Thursday, December 14, 2017

Haunted by James Patterson

I have never read a James Patterson book in my life. I never thought I would ever read a James Patterson book. Nothing against Mr. Patterson, but it is not a genre that is at the top of my reading list. That being said, there was something about the book description that caught my imagination when I was reading it on our library website; and, now having read the book. I feel my curiosity was rewarded.
In the case of this Patterson book, Haunted, it is the tenth book of the Michael Bennett series. Jumping into an author, and a series, might seem risky, but with Patterson it was very easy to do. He starts his book with enough review of the characters to have you feeling like you know where they came from, but at the same time it doesn't feel repetitious. You can get right into the story. With Haunted you end up in a town in Maine that is dealing with missing kids, dead bodies and the start of a drug war. That is a lot of issues, but again, it is nothing a Patterson-newbie can't handle. You are nicely lead through the story.
I liked the characters - the bad people are bad when they are supposed to be, and the good people are good enough to get the job done. Haunted comes to a pleasing conclusion, but at the same time, there is enough foreshadowing to let you know there will be a book 11 if you are interested. I doubt that I will go back and catch up with 1-9, but there is a chance I will read number 11 somewhere down the road.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir by Amy Tan

Tan’s new memoir demonstrates that strength and resilience can triumph against all odds.  Having lost both her father and older brother within 6 months of each other when Tan was fifteen, she manages to cope by dedicating and empathizing with her mother despite her mother’s constant threats of suicide.  Tan shares her family history and cultural heritage through letters, documents and photos.  It was fascinating to learn about her maternal grandmother’s life in China and Tan’s mother life in Shanghai…  There are lots of details that helped me understand how being raised by immigrant Chinese parents and having to live up to high expectations impact Tan as a writer.  I enjoyed the chapter on the nuances of language and was touched by Tan’s relationship with her mother towards the end of her life.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Perfect Cookie by America's Test Kitchen

This wonderful cookbook features recipes for everything from favorite cookie jar classics to new and unique cookies, brownies, and bars.  It includes step-by-step instructions, techniques, and beautiful photos for every recipe.  There are also some great tips that I think even an experienced baker can appreciate.  Though I don’t often buy a cookbook for my personal collection at home, this one is definitely going to be added to my wish list! 

Piecing Makeover by Patty Murphy

Quilters -- here's a book for you!  Are your star or triangle points getting cut off?  Does your block end up slightly the wrong size?  Do you have a bunch of bulk where seams meet?  Do you dread Y-seams?  This book has many great tips on basic quilting problems, from block piecing to sashing to borders.  If you have a specific skill you'd like to improve, or just want an overall refresher course, this is a great book to check out.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

During World War II a Dutch girl, Noa, is impregnated by a German soldier.  Thrown out of her home by her father she is forced to give up her baby and finds work cleaning in a rail station.  Discovering a boxcar full of Jewish babies, many of them dead, she snatches a live baby and flees into the cold, snowy night. Noa is rescued by a circus performer and eventually becomes part of a German circus as an aerialist. Though not welcomed at first by Astrid, a superb acrobat who is forced to train her, a great friendship develops between the two women. Astrid has secrets and has found refuge in the circus.  The circus travels and puts on many performances but dangers abound even as people flock to the circus for entertainment and relief from the oppression of war. The story of these two women and other characters in this book is a historical novel of sacrifice and survival, one that sticks in my memory and I enjoyed.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis

As we head into November, cold weather is upon us and the holidays are near which means eating with family. A book to consider as it certainly ties-in is The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis. In his book,Wallis looks at the Donner Party, cold weather and the eating of family members - pretty close if you ask me.
Tales of the Donner Party have filled our history. It is one of pioneers heading west, getting lost and turning to cannibalism to stay alive. With his book, Wallis looks in detail at the make-up of the party and just what went wrong that led to its disastrous end.
What I like about Wallis' book is his exploration of the personalities of the Donner Party - who got along and who didn't. He takes that a step further in looking at what roll this played in the decisions made by the group. He also explores negative outside influences and bad advice that plagues the group and eventually led to deaths of several of its members.
And of course there is the cannibalism. Wallis looks at who died and who was actually eaten. There is even a chart at the end of the story that goes family-by-family and looks at who died so that others might live. He further explores the after-effects of the party's members who were labeled as man-eaters for the rest of their lives.
Wallis' The Best Land Under Heaven may make you a bit queasy, but it is a fresh look at one of the dark chapters of our country's pioneer history.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Frog Trouble by Sandra Boynton

I checked out this book with music to listen to with my granddaughter. I was first attracted to it because I saw that the performing artists were all country singers. Among them were Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, two names I recognized. We both thoroughly enjoyed all the songs, but my favorite was Beautiful Baby because I thought it described my granddaughter to a T. The author, Sandra Boynton, wrote the lyrics, and she, with the help of Michael Ford wrote the music. The songs were then recorded in Nashville with the renowned artists. The book was delightful too, with illustrations in the front with the musical melodies printed out for you, and pictures and blurbs of each musical artist in the back. Loved it! 

