Category: In The Library

Alaskan Holiday Book Review

At Christmas time I like to indulge in sweet romances. One of the best writers of this genre is Debbie Macomber. Her recent release, Alaskan Holiday fit the bill. I’ve never been to Alaska, but would love to go since it is the only state in the United States of America I have not stepped foot in. In the meantime I enjoyed reading Alaskan Holiday.

The point of view for the book switches back and forth between the two main characters. Palmer is a native of the state and appreciates the isolation of Ponder, Alaska. The last ferry out of Ponder is due and Palmer must work up the nerve to ask Josie to stay and marry him.

Josie is on the career path to chef stardom. Her first “real” job is in Seattle at a new restaurant. But she wiles away the time waiting for the opening by cooking at a summer lodge. She didn’t count on a marriage proposal. Thus, Palmer’s attempt at a romantic proposal throws her off-balance. She misses the boat, literally.

Characters

In addition to Palmer and Josie, there is a colorful cast of support. Jack, a bush man with an incredible appetite tries to patch things up between the lead characters. His suggestions and (failed) experience for romance keep things light. Jack is a good sidekick for Palmer.

Angie is a transplant to Alaska. She spends her time writing and raising a family during the long dark winters. Josie is appreciative of the friendship they develop.

Chef Anton is Josie’s boss. And the restaurant owner. He fails to meet Josie’s expectations.

Plot

Like many romances, Alaskan Holiday has a plot which begins and ends with a happy couple. However, the two must overcome various obstacles. Macomber does a nice job of bringing the characters to life. She also presents plausible problems and solutions. Alaskan Holiday is an easy evening read by the Christmas tree. Just grab a cup of cocoa, turn on the tree lights and immerse yourself in a sweet romance.

If You’re Missing Baby Jesus Book Review

 Children’s Christmas books are among my favorite gifts to give. Prolific authors like Jan Brett and Mercer Meyer and even Lemony Snicket have written Christmas themed books. There are also books such as Christmas Counting by Lynn Reiser and alphabet books such as B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner. But my favorite tale is If You’re Missing Baby Jesus: A True Story that Embraces the Spirit of Christmas by Jean Gietzen with illustrations by Lila Rose Kennedy.

The setting for If You’re Missing Baby Jesus is a small oil field town of North Dakota in the early 1940s. A family has lost their nativity in moving from one small town to another while following work through the oil patch. So the mother buys a new nativity set at the local dime store. Once the nativity set is unpacked, the family discovers a major error. The set contains two figurines of the baby Jesus.

Family Reaction

The members of the family differ in their reaction to the extra baby Jesus. The father is quite pragmatic. He realizes the set that is missing baby Jesus could be anywhere in the country. The children like having twin babies in the manger. But the mother is adamant that they find the proper home for the extra figurine.

Thus a sign is displayed by the remaining nativity sets stating If You’re Missing Baby Jesus Call 7162. (For those of you too young to remember or in big cities, small towns on the Plains only needed four or five numbers dialed as late as the 1990s.) As Christmas draws closer, the mother becomes more anxious that the extra baby Jesus has not been claimed. Finally, on Christmas Eve she sends the father and children down to the store to see if any nativity sets remain.

The sets are all sold. But upon returning home, both the mother and baby Jesus are missing. Gietzen presents the true meaning of Christmas in the ensuing pages. The children embrace a chance to help others. Even the father loses his grumpiness and creates some miracles of his own.

I love this simple story. I have given many copies away to the younger generations in my family. If You’re Missing Baby Jesus is a wonderful story to read aloud to children during the Christmas season. Buy a copy this Christmas season and enjoy sharing the story with the little ones in your family.

Nativity Set with copy of If You're Missing Baby Jesus

Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2018

I have been contemplating a blog post on the top ten book reviews of the past year. However, there are several problems with this idea. Among them is the criteria used, the plethora of top ten book lists and perhaps the greatest challenge of all; limiting myself to just ten!

