Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Everyone has deep, dark fears.  Some we probably all have in common (spiders, public speaking, clowns), but others remain unspoken -- either because we are embarrassed or unable to put into words that which frightens us.  The author and illustrator Fran Krause asked people to share their fears with him.  The resulting book The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection is a graphic novel where 97 fears are illustrated and explained.  Somehow, in comic form, they don't seem so scary (to me at least!).

Most of the fears are illustrated on a single page in a 4 panel format.  While the title of the book and the scary claw give you the feeling that the fears included will be of the horrific or supernatural variety, that isn't the case.  Take, for instance, fear #20 which is that you will throw away something you later need. Or fear #72, that you'll die before the really great inventions arrive.  My personal favorite was fear #54, that you'll be buried looking like you're "going to a job interview" instead of being comfy for all eternity in a t-shirt and sweatpants.

While I couldn't identify with most of the "fears" in the book, it was interesting to see what strange ideas lodge themselves in the brains of others!  I can honestly say I've never worried about my knees bending backward (#71) or that my "muscle will roll up like a window shade" (#27) if I cut myself shaving my legs.  Maybe your own irrational fears won't seem so silly when you see what scares everyone else.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Creeps from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The outbreak of World War II has had a devastating effect on the English village of Chilbury.  Not only have all able-bodied men been called up to fight, but the vicar has decided to disband the choir since there are no male voices left.  When a London music professor moves to the village (what luck!) she decides to organize the ladies of the village into a choir and enter them in competitions.  While some in the village are scandalized at the idea of an all-female choir (especially the busybody "Mrs. B." eventually they come around.  In The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, we get a glimpse of how the villagers deal with the war and their day-to-day lives during this time of upheaval.

The story is told from the viewpoint of multiple characters through letters, diary entries, and notices posted in the village.  We get to meet a variety of characters.  There's Kitty and Venetia, teenage sisters whose older brother died early in the war.  This left their father, the overbearing and glowering Brigadier Winthrop, without a male heir.  His browbeaten wife is pregnant again, and just to be sure of a fortunate outcome, the Brigadier makes a deal with the shady nurse Edwina Paltry.  She's already had to leave one position due to some not exactly aboveboard dealings, so she's willing to help out . . . for a price.  Then there's Mrs. Tilling, whose son David has gone off to fight.  Since his room is empty, she's pressed to accept a lodger, Colonel Mallard, who is assigned to the nearby Litchfield Park War Center (but she's none to happy or welcoming).  Venetia Winthrop has also started a relationship with a new arrival in town, Alistair Slater.  Alistair is an artist who has been exempted from serving in the army due to flat feet.  Still, there is a lot of speculation about what he's doing out in the woods at night -- a little black market dealing, perhaps?

While I understand that it's difficult to convey all the action in a book through diaries and letters, the entries should at least ring true.  Sadly, the letters, especially those from the 18 year old Venetia to her friend Angela don't sound like letters at all.  While Venetia is caught up in being the belle of the village, and later with her relationship with the mysterious Slater, she still takes the time to wax all eloquent in her letters. For instance, after a disagreement with Slater, she wrote that she "stalked out of the copse to the orchard, each gentle breeze shifting the delicate shadows of the branches, like life flickering between light and dark."  She also wrote that the village had a "light mist that lingered in the air, coating the village with a wordless hush."  Seriously, what teenage girl writes to another teenager like that?  Especially when said girls seem to have nothing in their heads but clothes and boys.  And 13 year old Kitty?  She describes the quiet after the choir has finished a song as a "calming lull of the slowly undulating final notes, dissipating into the eerie darkness." A passage would occur like a narrator was imparting all this, then you'd come to the end of the "letter" or diary entry with a jolt and realize how unrealistic it was.

I enjoyed the differing character viewpoints and the short entries from each to advance the action.  It just didn't ring true that these young girls were so wordy and descriptive in their recounting of the action in the story.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Monday, August 28, 2017

With the recent coloring craze, it's no wonder that soothing and relaxing hobbies for adults are becoming more popular.   In today's fast-paced world, it's good to have an activity where you can clear your mind and concentrate on creating something beautiful.  In the new book Carve, Melanie Abrantes, a woodworker by trade, gives everyone the tools, directions and encouragement to pick up the hobby of whittling.

This small book is packed with useful information.  It begins with two lists of tools, one necessary to get started, and another of tools you may want to obtain when you become more comfortable with whittling.  A list of safety information for working with sharp objects is also useful, including establishing the somewhat scarily named "blood circle" of at least an arm's length away from other people before working with tools.  Dull tools are more likely to cause mishaps, so a section is included on how to correctly sharpen your knife.  This is followed by the basic techniques the whittler will use, including the "push cut" and the "stop cut" (each illustrated with a photo).  Advice is also provided on how to choose and cut your wood to the proper size before beginning your project.

