Category: In The Library

The Survivors Book Review

Another Winner

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

The Symbolism of The Survivors

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

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

The Protagonist

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

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

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

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

Storyline of The Survivors

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

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

Recommendation

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

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

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World Book Review

Ten Intriguing Lessons

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

Well Organized Book

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

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

Agree To Disagree

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

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

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

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

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

The Authenticity Project Book Review

A Novel Idea

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

The Authenticity Project Book Cover

Simple Premise

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

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

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

Protagonist

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

The Authenticity Project Twists and Turns

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

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

The New Great Depression Book Review

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

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

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

The New Great Depression

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

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

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

Modern Monetary Theory

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

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

Investment Possibilities

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

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

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

Instant Karma Book Review

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

Instant Karma for the Protagonist

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

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

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

Social Issues at Play

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

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

Relationships and Growth

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

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

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

Spin Book Review

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

Contemporary Science Fiction

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

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

Spin Characters

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

American Nations Book Review

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

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

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

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

American Nations Part One

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

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

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

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

American Nations Part Two

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

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

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

Part Three: Wars for The West

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

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

Part Four: Culture Wars

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions Drawn

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

In his Epilogue, Woodard is eerily prescient:

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

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

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

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

December 2020 Wrap-Up

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

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

December 2020

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

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

A Low Key Christmas

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

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

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

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

Celestial Delights for December 2020

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

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

Other December 2020 Highlights

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

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

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

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

The Year of the Pandemic

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

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

Gardening in 2020

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

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

Econogal 2020

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

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

Superstitions

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

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

Planning calendars

Christmas Shopaholic Book Review

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

Becky Bloomwood Brandon – Christmas Shopaholic

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

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

Lighthearted Read

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

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

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

Christmas Shopaholic

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

Econogal’s Top Twenty Books in 2020

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

Favorite Writers

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

Familiar Names

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

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

One Debut Author

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

Favorites

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

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

Top Twenty Books in 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Woman in Red by Diana Giovinazzo

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr

Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde

48 Hours by William R. Forstchen

The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz

The River by Peter Heller

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Girl He Left Behind by Beatrice MacNeil

The Lost Girls of Paris– Pam Jenoff

The Rise of Magicks by Nora Roberts

Quantum by Patricia Cornwell

The Third to Die by Allison Brennan

Contagion by Robin Cook

Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

One Last Lie by Paul Doiron

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Invisible by Lorena McCourtney

Post-pandemic Travel

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

Old Favorites

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

Santa Fe

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

Nola

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

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

San Diego

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

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

New Destinations for Post-pandemic Travel

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

Book Inspired Travel

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

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

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

Most Likely Travel

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

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

What destinations are on your post-pandemic travel list?

One Last Lie Book Review

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

Setting for One Last Lie

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

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

Mike Bowditch

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

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

Paul Doiron

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

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

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

The Grace Kelly Dress Book Review

The Grace Kelly Dress

There are a handful of iconic dresses and the Grace Kelly wedding dress is one of them. So, when I spied a novel thus named, I couldn’t resist buying. The Brenda Janowitz story is a winner. The Grace Kelly Dress is a generational story following the entwined lives of women connected to a “copy” of the famous dress.

Rocky

Rocky, the granddaughter, is a millennial through and through. CEO of her own company, she is in complete control of everything-except her relationship with her mother.

She dyes her hair to fit her mood and it is the something blue for the wedding. Additionally, each major event in her life is celebrated with a new tattoo. She is marrying a man hated at first sight. Drew, the soon-to-be husband brings some baggage into the story, but there is obvious love and affection.

Rocky is at odds with her Mom on just about everything regarding the nuptials. They disagree on cake, venue, music and most of all on the dress. She simply hates the idea of wearing a dress, much less a frilly copy of the Grace Kelly Dress with what she sees as hideous sleeves. Janowitz does an exceptional job of surprising the reader with the “rest of the story.” The mother-daughter duo have a shared history of loss.

Joan

Joan represents the sandwich generation. As a reader, I alternated between love and hate for the character. She is the most complex protagonist. And the one to alter the dress in the eighties. She added Princess Diana sleeves!