Criteria

I have often wondered how the top ten lists are compiled. Many times I have disagreed with the choices. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently released The 10 Most Intriguing Travel Destinations for 2019. Locations across the globe were on the list. Including Missouri.

Now I happen to love Missouri. I lived there long enough to graduate from one of the best public high schools in the country. I drive through there on occasion. Usually on the way to a vacation destination. Although I have attended weddings, conferences and a reunion, I never took my family there just for vacation. How did it make the list? Missouri must have met some criteria.

So what criteria should I include? Maybe I should count most likes. Or I could rank by most visits to the individual reviews. Or even the books I cite the most. What about the ones I like the most? Or books I found indispensable in real life? Finally, do I mix non-fiction and fiction together?

The Lists

A quick Internet search not only results in numerous lists, but indicates I am not alone in my concern to choose just ten. In fact, lists of both fifty and one hundred top books of 2018 appear in the search listing. Some lists are just fiction, others non-fiction and others a combination. I like the idea of a combination.

Some lists give a short review of each book. Since I have already reviewed each of my choices I will merely link to them. Just click on the title and the review will appear on a new page. Not all of my choices were released this year. So that may throw some readers into a state of confusion. These are my favorite reads of the year. The fiction side is a bit top-heavy with stories of twentieth century war. This I believe is a reflection of what is being released. Also, there are multiple debuts.

Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

The Clarity by Keith Thomas

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Non-Fiction

Raised Row Gardening by Jim and Mary Competti

Educated by Tara Westover

The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes

Zero Waste by Shia Su

New Sampler Quilt by Diana Leone

As always feel free to comment. I would love to hear your favorite book of the year.

The Nightingale Book Review

Book Cover of the NightingaleKristin Hannah is an author that I first became aware of two years ago. So I am slowly progressing through her works. The Nightingale is among my favorites of her books. The story is typical of Hannah with a present day look at characters with the bulk of their story in the past.

Even though the novel opens in Oregon, most of the tale takes place in France. The lives of two sisters, one born prior to The Great War and the other after, are followed as France enters World War II. Both the age difference as well as the varied life experience impacts how each sister views the occupation.

Vianne

Vianne, the elder sister, was fourteen when her mother died. She and her sister Isabelle, a young child at the time were farmed out by their father. Instead of growing closer, the two girls grew apart. Thus they have very diverse lives at the outbreak of war.

Married with a child, Vianne loathes and fears the oncoming conflict. She and her husband reside in a rural part of France. Her closest friend Rachel is Jewish. This becomes an important part of Vianne’s story. Kristin Hannah conveys the danger for both those that are Jewish as well as those who sympathize with them.

The Nightingale

Isabelle Rossignol is just coming to age as the war approaches. A feeling of abandonment shapes her personality. She barely remembers her mother, and feels rejected by her older sister who married just a few years after their mother’s death. Her father shipped her from one place to another as she grew up.

After a dismissal from yet another boarding school she returns to her father. Thus Isabelle is in Paris when the occupation begins. She is ready for adventure. So it is natural that she joins the resistance.

Kristin Hannah

For those unfamiliar with Hannah’s writing, her books fall into that category of hard to put down. The Nightingale fits this description. Somewhat lengthy, readers may want to pick a weekend to begin the book. Otherwise, bedtime might be pushed to the limit.

The interweaving of tales is well done. In fact, the changing of directions may allow the reader to survive the tension and suspense. World War II in occupied France is brought to life by the author. The current story set in America adds to the mystery and provides an understanding at the end. Families are torn apart for many reasons. They can reunite if the circumstances are compelling. War creates compelling circumstances.

Hannah’s books are deep. The writing has meaning on so many levels. For instance, The Nightingale, the code name for one of the spies, translates from the French “rossignol”. The question for the reader is which one of the Rossignol family members is the Nightingale.

The novel runs the gamut of emotion. Thus, I was not surprised to learn a movie is in the works. I encourage you to read the Nightingale. Then look for the movie in theatres starting January 2019. I am not much of a movie goer, but I look forward to seeing Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale brought to the screen.

