Category: In The Library

Going Rogue Book Review

Number 29

Book Cover with teal background and Janet Evanovich Going Rogue in large type with gold coins scattered across the cover.Going Rogue is Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum novel. Loyal fans will be delighted. Because the book fleshes out old characters with more in-depth personalities. And Stephanie Plum is showing growth as well. As usual there are several laugh out loud moments from the delightful supporting cast.

Missing in Action

The story opens up with bail bonds office manager Connie Rosolli missing and three Failure to Appear (FTA) accounts lined up for skip tracer Plum to chase down. Complications quickly arise as one of the skips is Joe Morelli’s Grandma Bella. The Sicilian grandmother able to wreak havoc by giving those she despises the “evil eye.”

Kidnappers contact the office wanting an exchange. A valuable coin was put up for collateral. The trade is simple, Connie for the coin. But the coin is missing from the evidence room. One of the skips palmed it. Millions fall into the wrong hands and the madcap chase is on.

Going Rogue

Evanovich keeps her Stephanie Plum character fresh after twenty-nine iterations by fleshing out established characters and introducing new ones. In Going Rogue, Grandma Bella becomes more than just an evil eye throwing Nonna. She is a bit more rounded and a bit more human in her treatment of Stephanie. But just a tad bit.

And the character of Stephanie Plum continues to mature. Although she is still divided between her feelings for Joe versus Ranger (the key tenet for the series) her behavior is more virtuous…to a point.

Furthermore, the protagonist is finding herself. Going Rogue replaces the unhappy with work vibe with an acceptance of the career path. Quite refreshing to be honest.

Pure Entertainment

Books serve many purposes. The Stephanie Plum series is designed for entertainment. These books offer a much-needed release from the realities of life. Evanovich is a pro at instilling complete personalities into secondary characters. Her love triangle between Stephanie, Joe and Ranger is classic and can divide households.

Best of all, this series stays fresh for the many loyal followers. If you have not read any of this series, I encourage you to begin with the first. You will have plenty of reading material to last for the near future. Each addition is a fun read.

Love Marriage Book Review

2022 Release

Book cover of Love Marriage. Alternating pink and green color blocks with all caps for title

Love Marriage by Monica Ali is an intense book. Not because it is an action thriller or mystery because it is not. Instead, the novel takes a deep look at expected social mores and what really lies behind closed doors. Most importantly, Love Marriage is all about the title. What is love? What is marriage? And are they the same?

A Mix of Cultures

Yasmin Ghorami is engaged to Joe Sangster. The Ghorami family migrated to Great Britain from India before Yasmin and her brother were born. A physician father and stay-at-home mother. Traditional family with a Love Marriage. Or so the story goes.

The Sangster family is Joe and his ultra-feminist and very famous mother. His father was absent for most of his life. So, the couple both grew up in Great Britain but virtually in worlds far apart. Thus, it is quite understandable that Yasmin has the wedding planning jitters.

Love Marriage Theme

The author spins stories of love and marriage, success and failure, and most importantly, of self-awareness. The growth and maturity of the younger generation featured in the novel is moving. Furthermore, an understanding of life events aids in the self-awareness for both Yasmin and Joe.

Monica Ali provides depth to her characters through interactions with secondary characters. And with the side stories, such as with the birth of Jasmin’s niece. And with the secondary characters themselves. Love Marriage takes a deep dive into relationships. What is normal and what is true. Ali also shows how siblings raised in the same household have differing views on the family dynamics.

The writing is peppered with humor, allowing the reader to absorb the intensity of life.

Recommendation

The intricacy of family relationships is the heart of the story. Much like real life, the past is at best rose-colored, at worst, blocked from memory. But love remains. If you are looking for a story deep with meaning, Love Marriage fills the bill. The characters are complex. Self-awareness abounds. Happy endings? The readers will decide that one for themselves.

 

The Last Thing He Told Me Book Review

Pure Mystery

Book cover of The Last Thing He Told Me words written in cursive covering sky above floating houses in SausalitoLaura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me is a thrilling, moving novel of love in the face of lies. The need for family and the sacrifices one makes for that family is the heart and soul of the book. The outcome will move you to tears.

Emotion aside, the story is a fascinating mystery without being a who-done-it. Murder is not the theme. Instead, protecting family is. And yet, the protection comes at a cost. Can the protagonist give up the love of her life to provide stability to a teenager? A sixteen-year-old angry at having a stepmom?

Love at First Sight

Hannah Hall meets Owen Michaels when he accompanies his boss to check on a custom order. Hannah is a woodturner of high-quality furniture. She lives in New York City. Owen is a computer coder. He lives in Sausalito. They connect.

Two short years later, Hannah is opening the door to their houseboat. A twelve-year-old hands her a cryptic note from Owen. And the hunt begins. A hunt for Owen and a hunt for the truth. The search is hampered by her estranged relationship with her stepdaughter Bailey. But they both are desperate to find Owen and the truth.