There is excellent foreshadowing in the storyline of Joan. The author deliberately portrays Joan at the beginning as shallow. Of the three main characters, Joanie grows the most. Her own relationship with her mother is awkward and colored by personal loss. Yet, Joan shows the greatest strength and resilience.

The Original Owner

The third story line of The Grace Kelly Dress originates in Paris, France. Just a few years after Grace Kelly is married, a similar dress is commissioned for a bride-to-be. Diana Laurent fell in love at first sight. Orphaned seamstress Rose designs a dress incorporating elements of the Grace Kelly dress. And Rose falls for Diana’s brother Robert, at first sight.

As the novel develops, the original owner is depicted as in conflict with her own daughter and as a support to her granddaughter. Distance between generations lessons the angst.

The Grace Kelly Dress

In addition to the relationships between mothers and daughters, Janowitz reflects on the social difficulties of each generation. Each of the protagonists overcomes prejudices. The three threads accurately portray the time periods.

Millennials will instantly connect with Rocky. Hopefully, older readers, reminded by the difficulties of the past, will also relate to her struggles of expressing her own identity. The Joan’s of this world are in a unique position. They are the bridge between the past and the future. While their generation struggled with many issues, they are now at a midpoint in life. Still active in life’s challenges, but solidified in their own personality.

Finally, much respect is due to those of Grand Mère’s generation. Wisdom comes with age. Kudos to Janowitz for this portrayal. She provides great examples in both primary and secondary characters.

The Grace Kelly Dress is a wonderful read. Complex characters and issues create a novel that can be enjoyed or dissected. Or both. I strongly recommend this book. This will make the 2020 Top Ten list and may find itself under a Christmas tree or two.

 

The Grace Kelly Dress Book Cover

Deadlock Book Review

Cover of Deadlock by Catherine CoulterDeadlock is Catherine Coulter’s newest release in her FBI series featuring Savich and Sherlock. The duo play important roles in this mystery along with a couple of new FBI characters. Unlike previous Coulter releases, Deadlock has little to offer for romance fans and plenty of excitement for thrill seekers. Best of all, the two threads offer plenty twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.

Key Characters in Deadlock

In addition to super sleuths and happily married Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock, Deadlock features FBI Agent Pippa Cinelli in one of the two story lines. Cinelli returns to her hometown of St. Lumis, Maryland to solve the puzzle delivered to Savich. While on location she teams up with local law enforcement Chief Wilde, an outsider to the town. The post-Halloween timetable lends itself nicely to the macabre puzzle.

Meanwhile, FBI agent Griffin Hammersmith is assigned protection duty to Rebekah Danvers, the wife of Congressman Danvers. Savich saves Mrs. Danvers from a kidnapping attempt in early action of Deadlock. Of the two plot threads, the kidnapping has the most surprises. Griffin develops an “off the pages” romance with Danvers’ personal assistant. The bodyguard is quick thinking and action oriented. And he saves more than one life.

Revenge

Personal revenge lies at the base of both story lines. The taunting puzzle sent to FBI headquarters revolves around sudden death and blackmail. The master mind behind the mystery is seeking revenge against Savich. Agent Cinelli and Chief Wilde perform much of the legwork needed to keep a psychotic criminal behind bars. Good prevails over evil.

The Danvers storyline is much more complex. Long held secrets are revealed. Both greed and deep seeded animosity are the explanation behind the kidnapping plot. The conspiracy does not lend itself to a happy ending for Rebekah Danvers. Yet, Coulter offers hope to the character and the reader with a message from beyond the grave: Life is an incredible gift, regardless of its unexpected tragedies (Coulter, p. 446).

 

 

Near Dark Book Review

Readers familiar with the work of Brad Thor are sure to love Near Dark, his latest novel featuring Scot Harvath, from the beginning. First time readers may need to have patience. The first hundred pages or so provide important back story on Harvath. As a new reader of Thor’s work, the novel reminded me of fire. A slow burn at the beginning results in the best of bonfires.

