Tag: Book review

Things You Save in a Fire Book Review

I have waited all year to be moved by a book. Katherine Center achieved that feat with her latest book Things You Save in a Fire. The novel has much to offer. First, an understanding of how tough women must be to excel in a male dominated industry. Furthermore, the strength needed to survive abandonment and the courage to keep going after a sexual assault. But most importantly, the importance of forgiveness.

This is the first book I have read by Center. If the others are even half as good, I am in for a treat. I plan to read them as well. This is a must for your TBR (To Be Read) list! The writing is surpassed only by the characterization. Truly a great book.

Non-Traditional Career

Cassie Hanwell is the heroine of the book. She is a twenty-six year old firefighter, top notch first responder and an outstanding medic to boot. Perfect on the job. Perfect for the job. Until she is caught off guard at an awards banquet. In a #MeToo moment, she loses it when groped while accepting her award for valor. Loses it in a big way. As in puts the offender in the hospital. Obviously there is far more to the story since the “victim” refuses to press charges.

Nevertheless, it is the end of Cassie’s meteoric rise in the Austin Fire Department. Coincidently, her estranged mother seizes that moment to plead for help. She has had eye surgery and needs her daughter’s help. Unwillingly, Cassie agrees to make the move. It is the lesser of two evils she is presented with.

On her way out the door, her veteran captain gives her a long list of dos and don’ts. Things she will need in the unfriendly atmosphere of a less progressive fire station. Things the captain experienced herself. Cassie takes the list to heart, for multiple reasons.

New Beginnings

Cassie gets off to a rocky start in her new surroundings. Her mom pushes for a relationship that Cassie isn’t ready for. Plus, her new workplace is full of pitfalls. Cassie is determined to prove herself. And she does again and again. But, the crew does not want anything to do with a female firefighter. With one exception. The Rookie. He shares the first day on the job with Cassie. Then he shares so much more.

Forgiveness

The underlying theme of Things You Save in a Fire is one of forgiveness. Cassie needs to forgive both herself and others. This is a compelling part of the story. One cannot develop as a human without this basic component of life. Center does an outstanding job of demonstrating what, when, who and how to forgive. The other topics, non-traditional work roles, parent-child estrangement, assault and addiction are just the backdrop for the importance of forgiveness.

Book Cover

Katherine Center entertains with her novel Things You Save in a Fire. But she does so much more. She addresses the need for women in male-dominated fields. Furthermore, she addresses the biases toward those same women. She recognizes how women go overboard to prove themselves in those fields.

But she takes the story a step further. She explores old hurts and what it takes to heal. Then she shows the importance of forgiveness and the need to be forgiving in order to free oneself to live. And to love.

I absolutely loved this story. The characters touch your heart and so does the author’s message. I am sure Things You Save in a Fire will make my best read books of 2019 list. Find a copy soon.

 

 

The Book Charmer Book Review

Every once in a while I want a book to escape in, so I can leave stress behind. I found The Book Charmer perfect for my needs. This delightful novel by Karen Hawkins provided an afternoon of pleasurable reading. The characters were easy to like and the plot straightforward if predictable.

Multiple Back Stories

There are three central characters in the book. Sarah Dove and Travis Parker are life-long next door neighbors in Dove Pond, North Carolina. The third character, Grace Wheeler has arrived in Dove Pond with the intention of staying just a year. All three neighbors form bonds albeit with reluctance on Grace’s part.

Key to the formation of friendship is dementia. Travis’ dad passed away from the disease and Grace’s foster mom is rapidly deteriorating. The two grudgingly work through initial dislike aided by this common ground. Furthermore, Grace’s orphaned niece brings the battle-scarred vet and overwhelmed guardian together.

Book Charmer

Sarah Dove is the book charmer. She brings a touch of mysticism to the story. Books talk to her and she listens.

As a member of the founding family of Dove Pond she has strong ties to the area. Unfortunately, Dove Pond is in decline. When a book whispers to her that Grace can save the town, Sarah does everything she can to entice Grace to stay beyond the short term.

Contemporary Topics

In addition to the backstory of dementia, Hawkins touches on the state of the foster system. Grace’s determination to raise her niece stems from her own experience as an orphan. Back flashes explain how and why Grace is so attached to her own foster mother, Mama G. Thus her willingness to leave her city job for small town life in hopes of easing the confusion of dementia makes sense to the reader.

An additional topic that is touched on is the overdose death of Grace’s sister. But, despite all of these difficult topics, The Book Charmer leaves the reader in an upbeat mood. The efforts of Sarah, Grace and others give Dove Pond the spark it needs. Plus, the development of friendship between the characters showcases the power of relationships even among those hiding or running from the past.

I loved reading The Book Charmer. Readers can escape for a few hours of pure fiction. This was the first Karen Hawkins novel I have read but it certainly won’t be the last. I look forward to more in the series.

 

Firefighting: The Financial Crisis And Its Lessons Book Review

Firefighting: The Financial Crisis And Its Lessons is the three person account of The Great Recession and the steps taken to repair the economy. The individuals credited with writing the book are Ben S. Bernanke, Timothy F. Geithner and Henry M. Paulson. The information presented is straightforward. One of the best aspects is the use of the firefighting metaphor to explain the steps taken at the time to mitigate the panic. Furthermore, my own memory of the tumultuous time meshes with the writing. So, the information rings as fact more than opinion.

A Keynesian Approach

Those of you with an economic background can differentiate between a Classical and a Keynesian approach to economic policy. For those of you unfamiliar with the theory, click here for a tutorial. The steps taken during the financial crisis of the Ought’s clearly represent the teachings of John Maynard Keynes. The Federal Reserve led by Bernanke, and the Treasury Department, first shepherded by Paulson during the Bush Administration then spearheaded by Geithner under President Obama, went to great lengths to stop the downward spiral of the economy. Firefighting takes you step by step through the interventions.

I appreciate the book for what I perceive is an honest portrayal of the cause and effect of the crisis. The authors go to great length to posit why some firms survived while others folded.  Since I vividly remember public events as well as personal anecdotes from the time, I feel quite comfortable highly recommending the book.

Firefighting Lessons

In addition to relating the fiscal and monetary steps taken to fight The Great Recession, Firefighting puts forth warnings for the future. The authors have two key concerns. First, the three former public servants are concerned with a loss of power for both the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. They make a good case for the immediate ability by the agencies to react to future crises.

Second, the authors are duly concerned with the functionality of Keynesian economics. Government intervention in times of crisis is only one-half of the economic theory. Keynesian economics also calls for replenishing the coffers during expansions. This is not occurring. Instead of bringing the deficit down, our debt levels are increasing. Thus, the authors believe, both monetary and fiscal policy will be hampered in firefighting the next economic downturn.

The argument between interference and non-interference in the markets is central to economic philosophy. The debate between the Classical school of thought and the Keynesian Theory is reflected today in our divided politics. I encourage all to read Firefighting including members of Congress.

One of my favorite websites to share with new students of economics is the US Debt Clock. Visiting this site is eye opening. Similarly, Firefighting will also open eyes. For example, the book acknowledges the public relations nightmare of propping up AIG.

