Category: In The Library

What Rose Forgot Book Review

Books in a book case

Nevada Barr has serious skills. Many may know her writing from the Anna Pigeon/National Park series. The stand-alone novel, What Rose Forgot enjoys the same excellent writing. Yet, the tone is new and fresh. This ability to excel outside of the writer’s and loyal readers’ comfort zone is rare.

Even though there is mystery and mayhem from beginning to end. There is also humor. The laugh out loud kind. I love the characters as well as the commentary. Rose Dennis escapes from a lock-down facility for severe dementia sufferers. And yet returns again and again. Each time more comedic. Much like Lucille Ball.

Plot and Characters of What Rose Forgot

A simplistic and straight-forward plot of drugging, committing and then killing the patients is wholly entertaining due to the scenes that move the plot along. The setting is suburban Charlotte, North Carolina. Think large back yards backing onto a Greenbelt. And Teepees and playhouses holding fort and providing sanctuary.

As Rose pushes past the drug-induced fog, her mind begins to follow the money trail. She is aided by a couple of young teenagers, attached to cell phones and their ubiquitous apps. How did we survive without Uber and Lyft?

Through a series of slapstick terrors, Rose survives various attempts on her life. Then she convinces the flunkies to turn on the money and work with her, not off her. Of course her plotting goes awry.

Karma

Perhaps what I liked best about the character of Rose Dennis is her concern about Karma. She truly embodies the philosophy. Rose tries to mitigate the wrong she is committing. Sometimes she succeeds.

Karma occurs throughout What Rose Forgot. Good intentions can mitigate bad deeds. But malevolence is punished to the fullest. What goes around comes around. So be kind to others.

What Rose Forgot

In this humorous and sometimes scary novel, the murder victims are only names in the pages. Rose is quirky but the dementia is drug-induced. She uncovers the nefarious scheme only because she is a victim. Obviously Rose did not forget enough in What Rose Forgot.

I have read many if not all of Barr’s Anna Pigeon books as well as one or two of the others. Truly I enjoyed this one the most. Maybe it was the humor. Maybe the suspense was good without sending me over the edge. Definitely, it was the character of Rose. I would love to see more. Perhaps Rose can really hook up with Lyft driver Brian….

The waiting list to check out What Rose Forgot on Libby is over six months long. Fortunately I had picked up a copy at the Barnes and Noble on my last trip to the nearest city before the lockdown. This book is a keeper and the money well spent. Buy a copy soon!

 

 

Review of Herb Books

Three Herb Books Reviewed

I love cooking with herbs. But I do not own a single culinary herb book. Most of my gardening books have a section on herbs or information on individual herbs. Additionally, I have four herb books mostly based on medicinal uses. They are all quite interesting to read but I have yet to fully utilize their information. I am going to talk about three of the herb books today.

Ortho’s All About Herbs

Maggie Oster is the author of Ortho’s All About Herbs. I own the 1999 edition and find it a compact reference guide. Even though it is condensed, only six pages devoted to culinary use of herbs and a similar number for medicinal use, the guide is chalk full of information. Not much white space is left on the page.

What I like best about this herb book is the table of Common Herbs and Their Uses on pages 8-11. A close second is the detailed index. Since it is a how-to book there are plenty of pages devoted to educating a novice. About half the book is devoted to individual plants. While Basil earns an entire page, most of the described herbs share space. Much like in a garden.

National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs

National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants was co-authored by Rebecca L. Johnson, Steven Foster, Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and David Kiefer, M.D. This book is impressive. Gorgeous photography and beautiful illustrations accompany eight chapters of herbal information.

Since this herb book focuses on medicinal use, the plants are grouped by which part of the body they aid. For example, Chapter Four covers herbs useful for digestive ailments. However, each herb is only covered under one section. But the authors do indicate alternative therapeutic uses.

Readers may find it interesting to discover the inclusion of plants not considered herbs. Perhaps the inclusion of edibles such as tomatoes and various berries is the reasoning behind the long title. Whether herb or non-herb, the information contained is extensive.

Medicinal Plants At Home

The third book I want to share comes to us via Spain. Marìa Trànsito Lòpez Luengo and Carlota Màñez Arisò are the co-authors of the informative herb book Medicinal Plants at Home. I like how the authors organized the book.

First, there is an overall introduction. Then, the herbs are broken into groupings for subgroups of individuals, travelers, children, the elderly, etc. There is a short section on using herbs throughout the house and then the herbs are typed by how they affect the body. The authors discuss if the herbs are used for relaxation, anti-inflammatory purposes or as an immuno-stimulant.

Each herb is discussed and photographed. The authors indicate uses and include precautions and if/when the herb is contraindicated. Further, the plant is described and natural habitat disclosed. A recipe for each is included under the remedies section.

Herb Books for the Herb Garden

I am still expanding my herb garden. Currently, my herbs have more culinary applications than medicinal. While I have added both rose hips and lavender to my bath water, I have yet to make any teas or poultices. My horehound is a wonderful ground cover but I do not know how to turn it into a cough drop.

A fourth herb book is quite different and I am still reading it. Therefore The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Healing Remedies will be reviewed at a later date.