Near Dark Action

The action does begin right off the bat. But, unfamiliarity with the series, may take a reader a while to warm up to the protagonist. A drunk, seemingly washed out and broken spy stirs sympathy from the beginning. And little regard for potential ability. This is why I think previous fans of Brad Thor’s lead character have an advantage.

Fortunately, the action carries the novel in the beginning. The excellent writing takes over from there. Harvath’s personality seeps out past the hard liquor-again a tribute to the writer, while the action moves from locale to locale.

Revenge is not always served cold. Near Dark is a story of retribution. Pinpointing those responsible for life lost falls to Harvath and a stunning Norwegian counterpart, Sølvi Kolstad. Both are motivated to work together, tracking the killer of a mutual friend and mentor, even though they themselves had never met.

Kolstad is an equal to Harvath. The author does not fall into the trap of having the female agent more vulnerable. Indeed, she provides strength and not just from her willingness to take brutal action. Her character is intelligent and very likable. I hope she makes a re-appearance in future novels.

Scot Harvath

I grew to love the character of Harvath. Trained as a man who evens scores, he retains his own moral compass. The author has created a fully rounded character. Brains, brawn and psyche are well weaved into the story.

Perhaps the moment of truth for me came on Page 255 of Near Dark where Harvath muses on the fact “We all have our crosses to bear. What’s more, we wouldn’t trade ours for someone else’s.” How could this character not reach out to the reader on an inner level?

Brad Thor

Thor is a new writer to me but has been writing many years and is a best-selling author. The greatest thrill of reviewing books for the blog is finding a new series to devour. Thor is more than a prolific writer. While his message maybe akin to that of Helen MacInnes, what I appreciate the most is the willingness to insert thought provoking philosophy, as highlighted above, into an action packed spy thriller.

Brad Thor has a presence on social media as well as his own website, which you can access by clicking here. A quick search about the author revealed a few insights politically and professionally. Not much at all about his private life. Yet another reason to respect Brad Thor.

Whether you are a big fan or if you have never read one of Thor’s books, Near Dark will make you want to read another. Well done, Mr. Thor.

The Day It Finally Happens Book Review

Book Cover of The Day it Finally Happens

Intriguing is the best way to describe The Day It Finally Happens by Mike Pearl. This well researched and annotated book combines fact with fictional what if questions. Or maybe, just maybe, not so fictional. In fact each and every chapter seems impossible until Pearl explains how entirely possible each scenario is. Be prepared to be scared-or at least unsettled.

Topics Covered

Pearl covers a wide arrange of topics. There is literally a subject to peak anyone’s interest. He opens with a discussion of abolishing British Monarchy and ends with The Last Cemetery running out of space. I read the first two chapters in order before cheating the rest of the way through the book.

In this day of pandemic, the chapter on antibiotics no longer working drew my eye. (Much like the blue cousins to the coronavirus dancing across the cover.) Then I was off to coverage of super volcanoes and Internet outages. Perhaps Pearl had a purpose for his content order, but I quite enjoyed skipping from topic to topic. And I learned a lot.

Chapter Set-Up

Each of the chapters in The Day It Finally Happens begins with a set of scaled questions. The four queries are the perfect way to set the stage. First is “Likely in this century?” with a yay or nay answer. Then Pearl has a plausibility rating on a scale of 1 to 5. The last two questions are more open ended and entice the reader to delve into the scenario. From this point, the chapters were introduced in a variety of ways. But after each opening, Pearl explained how each “impossible phenomena” could become possible.

Interviews with experts in the field anchor the author’s arguments for each chapter. Plus, Pearl discusses a variety of technologies that currently exist. These revelations (at least for me) are of the shock and awe variety. The chapter on The Day Anyone Can Imitate Anyone Else Perfectly is downright eye-opening. Current technology far exceeds that imagined by George Orwell of Aldous Huxley.

The Day It Finally Happens Hooks and Keeps

The best part of The Day It Finally Happens is the wide variety of topics covered. There literally is something for everyone. This book has made my list of books to give at Christmas. In fact multiple copies may be given. Mike Pearl is a writer to keep an eye on.

