Category: In The Library

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!

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.

 

 

 

 

Elephants Can’t Fly Book Review

Elephants Can’t Fly

Elephants Can’t Fly by Charlotte Christie is a wonderful addition to a young child’s library. This board book is beautifully illustrated by Cee Biscoe. The gray she uses for the elephants is both a cool blue and warm and fuzzy at the same time. But it is the inspirational words of Christie that makes this 2017 book such a find.

Elly is a young elephant. Naturally, she loves to explore like any young offspring. She observes nature and she tries to imitate. All the things one will see in a youngster.

Christie begins the story giving examples of things elephants can’t do. But then the story unfolds and Elly achieves the impossible. All because no one told her she couldn’t. Thus this simple story is also very meaningful.

Author

A quick search on the Internet yielded little information about Charlotte Christie. The first hit brought up the actress. Adding writer to the search bar brought up a young writer looking for an agent. Then the addition of the title resulted in numerous places to buy the book and a matching stuffed elephant.

A similar search for Cee Biscoe brought up lots of information. She illustrates children’s books. So finally, I searched for Jellycat Books, the publisher of Elephants Can’t Fly. Jellycat is a company specializing in plush toys. But they also sell baby gifts and under this category are some board books, including two about Elly. But the two have different authors. (Same illustrator.)

So, I am no closer to discovering Charlotte Christie the author. I hope Elephants Can’t Fly is not her only book. If it is, I hope she writes another. Because the message of Elly and her willingness to try is the key to this lovely story. If you know anything about the writer of this wonderful children’s book, please share in the comment section.

I love this story and can’t wait to read it to the newest addition to the family. Even newborns can be read to. Thus, I have written her name on the book plate provided on the first page. Tonight I will hold her and read to her for the very first time. Welcome to the world little one!

 

The Black Ascot Book Review

Book Cover showing a race horse

The Black Ascot

The Black Ascot by Charles Todd is an historical murder mystery. The book takes its’ title from the 1910 Ascot races. Because of the death of King Edward VII, all attendees at the Ascot races wore black. The murder takes place following a race day.

The accused, Alan Barrington, disappears after the inquest and before the case goes to trial. The majority of the book takes place 1921. This allows the author to incorporate bits and pieces of history from The Great War.

Scotland Yard

In 1921, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge receives a tip. Alan Barrington has been spotted back in England. Rutledge convinces his superior to allow the old murder case to be reviewed. Even though Rutledge was not involved in the original Black Ascot murder investigation, he wants to bring Barrington to trial.

Shell Shock

Inspector Ian Rutledge begins the review by getting to know the victims as well as the accused. His investigation involves interviewing past Inspectors and witnesses. Many of these individuals were mentally and/or physically affected by The Great War.

Rutledge also suffers from shell shock. During World War I, Rutledge loses a close colleague. But the ghost of Hamish “talks” to Rutledge throughout the book. When the issue of the inspector’s shell shock takes a pivotal turn midway through the book, so does the case.

Charles Todd

Charles Todd and his mother Caroline team together to write both the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series. Even though the list of published works is long, this was my first time reading a Charles Todd book. It will not be my last.

I love the combination of historical events and fictional murder mystery. Even though the Ascot races did not figure prominently in the book, naming the novel after the 1910 races was appropriate. A true blackguard caused the motor car crash taking the life of one and severely injuring another.

The expert writing not only kept the reader turning the pages, but also created a stand-alone book. I did not feel as if I were missing something by not reading previous titles featuring Inspector Rutledge. The intrigue of the plot combined with the well-developed characters made this one of the best reads of the 2019 year. I would not be surprised to find it on my end of the year list of favorites. (Click here for the 2018 list.)

The Black Ascot is highly recommended. Buy or borrow a copy today.

The Last-Book Review

The Last by Hanna Jameson has a mix of mystery combined with the psychological aspects of a nuclear war. The protagonist is Dr. Jon Keller and the premise of The Last is that these events are captured in his journal. Keller, a historian, believes he is describing the end of the world. This writing ploy utilized by the author works.

Mystery of The Last

During the process of survival, the small group of humans stranded high in the Alps comes across a dead body of a small child. Cause of death is unknown, but time of death approximates the nuclear attacks across the globe. Keller is determined to find the truth.

His obsession with the mystery combined with the stress of surviving the nuclear blast create a study in psychology. Keller and other survivors handle the events in a variety of ways. Hanna Jameson has written a book that straddles genre lines. The survivalist theme focuses more on mental health and less on day-to-day needs. She accomplishes this with her setting, a high end Switzerland resort.

Thus, The Last offers much to readers not focused on end of the world scenarios. The cast of characters is diverse. Keller interviews each for his journal. Again an excellent format by author Jameson. The reader connects with the characters. The mystery slowly unravels as the individual back stories are revealed.

Realism

For the most part the book is plausible. The fears of the characters, including those with visions of ghosts, ring true. Communication after the blast continues via social networks. It seems even a series of nuclear attacks cannot defeat the Internet.

However, there were a few points requiring a suspension of belief. This includes the end scenario. A functioning city is not far from the hotel. Here the murderer is himself murdered. The journal entries may be used to justify the actions. But Keller does not write the final entry. His refusal to address a rotten tooth has endangered his life.

The Last by Hanna Jameson is entertaining. The book would be great read for a beach or mountain vacation. The psychological components are intriguing. While there are some violent scenes, much of the book focuses on the mental challenges individuals face after a world changing event.

 

Winter Range Book Review

Winter Range Book Review

Winter Range by Claire Davis depicts the harsh environs of Montana cattle country. The story takes place during winter in the midst of a long drought. Davis is accurate in her portrayal of both land and people. The disturbing plot conveys the many nuances of living and working in a rural, isolated small town where events are dictated by nature and the weather.

Triangle of Characters

Ike Parsons is the protagonist of Winter Range. He is a transplant, not a native of Montana. Parsons is the sheriff and he takes his job seriously. He runs afoul of the western code of live and let live.

But the job did not bring him west, love did. Pattiann is his wife. A daughter of a long time ranch family, she met Ike while back East for school. She is complex. Still angry that the ranch will pass down to the male heir, her past relationship with Chas Stubblefield creates an added twist to the conflict.

Stubblefield is a villain. Or a man down on his luck. It all depends on perspective. His herd of cattle is starving. His debts are too great and he has been cut off by the bank and the feed supplier. The conflict becomes critical when the sheriff interferes.

Unwritten Code

Winter Range provides a look at personal conduct in the rural areas of the western United States. Life is impacted by the harshness of nature. Hot summers and cold winters combined with rainfall that may not even reach a foot in one year create a demanding climate. Thus, the inhabitants face challenges not found in urban areas.

This hardscrabble life dictates a different outlook on life. One of non-interference. A man’s property (or family) does not brook interference. Thus, a belief that Stubblefield has a right to let his herd die. Since Parsons is an outsider he does not share this view. So there is a showdown.