Their search leads to Austin, Texas and unfathomable revelations.

False Identity

The Last Thing He Told Me uses flashback chapters to offer an explanation. The author easily moves the reader in and out of the present. The voice always of Hannah. But Laura Dave is masterful at conveying the heartbreak of all three principles through action and dialogue. The reader aches for both main and secondary characters. This is quite an accomplishment with a single point-of-view.

Moral questions are asked and answered by the characters as they push for the truth. The only constant for young Bailey is the determination of Hannah to find the answers. Gradually, albeit reluctantly at first, the teenager learns to trust her stepmom in the face of abandonment.

Recommendation for The Last Thing He Told Me

This book moved me to tears. Love and self-sacrifice always tug at this reader’s heartstrings. The plot is plausible and the settings act as reminders to any travelers of the highlighted cities. However, the characters are the heart of The Last Thing He Told Me.

And the ending…is it happy or sad? I can see book clubs and literature students taking either side. Read it and decide for yourself. This book is on my buy list.

Thank You for Listening Book Review

Romance or Love Story?

Both a romance and a love story, Thank You for Listening is an enchanting story with depth. Julia Whelan’s experience as a screenwriter and audiobook narrator provides the necessary background to pen this delightful book. My only question as someone who has never heard an audiobook, do the books end with the phrase thank you for listening?

Plot of Thank You for Listening

Readers of romance novels know a common plot is a couple meet for a night of passion, part in the morning and somehow find each other in the future. And after a fiery courtship there is the HEA- Happily Ever After. Whelan incorporates this plot into her love story.

Thank You for Listening is truly a commentary on the entertainment industry. The successes and failures as well as the intensity and hard work needed to stay at the top. Then the novel takes things one step further by creating a protagonist disfigured by a freak accident early in her career.

Sewanee Chester

Lead character Sewanee Chester is an audiobook narrator with a tragic past. However, she seemingly has moved on. (Of course, she hasn’t…) She is unwillingly heading to Vegas to moderate a panel of Romance narrators. The character of Sewanee is complex. She is marred both literally and figuratively. Yet, she is so very giving. She definitely deserves love and not just a love interest. The question is will it be with mysterious one night Nick or the never met in person, fellow narrator Brock McKnight?

Love and Relationships

Whelan successfully incorporates the many types of love into Thank You for Listening. Naturally there is the romantic love, but there is also the love of best friends and the love of family. A subplot is the growing dementia of Sewanee’s grandmother. The once vibrant actress is progressing toward a loss that neither she nor her son and granddaughter know quite how to handle. Since, Sewanee’s parents are divorced there is yet another layer of complexity.

Recommendation for Thank You for Listening

I loved this book on many levels. The background industry of audiobooks is one I am not familiar with, and the author’s knowledge proved educational. The romance was perfectly portrayed. Yet, Thank You for Listening is much deeper than a typical romance. Truly it is a novel of love and growth.

Because the book is a story about the romance industry, there are some red-hot scenes. This is not a sweet, chaste novel. However, unlike a romance, the love scenes are not a major part of the plotline. Indeed, much tongue-in-cheek is involved in the dialogue. And the many threads are untangled and explained. And maybe a bit of HEA for more than one couple, too.

The Displacements Book Review

Another Hit from Bruce Holsinger

The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger weaves a story of climate change, angry white males and family unity in the face of adversity into a page-turning tale of evacuation, displacement, and FEMA camp living. I first reviewed Holsinger after the release of The Gifted School. Click here to read the review.

The Displacements is even more thought provoking than The Gifted School. And, in my opinion a more important read. Hurricanes are becoming more powerful, coastal cities more crowded and reliance on government agencies such as FEMA definitely more complicated.

Plot of The Displacements

The first ever Category 6 Hurricane knocks out South Florida. Daphne Larson-Hall evacuates north with her three kids: Gavin, Mia and Oliver. Unbeknownst to Daphne, her purse is left-intentionally-on the driveway. Her surgeon husband needs to spearhead a hospital evacuation and must join later. But he never does.

So, the upper-middle class family, penniless, finds themselves on a bus being evacuated to a large FEMA tent-city in rural Oklahoma. Circumstances dictate the family remain in the displacement camp for three months. Then, they must evacuate once again due to another natural disaster.

Thought-provoking FEMA Camp

Life inside the tent-city under the leadership of former Army veteran turned FEMA disaster assistant, Lorraine “Rain” Holton, is a reflection of society. Even though tents are randomly assigned, tents are traded, and communities centered on heritage spring up; Cubans, Haitians, Guatemalans, and…Crackerland. Holsinger takes a hard look at the segregation. And the underlying cultural divide.