Chapters on Saudi Arabian oil, slaughterhouses and the last human driven car will appeal to multiple family members. The research in each chapter will keep the reader hooked. If you are in search of an informative well written book that applies facts to the implausible, buy a copy of The Day It Finally Happens.

Open pages illustrating end of oil
Illustrated page showing fish

The Woman in Red Book Review

The Women in Red is the debut novel from Diana Giovinazzo. This book is historical fiction but the author remains true to the historical facts in the life of Anita Garibaldi. Well researched, The Women in Red weaves a tale of adventure, independence and hardship into the love story of Anita and Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The author concentrates on Anita. Thus, The Women in Red first depicts Anita in childhood. Then the reader follows the story across the South American continent to Europe during the early to mid-1800s. Anita is a feminist before there were feminists. But such is the life of a woman in a land of conflict.

Brazil

Anita’s story begins in Brazil. She rides as a gaucho alongside her father. Then the first tragedy of her life strikes and she must move with her mother to the coastal city of Laguna. Away from her beloved horses. On the cusp of womanhood.

In Laguna she is forced to marry a lazy, drunken cobbler. The marriage is a disaster. Eventually, her husband joins the Imperial cavalry. Anita refuses to follow him into battle as was traditional. She sees freedom in his absence.

The Ragamuffin war in Brazil is a major theme in The Woman in Red. Because of her upbringing, Anita sides with the rebelling gauchos. She lives independently, working in a hospital and protected by her marital status. Then fate intervenes.

Giuseppe “Jose” Garibaldi

The exiled Italian, Giuseppe Garibaldi is that fate. Garibaldi is a mercenary. He has been recruited to battle the Brazilian monarchy. His fleet of ships command attention in the Laguna harbor. Garibaldi himself looms large over the populace of the coastal city.

Even though Anita is technically still married, she falls in love. So does Garibaldi. Their life together and their love for each other fills the remaining pages of the novel.

The Woman in Red

Anita Garibaldi is a critical part of the general’s success. Her accomplishments vary from her skilled horsemanship to that of a persuasive orator recruiting troops for her husband once they reach Italy. According to the novel, she is responsible for the red shirts of the Uruguay “redshirts.”

Most of The Woman in Red follows General Garibaldi’s feats and defeats as seen through Anita’s eyes. But she is a crucial part of the action. The author portrays Anita as an equal, not subservient. This is a key component of the novel.

Diana Giovinazzo

The Woman in Red is an outstanding debut novel. Giovinazzo shares in her author’s note where she has condensed the timeline in Anita’s life. The historical facts are accurate. Anyone whose interest of Garibaldi is piqued by the story will find collaboration in the historical accounts. But, this story focuses on the love between Anita and Jose.

In addition to her writing, Giovinazzo hosts the weekly podcast ‘Wine, Woman and Words’ which can be accessed by clicking here. Those of you searching for additional reading material may want to tune in. I look forward to more historical fiction from Diana Giovinazzo.

Wizard’s Daughter Book Review

Wizard’s Daughter combines magic with witches, wizards, ghosts and unearthly realms with Regency England. Catherine Coulter is a masterful writer regardless of which genre she chooses. Her tales are part romance and part adventure.

Sherbrooke Series

Even though Coulter is one of my favorite authors and the Sherbrooke Series is also much loved, Wizard’s Daughter escaped my attention when it was released over ten years ago. However, a positive side to the pandemic is discovering many books I previously missed upon publication. Wizard’s Daughter is quite the mystical escape. Perfect for a lazy afternoon.

Nicholas Vail

The young Lord Mountjoy has returned to England after learning of his father’s death. He is the oldest and inherits what is tied up through primogeniture…and nothing else. All monies were passed onto three half-brothers.

But that is not the only thing that draws him back from foreign shores. He knows it is time to find the girl who has haunted his dreams since he was a small boy. She is now a grown woman, and a ward to Ryder Sherbrooke.

Wizard’s Daughter

Found near death as a small urchin Rosalind has no memory before her rescue. Not even of her identity. Yet, as soon as she spies Nicholas across the room at a ball she knows he is the one for her.

