Category: In The Library

Braking For Bodies Book Review

Cozy Mystery

Braking for Bodies by Duffy Brown is the second release of the cycle path mysteries. This cozy murder mystery series takes place on Mackinac Island. For those lucky enough to experience the lilac festival on this motor vehicle-less, history-laden island, Braking For Bodies will bring back scent-filled memories.

Protagonist

Evie Bloomfield, formerly of Chicago, has survived her first winter on Mackinac Island and is gearing up for the swell of visitors to the island for the lilac festival. Her artistic flair adds interest to the bikes rented from Ruby’s Bikes. And her ‘Black Cloud” has her braking smack into the dead body of a blackmailer.

Since the accident occurs at The Grand Hotel during one of the peak tourist weeks, Evie easily convinces the locals to stage the murder as a planned event. Thus, the Peepster’s death creates the basis of a murder mystery whodunit for vacationers. Hope is this will not scare people off the island. Because ‘like’ all tourist destinations, tourism is the bread and butter for Mackinac Island.

Romance Abounds

A side plot in Braking For Bodies is the wedding of island residents Rudy and Irma. Rudy was the prime suspect in the first of the cycle path mysteries and Irma is the mom of Police Chief Sutter. Not surprising, Nate Sutter is Evie’s love interest. But will they ever connect?

Evie’s Black Cloud follows the wedding pair as well as the murder. And Evie herself.

Publisher Criticism re: Braking For Bodies

The biggest criticism for Braking for Bodies belongs to the publisher, Penguin Random House, more than the author. The paperback purchased at The Island Bookstore (on Mackinac Island) has a synopsis that is erroneous. Completely wrong. The blurb on the back has the heroine hailing from Los Angeles. But really the victim as well as several suspects originate from the City of Angels. Do publishing houses even pay attention to their product? Perhaps the author should share in the responsibility as well.

Back Cover of Braking For Bodies with erroneous info.

Braking For Bodies

I enjoyed Braking For Bodies. The backdrop of Mackinac Island is accurate and brings the island resort to life.  However, I think this is a series best read from the beginning. So, I suggest finding a copy of Geared For The Grave before reading Braking For Bodies. And I plan to look for the next in the series, Tandem Demise on my next trip to the library. This cozy mystery is a fun easy read just perfect for a stressful summer.

A Trio of Children’s Books

Story Books

Three Children's BooksRecently I have been searching for children’s books. My two granddaughters love when someone reads to them. And we are expecting a new addition to the family. Our tradition is gifting the new parents with a book along with another item the newborn might need. This ensures the young family has a selection of books right from the start.

Board books are great for chubby little hands and many story books become board books. But traditional story books are great gifts too. Of the three children’s books I recently purchased, the one released ten years ago is now available as a board book.

How To Babysit A Grandma

I spotted this gem of a book when it was first released back in 2012. Long before I became a grandmother. However, the purchase was recently made because the two granddaughters love to ‘go to the park’ just like grandma.  Jean Reagan is the author, and the illustrations are by Lee Wildish. My oldest granddaughter readily identified with the main character and loved the grey-haired grandmother.

This children’s book is certain to be a favorite, most likely a read it again. The vocabulary puts it past the easy-to-read stage for children. However, the book is a good choice once reading becomes fluent for the child.    Cover of Children's Book How to Babysit a Grandma

 

If A Horse Had Words

The second book in this trio of children’s books is by Canadian author Kelly Cooper and beautifully illustrated by Lucy Eldridge. If A Horse Had Words is poignant. Perhaps it struck such a chord with me because I live in cowboy country. Perhaps because I love horses. Such intelligent animals! They truly remember after a long absence.

If A Horse Had Words is best for older children. An attention span is needed. As well as a concept of time and duty. This book should be in every elementary library. It is so touching. The bond between foal and boy is lasting. My favorite of the trio of children’s books. Cover of Children's Book If A Horse Had Words

Chairs on Strike

Jennifer Jones has a winner with Chairs On Strike. The grandkids absolutely love the rhymes and colorful language. Chairs On Strike is in some ways similar to “The Day The Crayons Quit” which I reviewed here.

Personification at its best. The classroom chairs are tired of the abuse and misuse by the schoolchildren. Kids will love the humor and hopefully understand the message. Chairs On Strike was published in 2021. I expect it to make the best seller list. This is a great addition for a library of children’s books. Cover of Children's Book Chairs on Strike

Children’s Books

These story books are great for reading to a child. However, none quite fit the category of beginning reader. The vocabulary is not basic. And the stories are more developed than an early reading book. Instead, they are more appropriate for storytelling.

Young readers with fluency will love them. So, if buying for the child to read alone, the reading level should be second grade or above. Young listeners of any age will appreciate Chairs On Strike and How To Babysit A Grandma. My belief is If A Horse Had Words will be best for children with developed attention spans.

All three of these children’s books make excellent gifts. So, I suggest adding them to your books to purchase list. Furthermore, elementary schools should include them in their libraries. I look forward to future works from these talented writers and illustrators.

 

 

pages illustrated by Lucy Eldridge

Daylight Book Review

Another Thriller from David Baldacci

Daylight is David Baldacci’s third installment in the Atlee Pine series. And it is every bit as engaging as the first two. Furthermore, the plot is realistic and just a bit scary given some of the current happenings in D.C. and other power centers of the world.

Atlee accidently ruins a drug bust controlled by the Army CID. To make amends she gets tangled in their op. Of course, Baldacci weaves the story lines together. Daylight introduces John Puller, CID, and his brother Bobby, a government IT whiz. Both solid citizens and thus targets for the corrupt players in the novel.