But an equally compelling thread involves drugs-users and dealers. The lives of the Larson-Hall family are touched on so many levels. Fortunately, the family comes through stronger, with less naïveté and quite possibly a bit more happiness.

Bruce Holsinger

Holsinger is masterful at utilizing fiction to bring attention to major societal problems. In The Displacements, the author gives hope that change can come about. But it may occur one person at a time.

The growth of Daphne Larson-Hall is particularly uplifting. Many women in America fit her description. Unaware of personal or family finances. And too trusting. Yet, in the face of adversity she re-groups and finds herself. Not a perfect mom, but she has the strength of love for her family. The interactions with her stepson towards the end of the story are powerful. Strength comes from within-as does happiness.

If you have not read any of Holsinger’s work, I encourage you to add him to your list of authors to look for. His stand-alone books make you think. They truly are a reflection of society.

The Displacements book cover with swimming pool overlooking the Atlantic

A Trio of Halloween Books

Almost Halloween

Since seasonal books are always a favorite of mine, I offer a trio of Halloween books to celebrate the season. Recently, I bought one for each grandkid at an independent Bookstore. Two are board books and one is a story book for the eldest.

Snowmen At Halloween

Board book cover with snowmen dressed in Halloween costumesThe youngest tyke is just now realizing there is a world around him. Fortunately, he has parents that both read and read to him. Snowman At Halloween is a board book that he can put his chubby little hands around…next year. But I am sure he will listen to more than one reading of the cute tale this year.

The story is written by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. I picked it up because snow often fell before Halloween when my kids were little. Not so much anymore. The sentences have rhyme and rhythm, and the story is sure to please readers young and old. A perfect start to a collection of Halloween books.

Room on the Broom

This adaptation of the picture book by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler is sure to please my middle grandchild. She loves to open flaps and pull tabs. Since I have not read the original, I cannot attest to the changes. But this board book is delightfully humorous on its’ own. And the perfect length for pre-toddlers still building their attention spans. Interactive Halloween books are hard to find, and Room on the Broom is sure to be a hit.Kids lift the flap book with a witch on a broom

If Animals Trick-or-Treated

Cartoon animals dressed in Halloween costumes.The last of the trio of Halloween books is part of a picture book series. Ann Whitford Paul writes, and David Walker illustrates the If Animals… series. And If Animals Trick-or-Treated is sure to be a winner with the eldest grandchild who understands just what occurs on Halloween night.

If Animals Trick-or-Treated has a 2022 release date, so it may not be in many libraries yet. But the book portrays the various young animals in a variety of Halloween activities from visiting the pumpkin patch to reading scary stories and sharing delightful animal favorite treats.

A Trio of Halloween Books

Holiday themed books make great gifts. Halloween books are favorites with our family. The tradition began with my mom and continues with my grandkids. If your family enjoys Halloween, consider finding one of these three books to read this holiday.

Understandable Economics Book Review

2022 Release

Understandable Economics: Because Understanding Our Economy is Easier Than You Think And More Important Than You Know is a 2022 release written by Howard Yaruss. The book is broken into five sections. Each part provides valuable examples to how the overall economy works.

Inequality

A key tenet in Understandable Economics is inequality. The author explores the challenges and dangers surrounding a society where incomes are out of equilibrium. Yaruss does a good job of balancing the discussion between the need for financial incentives and disproportionate incomes.

I found his explanation of minimum wages particularly comprehensible. The juxtaposition between the need for a living wage and the expense of labor on business-keying on small businesses-was well explained. Much better than most text books.

This theme continues throughout the book. Since, the final chapters focus on redistribution of income, the reader can expect a thorough discussion of taxes. Yaruss explains the different types of taxes and how they impact societal incomes.

Boom and Bust

The chapter titled Boom or Bust tackles the current market moves toward recession. Since this chapter begins the section on The Economic Cycle, readers benefit from an explanation of what defines a recession and how recessions differ from depressions. Furthermore, this segment of Understandable Economics explores both monetary and fiscal policy. And the book explains the powers and limitations of the U.S. Government and The Federal Reserve.

Recommendation for Understandable Economics

Howard Yaruss expresses his belief that a society needs to possess an understanding of economics to continue growth and prosperity. Thus, his approach to explaining basic economics without a semester long course is welcomed. However, success depends on a culture motivated by self-learning versus “selfies.”

I encourage the gift giving of this book as the holidays are just around the corner. Understandable Economics is well written. It deserves to be well read.

Independent Bookstores

I love discovering independent bookstores when I am travelling. Even though I frequent a Barnes and Noble two hours away and visit another one six hours away from time to time, it is the independent bookstores I look for when travelling about the country.

These bookstores vary in size and scope. Some are only resellers; others have the latest releases. Many have coffeeshops within. I have often spent hours wandering through the shelves.