The remainder of the book is divided into projects in the following categories:  Eat, Live, and Camp.  Each project is graded according to difficulty, and shows a photo of what the finished object should look like.  There is also a list of tools needed for the project, followed by step by step instructions and photos of the various steps being performed.  The book ends with a section on how to make your piece more personal using such techniques as staining or burning.  Templates for the included projects are located at the end of the book.

I have never attempted to whittle, but after reading this book, I may have a go!  I'm sure it's not as easy as the reassuring author would have you believe to create the projects in the book.  Still, the things that you can create using this book, including a comb, a soap dish and even eating utensils, are all very attractive and appealing.  Every aspect of whittling is covered, even some that would never have occurred to me, so this book is definitely a good place for aspiring woodworkers to learn all they need to know about his appealing hobby.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Carve from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Friday, August 18, 2017

Although it lacks the toe-tapping appeal of the hit musical about the same man, the graphic novel Alexander Hamilton by Jonathan Hennessey and Justin Greenwood will help to bring to life one of the most interesting figures in American history.

The non-fiction book begins with a prologue that leads up to why Hamilton became such a well-known individual, including some historical writings citing Biblical evidence for the rights of kings to rule over people (and how free and lucky those subjects should feel!). In order to explain the times that Hamilton was born into, there is also some historical information on the sugar trade, established in the West Indies where the climate was favorable.  This new trade allowed British businessmen the ability to use their new found wealth to buy their way into Parliament, while British interests in the new American colonies were not so well represented abroad.  This led to the hated "stamp act" which punished the Americans for buying non-British goods.  The sugar industry also gave rise to the brutal slave trade in this part of the world.

The book goes on to detail Hamilton's difficult family circumstances: his mother had fled an abusive marriage and wasn't married to the man who became Hamilton's father.  The family split up and his mother died when he was young.  This left Hamilton, with no family to fall back on, with extremely limited prospects.  He was lucky to find a mentor in the Rev. Hugh Knox, who eventually helped the young man to publish a piece of writing that led to prominent citizens to help him travel from St. Croix to America for an education.  Once arrived, Hamilton became one of the most outspoken critics of British rule, delivering speeches and publishing pamphlets in an attempt to rally support for the cause of independence.

Hamilton's colorful career and path to the famous duel with Aaron Burr make up the majority of the book.  It is interesting to see events and people from (usually) dry history books come to life in the graphic novel format.  Hamilton is certainly an interesting figure and by showing his difficult upbringing and the motivation behind his beliefs, we can learn more about this major historical figure.  The occasionally convoluted language might be off-putting to younger readers, but those who want a glimpse into Hamilton's background will enjoy this effort.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Alexander Hamilton from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Some people are gifted artists and are effortlessly able to create artistic masterpieces.  For the rest of us, Foundations of Drawing gives not only a history of art, but useful information on the tools and techniques necessary to bring out your creative genius.

Lavishly illustrated with many examples, the author begins with the encouraging reassurance that "anyone can learn to draw."  The book then traces the history of drawing, from its supposedly romantic beginnings when young woman traced the outline of her war-bound boyfriend, to the more likely origins of cave paintings from over 700,000 years ago.  The author notes how Picasso and other artists were influenced by these early cave drawings and made "conscious decisions to adopt alternative methods of drawing."  That's always been my explanation, too . . .

After tracing the development of drawing through the centuries and various artistic movements,  there is a discussion of the various materials that can be used for creating your masterpiece.  In addition to giving a description of each type of material, the author also offers advice on how to use each one.  The majority of the book is devoted to Essential Drawing Skills and Demonstrations, including techniques such as blending, texture and working with light and shade.  Step-by-step instructions show how to begin and progress through such projects as drawing still lifes, animals and the human figure.  After your work is done, there is information on using fixatives and storing your work.

Whether you've always wanted to learn to draw, or are merely interested in art and art history, this book offers a great deal of in-depth information on the subject.  Even if you don't plan to start drawing yourself, seeing how artists go about their work is fascinating.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Foundations of Drawing from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Monday, July 24, 2017

Many of us go through the day using devices without giving much thought to how they function (until they stop working!).  The Physics of Everyday Things takes the reader through a typical day and breaks down the science of how things we interact with actually work.

The book is divided into chapters such as "You Begin Your Day" (covering devices you will encounter at home), "You Drive into the City" (which discusses how your car engine works as well as how you find your way using GPS), "You Check into a Hotel" (motion detectors and key cards), etc.  The scenarios cover how you might come to encounter something like a refrigerator, wi-fi or a microphone in daily life and then goes on to describe the various mechanisms involved.