Daylight Highlights Blackmail

The underlying theme revolves around blackmail. Not necessarily a means of gaining money. Instead, a way to secure power at high levels of governments. Of course, lurid photos and videos obtained with the use of alcohol and drugs provide the material for the extortion.

Daylight provides instances of blackmail fueled power. Candidates in the lead withdrawing from an election, individuals sacked for asking the wrong questions or transferred to another department or overseas. Is this merely fiction? Or a reflection of life?

Personal Quest

In addition to corruption, Daylight tells the ongoing story of Atlee’s search for her sister, Mercy. Again, Baldacci mirrors life. Evidence points to Mercy surviving the kidnapping. But at a cost. Too old to forget her family, Mercy suffered a life of imprisonment. Hidden in plain sight.

Videos of Mercy escaping as a young adult also show the toll to her psyche. Atlee is outraged and determined to continue the hunt. But there is quite the twist. Mercy may not be the only one on the run.

Recommendation for Daylight

David Baldacci is a best-selling author for a reason. His novels are thought provoking. And fast paced. I picked up Daylight in an airport bookstore and read throughout the flight. The characters are compelling. Furthermore, the plot(s) mimic the terrors of real life.

Girls and young women are kidnapped and then held against their wills for years. Often a couple is involved. Some are found, but not unscathed.

And then there is the power of blackmail.

We live in a scary world. Good and evil battle daily. Novels like Daylight throw a spotlight on corruption, and they champion those defending the good in the world. This novel is a reminder.

However, the storyline revolving around Atlee’s search for her twin now needs backstory. I suggest reading the series from the start; Long Road to Mercy followed by A Minute to Midnight. As the series continues, the stories are not quite stand alone. I will look at the library for the next in the series, simply titled Mercy.

Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight

The Six-Week Total-Life Slim Down

I was skeptical when I spotted Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight on the same shelf as The Prepared Home at my local library. But I checked it out anyway. The author posits clutter and obesity are tied together psychologically. After reading the book, I can see the possible tie-in. My daily activities keep me in the normal range, weight wise, but the effort to declutter does burn calories.

Peter Walsh is the aforementioned author. Apparently he is famous. Since I don’t watch much television I was unfamiliar with his work with hoarders and those who simply live with clutter. (I am-was- guilty of the latter.) But after just two weeks of following the decluttering to a tee and attempting the mindfulness and fitness aspects I am a believer.

Lose The Clutter

Several self-evaluations begin the book. My analysis indicated I was not a compulsive buyer but I did have a hard time discarding things. In fact I am an expert at saving things. First, all the gifts from family and friends. Second, things that worked and I might need someday. Finally, I don’t want the money spent on the item to be wasted.

Walsh’s psychological discussion made sense. And gave me a justification to declutter. A personal example: My parents gave us a crockpot when we married. This was in the days before you could remove the cooking part from the heating element. Later they gave us a newer version. But both were in my kitchen cupboard until last week. Now only one remains and the other was given to the local second-hand shop. Along with three boxes of kitchen items, mostly duplicates.

Lose The Weight

So far, I have not lost weight. Perhaps I enjoyed Easter dinner too much. Or maybe I weigh what I should. I am older and quite active. But I was hoping to lose the inches around the waist reported by the individuals followed in Lose the Clutter Lose The Weight.

A most likely culprit is the fact the early exercises are less than what I already do. Perhaps by the end of six weeks this will change. Most impressive to me is the twenty-seven pages of strength training exercises. None requiring expensive equipment purchases. I am tempted to buy a copy of the book just so I can have these illustrated techniques to refer to.

Mindfulness and Mindset

A key component to the Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight program is the mindfulness sections. I find these helpful and encouraging. Guilt over purging items is addressed as is sadness. Best of all is the release of negative feelings by tossing the malignant items. I am still working on trying not to be so self-critical. Everything takes time.

Recommendation

This is a great book for those who have hoarding tendencies and a good book for anyone with a messy or disorganized home. I think large households or individuals who have saved things for decades will benefit the most. Buy a copy for yourself or gift it to someone you love. Walsh offers a positive approach to a difficult problem.

The Prepared Home Book Review

Relatable Author

The Prepared Home by Melissa George is a good resource for getting a home and family ready to face any natural disaster. George is not a doomsday survival type. Instead, she runs a common sense, ready for anything household. This book came out in 2021, partly as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I found George very relatable. Perhaps because we ran out of the same item during the 2020 lockdown-trash bags. Another reason is her desire to keep an organized home. (I am a work in progress.) Most of all, I liked her positive and pragmatic attitude. Far from being anti-government, much of her work stems from FEMA guidelines for emergency preparedness.

Prepared Home Strategies

The Prepared Home Book Cover showing storage.In a prepared home, organization rises to the forefront in a common sense fashion. George recommends keeping a binder. Many things go into that binder. Emergency contact numbers, non-disclosing financial information (name of bank-but not account number), “restaurant menus” for home cooking and an evacuation plan-only if necessary- are a few sections suggested.

But most importantly, the author provides thorough information on FEMA’s recommended 72-hour emergency guidelines. Then she goes beyond. Because disasters such as hurricanes, floods and fires may carry the emergency longer.

Ten chapters encompass the strategies to meet an emergency head on. They include a much needed chapter on evaluating your own risk. And then planning accordingly. For example, I live thousands of miles away from either coast. So, I will not experience a hurricane. However, as discussed in recent posts, hurricane strength winds can sweep across the High Plains.