Their whirlwind romance takes on an unearthly mystery. Clues to the hidden secret swirling around Nicholas and Rosalind appear through coded passages in a book and strange visions to both Nicholas, Rosalind, and Richard, the oldest half-brother.

Paying a Debt

Behind the many secrets surrounding the young couple is a generational debt to be paid. Both must travel beyond the pale to rescue a young boy from an evil witch. Along the way they must navigate along a path filled with flying dragons, wizards and mythical beasts.

The many visions delivered in England come to pass. And yet the outcome is twisted. For in the realm beyond the pale things are not as they seem.

Catherine Coulter

Ms. Coulter is a prolific writer. Earlier reviews include Paradox, The Last Second and The Devil’s Triangle. She covers many genres and each story is a treat to behold. Wizard’s Daughter is an excellent example. Coulter combines regency romance with mysticism and the end result is an entertaining tale for fans of both genres. I enjoyed both the romance of Rosalind and Nicholas along with their adventure in a mythical realm.

About A Rogue Book Review

About a Rogue by Caroline Linden is one of the most satisfying regency romances I have read in a very long time. Even though the novel is not a sweet romance, and the spice is red hot, the characters are heartwarming. The romance is real. Those who prefer chaste passages of lovemaking should skip those passages, but not the book.

All About a Rogue

The story centers on a rogue. A distant heir to the dukedom of Carlyle, Max St. James seizes his chance to turn his lifelong misfortune into fortune. A small stipend offered in exchange for cleaning up his act allows him to search for a long lost and hidden relative and to create a better future for himself.

Max is all business as he pursues his fortune through a partnership in Tate & Sons. Since the last of the Tate’s only has two daughters, Max’s offer as a business partner and as a son-in-law is accepted. Sort of.

An Exchange of Sisters

Max offers marriage to the oldest daughter. Unbeknownst to him she is already in love with the vicar. She elopes and he is presented with the younger daughter. He gambles and he wins. But not without a lot of patience and fortitude. The willingness to earn his bride’s love by waiting for a wedding night is refreshing to a reader in this modern time of instant gratification.

Bianca Tate is married to the business. She works developing glazes for the pottery. And she does not want the handsome rogue taking any part of the business away from her. Vowing to hate the scoundrel for eternity, she too acquiesces to the marriage. But, she is willing to sacrifice to keep control of the family industry.

Patience Outlasts Disdain

Both characters are quite like-able and the attraction between them is not forced. Linden’s writing flows as does the plot. The rogue is truly one of the good guys and Bianca is a strong, intelligent woman. And very forgiving.

Readers who love regency romances will fancy About a Rogue. This is the first of Caroline Linden’s books I have read. But it will not be the last. I just hope Libby has more available by Caroline Linden.

Sisters by Choice Book Review

Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery is the perfect book to chase away the blahs brought on by this pandemic. Mallory combines relatable characters with realistic story lines and satisfactory conclusions. The themes of finding oneself and inner peace are just what one needs to counter these stressful times.

Cousins are Sisters by Choice

A trio of cousins are the heart of the novel Sisters by Choice. The reader quickly learns how closely tied the relationships are. Sophie, the driven CEO reaches out to Kristine when her business literally goes up in smoke. The latter is on the next plane rushing in for support.

The remainder of the novel focuses on individual growth for the two cousins along with that of their “niece” Heather, daughter of the third cousin-Amber. If one were playing which one is not like the other, Amber would be the answer. An unlikeable character, yet she is pivotal to the third story line.

Romantic but not a Romance

The main thread revolves around Sophie. Mallery’s choice of an ambitious, forceful female executive for a protagonist is by design. The author’s goal is to develop her main character beyond the stereotypical hard-nosed, autocrat characterized by many when describing a successful woman. She succeeds on many levels.

Sophie develops a relationship with yoga instructor Dugan. The initial attraction is physical, but Dugan’s insight into the business world forces Sophie to evolve as a manager and as a person. There is just a touch of romance in the story line, but the focus remains on personal development.