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Elements: A Visual Guide of Every Known Atom in the Universe

Good books don’t just have to be novels.  Sometimes a book is excellent for the information it contains, and  how that information is presented.  Sometimes a book is excellent just because it is interesting to look at.  The Elements is such a book.  It presents a photographic journey through the entire Periodic table, starting with Hydrogen, and working up through element 118, ununoctium, which at the time of writing had not yet been synthesized (it is now formally named Oganesson).  Each page has a large photograph of the raw state of the element, followed by pictures and information about the various uses of the element in everyday life.  In the margin is more technical data and graphs which represent things such as the crystal structure of the element.  I have to confess that I wish someone had presented the periodic table to me this way in high school chemistry class.  It would have been decidedly more memorable.  I encourage everyone, students of science or not, to take a look.  It’s like a National Geographic magazine for the elements.  Verdict:  Wow! 

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Fans of historical fiction -- here's a book for you!  Ken Follett's 3rd installment in the "Pillars of the Earth" series takes place in the years 1550 - 1610, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  Religious intolerance reigns throughout Europe, and the various royal families and their courts have endless plots against one another.

The book follows the descendants of the original Kingsbridge families (from "Pillars"), and Follett inserts them into key moments from the period.  We encounter the tensions between the followers of Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, witness royal assassination attempts, the smuggling of Catholic priests into England, the smuggling of French language Bibles into France from Switzerland, sea battles, and a bit of the Spanish Inquisition. 

What a turbulent time in history!  It really comes down to those who advocate religious tolerance against those who would impose a state religion upon their citizens, and Follett portrays it all in a compelling, readable book.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

200 Best Panini Recipes

I just picked up this book and thought, "Hey, I have a little panini appliance!
So I began browsing and wow, what a lot of recipes you can make if you have the time and the imagination. You can make breakfast... I saw a wonderful French Toast Panini. There are sections on beef, pork, chicken, and seafood, not to mention Vegetarian Paninis. There are also Leftovers Paninis and Paninis for Kids. Don't forget dessert! Yep, there are those too. Time to try it!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Just to clear it up before you even ask the question—yes, it’s that Tom Hanks.  He’s decided to try his hand at writing short stories and this book is his first collection of those.  All of the short stories are independent works but tied together by the fact that they all, in some manner, feature a typewriter or typewriting as a plot point.  Released to rave critical reviews, this book is a new step into fiction writing for a person who could be considered the “everyman” actor of our time.   It’s a short story collection and, since the stories are short, what have you got to lose?   Definitely worth a look, especially if you are a fan of Tom Hanks.  If it’s anything like his acting, his voice will come through loud and clear, no matter the scenario.  Verdict: It’s worth a shot.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dodge City by Tom Clavin

Tom Clavin's Dodge City fills in many-a-gap in the transient lifestyles of Wyatt Earp, the Earp family, and Bat Masterson. If there is any one thing you pick up from reading this book is that nobody stayed in one spot for very long in these families; and, that seemed to be a trend for people in the American West of the 1870s and 1880s.
Clavin does due diligence in keeping tabs on all branches of the Earp family tree. He does a nice job of highlighting their stay in Pella and relating some anecdotes that I wasn't that familiar with concerning the Earps and their marriage to Pella-area girls - very interesting.
You will also find Wyatt Earp's personal life a bit challenging too - was he married, wasn't he, and to whom, when? Not a part of the Earp history many know about. Clavin is also very fair with Earp, making a point that he was not the blood-thirsty killer that many seem to see him as.
Masterson is even more of a character than Earp. Both feared and respected, he held as many jobs in as many locations as Earp, but he would eventually get out of The West and spend time in the newspaper business in New York City.
Clavin does an excellent job in covering these men, there relationship with each other, and with many of the "characters" of Dodge City and the western United States.  Dodge City is not just about the town itself, it covers a lot of ground with the people who passed through there as well.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

From Cradle to Stage by Virginia Hanlon Grohl

Mom of rock star Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters frontman and Nirvana drummer) meets with other rock moms to hear childhood stories of their future music stars.  We learn how they were drawn into musical careers, and what paths-including obstacles-they took as they achieved things they never expected.  If there is a creative child in your life, whether musically talented or something else, familiar scenes and challenges can be found in these stories.  Parent perspective makes this an interesting read!