Modern medicine has replaced herbal medicine at the household level. I truly do not personally know anyone who mixes their own concoctions. My comfort level at this point in time is quite low with respect to preparing my own medicinal therapies. But, I am interested in adding herbal teas to my repertoire.

Enjoy the slide show.

 

 

 

 

 

Long Road to Mercy Book Review

I recently read Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci. He is a veteran author known for his thrillers. The publishing date for Long Road to Mercy is 2018. But I did not buy/see it at the time. However, I enjoyed checking it out through my Libby App.

New Series, New Characters

Baldacci introduces a new series with Long Road to Mercy. The protagonist, Atlee Pine is a FBI agent based in the rural American town of Shattered Rock, Arizona. Pine is a loner in her mid-thirties with quite a back story. Her twin was kidnapped and never found at the age of six. While Long Road to Mercy begins and ends with this back story, the main plot revolves around government intrigue. The setting is split between the Grand Canyon and Washington, D.C.

Pine’s office consists of one staff member, Carol Blum. Blum is a key character in the book. Older than Agent Pine by about twenty years, Blum can recognize dedication when she sees it. She knows Pine is dedicated. So, Blum mentors FBI Agent Pine and serves as an admirable backup.

Sam Kettler is a National Service Park Ranger. He served in the Mid-east and has razor sharp skills. Kettler and Pine connect. Both are in top physical condition and both carry scars. Quite possibly the relationship will continue in future stories.

Long Road to Mercy Plot

Intrigue, espionage, and treason are at the heart of the novel. Primary action takes place deep in the Grand Canyon with Agent Pine and her assistant, Blum making a sneak trip to Washington D.C. in between. The storyline keeps the reader hooked. The protagonist digs deep to reach the bottom of the mystery.

There is a thinly veiled link to recent historical events in the United States, but the story is pure fiction. And that is a good thing. Because a similar scenario in true life would be devastating.

Novel Strengths

Baldacci has created complex and compelling characters. Both Pine and Blum are strong women and I like that. Sam Kettler is macho without the attitude. I also like that. The sequel to Long Road to Mercy is A Minute to Midnight. I have placed that novel on my To Be Read List.

Readers who enjoy action and don’t mind some violence will enjoy this novel. The main character is a strong female. David Baldacci is an expert at weaving stories of intrigue interspersed with moral conflict. I think the Atlee Pine series will develop quite a following. I know I enjoyed it.

 

 

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It Book Review

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata  is a well- researched tome. I spent about a week reading through the historical information in order to better understand the response to the Covid-19 pandemic we are currently facing.

Historical Account of Flu Through The Ages

Kolata begins with a prologue well worth reading. She follows this with an opening chapter on the Spanish Flu of 1918. The information presented is a basis for the main thread of virology research which takes place decades later and is the impetus of Kolata’s writing. This historical approach carries throughout Flu.

In order to give the reader perspective on pandemics, Kolata digs deep into history. An early (perhaps the earliest) record of epidemic exists through the writings of Thucydides from 431 B.C. in Athens, Greece. In addition to describing the illness, Thucydides comments on the reaction of the populace to the disease. The Greeks experienced medical doctors falling prey to the epidemic, people turning to religion for salvation and finally isolating themselves in their homes to avoid the illness.

This pattern repeats itself throughout the centuries. Kolata reports on the various pandemics including the Black Death and the flu of 1918. An eerily similar response occurs time and again. The population divides into two groups of thought. (Much like we are experiencing in 2020.)

Cross Species Flu

After providing an historical basis, Kolata switches to some of the unknowns of viral spread. Through the years, scientists tried to link all types of flu outbreaks to bacterium. Perhaps the presence of bacteria provided the quick spread. Others linked viruses to co-existing in animals. Pigs, ferrets and birds are just some examples.

The 1918 pandemic is often linked to swine and the author ties this strain to a chapter on the Swine Flu vaccine of 1976. Again, the comparison to the politics and scientific disagreements to current events is relevant for the reader.

Advances in Science

Much of Flu focuses on the work of scientists to determine the cause of the 1918 pandemic. I found the information interesting. But, to be honest I struggled to a certain extent with the jargon as well as the concepts presented. But biology was not my strong suit.

Kolata discusses multiple attempts to isolate the 1918 Influenza virus. As early as the 1950s, scientists attempted to retrieve the virus from frozen bodies. This effort was unsuccessful. However, the 1990s brought about additional attempts.

This portion of the text interested me the most from an economic standpoint. In the 1990s, multiple researchers again attempted to isolate the origins of the 1918 virus. Kolata relates several different approaches. One expedition took five years at a cost of half a million. It did not succeed. However, other sources had more success.

Flu was written prior to the reconstruction of the 1918 virus. Those of you interested in what has happened with this particular strain can click here for a CDC report.

Non-Fiction

Gina Kolata presents in Flu an excellent example of a well-researched non-fiction account of scientists searching to unravel the source of a pandemic.

Those of you who follow me know that I have been struggling of late to finish a variety of non-fiction books. Kolata’s book was the longest at almost 400 pages of text. Perhaps what sets Flu apart was the thorough research. Another possibility is the blend of science and history. Regardless, I read Flu in its entirety.

