured Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock coupled thrills with steamy romantic scenes. Perhaps because the two are a married couple, Coulter has toned the action down quite a bit.

Furthermore, the relationship Ty Christie engages in does not meet the criteria needed to make Paradox a romance as much as a thriller. The book’s focus is that of a thriller joined with a bit of the paranormal and a hefty dose of psychotic killers. A good book to read- but perhaps not just before you sleep.

 

September 2019 Wrap-Up

The month of September 2019 flew by. Two conferences, one in Billings, Montana and one in Vail, Colorado created havoc with scheduling. Furthermore, the garden once again provided an abundance of produce. So, it was tough to squeeze in time to read.

September 2019 Travel

I expected to see lots of color change in both Montana and Colorado as both conferences were in the second half of the month. But that was not the case. I am glad my primary goal focused on the conferences and not sightseeing.

The last time I visited Billings was back in the spring of 1985. Much has changed. The population is close to double. My visit included visits to both Montana State University-Billings and Rocky Mountain College. Both institutions of higher learning were very impressive.

The Vail trip included information on detecting incidents and breaches with respect to online activity. One break-out session reiterated the importance of unique passwords. Please read my post on passwords by clicking here.

Fall colors were almost non-existent in Billings and in the early stages at Vail. Higher elevations in both states displayed more of the typical color I expected. Unfortunately, my October schedule will not include travel to see fall color.

September 2019 Garden

The big garden as I like to refer to my raised row garden is growing like gang busters. The only crop not living up to expectations are the beans. The runner beans have put out a mass of flowers but not much in the way of fruit.

The root crops are great. An abundance of garlic is in storage in the basement. Pickled beet jars line the pantry. The onions were combined with tomatoes and peppers to make the family recipe salsa. This salsa is always gone by February. Additional tomatoes not eaten fresh are used for spaghetti sauce.

Eggplant has also produced well this year. We have fried them and made multiple batches of eggplant parmigiana. I also canned some eggplant in a Lemon Basil Eggplant Caponata. This is a multi-use dish. We had the Caponata atop noodles, but rice works too. Plus, I think it would make a great spread for crackers or bread.

September 2019 Books

I struggled to finish books to review this month. Part of this was due to the above mentioned items. Additionally, I have spent time on fall cleaning. But the month did bring a review of Things You Save in a Fire which I highly recommend. This past weekend I finished two books on my night stand so check in on Friday for another review.

Foreclosure Re-model

A lot of my spare time has been spent coordinating long-distance on the re-model of a foreclosure. The storms in the Atlantic delayed a tile shipment-still not here. So, we chose an alternative. Of course this changes other selections.

I am anxious to see the progress in person and plan to make a trip back to Florida soon. I could use a break from the Central Plains heat and from canning! Plus, I can check on my family member with Alzheimer’s.

I hope all of you had a productive month! My September 2019 was quite eventful. Thanks for reading.

Things You Save in a Fire Book Review

I have waited all year to be moved by a book. Katherine Center achieved that feat with her latest book Things You Save in a Fire. The novel has much to offer. First, an understanding of how tough women must be to excel in a male dominated industry. Furthermore, the strength needed to survive abandonment and the courage to keep going after a sexual assault. But most importantly, the importance of forgiveness.

This is the first book I have read by Center. If the others are even half as good, I am in for a treat. I plan to read them as well. This is a must for your TBR (To Be Read) list! The writing is surpassed only by the characterization. Truly a great book.

Non-Traditional Career

Cassie Hanwell is the heroine of the book. She is a twenty-six year old firefighter, top notch first responder and an outstanding medic to boot. Perfect on the job. Perfect for the job. Until she is caught off guard at an awards banquet. In a #MeToo moment, she loses it when groped while accepting her award for valor. Loses it in a big way. As in puts the offender in the hospital. Obviously there is far more to the story since the “victim” refuses to press charges.