The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Many of us have dogs and cats as family members, but for Bailey, she had a woodland snail as a comforting companion while struggling through an unknown illness.  Bailey chronicles her observations of this often-overlooked small animal given to her by a friend.  She checked out literature to learn more about snails and became attached to it.  Her connection with this tiny being made her feel less alone despite her isolation.  The snail completed a life cycle while being kept in the terrarium by her night stand!  Animal and nature lovers will enjoy Bailey's story.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Our Iowa Magazine

Live in Iowa or enjoy reading about it?  This magazine celebrates Iowa with beautiful pictures, enjoyable articles, tasty recipes, contests and so much more! In every issue certain features are included which cover interesting topics. Some examples are: "What I Miss Most About Iowa," "From the Eyes of Little Iowans," and "Iowa Rewind." I especially enjoy articles of an "Amish Diary" or "The Prettiest Farm in Iowa." There is a lot of variety to pick from included in this magazine or to read from cover to cover!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

For a raw, unfiltered, emotional look at a side of World War II not many are familiar with, try Svetlana Alexievich's "The Unwomanly Face of War".
A winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Alexievich's book looks at the military careers of Soviet women during the war. "Career" may not quite be the proper term, as these women went to war and saw some of the bloodiest, most cruel action any soldier in any nation saw during the Second World War. Many left home at the age of 15 and 16 to do their part against the Nazi invasion of their country.
These women saw action on the front line as nurses, infantry, snipers and pilots, right along side the men. Many found themselves braving the front lines, dragging or carrying wounded soldiers back to the aid stations.
"The Unwomanly Face of War" compiles the first-person narratives of these women, showing the dangers they faced, the emotions they struggled through, and the bravery that saw them through to the end of the war.
For many, the war's end was just as cruel, as they were shunned by their government and ridiculed by their neighbors and townspeople for their actions. Their gallant hours and deeds fell on deaf ears until their encounter with Alexievich and they were able to share their pain and memories.
"The Unwomanly Face of War" is very much in your face and graphic, and a very important look at an area of history that has been far understudied.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

HANDPICKED by Ingrid Carozzi

I love flowers. Unfortunately, I always have a difficult time making flower arrangements. I think my garden provides a good variety and has plenty to pick from (although there is always room for more!) to make some nice arrangements. I wish I could just cut them and stick them in a vase and they would look gorgeous, however they seem to look less than beautiful if you don't put some effort into it. So I really enjoyed looking at this book. The author lists her favorite varieties to use when making arrangements. She also gives instruction on how to use green foliage in your work, suggestions for what king of containers to use, and guidelines for small, medium, and large creations. She uses a lot of beautiful blooms that coincide with the season, so you can make an arrangement with spring, summer, mid-summer, fall and winter flowers. Soooo lovely! I guess I will try again and see what kind of flower arrangement I can come up with.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Based on true events, "Before We Were Yours" tells one family's story involving the Tennessee Children's Home Society and its infamous director, Georgia Tann.  While Tann can be credited with popularizing the idea of adoption, she also ran a network that stole poor children from their families and sold them to wealthy families who wanted a child.

1939: Rill Foss, 12, is the oldest of 5 siblings.  When their mother & father rush to the hospital one night, leaving Rill in charge, strangers show up and take the children to an orphanage.  Conditions are miserable, but Rill is sure that their parents will come back soon to claim them.

Present Day: Avery Stafford was born into a life of status and privilege.  A chance encounter at a nursing home leaves her with questions about her grandmother that she is determined to answer.

Alternating chapters chronicle Rill's and Avery's stories in this very well written book. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Travel Book by Lonely Planet

The Travel Book is a beautiful, high quality journey through every country in the world.  Photographed in an awe-inspiring National Geographic style and featuring write-ups, and data of each country by the superb folks at Lonely Planet travel guides, this book is more than just a simple atlas and more than just a simple photography book.  It’s an excellent read for any armchair traveler, with one exception: it might not fit in your armchair. This book is enormous, clocking in at 11x14 inches and about 10 pounds, which makes it better suited for a dining room table than a La-Z-Boy.  But it is also a worthwhile adventure for anyone who’s ever wanted to get a sense of the richness and diversity of all of the countries of Earth. Definitely recommended.