So, my planning needs to revolve around high winds, blizzards and wildfires. And an occasional tornado as we live just west of tornado alley. The Prepared Home helps one evaluate their risk from Mother Nature.

Food, Water and Power

Key chapters involve food and water storage and back-up power. Again, George addresses all three from a preparedness stand. Not hoarding. She specifically talks about how a prepared home keeps one from the tendency to empty the aisles as seen on news channels prior to any major weather event.

Water storage is also important. And to me, the most difficult aspect. We can go months without rain in my locale, so rain barrels would not do me much good. But many of her other suggestions were viable.

Finally, The Prepared Home offers quite a few suggestions on how to mitigate power loss. Again the author breaks the suggestions into short versus long term needs. Power loss can transition into loss of connectivity. So, George covers this possibility as well.

When all else Fails-Evacuate

The author makes a case for staying put in a prepared home as the best possible scenario. But we have all seen the natural disasters of the past few years forcing thousands out of their homes. And George addresses this type of situation. Prior planning provides positive outcomes. She stresses life over loss of belongings. Something we all should remember.

The Prepared Home- A Beautiful Approach

Pictures throughout the book demonstrate preparedness is not hoarding. George suggests and shows stylish storage containers. A key is to get rid of clutter and only keep necessities. And of course staying on top of everyday chores. For example, if the power goes out and laundry hasn’t been done in ten days, there will be trouble.

Same with the kitchen sink. As suggested in the review of Cleaning Sucks, an empty sink is an everyday step toward organization and that leads to preparedness. I believe The Prepared Home belongs in every home library. Kudos to Melissa George for wisely using her lockdown time writing instead of worrying.

Organized Kitchen Cabinets in Prepared Home
Organized Kitchen Cabinets
Storage units under a bed
Storage Under the Bed
Laundry Room
Water tucked into Laundry Room

The Fields Book Review

New Genre for Author

The Fields belongs in the crime novel genre; fiction not true crime. And the gripping story is superb. But don’t be fooled by the “debut” crime thriller tag. Because, Erin Young is a veteran storyteller. Her other works are found under the name Robyn Young.

Although switching from historical fiction to crime might be difficult for some authors, Young doesn’t miss a beat. A complex plot moves along through dialogue and action scenes. The novel is billed as a first in a new series. And as such, plenty of background is provided for the characters. Furthermore, Sergeant Riley Fisher is compelling. Strong enough to carry a series. And human enough to care about. She is great.

Setting

Man standing in front of a corn field where stalks tower over him.
Corn grows tall in Iowa.

“Rural” Iowa during a gubernatorial election year is the setting for The Fields. The author captures the reader’s attention with a victim running for her life through the cornfields; chased by a drone. Corn grows tall in Iowa. So, a field is a good refuge. Young captures the essence of the state. So impressive. One would think she was a native. And not a visitor from another country.

Black Hawk County is actually one of the more populous counties in the state with around 130,000 people spread out over 573 square miles. So, the clash between farm and urban use is keen. As is the struggle between corporate and family farms. Young depicts the conflicts with accuracy.

Plot

The novel tells the story of murder. And mutilation. Also, rape is a significant thread in the storyline. Both current and past.

After the third victim is found, the Sheriff’s department fears a monstrous, cannibalistic serial killer. Fisher suspects the husband of the first victim. But her boss doesn’t agree. Her ability is questioned mostly for her gender. And her family connections. So, personal factors are at play. Other suspects appear and the FBI is involved. In the end there are multiple culprits. But the author neatly ties everything together.

Furthermore, the multi-faceted nuances are a core piece of The Fields. Complexity keeps churning. The political campaign ties into the murders. So do the homeless. And naturally, corn. The fields are a staple of Iowa. And at the heart of the story. Finally, intrigue is the key to the novel.

The Fields

Erin Young does an excellent job on two levels. First, the story is compelling. Good versus evil never fails to intrigue. The novel is a standalone-a complete story. Yet, the writing serves a basis for an entire series. Fisher proves herself. And she confronts demons from the past. One can easily imagine her character growth through subsequent books.

Second, the cast of characters is rich in diversity. Again, plenty of ground to explore as new books are written. Plus, the setting is such that many plots can be conjured. I look forward to reading the next in the series. Master writers who capture the essence of a locale and its inhabitants are rare. Erin Young is such a writer. You would never know she wasn’t raised in Iowa herself. Absolute brilliance.

 

Hobby Farm Book Review

Book Cover-Hobby FarmHobby Farm-Living Your Rural Dream for Pleasure and Profit by Carol Ekarius is one of the most extensive “How-To” books I have found on rural agrarian living. This book is a library check-out. Somehow, I missed seeing this for almost twenty years. Yet, the information is impactful,  So much, I plan to buy a copy.

Rural Life

The city-to-farm exodus accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is evident in rural areas with rocketing home prices and a squeeze on housing availability. But life in the country is still a bargain. Many newcomers can benefit by the wisdom proffered by Ekarius. Because, outsiders need time to become insiders.

Ten chapters cover everything from agricultural history in the United States to developing business plans to worker safety. The approach is well thought out and the information flows logically. Hobby Farm stresses the different lifestyle found in rural living. So, for anyone truly interested in leaving traffic jams and shopping malls  behind, the book is a must read. Since life can be difficult away from the convenience of city living.

