Tag: Book review

Eight Perfect Hours Book Review

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

Theme of Eight Perfect Hours

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

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

 

They part just like passing ships.

Complex Storyline

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

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

Red Thread of Fate

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

Eight Perfect Hours Emotional Tug

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

Stephanie’s Ponytail Book Review

Children’s Story Book

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

Two Ideas from Stephanie’s Ponytail

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

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

Fun to Read

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

Stephanie’s Ponytail

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

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

Robert Munsch

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

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

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

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

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story Book Review

The Premonition

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

Key Players

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

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

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

2005 Pandemic Plan

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

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

The Premonition

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

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

Indictments within The Premonition

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

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

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

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

Recommendation

I found a few things missing.

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

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

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

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

Jack of Spies Book Review

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

Book Cover for Jack of Spies

Protagonist

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

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

Jack of Spies Plot

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

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

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

Action vs. Intrigue

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

Recommendation for Jack of Spies

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

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

Meant to Be Book Review

Small Town America

Fictional Mason, Kansas, the setting for Meant to Be, is representative of hundreds of small towns across the Great Plains. And thousands of similar communities all across flyover country. Even though Jude Deveraux paints a less gritty picture than those of author Kent Haruf, the depiction of small town life hits a bull’s eye.

Outsiders to rural America are not immediately accepted. Adapting to places without stoplights and shopping malls can be difficult. Unravelling who is related to whom and how, is even more challenging. Over time individuals either become part of the community. Or move away.

The roadblocks in life are just as taxing for those born and bred in small towns. The yearning to explore the outside world can run strong. The struggle between desire and duty to family is very real. Deveraux captures this conflict in her latest novel.

Meant to Be

Growing up I often heard the phrase “It wasn’t meant to be.” My paternal grandmother used it most often. The words were an effort to console a youngster when she couldn’t have everything she wanted. Deveraux’s use of the phrase takes a slight twist. Sometimes things are meant to be-regardless of what life presents. In this book, true love among the key characters is inevitable. Life delays, but doesn’t erase.

The storyline revolves around the Exton sisters. Close in age, but far apart in dreams. Vera yearns to explore the world while Kelly desires to make the small town of Mason her world. Throw in multiple love interests and you have an intriguing tale of passion and true love.

Generational Themes

Meant to Be begins in the early 1970s and continues to the present day. The sisters age and remain close in heart if not proximity. There are twists and turns as each generation faces consequences stemming from the actions of the initial characters. The author’s writing tugs at the heart strings. Life is messy and world events impact small towns on a grand scale.

I thoroughly enjoyed Meant to Be. Deveraux captures the conflict of the Vietnam War, the complexity of Equal Rights and many other challenges of the past fifty years. Both technological and sociological. She paints a picture of change without preachiness. Or superiority. Instead, her writing reflects the culture. All while weaving a story of love, lost and found.

Book Cover of novel Meant to Be

The Soulmate Equation Book Review

Dynamic Duo Writes The Soulmate Equation

The writing duo Christina Lauren pen a winning romance in The Soulmate Equation. The novel is a classic example of the genre. And fun to read. As typical for this type of novel, the initial antagonism gives way to mutual attraction. Only to have an event occur to put the couple back at square one. True romance.

 

Big Data

This is the first romance I have read that incorporated the element of Big Data into the equation. Hence the title Soulmate Equation is very apropos. The main characters are both geeky data analysts at their core. A mutual interest in stats paves the way for harmony-once the initial clashing is overcome.

The authors treat the background scenario appropriately. The mathematics adds to the storyline but does not usurp the theme of romance. This is nicely done by the duo.

Single Mom

The main character is Jessica Davis, a thirtyish, never married single Mom. She is supported by grandparents and a best friend in raising her young daughter Juno. As a free-lance statistical analyst, she often works from an independent coffee shop. The perfect setting to observe and reach her own conclusions about “Americano” Dr. River Peña.

Jess is portrayed as a hard-working and always harried single mom. So, juggling a career with school and after school activities leaves no room for romance. Let alone genetically driven dating apps. But she reaches a breaking point after one stressful day and sends in a sample. Then the fun begins.

Soulmate Equation

The authors do a great job of tapping into the idea of the perfect one in The Soulmate Equation. Surely, somewhere, sometime there is that lifetime match for everyone. If only we could know when and more importantly who.

In addition to the theme, the writing flows for the reader. The science is believable as are the characters. Human fallacies and personal doubts are explored all while showcasing personal growth for the characters. Both main and secondary. The Soulmate Equation is a fun read and a perfect romance. Well worth the price to purchase.

Cover of Soulmate Equation
Cover of The Soulmate Equation

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue Book Review

Never make a Deal with the Devil

V.E. Schwab is the author of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue. This lengthy, intense book rotates back and forth between New York City in recent times and various locations in Europe starting in the early 1700s. The ping pong action is necessary to understand Addie Larue. But it takes a while to catch the rhythm.

The protagonist is Addie Larue. She is not quite an ordinary girl. Unlike other young women of her time she has no wish for domestic life. Instead she desires travel and adventure. However, her parents have other ideas. So, she is pledged to a widower.

In order to escape her destiny, Addie makes a deal with a very handsome devil she calls Luc. Life is tough at first. But after the first hundred years or so, Addie makes a go of the circumstances.

Dark Blue book cover of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

Addie’s Invisible Life

As part of the deal, Addie becomes invisible in a way. She no longer has the ability to make a mark on the world. This invisible life is almost her undoing. Over time, she pushes limits by influencing various artists. Thus a whisper of who Addie is, lives through art.

Centuries pass. Addie leaps from the old world to the new continent. Time ticks on. And then she meets Henry.

I Remember You

Henry sees Addie in the present as others do. But he also remembers her from one encounter to the next. This impossibility occurs for one reason only. Henry has also bargained with the evil of the night. However, his deal is vastly different.

Naturally, Addie and Henry fall in love.

Their love story is what kept me reading The Invisible Life of Addie Larue. One cannot help but hope for a happy ending for these star crossed servants of the dark. But true love involves sacrifice.

