Category: In The Library

The Blinds Book Review

Adam Sternbergh’s novel The Blinds is an interesting read. The pace is slow at the beginning as he sets the background. But this is appropriate. The back story is what makes The Blinds such a fascinating book to read. The book is not totally a mystery, crime or adventure. Nor is it a psychological thriller, although psychology is at the core.

The Blinds

The Blinds is the nickname the residents of Caesura have given their dusty remote location. Much like the lyrics in Hotel California by the Eagles, the town is programmed to receive. In theory the residents are free to leave but they cannot come and go. Because they are all there as part of a witness protection plan. Or so they think.

The desert fortress is isolated. The first inhabitants arrived eight years ago. For the most part, the time has passed unremarkably. Only one person chose to leave. Since she survived less than a week outside the compound others have not followed.

Sternbergh weaves a fascinating tale of memory loss and new beginnings. Both his main characters, Calvin Cooper and Fran Adams, and the many secondary characters are well-developed. Cooper is the Sheriff of the town and Adams is one of the original eight. She gave birth to her son shortly after arrival.

Since their memories have been altered by a new technique, none of the characters know if they were innocent witnesses or criminals that flipped on their cohorts. Thus all have hope that they were (and are) one of the good guys. As part of the experiment, some have more memory than others.

Many of the residents were truly evil and a few have unremembered connections to others. Their coexistence begins to unravel with multiple shootings within The Blinds. Sternbergh does not leave the reader guessing as to who the shooter is. Or his motive.

Yet the ending is a bit surprising. The reader will have a chance to reflect on what makes evil. And cruelty.

I recommend The Blinds. This novel is entertaining. The back story, once it is fully revealed, makes one reflect on many levels. The residents of The Blinds may be miscreants, but they rally around when needed. They truly deserve a rebirth. But not as originally designed.

Library Book Sale

A dozen booksMy community holds book sales twice a year. I try not to miss these sales. Each book sale benefits the local library. Naturally the books come from a wide range of sources. Many people buy books and then donate them. Some are even current releases.

A few even come from the library itself. I asked our librarian how they determine which books stay on the shelves and which go into the sale. Her response disclosed quite a bit of thought and planning.

Of course, the library naturally looks at check-out rates. If the book is consistently checked out, it stays on the shelves. But other factors come into play. Even if the check-out rates are not high, some books are kept. For example, if the book is from a local author, it may stay on the shelves a bit longer. Other reasons to keep a book is if it is the seminal book on a particular topic. Or if it is a classic which will most likely come back in demand.

Book Donations

Most of the books at this sale were donated. Sometimes the donations come from estates. But other times homeowners are just making room on their shelves for new books. This recycling of books allows more people access to reading material.
There is a downside for writers. Resell books do not provide royalties.

In defense of both book sales and used book stores, I find many new to me authors from these sources. Then I look for their new works. For example, I bought Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child as a resell. In fact, I enjoyed the book so much that another member of the household was persuaded to read it. A few months later I spotted City of Endless Night which Child recently co-wrote with Douglas Preston. Since I enjoyed Terminal Freeze so much, it was easy to choose that book over another.

An upside to these sales is getting books into households that may not have the ability to buy reading material at retail prices. My county has a low household income average. Reading is a major factor in increasing knowledge. This in turn can increase the standard of living.

Do you have library book sales in your town or county? How do you support these efforts? Which of the above books should I read first?

Tables of Books on Sale

City of Endless Night Book Review

City of Endless Night

City of Endless Night captivates the reader from the word go. Even for someone unfamiliar with the crime series involving FBI Agent Pendergast and NYPD Lieutenant D’Agosta. Although this was evidently not the first book in the series, it was the first time I had read anything by the writing duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I am delighted by this discovery of a new to me writer combo in one of my favorite genres. However, long-time readers will remember I favorably recommended Child before in the review of Terminal Freeze.

The mystery opens up with the discovery of a headless body. This gruesome crime takes place in New York City. The victim turns out to be the daughter of a tech giant. D’Agosta takes Pendergast along to break the news to the father. Tech giant Anton Ozmian does not react well.

Then another headless body turns up. And another. These latter two involve older, wealthy men murdered in their ultra-secure homes. At least seemingly secure in their own homes. The M.O.’s differ enough from the first young victim to muddle the investigation.

New York Post

There are a handful of side stories mixed in. Most involve false leads. But one is crucial to the storyline. A reporter for the New York Post, Bryce Harriman ramps up the heat for Pendergast and D’Agosta. His dirt digging turns up a possible tie in of all three murders. He posits the theory of a vigilante murderer. One that goes after wicked members of the one per cent. In his reporting he coins the phrase City of Endless Night.

Of course his negative reporting of the first victim stirs the ire of tech father Ozmian. The sensational reporting also provides instant fame for Harriman. In an ironic twist, Harriman becomes greedy himself. But his greed is for fame not money. So he continues his zeal against the super rich. This includes continued mudslinging involving the young Ozmian. Then her father exacts revenge through digital methods.

Psychotic Villain

Meanwhile, the psychotic villain strikes some more. Even though the media, the public and even the NYPD have bought into Harriman’s theory, Pendergast has not. Unfortunately, he does not have an alternate theory. Hence, he and his colleagues fall into the trap of a man hunter.

The denouement actually takes place well before the end of the book. This allows the authors time for a thrilling hunt between good and evil. Thus, even though the reader discovers the killer, some suspense remains on the outcome.
City of Endless Night has a good amount of twist and turns. There are some exciting action scenes. In addition, the writers also offer commentary on culture today.

For the most part, this book stands on its own. However, as is the case in many series, some characters appear very briefly, yet the reader is expected to make a connection. In these cases, I think I would have benefitted from reading previous the previous books. I plan to read more of this series from Preston and Child in the future.

An Unwanted Guest Book Review

Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest reminds me just how entertaining a mystery can be. I rank this book alongside the many Agatha Christie’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels. But the one thing missing is a single protagonist who figures out the crime.
An Unwanted Guest is a story with a large cast of characters. Each of the individuals is trapped by a winter storm. Some appear as couples, some are friends and there is an odd singleton or two. Added into this mix of strangers are the innkeeper and his son.

Plot

The tale starts on the road to the inn. Lapena introduces each character one at a time. This is very reminiscent of several of my favorite writers. When done well, the author hooks you in. Shari Lapena did an amazing job of hooking me.

In brief, an oncoming storm approaches at the same time as the hotel guests. Bad weather is the backdrop, trapping the guests inside as one after another turns up dead. Thus the theme is an old one, but Lapena makes it seem brand new.

An Unwanted Guest

Most of the characters assume the first death is accidental. But one of the more dominant individuals, David Paley, has his doubts. Yet he keeps quiet, just insisting the body stay front and center.