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

"Class Mom" by Laurie Gelman is a romp through kindergarten from the viewpoint of a class mom; you know, the person that is designated to round up volunteers for treats and events throughout the school year. Gelman approached her subject with vigor, humor and plenty of snark.
She embraces her story speaking from experience, having been an actual class mom herself. Gelman served as a class mom and was even fired from that role. She takes that experience and it applies it to her main character Jen Dixon.
Jen's emails to parents are loaded with sarcasm and the aforementioned snark, and at times are either found hilarious, or offensive, depending on the parents they are sent to. The story, however, does not stay in the world of email alone. "Class Mom" looks at the relationships of parenting - family, friends and getting along with new people. Some of these new people have a few issues of their own that are revealed as the book plays out. At times there is even a little bit of a mystery to be solved.
"Class Mom" takes place during the course of one school year, and it keeps you involved throughout as you go from class event to class event. Sometimes saucy and even a little suggestive, the story is filled with humor and keeps you turning pages to see who you can learn more about next. My wife and I both thoroughly enjoyed it. A great read with school starting up in the next few days.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Always by Sarah Jio

As Kailey Crane leaves a restaurant with her fiancĂ©, she comes face to face with a homeless man whom she recognizes as her former love, Cade.  What has happened to him and why did he disappear from her life so many years ago? Kailey needs answers and sets out to find this man though aware how her search and concern could jeopardize her relationship with her fiancĂ©, Ryan. How did a successful millionaire now live on the streets?  Helping Cade get the care he needs and spending time with him reignites old feelings but she feels love for Ryan too. A love story with some mystery also delves into issues with the homeless and social justice.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

"You Say Tomato" by Joanne Weir

Are your tomatoes starting to ripen rapidly in your garden?  Mine are, and I've found a book full of ideas to deal with all of them.

"You Say Tomato" has information on the basics of peeling, freezing, drying, and canning tomatoes, as well as lots of great looking recipes for sauces, soups, salads, entrees, spreads -- even some desserts and drinks!  I'm excited to get into the kitchen and cook up some tasty tomato dishes!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

On Second Thought by Kristin Higgins

And to think I picked this one because of the lovely purple tulips on the cover! It's really the story of two half-sisters who are both facing a difficult time in their lives. One, having been married only four months, loses her husband to a bizarre accident. She experiences real grief that you can truly empathize with. While the other sister doesn't experience death, she does lose her relationship with a long-time boyfriend. Her grief is just as real, and Higgins does a good job of drawing parallels between the two. Also included are hilarity, family issues, and romance, making it a well-rounded interesting tale.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Told by her parents that she was "left by fairies," Vivian spends her days walking the streets of Dublin, Ireland in search of the portal that she will fit in.  Her eccentric ways will not conform to everyday norms; she spells trouble for social workers.  A lover of words, maps, and history, Vivian functions every day on her own terms, keeping a fish for company and advertising for a friend who in her mind must be named Penelope.  Her only sister avoids her and tells her to shower more often. With good intentions, Vivian prepares an elaborate dinner and invites her family over.  What follows is a series of laugh aloud mishaps.  Eggshells is a dark comedy of mental illness that keeps me reading and hoping for a breakthrough for the protagonist.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

"Meddling Kids" by Edgar Cantero pays homage to those meddling kids that we are all familiar with, but the homage is thin indeed. Rather than Mystery Inc., this tale follows the mystery-solving adventures of Andrea, Kerri, Nate, Peter and Tim the dog,  members of the Blyton Summer Detectives Club (BSDC). Having grown up and left the club, the members (those still alive) reunite to solve a mystery that has been haunting them for 13 years.
There are nods to the Mystery Machine gang, as the story contains a Zoinx River, and references to splitting up to find clues; but there "Meddling Kids" takes its own, more harsh direction. There are bar fights, gore and F-bombs galore as the BSDC works to solve a mystery dealing with the raising of the dead, sorcery, slimy serpent monsters and creation myths.
The book doesn't claim to be Scooby-Doo, and it's definitely not. It is, however, an awesome read with plenty of twists, turns and questions to be answered. It comes to an end that not only may solve a mystery, but it also may lead to the end of the world.
A reminder, this is R-rated. I would say that "Meddling Kids" is not for the young crowd or those with a low tolerance for profanity. It is found in adult novels, but serves as a good mystery read too. I really enjoyed it.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

In a departure from his humorous Chet and Bernie detective series, Spencer Quinn introduces a new heroine.  LeAnn Hogan is a mentally and psychologically wounded veteran just home from Afghanistan. Despite her injuries, she is determined to find the missing daughter of her hospital roommate.  Although she is prickly and unpredictable, she is a character I won’t soon forget. Recommended!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Portraits of Courage by George W. Bush

  I am amazed that a former president has taken up painting as a past-time. I so enjoyed looking at his work and admiring his skill. The forwards and introduction are great explanations for his new endeavor and what drives him.
  So he began this project because people that have been in the service mean a great deal to him. This work concentrates on those individuals who served in Iraq and Afghanistan post 9/11. By painting and writing a short history of each individual you soon begin to see how so many of these men and women really love our country. It is inspiring to read so many accounts of people struggling with injuries and going on to make and reach new goals in their lives. You can see the actual paintings at the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas.
  I think his new work is an effective way to help the rest of us in this country to understand and support our veterans. As George Bush himself says, "America can never fully repay our veterans, but we must try."