I knew I was in trouble when, in discussing the humble toaster, the author stated that in order to comprehend how a toaster actually works, you need "an understanding of thermodynamics, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics."  Oh dear . . .  The author does attempt to make the concepts accessible to non-scientific minds (such as mine) by using analogies we can all follow, such as comparing semiconductors to an auditorium with some empty and some filled seats.  The descriptions are still a bit hard to follow though, such as this randomly chosen sentence discussing digital photography: "The positive voltage that emptied the first capacitor at the end of the row will attract the electrons that are held in the second capacitor until all of the electrons that were on the second capacitor have swung over to the first capacitor and swung again, to the reference capacitor . . . ."    There are some drawings scattered throughout the chapters to make the concepts a bit clearer.

I'm sure that people who are interested in how things function will be fascinated by the explanations of how physics impacts our daily lives.  I'm choosing to remain blissfully ignorant, though, and will just continue to plug things in and trust that more scientific minds than mine have figured out how to make all this stuff work!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Physics of Everyday Things from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Finally!  Season 4 of The Great British Baking Show returns to PBS on Friday, June 16 at 9:00 pm (check local listings) with two back-to-back episodes. While I'm sure you've been busy since Season 3 recreating all the delicious treats in your own kitchen, it will be great to see the new contestants, flour-covered and stressed, attempting to follow the sometimes vague directives from Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.  Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are back as hosts, cheerleaders and (in a pinch) tasters.  

For a sneak peek, check out the PBS Great British Baking Show website. You can meet the new contestants and watch some videos to get some inspiration before the fresh season kicks off.  The series begins with two episodes:

Cake (9 pm - Check Local Listings) 
In the first episode, the 12 bakers test their baking skills as they tackle a back-to-basics British classic, a popular cake with a fatless sponge and tricky chocolate work. 

Biscuits (10 pm - Check Local Listings) 
The remaining bakers are asked to make 24 elaborately decorated biscuits; a biscuit that requires perfect piping; and a biscuit structure that demands precision baking. 

So get ready to settle in with a cuppa and choose your favorite contestant this week!

Friday, June 9, 2017

I have always enjoyed Paula Poundstone's comedy whenever I've had the opportunity to hear her, so I was thrilled to get a copy of her new book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  The book details her attempts to try various projects to see which, if any, would increase her feelings of happiness.  Each chapter takes a look at one of the things she tried.  The book starts with the "Get Fit Experiment" where she signs up for taekwondo classes.  Other things she tries include getting organized, driving a sports car, giving to others (through plasma donation and volunteering at a nursing home) and mediation (among others).  Each experiment is written up in a manner to appear somewhat scientific with a Hypothesis, list of Equipment, the Procedure and various Qualitative Observations, Constants, Field Notes and some Analysis of the project's ability to increase happiness.

While I expected the book to be funny, and it certainly had lots of humorous observations, I was unprepared for the many sad, alarming and depressing details the author shared about her own life.  In addition to being somewhat dysfunctional herself (she claims to suffer from depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and alcoholism), she wrote quite a bit about how much she struggles financially, yet she has 16 cats (in the house!) several dogs, a rabbit, a lizard and a bunny.  She also adopted 3 children, only one of whom seems to treat her with anything but contempt.  Her son, she claims, has a "computer/video game" addiction, to the point that she sent him to an electronics-free school in Virginia, but she never really provided any proof of this other than to say he always wanted to use her computer.  She also states, time and time again, that her children "have never watched television" although they have a TV and watch movies.  So movies=good, but TV=bad  . . . not sure what the justification for that was, either.

So while I enjoyed the occasional humorous observation, I was mostly left dismayed about the holes in her shoes, her lazy, deceitful children, her ramshackle house covered in "cat pee and vomit" and the fact that she doesn't even have a bed but sleeps on a sheet on the floor that she folds up every morning when she gets up.   Instead of being a funny or inspiring book (which I was expecting), I read about a woman who was struggling to keep it together in the face of non-stop chaos (OK, some of it self-inflicted . . . I mean I'm a cat lover, but I stop at three).  I can't really say I enjoyed the book.  All of the blurbs on the front and back of the book are from various celebrities talking about how funny it was.  I'm not sure they read the finished copy.

I received a copy of this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for this review


Friday, June 2, 2017

Can you ever really leave your past behind?  Even if you choose to totally re-invent yourself?  That seems to be the central question in the novel Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan. The novel starts out on a promising (for me, anyway) note when 8 people (mostly college students) decide to investigate an old abandoned prison.  What could possibly go wrong?  Things do go wrong, but for me the main wrong turn was away from what I hoped would be a spooky mystery into  . . . I'm not exactly sure what, but the early Gothic spookiness quickly evaporated and didn't return.