Recommendation for The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

To be honest, I struggled to connect with this book at first. If I did not need a very long book to occupy a five hour wait, I might not have finished it. But, in the end I found it enjoyable. The reader will need a suspension of disbelief.

Furthermore, I believe The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is not appropriate below a high school senior level. In fact, college lit classes would be a better fit. Older generations may be put off as well. As for my millennial friends- I think you will adore the Invisible Life of Addie Larue.

The Survivors Book Review

Another Winner

Jane Harper has another winner in The Survivors. Harper is one of my favorite authors. Her characters are compelling and the plots twist and turn. Furthermore, the books go beyond just a mere mystery. They offer a plethora of literary meaning and insight into the human condition. The Survivors is a great stand-alone novel.

The Symbolism of The Survivors

An artwork entitled The Survivors is a local landmark. The iron sculpture dominates a series of cliffs and caves above an ancient sea wreck. The spot also marks a more recent tragedy. A major storm a dozen years back took the lives of two young men and forever changed the life of the sole survivor.

More mystery surrounds that fateful storm as a young teenager disappears, never to be found. This is the backdrop for The Survivor. The story takes place in a small beach town on the island of Tasmania. Like many small towns, the community of Evelyn Bay is tight-knit on the surface with jagged scars beneath.

The Protagonist

The novel centers on Kieran Elliott. As the sole survivor of the storm, he battles survivor guilt as he makes a new life with his partner Mia and their newborn. Both grew up in Evelyn’s Bay. But a four year age difference kept them apart before adulthood.

A return to their home town highlights the various coping mechanisms of survivors. Further, it shows the devastation parents face after the loss of a child. Finally, the importance of living life and finding love is featured.

Harper’s use of flashbacks provide an understanding of the trauma and tragedy. Short passages provide great insight into the difficult task of living with survivor’s guilt without distracting from the story. Indeed, these flashes of memory fully flesh out the protagonist.

Additionally, the young man and his partner must deal with the great changes in Elliott’s parents. Verity and Brian Elliott still reel from the loss of their older son in that terrible storm. But in different ways. Verity is ultra-controlled. Brian has early onset dementia.

Storyline of The Survivors

Harper deftly weaves the theme of survivor’s guilt and the loss of an offspring around a new mystery-one of murder. A young waitress from off island turns up dead. The investigation turns up new information on the earlier tragedy. And the small community begins to rip apart. Neighbor turns against neighbor. Women are afraid to walk alone.

Kieran Elliott and his young family are the most affected by the discoveries. Misplaced and misdirected guilt test the young man. Yet he manages to piece together the evidence of what really happened long ago as well as the current murder.

Recommendation

I highly recommend The Survivors. The pace of the novel is quite a bit faster than the two earlier Harper penned books I reviewed, The Dry and Force of Nature. And I have yet to read The Lost Man. Plus, in my opinion, The Survivors focuses more on the growth (or lack thereof ) of the characters. And also the ability to survive. The murder is secondary.

Perhaps it is the inclusion of the infant. Little Audrey has her own personality at just three months. Even though the book ends on yet another death, the final feelings of this reader were of love and hope. Put The Survivors on your reading list!

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World Book Review

Ten Intriguing Lessons

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria is another library find for me. Obviously, the book is recently written. Much like The New Great Depression, the push to publish detracts from the author’s insights. Both writers and publishing houses are guilty. The Covid 19 pandemic is worthy of study. In depth study. Unfortunately, the publishing houses of the world fear a loss of interest in this topic. I believe they are wrong.

Well Organized Book

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World is well organized in its presentation. First, the ten chapters are bookended by an introduction and a summation. The lessons range from What Matters is Not the Quantity of Government but the Quality, to Life is Digital. Zakaria is left of center, but not an extremist. He presents his ideas in a logical manner. The writing is concise. And insightful.

Naturally, my favorite chapters  revolve around my topics of interest. And in some cases agreement. For example, Lesson Four- People Should Listen to the Experts—and Experts Should Listen to the People covers a topic I harp on frequently. My noggin nodded up and down while reading this portion. A key take; mutual respect seems to be missing in many parts of the world.

Agree To Disagree

However, I could not  agree with many parts of the book. Personally, I believe the differences stem from locale. New York City is central to the author. But, I live in a very rural part of the country. Remote too. Since moving here three decades ago, I gained new insight. Rural life is a vast change from living in major cities. So, I now have a rural perspective. Yet, I still recall life in a big city.

One of the key ideas put forth by Zakaria revolves around urbanization. He sees a push globally for continued urbanization. Yet, he also sees a natural limit to population living in the cities. That natural limit is close to 90%. Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World supports a city-centered world. Thus, he posits the pandemic inspired “work from home” will be short-lived. I disagree.

Zakaria cites Aristotle often in Lesson Six, including the great philosopher in the title, Aristotle Was Right –We Are Social Animals. Yet, I believe the workplace will see some of the greatest changes post-pandemic. Again, my perspective is different. Young people are returning to the small towns dotting the High Plains in numbers not seen in over a generation. Covid-19 has accelerated this.  I hope Zakaria can agree to disagree.

Furthermore, education will be changed. Remote learning will replace snow days. Online and hybrid teaching will gain traction. These and other alternative instruction models will keep any future educational shutdowns at bay. Thus, the pandemic work-arounds will remain an option.

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World

I found the book interesting. There are a few shortcomings. For example, the lack of widespread Covid-19 outbreak among the American homeless population was not addressed. Perhaps not enough space, or perhaps because this oddity is counter to one of the theories.

Another concern arises from the treatment of China and the U.S.A. in the lesson, The World is Becoming Bipolar. Perhaps it is misplaced patriotism on my part, but I felt this chapter was unequal. Furthermore, the premise leaves out both the EU and Russia. Economically neither may be on par with China and America, but both greatly impact the world. As do many other nations.

The publication of the book prior to the end of the pandemic impacts the analysis. For example, the vaccine rollout turns the analysis upside down. Countries lauded for their early action are lagging in vaccinating their populace. Other nations, stumbling at first, are now leading in the eradication of the virus. Thus, another reason for writers and publishers to either update publications, or better yet not rush to publish.