Although Flu was published in 2001, copies are still available to purchase. The book is also on Kindle and through the Libby app. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a science or history background. Furthermore, I think those with an interest in political science, economics, and anthropology will also find the subject matter of interest. Flu is not a quick read. The time spent is worthwhile. Someone on my Christmas list will get a copy in December of 2020.

 

Contagion Book Review

I am not sure how to characterize Contagion by Robin Cook. Certainly there is murder involved and quite a bit of mystery but it is not really a whodunit. Furthermore, there is suspense and action but Contagion is not quite a thriller either. Whatever the category, I found the novel quite entertaining. Cook achieved the pinnacle-he surprised me toward the end.

Contagion Protagonist

Dr. John Stapleton is the protagonist in Contagion. He is a New York City medical examiner and his life is devoted to his job. A private man, Stapleton begins to open up to Terese Hagen, who is on the fast track at an advertising agency. The two are drawn together as Stapleton investigates the sudden appearance of exotic viral deaths at a NYC hospital.

Stapleton is a compelling character. The reader emphasizes with the tragedy of his past. His present life is of interest as well. Few white doctors choose to live in Harlem.

Furthermore, the virulent cases are bringing Stapleton back to life. Hagen is not the only woman to stir his interest. The re-awakening to life continuing after the death of a loved one is uplifting.

Gang Interaction

A significant thread in the story revolves around Stapleton and two rival gangs in New York City. A hit is placed on the good doctor as he comes closer and closer to discovering the truth of the numerous deadly contagions. The interaction of the two gangs and how they solve their own dispute is both interesting as a social commentary as well as vital to the plot.

Cook’s exploration of racial interaction adds to the story. The complexity of personalities as well as repercussions from gang violence provide a juxtaposition to the other running themes in the plot. Inclusion of this sub-theme is pertinent and moves the story forward.

Cut-throat Competition

The storyline of Terese Hagen provides an interesting commentary on the cut-throat nature of advertising. She faces threats from within her company as well as from other organizations. The author certainly points out the conflict between genders re: promotion and advancement.

Hagen’s concern for the dangers facing Stapleton were, at times, mothering in nature. The way the two characters reluctantly opened up to each other seemed to foreshadow the future. But something lurking in the background is insidious.

Surprise Ending in Contagion

Robin Cook creates a final twist to throw the reader off kilter. The ending certainly showed just how warped people can become from life’s tragedies. However, Cook also weaves redemption into the tale.

I found Contagion interesting on many levels. The medical analyses certainly play a large part. But what made the story so fascinating and even rewarding were the actions in the many sub-plots. And of course, I always love surprises. I highly recommend Contagion to ease the stay-at-home blahs.

48 Hours Book Review

Solar picture

 

48 Hours by William R. Forstchen was another can’t put it down until finished book. Forstchen’s writing is compelling. He makes the reader think about the moral issues while weaving a fascinating tale. Furthermore, political nuances are incorporated throughout the novel.

The premise of 48 Hours is that the Earth is in line for an ELE (extinction level event) from a powerful solar flare. For those readers who have not tuned into the many Discovery Channel shows explaining CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) and other solar disturbances, Forstchen does an outstanding job weaving the science into his fictional story. He strikes a balance between education and entertainment.

48 Hours Settings

The author uses a dual setting in 48 Hours. The story opens up in Southwest Missouri. But an equally important thread takes place in Washington, D.C. with a second storyline. The two plots are stand alone, with a thin tie at the end.

Springfield, Mo.

The lead characters in Missouri are Darren and Darla Brooks. Both are in their second marriage with grown children. The blended family includes a sprinkling of grandchildren. They have ties to military. Darren served in the Mideast and Darla had recently sold a company supplying the military.

A previous CME from a few weeks ago is the current reality. A second hit is the basis of the plot. Darren is head of security for a cavernous underground site with sections either owned or leased by both governmental and private entities. This factor puts him at the center of the story.

Washington, D.C.

Dr. Richard Carrington V is the central character of the 48 Hours storyline based in the United States capitol. His interest in solar flares came naturally as the descendant of the first Richard Carrington. Both the solar event of 1859 and Carrington V are namesakes.

Moral Issue

Key to the novel is the various characters’ moral struggles brought on by the ELE. In a scenario where only one percent survive, who belongs in the continuity of mankind? Forstchen explores this concept, balancing altruistic efforts with the need to plan for future existence.

48 Hours contains individuals within the government and other positions of authority that “do the right thing.” But alas, they are more the exception than the rule. William R. Forstchen has once again written a fictional novel based in science that will give the reader pause. If there truly are a number of these underground facilities, how do we select in advance the survivors?

 

 

Hide Away Book Review

Book Cover of Hide AwayHide Away by Iris Johansen is a fast paced thriller. The author excels at hooking the reader. Hide Away is a page turner. And then before you know it you are in the middle of the next chapter. And the next. Johansen fulfills the need of an addictive reader. The stories carry from one story to the next. The biggest trial is waiting for the next publication.