The book begins in 1980 when college friends Quentin, Casey, Tripper, Wailer, Maisie and Rachel, along with Maisie's brother Ben and Quentin's German professor Herr Krystal decide on a whim to visit the ruins of the abandoned prison.  They soon discover it has been taken over by feral cats, as well as a very creepy/haunted feeling atmosphere.  As young boys are wont to do (especially in novels), young Ben runs off after a cat, causing the group to splinter in an attempt to locate him.  Have these people never seen a horror movie?  Don't they know you never split up the group?  Apparently not.  By the time Ben is located, one member of the group has disappeared.

After this event, the story shifts to the present day, when the remaining college friends are in their late 50s and no longer in touch.  The main narrator of the book, one of the students, has left the past behind in a major way and is living with a spouse and stepchild in rural Maine.  Although this person has been married for 15 years, of course just now things in the marriage are becoming a little strained, and a big secret from the past is revealed.  At the same time, a skeleton has been discovered in the abandoned prison (which is being revitalized) and so the mystery of WHERE the missing student is has been answered. The police investigation begins to try to figure out what happened so long ago and the former friends will be reunited as secrets from the past are revealed.

I was intrigued by the description of this book, hoping it would be a creepy mystery, but sadly it's not.  A major problem is that each chapter jumps around both in terms of time period and character being discussed.  It was extremely confusing to try to figure out who was speaking each time a new chapter began.  Also, at the beginning and the end of the book, characters are forever spouting German, for no apparent reason.  There was a lot of description about the old abandoned prison, which also didn't really add anything to the story but served to add to the confusion.  Perhaps if I had known going in that it wasn't going to be an eerie ghost story or mystery I might have enjoyed the book more.  As it was, I was frustrated by all the shifts in characters and although there was a curve ball thrown in at the end, I was still disappointed.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Long Black Veil from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Thursday, May 11, 2017

We've all heard of the "crazy cat lady" but what about the crazy cat men?  There must be some out there.  Author Sam Kalda takes a look at some famous men throughout history who loved their feline friends in Of Cats and Men.

Starting in the 10th century with Welsh King Hywel the Good (who recognized the value of cats as cheap vermin controllers and therefore protected them through law) on down the centuries to the present day, many influential men have been inspired, amused and comforted by cats.  This colorful book takes a page to describe the man in question, his history, and his connection to cats.  Each page also includes a drawing of the man and his inspirational cat.  There are many cat-admiring quotes sprinkled throughout the book as well.

Anyone who loves cats will be entertained by the many achievements of cats -- while their owners may take credit, it's really the cats who were responsible for inventing the cat flap (Sir Isaac Newton), alternating current (Nicola Tesla) Companion cats have also inspired poetry, musicals, art and even dance performances.  It was also somewhat surprising for me to learn that somewhat stereotypically "gruff" men, including Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Winston Churchill are among the famous cat lovers. You can even follow some of the more outgoing modern cats on social media.

This book is a charming look at how cats have been loving, loyal and amusing companions to some of history's greatest leaders, artists and scientists.  Those ancient Egyptians, who revered cats as gods, were certainly on to something!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Of Cats and Men from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Monday, May 1, 2017

While we all need to earn money to survive, equally important is having an enjoyable and healthy life away from work.  In Wellth, author Jason Wachob looks at various components that make up a happy and well-balanced life.

The book is divided into sections such as Eat, Move, Thank, Laugh, etc.  The author gives experiences from his own life for each section, and also usually has an expert on the topic give further information.  He quotes the doctor and author Aviva Romm's instructions for visualization and justification for why this practice is so important. However, most of these experts are introduced with, "My friend so-and-so . . ." (except for the instances where the quoted expert is his "good friend). There are also small "blurbs" scattered throughout the book from famous authors/speakers (but we are mercifully spared his relationship to them).

While there are some words of wisdom throughout the book (mostly in the "Quick Deposit in Your Wellth Account" summary at the end of each chapter), the book is more of a biography of the author and how he got where he is today.  The first chapter, Eat, starts out stating that no diet can work for everyone, because we're all different.  He then goes on to tell (throughout the entire rest of the book) the way he does things -- although to be fair,  he usually gives alternatives in case his way doesn't appeal to you. I just found the book to be too centered on the author, his background, education, business failures and personal life, to be useful to a general audience.  For instance, he goes into great detail about a health scare his wife had and includes the sentence, "The next day Colleen's sister Kerry came by to see us with her fiance (now husband) Eric, as well as Tara Stiles and Michael Taylor."  Now what possible interest could that be to anyone who isn't personally acquainted with these people??? He also mentions his current business venture many, many times (including on the cover of the book).  If you can skim through the ends of each chapter to the "Wellth Account" advice, you'll save a lot of time.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Wellth from Blogging For Books in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Journalist Leslie Kean wanted to investigate the evidence for an afterlife.  In her book Surviving Death, she looks at phenomena such as "life before birth" (children recounting details of previous lives), out of body experiences by people who died and came back, medium activities and "full-form materializations."  Her conclusion is that there is plenty of evidence for consciousness surviving outside the body, and that humans have yet to fully understand all of the implications of this fact.  Several chapters in the book are written by people who were actively involved in the individual cases being discussed.