Recommendations

Fareed Zakaria is an accomplished writer. Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World is well written and documented. I liked both the literary and historical references throughout. Readers interested in current topics will appreciate the book.

Politically, the writing is left of center. Those on the far right may not appreciate some of the writing. Neither will readers identifying with the far left. For the rest of us, there is merit to be found. I hope there are many of “the rest of us.” A divisiveness in culture is blamed for many of the pandemic failures. I concur.

Anyone tuning into major networks will recognize Zakaria.  His ideas are interesting. Even though studying in New Haven had an opposite impact (I became more conservative, Zakaria more liberal) I encourage the reading of his work. Regardless of ones political leanings, there is much to ponder. This latest best seller is available on audio as well as in print.

The Authenticity Project Book Review

A Novel Idea

If you are looking for a unique story, The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley should be your next read. The novel has an ensemble cast. (Perfect for a movie!) The characters range from “almost” octogenarian Julian, the catalyst of The Authenticity Project to newborn Bunty. Yes, a newborn adds to the plot line. For the most part, the setting is suburban London. The author brings the neighborhood to life.

The Authenticity Project Book Cover

Simple Premise

The Authenticity Project begins with protagonist Monica, proprietor of Monica’s Café, finding a notebook left behind by one of her elderly customers. Julian Jessup, Wikipedia worthy artist, purposely leaves the journal. His entry challenges the finder to enter the truth and then pass along as he has done. Thus, starting a chain of truths.

As the journal travels from place to place, secrets are revealed and souls unburdened. Additionally, real life connections are formed among the participants. Then, these connections bring other characters into the fray. Each new character adds to the story. And each provides food for thought.

Through her characters, Pooley touches on quite a few societal controversies and phobias. She is not preachy. Instead, she tackles a variety of topics injecting fear of the unknown as well as acceptance of new ideas. Above all, there is a sense of humbleness.

Protagonist

Monica is responsible for holding things together. A take charge personality, she too, jumps to conclusions about others as well as about her own failings. She is such a real character, I wanted to travel to England just to visit her café. While all the characters show growth throughout the novel, Monica’s is most evident. As a reader, I was always pulling for her to have a happy ending.

The Authenticity Project Twists and Turns

The novel yielded a few plot twists and turns as the collective stories unwound. Thus the final outcome for each character yields a few surprises. The overall tone is uplifting, but like the rollercoaster of life, there were a variety of ups and downs. Not everyone ends happily ever after.

Clare Pooley is commended for writing such an authentic tale. I bought this copy and it is one that will find a permanent place in the home library. Buy or borrow a copy of The Authenticity Project. This refreshing novel is a must read.

Christmas Shopaholic Book Review

Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella is a must buy to put under the tree or into a stocking. The spirit of Christmas peels from the pages along with much mirth and holiday joy. I did not realize this novel was the eighth in a series. It reads as a standalone, but I plan to find the earlier editions once the New Year arrives.

Becky Bloomwood Brandon – Christmas Shopaholic

The protagonist, Becky Bloomwood Brandon is in search of the perfect gift for her husband. And for everyone else on her list. She goes to great lengths and is thwarted in so many ways. She is a true shopaholic-spending so much in the quest for the great “sales.”

Her devotion to family and friends is evident throughout the book. So is her empathy for others. But she does have one key fault. Her penchant for assumptions.

Lighthearted Read

Christmas Shopaholic is a lighthearted read. The humor is outstanding and the characters are fun. And there is a little more. Kinsella sprinkles the true meaning of Christmas throughout the book. The underlying message is as rewarding as the therapeutic laughter derived from the madcap actions of the lead character.

Books serve many purposes. Christmas Shopaholic provides a wonderful escape from holiday stresses. Perhaps by showing what not to do. The novel, released just over a year ago, is a perfect relief for those experiencing the dual stressors of pandemic and holiday.

I read Christmas Shopaholic on the Libby App, but I may buy a copy for myself. Much like a desire to watch White Christmas and Die Harder each holiday season, I know I will want to re-read Christmas Shopaholic this time next year.

Christmas Shopaholic

To be honest, I almost didn’t finish the book. I started reading last week and then our family faced loss from Covid-19. But, I am so glad I picked back up where I left off. Life continues with laughter leading the way. Thank you Sophie Kinsella for a wonderful, wonderful reminder of the power of the Christmas season.

The Grace Kelly Dress Book Review

The Grace Kelly Dress

There are a handful of iconic dresses and the Grace Kelly wedding dress is one of them. So, when I spied a novel thus named, I couldn’t resist buying. The Brenda Janowitz story is a winner. The Grace Kelly Dress is a generational story following the entwined lives of women connected to a “copy” of the famous dress.

Rocky

Rocky, the granddaughter, is a millennial through and through. CEO of her own company, she is in complete control of everything-except her relationship with her mother.

She dyes her hair to fit her mood and it is the something blue for the wedding. Additionally, each major event in her life is celebrated with a new tattoo. She is marrying a man hated at first sight. Drew, the soon-to-be husband brings some baggage into the story, but there is obvious love and affection.

Rocky is at odds with her Mom on just about everything regarding the nuptials. They disagree on cake, venue, music and most of all on the dress. She simply hates the idea of wearing a dress, much less a frilly copy of the Grace Kelly Dress with what she sees as hideous sleeves. Janowitz does an exceptional job of surprising the reader with the “rest of the story.” The mother-daughter duo have a shared history of loss.

Joan

Joan represents the sandwich generation. As a reader, I alternated between love and hate for the character. She is the most complex protagonist. And the one to alter the dress in the eighties. She added Princess Diana sleeves!

There is excellent foreshadowing in the storyline of Joan. The author deliberately portrays Joan at the beginning as shallow. Of the three main characters, Joanie grows the most. Her own relationship with her mother is awkward and colored by personal loss. Yet, Joan shows the greatest strength and resilience.