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Still Life by Louise Penny

     This book came from our mystery section. It is the first book starring Inspector Armand Gamache. The story takes place on Canada, in the little village of Three Pines, where most of the residents have dabbled in some sort of artistic endeavor. A few of them have even become quite successful.
     It all begins with the death of Jane Neal, a wonderful, loved member of the community. She is found in the woods killed by an arrow, making it a suspicious death. Inspector Gamache and his team are sent in to investigate. Who would want to hurt kind Jane Neal? Did it have something to do with the unveiling of her painting "Fair Day"? Why did Jane never let anyone past her kitchen? Surely this was an accident caused by one of the seasonal hunters in the area.
     Throughout the reading you get to know the characters, their backgrounds and personalities. Inspector Gamache  respects the people he investigates and works with. he is tough and intuitive. He solves the case. I am intrigued by him and am ready to read more stories with Inspector Gamache on the job.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

This story centers around the Akah people, a Chinese ethnic minority who live in the Yunnan mountains, and whose lives revolve around traditions and tea.  Li-yan has a child out of wedlock, and rather than follow Akha custom and kill her baby, she abandons her in the nearest village.

The baby is adopted by an American couple and grows up with a privileged life in California.  Li-yan leaves her village and becomes one of the few formally educated Akha women.  The market for tea explodes, and tea connoisseurs and speculators arrive in the Yunnan mountains, eager to find sources of the coveted product.

In California, Haley wonders about her birth mother, while Li-yan never stops thinking about the daughter she gave away.  With both of them involved in the world of tea, is there a chance they might meet?

See has written another good book that showcases a little known culture, educates about tea, and celebrates the bonds of all kinds of families.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain

History books have a funny way of hitting the highlights of a particular time period and leaving out the small stuff that doesn’t quite fit with the narrative.  Turns out this small stuff is not only hysterical, but can also play a larger role in the fate of countries, and of the world, than we realize. When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain is a collection of short historical narratives (not all dealing with dictators) that take a look at some of the lesser-known but very interesting and funny stories that are a part of history. There’s the time Agatha Christie went missing.  The man who single-handedly continued to fight World War II, 29 years after it ended.  The cook aboard the Titanic who pickled himself in whiskey and survived.  And the titular story of how a quack doctor created an addict of a dictator and possibly, inadvertently, helped to turn the tide of a war.  Highly recommended.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Some Writer! : The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet

Ever wonder about the author who wrote the beloved children books Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan, besides the prerequisite reading of The Elements of Style for freshman composition?  Caldecott award winner Melissa Sweet chronicles the life of E.B. White along with anecdotes, photos and stunning mixed-media illustrations.  The book is filled with beautiful watercolor and collage.  I especially appreciated the original manuscript of Charlotte's Web with White's editing.  The following poem White wrote for Katharine before he proposed to her reminds me of Charlotte. Children and adults alike will delight in this wonderful biography!  

Natural History

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of his devising:
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
He builds a ladder to the place
From which he started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.

Courage to Soar by Simone Biles

I've always enjoyed watching gymnastics and have been amazed at the abilities of these athletes.
Simone Biles talent was discovered on a daycare field trip to Bannon Gymnastix in Texas. She was 6 years old and living with her grandparents who had adopted her.  This was the start of her huge success as a gymnast and Olympic gold medalist, the most decorated American female gymnast. Her story is told in this book of her childhood with entertaining stories and rise to fame but also the disappointments and challenges she faced.  Her enjoyable personality is evident but also the strong discipline she needed to achieve dreams and have fun along the way.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

I am not a frequent reader of fiction, and when I do read read it, it usually leans toward science fiction or westerns. Still, there was something that struck me about the premise of The Writing Class by Jincy Willett. My curiosity was rewarded with a very enjoyable book.
The book concerns an adult creative writing class, the teacher, its students and how one of them turns to murdering other class members. What caught my imagination was that the story is told through the teacher's viewpoint, and her descriptions of her students was very humorous. As a teacher of college/adult students for many years now I recognized many of the student-types that Willett brought to life for her story. I think that is what initially caught my attention.
What kept me involved was the flow of the story, and how suspense was built to the closing pages and the unmasking of the unhinged member of the class. Not to give any spoilers, but the culprit is apprehended. Also, Willett does a good job in building her main character, instructor Amy Gallup, and the somewhat flaky members of her writing class.
The Writing Class  is a solid compilation of unique characters and a bit of mystery, and I found it a fun and enthusiastic read.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bottomland by Michelle Hoover