The book looks at several cases of young children who spontaneously began to recount details from previous lives.  Far from claiming to be Cleopatra or Napoleon, the lives being recalled were of "average Joes."  One child had vivid and terrifying nightmares about being unable to escape from a plane crash.  Another one recalled working on films in Hollywood.  The parents of the children documented their statements and were eventually able to track down the people their children had been in previous lives.  It is uncanny to hear that the children could recall details that they would have had no way of knowing.  In the cases that Kean documents, once the children are able to visit the places they knew in previous lives, they become calmer and eventually the distressing or overwhelming memories of their past selves fade.  Interestingly, these children also report "intermission memories" which occur after one life ends but before the next one begins.

Another section of the book details OBE (Out of Body Experiences), where the consciousness of a person leaves the body during cardiac arrest.  These people describe floating above their bodies and being able to relate things that happened while they were unconscious. An interesting aspect to OBEs is that some blind people have reported being able to see during them.  These situations are different from NDEs (Near Death Experiences) where people in cardiac arrest travel to different dimensions beyond the physical world.  Cases involving these types of experiences have been reported from around the world, and from people of various cultures and religions.  The striking thing about both OBE and NDE situations are that they are remarkably similar when people who have experienced them relate what happened.  Scientists who have studied the phenomena don't know if this is attributable to a physiological reaction of the body/brain, or if it is an actual experience that occurs when the consciousness is freed from physical limitations.

Similarly, some people experience ELEs (End of Life Experiences) where, on their deathbeds, they are visited by deceased relatives or friends who reassure them about the process of dying. These experiences are positive, with the people often reported to be "joyous" after they occur.  Occasionally even bystanders or relatives see the apparitions, or see light or a form surrounding or leaving the dying person.

The author also works with mediums who claim to be able to converse with those who have died.  She found that some mediums were able to reveal remarkably accurate information.  While many people claim to have the ability to communicate with the dead, two mediums who were able to reveal accurate information were able to describe to the author how they receive messages from "the other side."

The author mentions that when asked if she believes in life after death, she responds, "The question must be moved from the field of belief into the field of data."  Her research into the inexplicable events that have been recounted by those who are dying, have "come back" from death or describe previous lives, shows that we have much yet to learn about what happens to us after death.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Surviving Death from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Richard Carter is a deputy sheriff in a rural Missouri town in Journey Man.  One day, he is called out to a cemetery where a tombstone with his name (and a death date two months in the future) has been recently erected.  While it’s apparently not a crime to put up a tombstone for someone who is still alive, the event leaves Carter unnerved.  Is this meant as a joke or is it something more sinister?

Whatever the cause, he doesn’t have long to ponder the significance, because a body is soon discovered in the woods.  The young woman is found elaborately bound, with a plastic bag over her head and a length of plastic tubing tied around her neck.  The victim isn’t from the area, so the first thing Carter and his fellow deputies must do is attempt to establish her identity.  The sheriff’s department has recently been expanded.  Joining Carter, his boss “Shug” Shively and fellow deputy Ron Guidry are Jared “JMac” McAnulty and Cicely “Kit” Kitteridge.  The two new officers apparently have hopes of eventually moving on to work with the FBI, a dream Carter has had to give up due to some events in his past.

As Carter begins to investigate the murder, he is required to be away from home for longer and longer periods.  This is particularly bad timing, as his wife Jill is going through a particularly rough time in her life.  The couple live in a cabin outside of town along with 8-year-old daughter Mirabelle, with only young neighbors Raven and Shane nearby.  Due to the area of Missouri where they live, Jill has become increasingly worried about safety during storms, so she is having a storm shelter, as well as a bedroom for Mirabelle, added onto their cabin.  As well as her worry about storms, she is also having dreams about previous events where she or her family have been in danger.  Even though the family has a large dog, she continually hears noises in the house.  She works as a community college instructor, but sometimes her anxiety is so bad that she skips her classes rather than leave the house.

When news about the murder hits the media, a woman comes forward with an unbelievable tale.  She tells Carter that she was attacked and left for dead a few years ago, and she believes the same person who attacked her also killed the young woman.  Nicole Whitmer was married to a pastor at the time, and he persuaded her not to report the attack at the time, since he feared the publicity would impact his church negatively.  Still, Carter (and other policemen) are skeptical of her story.  As Carter learns more about her and the events surrounding her situation, he begins to believe her.  But if she was also attacked by the same man, what has he been doing in the 3 years since that first crime?  Carter has an FBI friend who tells him that they are tracking a serial killer known as “Journey Man” who as a similar MO to Carter’s killer.  He’s called “Journey Man” because victims have been found across the US, meaning he’s a killer on the move.  Has he made a stop in Carter’s town?