Amber and Heather

The mother-daughter relationship between Amber and Heather is ripe for psychoanalysis. Amber, the oldest of the three cousins, is an unappealing character. Perhaps this is intentional. Her flaws remain throughout the story and serve as a backdrop. By contrast, twenty year old Heather is a charming foil character.

Heather is torn between loyalty to family and her own ambitions. Furthermore, her friends are on two differing paths of growth. But she feels stuck as in a time warp. Her story line has a satisfactory conclusion.

No more Stay-at-home Mom

Kristine is on year sixteen of being a stay-at-home Mom. But she wants more. She has a dream of owning a bakery. Now that she has a chance of chasing that dream she encounters push back from male family members. Especially, husband Jaxsen.

I quite enjoyed this thread. Kristine is a strong woman. Her goals threaten her marriage and her comfort zone. But what I like most about this plot is the support she receives from her mother-in-law. No stereotype from Mallery!

Additionally, character development is seen in Jaxsen. Unlike the other two threads, he is not portrayed as the omnipotent male. Jaxsen has his faults and his vulnerabilities. He truly does not understand his wife’s need to call something her own.

Categorizing Sisters by Choice

Sisters by Choice is hard to characterize by genre. Romantic relationships are present, but it does not belong to the romance genre. Since Heather is the only character on the cusp of adulthood, the book doesn’t quite fit the coming of age category.

Yet most of the characters show personal and emotional growth.

Susan Mallery

Even though Susan Mallery has written one hundred fifty books and counting, this is the first novel I have read from her pen. (Or perhaps word processor/laptop. Time is fleeting.)  It won’t be the last. Stories with warmth and positivity are a great antidote to these troubling times. If you are unfamiliar with Mallery, click here for her website. Put this author on your TBR list as well. Life is a roller coaster. Outstanding fiction enhances the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Girls of Paris Book Review

Pam Jenoff masterfully blends history and fiction with The Lost Girls of Paris. Background for the story is the recruitment of young British women as agents for Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. Jenoff’s characters are all fictional as is the plot. The story is spellbinding.

Two Protagonists

The storyline alternates between Marie Roux and Grace Healey. As does the time period. Marie’s story takes place during World War II. The plot revolving around Grace occurs  shortly after the war is over.

Marie is a single mom, half-French, recruited by the SOE. Much of The Lost Girls of Paris revolves around her recruitment and service during the war. She is a compelling character. Fluent in French, she is perfect to place as a radio transmitter into Occupied France. But she is not a natural spy.

On the other hand, Grace is hiding from her family in New York City. A “war” widow she is trying to come to terms with life and its’ cruel twists.

Eleanor Trigg

The only connection between the two is Eleanor Trigg. She recruited Marie and ran the section in SOE that oversaw the female recruits. Trigg is killed in an auto accident in NYC and Grace stumbles upon her belongings. There are twelve photos, including one of Marie, of the SOE agents that went missing during the war. These pictures of the Lost Girls of Paris, act as a catalyst. They motivate Grace to seek out the story of both Eleanor and the lost agents.

The Lost Girls of Paris

The thread involving Marie was captivating from the start. On the other hand, it was harder to engage with Grace’s story at first. This most likely arises from the intrigue and danger faced by the operatives. In comparison, the background story of Grace is sad, but not extraordinary.

Yet, Grace clearly grows the most. She is determined to discover the mystery behind the disappearance of the Lost Girls. And Grace finds herself in the process. Even though a romance is hinted at, she opts for independence.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Lost Girls of Paris. Pam Jenoff creates a wonderful piece of historical fiction. Buy a copy or find one at your local library. I checked mine out on Libby. This novel would be a great gift for those interested in World War II or with a likeness for this genre.

 

 

The Quiche and the Dead Book Review

Kirsten Weiss is the author of multiple series, including the Pie Town mysteries of which The Quiche and the Dead is the first publication. Valentine (Val) Harris is the owner of Pie Town. She is a recent transplant to San Nicholas. She followed her fiancé to the small town; only to be jilted once her life savings were invested.