Eve Duncan

Hide Away is part of the Eve Duncan series. Duncan, the protagonist, faces new challenges in this installment of her saga. She needs to hide a child from a multitude of criminals. All while coming to terms with a major twist in her personal life.

The Eve Duncan series of books are entwined. There is a bit of a blur between beginnings and endings. Hide Away is directly linked to the precursor, Shadow Play. While reading the books in order is not a requirement, it may be helpful. Fortunately, the publication date is 2016 so once you finish Hide Away you can follow up with Night and Day. I say fortunately because Johansen not only has hooks between chapters, but cliffhangers to end books.

Hide Away Plot

From the opening scene in California to the Scotland Highlands, Eve and her young rescue Cara are on the run. The bad guys are tied to cartels. But the greatest villain of all is female with marital ties to a ruthless cartel leader and blood ties to the Russian Mob. Thus the plot has suspense, deceit and a thirst for blood pitted against empathy and courage.

A major sub-plot involves Eve’s adopted daughter Jane. The author weaves heartbreak and recovery into the story line with Jane’s back story. The setting, harsh, remote and mystical also gives substance to the plot.

My suggestion for readers interested in this fast paced novel is to first read Shadow Play. Like Eve and Jane I believe you will find the ending just like a beginning and be eager to follow Hide Away with Night and Day. The Eve Duncan series is captivating and just a bit addictive. Happy Reading!

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Flowering Pear Tree March 2020 has been a long month. Covid-19 is a pandemic and has caused widespread damage. Both lives and economies will be impacted in the near future. I cannot foresee the long term consequences, but there will naturally be repercussions. So, I spend a small amount of time daily looking to the future.

Socio-economic Impact of Black Swan Events

If you have not read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I highly recommend finding a copy. Even though the book was published over a decade ago, I think you will find it relevant. In simple terms a Black Swan event is one that is highly improbable.

Back in January, I took notice when the city of Wuhan was placed on lock-down. Even though the mortality numbers were not necessarily statistically significant, the sheer fact that a city of millions lost the freedom to move about created a concern in my mind. The few I discussed this with did not see such an event happening in a democratic country. New York City was often cited as a comparison. Even I had trouble picturing a quarantine covering the five boroughs. But, I did not rule it out. Unfortunately that has come to pass not only in New York City but in other cities I love such as Milan, Italy. Or in cities and countries I yearn to visit.

Now I have two immediate goals. The first is to stay healthy. Since I no longer work outside the home, I am somewhat hopeful. However, I live with someone working in an essential business. We are mitigating danger as much as possible.

Online Learning

The second goal is to analyze how society will change in response to Covid-19. Across the world students spent much if not all of March 2020 away from campuses and schoolrooms. I know this will have a long-term impact.  But I am not sure what that effect will be. So here are some possibilities.

I think at the college level and possibly at the high school level there will be a trend toward hybrid and online courses. Personally, I find hybrid learning an excellent method for adult learning. I have taught and taken courses using a hybrid method and find it preferable to a course totally online. However, I think a case for the merits of online learning will be presented by the educational response to Covid-19.

It is unknown how younger students will respond and that response is one I intend to study. One of my offspring works for Denver Public Schools (DPS) and has shared how they are handling the stay at home order. With a great effort, the school district scrambled and procured a Chrome book for each student.

Lesson plans revolve around established content. Classroom teachers have regular “office hours” so that students (and parents) can reach out to them. The individual teachers have leeway to expand on existing lessons. In addition to DPS curriculum, information on supplementary online learning resources is provided. I hope this is a success.

Self-regulating and Sick days

I am also interested in how sick days are handled going forward. Not all workers get sick days. I know as an adjunct instructor I had to make up any days missed due to illness. Most of the time the make-up days were poorly attended by the students. And students often came to class sick worried about getting behind. I taught adults. Sick kids are even more complex because of sick care issues.

In the case of Covid-19, there is a possibility that individuals may be asymptomatic and still spread the disease. Perhaps this is in part why voluntary social distancing is a failure in my part of the world. But there is danger in the inability to self-regulate. I fear the lack of self-control will increase big government. I prefer local control.

March 2020 Mental Relief

I found relief from the mental stresses of March 2020 in a number of ways. Since I am a reader I spent a lot of time with cozy mysteries and romances. I thoroughly enjoyed all five books in the Ivy Malone series by Lorena McCourtney. Other books enjoyed were penned by Nora Roberts, Iris Johansen and Janet Evanovich.

On the most depressing of days I turned to sitcom and old reruns. The Big Bang Theory almost always makes me laugh out loud. My husband and I also enjoy watching Magnum P.I., both the old and the new versions. So, even if Covid-19 continues a filming hiatus, I will have ample options.

March 2020 In the Garden

From time to time we have a very warm March followed by colder temperatures in April and May. This is one of those years. Both the pear and peach trees are already blooming. We will still have below freezing temperature nights and so the fruit production will be impacted.