Personally, I saw and was offended by the lavish expenditures of AIG during the height of the meltdown. But I did not know the flip side until reading Firefighting. Grudgingly, I admit the intervention was necessary. Thus my appreciation of the work of Bernanke, Geithner, and Paulson. Both for the book and their many sleepless nights a decade ago.

 

The People vs. Alex Cross Book Review

After taking a multi-year hiatus from reading the Alex Cross book series by James Patterson I picked up The People vs. Alex Cross. If you are wondering why I stayed away, my reason is quite simple. The books were becoming way too scary! Thus, I had trouble sleeping. Especially after Patterson’s release of Cross Country. However, I missed the characters as well as Patterson’s writing. So, I picked up The People vs. Alex Cross. I am glad I did.

Multiple Story Lines

Patterson weaves multiple story lines together. First, Alex is on trial for murder. This part of the plot hearkens back to a previous book. One that I did not read. Yet, my enjoyment of The People vs. Alex Cross prevailed. Then there is the current case. And the current case is one that Alex shouldn’t be working on. But, of course he gets involved anyway.

For those not familiar with the Alex Cross series, Cross is a crime fighter with a background in psychology. He is married to his immediate boss and lives with his grandmother and three kids. All play a part in the book series. Featured in The People vs. Alex Cross is Ali, the youngest of his offspring.

The current case revolves around young missing blondes and various websites portraying harm to them. Thus, Patterson links the story to a current problem in technology, the dark web. For example, Patterson includes in his plot details on how video uploaded to the web can be altered. Even computer geeks can be fooled. This plays a major part of the story.

The People vs. Alex Cross

Furthermore, the theme of doctored video footage is carried across to the second story line. Incriminating evidence of Cross’ wrong doing in the form of video recording is presented to the court. But the precocious Ali discovers how an unaltered tape contains false information. Sometimes you can’t believe what you see.

Patterson’s viewpoint on police shootings is revealed to the discerning reader. However, this does not interfere with the book. Politics is an underlying theme and not a focal point.

Above all, I enjoyed The People vs. Alex Cross. Mostly because there is plenty of action and I could handle the suspense level. The struggle of good vs. evil lends interest for the reader. But no nightmares! Patterson includes just enough technology to pique one’s interest in a new type of sleight of hand. I find it absolutely amazing what can be achieved with today’s technology. And the technology lends itself well to the thriller genre!

Don’t Stop Believin’ Book Review

Don’t Stop Believin’ is the title of a great song from the 1980s. It is also the name of a memoir I just finished and highly recommend. Jonathan Cain wrote the book. He also wrote or co-wrote countless lyrics. Many belong to songs you know and love.
But the book is not just a who’s who of ballad bands from the 80s. In fact, the early parts focus on events that shaped Cain into the man he is today. Cain has a tremendous memory, so the story begins before he reaches kindergarten. The words flow. Just like the music. There is homage to his working class background and the strong religious upbringing.

Key Life Events

As with all of us, there were key turning points in Cain’s life. He shares these with the reader. Perhaps most significant is one that occurred in grade school. A catastrophe began shaking his personal faith. Yet, or perhaps because, his passion for music continued to soar.
The memoir makes it clear that success did not happen overnight. There were starts and stops and re-starts. Cain very much paid his dues. He also made his share of mistakes. The personal story is as compelling as the information on what it takes to create music. Notes so memorable that you keep humming them in your head long after you retire for the night.

Connection with the Author

To be honest, I love the music of the 80s but I am not one for recognizing the band members. I remember a time in the late 70s when working at Howard’s Ice Cream in Daytona Beach, my co-workers freaked out over a pair of “long hairs” parked out front. One headed for the package store and one came over for  an ice cream cone. I remember this because the man tipped me more than what I made in an hour. Turns out he was one of the Allman brothers. But I digress.

Jonathan Cain is in the same light. I picked up the book because I liked Journey and was interested in the topic. I could not believe how many connections lay within the story. He wrote one of my all- time favorite songs. Plus he shares how he was touched by the life of a youngster with cystic fibrosis. (Read here for more on the same subject.) Finally, he has connections to the same part of Central Florida. His wife preaches at a church just a handful of miles from where I type this now.

Don’t Stop Believin’

The message in this book is one of not giving up. Furthermore, an important message for Christian readers is that God doesn’t give up on his believers. I found Don’t Stop Believin’ informative, entertaining and inspirational. I highly recommend this book.

Alphabet Books Galore

Alphabet books are among my favorites. They are great to read to young children, but alphabet books can be geared to any age. Some are really best appreciated by adults.

The earliest memory of an alphabet book is Dr. Seuss’s ABC. As a six year old, I read this book countless times to a younger cousin on a long car trip. Needless to say she learned the alphabet just shy of turning three. I am not sure how my aunt and uncle withstood the repetition.

Cover of Dr. Seuss's ABC
A well loved book.

But I was absolutely tickled when one of my kids received a copy from my cousin at birth. As you can tell by the condition of the book, it was well read.

Board Books

I love to read board books to the young ones. The pages don’t tear and the books can handle an occasional tooth. Some of the alphabet board books in my library include A To Z by Sandra Boynton and Cyndy Szekeres’ ABC. Boynton’s book uses an animal and a verb to illustrate each letter, ex. Dinosaur dancing. Szekeres has multiple examples and illustrations for each letter.

My all-time favorite is Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. Maybe it is the gardener in me that holds this book in such high regard. Little tykes love recognizing the different foods they eat. The author includes produce grown in many parts of the world. The names are written in both upper and lower cases. She even found one to represent X.

Variety of Alphabet Books

Once we move past the board books, the types of alphabet books expands. A holiday favorite is B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner and illustrated by Elisa Kleven. Wilner utilizes the alphabet to share this Christian story of Christmas. I love this book.

Two artsy alphabet books are in the collection. The first is I Spy: An Alphabet in Art devised and selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Each letter features a classic artwork. The art is identified on the bottom of the page with the letter. The opposite page has a copy of the art. Not all the objects are easy to spot.

Stephen T. Johnson’s Alphabet City takes a unique approach. Each letter is found in a photo such as the one to the left. It is amazing how shapes in the world around us can resemble letters (and numbers.) Artists like Johnson see the world through a different lens.

Informative Alphabet Books

I have two of Lynne Cheney’s alphabet books. I highly recommend both. First is A is for Abigail: The Almanac of Amazing American Women. This great book covers everything from athletes to the Industrial Revolution to suffragettes to First Ladies. I love the ways she represents the alphabet. The other Cheney alphabet book I have is America: A Patriotic Primer. Similar in style, the book will easily entertain an upper grade schooler.

For younger readers, The Alphabet Atlas by Arthur Yorinks showcases countries around the globe. A fun fact is shared about each country. The text is fairly simple. But the hidden jewel in this book is the artwork. Each letter was designed by Jeanyee Wong. She drew her inspiration from the quilts that serve as the illustration and representation for each letter and corresponding country. Thus Adrienne Yorinks earns my greatest admiration in creating these works of fabric art. This book is truly a must have for quilters.