Nevertheless, it is the end of Cassie’s meteoric rise in the Austin Fire Department. Coincidently, her estranged mother seizes that moment to plead for help. She has had eye surgery and needs her daughter’s help. Unwillingly, Cassie agrees to make the move. It is the lesser of two evils she is presented with.

On her way out the door, her veteran captain gives her a long list of dos and don’ts. Things she will need in the unfriendly atmosphere of a less progressive fire station. Things the captain experienced herself. Cassie takes the list to heart, for multiple reasons.

New Beginnings

Cassie gets off to a rocky start in her new surroundings. Her mom pushes for a relationship that Cassie isn’t ready for. Plus, her new workplace is full of pitfalls. Cassie is determined to prove herself. And she does again and again. But, the crew does not want anything to do with a female firefighter. With one exception. The Rookie. He shares the first day on the job with Cassie. Then he shares so much more.

Forgiveness

The underlying theme of Things You Save in a Fire is one of forgiveness. Cassie needs to forgive both herself and others. This is a compelling part of the story. One cannot develop as a human without this basic component of life. Center does an outstanding job of demonstrating what, when, who and how to forgive. The other topics, non-traditional work roles, parent-child estrangement, assault and addiction are just the backdrop for the importance of forgiveness.

Book Cover

Katherine Center entertains with her novel Things You Save in a Fire. But she does so much more. She addresses the need for women in male-dominated fields. Furthermore, she addresses the biases toward those same women. She recognizes how women go overboard to prove themselves in those fields.

But she takes the story a step further. She explores old hurts and what it takes to heal. Then she shows the importance of forgiveness and the need to be forgiving in order to free oneself to live. And to love.

I absolutely loved this story. The characters touch your heart and so does the author’s message. I am sure Things You Save in a Fire will make my best read books of 2019 list. Find a copy soon.

 

 

Periodicals Can Pack a Punch

Check-out Stand Periodicals

Since retiring, much of my reading has been fiction. I still read non-fiction. Usually, the non-fiction material is found on the new books stand at my local library. But every once in a while I fall prey to the supermarket check-out stand. One can find periodicals of all kinds tempting one while waiting in line to make a purchase.

Recently, among the periodicals was Discovering the Way to a Smarter Brain. To catch my attention even further were titles of articles How the Brain Can Mend Your Mind and Body and The Myths of Male and Female Brains. So I naturally succumbed to the pressure.

BBC or Immediate Media Company Bristol Limited-Publisher?

The surprising thing about this periodical is the absence of ownership. I think the publishing company is either the BBC or an affiliate. If you input the website given below the editorial information www.sciencefocus.com the opening page clearly indicates the BBC involvement. But the magazine itself is copyrighted by Immediate Media Company Bristol Limited. Perhaps the magazine is a joint effort. Either way, it is a winner. Not all periodicals are.

Discovering the Way to a Smarter Brain has 98 pages chock full of information about this important organ. The periodical begins with a brief history of brain research. Then the articles run the gamut from the anatomy of the brain to artificial intelligence. While topics in Neuroscience comprised two thirds of the issue, articles in the categories Mental Health and Future Minds enjoyed more than just a passing mention.

Written for the Common Man

The best part of the magazine to me was the ease of reading. Many of the topics discussed were out there as far as concept, but the editors and writers did a great job with the writing. The average person gains an understanding of this complex material. The articles captured my attention and provided references to the scientific research for those wanting a deeper explanation.

The cost makes me wish my library was a subscriber, but pinpointing the company behind the issue might be a tad bit tricky. Even more difficult is the possibility that the topics of the published periodicals might be random. I might find this release fascinating yet have no interest in the next. Nonetheless, I found the money used to buy Discovering the Way to a Smarter Brain well spent.

 

 

The Book Charmer Book Review

Every once in a while I want a book to escape in, so I can leave stress behind. I found The Book Charmer perfect for my needs. This delightful novel by Karen Hawkins provided an afternoon of pleasurable reading. The characters were easy to like and the plot straightforward if predictable.