Early season greens have made an appearance in the garden. We have enjoyed Swiss chard in our lunchtime smoothies. The lettuces are not far behind nor are the radishes and spinach. Additionally, I have started a variety of seeds indoors. Everything from artichokes to tomatoes are growing in pots throughout the house. I am still concerned that the pandemic will affect supply chains on a variety of levels. Starting the plants by seed will act as a back-up if I cannot buy bedding plants next month.

Quilting in March 2020

I am working on the final border of a Train Quilt. To be honest I am stuck. The current train cars will vary from the original pattern. I plan to make the train a circus train. However, I am having trouble blending the fabrics. Specifically, the clowns. They are primary colors and the overall design is more pastel. Also, the elephant and giraffe come from a baby fabric with a blue background versus the mauves and greens I am using. It will be interesting to see how I tie everything together.

Covid-19 Reports

I have readers across the globe. Please share any experiences you may have with this pandemic in the comment section. While I have personally met individuals battling this novel corona virus, no close friends or relatives have contracted Covid-19 so far. I sincerely hope this continues. Take care everyone and pay attention to your health!

Finally, those with interest in economics may find the following interesting:

https://www.permanentequity.com/writings/viral-prohibition-eminent-domain-and-the-path-ahead?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=prohibition_eminentd

The Rise of Magicks Book Review

The third segment in the Chronicles of The One series by Nora Roberts is The Rise of Magicks. I was looking forward to reading it as I discussed in the review Of Blood and Bone because I thought more of Roberts traditional romance writing would be evident. Even though the story contained a romantic thread between two main characters, the romance is secondary to the story.

The Rise of Magicks Characters

This third story refocuses on a group approach albeit the center character remains Fallon Smith. But much like the first novel, Year One, The Rise of Magicks contains multiple characters and is sometimes a bit hard to follow the large cast. Much like the original offering, the story line in The Rise of Magicks concentrates on battles between the good and evil forces.

On top of the large number of characters from the original book and the second generation born to those individuals, additional characters are introduced in supporting roles. Keeping the story lines straight is easy if you have read all the books. Roberts also does a nice job of providing closure for the cast in Year One who were run out of New York City.

Romance

As stated above, romance develops between Fallon and Duncan. To be honest, I found the interaction to just be satisfactory. It was like an aside to the story. I am not sure the book was enriched by the interaction.

The young couple had a few ups and downs, but the emotional struggle was lacking. They seemed more like a couple of old marrieds versus two young adults falling in love for the first time.

Good Overcoming Evil

In the end, good triumphs over evil but not before loss of innocent lives. One of my favorite characters is lost in a battle. So, Roberts does tug at the heartstrings a bit.

But truth be told, I consider the middle book in the trilogy to be the best. I certainly encourage those who have begun the trilogy to finish with The Rise of Magicks. The tale is quite satisfactory. But I was not left wishing for another installment. All loose ends have been tied back together.

I was hoping for a good Nora Roberts romance. Not a book with romance on the side. Additionally, I really think the real life pandemic of Covid-19 has dampened the enjoyment of reading about fantasy pandemics. Perhaps reading The Rise of Magicks a year from now will be much more entertaining for you.

 

The Third to Die Book Review

The Third to Die is the first in a new series by Allison Brennan. This thriller revolves around a newly created Mobile Response Team of the FBI. The premise is the group will travel across the United States aiding in high profile cases.

MRT for the Third to Die

The first assignment begins March 3. Every three years a psychopath begins a series of three murders on the third day of the third month. One death at a time. Three days a part. Thus the Mobile Response Team (MRT) has time to react.

FBI profiler Dr. Catherine Jones is a reluctant aid to SAC Matt Costa. But he persuades her to help from home since she originally identified the pattern. Matt Costa is a loner. He expects the best and wants to fill the team with the best, so the MRT is not fully staffed. Lucky for him, Kara Quinn, a L.A.P.D. undercover agent on vacation discovers the first of the victims. She too, is a loner.

The team works well with local agencies. Surprisingly, the multiple lone wolf personalities function well together. The goal is to catch the killer before he reaches his target of the third to die. Unfortunately the killer strikes again, and again. Brennan’s writing has you on the edge of your seat rooting for the Mobile Response Team.

Serial Killer

The most compelling part of the book was the back story of the villain. Over the course of the novel, the reader gets a glimpse of the killer’s mind. What makes him tick? Brennan creates an understanding of the motivation.

But understanding does not equate sympathy-at least for this reader. I wanted the good guys to catch the bad guy. It took some doing.

Allison Brennan

The Third to Die is the first book I have read that was written by Brennan. I like her style. She creates just enough back story to pique the mind. The secondary characters all have promise for greater roles in future stories. I can’t wait for the next one.

I highly recommend The Third to Die. The plot line is thrilling and the characters are compelling. If you like murder mysteries or agency thrillers, I think you should find a copy of The Third To Die. Fair warning: you might feel the need to have someone nearby during the scary parts!

 

 

In Plain Sight Book Review

Sometimes the answer is in plain sight. Such is the case of the second Ivy Malone mystery novel of the same title. Lorena McCourtney follows her successful Invisible with this delightful sequel. Retiree Aunt Ivy goes into hiding in neighboring Arkansas to let the heat die down from her first caper.