G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book is written by David M. Schwartz and illustrated by Marissa Moss. It is hard to categorize this book by age or grade. The concepts are late grade school to junior high/ middle school. But the writing is fairly easy to understand. Therefore, students in upper elementary grades should find this easy to read. This should definitely reside in a school library as well as the home.

Wrapping up the Alphabet

Alphabet Books of many styles, for many ages.

As you can see from the photo with the collection of books, I have just touched the surface. So I will close out with a book I look forward to reading often in the coming years. Eve Shaw’s Grandmother’s Alphabet tells the reader that Grandma can be anything from A to Z. Each letter depicts a variety of occupations. This is a book geared toward the early reader but not a beginning reader as it has lots of vocabulary words young kids will need help sounding out.

I love alphabet books, so if you have one to recommend please share!

The Last Second Book Review

Authors Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison writing the Brit in the FBI series have released a good summer read in The Last Second. Even though the plot leads us to the far corners of the world, the story line is easier to accept than that of The Devil’s Triangle also written by the duo. You can read that review by clicking here.

Familiar Characters

FBI agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine (Mike) are on vacation. Shortly after a visit with old friends Grant Thornton and his wife Kitsune, they spring into action.  Drummond and Caine leave their European vacation to go to the rescue of Grant.

Thornton is acting as bodyguard to Jean-Pierre Broussard founder of Galactus Space Industries. Broussard’s hobby is finding treasures lost at sea. He has just found the Holy Grail when he is betrayed. The Holy Grail is stolen and the ship’s passengers are left for dead.

New Villains

Ellison and Coulter believe in equal opportunity. Once again the bad guys are bad gals. Ex-astronaut Navaeh Patel believes she was rescued in space by aliens called Numen. Her henchwoman is Kiera Byrne. A formidable bodyguard with an IRA background.

The two women must be stopped. Not an easy task when one is a brilliant scientist bent on contacting the aliens who saved her life.

The Last Second

This action adventure novel would make a great movie. The twists and turns and subplots keep you turning the pages. Naturally, Drummond and Caine manage to solve each problem they encounter at the last second. Since there are multiple scenes leading to the apex, the duo have plenty of opportunity to display their skills.

There are a few subplots that touch on current events. First is the commercial space race. Second is the concern of an EMP. This type of weapon would send current civilization backward in time. New characters include a terrorist who in reality is an agent deep undercover. Thus, the authors stretch the imagination.

The Last Second is an easy read. The book is a great way to escape on a summer afternoon. The fast paced action dovetails with the two main themes. Saving an innocent life with the Holy Grail and the halting of space junk with the EMP are ideas with multiple layers. Coulter and Ellison give the reader something to ponder after the tale is told.

Disappearing Earth Book Review

The debut novel Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips is both compelling and complex. Her writing captures the nuances of life. The reader is exposed to tragedy and loss, maternal love, stoicism, anguish and hope.

Disappearing Earth begins with the kidnapping of two young girls on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their disappearance is threaded through the stories told month by month for the following year. To a certain extent each chapter could stand alone. Yet there is a connection. Sometimes obvious, and other times only as the novel unfolds.

Russian Background with Global Insight

While the stories involve women from the Kamchatka Peninsula, a remote area of Russia, the stories are cross cultural. There are male characters, but the driving force for each story is a female. Phillips captures the hopes, dreams and fears women face. Lost love, adjusting to motherhood, missing children and divorce are just a few of the themes covered.

Global insight offers readers a chance to bond with the characters. It is easy to imagine the same stories taking place in your own backyard. Each chapter pulls at the emotions. The women in the novel may be fictional but their dilemmas are real.

Disappearing Earth

An underlying theme is how women cope with adversity. After the kidnapping, one would expect the novel to focus on the mother of the missing girls. However, her story does not appear until the end. Instead, Disappearing Earth focuses on a large number of characters, each coping with difficulties in their lives. The characters overlap just enough to allow the novel to flow.

Julia Phillips has an engaging writing style. Her characters come to life. They are the richness of Disappearing Earth. This is not a mystery per se. The kidnapped girls are a background noise for most of the novel. The true wealth of the book is the global appeal and recognition of how women across the Earth have so much in common.

I highly recommend this first novel by Julia Phillips. If you would like to know more about the author, visit her website by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

The Home Edit Book Review

Reading The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals felt like I was listening to a conversation between authors Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin. Perhaps it was the introduction which gave a glimpse of how they met. Or maybe it was the first person point of view. The end effect was a book that felt like you were part of a conversation.

The Home Edit takes household organization to a whole new level. I love the approach taken by Shearer and Teplin. Instead of jumping into the fun part of buying organizational units for the home, they have a straightforward approach to editing your home life.

The Home Edit Process

The first step in the process posited by Shearer and Teplin is to take everything out of the space undergoing an organizational face lift. By everything, they emphasize every single thing! Then, once all the items are out, group like things together.

Then comes the tough part, the editing. Writers understand editing often means cutting out or reducing words. Well, the same thing applies to individuals implementing The Home Edit. After everything is taken out of the space, purging is required.

Shearer and Teplin give solid advice on reducing the amount of “Things” in storage. Letting go of all the items we accumulate over the years can be tough. But I liked the common sense approach they took.

Organizational Fun

Measuring each storage space is critical for the organizational plan. Then, the next step to the Home Edit is the fun part. Armed with the measurements, Shearer and Teplin send you shopping for containers. This is a key part of the plan and sounds fun to me. The authors suggest utilizing containers for all the groupings made during the home edit process.

Another key aspect of their shared organizational process is ROYGBIV. For those unfamiliar with that acronym, sorting or grouping colors in the order of the rainbow, This concept carries throughout the house. Clothes, toys, and even food can be grouped using ROYGBIV.

Real Life Examples

A bulk of the book features real life organizational examples. The authors suggest beginning with organizing drawers and working up from there. They even provide a list of easy versus difficult parts of the home to organize.

In addition to photos providing lots of inspirational examples, the authors give a few tips. One of their basic tips for keeping an area organized is the one thing in one thing out motto I talked about in a Fall 2017 post which you can view here. Reducing the amount of “Things” needing storage is key to an organized home.

I found The Home Edit inspirational. Since I have never been to a store that specializes in containers, I am anxious to visit one. Most of the ideas shared by Shearer and Teplin are ones that can be adapted to suit individual needs. If you are someone that doesn’t know how to get a handle on clutter, this is the book for you.

 

Slow Dancing with a Stranger Book Review

Today is the longest day of the year. The Alzheimer’s Association uses this day to generate awareness for the disease. The topic of Alzheimer’s is a tough one for me to write about. I have a close family member suffering from this memory thief. So, I thought a book review of Meryl Comer’s Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s was an appropriate choice.

Personal Story

Slow Dancing with a Stranger tells the story of Dr. Harvey Gralnick, the husband of Meryl Comer. An extremely intelligent man, Gralnick was able to compensate for the disease at work for quite some time. However, behavioral changes at home signaled to his wife that something was off.