Winter Range

Claire Davis has written a book that is disturbing to read. There is violence both man-made and natural. The secondary characters round out the book. But the triangle between Ike, Pattiann, and Chas centers the story. Winter Range is both a commentary on the western way of life and a tale of love and expectations.

Baby of the Family Book Review

Baby of the Family Book Review

As a debut novel, Baby of the Family shows tremendous effort by Maura Roosevelt. The book is complex. The author explores a number of social and economic issues. But the key message of this coming-of-age Great American novel is the importance of family-even a dysfunctional one.

Economics of Old Money

Although his death occurs at the beginning of the story, the character of Roger Whitby, Jr is instrumental to the plot. His life is a reflection of many third-generation moneyed Americans. There is pressure to build upon the successes of those before. But Whitby was unable to handle life’s adversity. So success eluded him. Thus, downward mobility commenced.

Fathering nine children from four wives added to the complexity of his life. The reader barely glimpses the offspring from the first marriage. So their financial status is unknown. Instead the focus of Baby of the Family is on Brooke Whitby, the youngest surviving child of the second wife; Shelley Whitby ,Roger’s youngest biological child born of the third wife; and Nick Whitby, the adopted son from the fourth and final marriage. The novel centers on the social lives and finances of these three characters.

Baby of Family #2

Brooke Whitby is the most grounded of the three. She is a nurse in Boston. Her parents’ marriage fell apart shortly after the death of her younger brother. Brooke has contact with her older siblings but is not close to them or her mother. Flashbacks give the reader a glimpse into the unraveling of her immediate family.

But the main social thread for Brooke’s story is her sexuality. She is a pregnant bi-sexual who is jilted by her same-sex partner. She has decisions to make. Her partner’s parents are minor characters important to the plot.

From an economic standpoint, Brooke is self-sufficient. But, the reading of the will displaces her. Brooke’s wages will not allow her to remain in the Back Bay (very old money) area of Boston. So added to her relationship crisis is a need to find a new place to live.

In her late thirties, Brook is considerably older than Shelley and Nick. Her compassionate nature ties her to Shelley and by extension to Nick. More mature than the younger siblings, the reader is witness to Brooke’s struggle for self-actualization as Baby of the Family unfolds.

Baby of Family #3

Shelley Whitby is the protagonist of the story. She is the connection between new and old. At just twenty-three she is not handling life very well. Her mother is mentally ill; her father long out of the picture. Shelley is lost. And very messed up.

But her character tugs at the heart. Upon hearing of Roger’s death and disinheritance, she drops out of a prestigious liberal arts school late in her senior year. She was already failing.

Shelley runs home to an empty New York City abode. Her mother is absent, whereabouts unknown. She immediately looks for a job she is qualified for. Her choices are prostitution or as an assistant to a blind architect/author. She lands the job with Yousef Kamal, the author, but she justly suspects her surname played a role in her hiring.

Shelley’s story is intriguing and heartbreaking. And also a bit sickening. Her relationship with the Kamal family gives great credence to the #MeToo movement. Maura Roosevelt excels in tying current social issues into the lives of her characters.

Baby of the Family

A year younger than Shelley, adopted son Nick Whitby is the baby of the family. His connection to the rest of the Whitby offspring is tenuous at best. He is an angry young man. He sees his mother’s marriage and his subsequent adoption as the actions that destroyed his happy childhood. Thus it is easy to understand his anti-capitalist beliefs and actions.

Nick is involved with a group that lands a terrorist label. After an incident literally blows up, he runs to Shelley knowing she will hide him. She does. But she withholds the information of their father’s death.

Social and Economic Issues

The author tackles key issues. Family dysfunction is first and foremost. Income inequality plays a significant role as do a host of sexual issues including fidelity. Other social issues include the value of a liberal arts education, work ethic (or lack thereof), alcoholism and mental illness.

But above all, Baby of the Family is about familial love. Roosevelt shows how extended families can still share this type of love. The dynamics between Brooke, Shelley and Nick ring true. Sibling bonds are every bit as important as those of parent and child.

Maura Roosevelt

Throughout the novel, the author posits the question “Are you one of THOSE Whitby’s?” As a Roosevelt related to “Those” Roosevelt’s she has a basis of knowledge on how succeeding generations are impacted by wealth or success. Her learned insights are apparent in The Baby of the Family. Thus, her background lends authenticity to the story. America is a country of both upward and downward mobility.

But it is the character development that drives the reader forward. One is easily caught up in the individual lives of the Whitby siblings. The dysfunctional family dynamic is always present. Yet the main characters endure.

This novel is long and complex. The perfect book for college literature classes and book clubs. Busy readers may want to opt for the audio version. Baby of the Family is a tremendous first for Maura Roosevelt. Hopefully the first of many.

Racing to the Table Book Review

Racing to the Table Book Review

Cook book page with recipes
Page with Kentucky Hot Brown Recipes
Cook Book Pages
Cook Book Pages

Cookbooks are well used in my home. I like to look through them to get ideas for everyday dining as well as special occasions. One book I use a lot this time of year is Margaret Guthrie’s Racing to the Table: A Culinary Tour of Sporting America. The book covers recipes across the country tied to various race tracks. But there is much more to this book.

Race History

Woven among the recipes are a plethora of pictures. Each helps illustrate the horses, cities and sites surrounding the multiple race tracks highlighted in the book. For example, photos of horses exercising in the Pacific complement the recipes and stories of Del Mar Race Track in California. A photo of the blanket of roses is included in the chapter on Kentucky recipes.

Most of the text centers on the recipes and their origins. But a brief history of how the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks began can be found as well. Other snippets of racing lore make this more than just a cookbook. However, I really like the recipes.

Favorite Racing to the Table Recipes

Guthrie did an outstanding job compiling signature recipes from the various race tracks. She includes both a traditional and modern take on the Kentucky Hot Brown. I have tried them both. In this same section of Kentucky favorites you will find a recipe for Burgoo. This regional dish is a must try.

The Louisiana dishes have a definite New Orleans flair as Fairgrounds race track is based there. If you like gumbo, shrimp or crayfish this section is for you. The desserts are mostly fig-based which is a fruit often spotted in that part of the country. The recipes from the New York section contain several winners from Saratoga Springs. Two of the savory recipes come from a restaurant in Saratoga Springs only open six weeks a year. My bet is some of the herbs are bought at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market.

Cook Book Value

I realize many people only use online sources for their recipes. But I find great value in cookbooks. I love perusing through books such as Racing to the Table. They have a permanent place in my home. Racing to the Table by Margaret Guthrie is an odds on favorite and my pick of the day.

 

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted Book Review

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Apparently interest in the Holocaust extends to far away Australia. Setting his tale in rural Australia, Robert Hillman weaves a tale of love between Auschwitz survivor Hannah Babel and sheep farmer Tom Hope. The protagonist, Hope lend his surname to the underlying tone of the story. But not without multiple periods of anguish.