I enjoyed reading about the very real themes that were explored in this book: male/female roles, overcoming stereotypes and working through anxiety.  It showed real situations where men in positions of authority treat male and female subordinates in the same job very differently.  It also showed how females in non-traditional roles work hard to prove themselves and how they can become overly defensive or interpret actions as being hostile when no offense was intended.  At the same time, there were some odd quirks with the book.  There were long, long, LONG conversations between characters, some job related but mostly personal, that went on and on.  For instance, when Jared McAnulty arrives, Carter is instructed to give him an overview of the job and what it entails.  They go out for coffee and he explains how “Shug” is a good boss, how to get along with him, and that drinking on the job is immediate grounds for dismissal.  A few days later, Kit Kitteridge arrives, and the boss once again asks Carter to show her the ropes.  They go out for coffee and he explains how “Shug” is a good boss, how to get along with him, and that drinking on the job is immediate grounds for dismissal.  It wasn’t really necessary to go over the same ground again! The Guidry character was supposedly a cross-word fanatic, and he was forever stopping in mid-sentence to give a long drawn-out explanation of word origins.  And he wasn’t the only one.  Jill, who, as a teacher and a mother undoubtedly wanted to educate her daughter, would respond to questions from her daughter in a word-for-word dictionary definition.  For instance, when she was cooking and the daughter asked what the word “macerate” meant, Jill responded, “To soften by steeping in liquid over a low heat.”   Also, when consulting a doctor for her physical problems, she tells the doctor she realizes “inappropriate activation of the involuntary nervous system can cause my glands to excrete excessively.” Who speaks like that?  Her poor students!


This is book 11 in a series, so there were some past events that were referred to that I was unfamiliar with.  There was a “Cast of Characters” section at the end that detailed the main characters and some events that have happened in previous books.  There was a lot going on, but the book tied up all the loose ends in a satisfying manner.  

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Journey Man in exchange for this review

Sunday, April 16, 2017

National Novel Writing Month occurs every November and is a challenge open to everyone to complete a 50,000 word
novel in 30 days. Hundreds of thousands of people attempt the challenge every year. While not all are successful, many of them are helped and encouraged along the journey by their fellow participants. The book “50,000: Tributes to the Journey of Writing a Novel in One Month” is a collection of essays detailing the personal journeys of people who participated in the project.

There are 73 short essays in the book (written in 2011), each documenting a writer’s experience with the “NaNoWriMo” project. Some have been involved for several years, others only once. They document the discipline it takes to commit to writing 2000 words per day, and the ways that they were able to motivate themselves to complete their novels (some involved chocolate cake). Some people write of how the work of writing a novel empowered them to branch out into other creative work. Some people even found friendships and love through the supportive community of fellow writers.

The essays (some no longer than a paragraph, others several pages long) are all very inspiring and come from authors in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe aged from teens through to adults who’ve been attempting to finish novels for decades. Some people write fan fiction, others chronicle painful autobiographical events. What really comes through all of the essays is the appreciation for the self-confidence and discipline that turned regular people into novelists. The sense of accomplishment and determination to continue writing is repeated in almost every essay.

The only thing I didn’t like about the essays was that sometimes acronyms are used that people unfamiliar with non-NaNoWriMo don’t understand (several mention being “MLs” with no further elaboration, for instance). Also, many of the essays are directed to and express appreciation for (to the point of being somewhat overly sentimental) Chris Baty, the founder of the project who has since moved on to other things and turned it over to others to run. Since the chapters are somewhat similar in describing how people came to write and what their experiences were, it’s hard to read all in one go. It is definitely a book that would be more enjoyable to dip in and out of for inspiration, especially for budding authors.

While I’ve never attempted to write a novel, reading about what a positive and supportive experience it was very inspiring!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Using positive thinking to achieve what you want in life is a concept that has been around for a long time. Recently several authors have explored this idea in books and videos. The book Your Invincible Power looks at ways that everyone can stop negativity and use positive thoughts to increase not only personal well-being and prosperity, but to collectively uplift all people through our interconnected higher energy.
The authors do a good job of explaining how the Universe (or God or the Universal Mind, etc.) connects all energy and how the Law of Attraction governs all of us. There is also an explanation of the difference between the conscious mind and the more powerful subconscious mind and what we can do to allow the subconscious mind to work behind the scenes. The most important thing is to silence negative thoughts by positive affirmations. Having a positive outlook will bring positive results into your life. This sounds easier said than done, so I like that the book included exercises that can be used to help overcome negative thoughts and channel positive energy into your life and the universe. The end of the book includes a chapter on how to put the ideas in the book into action, including step-by-step daily routines. There is also a list of positive affirmations that can be used to combat negative thoughts. People are also cautioned to use the power of attraction for good, because you get back what you give out. Hoping to use the Law of Attraction to bring bad luck to another person will only bring down bad luck upon yourself.