Shortly after the second death, evidence appears to point out the possibility of an unknown individual. This throws many into a panic. Tensions increase as the power remains off. Paley, tries to hold things together. He insists they all remain together. But there is a bit of a rebellion once his past is revealed. Then things go from bad to worse.

Sheri Lapena does an amazing job on two fronts. First, her writing allows you to know each of the characters. Second, she subtly leaves the clues to the mystery. Somehow, I missed the evidence. Perhaps after reading more of her work (and I plan to) I won’t be surprised by the end. But I did not figure out who killed everyone until the author’s reveal.

I highly recommend An Unwanted Guest. The denouement made sense. The reader is left wishing some of the characters have a happily ever after and knowing some won’t. The shades of evil are well painted. Lapena reminds us that ghosts from the past can haunt both the present and the future. If you like mysteries An Unwanted Guest is a must read.

The Little Paris Book Shop Book Review

The Little Paris Book Shop

The Little Paris Book Shop published originally in Germany back in 2013, was written by Nina George. Unfortunately my German is too limited to read the initial version. Fortunately, Simon Pare translated the work into English in 2015. This book moved me. But readers need to be forewarned. This book is deep. Soul-searching and beautiful, but the material requires a certain maturity.

The protagonist is Jean Perdu. The owner of a floating barge bookstore called la pharmacie litteraire or in English, The Literary Apothecary, Perdu prescribes books for what ails you. The barge is moored in Paris on the River Seine. The Little Paris Book Store has been the rock Perdu has clung to for the past 21 years. Ever since his beloved walked out on him.

But that is just the surface. George has written a novel which entertains. However, she also makes the reader contemplate their own failures, successes and even happiness as they follow Perdu down river facing the mistakes of his past. Personal growth is a large part of the story. Writers are another. Grief is yet another.

Book Shop Characters

The cast of characters in The Little Paris Book Shop follow the theme of missed opportunities. Floating along with Perdu are various individuals in mid-life. Some divorced, some bereft by an early death and one or two who have yet to find love. Much less lose it. The one youngster in the group is a twenties something best-selling author who has lost his muse. He fits nicely into the tale.

George explores life on many levels. Her writing describes contrasting life paths. But the road not taken is only part of the story. My interpretation was one of accepting the path chosen and appreciating the life around you. As I stated above, The Little Paris Book Shop is deep. Personal reflection is one of the benefits I derived from reading the story.

Suggested Target Audience

My suggestion for a target audience is over twenty-one. Partly for the European attitudes regarding relationships. But even more, I think readers who have suffered major setbacks (or even minor) in life will benefit the most. Nina George ends her novel in an upbeat way. The message is not only life goes on, but life can be even better. Perdu does a lot of soul-searching. As did I.

Build Your Online Community Book Review

Build Your Online Community

Jan Burns has written an excellent guide discussing online communication. Building Your Online Community: Blogging, Message Boards, Newsgroups, and More is geared toward teenagers. But I learned from it too.

Although this book was published in 2011, it is written in such a way that most, if not all is still relevant. The book is still available for purchase. I think it would make a great gift for anyone 12 and up. In fact, seniors who desire some general knowledge of online communities would also benefit from reading this book. I discovered it while browsing the non-fiction section geared toward young adults at my local library.

Burns informs the reading audience in a straightforward manner. She gives a nice history of computers and the Internet. Then she devotes a chapter to each of the groups named in her subtitle. While I am very comfortable about my knowledge of Blogs, I found I was lacking in the other two. In fact, until reading the book, I did not know how to access Newsgroups. Now I know. (Plus I sidetracked a bit from getting the book read and this post written after discovering Newsgroups.)

Finding Information Online

Burns discusses the difference between web directories and search engines in her chapter Searching For Information. Even though this book was published over five years ago, her information remains current. Her discussion of search engines includes biases and how to compensate for them. This search engine bias is a still a hot topic.

The last part of Build Your Online Community discusses safety issues of having an online presence. I found the author’s warnings to be level-headed. I believe her approach is one that shares not scares. Burns uses multiple examples of how anonymous postings may not be enough to protect ones identity.

This is a great book. Many segments of the population will gain knowledge from this book. Even though the target audience is young teens, I enjoyed reading it. Furthermore, I think my parents’ generation would learn from Build Your Online Community as well.

Be sure to look for this book by Jan Burns in your library. Additionally, I found copies available for purchase online. Build Your Online Community is a winner in my opinion.

Where The Crawdads Sing Book Review

Where The Crawdads Sing

The debut novel Where The Crawdads Sing is one you will want to read. This is the first foray into fiction for Delia Owens whose previous works have been in the realm of non-fiction. Her expertise in wildlife creates a wondrous background for the novel. A story so gripping you won’t want to put it down.

The setting is the lowlands of North Carolina. Owens brings to life the creatures of the marsh through the eyes of Kya, the protagonist of Where The Crawdads Sing. The first glimpse we have of Kya is as a six-year-old confused by her mom leaving their swamp shack in high-heeled faux alligator shoes. She waits for her mom to turn around and wave good-bye. The mom keeps on walking, right out of Kya’s life. The first to abandon the little girl.

Owens uses a dual narrative approach to spin her tale. Thus, the riveting saga of Kya alternates with the murder investigation of a local hometown hero. Several characters overlap between the two tales. The modern-day plot takes place in 1969. Kyra’s mom walked out in 1952. Eventually time merges. Along the way the reader glimpses an accurate picture of the Deep South.

Where The Crawdads Sing is hard to classify as far as to which genre it belongs. Yes, there is a murder involved. But the story really isn’t a “who done it?” The bulk of the tale revolves around the young abandoned girl as she matures into adulthood. Of course there is some romance involved too as is often the case with coming of age stories.

Uniqueness

What I liked about the book the most was the uniqueness. I encountered a suspension of disbelief which allowed me to totally immerse myself in Kya’s circumstances. The author has created a character rich in complexity. She is different. How she became different is a critical part of nature. And an integral part of the novel.

This is one of the best books I have read this year. I am amazed that this is a first novel. Furthermore, the ending was a total surprise. Any serious lover of fiction should add Where The Crawdads Sing to their must read list. I sincerely hope Delia Owens produces another work of fiction.

 

There Are No Grown-Ups Book Review

There Are No Grown-Ups

Pamela Druckerman is an established author. She is an expat living in France and her books are non-fiction. There Are No Grown-Ups is the first of her books that I have read. Perhaps it will be the last. At heart I am a prude. Thus her early revelations regarding an intimate birthday present for her husband turned me off.