Hannah is not the typical love interest. For starters, she is a dozen or so years older than Tom. Furthermore, she naturally carries tremendous emotional baggage due to her experiences in World War II. Realistically, one can say she is running from her past. She hopes to leave the loss of loved ones behind. But she is struggling to bury the past.

Of course Hillman first created a situation of heartbreak for Tom. Naturally, the past threatens the future. The subplot adds some drama as well as subtle commentary. The reader glimpses the author’s thoughts on religion.

The love story is complemented with everyday description and events of rural Australia during the late sixties. Politics of the time are seen through the character of Hannah. Her character is deep and complex. Hillman is successful in creating reader empathy.

Comparison of Styles

Robert Hillman reminds me of the late author Kent Haruf. Both share stories that cannot be pigeon-holed into a genre. Both are descriptive with their settings. Finally both present subtle messages within their writing.

Hillman is a storyteller. The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted allows the reader to spend a few hours engaged in a heartwarming tale. The writing flows and most of the story is plausible. The flash back passages may bring tears to your eyes.

I bought The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted after seeing it on the To Be Read list of a fellow blogger. I enjoyed reading it and was glad to have a coupon to defray the cost. If you have such a list, I encourage you to add The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted.

An Economist Walks Into A Brothel Book Review

Book Cover, Blue background yellow print An Economist Walks Into A Brothel: And Other Unexpected Places To Understand Risk

Allison Schrager caught my attention with the title of her book on financial economics and risk. An Economist Walks Into A Brothel does indeed include an analysis of the legal sex trade in Nevada. The topic is a hook, but the analysis and writing keeps the reader engaged. Schrager uses a variety of industries to explore the multi-faceted topic of financial economics.

Brothel-nomics

Schrager starts her treatise with a discussion of risk. Financial risk is not just in the stock markets but also in everyday business. And everyday life. The exploration of mitigating risk in the sex trade allows the writer to introduce the concept of risk in an industry not many of us are familiar with.

A few basic concepts such as supply and demand are introduced in this section. But most of the focus is on finance, which Schrager states is the science of risk. Thus, from the start, the topic of An Economist Walks Into A Brothel is clear.

Toward the end of this introductory section are Schrager’s five rules of risk. These are as follows:

1. No Risk, No Reward
2. I am irrational and I know it.
3. Get the biggest bang for your risk buck.
4. Be the master of your domain.
5. Uncertainty happens. (Schrager, 14-17)

These five concepts are the heart of the book. They are supported by a gamut of economic theory from behavioral economics to diversification to uncertainty. Key premises to understand how the world works.

Diversity in Examples

The use of the wide variety of industries cited by Schrager in order to illustrate her topic serves multiple purposes. First, the diversity (in addition to the Brothel hook) of industries provides a way to reach out to a wide audience. Second, the varying businesses support the notion that risk is inherent everywhere, not just in the stock market. Third, this approach offers a way for the layman to comprehend economic principles.

Studying a legal brothel in Nevada begins the book. But other industries utilized include but are not limited to retail electronics, horse breeding, big wave surfing, Hollywood and the United States Armed Forces. Kat Cole, one of my favorite CEOs and Gun Runner, one of my favorite race horses also figure into the narrative. Thus, Schrager turns what may be considered a dull topic into an engaging and informative read.

Risk

An Economist Walks into a Brothel is a comprehensive look at risk. While there are some charts and concepts that knowledge of economics serves as an asset, even those without an economic background can gleam Schrager’s points. She is thorough in her knowledge of the topic and her approach is such that the general public will understand the book.

Even if you are not in business, the concepts of risk apply to the many decisions life posits. So I believe you will gain from this book. Since it is a recent release your library may not have a copy yet. But it can be found in bookstores and online.

The initial business analyzed is legalized sex and naturally there are comparisons with the illegal trade. However, the topic is treated in such a way that I feel the book is still appropriate reading for mature teenagers. The focus is on the business and not the types of services provided.

Recommendation

In fact, if I were still teaching at the community college, I would require my business and economic students to read An Economist Walks Into A Brothel. So, consider gifting this book to those who prefer non-fiction as well as anyone interested in finance. In the case of this work by Allison Schrager the risk is worth the reward.

Additionally, for those of you who prefer online, Schrager has a website. You can access it by clicking here. Consider signing up for her newsletter. I did and I look forward to her twice a month posts.

Last Woman Standing Book Review

On the surface, Last Woman Standing by Amy Gentry is a novel about the male dominated industry of stand-up comics. But in this case the protagonist and comic is a woman of color. Dana Diaz is the central character of this complex story of fame, success, psychosis, the #MeToo movement and revenge. At the beginning of the story Diaz is on the run from her past. At the end she owns her future. But an amazing tale fills the center.

We meet Diaz onstage at an Austin comedy club. Bombing. Badly. A lone woman’s laughter gets her through the performance. Amanda Dorn introduces herself afterwards. She is a techie who lost her job after filing a sexual harassment suit against a co-worker. As a victim of sexual harassment, Dorn recognizes Diaz as another target of unwanted advances.

Gentry’s plot takes a step toward revenge at this point. The two women engage in payback, with a twist. Each goes after the other’s aggressors. Concurrently, Diaz is achieving success on the stage. Perhaps her accomplishments trigger her consciousness. She begins to regret her actions and tries to cut ties with Dorn.

Austin to L.A.

The re-location of the story from Austin to L.A. mirrors the mental changes in both Diaz and Dorn. Our protagonist becomes more grounded and Dorn more psychotic. At this point in the story, Gentry begins providing twist after twist in the plot.
The revenge extracted by Dorn on behalf of Diaz takes a deadly turn. Moreover, Amanda’s psychosis becomes more evident.

Diaz turns to Jason Murphy, a childhood friend. The two search for a way to combat the control Amanda Dorn has over Diaz. Once again there is a major twist in the plot.

Without giving away too much, a final victim falls to the avengers. But this time someone is held responsible. But is justice served? Read Last Woman Standing to find out. The novel delivers so much more than sheer entertainment.

Many books reflect the current events of society. New York Station reflected the politically influenced 2016 national elections in the United States. I personally think the #MeToo movement served as a catalyst for Amy Gentry’s Last Woman Standing.

Online Cyber Harassment

Sexual harassment has been present for eons. Now the harassment reaches cyber space. Online bullying includes sexting, trolling and stealing personal information from various web sources. These attacks can be every bit as harmful as physical attacks.

Recently, a reader sent me a link with a very valuable article. The website vpnmentor.com published a lengthy, informative article on cyber security aimed specifically at women. The post The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women written by Sara Levavi-Eilat provides detailed steps on protecting one’s privacy online.

If I were still teaching at the local community college, I would incorporate this article into the curriculum. The information is comprehensive and very helpful. As an individual who values privacy I cringe at how much information is posted on the various social media sites.

This does not mean one cannot belong to any or utilize the many apps out there. But please use good judgement. The article written by Levavi-Eilat and produced by an all-woman crew will help regain your privacy and offers a way to safeguard against aggressors without resorting to the tactics employed by the key characters in Last Woman Standing.