Crops and Critters

The heart of the book begins with a chapter combining farm safety and the troublemakers farmers face. Here, Ekarius stresses the importance of disaster preparedness.  For example, advanced planning is needed for fires, floods, blizzards and drought. And livestock operations make this critical. Barn animals cannot escape a fire on their own.

Farms and ranches face other threats. Raccoons can decimate a crop as well as a chicken coop. Coyotes target many types of livestock. The author utilizes a chart to identify the predators. And she presents the best ways to thwart attacks.

Personally, the most enjoyable chapters focused on gardening. Again, Ekarius includes helpful guides listing everything from companion planting to soil temperature for germination. Additionally, special topics receive highlighted sections. For example, information on seed saving is presented in this format.

Chapters on livestock receive similar treatment. Details from breeding to processing provide valuable information for the novice. Furthermore, Ekarius addresses the many government regulations involved in producing meat for consumption.

Hobby Farm Ultimate Guidebook

Small towns in rural areas are a microcosm of community living. Doctors, teachers and bankers live and work alongside farmers and ranchers. Many small farms are supplemented by the second earner both in income and health insurance. A hobby farm can be lucrative. But that is not always the case. Ekarius discusses the good and the bad.

The final chapter on agripreneurship is a winner. Marketing is a key component and is well presented. And the information on creating a business plan is thorough. Furthermore, the author offers up various types of agribusinesses and how to make each successful. An appendix of resources completes the book.

Recommendation

Hobby Farm is a fantastic resource. Carol Ekarius is knowledgeable and her writing is easy to understand. The subject material is vast. But not overwhelming. And the photos are beautiful. The book includes many charts. Also, the definitions are clear and helpful. Furthermore, recipes are an added bonus.

Anyone thinking of joining the city-to-farm movement will benefit from reading Hobby Farm. But, individuals who have never lived in a rural area are the target audience. Life hours away from a metropolitan area takes an adjustment in attitude. But, it can be done. I am living proof.

Guide Page giving info on livestock
Second half of livestock guide
Pages from Hobby Farm by Carol Ekarius depicting cattle on a sloped farm on one page and a fall mountain ladscape on the othet.
Fruits and Vegetable chart in Farm Hobby by Carol Ekarius
Full color photo of cabbage and beans from Hobby Farm by Carol Ekarius

You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here Book Review

First Time Author

Frances Macken’s debut novel You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here is a coming of age story. And a bit more. Friendships, families and a mysterious disappearance pull the reader along.

The novel begins and ends in Glenbuff, Ireland. Sandwiched in between this rural setting is an important stint in Dublin for the main character, Katie. But is that all there is to the world?

Protagonist

Complex, altering between secure and insecure, mature and immature, loyal and disloyal best describes Katie. Her tight knit group of friends extends to two cousins, Evelyn and Maeve. One rich and one poor. And a pair of brothers. On the fringes is the girl gone missing.

Katie makes new friends and acquaintances in Dublin as she completes school and starts out in life. Or at least she tries to make a go of things.

Family is also a key component of Katie’s life. Parents and a younger brother influence her decision-making. Sometimes, they make the decision for her as they prod her through life. Letting go is a hard part of parenting.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the author’s character development is the accuracy of how people interrelate. Macken involves the reader as if a bystander. Present but unable to interfere. Just watching as Katie develops into an independent thinker.

You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

The title alludes to the rural life of Glenbuff. Furthermore, the idea transfers across boundaries and borders. Cities come complete with their attractions in place for discovery, but the rural areas of the world rely on imagination. Another level exists besides physical location. Growth and maturity are not guarantees. Perhaps this is easier to see in a small town.

Frances Macken wrote You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here in first person. As an American, I struggled at first with the dialogue. Yet Macken’s writing is so profound the extra effort is well worth it. Katie’s inner struggles are so relatable, and so meaningful.

I highly recommend this debut novel. Hopefully Macken is working on her next release. This book is a winner and book clubs, classrooms and bedside tables are all better with a copy from this new author.

Reflections on a Life In Exile Book Review

A series of short essays comprises Reflections on a Life in Exile by J.F. Riordan. Somewhat chronological in nature, the writing reflects brief moments in time over the span of a few years. The excerpts are eclectic. The topics are wide-ranging. Perhaps that explains the book’s initial appeal.

Everyday Life

The author attributes much of the musings to various posts on her blog, one I hope to find. Her dogs are a key feature. But the topics vary from the arts to thoughts on procrastination. Former students also appear. Indeed anyone with an impact on her life.

Another focus is the rural land she turns to when seeking a self-exile. A reprieve from hectic life. Washington Island is part of Door County, Wisconsin. But one must take a ferry to access this outpost. Door County is famous for cherries, many summer tourists and of course location. The waters of Lake Michigan are in every direction.

Reflections of a Life in Exile- Death and Dying

Riordan also examines the emotions surrounding death and dying. Both of beloved pets and parents. Even though the reader is enveloped in the sadness, there is kinship. And happy memories. Life and lives are examined. The past is cherished. Loss is acknowledged.

Discovery of J.F. Riordan

I owe my discovery of J.F. Riordan to Twitter. While others may seek argument on that platform, I seek grass roots information and upbeat posters. One such person, @stan_sdcollins posts exquisite photos of his corner of the world daily. At some point this winter he recommended Riordan’s work. I took note and ordered Reflections on a Life in Exile from Barnes and Noble.

Other connections to the author include a mutual appreciation of rural places and shared dislike of Daylight Savings Time. Many small towns on the High Plains reflect the population of Washington Island. The hundreds of humans outnumbered by thousands of four-legged and winged creatures.