However, you may see things differently since sometimes I feel like one of the few “Grown-Ups” not to have read Fifty Shades of Gray. Writing is a personal thing, deeply personal. As is reading. So I am reluctant to totally pan There Are No Grown-Ups.

Druckerman bares her soul in addition to her body. Although she is closer to my age, she reminds me of many of my students. TMI (Too Much Information) is a concept that is lost on some. So, be forewarned, Druckerman reveals all in an attempt to explain concepts such as the body ages long before the mind for many.

I understand this idea. Furthermore, I can connect with Druckerman on some levels. She describes throughout her book the frustrations and challenges life delivers. She discusses candidly her battle with cancer. Druckerman also shares how she has handled the notoriety and fame garnered from her writing.

Privacy Issues

But my biggest problem stems from what is the very essence of the book. In There Are No Grown-Ups, there is also no sense of privacy. Everything is shared. For Druckerman, her success as a writer stems from being true to her own identity. But does this mean one must tell all?

Some relationships should remain private. In my opinion, a couple’s intimacy falls into this category. I am not necessarily advocating for secrecy. Rather I believe in discretion. This is at odds with much of the publication.

Throughout the book, Druckerman discusses her family background. Her parents were not wealthy. Nor were they poor. Furthermore, for reasons revealed toward the end, they only discussed positive things in front of her.

So there are parallels with my background. I also grew up in a family that did not discuss certain topics. Then, Druckerman discloses that she raises her children via open discussion. I did not. Age appropriate discussions were the norm in our household. My belief was and is that children need the freedom to be children. Adulthood is difficult enough.

This key difference with regards to privacy may explain why I am uncomfortable recommending There Are No Grown-Ups. But, the problems are numerous. The Ménage a Trois birthday present, was TMI and something I am totally opposed to. Additionally, I view friendship quite differently. Furthermore, my belief is that the writer doth protest too much. I had trouble believing all the shared self-doubt.

I am sure there are many who will love this book. I did not. Nor do I recommend it. But I believe There Are No Grown-Ups has its place in the world. This was a library check-out. If you think you would be interested, I recommend finding it at a library near you.

The Verdun Affair Book Review

The Verdun Affair

Nick Dybek’s The Verdun Affair reminds me of the books assigned in my high school English classes. Full of deep meaning, filled with ambiguity. Fodder for discussion. Passages to quote. Books such as Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Only time will tell if Dybek will reach such a point. But sentences such as “He couldn’t have known that a lifetime is a sad thing, that, in the end, it is a bridge between two worlds that don’t believe in one another” which ends Chapter 3, have the depth for quotation. And discussion.

I struggled reading The Verdun Affair much as I struggled to read the above mentioned classics. The plot was fairly simple, the characters straightforward. But the presentation is one of shifting back and forth between the years.

The story is split between 1950 and the post World War I years. Tom, an American boy caught in France during the war tells the narrative. He is but one of many orphaned by war. He comes of age under the care of French priests and remains in Europe following the war.

The aftermath of The Great War led to many families, parents and wives, searching for those missing or lost. Tom’s task is to recover bones from the battlefields of Verdun while the priests tend to the many searching for lost loved ones.

The White Lie

The story truly unfolds from there. In the absence of clergy, Tom is tasked with consoling a fellow American, Sarah Hagen, searching for her husband. In an attempt towards compassion, he tells a lie. Some would classify it as a White Lie. He claims to have met her husband. This gives her hope. But it will haunt him.

Sarah continues searching. She travels to Italy in hopes that an amnesic is her missing husband. Smitten, Tom finds a way to follow. Italy introduces other key characters. One of whom, Paul, also has a presence in both past and present tales. He, too is searching for someone and thinks the amnesic is that person.

Purpose

The Verdun Affair ponders much. Truth, revenge, conflict and purpose are all posited for the reader to reflect upon. Dybek shows how war affects those involved directly as well as indirectly. Actions have consequences. This novel creates many questions for the reader. When does truth matter? How does one let go of a loved one? Is revenge always needed? How do actions today steer one’s life tomorrow?

I believe this book offers much to the reader looking for reflection. It is not an easy read, but life is not easy. The Verdun Affair is the type of literary work students should be assigned. But, it also holds value for those of us on the other side of the bridge.

Zero Waste Book Review

Book Cover of Zero WasteReduce, reuse, recycle is one slogan I grew up with. But Shia Su takes this mantra to a whole new level with her book Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks To Drastically Reduce Your Trash. The cover of the book shows a glass jar, approximately quart size with the trash she generated in a year. This is truly cutting waste to zero.

The book has a pictorial Table of Contents. There are lots of pictures throughout for illustrative purposes. The content is such that you can either read straight through or skip around to what you need. Zero Waste is a good resource book.

Su has highlighted tips throughout. Some of her suggestions I already practice. For instance, at the grocery store I seldom use the small plastic bags in the produce department. I just place the items in the cart and group them close together at check out.

Other concepts, such as the high-tech toilet seats from Japan, I have only just heard of. (A neighbor took a trip to Japan this summer and came back raving about the toilets.) I was however, surprised that the cost was not higher. Bidets are certainly not new. But my understanding is the Japanese manufacturers have taken the concept to a whole new level.

Many of the tips are cost savers. But some of the Zero Waste ideas would be tough to convert to. The various personal hygiene tips top the list in this department.

On the other hand, the food storage tips and most of the housekeeping tips are doable for me. I also found her comments on clothing donations informative. We tend to forget economic dumping is not limited to large manufacturers.

Su is a blogger. Her site is Wasteland Rebel. Just a quick glance at the blog after reading the book shows a lot of carryover. So, if you like holding a book in your hands, buy Zero Waste. Or you can subscribe to her blog. Either way, I think you will find the information interesting. How many of us could fit a year’s worth of trash in a quart jar?

The Alice Network Book Review

Kate Quinn offers a treat for history buffs and those who like a bit of romance. Her book, The Alice Network, is set in the years immediately following World War II. But, the focus of more than half the book is World War I, also known as The Great War.

Charlie

Alternating chapters reveal the stories of two women. Charlie, short for Charlotte, opens the story in 1947. She is searching for her cousin Rose. The family lost contact with Rose while France was occupied by Germany. Charlie has one lead, Evelyn Gardiner.

Charlie is also running away. Her story is a combination of post war stresses as well as her search for Rose. War has long-lasting consequences for both soldiers and families. Quinn does an outstanding job of conveying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throughout Charlie’s tale.

Fans of romance are treated to just a bit as Charlie becomes attracted to Finn Kilgore, employee of Evelyn Gardiner. Kilgore’s background is of a former soldier with some issues. He is struggling a bit but is a rock to both Eve and Charlie.