The New Sampler Quilt Book Review

Back in the late 1980’s when I started quilting, one of the first books I bought was Diana Leone’s The Sampler Quilt. This was a how-to book building on an earlier pattern book. Later, Leone released The New Sampler Quilt.

For years I have been using The Sampler Quilt. But at the library book sale, I came across the “newer” version. It was fifty cents so I bought it. I am glad I did. Even though the edition I owned was good, the revised book is so much better. In fact, there is enough of an upgrade that I encourage you to find a copy online.

Key Differences in New Sampler Quilt Book

Right off the bat, the quilter knows there is a difference because the book more than doubles in length. Second, the new edition has colorful examples on almost every page. Even the index is enhanced. In addition to the list of terms and techniques, there is a pattern index. So you can quickly locate the instructions for whatever block you wish to make.

The details in the New Sampler Quilt pop out if you compare the two versions side-by-side. The original book contained a supply list on one page. But the new version expands to eight pages. Each supply category is explained and a visual aide is included. This makes the book much friendlier for a novice to quilting. Since the incidence of quilting (and even sewing) seems to decline each generation, the very detailed instructions are ideal.

Fantastic Features

Diana Leone includes a number of features either not included in other how-to books or not as well-defined or discussed. For example, she includes a section on hand piecing with tips only used for that technique. She then adds information on machine piecing. Her tutorial on the color wheel and color/pattern selection is also good.

But the section on Getting Started may be the best part. The block patterns are identified by the degree of difficulty. Then she accurately explains how to make the templates as well as how to cut the fabric. Each step uses a photo or diagram to aid the instruction. The quilter walks through the entire process one step at a time.

This is a great book to give someone who is starting out. The only negative is the exclusion of lap/crib quilts. Other than that, this is a book one can refer to for years. But, new editions must be ordered via print on demand. However a quick online search turned up quite a few copies for resell.

Quilt Block Examples

One of my current quilts in the making comes from this book. The blocks have been hand pieced. Some have the sash already added. Now I just need to decide if I want a square quilt which will mean adding another block. Or if I want to add additional borders and set the blocks into a rectangle. Most of the blocks are featured in this book. However a few are old favorites I wanted to include. Enjoy the slide show of blocks and check back to see how they are arranged.

Eight quilt blocks in purple and tealQuilt block in Lemoyne Star patternQuilt block Dresden Plate on purple backgroundQuilt Block of hexagonsCarpenter's Wheel patternQuilt Block teals and lavender on white backgroundQuilt block called Clay's CornerQuilt block in deep purpleLog Cabin block teals on one side purples on the other

 

There Still Are Buffalo Book Review

Book Cover with buffalo herdAnn Nolan Clark’s children’s book, There Still Are Buffalo is a beautiful example of narrative poetry. The tale of a buffalo bull from birth rolls off the tongue if read aloud. Indeed, even reading the story silently, the words sing inside one’s head.

Clark captures an era of long-ago. There Still Are Buffalo, first published in 1942, describes the life of a buffalo and his herd from the time perspective of roaming wild buffalo. But the story references an attempt by man to corral the beasts. This provides a time stamp.

The story opens in the Dakotas. The Sioux have set aside land for the buffalo. Wide open plains provide space for the buffalo to roam as they have from the beginning. But there is little mention of these human stewards for this is a story of the giant beast which at one time dominated the open prairie.

Life Cycle of the Buffalo

The second stanza begins the tale of one special bull calf. Clark’s words describe the first hours of life. The protective mother standing guard over her bull calf until he is able to stand and walk. The baby joins the herd just a few days after birth.

There Still Are Buffalo describes both the workings of the herd and the individual life of this new calf. The stanzas progress through the life cycle. But they also provide a naturalist look at nature and her dangers. So, the reader learns much from this book.

Ann Nolan Clark

The life of Ann Nolan Clark is as interesting as her story. She was born in the late 1800’s in the small New Mexico town of Las Vegas. However, once, Las Vegas was one of the larger cities of the old west. Since it was a stop on The Santa Fe Trail, it was a rival of places such as Denver and Dodge City.