Riordan’s comments on Daylight Savings Time mirrored my own feelings thus cementing a connection to the writing. And the author. Perhaps the past two years of the pandemic have made me more philosophical. I still read for fun, but I am also quite moved by writers such as Riordan. Her essays struck a chord. The writing is melodic and rich even as she discusses everyday life.

Recommendation

North of the Tension Line is a fictional series also written by J.F. Riordan.  If the essays are any indication of style, the novels should engage the reader every bit as much as her non-fiction work. I intend to find out and I will let you know! Reflections of a Life in Exile is a highly recommended addition to the home library.

Reflections of a Life in Exile Book Cover depicting a road meandering through a forest of trees in full fall color

Life After Life Book Review

Life After Life book cover with a reflective image of a red roseLife After Life by Kate Atkinson was another Christmas gift. The lengthy novel was published in 2013. Somehow, I missed the debut. But the book is historical and thus timeless, in more ways than one.

Inventive Style

The author was creative in the writing approach. The opening has quite a hook. An assassination attempt on Hitler in 1930. Then the story reverts to 1910 and the first birth of the protagonist, Ursula. You read that correctly- first birth. Yet the book is not quite one of reincarnation. More like having multiple do-overs. For the most part, the repeats work.

A Different Look at WWII

Even though the book incorporates both World Wars, the focus is on the second. By giving Ursula do-over lives, the author presents life in both England and Germany. The bombing raids are quite graphic, especially in England as Ursula “lives” as a rescue squad member for a period of time.

Ursula- Protagonist

Ursula Todd is born multiple times throughout the book. Her memory is special. Moments of Deja vu are the key element of the book. When something terrible happens, death later occurs so that she can “fix” things next time through. But the fixes need fixing. And the author does not hold back in the descriptions of tragedy and tragic lives.

As the novel progresses, Ursula becomes a stronger person. The character is well-developed. Yet some of the tangents are hard to follow. Not emotionally hard, just confusing. Others knock your breath away because of the emotions.

Brutality of War

The secondary theme is the brutality of war. Death is not the only abhorrent outcome. Physical damage to humans and structures are not always repairable. Emotional damage is an even bigger problem. Atkinson does an outstanding job of conveying the horrors. Those who welcome war are truly heinous in nature.

Life After Life Ending

The author does end the story happily. Although there is a hint of repetition, or continuation after the reunion. A ploy to keep the reader wondering.

Life After Life is very complex. The characters do grow through the various reiterations. The ending is satisfactory. But almost a letdown and I am not sure why. Perhaps, I wanted more details of how life continued in the final chapter. For after five hundred pages, I was quite attached to the Todd family.

Game On Book Review

New Stephanie Plum

Game On is the latest in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. The fun read brings back Diesel, a character introduced a few years ago and then spun off into the Lizzy and Diesel series. A contemporary problem, hacking, is the catalyst for the usual murder and mayhem. However, Game On is not just the same.

Freshness in a series that dates across decades can be elusive. Evanovich accomplishes the task with Game On. However, identifying the source of the novelty eludes me. Perhaps tighter editing? Maybe a change of focus for the lead character? The result is satisfying.

Protagonist in Game On

Stephanie Plum is the lead character in Game On. For readers unfamiliar with this comedic series, Plum is a bounty hunter with extraordinary luck in capturing elusive quarry. And the luck? Mostly bad. So she has a bevy of support characters. The regular cast ranges from sexy to spasmodic. Plum’s luck in Game On has a twist.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the book, is the return to character development. The protagonist shows growth lacking since the novels in the mid-teens were released. A much needed change.

Game On Story Line

The plot of Game On centers on the competition between Stephanie Plum and Diesel (Just Diesel) to capture the elusive Oswald Wednesday, hacker extraordinaire. But Wednesday’s evil deeds don’t end at hacking. Thwarted by amateurs, the villain of the story begins to knock off his victims one-by-one.

Plum and Diesel work together to keep two young hackers alive. Melvin and Charlotte portray nerdy IT geeks, only interested in computers and each other. Thus, they are no match for a supervillain intent on crashing the International Space Station. The nerds need saving and Stephanie and her co-horts are ready to rescue.

Entertainment

The Plum series is pure entertainment. Zany characters and unbelievable situations keep readers chuckling. One can only take so much strife. Game On balances out a library containing tomes on climate change, social behavior and the like.

An added benefit to reading an Evanovich release is the good natured humor sprinkled throughout. The light-hearted novel provides a needed escape for a few hours. Then the reader can return to reality with a game on approach.

Talking to Strangers Book Review

Communication Insight

Talking to Strangers was authored by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is the most thought provoking of the several I have read from the author. It is not a self-help manual as the title might imply. Instead, Talking to Strangers takes a hard look at the many communication failures of recent times.

The subject matter is intense. Rape, murder, pedophilia and suicides join terrorism, con men and unsuspected spies as the focus of this look at miscommunication. Quite a few of the stories will leave the reader unsettled. And many if not all the stories will be familiar. Thus, these are the stories behind the headlines.The book cover of Talking to Strangers

Malcolm Gladwell Tackles Tough Issues

For those of you unfamiliar with Gladwell, he has quite an interesting writing style. At times the writing feels disjointed because it is not chronological. He circles back again and again. In the end, his points are valid. And very, very potent.