Multiple Back Stories

There are three central characters in the book. Sarah Dove and Travis Parker are life-long next door neighbors in Dove Pond, North Carolina. The third character, Grace Wheeler has arrived in Dove Pond with the intention of staying just a year. All three neighbors form bonds albeit with reluctance on Grace’s part.

Key to the formation of friendship is dementia. Travis’ dad passed away from the disease and Grace’s foster mom is rapidly deteriorating. The two grudgingly work through initial dislike aided by this common ground. Furthermore, Grace’s orphaned niece brings the battle-scarred vet and overwhelmed guardian together.

Book Charmer

Sarah Dove is the book charmer. She brings a touch of mysticism to the story. Books talk to her and she listens.

As a member of the founding family of Dove Pond she has strong ties to the area. Unfortunately, Dove Pond is in decline. When a book whispers to her that Grace can save the town, Sarah does everything she can to entice Grace to stay beyond the short term.

Contemporary Topics

In addition to the backstory of dementia, Hawkins touches on the state of the foster system. Grace’s determination to raise her niece stems from her own experience as an orphan. Back flashes explain how and why Grace is so attached to her own foster mother, Mama G. Thus her willingness to leave her city job for small town life in hopes of easing the confusion of dementia makes sense to the reader.

An additional topic that is touched on is the overdose death of Grace’s sister. But, despite all of these difficult topics, The Book Charmer leaves the reader in an upbeat mood. The efforts of Sarah, Grace and others give Dove Pond the spark it needs. Plus, the development of friendship between the characters showcases the power of relationships even among those hiding or running from the past.

I loved reading The Book Charmer. Readers can escape for a few hours of pure fiction. This was the first Karen Hawkins novel I have read but it certainly won’t be the last. I look forward to more in the series.

 

Firefighting: The Financial Crisis And Its Lessons Book Review

Firefighting: The Financial Crisis And Its Lessons is the three person account of The Great Recession and the steps taken to repair the economy. The individuals credited with writing the book are Ben S. Bernanke, Timothy F. Geithner and Henry M. Paulson. The information presented is straightforward. One of the best aspects is the use of the firefighting metaphor to explain the steps taken at the time to mitigate the panic. Furthermore, my own memory of the tumultuous time meshes with the writing. So, the information rings as fact more than opinion.

A Keynesian Approach

Those of you with an economic background can differentiate between a Classical and a Keynesian approach to economic policy. For those of you unfamiliar with the theory, click here for a tutorial. The steps taken during the financial crisis of the Ought’s clearly represent the teachings of John Maynard Keynes. The Federal Reserve led by Bernanke, and the Treasury Department, first shepherded by Paulson during the Bush Administration then spearheaded by Geithner under President Obama, went to great lengths to stop the downward spiral of the economy. Firefighting takes you step by step through the interventions.

I appreciate the book for what I perceive is an honest portrayal of the cause and effect of the crisis. The authors go to great length to posit why some firms survived while others folded.  Since I vividly remember public events as well as personal anecdotes from the time, I feel quite comfortable highly recommending the book.

Firefighting Lessons

In addition to relating the fiscal and monetary steps taken to fight The Great Recession, Firefighting puts forth warnings for the future. The authors have two key concerns. First, the three former public servants are concerned with a loss of power for both the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. They make a good case for the immediate ability by the agencies to react to future crises.

Second, the authors are duly concerned with the functionality of Keynesian economics. Government intervention in times of crisis is only one-half of the economic theory. Keynesian economics also calls for replenishing the coffers during expansions. This is not occurring. Instead of bringing the deficit down, our debt levels are increasing. Thus, the authors believe, both monetary and fiscal policy will be hampered in firefighting the next economic downturn.

The argument between interference and non-interference in the markets is central to economic philosophy. The debate between the Classical school of thought and the Keynesian Theory is reflected today in our divided politics. I encourage all to read Firefighting including members of Congress.