In Plain Sight

McCourtney continues the theme of invisibility. For those who have not read Invisible, it is not invisibility such as a cloaking device, but more of a gray man-or woman in this case. The lead character is an innocuous little old lady that society looks right through. Instead of taking offense by this status, Ivy Malone uses it to her advantage as she follows her curiosity. Straight into trouble.

Once again, Ivy finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. But, unlike her first foray, she does not meet up with friendly law enforcement. Indeed, Ivy is a bit intimidated. But she handles interrogation with aplomp.

Supporting Characters

Two teenagers, a great-niece and her friend, lend interest to the story. McCourtney is outstanding with her characterizations. Both girls end up as key players in the plot. They are neither identical nor opposites. Instead the girls’ personalities lead realism to the fiction. The adult characters are also believable. And so are their actions. Thus Ivy is faced with multiple suspects.

Christian Fiction

The local library has an extensive Christian fiction section. But for some reason these books are filed in the regular mystery fiction section. Perhaps the deft writing of McCourtney keeps the Ivy Malone series in the mainstream category. The underlying subject matter may also play a determination.

In Plain Sight delves into both infidelity and parental abandonment. But also, forgiveness and God’s nurturing. Ivy Malone is a Christian both in word and deed. The series is uplifting without being too preachy. This is a good series for older teens as well as adult fans of mystery.

 

 

Stay Book Review

Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde could be a novel that is off putting and even depressing. The subject matter is heavy. Two young teenagers growing up in dysfunctional homes. One lady, unwilling to face life due to a mistake many years before. Oddly, I found the story uplifting and the characters heartwarming. I attribute my response to the wonderful writing and message of the author.

The setting is small town America at the height of the Vietnam War. In a small town, everyone knows everything about everyone else. Or at least they think they do. Furthermore, forgiveness can be difficult. Small town folks can out-do elephants with their memories.

Cast of Characters

Young Lucas Painter escapes the constant bickering of his parents and his deep concern about his older brother making it home from Vietnam by running through the woods. His running companions are two large dogs that live with their owner.

Zoe Dinsmore is the fiftyish owner of the dogs. Her abode is a small shack hidden in the woods without a real road connecting to town. She has never put the pain of an accident behind her. Lucas saves her just in time.

Connor Barnes is Lucas’ best friend. His parents don’t fight. They just don’t speak. Together, Lucas and Zoe save Connor.

Dialogue to Remember

Meaningless dialogue in either fiction or life is just that, meaningless. But I did not find hollow words in Stay. Instead, there were multiple passages of note. Paragraphs of dialogue to be outlined for an English literature class. Words to remember. One of my favorite passages involves a conversation between Connor and Lucas. At fourteen, Connor has figured out the key to living. Something many never achieve.

(Connor): “It’s like…..,” he began. Then he faded, and I thought I might never know. “Zoe almost died. Well, you know that. You know it better than anybody. I guess she felt like nobody needed her around. But I do. I need her around. But she didn’t know it yet because she hadn’t even met me. But she was just about to meet me. All those years thinking nobody needed her or wanted her around, and she was just about to meet me and she didn’t know it. You get what I’m driving at?”

(Lucas): “I’m not sure,” I said.

(Connor): “Well…now I’m starting to think…you don’t know what might be coming next. And it might even be something nice. Something good, even though everything before it wasn’t good at all. You see where I’m going with this?”

(Lucas): You’re saying you have to stick around to see what happens next.”

I watched his face light up, and I knew I had hit it.

(Connor): “I knew you’d get it,” he said.

(Excerpt from Stay, Page 201.)

Stay is Lasting

The novel Stay is the first work that I have read by Catherine Ryan Hyde. But, it is not the first time she has made an impact on my life. Hyde is also the author of Pay It Forward. I neither read the book nor saw the subsequent movie, but for the past twenty years have taken the concept to heart.

While the title Stay will not make the impact of Pay It Forward on our language and culture, the novel has “staying” power. This book belongs in the curriculum of literature classes. There is a depth and wisdom and good. The characters struggle and grow and find not only the meaning of life, but the importance of living that life. I highly recommend Stay. We all need a Zoe in our lives. Maybe, just maybe, you are that Zoe someone needs.

 

 

Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden Book Review

I checked out Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden from the library late last week when we were in between cold fronts. The book was published in 1985 and has nary a photo as you might expect from an older publication. But the illustrations more than make up for a lack of photography.Page with emoji of gardener

For starters, Baker was way ahead of the curve when it came to personalizing the text. Thanks to the photo on the cover page, it was easy to see the resemblance of the gardener illustrated within. Thirty years before emoji’s became popular, Jerry Baker’s Fast Easy Vegetable Garden is strewn with these humorous illustrations. Furthermore, emoji’s for vegetables and garden critters also dot the pages.

Charts and Diagrams

On a more serious note, the gardening manual provides great charts throughout. In addition to the often found last and first freeze charts, Jerry Baker’s Fast Easy Vegetable Garden also has tables breaking down by percentage the amount of primary and secondary elements in the different types of manures, tankages, rock powders and vegetable waste.