Some of the details shared by Comer hit home. She shares her frustration of a doctor ignoring her concerns and diagnosing the problem as a combination of stress and depression. In essence, the medical providers stuck together. {Fortunately, when my family member was assessed, it was by a panel. She charmed the pants off the eldest male in the room. (She minored in drama.) He found her vivacious and felt the problems with memory and mobility were natural aging. However she scored poorly on the tests.} Thus I could emphasize with Comer.

Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients

A good amount of Slow Dancing with a Stranger discusses the difficulties in caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s. Comer discusses the many types of care she sought out for her husband. Her shared experiences are valuable to others. The decision on the best way to care for a family member with dementia is incredibly hard. It helps to read about another’s experience.

The decision on type of care may change as the patient progresses through the stages. Comer tried a variety of approaches. This insight is perhaps the most helpful part of the book. While no two patients experience the disease the same, it is helpful to understand the different steps in the deterioration of an Alzheimer’s patient.

Advocating for Alzheimer’s

Comer focuses on advocacy for Alzheimer’s in the latter pages of Slow Dancing with a Stranger. I found this part of the book uplifting. Since she was a former television journalist, Comer was contacted by the PBS News Hour to spotlight her struggle caring for her husband. After much soul searching, she agreed. The airing of the segment spotlighting Alzheimer’s re-opened doors for Comer. Friends and strangers alike reached out. The end result was non-profit work focused on early recognition of Alzheimer’s as well as ways to delay if not prevent the onset of the disease.

Since all proceeds from Slow Dancing with a Stranger directly support Alzheimer’s research I strongly encourage each of you to purchase a copy. Then buy a second copy and give to a friend, family member or to your local library. If you have a friend or family member suffering from this difficult disease, reach out to them and their caregiver today; The Longest Day.

 

 

Elephants Can’t Fly Book Review

Elephants Can’t Fly

Elephants Can’t Fly by Charlotte Christie is a wonderful addition to a young child’s library. This board book is beautifully illustrated by Cee Biscoe. The gray she uses for the elephants is both a cool blue and warm and fuzzy at the same time. But it is the inspirational words of Christie that makes this 2017 book such a find.

Elly is a young elephant. Naturally, she loves to explore like any young offspring. She observes nature and she tries to imitate. All the things one will see in a youngster.

Christie begins the story giving examples of things elephants can’t do. But then the story unfolds and Elly achieves the impossible. All because no one told her she couldn’t. Thus this simple story is also very meaningful.

Author

A quick search on the Internet yielded little information about Charlotte Christie. The first hit brought up the actress. Adding writer to the search bar brought up a young writer looking for an agent. Then the addition of the title resulted in numerous places to buy the book and a matching stuffed elephant.

A similar search for Cee Biscoe brought up lots of information. She illustrates children’s books. So finally, I searched for Jellycat Books, the publisher of Elephants Can’t Fly. Jellycat is a company specializing in plush toys. But they also sell baby gifts and under this category are some board books, including two about Elly. But the two have different authors. (Same illustrator.)

So, I am no closer to discovering Charlotte Christie the author. I hope Elephants Can’t Fly is not her only book. If it is, I hope she writes another. Because the message of Elly and her willingness to try is the key to this lovely story. If you know anything about the writer of this wonderful children’s book, please share in the comment section.

I love this story and can’t wait to read it to the newest addition to the family. Even newborns can be read to. Thus, I have written her name on the book plate provided on the first page. Tonight I will hold her and read to her for the very first time. Welcome to the world little one!

 

The Black Ascot Book Review

Book Cover showing a race horse

The Black Ascot

The Black Ascot by Charles Todd is an historical murder mystery. The book takes its’ title from the 1910 Ascot races. Because of the death of King Edward VII, all attendees at the Ascot races wore black. The murder takes place following a race day.

The accused, Alan Barrington, disappears after the inquest and before the case goes to trial. The majority of the book takes place 1921. This allows the author to incorporate bits and pieces of history from The Great War.

Scotland Yard

In 1921, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge receives a tip. Alan Barrington has been spotted back in England. Rutledge convinces his superior to allow the old murder case to be reviewed. Even though Rutledge was not involved in the original Black Ascot murder investigation, he wants to bring Barrington to trial.

Shell Shock

Inspector Ian Rutledge begins the review by getting to know the victims as well as the accused. His investigation involves interviewing past Inspectors and witnesses. Many of these individuals were mentally and/or physically affected by The Great War.

Rutledge also suffers from shell shock. During World War I, Rutledge loses a close colleague. But the ghost of Hamish “talks” to Rutledge throughout the book. When the issue of the inspector’s shell shock takes a pivotal turn midway through the book, so does the case.

Charles Todd

Charles Todd and his mother Caroline team together to write both the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series. Even though the list of published works is long, this was my first time reading a Charles Todd book. It will not be my last.

I love the combination of historical events and fictional murder mystery. Even though the Ascot races did not figure prominently in the book, naming the novel after the 1910 races was appropriate. A true blackguard caused the motor car crash taking the life of one and severely injuring another.

The expert writing not only kept the reader turning the pages, but also created a stand-alone book. I did not feel as if I were missing something by not reading previous titles featuring Inspector Rutledge. The intrigue of the plot combined with the well-developed characters made this one of the best reads of the 2019 year. I would not be surprised to find it on my end of the year list of favorites. (Click here for the 2018 list.)

The Black Ascot is highly recommended. Buy or borrow a copy today.

The Last-Book Review

The Last by Hanna Jameson has a mix of mystery combined with the psychological aspects of a nuclear war. The protagonist is Dr. Jon Keller and the premise of The Last is that these events are captured in his journal. Keller, a historian, believes he is describing the end of the world. This writing ploy utilized by the author works.

Mystery of The Last

During the process of survival, the small group of humans stranded high in the Alps comes across a dead body of a small child. Cause of death is unknown, but time of death approximates the nuclear attacks across the globe. Keller is determined to find the truth.

His obsession with the mystery combined with the stress of surviving the nuclear blast create a study in psychology. Keller and other survivors handle the events in a variety of ways. Hanna Jameson has written a book that straddles genre lines. The survivalist theme focuses more on mental health and less on day-to-day needs. She accomplishes this with her setting, a high end Switzerland resort.

Thus, The Last offers much to readers not focused on end of the world scenarios. The cast of characters is diverse. Keller interviews each for his journal. Again an excellent format by author Jameson. The reader connects with the characters. The mystery slowly unravels as the individual back stories are revealed.

Realism

For the most part the book is plausible. The fears of the characters, including those with visions of ghosts, ring true. Communication after the blast continues via social networks. It seems even a series of nuclear attacks cannot defeat the Internet.

However, there were a few points requiring a suspension of belief. This includes the end scenario. A functioning city is not far from the hotel. Here the murderer is himself murdered. The journal entries may be used to justify the actions. But Keller does not write the final entry. His refusal to address a rotten tooth has endangered his life.

The Last by Hanna Jameson is entertaining. The book would be great read for a beach or mountain vacation. The psychological components are intriguing. While there are some violent scenes, much of the book focuses on the mental challenges individuals face after a world changing event.

 

Winter Range Book Review

Winter Range Book Review

Winter Range by Claire Davis depicts the harsh environs of Montana cattle country. The story takes place during winter in the midst of a long drought. Davis is accurate in her portrayal of both land and people. The disturbing plot conveys the many nuances of living and working in a rural, isolated small town where events are dictated by nature and the weather.

