Friday, December 26, 2014

Pride of the Peacock by Victoria Holt

I read a lot of books by this author when I was in high school. When I saw they had been re-issued with a fresh look I couldn't resist reading one. This story follows the life of young Jessica Clavering. She feels somehow different from the rest of her family. When she discovers a grave in the meadow and a marker with her name, she begins to ask questions. she continues to watch the goings- on at Oakland Hall across the creek up the hill from where she lives at the Dower House. Although the answers she seeks are not immediately forthcoming, everything is eventually revealed. After developing a relationship with the old owner of Oakland Hall she is introduced to the possibility of having a new and different life. The mysteries in the story, along with a romance keep you reading to the end.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Having  seen a few episodes of the HBO show “Girls” and having become aware of Lena Dunham’s rise in popular culture, I thought I’d check out her latest literary effort. I turned the final page very entertained. If you like analyzing other people’s problems, and hearing too much information on their various body parts and dating habits, you may be very entertained as well. Dunham pulls no punches in describing her  past and how it brought her to the positions she holds today in both Hollywood and in her personal life.  You’ll laugh and cringe as she takes you along on this journey.
I found the book an easy read, and one that keeps you turning the pages. I especially  enjoyed the advice she had received from her father and mother — quick lists that are very funny.  If you like “Girls” or Dunham herself, you will like this book.  Even as a guy in a girls’ world, this book held many interesting points for me; and, it left me wondering if the girls I dated so many years ago were as complex as Dunham has been in her young life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Promise Kept by Robin Hatcher

     After her marriage to an alcoholic husband ends in divorce, Allison moves to her deceased Aunt Emma's cabin in the mountains.  She is lonely and full of regrets but starts to make a new life for herself.  When she finds a wedding dress, pictures, and journals written by her aunt she uncovers many surprises of the struggles her aunt had and how they relate to her own. The life Emma lived
is woven through this book in separate chapters from Allison's. 
     I really enjoyed this Christian fiction book. Parts of the book are based on events in the author's own life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I enjoyed this sweet, sad novel.  The story moves back and forth in time before and after the world is altered by a flu pandemic.  Five characters are connected by events before the pandemic and end up crossing paths again.  Station Eleven was a 2014 National Book Award finalist.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Problems with People: Stories by David Guterson

From the author of the best-selling novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, comes this short story collection exploring the everyday lives of ordinary people.  The ten stories delve into the yearnings of human desire to connect.  Paradise tells the meeting of two individuals navigating the dating scene by  Tenant shows the alienation of a landlord's awkward encounter with his tenant.  Hush portrays the harsh reality of an old man dying of cancer and befriending a dog-walker.  Whether it is the misperception of a situation or due to one's belief, Guterson conveys a universal longing that we have to belong.  I empathize with the characters who are struggling with hardships and am reminded of what's most important in life.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

nom nom paleo by Michell Tam & Henry Fong

This book clearly explains what a paleo diet is. Being a person who is interested in health and nutrition, I wanted to learn more about what is involved in this particular way of thinking. I love the idea that the use of fresh food is stressed. This special author presents her information in a joyous way that makes you want to try her delicious methods. The evolution of her own food journey helps the reader appreciate his/her own history of eating. The pictures are gorgeous and the instructions are clear.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

This historical fiction novel begins in the battlefields of France during World War I. One woman struggles to find out who she is after waking up wounded in a hospital tent, with no memory of her former life. She believes her name is Stella Bain, and that she knows how to drive an ambulance. Her uniform indicates she is a British nurse’s aid, but her speech is that of an American. She makes her way to London at the first chance she gets, feeling the key to retrieving her past lies there.