Of course, part of attracting good things into your life also involves being active in identifying and overcoming barriers that might be holding you back. One way this can be achieved is to stop focusing on the things you don't have and instead become mindfully grateful for what you do have. Another one is to plan and visualize, rather than make excuses and give up.

While the message of the book is very positive and encouraging, the text could have used some editing. There were many grammatical and punctuation errors (subject/verb disagreements, run on sentences and a positive explosion of commas where no commas were necessary). Often I had to read a sentence numerous times to figure out what the authors were trying to say. Another issue I had with the book was inclusion of some rather startling facts that were just thrown out without any sort of references as to where this information was obtained. Some doozies: eighty-five percent of the Earths entire population live in negativity (was that the conclusion of a Gallup poll?), our conscious mind sets in motion impulses traveling at 120 to 140 mph (who in the world used the stopwatch that measured that?) and my personal favorite, your subconscious mind can typically process 4,000,000,000 bits of information per second (again, this was measured . . . how exactly?). Not to say that the authors aren't quoting information they discovered somewhere, but some context would have been helpful.

Overall, I think there are many positive messages in the book as to how people can take charge of their lives and have a happier, more prosperous outlook. While there is more to achieving this than just positive thinking, the authors give many examples and exercises to help everyone attract more good things into their lives.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Jackson Mason has a lot to be angry about in the YA novel Ice Cold.  The 18 year old high school student has to come to terms with the fact that his father is coming home after spending 5 years in prison.  To add to his problems, his parents decide to move to a new town for a fresh start, meaning Jackson has to start at a new school, one where there aren't many black students.  Luckily, he soon catches sight of a pretty girl that helps with the adjustment.

Jackson has a hard time forgiving his father.  Before his father Lincoln was sent to prison, the family was getting by with both parents working in the construction industry.  But then 5 year old daughter Shanice was diagnosed with leukemia.  The financial stress of medical appointments and unpaid bills caused Lincoln, in a moment of desperation, to rob a jewelry store.  After he was sent to prison, the family fell on seriously hard times.  They were homeless for a while, and Jackson had to take on emotional and financial burdens far beyond his years.  So it's no wonder that he's not very welcoming when his father comes back into the family home (which also includes a grandparent, his father's father).

Lincoln is not too concerned about starting in a new school.  Everyone at his old school was aware of what happened to his father.  The kids at the school seemed to split into two groups -- those who no longer wanted to associate with a poor convict's kid, and those who were enamored of the "gangster life" that Jackson wanted no part of.  His dream is to become a professional hockey player, so he only wants to concentrate on making the team, playing well, and impressing the college scouts.  His anger towards his father softens a bit when his grandfather tells him that Lincoln also had hopes of becoming a professional hockey player until multiple head injuries ended his career.

On arriving at the new school, he quickly befriends Peanut, a young man who sells peanuts and rides a skateboard around the school (Quirky friend? Check!).  Jackson also is instantly smitten with Heather, a strikingly beautiful blonde girl who seems to have an air of sadness and fragility about her. Unfortunately, it turns out she's the girlfriend of Brady, the racist, loutish captain of the hockey team.  Still, Jackson and Heather begin talking and soon recognize that they have a lot in common.  Although she is outwardly beautiful and confident, Heather is being bullied online by harassing, negative comments about her appearance.  It has become so bad that she's developed an eating disorder.  Although she and Brady are in a relationship, he is only wrapped up in his own concerns and doesn't notice anything wrong.  She's able to confide in Jackson, and he's tells her that, like him, she shouldn't be concerned with what others think and also that she could do better that the uncaring Brady.

Although Jackson's parents are an interracial couple, once he begins dating Heather he is confronted by both black and white people who are not happy about their relationship.  The book does a good job of tackling problems that young people face today, from dealing with incarcerated parents, to racism and peer pressure to eating disorders.  One problem I had with the book was that EVERYONE (teens, parents, coaches, etc.) had the same bad grammar issues ("It don't matter," "I ain't afraid," "He don't like it," "How we gonna know who done it," etc.).  While teenagers of course don't speak "the Queen's English" to each other, surely some people would have learned the correct third person use of "do."  It also got a little preachy at times, with the saintly Jackson rising above all adversity to stay true to himself and his values.  But overall it was an enjoyable book with characters that you care about and hope will succeed.