Triangle of Characters

Ike Parsons is the protagonist of Winter Range. He is a transplant, not a native of Montana. Parsons is the sheriff and he takes his job seriously. He runs afoul of the western code of live and let live.

But the job did not bring him west, love did. Pattiann is his wife. A daughter of a long time ranch family, she met Ike while back East for school. She is complex. Still angry that the ranch will pass down to the male heir, her past relationship with Chas Stubblefield creates an added twist to the conflict.

Stubblefield is a villain. Or a man down on his luck. It all depends on perspective. His herd of cattle is starving. His debts are too great and he has been cut off by the bank and the feed supplier. The conflict becomes critical when the sheriff interferes.

Unwritten Code

Winter Range provides a look at personal conduct in the rural areas of the western United States. Life is impacted by the harshness of nature. Hot summers and cold winters combined with rainfall that may not even reach a foot in one year create a demanding climate. Thus, the inhabitants face challenges not found in urban areas.

This hardscrabble life dictates a different outlook on life. One of non-interference. A man’s property (or family) does not brook interference. Thus, a belief that Stubblefield has a right to let his herd die. Since Parsons is an outsider he does not share this view. So there is a showdown.

Winter Range

Claire Davis has written a book that is disturbing to read. There is violence both man-made and natural. The secondary characters round out the book. But the triangle between Ike, Pattiann, and Chas centers the story. Winter Range is both a commentary on the western way of life and a tale of love and expectations.

Baby of the Family Book Review

Baby of the Family Book Review

As a debut novel, Baby of the Family shows tremendous effort by Maura Roosevelt. The book is complex. The author explores a number of social and economic issues. But the key message of this coming-of-age Great American novel is the importance of family-even a dysfunctional one.

Economics of Old Money

Although his death occurs at the beginning of the story, the character of Roger Whitby, Jr is instrumental to the plot. His life is a reflection of many third-generation moneyed Americans. There is pressure to build upon the successes of those before. But Whitby was unable to handle life’s adversity. So success eluded him. Thus, downward mobility commenced.

Fathering nine children from four wives added to the complexity of his life. The reader barely glimpses the offspring from the first marriage. So their financial status is unknown. Instead the focus of Baby of the Family is on Brooke Whitby, the youngest surviving child of the second wife; Shelley Whitby ,Roger’s youngest biological child born of the third wife; and Nick Whitby, the adopted son from the fourth and final marriage. The novel centers on the social lives and finances of these three characters.

Baby of Family #2

Brooke Whitby is the most grounded of the three. She is a nurse in Boston. Her parents’ marriage fell apart shortly after the death of her younger brother. Brooke has contact with her older siblings but is not close to them or her mother. Flashbacks give the reader a glimpse into the unraveling of her immediate family.

But the main social thread for Brooke’s story is her sexuality. She is a pregnant bi-sexual who is jilted by her same-sex partner. She has decisions to make. Her partner’s parents are minor characters important to the plot.

From an economic standpoint, Brooke is self-sufficient. But, the reading of the will displaces her. Brooke’s wages will not allow her to remain in the Back Bay (very old money) area of Boston. So added to her relationship crisis is a need to find a new place to live.

In her late thirties, Brook is considerably older than Shelley and Nick. Her compassionate nature ties her to Shelley and by extension to Nick. More mature than the younger siblings, the reader is witness to Brooke’s struggle for self-actualization as Baby of the Family unfolds.

Baby of Family #3

Shelley Whitby is the protagonist of the story. She is the connection between new and old. At just twenty-three she is not handling life very well. Her mother is mentally ill; her father long out of the picture. Shelley is lost. And very messed up.

But her character tugs at the heart. Upon hearing of Roger’s death and disinheritance, she drops out of a prestigious liberal arts school late in her senior year. She was already failing.

Shelley runs home to an empty New York City abode. Her mother is absent, whereabouts unknown. She immediately looks for a job she is qualified for. Her choices are prostitution or as an assistant to a blind architect/author. She lands the job with Yousef Kamal, the author, but she justly suspects her surname played a role in her hiring.

Shelley’s story is intriguing and heartbreaking. And also a bit sickening. Her relationship with the Kamal family gives great credence to the #MeToo movement. Maura Roosevelt excels in tying current social issues into the lives of her characters.

Baby of the Family

A year younger than Shelley, adopted son Nick Whitby is the baby of the family. His connection to the rest of the Whitby offspring is tenuous at best. He is an angry young man. He sees his mother’s marriage and his subsequent adoption as the actions that destroyed his happy childhood. Thus it is easy to understand his anti-capitalist beliefs and actions.

Nick is involved with a group that lands a terrorist label. After an incident literally blows up, he runs to Shelley knowing she will hide him. She does. But she withholds the information of their father’s death.

Social and Economic Issues

The author tackles key issues. Family dysfunction is first and foremost. Income inequality plays a significant role as do a host of sexual issues including fidelity. Other social issues include the value of a liberal arts education, work ethic (or lack thereof), alcoholism and mental illness.

But above all, Baby of the Family is about familial love. Roosevelt shows how extended families can still share this type of love. The dynamics between Brooke, Shelley and Nick ring true. Sibling bonds are every bit as important as those of parent and child.

Maura Roosevelt

Throughout the novel, the author posits the question “Are you one of THOSE Whitby’s?” As a Roosevelt related to “Those” Roosevelt’s she has a basis of knowledge on how succeeding generations are impacted by wealth or success. Her learned insights are apparent in The Baby of the Family. Thus, her background lends authenticity to the story. America is a country of both upward and downward mobility.

But it is the character development that drives the reader forward. One is easily caught up in the individual lives of the Whitby siblings. The dysfunctional family dynamic is always present. Yet the main characters endure.

This novel is long and complex. The perfect book for college literature classes and book clubs. Busy readers may want to opt for the audio version. Baby of the Family is a tremendous first for Maura Roosevelt. Hopefully the first of many.

Racing to the Table Book Review

Racing to the Table Book Review

Cook book page with recipes
Page with Kentucky Hot Brown Recipes
Cook Book Pages
Cook Book Pages

Cookbooks are well used in my home. I like to look through them to get ideas for everyday dining as well as special occasions. One book I use a lot this time of year is Margaret Guthrie’s Racing to the Table: A Culinary Tour of Sporting America. The book covers recipes across the country tied to various race tracks. But there is much more to this book.

Race History

Woven among the recipes are a plethora of pictures. Each helps illustrate the horses, cities and sites surrounding the multiple race tracks highlighted in the book. For example, photos of horses exercising in the Pacific complement the recipes and stories of Del Mar Race Track in California. A photo of the blanket of roses is included in the chapter on Kentucky recipes.

Most of the text centers on the recipes and their origins. But a brief history of how the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks began can be found as well. Other snippets of racing lore make this more than just a cookbook. However, I really like the recipes.