One of my favorite websites to share with new students of economics is the US Debt Clock. Visiting this site is eye opening. Similarly, Firefighting will also open eyes. For example, the book acknowledges the public relations nightmare of propping up AIG.

Personally, I saw and was offended by the lavish expenditures of AIG during the height of the meltdown. But I did not know the flip side until reading Firefighting. Grudgingly, I admit the intervention was necessary. Thus my appreciation of the work of Bernanke, Geithner, and Paulson. Both for the book and their many sleepless nights a decade ago.

 

The People vs. Alex Cross Book Review

After taking a multi-year hiatus from reading the Alex Cross book series by James Patterson I picked up The People vs. Alex Cross. If you are wondering why I stayed away, my reason is quite simple. The books were becoming way too scary! Thus, I had trouble sleeping. Especially after Patterson’s release of Cross Country. However, I missed the characters as well as Patterson’s writing. So, I picked up The People vs. Alex Cross. I am glad I did.

Multiple Story Lines

Patterson weaves multiple story lines together. First, Alex is on trial for murder. This part of the plot hearkens back to a previous book. One that I did not read. Yet, my enjoyment of The People vs. Alex Cross prevailed. Then there is the current case. And the current case is one that Alex shouldn’t be working on. But, of course he gets involved anyway.

For those not familiar with the Alex Cross series, Cross is a crime fighter with a background in psychology. He is married to his immediate boss and lives with his grandmother and three kids. All play a part in the book series. Featured in The People vs. Alex Cross is Ali, the youngest of his offspring.

The current case revolves around young missing blondes and various websites portraying harm to them. Thus, Patterson links the story to a current problem in technology, the dark web. For example, Patterson includes in his plot details on how video uploaded to the web can be altered. Even computer geeks can be fooled. This plays a major part of the story.

The People vs. Alex Cross

Furthermore, the theme of doctored video footage is carried across to the second story line. Incriminating evidence of Cross’ wrong doing in the form of video recording is presented to the court. But the precocious Ali discovers how an unaltered tape contains false information. Sometimes you can’t believe what you see.

Patterson’s viewpoint on police shootings is revealed to the discerning reader. However, this does not interfere with the book. Politics is an underlying theme and not a focal point.

Above all, I enjoyed The People vs. Alex Cross. Mostly because there is plenty of action and I could handle the suspense level. The struggle of good vs. evil lends interest for the reader. But no nightmares! Patterson includes just enough technology to pique one’s interest in a new type of sleight of hand. I find it absolutely amazing what can be achieved with today’s technology. And the technology lends itself well to the thriller genre!

Don’t Stop Believin’ Book Review

Don’t Stop Believin’ is the title of a great song from the 1980s. It is also the name of a memoir I just finished and highly recommend. Jonathan Cain wrote the book. He also wrote or co-wrote countless lyrics. Many belong to songs you know and love.
But the book is not just a who’s who of ballad bands from the 80s. In fact, the early parts focus on events that shaped Cain into the man he is today. Cain has a tremendous memory, so the story begins before he reaches kindergarten. The words flow. Just like the music. There is homage to his working class background and the strong religious upbringing.

Key Life Events

As with all of us, there were key turning points in Cain’s life. He shares these with the reader. Perhaps most significant is one that occurred in grade school. A catastrophe began shaking his personal faith. Yet, or perhaps because, his passion for music continued to soar.
The memoir makes it clear that success did not happen overnight. There were starts and stops and re-starts. Cain very much paid his dues. He also made his share of mistakes. The personal story is as compelling as the information on what it takes to create music. Notes so memorable that you keep humming them in your head long after you retire for the night.

Connection with the Author

To be honest, I love the music of the 80s but I am not one for recognizing the band members. I remember a time in the late 70s when working at Howard’s Ice Cream in Daytona Beach, my co-workers freaked out over a pair of “long hairs” parked out front. One headed for the package store and one came over for  an ice cream cone. I remember this because the man tipped me more than what I made in an hour. Turns out he was one of the Allman brothers. But I digress.