Favorite Independent Bookstores

In Santa Fe, my favorite bookstore is the Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeeshop. This gathering place for both locals and tourists hosts frequent book signings. The books available cover a wide range of current releases mixed with books highlighting the history of the area and travel guides for exploring. I picked up both The Scorpion’s Tail and Head Wounds on my 2021 visit to the store. An additional treat for coffee lovers is the onsite coffeehouse.

The recent review of the Lilac Girls is a result from a visit to The Island Bookstore on Mackinac Island. This small independent was full of tourists and caters to this clientele. The store is only open in season. But they do have an online presence year-round.

The Tattered Cover

My first experience with independent bookstores traces back over thirty years. The Tattered Cover is the most successful of any I frequent. Not only has the bookstore expanded to seven locations centered around the Denver, Colorado area, but sites can be found in Colorado Springs and on all three concourses of Denver International Airport. Furthermore, this crown jewel of independent bookstores erects over one hundred pop-up sites throughout the year.

Latest Find

The Bookworm in Edwards, Colorado is my latest discovery. And it may become my favorite because of the exceptional service. Well-staffed and well-run, The Bookworm employees must be on good terms with their regular customers because they spot newcomers and issue warm welcomes.

My recent visit netted gifts for the grandkids and enough titles to last through Thanksgiving. My first read from the stash was a new release from Bruce Holsinger entitled The Displacements and you will be able to read the already written review next week.

Why Buy at Independent Bookstores?

I frequent my library on a regular basis and currently have two books checked out. But I travel a lot and hate the thought of losing a library book thereby denying someone else the pleasure of reading that selection. So, quite a bit of my discretionary budget goes to books.

Independent bookstores carry local authors and books with settings in nearby locations. Many provide a place to relax and recharge. The resell stores are also an attraction. Sometimes I stumble upon a book by a favored author long out of print. I have added to my Helen MacInnis collection in this way.

Books are a large part of my life. I am thankful for my love of reading. Also, thankful that my husband and kids are all readers. Finally, I am excited for the youngest generation. They are all tiny tots, but they already love books.

If you have a favorite independent bookstore to share, feel free to share in the comments below.

Upgrade Book Review

Upgrade by Blake Crouch is a 2022 release that is part futuristic, part action, part dystopian and totally page turning. But the most compelling part of the story is the humanity demonstrated by the hero, Logan Ramsey. A man no longer a “normal” human. But one genetically altered.

Plot Twists and Turns

Simplistically, the plot is of one man racing to save the world from destruction. But Upgrade is so much more. Ramsey works for the GPA-Gene Protection Agency. His job is to track down rogue geneticists. Only he is caught in a spiderweb of familial deceit.

Crouch utilizes a number of plot twists to keep the reader on the edge. The bad guy switches from one person to another as a poorly conceived attempt to save the world spirals out of control. Throughout, the genetically altered Logan Ramsey is determined to stop the plan to create a world of superhumans, at the cost of the essence of humanity.

Upgrade and Current Events

The underlying theme to Upgrade is the current state of affairs on Earth. Mankind is at a crossroads with respect to human and artificial intelligence, exploding expansion in technology of all kinds including biological and a growing climate crisis. All of the above plays heavily into the story.

Yet, the author provides a balance to the racing technology. Most of the insight comes from the journal entries of Ramsey. But not all. A recorded video of his mom before her death also casts a light on the importance of seizing a moment. Furthermore, many passages remind the reader of just what is crucial to human life. Kudos to the author for these reminders.

Memorable Character

Logan Ramsey is one of those characters that will stay in your memory. Repenting of his past, protective of his family and honor bound to do what is right. Even in the face of betrayal. The reader easily connects with Ramsey and agonizes alongside him. Each step of the way as he fights to keep the human race from being genetically altered-as he was.

And then Blake Crouch throws in one final twist.

Lilac Girls Book Review

Impulse Buy

On impulse I purchased Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly from the bookstore at Front cover of the book Lilac Girls depicting three women walking away.Mackinac Island. Fortunately, the impulse proved worthy. This novel of historical fiction focuses on three main characters. Two real-life individuals and a third protagonist who is more of a composite. The story begins as Hitler invades Poland. But the lives of the three are followed long after the end of the second World War.

Plot of Lilac Girls

The author ties together the lives of an American socialite, a German doctor and a head strong Polish youth on the cusp of womanhood. The time period is World War II. Hence the novel is a gripping tale of wartime atrocities and the struggles that remain long after the fighting stops.

Each storyline is compelling and heartbreaking in its own way. Ms. Kelly thoroughly researched the subject matter of the Ravensbrück Rabbits. A name given to the young women upon whom the Nazi’s preformed experimental surgeries. Ravensbrück was the main concentration camp for women. Estate papers and public documents record Caroline Ferriday’s work on the behalf of the “Rabbits.”