At first, when beginning this book, I thought it to be rather depressing. But I pressed on as it is the "All Iowa Reads" selection for this year. As you get deeper into the story, you become more engrossed in the lives of this family.
Beginning with the disappearance of the two youngest girls, you realize this is a family that experiences it's share of hardships. Two individuals from Germany begin a new life in America, joining their lives to start a new life and raise a family. Taking place after WWI, this family of German descent is treated with suspicion by their neighbors and the local townspeople. You experience the story of the two lost girls from five different viewpoints; the oldest sister, the father, the brother who came back from the Great War, the older lost sister, and the youngest lost sister. I especially found the part about the factory, and the difficulties of working there, in Chicago intriguing. It is very interesting how the family moves forward and form varying degrees of closeness to each other because of the different tragedies they have endured. I thought it was totally unfair that the youngest sister was thought to be dead when at least two members of the family knew she was alive. This would be a great book for a discussion group.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag

If spring and its warm weather got here too early for you, you might want to read a classic - O.E. Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth. For me, Rolvaag is a master at describing the untouched American prairie, including its extreme isolation and harsh climate, especially winter, prior to its settlement. With Giants, you get plenty of blizzards, and plenty of loneliness as you read about Norwegian settlers in the Dakota Territory of the 1870s.
Giants follows the family of Per Hansa and his wife Beret, along with three other Norwegian families as they break ground in a new land. Rolvaag takes you on their journey as they find their land, turn over the sod and set up their homes; doing what was needed to survive their first winter in the Dakotas.
The settlers' story continues on onto the 1880s as Native Americans, locusts, drought, storms, blizzards, isolation, mental illness and faith all present challenges to the small community as it grows.
If you ever wondered about the hardships faced by those who settled the Midwest, Rolvaag does a masterful job of painting the picture. Both the defeats and the successes are covered as these families make their way in unchartered territory. Published in 1927, Giants in the Earth is not very far removed from the time in our history that it covers. Rolvaag himself emigrated to South Dakota in 1896.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue

This story is about a single woman and her daughter. The mom is a successful radio host who had issues with her own parents when she was growing up. He daughter (who she wanted to accept just as she was) was shy, fearful, and stuttered as a child. Quite the opposite of her fiery parent. So the mom does all she can to help. Therapy does help with the stuttering. But the horses are what become the driving force in the life of Nicola.
     After one particularly embarrassing day at school, Nic goes out on her horse, Tru. She was told to stay on the grounds, but a rebellious streak takes hold, and she flies into the woods attempting to jump a tree that had fallen over the path. She falls, and ends up with a head injury that leaves her in a coma for four hours. This is when everything changes. Nic loses her fear. She begins doing things that are totally out of character for her. She gets in to some trouble at school and with her parents. But not in the way you might think.... Her sympathy for the meek, and her anger towards bullies takes on a strong amount of action on her part - with her horses and her peers. A great read!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Boy On The Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Leon Leyson or Leib Lejzon, as he was know growing up, was one of the youngest survivors on Oskar Schindler’s List.  The memoir tells of his childhood growing up in a rural area and then moving to Krakow after is father was able to save enough money.  Little did he know what this move would save his life. 
All schools were given a copy to show students and as a freshman, I didn’t fully understand significance that Oskar Schindler had on the survival of so many Jews.  He traded goods and services on the black market to keep his employees alive. 
Like so many World War II books the subject matter is hard to read and I did find myself having to put it down, walk away and do something else before being able to come back and finish the book.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Drones for Dummies by Mark LaFay

Drones for Dummies is an introductory primer to the world of hobby dronemanship (yes, I made up that word). It reviews construction and inspection of drones, safe flying, and current laws and regulations.  As with most For Dummies books, it also provides helpful “Dos” and Don’ts” in each chapter.  Unmanned aircraft systems (drones) are now so readily available to the public that they can be purchased at Wal-Mart (check near the digital cameras).  These devices are poised to change the way that we interact with our environment, from aerial photography to deliveries-on-demand. If you’re looking for a new hobby, drones are a fun and exciting option.  While certainly not the only book available on the topic, Drones for Dummies will give you a chance to see if this is something you might be interested in pursuing more in-depth.  Recommended as an introduction to the subject.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Chance Developments by Alexander McCall Smith

From the author of the popular No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series comes this enjoyable collection of short stories.  Based on vintage photos of unknown subjects while he was working on a photography book, McCall Smith imagines the lives of the people in the black and white photos have had and creates five distinct love stories celebrating love, friendship and the human spirits and how chance encounters can change one's course of life.  I was touched by He Wanted to Believe in Tenderness where David, a World War II veteran didn't get hardened by injustice, but remains devoted to his first love.  I also enjoyed Angel in Italy and Dear Ventriloquist.
It is a good read!