Favorite Racing to the Table Recipes

Guthrie did an outstanding job compiling signature recipes from the various race tracks. She includes both a traditional and modern take on the Kentucky Hot Brown. I have tried them both. In this same section of Kentucky favorites you will find a recipe for Burgoo. This regional dish is a must try.

The Louisiana dishes have a definite New Orleans flair as Fairgrounds race track is based there. If you like gumbo, shrimp or crayfish this section is for you. The desserts are mostly fig-based which is a fruit often spotted in that part of the country. The recipes from the New York section contain several winners from Saratoga Springs. Two of the savory recipes come from a restaurant in Saratoga Springs only open six weeks a year. My bet is some of the herbs are bought at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market.

Cook Book Value

I realize many people only use online sources for their recipes. But I find great value in cookbooks. I love perusing through books such as Racing to the Table. They have a permanent place in my home. Racing to the Table by Margaret Guthrie is an odds on favorite and my pick of the day.

 

An Economist Walks Into A Brothel Book Review

Book Cover, Blue background yellow print An Economist Walks Into A Brothel: And Other Unexpected Places To Understand Risk

Allison Schrager caught my attention with the title of her book on financial economics and risk. An Economist Walks Into A Brothel does indeed include an analysis of the legal sex trade in Nevada. The topic is a hook, but the analysis and writing keeps the reader engaged. Schrager uses a variety of industries to explore the multi-faceted topic of financial economics.

Brothel-nomics

Schrager starts her treatise with a discussion of risk. Financial risk is not just in the stock markets but also in everyday business. And everyday life. The exploration of mitigating risk in the sex trade allows the writer to introduce the concept of risk in an industry not many of us are familiar with.

A few basic concepts such as supply and demand are introduced in this section. But most of the focus is on finance, which Schrager states is the science of risk. Thus, from the start, the topic of An Economist Walks Into A Brothel is clear.

Toward the end of this introductory section are Schrager’s five rules of risk. These are as follows:

1. No Risk, No Reward
2. I am irrational and I know it.
3. Get the biggest bang for your risk buck.
4. Be the master of your domain.
5. Uncertainty happens. (Schrager, 14-17)

These five concepts are the heart of the book. They are supported by a gamut of economic theory from behavioral economics to diversification to uncertainty. Key premises to understand how the world works.

Diversity in Examples

The use of the wide variety of industries cited by Schrager in order to illustrate her topic serves multiple purposes. First, the diversity (in addition to the Brothel hook) of industries provides a way to reach out to a wide audience. Second, the varying businesses support the notion that risk is inherent everywhere, not just in the stock market. Third, this approach offers a way for the layman to comprehend economic principles.

Studying a legal brothel in Nevada begins the book. But other industries utilized include but are not limited to retail electronics, horse breeding, big wave surfing, Hollywood and the United States Armed Forces. Kat Cole, one of my favorite CEOs and Gun Runner, one of my favorite race horses also figure into the narrative. Thus, Schrager turns what may be considered a dull topic into an engaging and informative read.

Risk

An Economist Walks into a Brothel is a comprehensive look at risk. While there are some charts and concepts that knowledge of economics serves as an asset, even those without an economic background can gleam Schrager’s points. She is thorough in her knowledge of the topic and her approach is such that the general public will understand the book.

Even if you are not in business, the concepts of risk apply to the many decisions life posits. So I believe you will gain from this book. Since it is a recent release your library may not have a copy yet. But it can be found in bookstores and online.

The initial business analyzed is legalized sex and naturally there are comparisons with the illegal trade. However, the topic is treated in such a way that I feel the book is still appropriate reading for mature teenagers. The focus is on the business and not the types of services provided.

Recommendation

In fact, if I were still teaching at the community college, I would require my business and economic students to read An Economist Walks Into A Brothel. So, consider gifting this book to those who prefer non-fiction as well as anyone interested in finance. In the case of this work by Allison Schrager the risk is worth the reward.

Additionally, for those of you who prefer online, Schrager has a website. You can access it by clicking here. Consider signing up for her newsletter. I did and I look forward to her twice a month posts.

Last Woman Standing Book Review

On the surface, Last Woman Standing by Amy Gentry is a novel about the male dominated industry of stand-up comics. But in this case the protagonist and comic is a woman of color. Dana Diaz is the central character of this complex story of fame, success, psychosis, the #MeToo movement and revenge. At the beginning of the story Diaz is on the run from her past. At the end she owns her future. But an amazing tale fills the center.

We meet Diaz onstage at an Austin comedy club. Bombing. Badly. A lone woman’s laughter gets her through the performance. Amanda Dorn introduces herself afterwards. She is a techie who lost her job after filing a sexual harassment suit against a co-worker. As a victim of sexual harassment, Dorn recognizes Diaz as another target of unwanted advances.

Gentry’s plot takes a step toward revenge at this point. The two women engage in payback, with a twist. Each goes after the other’s aggressors. Concurrently, Diaz is achieving success on the stage. Perhaps her accomplishments trigger her consciousness. She begins to regret her actions and tries to cut ties with Dorn.

Austin to L.A.

The re-location of the story from Austin to L.A. mirrors the mental changes in both Diaz and Dorn. Our protagonist becomes more grounded and Dorn more psychotic. At this point in the story, Gentry begins providing twist after twist in the plot.
The revenge extracted by Dorn on behalf of Diaz takes a deadly turn. Moreover, Amanda’s psychosis becomes more evident.

Diaz turns to Jason Murphy, a childhood friend. The two search for a way to combat the control Amanda Dorn has over Diaz. Once again there is a major twist in the plot.

Without giving away too much, a final victim falls to the avengers. But this time someone is held responsible. But is justice served? Read Last Woman Standing to find out. The novel delivers so much more than sheer entertainment.

Many books reflect the current events of society. New York Station reflected the politically influenced 2016 national elections in the United States. I personally think the #MeToo movement served as a catalyst for Amy Gentry’s Last Woman Standing.

Online Cyber Harassment

Sexual harassment has been present for eons. Now the harassment reaches cyber space. Online bullying includes sexting, trolling and stealing personal information from various web sources. These attacks can be every bit as harmful as physical attacks.

Recently, a reader sent me a link with a very valuable article. The website vpnmentor.com published a lengthy, informative article on cyber security aimed specifically at women. The post The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women written by Sara Levavi-Eilat provides detailed steps on protecting one’s privacy online.

If I were still teaching at the local community college, I would incorporate this article into the curriculum. The information is comprehensive and very helpful. As an individual who values privacy I cringe at how much information is posted on the various social media sites.

This does not mean one cannot belong to any or utilize the many apps out there. But please use good judgement. The article written by Levavi-Eilat and produced by an all-woman crew will help regain your privacy and offers a way to safeguard against aggressors without resorting to the tactics employed by the key characters in Last Woman Standing.

Sexual Harassment

Contrary to the many jokes heard in stand-up comedy routines, sexual harassment is not a joking matter. The worst case scenario occurs when harassment turns into assault. Protect yourself. Click on and read The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women. Then think twice before you upload that next photo onto social media. Women should not need to worry about how our image is used. But the sad truth is we do.