Gladwell begins and ends Talking to Strangers with the arrest and subsequent suicide of Sandra Bland. A case I had almost forgotten about. Bland was a young African-American hassled in a rural Texas setting by a dogged Hispanic police officer. An unfortunate occurrence which led to Bland’s death and Officer Encinia’s termination of employment. But unfortunate is too benign. For, Bland’s death, like many others was an absolute tragedy that should not have happened. Gladwell provides the background that leads not only to this particular incident, but a better awareness of the causation of conflicts from Ferguson to George Floyd.

Communication

The above case is just one of many examples of the lack of communication found throughout life. Key points are given from failure to recognize a spy to spotting a pedophile. All stem on the theory that people expect the best and reject the worst.

Gladwell posits that society is better operating in this fashion and that in contrast, assuming the worst of people contributes to situations like the Texas traffic stop of Bland. But, it also creates opportunity for the Sandusky’s of the world. So, a Catch-22.

Talking to Strangers and Local Customs

The most salient part of Talking to Strangers in my opinion was the focus on cultural differences. This came up with both the Amanda Knox case and the fraternity rape case. One involved mismatched behavior expectations due to cultural differences between countries. The other accentuates how the United States differs greatly in the approach to alcoholic consumption.

Gladwell devotes a chapter to each of these examples. The former is not surprising to anyone having travelled internationally. However, the latter was quite interesting and ties somewhat into the post on Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events.

The author carefully contrasts the drinking patterns of The Camba of rural Bolivia to that of American college students. In this comparison, information on the rapidity of alcohol consumption and the impact on the brain is included. Fascinating facts that I was unaware of.

The conclusions drawn in both cases are on target. It is difficult if not impossible to interpret the meanings of strangers. Insight becomes blocked in both the case of cultural differences and brain impairment. Thus challenges remain. And questions. Should the onus be put on travelers? Possibly. On binge drinking? Absolutely, yet the drinking is a cultural phenomenon. In America, we do not look at the science behind the problem.

Econogal’s Recommendation

Talking to Strangers is an important book to read. The author gives good insight into some of the mistakes being made. Both from assuming everyone is good as well as mistakes made when there is a universal approach to believing everyone is a danger.

However, certain groups may need to take a pass. Any victim of pedophilia or rape and anyone at risk of suicide would certainly have trouble reading the details. Furthermore, the same holds true for close family members of victims.

On the other hand, quite a bit of understanding can be gained by reading through the traffic stop sections. So, those not understanding what is happening between police and minorities in the United States, Talking to Strangers points out where communication fails. This is critical if we hope to move forward. And we do need to move forward.

So naturally I highly recommend Talking to Strangers.

Piranesi: Book Review

The Tale of Piranesi

Piranesi written by Susanna Clarke was published in 2020. The novel recently came to my attention when it popped up on several end of the year top books to read. I follow bloggers from across the world and have favorites in Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. This book made the list on all. So even though the fantasy genre is one I don’t often read, Piranesi jumped to the front of the line.

To be honest, the book is a blend of approaches. Certainly fantasy with a bit of science fiction and mystery added. I categorize it as a fantasy mostly due to the wonderful descriptions given of the “house” or “world” Piranesi lives within. The science fiction piece stems from the notion of parallel worlds. And the mystery, well that is for the reader to discover. Along with Piranesi himself.

Few Characters

For the majority of the book, only two living characters appear. The protagonist, Piranesi, is a young man living off the middle floors of a great house. He fishes and harvests seaweed from the lower levels and collects fresh water from the cloud filled upper rooms. Piranesi fills his days cataloguing the multitude of marble statues and tracking the tides.

He also assists The Other with his scientific research. The Other is a much older gentleman. His research is as old as time. He seeks immortality. As the only other living person in the world, Piranesi is quite attached to The Other.

Clarke surprised this reader with two additional characters well into the book. Both lead Piranesi forward albeit while facing danger. Both from within and without. Piranesi develops into one of the most compelling main characters encountered in recent reads. A tormented man shining with virtuousness. His outlook on life remains upright even after grappling with extraordinary happenings.

The Author

British author Susanna Clarke is new to me. One of my offspring is currently reading her first book, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. In a world of authors churning out manuscripts, this coincidence would not even register. However, Clarke does not fit that description. Her writing is compelling and thought provoking.

Books affect people differently. I learned this long ago in a high school literature class. Piranesi should be included in such a class. Or a book club. There is so much to discuss! But I do not want to spoil this fantastic novel. I highly recommend Piranesi and I hope the main character leaves a positive impact on you as well. There is much evil in this world. We need to balance it with goodness from within.

Vail History: Two Book Reviews

Two Looks at Vail

As long time readers know, I love visiting Vail, so I was delighted to receive two Vail history books for Christmas. Vail Triumph of a Dream by Peter W. Seibert with William Oscar Johnson tells the story of the first 40 years through the voice of Seibert, a key developer of Vail. The other, Vail: The First 50 Years is part of the Images of America series produced by Arcadia Publishing. This volume is written by Shirley Welch.

Images of Vail History

Both books provide a plethora of photos. Black and white photos are dominant in the early days. Perhaps by design, the Arcadia publication is entirely in this format. This definitely lends an historical flavor.

Meanwhile, Vail Triumph of a Dream includes breathtaking views in full color. And full pages of color. The images transport you onto the slopes.

Just The Facts

Vail: The First 50 Years was read cover to cover in one sitting. The format offers extended commentary on each photo. Welch includes backstory information on the area itself. The settlement of Eagle County predates the development of Vail by over 50 years. Prior to the establishment of the ski resort, inhabitants of the valley were primarily sheep ranchers.