The Nuremberg Doctors Trial transcripts provide information on Dr. Herta Oberheuser. And as with much historical fiction, the author re-created the individual as closely as possible. However, most dialogue is fictional. Nonetheless, actual testimony from Oberheuser is used in one of the chapters. The reader gleams an understanding of how atrocities are committed. But perhaps not an acceptance of why.

The focus of the book is on the prisoners themselves. The characters of Kasia and her sister Zuzanna are pure fiction, but loosely based on two sisters that were operated on. Research for this portion included interviews with survivors of Ravensbrück.

Changing Points of View

Lilac Girls is written in the first person. Thus, allowing the reader to grasp the motivation of each of the three main characters. Furthermore, the rotation of chapters is not symmetrical throughout. So, each storyline develops at its’ own pace. An added positive to this approach is one of relief from the very detailed atrocities committed at the camp. Kasia’s story is a tough read.

Recommendation for Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls is one of my best impulse buys to date. First published in 2016 as debut novel for Martha Hall Kelly, both a prequel and a sequel have been penned and released. A fourth novel, a spinoff from Lilac Girls is due to be released in 2023. So, if you have not read any of Ms. Kelly’s books, I urge you to find one. Her research is exemplary, and her writing is skilled. The characters and stories in Lilac Girls are moving and uplifting in the face of personal hardship and tragedy. This novel is highly recommended.

Keeping At It -Book Review

A Memoir

Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government is Paul A. Volcker’s memoir produced with the aid of Christine Harper. Written in first person, it is hard to discern the diligent work of Ms. Harper. And it is obvious that the content is a testament to the stewardship of Mr. Volcker.

As an undergraduate economics student during Volker’s stint at the head of the Federal Reserve, I was familiar with his work. And an admirer. The book was published in 2018 and I regret so much time passed before I crossed it off the to be read list. The memoir is important both as an historic account and as a forewarning.

Early Years

A timeline of Volcker’s life is followed by a chapter on his youth and then one on the college experience. And a third on his early career. These chapters give insight on events that shaped the dedicated public servant. They also introduce the first bit of history as the United States still followed the gold standard. And how that changed.

Personally, I found these chapters intriguing. Perhaps because Paul Volcker was already established as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve when he first appeared on my radar. I was impressed by his early years. It is easy to see how the persistence, the keeping at it, evolved from his upbringing.

Public Service Begins

After the introduction and back story, the memoir dives into the thick of things. Public service at agencies in both New York City and Washington, D.C. bouncing between the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. The tone of the writing changes from background information to economic substance. These middle chapters benefit by a reader’s knowledge, background, and interest in economics. Furthermore, an understanding of monetary policy is also useful.

Volcker began his Washington, D.C. service under President Kennedy and served presidents representing both political parties through the tenure of President Obama. His non-governmental ventures centered on financial management. But what he is most remembered for is his ending of stagflation while serving as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve from his appointment under President Carter in 1979 to the end of his second term in 1987 under President Reagan.

These chapters give a glimpse at how partisan politics can hamper decision making. Keeping at it until inflation was controlled needed a tightrope act, balancing among the political personalities. Volcker succeeded against the odds.

Keeping At It- A Forewarning

Perhaps the most important part of the memoir, Keeping At It, is the message of ethics. And the importance of good government. Volcker witnessed multiple market failures and policy failures. Yet, to this reader, his greatest concern seems to have surfaced in the last years of his life. He talks in general terms, but the implication is quite clear. There is danger in the current anti-government populism.

His legacy, The Volcker Alliance, remains in place. The task is to promote good governance. The two current initiatives involve Diversity in Government and Truth and Integrity in Government. More can be discovered by visiting the website The Volcker Alliance .

Recommendation for Keeping At It

Paul Volcker’s memoir needs a discerning audience. It is not an easy read. But I think it is an essential book for anyone interested in finance, governmental service and ethics in management. Historians will find the details accurate and of interest. I can easily see the memoir included in a graduate economics or finance course.

Keeping At It is a valuable insight into the thoughts of one of (if not the best) economic minds of my lifetime. One can only hope the current Fed Chairman has read the content for once again we are at the beginning of a financial crisis.

(Note: This post was penned September 20, 2022. It is obvious from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s address on September 21, 2022, that he has indeed read the memoir as he stated, “My main message has not changed since Jackson Hole. The FOMC is strongly resolved to bring inflation down to 2%, and we will keep at it until the job is done.”)

The Best is Yet to Come Book Review

Sweet Romance

Debbie Macomber’s 2022 release, The Best is Yet to Come is a sweet romance with good characters and meaningful story lines. If you are a fan of Macomber you will love it. For those not familiar with the author, the book is an easy read and should be available at both libraries and book stands. (Click here for a review of her Alaskan Holiday romance.)

Dual Romances

Hope Goodwin and Cade Lincoln both carry the burden of loss. Both look to start anew in a coastal area of the Pacific Northwest. They meet in an animal shelter and interest in each other piques. But romance must take a back seat while anger and grief are confronted.