The characters in this book are interesting, and their actions combine with the details of place and the backdrop of war to give the reader a real sense of what life was like during that time period. We follow Stella on her journey through Europe and back to America as she regains her past, but with an uncertain future. It’s an intriguing tale about memory, love, relationships, and how the devastation of war affects it all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory

Caitlin Doughty pulls back the curtain on the funeral and cremation industry in this first-person account of her apprenticeship at a crematorium.  From procedures, to politics, to religion, to the outright weird, Caitlin answers many of the “burning” questions that people have about mortal remains and their treatment.  She also makes a case for cremation and more natural forms of interment, citing embalming as environmentally toxic, overly expensive, and generally ineffective method of remains disposal.  Some gross parts and shocking truths would earn this book a “PG-13,” in the movie industry, so reader beware.  Still, a very interesting, recommended read.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Designer Cross Stitch Projects by the Editors of CrossStitcher

     Are you tired of your same old cross stitch patterns? This book contains some fresh new ideas that will help you become enthused again about your old hobby. It has lots of designs by contemporary, hot designers. The instructions tell how to make your stitchings into projects that are professional looking and can be used as accessories around your house, and as gifts. My favorites are the apple bag and the the PEACE, LOVE, & HAPPINESS pillow. I've already begun a new project! Hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

With the people watching days of the Iowa State Fair behind us, and the shopper watching days of Black Friday still a few weeks away, if you find yourself needing a glimpse of your fellow human beings, Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” is worth checking out.

Stanton took his camera to the streets of New York City, a place full of potential subjects, and snapped shots of the folks that caught his eye. The pictures that he took capture faces, clothing styles and moods of his fellow residents of NYC.

The shots are not anything technically advanced; Stanton does not use any high-tech equipment or new photography techniques—he simply stops people and takes their picture. How these people look and dress tell the story.

Some of the pictures are simply titled; while others are accompanied by short paragraphs providing some details of the people pictured and how their lives brought them to where Stanton found them and took their picture.

Many of the pictures and the stories bring a smile, or even a laugh; several are very touching as you catch a glimpse of how some people simply survive. The book is sure to keep you turning pages.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The First True Lie by Mariana Mander

This was a very interesting book.  It is the story about a young boy and his single mother who live in an apartment in Italy.  One day his mother does not awaken to help him to school.  Thinking she is just sick, the young man does his best and gets ready on his own.  When he returns home he realizes that his mother is never getting up again.  The child, not wanting to become an orphan, decides to keep it a secret and goes about living as best he can with his cat Blue.  How long can this last?  When will someone notice?  Who will help this child?  So many interesting questions brought about by this story.  I really enjoyed this book.  It is not a long novel but still makes you think.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

A kidnapping gone awry…
    Mia Dennett, young adult daughter of a well-known Chicago judge, goes missing.  But the man sent to abduct her doesn’t take her to the planned dropoff, and drives her to a remote Minnesota cabin instead.
      This story is told from the different perspectives of Mia, her abductor Colin, her mother Eve, and the detective Gabe.  Adding to the suspense, the story unfolds with events from “Before” and “After” her disappearance.  We are along on the journey with each of the characters to try to figure out what really happened.  Well-developed and intriguing, this author’s first novel is a real thriller!

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

    Maggie Murphy leaves Ireland along with her aunt, friends and family on the Titanic  She is sad to leave her sweetheart but excited though fearful of the voyage.  Her feelings and thoughts are well expressed as she boards and travels on this magnificent ship.  The sinking of the ship and loss of those traveling with her are well portrayed.  Maggie keeps a private journal during the sailing and carries a bundle of love letters from her sweetheart.  These letters were lost when the ship sunk. The stories of some of those waiting for the travelers and hearing the news of the sinking is also included. Seventy years later Maggie tells her story to her great-granddaughter, Grace, a story she refused to discuss before.  Grace is looking for a story for her journalism career-what a story this is!
     At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to read another book about the Titanic but I really enjoyed it. This book delves so well into the character's personalities, thoughts and feelings.  It travels back and forth in time.  The audiobook has good narration -we have a copy in book form also.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ape House by Sara Gruen

     I decided to read this book because it was by the same author as Water for Elephants. Although I liked the first one better, I still enjoyed  Ape House. The author is very detailed in her descriptions  of the apes and the research being done. This story does not have the same romantic feel you get from the other one, but if you love animals you will still find it very interesting.
     The story line centers around the female scientist, Isabel Duncan, and the journalist, John Thigpen. the place where the apes are being studied and cared for is bombed by activists. Isabel is severely injured, and the apes are out in the open, free, but in danger of weather conditions and evil people. Read this novel and find out what happens to the apes.