Sexual Harassment

Contrary to the many jokes heard in stand-up comedy routines, sexual harassment is not a joking matter. The worst case scenario occurs when harassment turns into assault. Protect yourself. Click on and read The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women. Then think twice before you upload that next photo onto social media. Women should not need to worry about how our image is used. But the sad truth is we do.

Last Woman Standing is a good vehicle for this message as well as being an entertaining novel. The question posited is who has your back? When it comes to an online presence, each individual can do a great deal to protect themselves. Set limits on your social media apps when possible. Proactive behavior is essential. To steal a line from Sargent Esterhouse on the long-ago T.V. show Hill Street Blues-“Let’s be careful out there.”

Crucible Book Review

Crucible

The latest action adventure from James Rollins is Crucible. This complex tale stretches geographically from the United States to Europe, particularly but not exclusively, Portugal. But the time line begins in the era of the early 1600s.
The novel begins with a brief flashback to the Spanish Inquisition and the extermination of witches. A priest serving as an Inquisitor takes possession of an amulet. The significance of this prologue becomes evident in one of the many twists and turns of Crucible.

Out of necessity, the first part of Crucible contains quite a bit of action spanning the two continents. Rollins incorporates a large number of characters into the novel. Thus, turmoil is used to introduce many of the key players. Furthermore, I had trouble pinpointing a single protagonist.

Equal Opportunity

Both men and women characters are villains in Crucible. The same can be said of the heroes. The dual story line between a home invasion and kidnapping in the United States and an assassination of female scientists in Portugal merges relatively early in the story line.

Gray and Monk are government agents. They were absent during the home invasion but directly affected. Monk’s wife Kat is in a coma but his two girls along with a pregnant Seichan, Gray’s significant other, are missing. The men are directly involved in the action. So are the women. Science and medical advances play a significant part of this narrative.

Rollins is masterful at weaving the scenes involving neurological treatment alongside the chase for the kidnappers. But even more powerful is his approach to artificial intelligence. At times, the character of Eve gets the nod for protagonist. Eve is not human. Yet.

Artificial Intelligence

Mara Silviera is the creator of Eve. She is alive only because the preliminary test of Eve was at a remote location during the attack on the science lab. The two are on the run.

The race to develop artificial intelligence is the center of Crucible. Fiction is mirroring reality. James Rollins does an outstanding job of blending fact with fiction. Eve’s character is pure fiction. But, we are on the threshold of developing many Eves. In actuality, we may already be there. Rollins treats this subject matter with the seriousness it deserves all while spinning a thrilling tale.

Once again, an action adventure thriller provides food for thought as well as entertainment. The twists and turns keep the reader enthralled. The author ties up the many tangents. The bad guys meet their just rewards and the ending is happy for the good guys. What more can you ask for? Perhaps a sequel for Eve.

Painting Secrets Book Review

Painting Secrets written by Brian Santos is a must have book for the Do It Yourself crowd. Santos, also known as The Wall Wizard has multiple DIY books on the market. You can also find his videos on the Internet. Additionally, he gives demonstrations across the country.

Painting Secrets

The self-help guide Painting Secrets spends the first 75 pages prepping for the actual paint job. The tips in this first part of the book include an excellent section on color selection. Santos does an outstanding job of explaining variations in color. Furthermore, he gives good tips on choosing colors that will work best for you.

Then Painting Secrets begins divulging its many tips to ensure the project is a success. Included in this long section on prepping a room for painting are methods for stripping wallpaper. Santos shares his secret recipe for wallpaper stripping. He also includes a dry method for removing vinyl wallpaper. His methods result in a quicker process.

Santos goes into great detail on how to repair walls before painting. He covers everything from small cracks to large holes in the sheet rock. Also, tips are provided for working with plaster. Perhaps the best part of this section are the many tricks of the trade shared. But I also liked the information on needed tools.

Painting 101

Santos shares his professional painting skills in a thorough manner. He begins by teaching the reader about the many types and grades of paint. Then he moves onto the best tools for the paint and the job. Also presented is detailed instruction on how to measure and estimate the amount of paint needed.

Each tool described receives a description of use or uses. The Wizard includes warnings and quizzes throughout the book. Many are tied to the proper use of the tools needed for the job.

Then, the book turns to the actual job of painting. There is a right and wrong way to paint. This section discusses loading paint onto the various tools as well as how to lay the paint onto the surfaces. The recommendation for painting an entire room is to have two people on the job.

Finally, Painting Secrets covers paint effects. Included in this section are decorative finishes such as faux and ragging. Santos shares his Wall wizard Glaze recipe along with tons of tricks and warnings. The techniques are divided into positive and negatives depending on whether you are adding or subtracting a top layer.

I highly recommend this book and am fortunate enough to have discovered it in my local library. This title along with similar titles are easily found online or in bookstores if your library doesn’t have a copy. Painting Secrets is just the book a DIY needs to get the project done right.

The Only Woman in the Room Book Review

Marie Benedict’s historical novel The Only Woman in the Room provides an insight into the genius of movie star Hedy Lamarr. Since the point of view is that of Hedy herself, this is not a biography. The dialogue and thoughts are a work of fiction. So the events portrayed in the book are based on fact, but not all are proven factual.

The Only Woman in the Room opens onstage in 1933 Vienna. Thus, the reader discovers the actress at the young age of 19. But she is already an international figure. Furthermore, Benedict begins the story at what is now known as a critical point in history: Hitler’s build up to war.

Benedict’s style of writing keeps the reader intrigued. The pace is quick. I read the book in an evening. The insight into Lamarr created a desire to learn more. A brief Internet search led me to the conclusion that once again a historical female figure only received partial recognition for her contribution to society. In Lamarr’s case, the fame she received as an actress is really a side note.

I have not read any work by Marie Benedict before. But from the author’s note as well as the testimonial blurbs on the book cover, I believe her writing niche is one which brings the lives of important women to light. Thus Benedict is the perfect author to spotlight on International Women’s Day.

Historical significance needs time to develop. Fortunately, Hedy Lamarr lived long enough to begin receiving recognition for her scientific contributions. Unfortunately, her patents lapsed before she or her family reaped the rewards. But, The Only Woman in the Room reveals none of this. The book focuses on the decade from 1933 to 1942. These were pivotal years for both history and for the woman herself.

The Only Woman in the Room

The title refers to the time Hedy spent married to Friedrich Mandl. Lamarr’s first (of many) husband was considerably older than the protagonist. As an owner of a large munitions company during a time of unrest, Mandl was wealthy and well-connected. According to The Only Woman in the Room, he entertained both Mussolini and Hitler at his home. Hedy, at this time not working as an actress, and was a fixture at these gatherings.

As stated in the novel, the men overlooked the presence of Lamarr and discussed many technicalities of war weapons in front of her. This included flaws in the munitions systems. Furthermore, the heroine divined the true danger to individuals of Jewish heritage. Thus, the novel provides a set-up to Hedy’s flight from Europe and a motivation for her scientific inventions.