Eve/Marguerite

Evelyn Gardiner is the protagonist of The Great War story as well as the support Charlie needs in her search for Cousin Rose. Evelyn now known as Eve and sometimes as just Gardiner, is a drunk. But during World War II she served as a spy with the assumed name Marguerite.

Marguerite Le Francois is an integral member of the Alice Network. She is recruited in England but placed in France. Her fluency in English, French, and German makes her an ideal spy. Of course Marguerite is entirely concocted by Quinn. But The Alice Network was real. So too were some of the key supporting figures in the story of Eve. The weaving of fact and fiction is expertly done.

The Alice Network

Throughout history, women have been a party to war. During the Great War, women served as key figures in spy rings operating behind enemy lines. In the chapters focusing on Eve’s storyline, Quinn demonstrates the sacrifices made by these women. Then through Charlie’s story, she gives the readers a glimpse of how long-lasting the impact of war is.

I really enjoyed The Alice Network. The back and forth between storylines worked. Although the reader knows Eve survives World War I since she is still around in 1947, there is still quite a bit of suspense to this novel. I greatly appreciated the author’s notes at the end of the book. Quinn spells out fact from fiction as far as the war events. Those more knowledgeable of The Great War might not appreciate the notes as much.

I strongly recommend this book. The members of The Alice Network went to great lengths to shorten the war. The author does a really good job of showing the impact of war on soldier and civilian as well.

The characters are endearing. The story is suspenseful. The ending is akin to a romance novel even though there is a dose of bittersweet. Kate Quinn has a winner in this well researched and well written book.

The Day the Crayons Quit Book Review

Book, coloring book and crayons
The stars of The Day the Crayons Quit ready to color again.

The Day the Crayons Quit

Author Drew Daywalt and illustrator Oliver Jeffers have a winner in The Day the Crayons Quit. Each of the colors in a crayon box has something to say. This children’s book is sure to be a hit with your favorite youngster.

I feel this is a book which is designed for an adult or older child to read to the younger crowd. The story is definitely geared toward a preschool or early grade school crowd. But the vocabulary is not for beginning readers.

Striking Crayons

The story is engaging. Duncan wants to color in class but finds a stack of letters instead of his crayons. Each color has hand written a note. Thus some of the book could be difficult for an early reader to decipher. Adjacent to the note is artwork featuring that color. Most colors complain, some need a referee and a couple are downright hilarious. The humor is perfect for the target audience. But I appreciated it as well.

In addition to the story line, Daywalt provides a personality for each crayon. Then Jeffers brings the color into focus with illustrations any child can relate to. The duo have created a children’s book which has lasting value. Humor rules throughout. This story fits in many places. The book is appropriate for story hour at libraries, reading time in schools and naturally bedtime.

Read Aloud

The Day the Crayons Quit harkens back to a time when youngsters were entertained by someone reading to them. This book provides the opportunity to spend time with a child. Reading aloud is an activity that requires participation by both reader and listener. Thus, a far cry from the electronic entertainment seen so often today.

I encourage anyone with a young child in their life to find this book. This includes daycare providers, elementary school teachers and librarians, parents and grandparents. The Day the Crayons Quit is a great addition to the library.

I have just one question for Daywalt and Jeffers. Whatever happened to Mr. Brown Crayon?

Clock Dance Book Review

Clock Dance- A Book Club Book

The author of Clock Dance is new to me. But I am glad I discovered her work. Clock Dance piqued my interest from the start. I read it cover to cover. Many of you may be familiar with the author, Anne Tyler. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. So, it is not surprising that Clock Dance is being read by book clubs across the country.

Willa Drake is the protagonist in Clock Dance. The reader follows her life from grade school to 60 ish. There are large gaps in the timeline but Tyler makes that work. Thus, in some ways, Clock Dance is a summary of life events.

The characters are pretty straight-forward. The development of Willa is nicely done. But the reader may be surprised by how her relationship with key members of her family changes over the years. I was, yet I wasn’t. Dysfunctional family relationships during the early years have a way of sowing unusual outcomes.

Call for Help

The “real” story begins in the present which for Willa means her early sixties. In a case of mistaken identity, she receives a call for help. And she responds much to her husband’s chagrin. He tags along.

Willa flies half way across the country to care for a young girl. Tyler makes it clear the kid is pretty self-sufficient. There is a parallelism between Willa and Cheryl, the young girl she is in temporary charge of. Thus the natural re-awakening of Willa’s self is easy to believe.

The supporting characters are good. So is the plot. The ending is a bit surprising but not overly so. Those of us approaching a certain age do begin to wonder how things could have been. Tyler reminds us that time remains to make changes. The clock has not run out yet.

I really liked Clock Dance and plan to loan my copy out to others. This book has great appeal and not just for those of us approaching the later stages of life. Anne Tyler is a great writer and I plan to read more of her work.

Fire on the Track Book Review

Book Cover of Fire on the Track with old bookcase as backgroundRoseanne Montillo offers a close look at the first female track and field Olympians in her book Fire on the Track. Much of the history focuses on Betty Robinson. But detailed backgrounds of Babe Didrikson, Stella Walsh and Helen Stephens are also outlined. Participants in the Olympic games of 1928, 1932 and 1936 are the focus of the work.

Fire on the Track captures you from the start with a narrative of the 1931 plane crash that badly injured Robinson. This style sets the stage for the remainder of the book. Montillo writes a very readable presentation of non-fiction and thus captures a wider audience.

However, due to some very intimate details, I only recommend Fire on the Track for high school age and above. Some of the runners, Stephens in particular, suffered in a manner that would easily qualify her for inclusion in the #Me Too movement. The greatest change over time is the desire in the past to hide the atrocities. Since Montillo has been thorough in her reporting of history, I personally would shield younger readers from this narrative. But I think it is appropriate and important for the mature audience to learn of these past events.

Olympic Track and Field

Having established those parameters, I strongly recommend this book. As a runner, I had a smattering of knowledge about most of the individuals covered in this historical account. But, I did not know of the many difficulties faced by these trailblazing women. Nor did I fully appreciate how much discrimination continued even after the inclusion of track and field events for women in the Olympic Games.

Montillo balances the personal stories of the individual runners with the political and economic events of the time period. Climate played a role as well. The late twenties and the decade of the thirties comprised a period of struggle. The relative prosperity of 1928 yielded to the Dust Bowl days, bread lines and loss of property. All of which are expertly woven into the account.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the personalities of the runners. These young women participated in competition during an era not particularly accepting of the idea of gender equality in sport. Each of the runners were exceptional. Each faced obstacles. And each handled the spotlight differently. Either pick up a copy at your nearest library or buy a copy. Put this book on your list.

Daniels’ Running Formula Book Review

Of the many training books I own, Daniels’ Running Formula is one of my favorites. I have the original edition. But you can find copies of the 3rd edition online through the major booksellers. I used this book to train for a marathon. But other distances are covered too. Indeed, Daniels has a formula for all distances and all types of runners.