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

In this multiple plot novel, we come to realize that the different characters in each story are unknowingly connected as the book progresses.  Van Booy shifts back and forth in time and place from World War II in France to 2010 Los Angeles, telling the stories of John Bray, a wounded American soldier in World War II, intersecting with a German infantryman named "Victor Hugo" in France.  The characters also include Martin, a handyman at a retirement home, Amelia, a blind museum curator in New York City and Danny, a Hollywood Hill film director.  Through acts of compassion from strangers, an unbroken human chain is formed.  Each individual's life is connected one way or another through time.  The compelling imagery of war and separation will stay with me for a long time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather’s tales of adventure and travels, longing to have those same adventures as a child.  The older Jacob grew he begins to think the stories he once thought were true might be all tall tales.  After seeing his grandfather die, Jacob’s parents start to think he might be “going crazy”. After finding a message from his grandfather while cleaning out his house; Jacob realizes he needs to go the island that his grandfather grew up on to find out the truth.  I am excited to read the sequel to find out what happens to the Jacob and the children of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. 

The Robot Builder's Bonanza by Gordon McComb

This is the grand-daddy of all modern hobby robotics books.  Long before LEGO Mindstorms was big, the first edition of this book was guiding users on how to adapt and program their Apple II computers to run household robots.   This second edition has been extensively updated and covers both the physical hardware you need to create your own robots (wheels, servo motors, drives, etc.) and the programming to make it all happen.  Including a new section on LEGO Mindstorms and stamp-sized microcontrollers, this is the single best book for any amateur robotics hobbyist.  This would make an excellent weekend project for parents and kids.  Highly recommended.

Blessings by Anna Quindlen

Skip Cuddy, caretaker of an estate called Blessings, finds an abandoned baby in a box and decides to keep her. This is his story, and the story of the matriarch of the estate, Lydia Blessing.  This short novel is a quick read but has complex characters, nuanced relationships and tough social issues.  It is a good book for contemplation and discussion.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken

In this collection of nine short stories, McCracken delves into the themes of family, love and loss.  The stories are heart breaking with dark humor.  Hungry is set in the 1970's Des Moines where Sylvia is taking care of her granddaughter Lisa, as her son is dying in a hospital.  Sylvia is torn between wanting to be there for her son and keeping Lisa 'happy.'  In Juliet a library patron is murdered.  How does the staff react to this tragedy?  How much does one really know a person?  The title story explores the parent-child dynamics; perceptions are at stake.  These stories demonstrate how fleeing life can be.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter

This is the story of young Jade McKinley. She grew up in a Midwestern town with a loving family and close friends. After the death of her serious boyfriend she decides to go to Chicago to begin a career as a guitar player and never look back. After some time has passed she finds herself alone, pregnant, and broke. She is forced to return to her home town to get help and recover. Afraid to face her parents at first, she stops at the home of the young town mayor and longtime friend of the family, Daniel Dawson. Read and find out what happens to young Jade as she bravely faces an uncertain future. I found this book to be a relaxing summer read, good for taking a break from the busy activities of life.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

Working on a North Carolina tobacco farm in 1960, teenager Ivy Hart lives with her ailing, temperamental grandmother, mentally ill sister, and this sisters small child.  Jane Forrester, their social worker, is married to a doctor who would rather she did not work but Jane is determined to.  She becomes deeply involved with this impoverished family and her actions cause conflicts with her husband and her boss. Jane questions this states Eugenics Sterilization Program which eventually causes much drama in this story. I enjoyed this book and plan to read more books by this author!