Last Woman Standing is a good vehicle for this message as well as being an entertaining novel. The question posited is who has your back? When it comes to an online presence, each individual can do a great deal to protect themselves. Set limits on your social media apps when possible. Proactive behavior is essential. To steal a line from Sargent Esterhouse on the long-ago T.V. show Hill Street Blues-“Let’s be careful out there.”

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More Book Review

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!

Book Cover of I Ain't Gonna Paint No More!I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont with illustrations by David Catrow has been around for a while. The book made its debut in 2005. I just read it for the first time on the recommendation of someone working with elementary school children. This book is a winner.

The story opens up with a youngster getting in trouble for painting all over the house. Enter the mom. The paints are taken away and put on a very high shelf. Of course any enterprising kid knows how to circumvent that obstacle.

Thus, the focus of this board book changes from a kid painting the walls to painting himself. All while singing a familiar tune. Adult readers will automatically sing the chorus as they read the repeating phrase. Perhaps this is how I missed the kindergarten humor the first time through.

Beaumont uses rhyming words in a clever way from this point forward. For example, one line the kid uses is “Guess there ain’t no harm if I paint my…” turn the page and he has painted his arm. This theme is carried out from head to toe and in between.

Until the story reaches a part of the body 5 year olds find hilarious.

Generation Gap

I hate to admit I had a generation gap moment. The first time through I kept repeating the phrase I ain’t gonna paint no more, no more. I ain’t gonna paint no more in my head. Truth be told I can sing the tune but can’t remember the song. Perhaps this is how I missed the punch line. Lame excuse I know.

But now that I get the humor, I too want to read it again. The finish certainly brings a smile to my face. I can just imagine preschoolers and early grade school students rolling on the floor with laughter. This book is great for storytelling. Repetition of words makes it a candidate for a learning to read book as well.

Crucible Book Review

Crucible

The latest action adventure from James Rollins is Crucible. This complex tale stretches geographically from the United States to Europe, particularly but not exclusively, Portugal. But the time line begins in the era of the early 1600s.
The novel begins with a brief flashback to the Spanish Inquisition and the extermination of witches. A priest serving as an Inquisitor takes possession of an amulet. The significance of this prologue becomes evident in one of the many twists and turns of Crucible.

Out of necessity, the first part of Crucible contains quite a bit of action spanning the two continents. Rollins incorporates a large number of characters into the novel. Thus, turmoil is used to introduce many of the key players. Furthermore, I had trouble pinpointing a single protagonist.

Equal Opportunity

Both men and women characters are villains in Crucible. The same can be said of the heroes. The dual story line between a home invasion and kidnapping in the United States and an assassination of female scientists in Portugal merges relatively early in the story line.

Gray and Monk are government agents. They were absent during the home invasion but directly affected. Monk’s wife Kat is in a coma but his two girls along with a pregnant Seichan, Gray’s significant other, are missing. The men are directly involved in the action. So are the women. Science and medical advances play a significant part of this narrative.

Rollins is masterful at weaving the scenes involving neurological treatment alongside the chase for the kidnappers. But even more powerful is his approach to artificial intelligence. At times, the character of Eve gets the nod for protagonist. Eve is not human. Yet.

Artificial Intelligence

Mara Silviera is the creator of Eve. She is alive only because the preliminary test of Eve was at a remote location during the attack on the science lab. The two are on the run.

The race to develop artificial intelligence is the center of Crucible. Fiction is mirroring reality. James Rollins does an outstanding job of blending fact with fiction. Eve’s character is pure fiction. But, we are on the threshold of developing many Eves. In actuality, we may already be there. Rollins treats this subject matter with the seriousness it deserves all while spinning a thrilling tale.

Once again, an action adventure thriller provides food for thought as well as entertainment. The twists and turns keep the reader enthralled. The author ties up the many tangents. The bad guys meet their just rewards and the ending is happy for the good guys. What more can you ask for? Perhaps a sequel for Eve.

Painting Secrets Book Review

Painting Secrets written by Brian Santos is a must have book for the Do It Yourself crowd. Santos, also known as The Wall Wizard has multiple DIY books on the market. You can also find his videos on the Internet. Additionally, he gives demonstrations across the country.

Painting Secrets

The self-help guide Painting Secrets spends the first 75 pages prepping for the actual paint job. The tips in this first part of the book include an excellent section on color selection. Santos does an outstanding job of explaining variations in color. Furthermore, he gives good tips on choosing colors that will work best for you.

Then Painting Secrets begins divulging its many tips to ensure the project is a success. Included in this long section on prepping a room for painting are methods for stripping wallpaper. Santos shares his secret recipe for wallpaper stripping. He also includes a dry method for removing vinyl wallpaper. His methods result in a quicker process.

Santos goes into great detail on how to repair walls before painting. He covers everything from small cracks to large holes in the sheet rock. Also, tips are provided for working with plaster. Perhaps the best part of this section are the many tricks of the trade shared. But I also liked the information on needed tools.

Painting 101

Santos shares his professional painting skills in a thorough manner. He begins by teaching the reader about the many types and grades of paint. Then he moves onto the best tools for the paint and the job. Also presented is detailed instruction on how to measure and estimate the amount of paint needed.

Each tool described receives a description of use or uses. The Wizard includes warnings and quizzes throughout the book. Many are tied to the proper use of the tools needed for the job.

Then, the book turns to the actual job of painting. There is a right and wrong way to paint. This section discusses loading paint onto the various tools as well as how to lay the paint onto the surfaces. The recommendation for painting an entire room is to have two people on the job.

Finally, Painting Secrets covers paint effects. Included in this section are decorative finishes such as faux and ragging. Santos shares his Wall wizard Glaze recipe along with tons of tricks and warnings. The techniques are divided into positive and negatives depending on whether you are adding or subtracting a top layer.

I highly recommend this book and am fortunate enough to have discovered it in my local library. This title along with similar titles are easily found online or in bookstores if your library doesn’t have a copy. Painting Secrets is just the book a DIY needs to get the project done right.

The Third Gate Book Review

I am a big fan of Lincoln Child so I checked out The Third Gate for reading on a snowy weekend. Even though I find mummies super scary, I gave The Third Gate a try. I am glad I did. Child once again delivers.

The protagonist of The Third Gate is Jeremy Logan. In addition to teaching classes at Yale, Logan is an enigmalogist. Logan has been contacted by an old classmate, Ethan Rush. Dr. Rush runs a clinic which studies near death experiences. But he is also involved on an archaeological site in Egypt. So Rush acts as the intermediary between Porter Stone, the financier of the search for an ancient burial-place, and Logan.

Logan’s job is to determine if the series of incidents at the archaeological site are human driven or other worldly. Both are possibilities since the burial site has its own curse. Indeed both scenarios come into play.

The Third Gate Setting

The setting of The Third Gate is the Sudd. Child does a great job in describing this moving swamp of the Nile. (But if you need a visual click here for a short You Tube look.) This particular pharaoh’s tomb is underneath the murky water. Of course, this adds to the novel’s suspense.

Curse

As an enigmalogist, Logan is on hand for key parts of the dig. He is expected to solve the puzzle of the numerous accidents. But he is also on hand to aid Dr. Rush’s oversight of a near death survivor’s communication with the other world.