Patent Pending

The end of the novel creates a need for more from the reader. I was totally fascinated to know and learn about the life of Hedy Lamarr. I wanted more. How did Hedy and her Mom get along in their later years? Why did the military not jump at the invention? Did she invent anything else?

Unfortunately, only ten years are covered by the novel. But, Benedict does convey the true worth of Hedy Lamarr. She was not just a pretty face. Perhaps the biggest travesty is it took this novel for me to realize the important contribution Lamarr made to this communications revolution we enjoy. Bluetooth, WI-FI and even cell phones all descend from her patented invention. Kudos to Marie Benedict for sharing the importance of Hedy Lamarr by writing The Only Woman in the Room.

International Women’s Day

March 8th is known as International Women’s Day. In our small town it is celebrated with the delivery of yellow roses sold by the local Zonta International Club. I am the delighted recipient as well as a buyer this year.

There are many ways to celebrate this day honoring women across the planet. Take a yellow rose to a woman who has impacted your life in a positive way. Share with your children accomplishments of your mother. Read a book about contributions a woman has made in history. The Only Woman in the Room is one I would recommend. Happy International Women’s Day!

The Third Gate Book Review

I am a big fan of Lincoln Child so I checked out The Third Gate for reading on a snowy weekend. Even though I find mummies super scary, I gave The Third Gate a try. I am glad I did. Child once again delivers.

The protagonist of The Third Gate is Jeremy Logan. In addition to teaching classes at Yale, Logan is an enigmalogist. Logan has been contacted by an old classmate, Ethan Rush. Dr. Rush runs a clinic which studies near death experiences. But he is also involved on an archaeological site in Egypt. So Rush acts as the intermediary between Porter Stone, the financier of the search for an ancient burial-place, and Logan.

Logan’s job is to determine if the series of incidents at the archaeological site are human driven or other worldly. Both are possibilities since the burial site has its own curse. Indeed both scenarios come into play.

The Third Gate Setting

The setting of The Third Gate is the Sudd. Child does a great job in describing this moving swamp of the Nile. (But if you need a visual click here for a short You Tube look.) This particular pharaoh’s tomb is underneath the murky water. Of course, this adds to the novel’s suspense.

Curse

As an enigmalogist, Logan is on hand for key parts of the dig. He is expected to solve the puzzle of the numerous accidents. But he is also on hand to aid Dr. Rush’s oversight of a near death survivor’s communication with the other world.

Another key character is Dr. Christina Romero an Egyptologist. She is a scientist skeptical of Logan’s talents and beliefs. The two clash but form a friendship over common values.

Lincoln Child has written a book that explores both human and otherworldly good and evil. The pace of the book keeps the reader turning pages. Those of you that seek out scary mummy stories will love The Third Gate.

 

February 2019 Wrap Up

Action-packed describes the twenty-eight days of February 2019. The month started out with a refurbishing kitchen project. Perhaps a better description is a face lift. The work continues as you can see from the pictures. A two-week drive across the country to celebrate an eightieth birthday contributed to the action of the month. Throw in some reading, quilting and garden planning and the end of February 2019 is nigh.

Kitchen Project

Textured dark wall paper on lower third of wallThe old wallpaper is history. A mixture of warm water and vinegar in equal parts aids in the peeling. I found spraying the wall with the mixture and waiting just a few minutes helped a lot. The timing is important though. After ten minutes, the paper was almost dry. (I live in a very dry climate.) So it is important to treat small areas at a time. I used about two quarts of vinegar in the process.

The next step involved applying a new coat of wallpaper primer. Once that was completed I marked the breakfast room wall to indicate the division between the two wallpapers. So far only the bottom paper is up. The top is on today’s schedule. The chair rail will be tile. But this tile came in square foot sheets. So I asked my favorite contractor to assist in cutting the tile.

A strategy is needed for the tile. Because the tile is a Koala Gray basket weave tile, which you can view here the application will be complicated. I think we have a solution, but I haven’t reach that step yet. So it is still a bit of an unknown. But the tile is cut in thirds and it is ready and waiting.

I also tore out the old back splash. Murphy’s Law dictated the last tile off pulled off a chunk of drywall. However, my contractor is lined up to do the repair. In the meantime, the remaining tile adhesive scraped off with a bit of elbow grease. Hand scraping tile glue from wallAfter that was completed, I coated the wall with KILZ 2 acrylic. I plan to use a mixed tile design here that I am quite excited about. Additional pictures will be forthcoming.

Back splash area after a coat of KILZ 2 Acrylic applied.
A coat of KILZ 2 Acrylic prepares the surface for repair.

Cross  Country Trip

In the middle of February 2019 (and the kitchen project) I drove across half a dozen states or so to reach the warm, sunny climate of Florida. Since I was not born there I am not a native. But, I spent much of my childhood in this state and consider it home. Of course much, like some is a qualifier.

I prefer to travel by car or train because you can see so much of the countryside. Yes, there is a need for air travel-so my hope is the U.S. Congress does not seriously consider a proposal to outlaw that mode of transportation. But, when time permits I opt crossing by land. I shared much in my Travel Thoughts post.

February 2019 Hobbies

Our weather at home has been cold and snowy. So, very little time was spent outside. I pruned the grapevines one day when the temperature reached the upper fifties. But most of February 2019 was spent indoors.

Quilt top before layeringI am currently hand quilting the Love Panel Quilt. The next baby in the family is due in early June. I think she will enjoy the bright reds and pinks. Even though I use a machine to piece the quilts I make, the hand quilting relaxes me. It takes a bit of extra time.

February 2019 Books

Many reading recommendations arrived in February 2019. Some I have completed. But I was thrilled earlier this week to receive a package in the mail from a fellow book lover. She gifted me with The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Both look fantastic. The non-fiction work I am now reading is Jeff Gerke’s The First 50 Pages.

My library check-outs are Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield. I loved her The Thirteenth Tale which I read many years ago. Also, The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict caught my eye. The latter, Like the Heather Morris book above are fictional accounts of true people and events.

Even though February 2019 is a short month, or perhaps because, I accomplished quite a bit. My goal is to have the kitchen project wrapped up by the end of March. My hope is the below zero temperatures will then be history, at least until the next winter season rolls around. I am anxious to return to gardening.

The Cuban Affair Book Review

Book cover with palm tree and ocean on frontIntrigue, espionage, or thievery? With a tad bit of a love story thrown in, each describes The Cuban Affair. If it weren’t for the publication date, late 2017, one would think the book was written in response to the 2018 American election results. Subtle and not so subtle references to millennials’ acceptance of communism and/or socialism are scattered throughout the novel.

Author Nelson DeMille uses a first person protagonist, Daniel MacCormick to narrate this action adventure. MacCormick, or Mac as he prefers to be called, is a veteran of the war against the Taliban. His first mate is Jack, a Vietnam vet. The two men charter The Maine, a 42-footer, out of Key West.