Val is barely making ends meet and sleeping in a closet at the restaurant when tragedy strikes. One of her best customers, Joe, owner of the nearby comic store drops dead after eating a breakfast quiche. An interesting cast of characters, including employees Charlene and Petronella, along with a handful of leading citizens, among them Val’s ex-fiancé, make solving the death tricky.

Quiche and the Dead Flouting the Law

As is often the case with cozy mysteries, Val and her cohort Charlene don’t necessarily operate within the legal boundaries. The two do a little “entering” of Joe’s house seeking clues. Joe himself was a bit of an armchair Sherlock Holmes. So the two believe his sudden death is linked with one of his cases.

Their madcap antics solve Joe’s “cases” one by one. Along the way they have more than one run-in with local authorities Officer Carmichael and Detective Shaw. Weiss has developed her characters well. I will be interested to see how relationships develop in subsequent books from this cozy mystery series.

Kirsten Weiss

Weiss is a prolific writer. She has numerous books across several genres. Additionally, she is a blogger with a user friendly website.

Her writing encompasses mystery, magic, and both urban and historical fantasy. Individuals may wish to become members of the Raven(ous) Society via her website and receive free content. She also has courses in various types of witchcraft (including kitchen) which you must be 18 to access. Click here for Ms. Weiss’ website.

Ms. Weiss’ The Quiche and the Dead is my first experience with the writer. Since I like cozy mysteries I will look for successive stories in the Pie Town series. I checked this book out on Libby.

 

 

Girl Out of Water Book Review

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman is a YA (Young Adult) with some depth. Anise Sawyer is a seventeen year old surfer girl looking View of Pacific Ocean from atop a cliff.forward to a summer on the waves before starting her last year of high school. Life is good—or at least as much as it can be for a teenager with a Mom who floats in an out of life with years between visits.

But Anise arrives home after a wonder filled day of possible summer love and friendship to news that her last summer of high school will be spent in land locked Nebraska. Her Aunt Jackie-her mother’s sister- has been severely injured. Both Anise and her Dad fly out to help with the three cousins.

Coming of Age

Girl Out of Water is definitely a coming of age story. Anise changes from a carefree teenager to one with responsibilities. She must face her own disappointments while caring for her young cousins, twin boys and their sister who is embarking on the teen years herself.

But author Laura Silverman throws extra wave curls at Anise. As her young protagonist becomes more involved in her cousin’s lives, Silverman introduces a solid thread of diversity to the story. Anise meets single-armed adoptee Lincoln. And starts to lose touch with her surfer buddies back home.

Girl Out of Water Themes

There are several themes running through Girl Out of Water. First is one of non-traditional families. Anise has a mom who floats in and out of life. So, Anise hopes to find some understanding while staying at the home her mom grew up in. Her cousins, having a father who had passed away, now worry about losing their Mom. Finally, Lincoln is an adoptee who has moved many times in his young life. His roots are not tied to a geographical location.

Another theme is meeting new challenges. Surfer girl endeavors to learn skateboarding. This is a greater challenge than Anise first thought, but she wants to best Lincoln. Yet in the end Anise falls for Lincoln even though he is always eager to find new places. Her complete opposite. Of course Anise just yearns for the ocean.

Lastly, Silverman writes of introspection. Anise realizes at the end of summer that she did not keep in touch with her surfer friends back home. She becomes fearful that she may be her mother’s child after all.

Recommended Readers

While Girl Out of Water would fit the definition of a sweet romance-no sexual scenes, I still hesitate recommending for very young teens. There are scenes involving heavy drinking and allusions to drug use.

But, Silverman does a nice job of illustrating the strength of diversity. Furthermore, her message on the importance of family and not necessarily the traditional family unit is solid. These messages are a positive. So, I believe Girl Out of Water is appropriate for mid-teens and up.

However, I found a few circumstances hard to believe. As a parent, I would not readily allow a seventeen year old daughter travel by car from Nebraska to California with an eighteen year old male. Sex talk or not.

Nor did I understand the self-doubt of Anise. But perhaps it has been too many years since I was a teenager. Friends are important. But as so wonderfully illustrated by the character of Lincoln, self-worth is key.