Since the aptly named Hope works at a high school, a secondary romance between two students as well as a secondary plot line flow easily into the story of The Best is Yet to Come. Super student Spencer Brown and cheerleader Callie Rhodes are miss matched from the start. But the confrontations they face create a good platform to introduce the subject of performance enhancing drug use by high school students.

The Best is Yet to Come and PTSD

A key component of the novel is the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans. The Best is Yet to Come highlights the benefits of both individual and group therapy. Acknowledgement that wounds are not always visible is an important part of the story. So too is the need for support whether from family or friends.

Debbie Macomber

Veteran authors have a knack for telling stories that endear the characters to the readers. Debbie Macomber is such an author. Readers can connect with both main and secondary characters, their struggles as well as their successes.

PTSD is difficult to overcome and even harder if survivor’s guilt is an additional factor. Confronting drug use in a high school setting is equally challenging. Macomber presents characters that can meet these challenges all while engaging the reader.

Skippyjon Jones in the Doghouse Book Review

New to Me Author

My oldest grandchild introduced me to the Skippyjon Jones series. Judy Schachner writes and illustrates story books that are very appealing to young children from ages three and up. In the series, Mama Junebug Jones leads the way with her rhyming dialogue as she struggles with a son that thinks he is a Chihuahua and not a Siamese Cat.

To a certain extent, Schachner’s writing reminds me of tall tales. Stories that are larger than life, like Paul Bunyon and the Big Blue Ox. Yet the writing takes the stories up a notch with wittiness in abundance. And lots of humor. The laugh out loud kind of silliness. I found the story delightful.

Skippyjon Jones

The hero of the stories, Skippyjon Jones has an alter ego, El Skippito Friskito. A bedroom closet is the portal for young Jones and his transition to the brave Chihuahua. In Skippyjon Jones in the Dog-House, Skippyjon/Skippito meets up with his old amigos, Los Chimichangos who urge the youngster in all manners of mischief.

Silly puns for both young and old pepper the dialogue of Los Chimichangos crew. Naturally Skippyjon/Skippito relishes the merriment even when tossed into a giant burrito. And the wannabe Chihuahua saves the day.

Inside page of Skippyjon Jones in the Dog-House depicting young Cat coloring walls with crayons

Make Believe

Schachner has created a series devoted to the imagination of the young child. The rhymes and puns incorporated into the dialogue add backbone to the outrageous storyline. Who ever heard of a Siamese Cat thinking he was a Chihuahua? And a superhero to boot? This early introduction of a suspension of disbelief is essential for the enjoyment of fiction through the years.

The antics of Skippyjon Jones and his counterpart El Skippito Friskito came on the scene in the early years of the 21st Century. And Skippyjon Jones in the Dog-House was published in 2005. One excuse for missing these entertaining books was a pre-occupation with keeping teenagers busy and out of trouble. Thankfully, having grandkids gives one a second chance.

Freeze Fresh Book Review

Preserving Fruits and Vegetables

Freeze Fresh: The Ultimate Guide to Preserving 55 Fruits and Vegetables by Crystal Schmidt stood out on the new release rack at the public library. Almost two hundred pages of tips for freezing fresh produce. And recipes for the frozen products.

I love learning new things and Freeze Fresh provides a multitude. Did you know avocados can be frozen? Or that flash freezing keeps smoothie ingredients from forming hard to handle frozen blocks? But the idea I already put into play involves the freezer itself.

An Organized Freezer

Interior page in the book Freeze Fresh showing an organized chest freezer utilizing heavy duty boxes.Home organization has been a key in 2022. But I overlooked my chest freezer. Schmidt recommends using heavy duty cardboard boxes like the ones copy paper comes in as organizers. Since I don’t have any boxes of that type, I substituted a banker’s box and a heavy-duty smaller box formerly housing my new modem.

The smaller box holds various types of nuts. I buy walnuts, pecans and almonds in quantity when they go on sale during the holidays and use then throughout the year. The larger box contains meats from the locker. In rural America, small independent butchers still operate and give grocery stores some competition.

After organizing my freezer in this fashion, I gained unrealized space, much needed since it is harvest time for peaches. So, I tried the flash freeze process.

Freeze Fresh Peaches

The flash freezing technique works great on my freshly picked peaches. And it is so simple! Parchment paper and a lipped baking sheet which fits into the freezer is all that is needed. The slices freeze fresh and remain separate once they are moved to a freezer bag. From now on, all the smoothie ingredients will be flash frozen.

Recipes

The author offers two types of recipes. First are recipes for freezing. Think pesto cubes and B-B-Q sauces. The avocado falls into this category as well, although I have not tried this one myself. Along these lines are pie fillings and marinara type sauces. Schmidt’s suggestion of using stackable containers has much merit. My experience with spaghetti sauce frozen in baggies has been messy at times.