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Have you ever wanted a do-over? So have I.
This delightful movie tells the story of Tim, a young man who discovers that the men in his family can travel through time. Not back in history, but only in their own lifetime. This affords Tim the ability to go back in time and do something over if he doesn't like the way it turned out the first time.
I found the movie very interesting, funny at times and ultimately very touching. I recommend it as one to watch if you are looking for something a little different and unique.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir by Penelope Lively

Lively states in the beginning of the book that this is not really a memoir but a reflection of life thus far.  From growing up in Cairo to escaping with her mother during WWII, Lively gives keen observations about bombed London and how the Suez crisis during her Oxford years awakens her political interest.  She reiterates the importance of books and reading alongside with history and memory.  Looking back from her eighty years, Lively isn't sentimental about old age but welcomes its sensibilities.
In the last section on 'Six Things,' Lively shares a few of her treasures with pictures.  From the duck kettle-holders from Maine to the blue lias ammonites and the leaping fish shard, we come to understand how an object intertwines with one's past and holds significant meaning.  This is an insightful book!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

    Cecilia's perfect life hits a bump when she finds a letter from her husband addressed to her to be opened in the event of his death.  So begins the interwoven stories of Cecilia, Tess, and Rachel:  three women from the same neighborhood whose lives are all afftected by an event years before.  Moriarty writes alternately about each character, and we see from the outside how another person's actions create unexpected cause-and-effect reactions.
    The characters are well-developed, and very real.  I enjoyed the story, and had a hard time putting the book down.  This was the first book I'd read by this author, and now I look forward to reading some of her previous works.

Practice to Deceive by Ann Rule

Ann Rule is well-known for her true crime writing.  This story is from Whidbey Island, off the coast in Washington state.  The day after Christmas in 2003, Russel Douglas is discovered dead of a gunshot wound to the head.  Police classify it as a homicide, and a long investigation ensues.
    A number of interesting people come into play as investigators try to figure out who killed the man and why.  Rule spends a lot of time developing the background of these people and families.  A lack of physical evidence and no clear motive, however, allow the case to drag out over the course of a decade.
    I looked forward to reading this book.  Rule is a best-selling author and I’ve always been interested in this type of a story, but was disappointed in this book.  There were many instances of redundant information.  And while the backgrounds of those involved are meant to help you understand them better, some of it seems tangential to the main story.  In the end, I wondered if the writing of this book should have waited for a clear sense of motive to be given to us from those convicted.  I will try some earlier works by this author, though.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kenobi by John Jackson Miller

In case you were wondering how Obi-Wan Kenobi spent part of his time between Star Wars episodes three and four, this is the book for you. “Kenobi”, an action-packed page-turner from John Jackson Miller, gives you several glimpses into both the mind and life of the Jedi Master as he tries to live a life of solitude while at the same time protecting the future of the nearly-devastated Jedi order. Under the alias of Ben, Kenobi has encounters with both Tusken Raiders and the local moisture farmers as he tries to go about his business on Tatooine; and if you know Star Wars history, trouble seems to follow Kenobi wherever he goes. I really enjoyed this book as it strengthened the backstory of one of the more popular Star Wars characters. It is a very fast, enjoyable read, leaving you wanting more and hoping that author has another book coming on this subject in the future. If you happen to be a Tusken Raider fan, the book also gives you glimpses into their lives and how  the Skywalker family story has touched them as well.  “From a certain point of view,” there are many things to be learned in “Kenobi”.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Curmudgeonly book store owner A.J. Fikry has had a tough year:  his beloved wife died, his prize possession was stolen, and his business is slowly failing. Then an unexpected and unwanted arrival brings light into A.J.’s bleak life.  This is a lovely little book about second chances, the power of love, and the enduring importance of books.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Daily Life in Holland in the Year 1566 by Rien Poortvliet

This one qualifies as a coffee table book because of its size. Being of Dutch Heritage and living Pella, my interest was alerted by the title. When I picked it up I was further drawn by the painted pictures and the handwritten text. I started reading page after page, and was soon hooked. I sat down with it two or three times and read it through entirely. At first I thought it was going to be a tale of the author's ancestry. There is a little of his ancestors in it, but it is primarily about what life was like back then. It was fascinating to imagine what life is like without running water or electricity. Dressing, bathing, and cleaning were much, much harder back then, which explains the fact that things were a lot dirtier and that there was a lack of hygiene. Travel and entertainment were a lot less pleasant than nowadays. The fact that a lot more people were poor and hungry was also evident. There was a long, hard winter, political unrest, and the plague to deal with as well. All in all it is amazing that some people actually survived it. This was really and enjoyable book and has cured me from nostalgically wanting to live in the past. I have decided that the modern age is not so bad after all!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Courting Greta by Ramsey Hootman