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine Watkins is a witty, feisty, elderly PI who specializes in reuniting families. She and her husband/partner trek off to Yellowstone to investigate a decades-old disappearance.  Although not always believable, I enjoyed the story and loved the characters.  I hope to read more of Celine’s adventures.  

Monday, April 3, 2017

Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

An interesting true story of a Japanese-American family during World War II is extensively researched. All the children of the Fukuhara family were born in the United States but returned to Hiroshima, Japan with their mother after their father's death. Harry Fukuhara and his sister, Mary returned to the northwest U.S. in the late 1930s.  They were sent to internment camps after the Pearl Harbor attack and endured rough conditions.  Seeking a way out Harry enlisted in the U.S. army and became a bilingual interpreter.  Facing the Japanese enemy in several Pacific islands and interrogating captured Japanese soldiers he also was in danger and mistrusted by American soldiers because he was Japanese. Harry's family was enduring tough conditions in Japan and his brothers had to serve in the Japanese army. When the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima members of Harry's family were injured.  After the Japanese surrendered Harry finds his family in Hiroshima and witnesses the devastation in this city.  This book shows the suffering and sacrifices of this family and is an excellent historical read.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Patriots by Sana Krasikov

If you're a fan of historical fiction, I recommend this book!  A multi-generational story set in the US and Russia, the story spans from the 1930s to 2008.  In the 30s, Florence Fein leaves Brooklyn to travel to Russia for what she hopes is both a job and love.  She end up with both, but not as expected.

In 2008, Florence's son, Julian, is traveling to Russia for his job in the oil business.  He's trying to convince his Moscow-based son, Lenny, to return to the US.  He's also trying to negotiate terms of an oil deal, as well as get copies of his parent's KGB files, recently released by the government. 

This story is skillfully written, filled with details about life in Russia.  It's about family, friendship, fear, and the lengths parents will go for their children.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Baby Doll by Hollie Overton

This book was about twins. One twin was abducted in high school. The story begins when the victim escapes her captor. The dynamics of the story are all about the and relationships of those who are close to the victim. The story line delves into the lives of her sister, her former boyfriend (who is now with her twin sister), her daughter (born in captivity) and her mother. So now we are caught up in what happens immediately following her escape. This story was a bit dark for my tastes, but I did want to find out how things resolved, so I finished it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Set at the end of the Vietnam war, The Sympathizer is told from the point of view of a communist spy placed in the South Vietnamese military.  After the war, he immigrates to the US and continues his double life.  This is a book about duplicity—most obviously, that of the main character, who lies to everyone, but it is also about the duplicity of governments and the dishonesty between friends.  It is a challenging and sometimes disturbing book.  The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as a number of other awards. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Rusted Sun by Michael Zimmer

New to our western section is Michael Zimmer's The Rusted Sun. The book takes on the subject of range wars in the American West, particular with this book, New Mexico. With Zimmer, however, it isn't just a tale of ranchers shooting ranchers over a piece or two of ground. The Rusted Sun deals with many interwoven tales, all headed toward a common conclusion.
Zimmer is excellent at working through the mechanizations of many themes, and then getting them to meet before you turn the final page. He doesn't write to deceive his audience, but at the same time, he keeps secrets under wraps until the end. There are plenty of clues along the way that have you guessing one way or another how the story might end; however, it isn't until the final pages that you have the picture painted, and with Zimmer, I have yet to be unhappy with his conclusions.
I also enjoy how Zimmer develops characters. With The Rusted Sun, he creates a "bad guy" so distasteful, you want to read ahead to make sure that he gets shot before the story ends. I'd say that's pretty good when you are wanting to off the baddy as much as the lead character does.
The Rusted Sun is a page-turner and zips along at an action-filled pace. Set aside a good amount of time to read it because you will want to keep going to the end.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

In a split second, an auto accident changes Jenna Gray's life forever.  She keeps replaying the incident over and over in her head, and decides that the only way to heal is to leave the city behind and take refuge on the coast of Wales.  Meanwhile, a pair of police investigators are chasing down leads.

Just when it appears that things might be changing for the better, the past catches up with Jenna, with dire consequences.