The Girl He Left Behind Book Review

I have been looking for a true romance for several months and The Girl He Left Behind fits the bill. Beatrice MacNeil writes a heart tugging story of love lost and once again found. Far from being formulaic, the story is complex yet enjoyable and rewarding in the end.

Willow Alexander

The protagonist is only child Willow Alexander. Willow is sharp. And she is loyal. She also carries her burdens internally with nary a word to others. The book reveals the story line through her flashbacks.

Marjorie MacInnis and Graham Currie are her closest friends from kindergarten forward. The three grow up along the coast. One moneyed and doted upon.  Another surrounded by familial love. The third finds solace in the other two. Many of the flashbacks focus on pivotal events as they reach maturity.

Over time, Willow and Graham grow beyond friends. They become betrothed lovers. Then the day of their wedding, Graham fails to show up. Life then takes a turn for the worse for Willow. First, she suffers an irreplaceable loss. Then her father dies, followed by her mother.

But life goes on. Since this is a tale woven around the past, the protagonist is shown in a different phase of life. She has endured many losses. Willow is a solid citizen. Yet she doubts her own innocence.

The Girl He Left Behind Timeline

The beginning of the novel starts with yet another tragedy for Willow. She thinks she has accidently poisoned her employer and his invalid wife. And she is ready to face the consequences. From this point on is the rewind of Willow’s life. Her positive childhood becomes full of woe once left standing at the altar. The question for the readers is one of absolution and reclamation.

Did she poison the couple? Can she remain in the same small hamlet with the return of Graham? Can she find love again?

True Romance

The Girl He Left Behind is a rich romance. The machinations of others tear the young lovers apart. Denied true love they make their way in the world.

MacNeil tugs the heart strings as her heroine faces one tragedy after another and the years roll by. Now forty, Willow is faced with the return of Graham to their small hamlet. He too has suffered over the years. Their reunion is not smooth.

This reader appreciated the elements of forgiveness and empathy weaved into the story. The Girl He Left Behind is very fulfilling. I highly recommend this novel for all lovers of romance. The Girl He Left Behind is a recent release, so it may not be in your local library yet. This book is a keeper and well worth buying. Find a copy and enjoy!

 

 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Book Review

Kim Michele Richardson brings the proud and impoverished inhabitants of Eastern Kentucky to life in her latest work, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Even though a few liberties are taken with historical events, Richardson accurately portrays the bigotry towards the Blue people of Kentucky.

The Book Woman

Cussy Mary is the Book Woman. She has blue skin due to the genetics of methemoglobinemia. As part of the plot, her condition is discovered by researchers in Lexington and is tied to similar findings among Alaskan and American Natives. However, the reader needs to overlook the fact that the book has the scientific research done during the Great Depression. In actuality the work was not completed until the 1960s.

A nickname for Cussy Mary is Bluet. Her employer is the WPA as a Kentucky Pack Horse librarian. She faces danger in her work from both man and nature. The patrons along her route receive nourishment for their minds even as they face starvation. Cussy Mary is devoted to her work.

Racism and Poverty

Two key themes in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek are racism and poverty. The term coloreds in 1930s Kentucky lumped African-Americans and the Blues of Eastern Kentucky together. In the story. Cussy Mary and fellow book woman Queenie, who is African-American, look out for each other. Both characters manage to overcome the burden of racism. And both women also escape the abject poverty of the times.

Poverty is color blind. The fate of the Appalachian families during The Great Depression is sobering. Richardson is a master at pulling the heart strings while describing the starvation of the times. But she also has the reader cheering as her characters unite against the immoral legalities of the time.

A key outcome has the townspeople acting against injustice through the ballot box.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was released in May of 2019. Before the protests turned riots of 2020. Yet, the timeliness is incredible. I hope those that have protested lawfully read this book. Kim Michele Richardson speaks to social injustice eloquently. A cross section of society supports Cussy Mary. Furthermore, justice is meted through the ballot box. Something to keep in mind this election year.

So, I highly recommend The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. The writing is excellent. And the characters are compelling. This is a book worth reading and giving.