Freeze Fresh also contains recipes for the frozen produce once it has been thawed out. These recipes follow each section of the 55 fruits and vegetables. They are categorized as “For the Table.” So, if you are thawing out blueberries look in the section on blueberries for a few recipes.

Recommendation

I love Freeze Fresh so much that I have ordered a copy for myself. Crystal Schmidt also has a YouTube channel you might be interested in. Click on this tab for the link. If you have a big garden this year, consider freezing some of the produce and find a copy of Freeze Fresh to guide you.

We Begin At The End Book Review

An Extraordinary Tale

Chris Whitaker’s, We Begin At The End is a dark tale with a glimmer of hope and maybe, just maybe a splash of faith. This is a contemporary novel with adult themes even though one of the protagonists is a teenager with the name of Duchess. The other main character is a small-town cop. Walker is struggling to hide his affliction. He has Parkinson’s.

Violence and murder thread throughout the novel. But it is not a mystery. Possibly We Begin At The End falls into the crime genre. The story revolves around family, loyalty, small-towns and love. However, the love is hard to come by and fate often intervenes.

The Young Heroine- The Outlaw

Duchess Day Radley is one of the two voices in the story. And I cannot say enough about how moving her character is. A tough champion of her drunkard mother and her baby brother, her vulgarity hides her vulnerability. Her quick temper and violent outbursts mask a child forced to grow up too soon.

Seldom will one encounter such a compelling character. This is not a coming-of-age story. Duchess has lost all semblance of childhood long before the tale begins. As the reader turns each page expecting redemption, Duchess dashes the hope. Seemingly a lost cause.

The Middle-Aged Cop

Whitaker offers Walk as a counterpoint to Duchess. A small-town cop wanting to hold progress at bay. He can’t erase the fateful day of long ago, no matter how much he wants to. Yet, he clings to innocence and good. Unfortunately, fate is against him. Walk fights two battles in We Begin At The End. Neither seems winnable.

Vincent King-The Wildcard

Of all the characters in the book, Vincent King is the most intriguing. He says little wanting to suffer in silence. He too, lost his innocence as a teenager. Sent to an adult prison for involuntary manslaughter. His role in the novel is large. And full of surprises. But above all he is selfless.

We Begin At The End Theme

Sacrifice and all that it entails runs through the pages of We Begin At The End. Characters are motivated by their love for others. Often the love is misguided. But love, especially of family is entrenched. And so is love of a childhood friend.

Chris Whitaker has written a profound novel. We Begin At The End was published first in the U.K. in 2020 and released in the U.S.A. in 2021. This is the best book I have read in 2022. It is no surprise Disney has bought the movie rights to this outstanding story. Find a copy soon.

Emily Giffin and Meant To Be Book Review

Emily Giffin

Meant to Be by Emily Giffin is a delightful contemporary romance. The love story between Cate and Joe could easily film as a chick flick. And is perfect for a summer beach book.

Joe Kingsley is a most eligible bachelor. Born into wealth and power, destined to forever be in the spotlight. He falls head over heels for Cate Cooper.

The character of Cate is much more complex. Matching her upbringing. But Cate is everything Joe needs.

Setting of Meant to Be

The Big Apple is the central setting of Meant to Be. Although Cate’s early years are in Northern New Jersey. Meanwhile, Joe is most at home in The City. Yet the Eastern Shore of the Hamptons also come into play.

Anyone familiar with New York City will easily pick up on the vibe. There is a life pulse to NYC that one simply feels. This backdrop is the perfect setting for two individuals with such differing upbringings.

Character Development

I am envious of writers such as Emily Giffin. Joe and Cate are so very real. Perhaps this can partially be attributed to the rotating point of view. However, the author is masterful at dialogue too. Each of the main characters capture the readers attention and heart. Can they overcome such diverse backgrounds?

The relationships with the secondary characters are also well-done. The overbearing and abusive step-father is not cliché. Nor is the best friend from Cate’s high school years. Perhaps the best twist of all is the character of Berry-soul sister to Joe.

Simple Plot

Meant to Be is truly a romance released in hard cover. The hero is flawed but genuine. The heroine is a self-made success story. Both have insecurities. Their life together looks doomed. But fate intervenes. This feel-good story touches on several contemporary issues, most notable domestic abuse. But other themes, including service to country, forgiveness and redemption are incorporated.

I checked Meant to Be out from my local library. Emily Giffin is a new to me author and I highly enjoyed her work. I believe this is a stand-alone novel. If you fancy romantic tales, find a copy and enjoy.

Option B Book Review

Seeking Resilience

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant co-wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. This self-help book was published in 2017. I discovered it on the Libby App when searching for books on resilience. Option B fills the bill, but if you are in a midst of a personal crisis, it may make you cry. More than a time or two.