Primary elements are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potash- Potassium (K) while the secondary elements are magnesium (MG), manganese (MN), and copper (CU).  There is also a short discussion on minor elements. In addition to the percentages found, Baker includes a discussion on the specific fertilizers.

Other charts differentiate between fast and slow growing plants and types of pests as well as beneficial insects. Baker includes a chart with vitamin content and calories of each type of vegetable. A few simple diagrams explain the importance of spacing and location of the vegetable garden.

Jerry Baker’s Top Tips

I do not consider myself a novice gardener nor a master gardener. Since I am somewhere in the middle there is still plenty to learn. Jerry Baker’s guide may be 35 year’s old, but I found it a valuable resource. In addition to the jargon glossary and the wonderful charts discussed above, the tips for starting seeds are great. Until just recently, I either planted seeds directly into the ground or bought plants.

Last year, I had some success growing from seed a type of tomato that the nurseries were no longer distributing. This year I plan to branch out as discussed in The Peanut Experiment. Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden will be consulted frequently.

The book has a good question and answer section as well as a few recipes. The section on herbs is extensive. Also the one on container planting is quite thorough. This just over two hundred page book is so well written I read it in an afternoon. If your library does not have a copy, do a quick Internet search. There are plenty of used copies available for sale. This book is a winner.

Jerry Baker's Pages illustrating types of garden bugs

Force of Nature Book Review

Jane Harper scores another win with Force of Nature. This second novel featuring Federal Agent Aaron Falk follows in the footsteps of The Dry. Plot twists keep the reader in suspense throughout. Best of all, Harper’s characters are so real and like-able, this reader was dismayed when the suspicion focused on one of the individual’s I most connected with among the potential culprits.

Remote Australia

The setting for Force of Nature is the Giralang Ranges, a remote area of Australia. Ten individuals from a company that Falk is investigating are on a corporate retreat. The group is divided evenly by gender and each team is sent on a different route. The purpose is to create a bond. But the women’s group is late to the rendezvous. Finally, four of the five women return, battered by the force of nature. Snake bit, concussed, bruised and stories that don’t quite add up equate a less than optimal outcome for the missing woman.

Of course, Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper rush to the scene when their inside informant is the one who turns up lost. The remoteness of the area along with the topography and vegetation of this fictional National Park make finding the missing woman difficult. Furthermore, the duo can’t be certain how their investigation of the company is involved.

Force of Nature

Jane Harper weaves a wonderful plot. Her pivoting between action and reflection is well done. Also, her sub-story of teen bullying and sexting adds just the right amount of uncertainty. Both kinship and friendship undergo excruciating stresses during this team building exercise when the women face the force of nature.

If you have not read any of Harper’s novels, I urge you to look for them. The writing is outstanding. I have yet to read her latest, but I am sure it will be every bit as suspenseful as Force of Nature. Jane Harper is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I plan to read her next, The Lost Man, as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

January 2020 Wrap-Up

January 2020 has come and gone. I truly hope the month is not a harbinger for the rest of the year. January 2020 has been a bit tough on a personal level, quite rough on a national level, and downright disastrous on a global level.  But perhaps this numeric alliteration of a year will yet turn positive for all.

Delays in the Hobby Room

The newest quilt I am working on has been at the same stage for two weeks now. Multiple trips out of town combined with a tune up of my favorite sewing machine hampered my progress. So as the month ends, I plan to replace a concentration on fitness with the prioritization of quilt construction.

Although January temperatures have ranged from single digits to the 60’s, February tends to be more seasonal. Even if the month proves to be as mild as January 2020, my goal is to spend at least twenty hours a week quilting. This should be doable.

In the Kitchen

Most of my canning activities naturally take place during harvest. But in January 2020, I twice made Econogal’s Granola and dry canned the jars. There is a lot of concern over dry canning. My plans are not to use the process to store long term, but to increase the time my granola will stay fresh. On both occasions, the lids sealed nicely.

If you read the post on the granola, you will note that only six cups of oatmeal are involved. Thus, the output is not great. Since my family loves granola, I think this method will work for me. Of course I live in a very dry climate, so mold on food is almost non-existent.

In the Library

The month of January 2020 featured mystery and mayhem in the books read. Entertainment galore. My non-fiction reading was almost non-existent. So I need to strive for more balance. But sometimes a temporary escape from the stresses of life is best.

We continue to read the Ivy Malone series which I just recently discovered. I like finding books that appeal to different personalities. Book series are also favorites because I feel a familiarity to the characters from page one. Writers of good characterization are enviable. Plotting is relatively easy when compared to the challenges of bringing an imaginary character to life. Much less imaginary life forms.

Which brings to mind Nora Roberts 2019 release Of Blood And Bone. I am waiting for my turn to check-out the last in the series. I highly recommend the books in this series.

January 2020 National and Worldwide Events

Hopefully the sense of foreboding prevalent the first month of 2020 will be swept away by an upbeat second month. This can be the case if the impeachment process is properly conducted. The United States of America is a republic. The citizens elect representatives to govern. Currently, I have faith that the individuals representing me will make the right decisions. If not, there is the ballot box.