Four Keys to Success

Jack Daniels states there are four keys to successful running. First is inherent ability. Even though runners come in various shapes and sizes, certain body types lend to more success. This was important during my competitive running days. But I find I still enjoy running even with a bit of a middle age spread. However, even if I no longer strive to cross the line first, I believe proper training is essential to avoid injury. Thus Daniels’ Running Formula is still consulted.

The other keys are motivation, opportunity and direction. In discussing each, Daniels focus is on competitive running as is much of the book. His discussion of each of the four keys leads into the three parts comprising the body of the work. I believe these ten pages are worth reading. However they contain philosophy as opposed to the more scientific approach used in the remainder of the book.

Program Planning

Part I of the book is composed of three chapters. Daniels uses graphs to illustrate increase of training stress to optimize the level of competitiveness. Naturally, I appreciated the fact that he included a diagram illustrating diminishing returns. The author uses these early chapters to introduce some important biological concepts. A thorough discussion of the cardiovascular system is covered by Daniels.

For the serious runner, there are detailed instructions to create and utilize aerobic profiles. Various charts and illustrations in Daniels’ Running Formula aid in the understanding of the shared concepts. The reader is forewarned; quite a bit of this first section is tough to comprehend. But I believe it is the most important part of the book for competitive runners.

Formula for Training

The second section and bulk of the writing concentrates on training. This part starts with a section on building base. A base level of fitness will vary by individual. Couch potatoes will need to start from scratch. Daniels discusses how to build your fitness level even if you are a less experienced runner.

He also makes clear that slower speeds end up stressing a body more than a quicker tempo. Thus, someone running ten minute miles will work harder than a six-minute miler. Therefore, in the beginning, time measurement of running is as important as distance.

The training section is easier to understand in general. Although you will still have charts requiring knowledge of maximum aerobic capacity. Daniels guides the runner through the set-up of a training program. Explanations of various training techniques are covered. Interval running, marathon pace, fartlek, easy runs and hard runs are all discussed. He includes everything.

Racing

The final section is geared toward racing. Many think of racing in terms of high school and college students. Or they conjure up memories of Olympians. But racing is a positive for all runners. Even my small town of 7500 has multiple running events each year. I have even travelled to a town of under 500 for a road race.

In Daniels’ Running Formula, the racing section first covers the basics. This includes topics such as clothing, shoes, sleep and stretching. The first chapter also discusses how to pick the races and has some psychological pep talk as well.

The next three chapters are focused on race distance. The author breaks the distances into what I would call short (or even very short) medium and long. Chapter 12 is 1500-3000 meter racing. Then, Chapter 13 is 5-15K distance. Chapter 14 covers half and full marathons.

Since high school I have raced only once at the 1500 meter distance. My marathon training partner talked me into the race. It started 30 minutes after we completed the qualifying 10K. Needless to say, my race time was not impressive. But I digress.

Daniels includes a race strategy for each distance. He also provides a training calendar with workout descriptions. Runners who are already conditioned can consult these last chapters repeatedly.

Throughout the book, Daniels spotlights some top individuals in the sport. It was fun to read about Jack Bachelor (I lived in Gainesville when he did and loved spotting him on his runs) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (an all-time favorite.) Read the book to find out if your all-time favorite runner is highlighted.

I recommend buying this book if you are serious about your running. You will improve your performance. If you are not a runner but have one in the family, Daniels’ Running Formula makes a great gift.

Secrets of the National Parks

Secrets of the National Parks Book Review

Summer is here. Travelers are flocking across the country and many of them are headed to National Parks. If you are among the many heading to the great outdoors, consider purchasing Secrets of the National Parks. I found this guide-book edited by National Geographic on a bargain table at Barnes and Noble for under ten dollars. But I think it is worth more.

My parents did not enjoy camping. However, both felt it was important that we were well-rounded in our education. Trips to National Parks played a key role in exposing us to the wonders of nature. Thus, as my kids were growing up, I made sure they also experienced some of our great national treasures.

I wish I had found Secrets of the National Parks sooner. The book offers a comprehensive guide to 32 of the most popular of the parks. Following this major portion is a small section of snippets about smaller, off the beaten path sites. Last, some of the Canadian National Parks are covered in a similar fashion to those United States sites which comprise the bulk of the work.

Maps and Photos

The editors facilitated the use of the book by placing a map of the United States at the beginning. Each of the 32 National Parks high-lighted in the work are positioned on the map. Then, the page number where each park is detailed is located in red beneath the park name. Thus, those wanting a quick look at a specific site have an easy reference. Maybe the next edition could represent the Canadian Parks in a similar fashion.

Maps are a key characteristic of the books. Each park description includes a map. The editors use a numerical system to indicate both the most visited and the secrets of each park. Thus, the first suggested site described by an author is located on the map with a 1 within a red circle. I found this a very useful feature of the book as many of the parks are vast.

The photos included in the book entice the viewer. The ones featuring the parks I have visited bring back great memories. Those of the places I have yet to see are beckoning. Each captures the essence of the individual locations. Some focus on landscape such as the photo of Delicate Arch. Others highlight the inhabitants from coyote to roseate spoonbills.

Plant life is often depicted with the magnificent natural formations as backdrops. One of my favorites was Sunflowers and Buttes included in the Capitol Reef National Park section. This site is now on my list to visit.

Secrets Detailed

Perhaps the best attribute of the guide are the secrets shared by the writers. While the sections cover the most visited trails, sites, and visitor centers, each includes at least one lesser known, off the beaten path choice. I appreciate this. My enjoyment of nature is heightened if I am not surrounded by throngs of people.

Details include the degree of difficulty of the various hikes. The book is quite useful in this way. Both hikers with very young children as well as those with aging ankles or knees benefit with forehand knowledge.

Updates to the sites are also related. For example, Mesa Verde which I have visited many times has additional attractions since my last visit in 2009. I need to make a return trip in the not too distant future in order to view the new visitor center and participate in the just established “Backcountry Hikes” program.

Nature has a tendency to change over time. Therefore, individuals using Secrets of the National Parks need to check before travelling long distances. Most notable of ongoing change at this moment in time (summer of 2018) is the volcanic eruption at Kilauea.

National Geographic has produced an easy to read guide that is appealing. On a recent trip, I shared the guide with two of my companions. One I asked to verify Wind Cave National Park was on the way to Sturgis. The other is weeks away from a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Both individuals enjoyed Secrets of the National Parks. I think you will too.