Jonathan Cain is in the same light. I picked up the book because I liked Journey and was interested in the topic. I could not believe how many connections lay within the story. He wrote one of my all- time favorite songs. Plus he shares how he was touched by the life of a youngster with cystic fibrosis. (Read here for more on the same subject.) Finally, he has connections to the same part of Central Florida. His wife preaches at a church just a handful of miles from where I type this now.

Don’t Stop Believin’

The message in this book is one of not giving up. Furthermore, an important message for Christian readers is that God doesn’t give up on his believers. I found Don’t Stop Believin’ informative, entertaining and inspirational. I highly recommend this book.

Alphabet Books Galore

Alphabet books are among my favorites. They are great to read to young children, but alphabet books can be geared to any age. Some are really best appreciated by adults.

The earliest memory of an alphabet book is Dr. Seuss’s ABC. As a six year old, I read this book countless times to a younger cousin on a long car trip. Needless to say she learned the alphabet just shy of turning three. I am not sure how my aunt and uncle withstood the repetition.

Cover of Dr. Seuss's ABC
A well loved book.

But I was absolutely tickled when one of my kids received a copy from my cousin at birth. As you can tell by the condition of the book, it was well read.

Board Books

I love to read board books to the young ones. The pages don’t tear and the books can handle an occasional tooth. Some of the alphabet board books in my library include A To Z by Sandra Boynton and Cyndy Szekeres’ ABC. Boynton’s book uses an animal and a verb to illustrate each letter, ex. Dinosaur dancing. Szekeres has multiple examples and illustrations for each letter.

My all-time favorite is Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. Maybe it is the gardener in me that holds this book in such high regard. Little tykes love recognizing the different foods they eat. The author includes produce grown in many parts of the world. The names are written in both upper and lower cases. She even found one to represent X.

Variety of Alphabet Books

Once we move past the board books, the types of alphabet books expands. A holiday favorite is B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner and illustrated by Elisa Kleven. Wilner utilizes the alphabet to share this Christian story of Christmas. I love this book.

Two artsy alphabet books are in the collection. The first is I Spy: An Alphabet in Art devised and selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Each letter features a classic artwork. The art is identified on the bottom of the page with the letter. The opposite page has a copy of the art. Not all the objects are easy to spot.

Stephen T. Johnson’s Alphabet City takes a unique approach. Each letter is found in a photo such as the one to the left. It is amazing how shapes in the world around us can resemble letters (and numbers.) Artists like Johnson see the world through a different lens.

Informative Alphabet Books

I have two of Lynne Cheney’s alphabet books. I highly recommend both. First is A is for Abigail: The Almanac of Amazing American Women. This great book covers everything from athletes to the Industrial Revolution to suffragettes to First Ladies. I love the ways she represents the alphabet. The other Cheney alphabet book I have is America: A Patriotic Primer. Similar in style, the book will easily entertain an upper grade schooler.

For younger readers, The Alphabet Atlas by Arthur Yorinks showcases countries around the globe. A fun fact is shared about each country. The text is fairly simple. But the hidden jewel in this book is the artwork. Each letter was designed by Jeanyee Wong. She drew her inspiration from the quilts that serve as the illustration and representation for each letter and corresponding country. Thus Adrienne Yorinks earns my greatest admiration in creating these works of fabric art. This book is truly a must have for quilters.

G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book is written by David M. Schwartz and illustrated by Marissa Moss. It is hard to categorize this book by age or grade. The concepts are late grade school to junior high/ middle school. But the writing is fairly easy to understand. Therefore, students in upper elementary grades should find this easy to read. This should definitely reside in a school library as well as the home.

Wrapping up the Alphabet

Alphabet Books of many styles, for many ages.