The Original Owner

The third story line of The Grace Kelly Dress originates in Paris, France. Just a few years after Grace Kelly is married, a similar dress is commissioned for a bride-to-be. Diana Laurent fell in love at first sight. Orphaned seamstress Rose designs a dress incorporating elements of the Grace Kelly dress. And Rose falls for Diana’s brother Robert, at first sight.

As the novel develops, the original owner is depicted as in conflict with her own daughter and as a support to her granddaughter. Distance between generations lessons the angst.

The Grace Kelly Dress

In addition to the relationships between mothers and daughters, Janowitz reflects on the social difficulties of each generation. Each of the protagonists overcomes prejudices. The three threads accurately portray the time periods.

Millennials will instantly connect with Rocky. Hopefully, older readers, reminded by the difficulties of the past, will also relate to her struggles of expressing her own identity. The Joan’s of this world are in a unique position. They are the bridge between the past and the future. While their generation struggled with many issues, they are now at a midpoint in life. Still active in life’s challenges, but solidified in their own personality.

Finally, much respect is due to those of Grand Mère’s generation. Wisdom comes with age. Kudos to Janowitz for this portrayal. She provides great examples in both primary and secondary characters.

The Grace Kelly Dress is a wonderful read. Complex characters and issues create a novel that can be enjoyed or dissected. Or both. I strongly recommend this book. This will make the 2020 Top Ten list and may find itself under a Christmas tree or two.

 

The Grace Kelly Dress Book Cover

Deadlock Book Review

Cover of Deadlock by Catherine CoulterDeadlock is Catherine Coulter’s newest release in her FBI series featuring Savich and Sherlock. The duo play important roles in this mystery along with a couple of new FBI characters. Unlike previous Coulter releases, Deadlock has little to offer for romance fans and plenty of excitement for thrill seekers. Best of all, the two threads offer plenty twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.

Key Characters in Deadlock

In addition to super sleuths and happily married Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock, Deadlock features FBI Agent Pippa Cinelli in one of the two story lines. Cinelli returns to her hometown of St. Lumis, Maryland to solve the puzzle delivered to Savich. While on location she teams up with local law enforcement Chief Wilde, an outsider to the town. The post-Halloween timetable lends itself nicely to the macabre puzzle.

Meanwhile, FBI agent Griffin Hammersmith is assigned protection duty to Rebekah Danvers, the wife of Congressman Danvers. Savich saves Mrs. Danvers from a kidnapping attempt in early action of Deadlock. Of the two plot threads, the kidnapping has the most surprises. Griffin develops an “off the pages” romance with Danvers’ personal assistant. The bodyguard is quick thinking and action oriented. And he saves more than one life.

Revenge

Personal revenge lies at the base of both story lines. The taunting puzzle sent to FBI headquarters revolves around sudden death and blackmail. The master mind behind the mystery is seeking revenge against Savich. Agent Cinelli and Chief Wilde perform much of the legwork needed to keep a psychotic criminal behind bars. Good prevails over evil.

The Danvers storyline is much more complex. Long held secrets are revealed. Both greed and deep seeded animosity are the explanation behind the kidnapping plot. The conspiracy does not lend itself to a happy ending for Rebekah Danvers. Yet, Coulter offers hope to the character and the reader with a message from beyond the grave: Life is an incredible gift, regardless of its unexpected tragedies (Coulter, p. 446).

 

 

The Woman in Red Book Review

The Women in Red is the debut novel from Diana Giovinazzo. This book is historical fiction but the author remains true to the historical facts in the life of Anita Garibaldi. Well researched, The Women in Red weaves a tale of adventure, independence and hardship into the love story of Anita and Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The author concentrates on Anita. Thus, The Women in Red first depicts Anita in childhood. Then the reader follows the story across the South American continent to Europe during the early to mid-1800s. Anita is a feminist before there were feminists. But such is the life of a woman in a land of conflict.

Brazil

Anita’s story begins in Brazil. She rides as a gaucho alongside her father. Then the first tragedy of her life strikes and she must move with her mother to the coastal city of Laguna. Away from her beloved horses. On the cusp of womanhood.

In Laguna she is forced to marry a lazy, drunken cobbler. The marriage is a disaster. Eventually, her husband joins the Imperial cavalry. Anita refuses to follow him into battle as was traditional. She sees freedom in his absence.

The Ragamuffin war in Brazil is a major theme in The Woman in Red. Because of her upbringing, Anita sides with the rebelling gauchos. She lives independently, working in a hospital and protected by her marital status. Then fate intervenes.

Giuseppe “Jose” Garibaldi

The exiled Italian, Giuseppe Garibaldi is that fate. Garibaldi is a mercenary. He has been recruited to battle the Brazilian monarchy. His fleet of ships command attention in the Laguna harbor. Garibaldi himself looms large over the populace of the coastal city.

Even though Anita is technically still married, she falls in love. So does Garibaldi. Their life together and their love for each other fills the remaining pages of the novel.

The Woman in Red

Anita Garibaldi is a critical part of the general’s success. Her accomplishments vary from her skilled horsemanship to that of a persuasive orator recruiting troops for her husband once they reach Italy. According to the novel, she is responsible for the red shirts of the Uruguay “redshirts.”

Most of The Woman in Red follows General Garibaldi’s feats and defeats as seen through Anita’s eyes. But she is a crucial part of the action. The author portrays Anita as an equal, not subservient. This is a key component of the novel.

Diana Giovinazzo

The Woman in Red is an outstanding debut novel. Giovinazzo shares in her author’s note where she has condensed the timeline in Anita’s life. The historical facts are accurate. Anyone whose interest of Garibaldi is piqued by the story will find collaboration in the historical accounts. But, this story focuses on the love between Anita and Jose.

In addition to her writing, Giovinazzo hosts the weekly podcast ‘Wine, Woman and Words’ which can be accessed by clicking here. Those of you searching for additional reading material may want to tune in. I look forward to more historical fiction from Diana Giovinazzo.

Wizard’s Daughter Book Review

Wizard’s Daughter combines magic with witches, wizards, ghosts and unearthly realms with Regency England. Catherine Coulter is a masterful writer regardless of which genre she chooses. Her tales are part romance and part adventure.