Rocky Mountain Fruit & Vegetable Garden Book Review

Rocky Mountain Fruit & Vegetable Garden is geared toward the states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah & Wyoming. But author Diana Maranhao is so knowledgeable about edible gardening you might want to pick up a copy even if you live in a different state. Since the book is geared toward the mountain west region, there are a few items such as the chart on average first and last frost dates that are not applicable for everyone. However most of the book contains useful information not limited to the Rocky Mountain area.

Maranhao divides the book into two sections. In the first section, the initial focus is on the states making up the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. For those residing here the above mentioned frost date chart along with detailed Zone maps of each state are a plus. Chapters 2 through 5 are useful for gardeners everywhere even though there are some location specific details.

Seasonal Gardening and Soil Composition

Chapters 2 and 3 yield tips and information on the basic conditions needed to grow a successful garden. The author explains how temperature extremes hinder crops. Then she suggests ways to mitigate the damage. Additionally, the author indicates which plants perform best as transplants and which need direct sowing.

The soil building chapter shares information generally found in good gardening texts. The section on composting did yield some suggestions I was not aware of. Maranhao does recommend soil testing utilizing local extension agencies for tool kits.

Planning, Planting & Growing

Chapters 4 and 5 cover the nuts and bolts of a garden. I really like the author’s approach. If I had a common sense guide such as Rocky Mountain Fruit & Vegetable Garden when I first started out, I think my failures would have been fewer. The planning and planting of the garden are spelled out in a non-verbose way.

The garden maintenance section advocates using a drip system. I concur. Much of the success of my raised row garden is due to the watering system. Maranhao gives details on differing drip systems. She also stresses the need to weed and monitor for pests.

Rocky Mountain Fruit and Vegetable Profiles

The second section of Rocky Mountain Fruit and Vegetable Gardening is a fantastic guide for the gardener as it pertains to specific plants. This portion is divided between fruit and nuts and vegetables and herbs.

Priority in planting is trees, bushes and vines. The author includes a chill chart which indicates the number of hours fruit trees need exposure to sub-45 degree air temperature. While I knew some cooler temperatures were needed, I did not know how many. Nor that winter thaws above 60 degrees Fahrenheit reverses the chill factor.

I also appreciated the illustrated diagrams on planting and pruning. Information on trellising plants is in this section as well. Other tips include a proper hardening off technique for transplants. Then the author turns to individual edibles.

The book organizes the information on the individual plants by dividing the specimens into cool and warm season groupings. Then, the seasonal plantings are listed alphabetically. Each of the listings has growing tips in addition to the basic questions (and answers) of who, what, where, when, and how to plant.

I added Rocky Mountain Fruit & Vegetable Gardening to my home library. The book is easy to use. Diana Maranhao is knowledgeable and writes with a style that is easy to follow. This book is a great resource especially for those living in the mountains, high valleys and high plains.

You Me Everything Book Review

You Me Everything is the first novel Catherine Isaac has published in the United States of America. Romance readers across the ocean might be familiar with the author under the name Jane Costello. After reading her debut released on this side of the Atlantic, I want to find her other works too.

Part of You Me Everything is a love story. But the story is so much more. Many people in real life and in fiction, travel through life with few challenges. Others, such as Jess the protagonist in this novel have more than their fair share of ongoing heartbreak. Amazingly, Isaac creates a story that is uplifting regardless of the all important backdrop of relationship misunderstanding and breakdown. A further tribulation is the diagnosis of Huntington’s and the carrying gene.

Isaac’s writing is fast paced. The dialog is witty and the characters are incredibly endearing. I felt like I knew them all. But what I liked best was the growth of the lead character, Jess. She learns to face a difficult future with both grace and joy.

While the characters hail from Great Britain, much of the story takes place in the French countryside. Jess and her ten-year old son are taking a holiday at the resort his father owns. The purpose is for the father and son to bond and spend time together. Something which is difficult when living in different countries.

However, there is an underlying motive behind Jess’ plans. Her mother is in the final stages of Huntington’s disease and Jess has learned in the past year that she also carries the gene. At her mother’s insistence, she travels to France. Both now and in the future her son needs a close bond with his father.

Huntington’s disease

You Me Everything is the second book I have read recently involving a character with Huntington’s disease. For more information on this debilitating condition click here. The devastation is dramatic. Isaac does a tremendous job conveying the hardship and heartbreak of the families. But even more impressive is her ability to convey a joy for life among characters facing the diagnosis. Her message is clear: We all have one life and we must live it to the best of our ability.

Quilt in a Day: Log Cabin Quilt Book Review

Eleanor Burns’ Quilt in a Day log cabin pattern was the first how-to quilt book I ever purchased. I still use it over thirty years later. Burns is very straightforward with her directions. She begins the book with a brief history of the log cabin pattern. Then the detailed instruction begins.

Charts

Burns provides multiple charts to aid the planning of a log cabin quilt. First are worksheets to pin fabric swatches on. These sheets keep the sewing order on track. Also included are yardage charts. Each of the charts indicate the application of block arrangements. This is useful because only the Field and Furrow arrangement can always work. The many other arrangements require specific numbers of blocks. So if you want a Barn Raising Log Cabin quilt, you must make sure to use the correct block arrangement.

The yardage charts also provide the accurate amount of fabric to buy. The yardage varies by the size of the log cabin quilt and the placement of the fabric within the quilt design. I have made many quilts using these charts and I have yet to be short or overly long on fabric.

Log Cabin quilts key on color contrasts. Burns breaks up the charts between lights and darks. However, contrast can be between colors opposite each other on the color wheel. An example is using red and green in a Christmas themed log cabin design. In such a scenario, just assign one of the colors to the light chart and the other to the dark side.

Burns labels the next chart the tearing chart. She is big proponent of this technique. However, I am a rotary cutter fan. The tearing charts still apply. Preparing the strips all at once is key to this method of quilting.

Log Cabin Block Assembly

After all the fabric is in strips, the blocks are ready to sew. Burns provides the illustration in assembling the quilt. For a first time quilter, these diagrams are extremely helpful.

Once the blocks are made they can be previewed in the various log cabin variations. Burns includes diagrams indicating block arrangement for each log cabin variation. The book is a fantastic guide for the many designs.

The next section gives instruction on piecing the blocks together. Burns discusses the practice of butting the pieces together. This allows continuous sewing and saves time. Also, the technique avoids wasting thread.

The author does an excellent job of walking the beginning quilter through the entire process. The log cabin quilt is one of my favorites. I love the contrasts of both color and hue. Values of color really show off the different arrangements. If you are interested in learning to quilt, I highly recommend this book.

Triple Crown

Tomorrow, June 9, 2018, Justify has a chance to become a Triple Crown winner. In honor of that possibility, I am presenting three book reviews today. All three discuss this difficult feat. Two are non-fiction accounts of my favorite Triple Crown winner, Secretariat. The third is a work of fiction by Felix Francis.