As you can see from the photo with the collection of books, I have just touched the surface. So I will close out with a book I look forward to reading often in the coming years. Eve Shaw’s Grandmother’s Alphabet tells the reader that Grandma can be anything from A to Z. Each letter depicts a variety of occupations. This is a book geared toward the early reader but not a beginning reader as it has lots of vocabulary words young kids will need help sounding out.

I love alphabet books, so if you have one to recommend please share!

  • Alphabet book highlighting fruits and Vegetables

The Last Second Book Review

Authors Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison writing the Brit in the FBI series have released a good summer read in The Last Second. Even though the plot leads us to the far corners of the world, the story line is easier to accept than that of The Devil’s Triangle also written by the duo. You can read that review by clicking here.

Familiar Characters

FBI agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine (Mike) are on vacation. Shortly after a visit with old friends Grant Thornton and his wife Kitsune, they spring into action.  Drummond and Caine leave their European vacation to go to the rescue of Grant.

Thornton is acting as bodyguard to Jean-Pierre Broussard founder of Galactus Space Industries. Broussard’s hobby is finding treasures lost at sea. He has just found the Holy Grail when he is betrayed. The Holy Grail is stolen and the ship’s passengers are left for dead.

New Villains

Ellison and Coulter believe in equal opportunity. Once again the bad guys are bad gals. Ex-astronaut Navaeh Patel believes she was rescued in space by aliens called Numen. Her henchwoman is Kiera Byrne. A formidable bodyguard with an IRA background.

The two women must be stopped. Not an easy task when one is a brilliant scientist bent on contacting the aliens who saved her life.

The Last Second

This action adventure novel would make a great movie. The twists and turns and subplots keep you turning the pages. Naturally, Drummond and Caine manage to solve each problem they encounter at the last second. Since there are multiple scenes leading to the apex, the duo have plenty of opportunity to display their skills.

There are a few subplots that touch on current events. First is the commercial space race. Second is the concern of an EMP. This type of weapon would send current civilization backward in time. New characters include a terrorist who in reality is an agent deep undercover. Thus, the authors stretch the imagination.

The Last Second is an easy read. The book is a great way to escape on a summer afternoon. The fast paced action dovetails with the two main themes. Saving an innocent life with the Holy Grail and the halting of space junk with the EMP are ideas with multiple layers. Coulter and Ellison give the reader something to ponder after the tale is told.

Disappearing Earth Book Review

The debut novel Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips is both compelling and complex. Her writing captures the nuances of life. The reader is exposed to tragedy and loss, maternal love, stoicism, anguish and hope.

Disappearing Earth begins with the kidnapping of two young girls on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their disappearance is threaded through the stories told month by month for the following year. To a certain extent each chapter could stand alone. Yet there is a connection. Sometimes obvious, and other times only as the novel unfolds.

Russian Background with Global Insight

While the stories involve women from the Kamchatka Peninsula, a remote area of Russia, the stories are cross cultural. There are male characters, but the driving force for each story is a female. Phillips captures the hopes, dreams and fears women face. Lost love, adjusting to motherhood, missing children and divorce are just a few of the themes covered.

Global insight offers readers a chance to bond with the characters. It is easy to imagine the same stories taking place in your own backyard. Each chapter pulls at the emotions. The women in the novel may be fictional but their dilemmas are real.

Disappearing Earth

An underlying theme is how women cope with adversity. After the kidnapping, one would expect the novel to focus on the mother of the missing girls. However, her story does not appear until the end. Instead, Disappearing Earth focuses on a large number of characters, each coping with difficulties in their lives. The characters overlap just enough to allow the novel to flow.

Julia Phillips has an engaging writing style. Her characters come to life. They are the richness of Disappearing Earth. This is not a mystery per se. The kidnapped girls are a background noise for most of the novel. The true wealth of the book is the global appeal and recognition of how women across the Earth have so much in common.

I highly recommend this first novel by Julia Phillips. If you would like to know more about the author, visit her website by clicking here.