Sherbrooke Series

Even though Coulter is one of my favorite authors and the Sherbrooke Series is also much loved, Wizard’s Daughter escaped my attention when it was released over ten years ago. However, a positive side to the pandemic is discovering many books I previously missed upon publication. Wizard’s Daughter is quite the mystical escape. Perfect for a lazy afternoon.

Nicholas Vail

The young Lord Mountjoy has returned to England after learning of his father’s death. He is the oldest and inherits what is tied up through primogeniture…and nothing else. All monies were passed onto three half-brothers.

But that is not the only thing that draws him back from foreign shores. He knows it is time to find the girl who has haunted his dreams since he was a small boy. She is now a grown woman, and a ward to Ryder Sherbrooke.

Wizard’s Daughter

Found near death as a small urchin Rosalind has no memory before her rescue. Not even of her identity. Yet, as soon as she spies Nicholas across the room at a ball she knows he is the one for her.

Their whirlwind romance takes on an unearthly mystery. Clues to the hidden secret swirling around Nicholas and Rosalind appear through coded passages in a book and strange visions to both Nicholas, Rosalind, and Richard, the oldest half-brother.

Paying a Debt

Behind the many secrets surrounding the young couple is a generational debt to be paid. Both must travel beyond the pale to rescue a young boy from an evil witch. Along the way they must navigate along a path filled with flying dragons, wizards and mythical beasts.

The many visions delivered in England come to pass. And yet the outcome is twisted. For in the realm beyond the pale things are not as they seem.

Catherine Coulter

Ms. Coulter is a prolific writer. Earlier reviews include Paradox, The Last Second and The Devil’s Triangle. She covers many genres and each story is a treat to behold. Wizard’s Daughter is an excellent example. Coulter combines regency romance with mysticism and the end result is an entertaining tale for fans of both genres. I enjoyed both the romance of Rosalind and Nicholas along with their adventure in a mythical realm.

About A Rogue Book Review

About a Rogue by Caroline Linden is one of the most satisfying regency romances I have read in a very long time. Even though the novel is not a sweet romance, and the spice is red hot, the characters are heartwarming. The romance is real. Those who prefer chaste passages of lovemaking should skip those passages, but not the book.

All About a Rogue

The story centers on a rogue. A distant heir to the dukedom of Carlyle, Max St. James seizes his chance to turn his lifelong misfortune into fortune. A small stipend offered in exchange for cleaning up his act allows him to search for a long lost and hidden relative and to create a better future for himself.

Max is all business as he pursues his fortune through a partnership in Tate & Sons. Since the last of the Tate’s only has two daughters, Max’s offer as a business partner and as a son-in-law is accepted. Sort of.

An Exchange of Sisters

Max offers marriage to the oldest daughter. Unbeknownst to him she is already in love with the vicar. She elopes and he is presented with the younger daughter. He gambles and he wins. But not without a lot of patience and fortitude. The willingness to earn his bride’s love by waiting for a wedding night is refreshing to a reader in this modern time of instant gratification.

Bianca Tate is married to the business. She works developing glazes for the pottery. And she does not want the handsome rogue taking any part of the business away from her. Vowing to hate the scoundrel for eternity, she too acquiesces to the marriage. But, she is willing to sacrifice to keep control of the family industry.

Patience Outlasts Disdain

Both characters are quite like-able and the attraction between them is not forced. Linden’s writing flows as does the plot. The rogue is truly one of the good guys and Bianca is a strong, intelligent woman. And very forgiving.

Readers who love regency romances will fancy About a Rogue. This is the first of Caroline Linden’s books I have read. But it will not be the last. I just hope Libby has more available by Caroline Linden.

Girl Out of Water Book Review

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman is a YA (Young Adult) with some depth. Anise Sawyer is a seventeen year old surfer girl looking View of Pacific Ocean from atop a cliff.forward to a summer on the waves before starting her last year of high school. Life is good—or at least as much as it can be for a teenager with a Mom who floats in an out of life with years between visits.

But Anise arrives home after a wonder filled day of possible summer love and friendship to news that her last summer of high school will be spent in land locked Nebraska. Her Aunt Jackie-her mother’s sister- has been severely injured. Both Anise and her Dad fly out to help with the three cousins.

Coming of Age

Girl Out of Water is definitely a coming of age story. Anise changes from a carefree teenager to one with responsibilities. She must face her own disappointments while caring for her young cousins, twin boys and their sister who is embarking on the teen years herself.

But author Laura Silverman throws extra wave curls at Anise. As her young protagonist becomes more involved in her cousin’s lives, Silverman introduces a solid thread of diversity to the story. Anise meets single-armed adoptee Lincoln. And starts to lose touch with her surfer buddies back home.

Girl Out of Water Themes

There are several themes running through Girl Out of Water. First is one of non-traditional families. Anise has a mom who floats in and out of life. So, Anise hopes to find some understanding while staying at the home her mom grew up in. Her cousins, having a father who had passed away, now worry about losing their Mom. Finally, Lincoln is an adoptee who has moved many times in his young life. His roots are not tied to a geographical location.

Another theme is meeting new challenges. Surfer girl endeavors to learn skateboarding. This is a greater challenge than Anise first thought, but she wants to best Lincoln. Yet in the end Anise falls for Lincoln even though he is always eager to find new places. Her complete opposite. Of course Anise just yearns for the ocean.

Lastly, Silverman writes of introspection. Anise realizes at the end of summer that she did not keep in touch with her surfer friends back home. She becomes fearful that she may be her mother’s child after all.

Recommended Readers

While Girl Out of Water would fit the definition of a sweet romance-no sexual scenes, I still hesitate recommending for very young teens. There are scenes involving heavy drinking and allusions to drug use.

But, Silverman does a nice job of illustrating the strength of diversity. Furthermore, her message on the importance of family and not necessarily the traditional family unit is solid. These messages are a positive. So, I believe Girl Out of Water is appropriate for mid-teens and up.