I was familiar with the name Sheryl Sandberg, currently with Meta (Facebook), but recently announcing her departure from the company. However, I did not know of Adam Grant. After reading Option B and researching, I find Mr. Grant every bit as impressive as Ms. Sandberg.

Option B is a personal account of Sandberg’s struggle after the death of her husband, Dave. The book is both anecdotal and structured. Psychological components outline steps anyone facing adversity can take to power through their own personal struggles. I found the philosophy helpful and kept wanting to take notes as if I were in class, complete with a pop quiz.

Option B: Getting Beyond the Three Ps

The authors cite the work of psychologist Martin Seligman with respect to surviving life’s unexpected obstacles. Personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence are the Three P’s. In a nutshell, personalization is blaming oneself, pervasiveness means the negative event will take over all aspects of one’s life, and permanence conveys an everlasting negative impact.

Individuals need to gain control of the Three P’s in order to become resilient in the face of adversity. Option B provides a framework to bounce back when tragedy strikes. Furthermore, the guidance offers a path to regain a balance in life.

Personal Growth

An important takeaway from Option B is growth is possible even when faced with adversity. Sandberg gives many personal examples. She posits a mindset of appreciating effort versus praise for intellect. But the emphasis is when one tries their best. Never did she use the “it’s good enough” phrase. Instead, she discusses meeting failures with determination to improve. Furthermore, seeking help is important.

One of my favorite quotes from the book follows: “As we get older, we define happiness less in terms of excitement and more in terms of peacefulness.” I must be getting along in age because this struck me as profound. The chapter on Finding Joy after an adverse event is not just getting back to life. Instead, the authors stress the importance of growth and if not acceptance of the adverse event, an ability to gain strength. To reach peacefulness and find joy in life.

Praise for Option B

Even though I struggled reading through some of the chapters in this book, the effort was rewarded with a hopefulness that resilience is possible regardless of what curveball life may throw. Sandberg and Grant are both to be commended. If you or someone you know is open to move on past a tragedy, I highly recommend Option B.

The Cereal Murders Book Review

Favorite Mystery Series

The Cereal Murders is one of Diane Mott Davidson’s best from her Goldy catering series. Davidson began the series in 1990 with Catering to Nobody and released the finale, The Whole Enchilada in 2013. This superb series is worth revisiting which is exactly what we are doing this summer.

The Cereal Murders-Third Installment

The first two books in the series introduce the main characters. So, the third installment begins to flesh out the relationships. This is accomplished along with some key thoughts on the competitive college admission process.

The writing is not preachy and the main character, Goldy, is philosophical as she slowly accepts not all men are Jerk(s). There is great character development in The Cereal Murders as well as a good whodunit.

Misdirection and Unusual Motive

Successful mystery writers are good at providing multiple suspects and lots of misdirection. Diane Mott Davidson goes one better as she throws in an unusual motive- high school class ranking. The Cereal Murders examines the stress and competition of seniors and their parents traversing the college admissions roller coaster. (Remember this was published in the early 1990s long before the 2019 college admission bribery scandal.)

Protagonist Goldy

Goldy is no stranger to murder but finding valedictorian- to- be Keith Andrews face down in the snow shakes her from the beginning of the story. Then son Arch is targeted, and her stress levels climb. Meanwhile Investigator Schulz continues to woo her.

As a survivor of spousal abuse, Goldy is hesitant to commit. But she can’t deny the attraction, both physical and mental. Tom Schulz is the opposite of the Jerk.

The Cereal Murders Recipes

One of the highlights of Diane Mott Davidson’s writing are the wonderful recipes. An acquaintance of mine (and a friend of Davidson’s) suggested this series in the early 90s knowing I was working on specialty high calorie recipes. The early recipes in the Goldy series mirror this before becoming more healthy but just as tasty. An additional change mid-series was moving all the recipes to the back of the book instead of integrating them into the story.

The Irish Soda Bread recipe from The Cereal Murders is one of our favorites. My husband made it just last week. And all the dessert recipes are tempting. Best of all, from my experience these recipes all work. The Cereal Murders recipes are keepers. If you are interested in the recipes more than the wonderful stories themselves, look for Goldy’s Kitchen Cookbook from Harper Collins.

Praise for Series

I own most of the books in this series. The debut, Catering To Nobody, can be hard to find. My copy is paperback. The finale, The Whole Enchilada may be the best. Although the Cereal Murders ranks up there.

If you are a mystery fan and have not read any of this series, I encourage you to search for these books. Quite a few of the later novels can be considered stand alone and do not necessarily need to be read in order. Copies can be found in bookstores, on Amazon and on the Libby App.

I have much respect for this writer. Davidson could have continued churning out books either alone or with a secondary author, but she chose to end the series while on top. Goldy and her family are characters to treasure. And the many topics highlighted in the books reverberate across society. Indeed, many societies.

 

 

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