Another key character is Dr. Christina Romero an Egyptologist. She is a scientist skeptical of Logan’s talents and beliefs. The two clash but form a friendship over common values.

Lincoln Child has written a book that explores both human and otherworldly good and evil. The pace of the book keeps the reader turning pages. Those of you that seek out scary mummy stories will love The Third Gate.

 

Pandemic Book Review

Book cover of Pandemic by Robin CookPandemic by Robin Cook opened my eyes to the dark side of the biotech world. Protagonist Dr. Jack Stapleton, a New York City medical examiner, fears an influenza virus is the cause of a sudden death on the subway of a young woman. He is wrong about the cause of death. But his instincts are on target.

Stapleton is married to his boss, Dr. Laurie Montgomery. There is quite a bit of tension in their relationship. Both at home and at the office, tempers flare. Jack begins to shut his wife out. In the end this puts his life in jeopardy.

Organ Transplant

At the center of the plot is a young heart transplant patient. The reader watches her race along the subway platform in order to catch a train. She makes it. Her heart beat returns to normal. Then death strikes. The first symptom is a chill followed by breathing difficulties. She dies before reaching her destination.

The autopsy reveals a heart transplant, with the heart in fantastic shape. But the lungs are filled with pus. Stapleton hypothesizes death by virus, but pathology tests are inconclusive. To make things worse, the patient is a Jane Doe. Stapleton, unwilling to face problems on the home front, buries his troubles in his quest to identify both the woman and her cause of death.

Characters

This was the first Robin Cook novel I had read, so all the characters were new to me. But to existing fans there are both recurring and fresh faces in the story. For a new reader, the returning characters were not as richly developed as the newbies. Only the stress of living with a special needs child defines the relationship of Stapleton and Montgomery.

CRISPR/Cas9

The acronym CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Cas9 is a protein. A better explanation of this genetic breakthrough than I can give can be found in this video from University of California-Berkeley

Cook uses the novel Pandemic to introduce the promises of CRISPR/Cas9 as well as the serious consequences of the misuse of technology. The possibilities remain to be seen. But, birth defects such as Cystic Fibrosis and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy are among the targets for this technology.

Mirroring Trends

I found it unsurprising that a billionaire capitalist was the villain of the story. Nor was I surprised that the communist leaning millennial son saves the day for both Stapleton and the world. Yet, the virus was concocted by the son. Definitely some mixed message in this book.

Cook even throws in some comments from the son of how divisive America is as compared to a more unified younger Chinese population:

In dialogue, the young man states: “We Chinese university-age generation are all on the same page, whether we are in school in Wuhan, or Canberra, or Paris, or Boston. We are of the same mind-set to truly make China great again, pardon the hackneyed phrase. Whereas here in the USA there is depressing divisiveness and a kind of anti-immigrant neotribalism that is getting progressively worse, in China we millennials are coming together.” (Cook, 2018, page 372)

My economic background understands mixed economies. Capitalist societies have some socialism within the market. The same holds true for the other “isms.” I tend to cringe when I read praise for Communism and Socialism. But we have a generation raised after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fears of yesterday disappear as time marches forward.

Pandemic is worth reading. Cook brings attention to a rapidly changing world. Yet, pausing to think about the consequences of the change has merit. Let me know what you think of this novel.
For those of you interested in learning more about gene therapy the following website is informative:

https://www.neb.com/tools-and-resources/feature-articles/crispr-cas9-and-targeted-genome-editing-a-new-era-in-molecular-biology

Nine Perfect Strangers Book Review

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty is the most entertaining book I have read this year. One of those just can’t stand to put down books. If you like books that throw you for a loop then you must pick up a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers.

The premise is straight forward at first. Various individuals are participating in a transformational cleanse at a health spa in Australia. Moriarty tells the story through each one of the characters. The alternation of the point of view is aided by chapter titles identifying which character the scene is centered on. Each of the characters has a story to tell.

Nine people; two single men, two single women, a young couple and a family of three check into the resort for ten days of renewal. They are expecting to cleanse themselves. Both a physical cleanse and a mental cleanse. Thus, no outside food nor electronic connections to the world are allowed.

Noble Silence

In addition to a ban on comfort food and social media, the Tranquillum House retreat commands absolute silence for the first five days. This noble silence will start the guests on their way to healing. Of course a rebellion rears up. Tony starts pushing back first. He questions whether the staff has gone through his bags. Both he and Frances tried to sneak in goodies.

Seemingly, Masha the director of the retreat gets everything back on track. Even to the point of re-starting the Noble Silence. But the temporary revolt has thrown her off track. After five days of “silence” and ordinary expectations of what goes on at a spa, Moriarty throws the readers for a loop. A totally unexpected discovery (at least to this reader) by one of the characters turns the plot line upside down.

Nine Perfect Strangers Unite

The story line becomes quite tense at this point. Each of the characters unravels. And in that unraveling readers will identify somehow, someway with at least one. Laughter, some tears, and a shocking revelation or two will keep the reader spellbound as these nine individuals work their way through a crisis.

Liane Moriarty has written another bestseller. I loved it. She ties things up and yet she leaves some things to your imagination. Nine Perfect Strangers may be as transforming to the reader as Tranquillum House was to the characters. The book is fun to read, it provides food for thought…and perhaps, most importantly, food for the soul.

 

Troublemaker Book Review

Troublemaker by Linda Howard was released in 2016. Even though I just now read the book I am so glad I did. This novel intertwines romance and suspense. The romance is spicy not sweet. But the hot scenes are tastefully done. What I like most about Troublemaker are the characters.

Both respect and envy come to mind when describing Howard’s knack for bringing both major and minor characters to life. Morgan Yancy is the leader of a secretive government team. He is ambushed and barely survives. His boss sends him to an ex-stepsister who resides in the mountains of West Virginia. Isabeau Maran, Bo for short, is the Chief of Police in Hamrickville. She reluctantly provides the place for Morgan to recuperate.

Howard fully develops both main characters. Their personalities are brought to life through prose and dialog. A grudging friendship realistically develops into more. The relationship does not seem forced in order to continue the plot. Howard is a master.

An addition to the couple trying not to fall in love while danger abounds, is Tricks, the smartest golden retriever you will ever read about. Now I am a cat person but I would make an exception for this dog. She steals the show. She is the love of the town and the life of Bo.

Multiple plot lines

Troublemaker pushes the ambush plot to the background while developing the relationship of the two main characters. The subplot revolves around the people of Hamrickville. This allows Howard the opportunity to fully develop both the main characters and the support crew. True to life, a domestic violence incident divides the small town. Bo has her hands full both at work and at home.

Fortunately for the human heroine of the story, Morgan is intent on regaining his strength. He saves the day on several occasions. But Howard does not denigrate the females in the story. They hold their own. Furthermore, the developing partnership between Morgan and Bo is part of what makes their relationship one to relish.

Troublemaker is a great book for a weekend read. There is definitely adult content. But the scenes are not over the top. This was the perfect relief from some of the heavy books I have been working through. If you like the combination of romance and suspense, I encourage you to find a copy of Troublemaker. I think you will enjoy it.