However, I found a few circumstances hard to believe. As a parent, I would not readily allow a seventeen year old daughter travel by car from Nebraska to California with an eighteen year old male. Sex talk or not.

Nor did I understand the self-doubt of Anise. But perhaps it has been too many years since I was a teenager. Friends are important. But as so wonderfully illustrated by the character of Lincoln, self-worth is key.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Book Review

Kim Michele Richardson brings the proud and impoverished inhabitants of Eastern Kentucky to life in her latest work, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Even though a few liberties are taken with historical events, Richardson accurately portrays the bigotry towards the Blue people of Kentucky.

The Book Woman

Cussy Mary is the Book Woman. She has blue skin due to the genetics of methemoglobinemia. As part of the plot, her condition is discovered by researchers in Lexington and is tied to similar findings among Alaskan and American Natives. However, the reader needs to overlook the fact that the book has the scientific research done during the Great Depression. In actuality the work was not completed until the 1960s.

A nickname for Cussy Mary is Bluet. Her employer is the WPA as a Kentucky Pack Horse librarian. She faces danger in her work from both man and nature. The patrons along her route receive nourishment for their minds even as they face starvation. Cussy Mary is devoted to her work.

Racism and Poverty

Two key themes in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek are racism and poverty. The term coloreds in 1930s Kentucky lumped African-Americans and the Blues of Eastern Kentucky together. In the story. Cussy Mary and fellow book woman Queenie, who is African-American, look out for each other. Both characters manage to overcome the burden of racism. And both women also escape the abject poverty of the times.

Poverty is color blind. The fate of the Appalachian families during The Great Depression is sobering. Richardson is a master at pulling the heart strings while describing the starvation of the times. But she also has the reader cheering as her characters unite against the immoral legalities of the time.

A key outcome has the townspeople acting against injustice through the ballot box.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was released in May of 2019. Before the protests turned riots of 2020. Yet, the timeliness is incredible. I hope those that have protested lawfully read this book. Kim Michele Richardson speaks to social injustice eloquently. A cross section of society supports Cussy Mary. Furthermore, justice is meted through the ballot box. Something to keep in mind this election year.

So, I highly recommend The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. The writing is excellent. And the characters are compelling. This is a book worth reading and giving.

 

Under Currents Book Review

Under Currents by Nora Roberts is a romance with a heavy theme of surviving abuse. Both spousal abuse and parental abuse as well as bullying are covered by the author. The first quarter of the book is quite brutal. So this book will not be for everyone.

The hero of the story, Zane, and his younger sister Britt, suffer years of emotional and physical abuse and neglect from their parents. Like many children trapped in this situation, Zane counts the days until he can escape by going to college. He also records everything.

Eventually the two kids fight their way out of the abusive home and the story fast forwards until they are adults. Britt has remained in their home town and is happily married with a child of her own. Zane is returning to the small town he grew up in, hoping to bury the bad memories.

Love Under Currents

Darby sweeps into town hoping she can start life anew. She recently lost her mother, her anchor in life. The two had worked together as landscape designers, a career Darby can transplant if the right circumstances are available. She rents a lakeside cabin for a month intending to investigate for at least two weeks before moving on to the second possibility on her list.

Darby and Zane connect instantly. On the surface they have many similar interests. Underneath they have even more similarities. Because Darby is also a survivor of domestic abuse. In her case, a former husband. Both possess the ability to defend themselves and both want a relationship without violence.

Threats from the Past

Before Zane and Darby can unite for the long term, they must deal with their pasts. Both emotionally and physically. Nora Roberts throws several dangers at the young couple and they meet each head on. This gives the author a chance to show victims can survive and even thrive after overcoming an abusive relationship. Even though the plot is straightforward to the reader, the twists thrown at the protagonists are plausible. Plus, the tension puts the reader on edge.

Under Currents is well written. This is a very good book and I recommend it with a caveat. I think there are many who will have a hard time reading Under Currents. The first chapters are especially brutal in the description of the child abuse. So, I would not recommend this novel as a gift. As Roberts so deftly portrays, many families have under currents of abuse. Many remain hidden from view.

 

Review of Herb Books

Three Herb Books Reviewed

I love cooking with herbs. But I do not own a single culinary herb book. Most of my gardening books have a section on herbs or information on individual herbs. Additionally, I have four herb books mostly based on medicinal uses. They are all quite interesting to read but I have yet to fully utilize their information. I am going to talk about three of the herb books today.

Ortho’s All About Herbs

Maggie Oster is the author of Ortho’s All About Herbs. I own the 1999 edition and find it a compact reference guide. Even though it is condensed, only six pages devoted to culinary use of herbs and a similar number for medicinal use, the guide is chalk full of information. Not much white space is left on the page.

What I like best about this herb book is the table of Common Herbs and Their Uses on pages 8-11. A close second is the detailed index. Since it is a how-to book there are plenty of pages devoted to educating a novice. About half the book is devoted to individual plants. While Basil earns an entire page, most of the described herbs share space. Much like in a garden.

National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs

National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants was co-authored by Rebecca L. Johnson, Steven Foster, Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and David Kiefer, M.D. This book is impressive. Gorgeous photography and beautiful illustrations accompany eight chapters of herbal information.

Since this herb book focuses on medicinal use, the plants are grouped by which part of the body they aid. For example, Chapter Four covers herbs useful for digestive ailments. However, each herb is only covered under one section. But the authors do indicate alternative therapeutic uses.

Readers may find it interesting to discover the inclusion of plants not considered herbs. Perhaps the inclusion of edibles such as tomatoes and various berries is the reasoning behind the long title. Whether herb or non-herb, the information contained is extensive.

Medicinal Plants At Home

The third book I want to share comes to us via Spain. Marìa Trànsito Lòpez Luengo and Carlota Màñez Arisò are the co-authors of the informative herb book Medicinal Plants at Home. I like how the authors organized the book.

First, there is an overall introduction. Then, the herbs are broken into groupings for subgroups of individuals, travelers, children, the elderly, etc. There is a short section on using herbs throughout the house and then the herbs are typed by how they affect the body. The authors discuss if the herbs are used for relaxation, anti-inflammatory purposes or as an immuno-stimulant.