A Miami based Cuban lawyer approaches Mac for an unusual charter, a fishing competition in Cuba; part of the thawing of relations between the two countries. But there is a catch-or two. Jack will skipper the boat while Mac flies into Cuba. He is to provide back-up to Sara, a Cuban-American architect. So, the pair join a Yale alumni organized cultural exchange group.

Cuban Affair of the Heart

Sara’s goal is to steal back property titles and hidden money before full relations are restored between the United States and Cuba. She needs a love affair as cover for her departure from the group. For Mac’s part, he may just be falling in love. But can he trust her?

The action adventure has a major plot twist. Both Mac and Jack utilize their combat skills. There is deceit and lots of political commentary. DeMille is clear with his warnings about communism. I hope this book reaches the crowd in America warming to the Marxist doctrine. The picture DeMille paints through his description of poverty and hardship in Cuba is accurate. Everyone making the same wage only benefits those running the government. The Cuban Affair provides a good look at the economic woes of communism.

Fact or Fiction

A quick call to my favorite military historian as well as an Internet search left me unsure of the factual basis of the major plot twist. Plausible, yes. Possible, maybe. But actual fact? I will leave that for you to decide for yourself.

The Cuban Affair is a good read. Thanks go out for the recommendation. The action adventure genre is not one that I read on a regular basis as I prefer mysteries. But, I enjoyed the writing, the characters and the message. DeMille provides a male point of view of romance. No hearts and flowers, lots of basic human needs. This is not a sweet historical fiction romance. The Cuban Affair captures your attention on many levels. Give it a try.

Break Point Book Review

Break Point kept me reading into the night. The novel by Richard A. Clarke is a fast paced thriller complete with competing spy agencies from various nations. As is the case with many books in this genre, Clarke keeps the reader guessing with his many plot twists. But the edge of your seat action and sci-fi elements really set the story apart.

The protagonist is an analyst for one of the alphabet agencies in Washington, D.C. Susan Connor is height challenged and frustrated with Jimmy Foley, a NYPD detective her team has been saddled with. But her boss throws the two together to track down the party responsible for disabling the East Coast power grid.

In addition to the quick paced action, I love the characters. Especially the women. They are smart and courageous. When Susan faces danger, Jimmy is off on his own assignment. She is not bailed out by a man to the rescue. I also like the fact that she has a mentor, Professor Margaret Myers, who challenges Susan to fulfill the mantra Facts, Gaps, Theory and Analysis.

The plot is multi-layered. In addition to old-fashioned bombs, tactics include cyber war. A further twist involves politicians and wealthy businessmen leery about artificial intelligence and genomics. Throw in a corrupt general or two from multiple nations both friend and foe and Break Point delivers the action.

Break Point

This was the first book of Richard Clarke’s that I have read. My research indicates he writes both fiction and non-fiction. Break Point is clearly fiction. But I did find the Author’s Note at the end of the book quite interesting. He weaves futuristic ideas into the plot. Apparently the future is now. Just a tad bit scary for me. Make sure you take the time to read this supplementary information.

I recommend Break Point to any reader favoring action and deception. I also believe women will like and identify with Susan Connor. The geeky Soxter, a hacker is a good supporting character, and unlike Susan, I liked Jimmy Foley as well. The many minor characters added to the plot twists.

Clarke was so knowledgeable that I plan to look for some of his non-fiction books. Of course I think his fiction was quite enjoyable. Break Point was published over ten years ago, so check your local library first.

I want to thank one of my loyal readers for this recommendation. With all the reading material out there it can be easy to miss something worthwhile when it first comes out. Somehow I missed Break Point, but I enjoyed the eye-opening thriller. Biotech discoveries are a two-sided coin and society has much to think about. Thus, Clarke’s novel provides entertainment and reflection. Definitely my kind of book.

Organic Hobby Farming Book Review

Organic Hobby Farming

Andy Tomolonis shares gardening knowledge and so much more in his text Organic Hobby Farming: A Practical Guide to Earth-Friendly Farming in Any Space. Even though the sub-title includes the term any space, most of the book is geared toward gardening on a slightly bigger scale than most households. However, the author himself lives in suburbia. Thus, anyone can gain from Organic Hobby Farming.

The first six chapters focus on the organic. Tomolonis starts with evaluating the land. He gives tips an assessing both grounds and property structures. He focuses on small amounts of land. The book includes tips on finding farmland. Furthermore, questions to ask about zoning if you plan to stay within city limits are included. Also, references to websites and agencies both in the United States and in Canada that provide further information are cited.

After extensively discussing elements needed for a good property to farm, the second chapter turns to tools of the trade. Again the information is useful and the tips provide actual value to your pocketbook. In addition to describing various tools, both hand and machine, the author shares how the implements must be cared for in order to comply with organic farming.

Soil Care

Chapter three discusses the science of the soil better than any book I have previously read. The diagrams and photos gave a great understanding of soil composition. The information given by ph table and the points on soil typing are easily understood. Tomolonis incorporates the natural ways to improve soils into the chapter. This informative chapter includes composting, soil sampling and testing.

Calendar of Farm Chores

Organic Hobby Farming gets to the heart of organic gardening in chapters four, five and six. Chapter four contains a calendar of farm chores. Tomolonis shares the fact he is in zone 6 and explains how readers in other zones can adapt the information. Each month goes into detail what needs to take place on the farm (or in your yard) that month. For example, the book highlights floating cover crops during cooler weather and pests and diseases once the temperature warms up.

While chapter 5 extends the discussion on bugs and distinguishes beneficial from bad, the information focuses on individual plants. Not every vegetable known to man has its own spotlight. But the book details those typically grown at home or found at a farmer’s market. Also, the chapter discusses herbs.

Tomolonis gives great information on each highlighted edible. He begins with the basics. The reader learns about the plant family, key points about sowing, growing times and harvest lengths. Then Organic Hobby Farming details soil temperature, ph needs and germination.

The author indicates the ease of growth, shares varieties and my favorite, discusses companions. (For more information on companion planting, click here.) But the information does not stop there. Tomolonis gives tips on growing, pests, diseases, challenges and harvesting. He concludes each synopsis with marketing tips. Organic Hobby Farming is geared toward selling produce.

Chapter six focuses on berries and fruit trees. A caveat about what can be planted gives readers a glimpse on why this chapter is quite a bit thinner than the preceding one. The advice is good and Tomolonis is spot on with the information shared. However, if you want to grow grapes you will need to find another source.

Switching to Animals

The author begins discussing farm animals and their potential income in Chapter 7. Chickens are the topic of this chapter. Tomolonis shares the requirements to label both eggs and meat organic. This is timely information for those living in America. Across this country, many cities are allowing chickens back into the backyard. Organic Hobby Farming is a great resource to read before you build a chicken coop.

Next in the animal section is a chapter on honeybees, rabbits and goats. After chickens, these three animals are most likely to be found on a small homestead or even in suburbia depending on zoning laws. Once again, the author provides outstanding information in the “Easy Does It” sidebars. Other tips and tricks are abundant throughout.