There is something for everyone in these three books. First, the novel is a good mystery full of the Francis penchant for showing the human element. Next, the general history and wonderful photos in Secretariat by Raymond G. Wolfe Jr. is perfect for the many sports fans stirred up by the quest for the Triple Crown. Finally, Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack is geared toward those with a serious interest in the horse industry. Enjoy one or all of these books and tune in to watch the Belmont tomorrow to see if Justify becomes just the 13th winner of the Triple Crown.

Triple Crown The Novel

Felix Francis is the son of Dick Francis. The two collaborated on a few books before the latter’s death. Triple Crown, published in 2016 is a crime novel involving the Triple Crown races in America. The novel is written in the style made famous by the elder Francis.

Jeff Hinkley is an agent for the British Horseracing Authority. He travels to the United States on an exchange program to advise the Federal Anti-Corruption in Sports Agency (FACSA). However, his true purpose is to identify the individual within FACSA tipping off horse trainers to upcoming raids.

The action continues at the Kentucky Derby where problems intensify with several horses unable to start in the famous race. Francis conveys the atmosphere surrounding the Derby to the reader. Visitors to Louisville, Kentucky can visit both Churchill Downs and Wagner’s. Even those just watching the race on television can relate to his description of the crowds.

The plot moves from crime to murder mystery as the races move along the legs of the Triple Crown. Hinkley goes undercover as a groom. Readers glimpse life on the backside through the prose. There are a few twists in this tale of government corruption. The racing industry is not painted in a particularly positive light either. However, the writing does convey a sense of the workings of the industry. The fast paced novel is entertaining. The focus is on the players in the game more than the actual races themselves.

Secretariat

A wonderful testimonial in pictures as much as text is Secretariat by Raymond G. Woolfe Jr. The first edition appeared in 1974 with the update including a forward by jockey Ron Turcotte released in 2001. I love this book. The photos cover the story from start to finish. Both he human element and the horse are detailed.

The text begins with the famous coin toss to decide ownership. The story follows the entire life of the horse. Additionally, the book includes updates on the humans involved with the Triple Crown winner. Also shared with the reader are several charts. Along with the racing charts, the list of progeny, and the pedigree is Secretariat’s training log. Every activity is recorded from January 20, 1972 when he arrived at the barn to November 12, 1973, his last day at the track.

This combination coffee table book and historical account is a great tribute and record of Secretariat. Some pictures are in color but many are in black and white. The challenge of photographing the 31 length victory in the Belmont is evident. No other horses were in sight at the widest angle. The first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, Secretariat was an amazing horse.

Secretariat: The Making of a Champion

William Nack only has a few pictures in his historical account, but one is my favorite of all time. Taken from the infield the viewer has a true sense of just how far in front Secretariat was in the Belmont. The final leg of the Triple Crown.

Secretariat: The Making of a Champion is a detailed look at all the parties involved in the making of the horse. In this account, background on the breeders involved includes so much more than just the coin toss. Nack gives great inside information to this important side of the industry. Interesting details on the principle breeders involved are a major part of the book. Indeed, the story of Penny Chenery Tweedy is conveyed alongside that of Secretariat. Furthermore, Seth Hancock’s syndication of Secretariat and the involvement of the Ogden Phipps are important parts of the history.

Additionally, the trainer Lucien Laurin, groom Ed Sweat, the primary jockey Ron Turcotte and the exercise rider Jimmy Gaffney are involved in this well documented biography. Each provides perspective. Thus, Nack tells the Triple Crown winner’s story through the stories of the many humans caring for him. Finally, Nack does an incredible job of describing the racing action. His play-by-play of the Belmont will have those readers who were lucky enough to witness the historical race nodding their heads, yes, yes.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens Book Review

Groundbreaking Food Gardens Book cover of Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Niki Jabbour is the author of Groundbreaking Food Gardens. This great garden planning book contains 73 garden plans to inspire you. Jabbour gives a brief introduction to her 72 contributors. Then each designer provides a layout and tips for their garden. Groundbreaking Food Gardens comprises a wide range of gardens. There is truly something for everyone.

The table of contents allows the reader to pinpoint the type of garden they are thinking about without reading from cover to cover. But reading straight through benefits the serious gardener. Each of the contributors explains the how and whys of their design. Additionally, the garden experts provide lots of information. Tips on succession planting, soil amendment and water rates add to the book.

Eclectic best describes the multitude of garden designs. The sections include potted gardens, roof top gardens as well as large-scale operations. Some of the gardens are strictly focused on edible plants. Others combine food and flower. Still others are designed with backyard living in mind. Quite a few plans are geared toward kids. Both the Chicago Hot Dog Garden and the OTTO Pizza Garden incorporate familiar shapes into the garden. This visual approach is fun for kids (and adults.)

Groundbreaking Design InstructionsDescription of garden reducing grocery bill

One of the best elements of Groundbreaking Food Gardens is the instructions for implementing the designs. Details for achieving the same or similar look are provided in an easy to understand manner. For example, a step-by-step guide for planting a knot garden explains the spacing and layout of the plants along with the materials needed. Diagrams are provided for individual plant layout. Other structures such as containers and pallet gardens also include instructions.

There are sidebars sprinkled throughout the pages. Some, like the one on Lasagna Gardening are page long and appear in the table of contents. Others like the snippet on square foot garden give the reader just a taste. Many of the contributors share their personal knowledge gained through years of gardening.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens covers so many possible ways to grow nutritious food. I knew some of the techniques such as the Lasagna Bed and the Square Foot Gardening. But many others contained new information. While several of the garden designs require some experience, quite a few were geared toward beginning gardeners. This book has something for everyone.

Book pages describing kid friendly gardens

 

 

The Recipe Box Book Review

Multiple recipe boxes on a kitchen counterSam Nelson is the protagonist in The Recipe Box, a novel by Viola Shipman. Shipman is the pen name (and grandmother) of Wade Rouse. The novel includes mouth-watering recipes. The recipes have been passed down to Nelson through the female line.

The novel opens in New York City. Sam Nelson is a pastry chef. However, the story quickly reverts back to her native Michigan. The Recipe Box revolves around a family owned orchard and pie pantry. Sam moved to New York to get away from the family business. And to follow her dreams.

There are many flashbacks in the novel. Each is a glimpse of the work and effort needed to make the business work. Throughout, the women in the family are shown as the backbone of the company. But Sam wanted something else.

However, an unscrupulous boss leads to an abrupt departure from New York for Sam. She is unsure of her future. So the Recipe Box focuses on her decisions. In addition to a career change, Sam faces a change in relationship status. Angelo Morelli, a Jersey boy, follows her to Michigan. He is determined to move things to the next level.