This unconventional love story stars Samuel Cooke, a cripple with crutches who is a computer genius. He leaves his successful career to teach computers at a high school. He is definitely looking for meaning in his life - but love?
He asks Greta Cassamajor , the gym teacher, out to dinner, never expecting her to say yes. So begins a year in Samuel's life that is like none other he has before, and it is a life changer to boot. The events that occur are messy and true to life. His physical and medical problems are always there to contend with. Both he and Greta have scars from there past that definitely inhibit the development of a healthy relationship. However, these things help them to keep trying as well.
This story is an interesting look at what it must be like to live daily as a handicapped person. Despite their glaring problems, this couple manages to have a positive impact on several of the students they work with every day. Yes, it was realistic and painful at times, but still managed to be uplifting.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Trying to increase her income, a formerly successful photographer, Rebecca Winter, sublets her New York City apartment and moves to the country where she hopes to revamp her career.  The cottage is a disappointment.  With the help of Jim Bates, a roofer, who is a complete opposite to her ex-husband, Rebecca seems to have found more than a friend. 
Puzzled by a series of crosses along with mementos she found when she was out walking, Rebecca took photos of them and pondered their meaning...  Who put them there?
Although the novel was enjoyable, the ending seems a bit clich├ęs.  While Quindlen delves into the parent-children relationship, gives women hope in reinventing themselves and that it is never too late for a second chance, there is also the grim reality that some are not so lucky.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids

This wonderful little book has lots of fun things to make with your children or grandchildren, or if like me, you are a child at heart. My kids used to love “making a craft”, and we did lots over the years. I saw some of the same projects we did included in this book. I remember making little paper houses, sea shell creatures, rock friends, and paper bag puppets. There were also lots of projects I’ve never done and would like to try; like duct tape accessories, felt flower barrettes, bottle piggy banks, and leaf alphabet. So chase away the winter blues with a fun craft, with the kids or just by yourself!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Compound Fractures by Stephen White

  This is the last book in a long running series featuring Boulder psychologist Alan Gregory and detective Sam Purdy. I’ve enjoyed the series not only for the stand alone story of each book, but also for the insight the author gives to the practices and ethics of psychologists (as John Grisham does for legal matters).
   “Compound Fractures” continues a storyline that began in the previous book, “Line of Fire”. That book ended with a shocking event that didn’t make sense to me. In this book, White slowly reveals details that explain the previous events, and wraps up the storyline and the series in a satisfying way.     If you enjoy John Sandford or Jonathan Kellerman, check out Stephen White!

27 by Howard Sounes

This was a fantastic book about the 27 club.  What is the 27 club?  It is the pop culture thought of being a famous rock star will ultimately bring you an untimely death at the age of 27.  This book explores the notion with actual lives of 6 different rock stars through the ages.  I found it interesting just as a book full of mini-biographies of some famous rock stars that I liked who died much too young.  I found it very informative and entertaining.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snowblind by Christopher Golden

A deadly winter storm tears apart the lives of several families in a small New England town.  Twelve years later, a new storm may prove to be even worse.  Snowblind is a good, old-fashioned ghost story, perfect for a cold and snowy winter night!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

One morning John and Marta find a young boy asleep on their porch with a note reading “Plees taik kair of Jacob.  He is good boy.  Wil be bak wen we can”.  Jacob does not talk but finds a way to communicate with John and Marta through music, art and his bond with the animals on the farm.  Not knowing when those that left him will return, they start to wonder what has happened and start looking for his family.  This a very quick and short read but a great read aloud for families to start the discussion that families can be made up for many different people and people leave lasting impressions on your life even when they leave.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

Following the transformational journey of Yohan, a prisoner in the Korean War, to a coastal town in Brazil, Yoon tells a story of survival and the resilience of the human spirit.  With the help of the UN, Yohan receives an apprenticeship from Kiyoshi, the Japanese tailor.  Although the two hardly speak, their kindness towards each other is palpable.  Despite war and devastation, we are reminded of the gentle goodness of the people that Yohan encounters when he first steps foot in a new country.  The blue umbrella Bia gives him is symbolic; it will come full circle.  This is a beautiful book!