The city history seems to have influenced Clark’s outlook on diversity of cultures. In some ways she may have lived a hundred years before her time. Her life work shows her appreciation for many cultures. While There Still Are Buffalo alludes to Native Americans, other works by Clark share cultural tales from Central and South America as well as Southeast Asia.

Her writing is incredible. I strongly recommend There Still Are Buffalo. But I encourage you to find copies of her other stories as well. This is a great American writer.

Silver Anniversary Murder Book Review

Silver Anniversary Murder

Leslie Meier is the author of the Lucy Stone mystery series. Her 2018 release is titled Silver Anniversary Murder. Most of the series takes place in the fictional town of Tinker’s Cove, Maine. However, much of this installment takes place in New York City.

Like many authors, Meier relies on a familiar cast of characters. This creates an audience for future books. I discovered the Lucy Stone mysteries many years ago. The writing flows and allows one to escape real world stresses for a few hours.

New York City

The story line begins in Maine with a bickering but business minded couple dreaming up a themed weekend designed to attract tourists for a weekend. The couple, the Bickford’s, sell the idea to the Chamber of Commerce. Lucy is assigned to the story.

Before the plot becomes too involved, Meier switches the backdrop to Lucy’s hometown of New York City. The protagonist attends the funeral of an old friend. Naturally, the death is not straightforward. So Lucy makes a second trip to the city to investigate.

Thus, for the most part, the characters in this particular Lucy Stone murder are new to series devotees. Meier does a nice job of creating interesting characters. The old adage It’s Always the Husband is a bit complicated since the deceased was married four times.

One by one, Lucy seeks out each possible murderer. The ex-husbands leave a lot to be desired. Furthermore, any one of them could be the villain. Also thrown into the mix is a cross-dressing son with a beautiful voice and another former childhood friend.

Lucy Stone

Lucy has evolved over the years. So has Meier. Recent releases include commentary on current culture. Also, one gets the feeling that the author’s politics are a bit left of center. But neither circumstance distracts from the writing. Indeed the cultural references tend to provoke thought. Silver Anniversary Murder touches upon a range of societal ills. Included in the plot are over-prescribed drugs, human trafficking, fanatic cults and business corruption.

The main character sometimes needs help. But, for the most part, the writing includes quick thinking and action by the heroine to solve problems. Thus Lucy Stone does not always need rescuing.

As usual the major and minor story lines merge at the end. The denouement takes place back in Tinker’s Cove. The Silver Anniversary weekend serves as a lure. Finally, the reader discovers the truth.

The Mitford Murders Book Review

Book Cover of The Mitford MurdersThe Mitford Murders

The Mitford Murders is the debut novel from Jessica Fellowes. Sort of. Fellowes is also credited for producing five companion books to the Downton Abbey British television series. From my research, the collaboration on the series is with a family member.

I have not read (or even watched) any of the Downton Abbey series. But I enjoyed the Mitford Murders and think a series of books revolving around these characters is in order. Of course there needs to be demand for this first novel for that to happen.

Fellowes has combined two of my favorite genres in The Mitford Murders. First and foremost it is a murder mystery. However, two of the central characters enjoy a sweet romance. For those not in the business, a sweet romance is one that is chaste.

Cast of Characters

The book revolves around a handful of characters. The working class and gentry are both represented with some overlap. Guy Sullivan is railroad police who falls for Louisa Cannon at first sight. He has ambition, and very poor eyesight. Louisa has some secrets and a real need to escape her current place in life. Sullivan helps get her to an interview which will lift her out of her current circumstances.

Nancy Mitford is the teenage daughter of a Baron. It is into this household Louisa lands. The two females are close in age. One on the cusp of adulthood and the other just barely arrived. A stilted friendship forms. Stilted due to the class structure of the British aristocracy.

The novel takes place following the First World War. Some of the characters were actual people. For example, the victim of the crime, Florence Nightingale Shore. But the events described in the book are pure fiction. The book solves the mystery but in reality, Shore’s murder is an unsolved crime.