Organic Hobby Farming Marketing Tips

The final two chapters are business related. Tomolonis has one chapter with information on marketing your organic produce. Much like the beginning chapters much of the information shared is specific. Quite a bit of time is spent on Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). These co-operatives are located across the country.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the book is the last chapter. Tomolonis stresses the importance of developing a business plan for your Organic Hobby Farm. The advice is good. If you plan to sell any of your produce, or even just have honeybees, you need to think about liability issues. I found this chapter as important as those focused on the crops.

If you are serious about gardening, especially organic gardening, I encourage you to buy this book. It is quickly becoming a go-to book in my home library. Andy Tomolonis provides great information applicable for any serious gardener.

Pandemic Book Review

Book cover of Pandemic by Robin CookPandemic by Robin Cook opened my eyes to the dark side of the biotech world. Protagonist Dr. Jack Stapleton, a New York City medical examiner, fears an influenza virus is the cause of a sudden death on the subway of a young woman. He is wrong about the cause of death. But his instincts are on target.

Stapleton is married to his boss, Dr. Laurie Montgomery. There is quite a bit of tension in their relationship. Both at home and at the office, tempers flare. Jack begins to shut his wife out. In the end this puts his life in jeopardy.

Organ Transplant

At the center of the plot is a young heart transplant patient. The reader watches her race along the subway platform in order to catch a train. She makes it. Her heart beat returns to normal. Then death strikes. The first symptom is a chill followed by breathing difficulties. She dies before reaching her destination.

The autopsy reveals a heart transplant, with the heart in fantastic shape. But the lungs are filled with pus. Stapleton hypothesizes death by virus, but pathology tests are inconclusive. To make things worse, the patient is a Jane Doe. Stapleton, unwilling to face problems on the home front, buries his troubles in his quest to identify both the woman and her cause of death.

Characters

This was the first Robin Cook novel I had read, so all the characters were new to me. But to existing fans there are both recurring and fresh faces in the story. For a new reader, the returning characters were not as richly developed as the newbies. Only the stress of living with a special needs child defines the relationship of Stapleton and Montgomery.

CRISPR/Cas9

The acronym CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Cas9 is a protein. A better explanation of this genetic breakthrough than I can give can be found in this video from University of California-Berkeley

Cook uses the novel Pandemic to introduce the promises of CRISPR/Cas9 as well as the serious consequences of the misuse of technology. The possibilities remain to be seen. But, birth defects such as Cystic Fibrosis and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy are among the targets for this technology.

Mirroring Trends

I found it unsurprising that a billionaire capitalist was the villain of the story. Nor was I surprised that the communist leaning millennial son saves the day for both Stapleton and the world. Yet, the virus was concocted by the son. Definitely some mixed message in this book.

Cook even throws in some comments from the son of how divisive America is as compared to a more unified younger Chinese population:

In dialogue, the young man states: “We Chinese university-age generation are all on the same page, whether we are in school in Wuhan, or Canberra, or Paris, or Boston. We are of the same mind-set to truly make China great again, pardon the hackneyed phrase. Whereas here in the USA there is depressing divisiveness and a kind of anti-immigrant neotribalism that is getting progressively worse, in China we millennials are coming together.” (Cook, 2018, page 372)

My economic background understands mixed economies. Capitalist societies have some socialism within the market. The same holds true for the other “isms.” I tend to cringe when I read praise for Communism and Socialism. But we have a generation raised after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fears of yesterday disappear as time marches forward.

Pandemic is worth reading. Cook brings attention to a rapidly changing world. Yet, pausing to think about the consequences of the change has merit. Let me know what you think of this novel.
For those of you interested in learning more about gene therapy the following website is informative:

https://www.neb.com/tools-and-resources/feature-articles/crispr-cas9-and-targeted-genome-editing-a-new-era-in-molecular-biology

Only Killers and Thieves Book Review

Tree suffering from droughtPaul Howarth’s debut novel Only Killers and Thieves is a gripping work of historical fiction. The story begins in 1885 and takes place in Central Queensland, Australia. The McBride family struggles to survive on the drought stricken land. Thus, from the start, the reader knows some hardship will befall the family dependent on a cattle operation for their livelihood.

Weaved into the plot is the tension between rival landowners, the indigenous population, settlers encroaching on native lands. But Howarth adds more. Only Killers and Thieves does more than give a glimpse at the past. This book reminds us how important it is to preserve an accurate history.

The McBride Boys

Billy is the elder. Sixteen at the start of the story. Tommy, 14, follows his lead. The third McBride child is Mary. Since the drought, most of the hands have gone. Arthur, a Mission raised black is the only reminder of a once productive operation. He is as much a mentor to Tommy as his father, McBride.

The only other help on the land is Joseph, a Kurrong. But Joseph leaves after the group finds the bodies of two Kurrong. The same two men the boys had recently seen alive chained behind the Native Police at the request of neighbor John Sullivan.

Soon after, tragedy strikes the homestead. The evidence seemingly points to Joseph. In the rush to get help for the gravely injured Mary, the choices begin. Once a path is chosen, the past cannot be undone. Tommy wants to head for the nearest town. The doc is there. But it is a two-hour ride.

Billy over rules him. Thus they ride toward the Sullivan holdings. Life changes forever.

Only Killers and Thieves

John Sullivan convinces Billy to alter the story of the evidence found at the homestead. Thus Billy tries to keep his younger brother out of the loop. But Tommy insists on participating. They become liars. Witnessing a sworn statement that a group of the Kurrong over ran their home. However, the downward spiral continues.

The McBride boys join the posse. Four white men and four Native Police comprise the entourage. The Kurrong are hunted. Then massacred. But Joseph is not among the group. Both teenagers take part. But the impact is not the same. Tommy has regrets. And questions. Why wasn’t Joseph with his people?

The division between the boys begins. Billy falls lockstep in with Sullivan and his view that all the blacks must be eliminated for the safety of the settlers. On the other hand, Tommy is truly a Doubting Thomas. He questions what really happened to his family. He questions himself. Then he seeks the truth and justice for the innocent.

Only Killers and Thieves is a work of fiction. But Howarth captures all the nuances of the time. The struggle between cultures. The fight to survive in a harsh environment. Furthermore, through the character of Tommy, Howarth displays how individuals must wrestle within themselves. Is there right from wrong? Is there a God? Or are we just specks in time?

This debut novel deserves much praise as does the author.

Picture of dry land with small patch of irrigated grazing

Nine Perfect Strangers Book Review

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty is the most entertaining book I have read this year. One of those just can’t stand to put down books. If you like books that throw you for a loop then you must pick up a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers.

The premise is straight forward at first. Various individuals are participating in a transformational cleanse at a health spa in Australia. Moriarty tells the story through each one of the characters. The alternation of the point of view is aided by chapter titles identifying which character the scene is centered on. Each of the characters has a story to tell.

Nine people; two single men, two single women, a young couple and a family of three check into the resort for ten days of renewal. They are expecting to cleanse themselves. Both a physical cleanse and a mental cleanse. Thus, no outside food nor electronic connections to the world are allowed.