On the global front, this corona virus does concern me. While I personally am at low risk, I am apprehensive about the spread for both people and economies. The emerging markets are a prime target in both categories. Trust again comes into play.

But, individuals can also calmly get prepared. For starters, try to have a week to ten days of groceries on hand. This may seem impossible for families that are struggling and live week to week and paycheck to paycheck. But it is doable. Next time there is a two for one sale at the grocery store, put the second on a storage shelf saved for just-in-case.

Second, viruses can attack anybody. While not a medical professional, I have raised a passel of kids. I know sick days are inevitable. However, those who are run down fare worse. So, get plenty of sleep, exercise moderately, and drink plenty of fluids.

Most importantly of all, practice habits of good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Keep the kitchen clean and the linens fresh. Self-monitor your health. If you are feeling ill or unwell, keep your distance from others until you feel better.

Mental Health Practices

Many on social media are fretting about events beyond our control. Anyone extremely distressed should consider seeking professional help. We need to remember January 2020 is but a moment in time. So, I urge all of you to find a way to unwind from the stresses. The individuals in this house found it helpful to read. If you need some recommendations, scroll through the selections In The Library. I for one am looking forward to February 2020.

 

 

 

Invisible book Review

Invisible by Lorena McCourtney was released in 2004 but is a newly discovered series for me. And I enjoyed this murder mystery featuring retiree Ivy Malone. The novel falls into the category of entertaining vs. suspenseful. My first GOL (giggle out loud) occurred on page 13. A good omen in my opinion.

Ivy Malone

The novel opens with Ivy and Thea, her neighbor and fellow widow, visiting a cemetery, which has been vandalized. Unfortunately, the day is too much for Thea and she succumbs to natural causes. This leaves Ivy adrift. She no longer has a sidekick to experience life with.

Thus, Ivy begins to feel invisible. So she decides she can scout out the cemetery, cloaked in her figurative invisibility, to find the vandals. Her nightly stakeout of the graveyard entertains with just a touch of slapstick humor. But hoodlums are only the beginning.

Murder Plot

While Ivy is occupied with the nightly visits, Thea’s tenant Kendra disappears. Since Ivy is looking after Thea’s house she redirects her snooping to discovering what happened to the mysterious young woman.

Ivy forms a bound with a young police officer, Dix, due to the fact his grandparents lived down the street long ago. Even though Dix does not stay in charge of the investigation, his presence remains as Ivy tries to bring him back into a spiritual relationship.

McCourtney weaves a lot of Christianity into her characters as well as some romance for both the young and the not so young. Chemistry abounds between multiple characters with one of my favorite combinations that of Ivy and Mac MacPherson. Mac, while not central to the story certainly adds some spice.

Invisible

Ivy does not let anything slow her down. Her leads take her on several trips to Arkansas. But the excitement occurs when she returns home to Missouri and comes face to face with both the vandals and the murderer. Naturally, she comes out on top, at least until the trial.

I enjoyed the book to the extent I plan to check out the next in the series when I return Invisible. These fun reads have a definite place in my reading rotation. They offer a break from the seriousness of life. Much like a sitcom. But unlike sitcoms, the books remain on the shelves for new readers to discover instead of facing cancellation.

 

Of Blood And Bone Book Review

Of Blood And Bone is the second in the Chronicles of The One trilogy by Nora Roberts. I reviewed the first in the series, Year One, two years ago. This sequel came out last year but I am just now reading it. This delay had a purpose, because I can now go from the second installment to the finale without a large gap of time.

The tone Of Blood And Bone is a bit different than its predecessor. The initial novel centered on survival whereas the second book in the trilogy is a coming of age novel. To be truthful, I liked the sequel better than the start of the series. Perhaps because the back story was already known. Or maybe from the possibility of romance foreshadowed for the last book in the trilogy. Regardless, I really enjoyed Of Blood And Bone.

Fallon Swift

The center of the novel and indeed the trilogy is Fallon Swift. She is The One. Her birth ended the first of the series and her passage through puberty is the focus of the second. I love the character. She is an uncanny and hence otherworldly, yet she is human too.

Roberts has created a compelling persona in Fallon. She is mature one moment and immature the next. So like the teenager she is, caught between child and adult. Her lessons with Mallick are important for both plot and character growth. The pages fly through the telling.

Return to New Hope

Even though Of Blood And Bone has a very different tone, the climax once again is centered at the outpost called New Hope. History repeats itself with yet another of Fallon’s blood and bone meeting their end.

But before that happens, the reader reconnects with many of the original characters. Since fifteen years have passed, the babies are now front and center. And romance stirs.

Of Blood And Bone

I thoroughly enjoyed Of Blood And Bone. As stated above, I rate the novel above the first of the series. Furthermore, I am anxious to get my hands on the finale-The Rise of the Magicks. Now that the entire trilogy is out, I can see how one might binge read from start to finish. If only I were snowed in with no chores to do! Some binge watch television, but my idyll is to binge read by the fireplace!

Fantasy and futuristic fans should add Of Blood And Bone to their book lists. But, there is plenty to like for those who prefer a coming of age story. Best of all for those of us who love romance, there is a promise of just that for Fallon Swift.

 

 

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.