Recipe for Life

Some might see the novel similar to a coming of age book. But the book is a family saga. Sam is at a crossroads in life. She needs to find herself. The recipes and traditions passed down define the family. But do they represent Sam?

I love this book and plan to gift it to one of my daughters. The underlying philosophy holds true regardless of profession. Happiness comes from within. Outside factors may influence you but you are who you are.  The author shares wisdom with regard to self and relationships with others. But most of all, the importance of family is emphasized throughout.

This is a great summer beach book or a winter by the fire read. You will laugh and you will cry. If nothing else, buy the book for the delicious recipes! Furthermore, if you possess your grandmother’s recipe box (or boxes) like I do, pull a recipe out of the box and make it this week. Just like The Recipe Box infers, there is no greater tribute to those before us than to whip something up using a family recipe.

 

 

The Clarity Book Review

The Clarity

The Clarity is a first novel by Keith Thomas. Mr. Thomas writes for television and the movies. So his first book is not typical of a debut. I would categorize The Clarity as science-fiction horror story. If it were a movie, the release date would be late October. Warning: this book is full of suspense and some gruesome scenes.

A psychological experiment, primarily using orphans, is at the center of the plot. The main characters include a mother and daughter. The mom was part of the experiment, but escaped. Somehow the side-effects of the scientific trial are passed on genetically to her daughter.

Psychologist to the RescueBook Cover of The Clarity

The story begins in a run down complex on the outskirts of Chicago. A neighbor/babysitter asks Dr. Matilda Deacon visiting the building to look in on Ashanique, the daughter, while the mother, Jan, is at work. The brief visit intrigues the psychologist but the sudden return of the mom cuts the encounter short.

Unfolding events prompt Jan and Ashanique to contact Dr. Deacon for help. The action picks up as a murderer tracks all three down. The villain is also a former subject of the psychological study. He did not escape with the other participants of the science experiment. Now he is a killer controlled by the group continuing the study.

The plot has several twists and turns. A romantic interest for Dr. Deacon, a local policeman, enters the story. Kojo Omaboe serves as both a protector and a sounding board for Matilda. Their relationship lends reality to the story.

The sci-fi aspect of The Clarity revolves around the experiment. The scientists were focused on the brain. Both drugs and electroshock were used on the subjects. Some of the patients react differently and become the Null. This leads to great conflict with The Null patients seeking revenge.

Flashbacks

Memories and flashbacks are a major part of the book. The characters affected by the experiment are bombarded by reflections of past history, not necessarily their own. A key to the plot is the recovery of a chemical equation which would negate the memories. And the negative side effects.

Keith Thomas strikes terror in the reader’s heart with some of his scenes. Yet other parts of The Clarity are akin to existentialism. The idea of memory tracing back through DNA is hard to grasp. But as the side story of Dr. Deacon’s dementia ridden mother indicates, the memory process of the brain is still an unknown and uncontrolled. Who knows what powers the brain may hold?

The Clarity accurately conveys the threshold science is standing at with respect to unlocking the mysteries of the brain. Thomas weaves reality and future unknowns in a masterful way. The one caveat is the many gruesome scenes. They are graphic. The tortures sent chills through my body. I am not sure I could handle a film version unless my eyes were closed! If you want an edge of your seat thriller, The Clarity fits the bill.

The Kremlin Conspiracy Book Review

Trending among writers is the use of current world events as backdrops for novels. The Kremlin Conspiracy is one such novel. Joel C. Rosenberg follows the lives of two men from the late 1990s. One, Marcus Ryker hails from the United States. The other, Oleg Kraskin is a native of Russia. Both have compelling stories.

Much of The Kremlin Conspiracy involves sharing the life story of these two men. Rosenberg creates parallels in their lives. Both serve their country. Each marries for love and each brings a son into the world. But, their lives are also quite different.

Rosenberg carefully meshes real events over the time period into the story line. For example, the events of 9/11 are the catalyst for Ryker to enlist in the armed forces. Similar connections exist between real incidents and the plot. In fact only the most recent happenings involving North Korea were off-kilter. This is an intention of the author.

At first this approach was difficult to process. However, the characters created by Rosenberg were so compelling, the mix of fact and fiction became secondary. The reader is caught up in the lives of the main characters and their loved ones. The drama of their relationships and each traumatic event is believable, and sometimes heartbreaking.

Eventually the two men cross paths. At this point The Kremlin Conspiracy begins to rev up in action. Both men end up working together in the best interests of their respective countries. The action is the edge of your seat kind.

The patriotism reflected by both men is inspiring. Rosenberg takes great pains to show how each of the main characters matures. Both place duty before self.

Additionally, the author includes a spiritual aspect. This inclusion of the faith journey of one of the characters is well done. There is some contrast between the two characters in this regard. However, they share a common intellectual bent. Theology and philosophy are not far apart.

The Kremlin Conspiracy is well written. The characters are interesting and the plot well thought out. The ending may leave the characters hanging but not the readers. All who pick up this book should understand the warning the author is making. Consider putting this book on your reading list.

 

Field of Thirteen Book Review

Earlier this week I walked to the library to see if any books on the Kentucky Derby were in the collection. I found Field of Thirteen by Dick Francis. This book is actually a collection of short stories revolving around horses. Only one involved the Kentucky Derby. So I read that story first.

I enjoyed the story of “The Gift” which as published back in 1973 in a Sports Illustrated issue covering the Kentucky Derby. Horse racing fans can tell you right away who won the Derby that year. And some casual fans can too. I would love to see a copy of that magazine to see how “The Gift” was placed.

Francis explains a bit about each of the short stories. Some were sold to magazines just wanting a story with word count the only specified requirement. A few of the stories he wrote to fill out Field of Thirteen. Thus the stories are quite varied.

While “The Gift” centered on a washed up sportswriter gifted one last major coup, other stories feature jockeys, trainers and owners. Some of the stories take place on a flat track and others cover steeplechase. Weaved throughout are glimpses of human nature.

Dick Francis paints pictures of the foibles of mankind. His writing is reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm fables. In fact one story has a horse named Fabled. I do not believe this was coincidence. The author also has tones of Agatha Christie. There are little twists that serve as catalysts. I love this kind of writing.

The various stories are not always flattering to the subject matter. Many of the characters are quite flawed. However, each story does have at least one person of virtue.

Field of Thirteen

Field of Thirteen was published in 1998. But a quick check via the Internet indicates the book is still available for purchase. I am thinking of gifting one to a horse racing fan at Christmas. The short stories are entertaining. My favorite was “Spring Fever.” Even if you are not a fan of horse racing or of short stories, you might give this book a try. I liked Field of Thirteen.