This is a well written debut novel. Hopefully many will follow. Mystery series’ are fun to read. The reader becomes comfortable with the characters. There is room for development from the large Mitford household. Plus, the kindling relationship of Louisa and Guy.

Put this on your list of must read if you are a mystery or romance fan.

The Virtue of Prosperity Book Review

The Virtue of Prosperity by Dinesh D’Souza was written at the turn of the century. The book looks at the impact of technology on various aspects of life from economics to morals. This work is part philosophical, part opinion. Some readers may find the arguments hard to follow.Book Cover

D’Souza divides everyone into two positions,” the party of Yeah or the party of Nah.” This generalization places society in two camps. The first camp is composed of mostly younger people who are embracing technology with little regard to the many warts. Then there is the second party, “the party of Nah” that sees nothing but warts.

The basic premise shared by D’Souza is that old cliché, rising tides raise all boats. He cites many instances of how Western Civilization is thriving. Even the poorest of the poor are better off. He does however give evidence from both sides.

Pros and Cons on The Virtue of Prosperity

Things I liked about The Virtue of Prosperity include the ability to look back at forecasts and see how they turned out. For example, when the book was written, prior to 9/11, cell phones existed but they were not as overwhelmingly present as today. Nor did they have the highly computerized functions of today’s Smart Phones.

Another thing I liked was the self-reflection stimulated by his view of the divide we are currently experiencing in the world. D’Souza’s division seemed to be along an acceptance of technology among moral grounds as much as age differentiation. I think our divide is too complex to easily categorize. But the book did make me think on this critical subject.

On the other hand there were some things I struggled with. The author is obviously well-connected. However, some of the anecdotes seemed to be along the lines of name dropping. Furthermore, some of the chapters were a stretch.

Quite a few dealt with moral issues, including the one focused on biotechnology. But, unless I missed it (always a possibility) some of the everyday good vs. evil problems were overlooked. In my opinion, one of today’s biggest problem with technology comes from hacking. This was not covered at all. In fairness, perhaps this is a matter of the topic being somewhat outdated.

I picked up The Virtue of Prosperity at a book sale. This book would also be good to check out from the library. The author is earnest in his concerns, but the reader might not agree with some of his generalizations.

Little Witch’s Big Night Book Review

Halloween was one of my favorite holidays as a child. I loved going out to Trick-or-Treat. We did not have candy in the house, so I learned to stretch the goodies out. Sometimes I made the treasure trove last until the first of the year. Thus, when I had kids, I did not hesitate to buy easy-to-read Halloween books. Little Witch’s Big Night was a favorite.

Children's books

Deborah Hautzig teamed with illustrator Marc Brown in the mid-1980s to bring this good little girl to life. This Step into Reading book is geared towards kids in early elementary. The premise of the story is that the young Witch is being punished for good behavior. In addition to making her bed, she swept away the cobwebs underneath.

Little Witch and The Trick-or-Treater’s

Thus Little Witch stays home on Halloween. At first she is sad. Halloween of course is a big night for witches. But then three Trick-or-Treater’s knock on the door. Since Little Witch has no sweet treats to hand out, she offers each a ride on her broomstick.

Hautzig weaves a fun tale. So it is no surprise the book is still sold in retail stores more than 30 years after the initial release. Little Witch includes vocabulary that will challenge young readers. But the story and illustrations will keep the youngsters from getting frustrated from the occasional new word.

The story is not scary. Naturally a suspension of belief occurs with the broomstick rides. But, for those of us that like kids to stretch their imagination, this is not a problem. Little Witch’s Big Night offers an innocent look at Halloween.

Over the years, certain holidays have taken a hit. October 31st is the day preceding All Saints’ Day. Hence, Hallows’ Eve became Halloween. Perhaps those who see this as a pagan holiday have forgotten this connection to Christianity. Unfortunately, Halloween is frowned upon in some places by some people.

If you still celebrate Halloween in your family, I highly recommend Little Witch’s Big Night. This is a good book about a good child. I think your young reader will read it again and again.

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.