This book had a twist that I absolutely did not see coming!  I always appreciate a book that pulls that off.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Journey That Saved Curious George by Louise Borden

     It was so interesting to read about the history of H.A. and Margret Rey. I was surprised that their name change occurred while they were living in Brazil and not due to the fact that they were of Jewish origin in a developing Nazi regime. Then later they decide to go to Europe for a honeymoon trip and end up living in Paris.
     The part of their story that was most fascinating to me was the part where you begin to worry about the encroaching army. To leave your home because you fear for your life (an activity unknown to most modern-day Americans, like me) takes courage. What a harrowing experience!
     At one point, before they leave Paris on bikes, Hans was working hard on his projects, because "in wartime, children needed good books and songs more than ever". I feel Hans and Margret really did work hard to create, for children, fun and playful stories. They managed to experience a lot of wonderful times, interrupted on occasion by men's horrific wars, and still ended up giving to the world on of our most loved book characters; Curious George.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

One world-famous author.  A team of archeologists and explorers.  The impenetrable Honduran jungle.  Combine those with modern LIDAR technology, which allows explorers to see minute surface terrain changes, even through dense undergrowth. This is the recipe for a real-life Indiana Jones story; archeologists in search of a legendary city of treasure buried deep within the Honduran jungle.  The natives of the area supposedly used it as a last point of refuge against Spanish invaders, but warned that anyone who looked upon the city would die.  LIDAR showed that the city might be real, but the only way to know for sure was for Preston and company to venture deep into a deadly, uncharted rainforest.  Did they find the immense wealth that was spoken of in the legend?  Or did they instead find the death that was whispered about? Sometimes, a curse can be more than just  a mere saying...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Shelby and Helene are high school best friends, ready to go to college and seem to have a bright future until one wintry evening when they skid off the road in their car.  Helene remains in a coma and Shelby eventually recovers but carries emotional scars and survivor guilt that spiral out of control.  Forget about college, living day to day becomes a challenge, not only for Shelby but her family as well.  The first third of the book is really dark where Hoffman explores abuse in psychiatric wards, self-mutilation and alienation, but Hoffman's magic touch is at work.  This is an engaging read about friendship, guardian angels, the displaced, and how one sometimes falls into a bottomless pit in order to resurface.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

Annie Rush's life is suddenly shattered in an accident leaving her in a coma due to a brain injury.  When she awakens and slowly regains her memory and strength she has a lot of tough decisions to make.  She is now living in Vermont with her caring family who run a maple tree farm, in a town full of good and bad memories. She reconnects with her first love, Fletcher, and remembers the truth of what occurred with her marriage just before the accident.  This book goes back and forth in time telling the past and present. Interesting details of Annie's love of cooking and the family's production of maple syrup are included.  The story of the history of Annie and Fletcher and what happens in both their lives is full of sadness, but also joy and second chances.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Another inside look at her life experiences, Carrie Fisher's The Princess Diarist is as sad as it is funny when you look at it in the context of her passing soon after its release. The book is a fitting tribute to her part of the Star Wars saga, its origins and its continued growth for new generations of fans.
Fisher writes in a fast-paced, tip-of-the-tongue style that allows for quick reading. The book covers here auditions for the role of Princess Leia as well as her subsequent affair with co-star Harrison Ford and other happenings from the Star Wars studios. For long-time fans of the movies there is some new ground covered here.
Fisher also relates how her life has been shaped by being Princess Leia, and how she had come to both enjoy and embrace the role. There are some interesting accounts of meeting with fans and signing autographs at conventions.
The mid-section of the book contains actual passages from the diaries she kept while acting in Star Wars, adding a glimpse at the 20-year-old Fisher as she dealt with all of the emotions of that time.
Fisher's light, conversational writing style makes this book a quick, but very enjoyable read. It can easily be tackled in an afternoon or evening.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

Thomas Huston is a well-liked college professor, and recently published a bestselling book.  Then, his wife Claire and their 3 children are found murdered in their home, and Thomas is nowhere to be found.  Ryan DeMarco is assigned to the case.  He knows Thomas, considers him a friend, and is determined to locate Thomas and find some answers.  He find out that the novel Huston was currently researching/writing involved a woman named Annabel, so Ryan sets out to find her, hoping she can lead him to Thomas.
Alternating between Ryan's and Thomas' point of view, the facts come to light.  This is a smartly written thriller, and if you're a literary geek, it contains references to Poe and Nabokov that you'll appreciate.  If not, it's still a page turner!

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco

     Patricia Polacco is a well-known children's author. I am often very moved after reading one of her stories. This story was no exception. Because I have a consistent interest in art, I particularly wanted to read this one.
     As it turns out, it is a sort of biography of the author. She tells about a period in her life when her family was back in California. She was back in school. She had improved in her ability to read, but did not test well. With the help of two amazing teachers (and one nasty, mean teacher), she was able to overcome her shortcomings and develop her love for drawing and painting. In fact, at the Spring Art Show where her painting of Mr. Donavan's father was displayed, she realized it was the "defining moment" in her young life. Now, her talent is unmistakable.
     This story really made me want to be one the encouragers of the world. It is a good thing when you can come away from a story and feel enlightened.