Each herb is discussed and photographed. The authors indicate uses and include precautions and if/when the herb is contraindicated. Further, the plant is described and natural habitat disclosed. A recipe for each is included under the remedies section.

Herb Books for the Herb Garden

I am still expanding my herb garden. Currently, my herbs have more culinary applications than medicinal. While I have added both rose hips and lavender to my bath water, I have yet to make any teas or poultices. My horehound is a wonderful ground cover but I do not know how to turn it into a cough drop.

A fourth herb book is quite different and I am still reading it. Therefore The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Healing Remedies will be reviewed at a later date.

Modern medicine has replaced herbal medicine at the household level. I truly do not personally know anyone who mixes their own concoctions. My comfort level at this point in time is quite low with respect to preparing my own medicinal therapies. But, I am interested in adding herbal teas to my repertoire.

Enjoy the slide show.

 

 

 

 

 

Long Road to Mercy Book Review

I recently read Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci. He is a veteran author known for his thrillers. The publishing date for Long Road to Mercy is 2018. But I did not buy/see it at the time. However, I enjoyed checking it out through my Libby App.

New Series, New Characters

Baldacci introduces a new series with Long Road to Mercy. The protagonist, Atlee Pine is a FBI agent based in the rural American town of Shattered Rock, Arizona. Pine is a loner in her mid-thirties with quite a back story. Her twin was kidnapped and never found at the age of six. While Long Road to Mercy begins and ends with this back story, the main plot revolves around government intrigue. The setting is split between the Grand Canyon and Washington, D.C.

Pine’s office consists of one staff member, Carol Blum. Blum is a key character in the book. Older than Agent Pine by about twenty years, Blum can recognize dedication when she sees it. She knows Pine is dedicated. So, Blum mentors FBI Agent Pine and serves as an admirable backup.

Sam Kettler is a National Service Park Ranger. He served in the Mid-east and has razor sharp skills. Kettler and Pine connect. Both are in top physical condition and both carry scars. Quite possibly the relationship will continue in future stories.

Long Road to Mercy Plot

Intrigue, espionage, and treason are at the heart of the novel. Primary action takes place deep in the Grand Canyon with Agent Pine and her assistant, Blum making a sneak trip to Washington D.C. in between. The storyline keeps the reader hooked. The protagonist digs deep to reach the bottom of the mystery.

There is a thinly veiled link to recent historical events in the United States, but the story is pure fiction. And that is a good thing. Because a similar scenario in true life would be devastating.

Novel Strengths

Baldacci has created complex and compelling characters. Both Pine and Blum are strong women and I like that. Sam Kettler is macho without the attitude. I also like that. The sequel to Long Road to Mercy is A Minute to Midnight. I have placed that novel on my To Be Read List.

Readers who enjoy action and don’t mind some violence will enjoy this novel. The main character is a strong female. David Baldacci is an expert at weaving stories of intrigue interspersed with moral conflict. I think the Atlee Pine series will develop quite a following. I know I enjoyed it.

 

 

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It Book Review

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata  is a well- researched tome. I spent about a week reading through the historical information in order to better understand the response to the Covid-19 pandemic we are currently facing.

Historical Account of Flu Through The Ages

Kolata begins with a prologue well worth reading. She follows this with an opening chapter on the Spanish Flu of 1918. The information presented is a basis for the main thread of virology research which takes place decades later and is the impetus of Kolata’s writing. This historical approach carries throughout Flu.

In order to give the reader perspective on pandemics, Kolata digs deep into history. An early (perhaps the earliest) record of epidemic exists through the writings of Thucydides from 431 B.C. in Athens, Greece. In addition to describing the illness, Thucydides comments on the reaction of the populace to the disease. The Greeks experienced medical doctors falling prey to the epidemic, people turning to religion for salvation and finally isolating themselves in their homes to avoid the illness.

This pattern repeats itself throughout the centuries. Kolata reports on the various pandemics including the Black Death and the flu of 1918. An eerily similar response occurs time and again. The population divides into two groups of thought. (Much like we are experiencing in 2020.)

Cross Species Flu

After providing an historical basis, Kolata switches to some of the unknowns of viral spread. Through the years, scientists tried to link all types of flu outbreaks to bacterium. Perhaps the presence of bacteria provided the quick spread. Others linked viruses to co-existing in animals. Pigs, ferrets and birds are just some examples.

The 1918 pandemic is often linked to swine and the author ties this strain to a chapter on the Swine Flu vaccine of 1976. Again, the comparison to the politics and scientific disagreements to current events is relevant for the reader.

Advances in Science

Much of Flu focuses on the work of scientists to determine the cause of the 1918 pandemic. I found the information interesting. But, to be honest I struggled to a certain extent with the jargon as well as the concepts presented. But biology was not my strong suit.

Kolata discusses multiple attempts to isolate the 1918 Influenza virus. As early as the 1950s, scientists attempted to retrieve the virus from frozen bodies. This effort was unsuccessful. However, the 1990s brought about additional attempts.

This portion of the text interested me the most from an economic standpoint. In the 1990s, multiple researchers again attempted to isolate the origins of the 1918 virus. Kolata relates several different approaches. One expedition took five years at a cost of half a million. It did not succeed. However, other sources had more success.

Flu was written prior to the reconstruction of the 1918 virus. Those of you interested in what has happened with this particular strain can click here for a CDC report.

Non-Fiction

Gina Kolata presents in Flu an excellent example of a well-researched non-fiction account of scientists searching to unravel the source of a pandemic.

Those of you who follow me know that I have been struggling of late to finish a variety of non-fiction books. Kolata’s book was the longest at almost 400 pages of text. Perhaps what sets Flu apart was the thorough research. Another possibility is the blend of science and history. Regardless, I read Flu in its entirety.

Although Flu was published in 2001, copies are still available to purchase. The book is also on Kindle and through the Libby app. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a science or history background. Furthermore, I think those with an interest in political science, economics, and anthropology will also find the subject matter of interest. Flu is not a quick read. The time spent is worthwhile. Someone on my Christmas list will get a copy in December of 2020.