The books in the Images of America series tantalize the reader with a multitude of facts in an easy to read format. The only glitch in the book was through no fault of the author. Vail: The First 50 Years ends with a look forward in the resort town’s future. As of the writing, an expansion called Ever Vail had just received preliminary approval. Welch included this proposal but it failed to materialize and permits expired in 2021.

In Depth Insight of Vail History

While Vail: The First 50 Years provides a nice overview of Vail history, Vail Triumph of a Dream is much more in depth. However, the latter is also as much an autobiography of Seibert as it is record of historical fact. Quite an interesting personal account!

Seibert’s account of Vail’s development is as much a story of his life as it is a description of Vail. This Vail history encompasses so much background, after reading one feels as if they grew up in the valley and more. The insight into the business of Vail is shadowed by the glimpses of passion for No-Name Mountain. While it may be difficult to replicate the devotion Peter Seibert had for Vail, anyone who has spent time on the mountain whether hiking or skiing can emphasize. Vail Valley is truly spectacular.

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles Book Review

Mac ‘N’ Ivy

Lorena McCourtney is keeping busy and That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles is her latest release. The book, part of the Mac ’N’ Ivy series picks up the narrative after the two lovebirds finish their honeymoon. They are still looking for a place to park the RV and settle down. But the requirement of no murder in the vicinity keeps thwarting the silver fox and his Brillo gray bride.

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles Plot

Mac and Ivy motor to San Isolde, California in search of a permanent home and as a favor to a new acquaintance met along the coast of Mexico. Blake Houston is concerned about his eccentric Aunt Eleanor and her questionable boyfriend.

Shortly after arriving, Ivy and Eleanor-who now prefers Elena- stumble upon the body of Miles, the boyfriend now fiancé. Thence, the sleuthing begins for the newlyweds. Of course, McCourtney weaves many zany characters into her storyline. Elena perhaps the oddest of all.

There are twists and turns and Ivy and Elena clash on fortune telling; cookie reading signs, as performed by Nicole. Nicole’s ex-husband is a prime suspect and he is a nephew of the victim. McCourtney uses misdirection to keep the reader guessing.

Christian Fiction and Cozy Mystery

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles is a mixed genre. The book offers up murder and mayhem alongside Christianity. This combination works because the characters do not come across as preachy. The tone is a traditional approach versus an evangelical push. Plus, Mac and Ivy come across as humans not saints.

Recommendation

I recommend this zany story. My husband downloaded the ebook over the Christmas weekend and I read it during our snowy New Year’s Day. We both enjoyed the light hearted escape.

Previous reviews of McCourtney’s work include Invisible and In Plain Sight, both part of the Ivy Malone series. Additionally, Blue Moon, part of the Stanton series appeared in Econogal reviews. The Ivy Malone series segued into the Mac ‘N’ Ivy series of which That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles was a 2021 release. Mac is a great balance for the “Invisible” LOL.

Lorena McCourtney is a master of both misdirection-a key component of a good mystery- and of bringing characters to life. Even those characters that are terminated before the story begins. I envy her character development. Even tertiary characters “breathe.” During this ongoing time of uncertainty, McCourtney’s books are a welcome diversion. That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles is a worthwhile entertainment.

Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021

The List

The top ten “Favorite” books of 2021 is a bit easier to compile this year. Not as much reading, and a few books read and not reviewed impact the pool of eligible books. Interestingly, several non-fiction book reviews yielded the most traffic on the website. A combination of reader and blogger interest generated the list. I hope you enjoy these recommendations.

Non-Fiction Books of 2021

As a kid I loved biographies. However, I don’t remember any autobiographies. Writing for children and teenagers can be quite challenging, so perhaps that explains a lack of memoirs. The books of 2021 are lacking in reviews of memoirs. A few were read, but I did not feel compelled to share my opinions.

Instead, self-help books and multiple entries revolving around Covid-19 became fodder for reviews. Thus this type of writing is found on the Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021. The reading audience enjoyed, or at least visited, the reviews of non-fiction entries frequently.

Interestingly, the most visited post of all types belongs to the review of Liquids Till Lunch. (Perhaps many people did gain weight during lockdown.) I continue to use many suggestions from the book. However, the book I have given to several as a gift is Cleaning Sucks. The tips from Rachel Hoffman have really helped my household organization.

The remaining entries are quite thought provoking. We are living through a period of time that future generations will study thoroughly. Thus, it is not surprising multiple books discussing the pandemic make the list. Additionally, the New Great Depression is worth a mention although just falls short of making the top books of 2021 list.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America is a must read. Even though this book is a 2011 release, it is a perfect gift for any student of history from late teens to octogenarians.

Top Favorite Fiction Books of 2021

This category is tough for me as I love fiction. Genres covered range from Christian to Romance to Murder. The YA entry Instant Karma just barely missed making the list as did a reader favorite, Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

Many of this year’s fiction reviews were new releases for blockbuster authors. However, one of my favorites was released back in 2015. Much like American Nations, I think finding a copy of Jack of Spies is very worthwhile.

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021

Fiction

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Jack of Spies by David Downing

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

A Distant Shore by Karen Kingsbury

Meant To Be by Jude Deveraux

Non-Fiction

Liquids Till Lunch by MaryRuth Ghiyam

American Nations by Colin Woodard

Cleaning Sucks by Rachel Hoffman

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis

Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria

Eight Perfect Hours Book Review

Eight Perfect Hours is a poignant romance. It is also a story depicting the red thread of fate. Lia Louis weaves this tale of what could have been and what is meant to be with deft and skill. The telling brings both tears and laughter.Cover of Eight Perfect Hours

Theme of Eight Perfect Hours

The over-riding theme is one of ships passing in the night. And then kismet. Noelle is stuck in a traffic jam. As in a parking lot on the freeway. No inching along, just a complete stand still. Furthermore, she is experiencing a complete meltdown for all the surrounding drivers to see.