Noble Silence

In addition to a ban on comfort food and social media, the Tranquillum House retreat commands absolute silence for the first five days. This noble silence will start the guests on their way to healing. Of course a rebellion rears up. Tony starts pushing back first. He questions whether the staff has gone through his bags. Both he and Frances tried to sneak in goodies.

Seemingly, Masha the director of the retreat gets everything back on track. Even to the point of re-starting the Noble Silence. But the temporary revolt has thrown her off track. After five days of “silence” and ordinary expectations of what goes on at a spa, Moriarty throws the readers for a loop. A totally unexpected discovery (at least to this reader) by one of the characters turns the plot line upside down.

Nine Perfect Strangers Unite

The story line becomes quite tense at this point. Each of the characters unravels. And in that unraveling readers will identify somehow, someway with at least one. Laughter, some tears, and a shocking revelation or two will keep the reader spellbound as these nine individuals work their way through a crisis.

Liane Moriarty has written another bestseller. I loved it. She ties things up and yet she leaves some things to your imagination. Nine Perfect Strangers may be as transforming to the reader as Tranquillum House was to the characters. The book is fun to read, it provides food for thought…and perhaps, most importantly, food for the soul.

 

The Train Quilt

One of my favorite things to make is a baby quilt. First of all, a new baby is someone special. A quilt just for the newborn is a wonderful way to celebrate. Secondly, the small size of the quilt makes the process fun. Even if you can only work on the project nights and weekends, completion occurs in no time at all.

The Train Quilt I just made for a great-nephew comes from the Railroad Crossing pattern found in Sweet Dreams: Heirloom Quilts for Babies. This detailed book of instruction for over a dozen baby quilts was written by Deborah Gordon and Helen Frost. The design looked very difficult but I was pleased with just how easy the piecing was and the applique train cars are adorable.

Color Selection

The colors chosen for this quilt reflect those of the nursery. Before I began the quilt I visited the expectant mother and took a peek at what she was planning for the baby’s room. A palette of primary colors with a deeper tone will create a room the child can grow into. The yellow is mustard, the blue is very deep with gray overtones and the red is also deep, either garnet or wine. Finding fabrics in my stash to blend well with this combination was fun. Knowledge of the color wheel is a must.

The picture to the right shows the railroad ties. The above mentioned colors have lighter colors mixed in as accents. The overall tone is warm. All the fabric used in this quilt was already on hand. A few pieces came from fat quarters which had not been used before, but most have appeared in prior quilts.

Quilt using mustard yellow, garnet and gray-blue colors as a base
Primary Colors with a Twist

I diverged from Gordon and Frost’s directions in color choice and fabric. For example, I used all cotton fabrics. I am already planning the next quilt with this pattern and I will have additional changes. I plan to use ribbon for the train ties. The quarter inch width is difficult to work with and the ribbon will automatically finish the edges.

Cutting and Piecing

Railroad Crossing provides printed pattern templates for all pieces. But the authors also suggest strip sewing. I opted for the strip sewing. But to vary the tracks, not all the strips were adjoined the same way. This added time to the work but allowed the use of extra fabrics. The directions called for eight. But this quilt has fourteen in the tracks and middle border. Additionally, the tracks are not all the same which I think adds interest.

The middle border was pieced in the same way. Instead of using six fabrics at a time I used groups of two and four. I like the randomness but still save time over cutting each piece individually.

Train Quilt Outer Border

I must confess. I have never used this pattern before because I was intimidated by the border. But, I remember how much my little ones liked the trains that run through our little town. So I gave the pattern a try.

Template of a caboose atop wine colored fabric
Plastic Template of Caboose

Templates are created by tracing over the patterns in the book. I did not add seam allowances. If you are fond of needle-turn applique you will need to add a quarter-inch. I chose to use fusible webbing to secure the train cars to the border. Then a combination of decorative machine stitches and embroidery floss finishes the applique. Remember to pull any threads on top to the underside. This will help secure them.

Machine Decorative Stitching outlines passenger car
Machine Decorative Stitching

Quilting

The suggested quilting for the large squares is an outline of the train engine. I opted to put personal details instead. So the quilt has the baby’s name, birthplace, date, time, length and weight spread across the different blocks. A light blue floss gives a subtle contrast to the blocks. Unfortunately, the camera does not do justice to this part of the quilt. But the close-up photo provides a better look.

I loved making this quilt. The piecing of the train tracks is very easy to do. Even though the applique outer border is intimidating, all but perhaps the newest of beginners should be able to accomplish this quilt design. The Train Quilt made for this latest member of the family has inspired me with an idea for the next addition. The little girl due in June will have her own quilt based on the Railroad Crossing design from Sweet Dreams but there will be quite a twist to the outer border.

Check back this summer!

 

Adding inner order to center of quiltAdding outer border to center of quiltQuilt with binding addedpieced box carfabric cutout of caboosefabric caboosecomparing colors of floss to quilt appliquefabric coal carfabric train enginedetailed quiltingcenter of quilt railroad crossing patternironing quilt seamsquilt pieces ready to assemblefabric log carfabric passenger car

Troublemaker Book Review

Troublemaker by Linda Howard was released in 2016. Even though I just now read the book I am so glad I did. This novel intertwines romance and suspense. The romance is spicy not sweet. But the hot scenes are tastefully done. What I like most about Troublemaker are the characters.

Both respect and envy come to mind when describing Howard’s knack for bringing both major and minor characters to life. Morgan Yancy is the leader of a secretive government team. He is ambushed and barely survives. His boss sends him to an ex-stepsister who resides in the mountains of West Virginia. Isabeau Maran, Bo for short, is the Chief of Police in Hamrickville. She reluctantly provides the place for Morgan to recuperate.

Howard fully develops both main characters. Their personalities are brought to life through prose and dialog. A grudging friendship realistically develops into more. The relationship does not seem forced in order to continue the plot. Howard is a master.

An addition to the couple trying not to fall in love while danger abounds, is Tricks, the smartest golden retriever you will ever read about. Now I am a cat person but I would make an exception for this dog. She steals the show. She is the love of the town and the life of Bo.

Multiple plot lines

Troublemaker pushes the ambush plot to the background while developing the relationship of the two main characters. The subplot revolves around the people of Hamrickville. This allows Howard the opportunity to fully develop both the main characters and the support crew. True to life, a domestic violence incident divides the small town. Bo has her hands full both at work and at home.

Fortunately for the human heroine of the story, Morgan is intent on regaining his strength. He saves the day on several occasions. But Howard does not denigrate the females in the story. They hold their own. Furthermore, the developing partnership between Morgan and Bo is part of what makes their relationship one to relish.

Troublemaker is a great book for a weekend read. There is definitely adult content. But the scenes are not over the top. This was the perfect relief from some of the heavy books I have been working through. If you like the combination of romance and suspense, I encourage you to find a copy of Troublemaker. I think you will enjoy it.