 

Contagion Book Review

I am not sure how to characterize Contagion by Robin Cook. Certainly there is murder involved and quite a bit of mystery but it is not really a whodunit. Furthermore, there is suspense and action but Contagion is not quite a thriller either. Whatever the category, I found the novel quite entertaining. Cook achieved the pinnacle-he surprised me toward the end.

Contagion Protagonist

Dr. John Stapleton is the protagonist in Contagion. He is a New York City medical examiner and his life is devoted to his job. A private man, Stapleton begins to open up to Terese Hagen, who is on the fast track at an advertising agency. The two are drawn together as Stapleton investigates the sudden appearance of exotic viral deaths at a NYC hospital.

Stapleton is a compelling character. The reader emphasizes with the tragedy of his past. His present life is of interest as well. Few white doctors choose to live in Harlem.

Furthermore, the virulent cases are bringing Stapleton back to life. Hagen is not the only woman to stir his interest. The re-awakening to life continuing after the death of a loved one is uplifting.

Gang Interaction

A significant thread in the story revolves around Stapleton and two rival gangs in New York City. A hit is placed on the good doctor as he comes closer and closer to discovering the truth of the numerous deadly contagions. The interaction of the two gangs and how they solve their own dispute is both interesting as a social commentary as well as vital to the plot.

Cook’s exploration of racial interaction adds to the story. The complexity of personalities as well as repercussions from gang violence provide a juxtaposition to the other running themes in the plot. Inclusion of this sub-theme is pertinent and moves the story forward.

Cut-throat Competition

The storyline of Terese Hagen provides an interesting commentary on the cut-throat nature of advertising. She faces threats from within her company as well as from other organizations. The author certainly points out the conflict between genders re: promotion and advancement.

Hagen’s concern for the dangers facing Stapleton were, at times, mothering in nature. The way the two characters reluctantly opened up to each other seemed to foreshadow the future. But something lurking in the background is insidious.

Surprise Ending in Contagion

Robin Cook creates a final twist to throw the reader off kilter. The ending certainly showed just how warped people can become from life’s tragedies. However, Cook also weaves redemption into the tale.

I found Contagion interesting on many levels. The medical analyses certainly play a large part. But what made the story so fascinating and even rewarding were the actions in the many sub-plots. And of course, I always love surprises. I highly recommend Contagion to ease the stay-at-home blahs.

Hide Away Book Review

Book Cover of Hide AwayHide Away by Iris Johansen is a fast paced thriller. The author excels at hooking the reader. Hide Away is a page turner. And then before you know it you are in the middle of the next chapter. And the next. Johansen fulfills the need of an addictive reader. The stories carry from one story to the next. The biggest trial is waiting for the next publication.

Eve Duncan

Hide Away is part of the Eve Duncan series. Duncan, the protagonist, faces new challenges in this installment of her saga. She needs to hide a child from a multitude of criminals. All while coming to terms with a major twist in her personal life.

The Eve Duncan series of books are entwined. There is a bit of a blur between beginnings and endings. Hide Away is directly linked to the precursor, Shadow Play. While reading the books in order is not a requirement, it may be helpful. Fortunately, the publication date is 2016 so once you finish Hide Away you can follow up with Night and Day. I say fortunately because Johansen not only has hooks between chapters, but cliffhangers to end books.

Hide Away Plot

From the opening scene in California to the Scotland Highlands, Eve and her young rescue Cara are on the run. The bad guys are tied to cartels. But the greatest villain of all is female with marital ties to a ruthless cartel leader and blood ties to the Russian Mob. Thus the plot has suspense, deceit and a thirst for blood pitted against empathy and courage.

A major sub-plot involves Eve’s adopted daughter Jane. The author weaves heartbreak and recovery into the story line with Jane’s back story. The setting, harsh, remote and mystical also gives substance to the plot.

My suggestion for readers interested in this fast paced novel is to first read Shadow Play. Like Eve and Jane I believe you will find the ending just like a beginning and be eager to follow Hide Away with Night and Day. The Eve Duncan series is captivating and just a bit addictive. Happy Reading!

The Rise of Magicks Book Review

The third segment in the Chronicles of The One series by Nora Roberts is The Rise of Magicks. I was looking forward to reading it as I discussed in the review Of Blood and Bone because I thought more of Roberts traditional romance writing would be evident. Even though the story contained a romantic thread between two main characters, the romance is secondary to the story.

The Rise of Magicks Characters

This third story refocuses on a group approach albeit the center character remains Fallon Smith. But much like the first novel, Year One, The Rise of Magicks contains multiple characters and is sometimes a bit hard to follow the large cast. Much like the original offering, the story line in The Rise of Magicks concentrates on battles between the good and evil forces.

On top of the large number of characters from the original book and the second generation born to those individuals, additional characters are introduced in supporting roles. Keeping the story lines straight is easy if you have read all the books. Roberts also does a nice job of providing closure for the cast in Year One who were run out of New York City.

Romance

As stated above, romance develops between Fallon and Duncan. To be honest, I found the interaction to just be satisfactory. It was like an aside to the story. I am not sure the book was enriched by the interaction.

The young couple had a few ups and downs, but the emotional struggle was lacking. They seemed more like a couple of old marrieds versus two young adults falling in love for the first time.

Good Overcoming Evil

In the end, good triumphs over evil but not before loss of innocent lives. One of my favorite characters is lost in a battle. So, Roberts does tug at the heartstrings a bit.

But truth be told, I consider the middle book in the trilogy to be the best. I certainly encourage those who have begun the trilogy to finish with The Rise of Magicks. The tale is quite satisfactory. But I was not left wishing for another installment. All loose ends have been tied back together.

I was hoping for a good Nora Roberts romance. Not a book with romance on the side. Additionally, I really think the real life pandemic of Covid-19 has dampened the enjoyment of reading about fantasy pandemics. Perhaps reading The Rise of Magicks a year from now will be much more entertaining for you.