The closest driver, Sam from America, approaches to offer aid-in the form of allowing her to re-charge her cell phone in his car. At first, Noelle is reluctant to take up his offer. Eventually, they spend eight perfect hours waiting for the traffic jam to clear.

 

They part just like passing ships.

Complex Storyline

Eight Perfect Hours is far more than girl meets boy. Lia Louis fills the pages with internal conflict for the main characters. Noelle in particular is pulled in many directions. Emotionally attached to a past that has been ruptured, she also is compelled by duty to support her mother. Thus, her dream career is put on hold.

Sam carries tremendous guilt over the death of a cousin. Furthermore, he is struggling to forgive and forget the transgressions of his long-time girlfriend. So, his attraction to the stranger on the freeway adds more complication.

Red Thread of Fate

Noelle and Sam continue to bump into each other. Their attraction builds even as they fight the emotion. Like the Chinese Proverb which opens the story, Louis provides some twists that make the fate even more pronounced. The conclusion will be very satisfying for romance aficionados.

Eight Perfect Hours Emotional Tug

The novel is well written. The inner conflict of the characters tugged at this reader’s heart. The back story brought tears and the interaction of the principles brought smiles. Eight Perfect Hours is highly recommended. A great read for the holidays. Lia Louis is to be commended.

Stephanie’s Ponytail Book Review

Children’s Story Book

Stephanie's Ponytail Book CoverStephanie’s Ponytail written by Robert Munsch with illustrations by Michael Martchenko is one of my favorite children’s story books. The first time I bought a copy was over twenty years ago. I am sure the artwork hooked me. The harried mother trying to fix unruly hair at the breakfast table struck a chord of recognition. And the story itself is classic hilarity.

Two Ideas from Stephanie’s Ponytail

Like many children’s books, Stephanie’s Ponytail posits key lessons. Young Stephanie wants to be different. But, often non-conformity is looked down upon. Or, as in the case of this delightful book, the individual with flare is copied. Dealing with copycats is frustrating.

There is much debate on whether leaders are made or born. Even though Munsch does not delve into deep philosophy, it is clear Stephanie is both a trendsetter and smart. The thinking skills are clearly lacking in the copycats. Deftly woven into the story are kudos for originality as well as a warning to those who blindly follow the leader.

Fun to Read

The best thing about Stephanie’s Ponytail is that the book is fun to read. And this is a “must” requirement for any who have a little one that wants a book read again, and again. Munsch captures family and group dynamics. So, the story is easy to relate to. Furthermore, the illustrations aptly portray both the home and school settings. Michael Martchenko is the go-to artist for Munsch books. The partnership works well.

Stephanie’s Ponytail

My children grew up owning several of Munsch’s books. Furthermore they read many more at school. Plus they checked his books out from the library. If I polled them, I am sure there would be four different titles listed as favorites. Love You Forever, Thomas’ Snowsuit and I Have to Go, all earned a place in the family library.

Apparently, my oldest granddaughter is on track to be a reader. She wakes up from naps and grabs books. And “reads.” Furthermore, as soon as I walk in the door, she wants me to read to her. I hope Stephanie’s Ponytail will be one of her favorites because I love reading the story.

Robert Munsch

Munsch recently disclosed he has been diagnosed with dementia. Click here for the interview. He believes the memories of his books will stay with him. From my experience with my Mom, I think he is right.  I wish Munsch and his family well.

I am thankful Annick Press is re-releasing his books. And for publishing them in the first place. The small publishing house spotted a gem all those years ago.

If you have kids in the family and are not familiar with Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, I highly recommend these wonderful stories. Christmas is just around the corner.

Page of text from Stephanie's Ponytail
Illustration from Stephanie's Ponytail

The Whole Truth

Recent Read

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

Evil Billionaire

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

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

Unwilling Avenger

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

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

Recovering Alcoholic

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

The Whole Truth

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

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

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story Book Review

The Premonition

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

Key Players

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

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

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

2005 Pandemic Plan

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

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

The Premonition

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

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

Indictments within The Premonition

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

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

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

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

Recommendation

I found a few things missing.

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

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

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

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

Jack of Spies Book Review

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

Book Cover for Jack of Spies

Protagonist

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

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

Jack of Spies Plot

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

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

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

Action vs. Intrigue

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

Recommendation for Jack of Spies

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

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

Head Wounds Book Review

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

Head Wounds Book Cover

Characters

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

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

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

Head Wounds- Action vs. Plot

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

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

Recommendation for Head Wounds

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

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

Liquids Till Lunch Book Review

Mary Ruth’s Liquids Till Lunch

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

Nutrition

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

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

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

Fifteen Minutes of Sunshine

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

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

Sleep

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

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

Exercise

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

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

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

Mental Wellness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendation for Liquids Till Lunch

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

Book cover of Liquids Till Lunch

The Scorpion’s Tail Book Review

The Scorpion’s Tail Book Review

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

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

Women Driven

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

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

The Scorpion’s Tail Location

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

New Mexico

New Mexico Landscape

Plot of The Scorpion’s Tail

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

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

Recommendation

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

The Bounty Book Review

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

Plot of The Bounty

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

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

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

Writing Duos

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

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

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

Recommendation for The Bounty

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