I received a copy of Ice Cold in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Best of Adam Sharp contains some important messages about the folly of pining after a "lost love" and also the importance of recognizing and appreciating what you have now.  Unfortunately, it takes a long time to deliver the message.

Adam Sharp works in IT in England and is an amateur musician.  In the late 1980s, he's sent to Australia for a temporary work project.  While there, he is playing piano and singing in a bar one night when a young woman comes up and begins singing with him.  It seems she is an actress who is currently appearing on a soap opera, so she's well-known to everyone in the room -- except Adam.  He eventually begins an affair with the woman, Angelina, even though she is currently married (although unhappily).

When Adam's job assignment is up, he moves on to the next assignment in Singapore, and feels like he is in no position to ask Angelina to leave her job and marriage to follow him.  Nor is he willing to give up his job and move across the world to be with her.  Eventually he begins a long-term relationship with a woman in England, Claire, and they settle down into domesticity.  But of course, he never forgets Angelina and always wonders "what could have been."

Fast forward 20 years. He and Claire have become rather bored with each other.  He works now and then on temporary IT contracts, but it's really Claire who brings in the money.  They tried to have children, but were unsuccessful and didn't want to to the IFV route.  Now Claire's company is possibly going to be purchased by a larger company, and if that happens, she will have to move to the USA, at least for a few years, to complete the transition.  Once again, Adam is unwilling to uproot himself (although there doesn't seem much to give up) and so he pretty much decides that if Claire goes to the USA, that will be the end of their relationship.

At the same time, out of the blue, he begins receiving messages online from Angelina.  In the years since their relationship she has divorced, remarried, had 3 children, and become a lawyer.  With his own relationship in something of a decline, Adam again begins to fantasize about having a relationship with Angelina.  It just so happens that she and her husband are coming to France for a vacation, and she proposes that Adam might like to join them -- for old time's sake.

The second half of the book, when Adam and Angelina reconnect, is quite long and drawn out, and veers into very unlikely territory.  Both Adam and Angelina's husband, Charlie, fall all over themselves to wait on her hand and foot.  What is really going on in Angelina's marriage is also a question that takes a long, long time to resolve.  

All in all, I found the book to be quite annoying.  Not only the complicated relationships, but the fact that Adam, wherever he goes, finds a piano and immediately sits down and starts to play and sing is quite far-fetched.  Not only that, but whoever happens to be around (friends, significant others, general strangers) beg him to continue playing and shout out requests.  Also, he knows just the right song and just the right lyrics to sing (while giving significant and meaningful glances) for any situation.  If I knew this person I would be MORTIFIED and refuse to go anywhere with him.  And why are there pianos at every bar, house and airport he visits???

While the book may contain some important messages, it takes so long to get there, with so many musical asides, that at the end I was just grateful it was over, rather than enlightened!

Disclaimer:  I received an Advanced Readers' Edition of this book in exchange for my review

Monday, March 6, 2017

Recent events in the news, including the current administration's attempts to ban travelers from certain countries and plans to build a wall on the U.S. border have highlighted attempts to keep terrorists from entering the country. The book United States of Jihad takes a look at a much more unsettling phenomenon:  the people who are already in the country who are plotting and carrying out terrorist activities.

The disturbing fact that American citizens would align themselves with terrorist organizations (either formally joining or attempting to attach their names to a cause through violent activities) is something that is difficult for most people to comprehend.  The author, a national security analyst for CNN, has come up with a number of factors that home-grown terrorists seem to share.  These include being upset by US foreign actions in Muslim countries, having a "cognitive opening" to the ideas of radical Islam (usually preceded by a personal loss or disappointment), and looking for a sense of purpose through joining a large group.

Citing examples such as Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had contact with many people who later carried out terrorist attacks, the author notes how the rise of the Internet has allowed the message of terrorist leaders and recruiters to reach more people than ever.  al-Awlaki used the Internet to distribute his lectures throughout the world, and even to chat with followers on his personal blog when he was in hiding in Yemen.  The ability of "lone wolf" type attackers to gain inspiration for their "missions" from online sources makes the job of law enforcement that much more difficult.

The book also discusses the backgrounds and progress to radicalization for people involved in some well-known attacks, such as the Fort Hood shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing.   The recruitment techniques and "path to paradise" promised to impressionable young people are detailed in the book.  The war in Syria has also provided many recruits with an easy way to join ISIS:  through Istanbul.  While attempting to join ISIS campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq proved too complicated for many, entering Syria via Turkey has been a much easier path.  Additionally, those who train with ISIS in Syria are easily able to travel back to Europe, where they may commit terrorist attacks.  Since the 9/11 attacks, however, ISIS or Taliban inspired attackers in the US have been lone wolf attackers who aspire to be a part of something big.

These individual attackers, while hard to detect and intercept, are also unlikely to be able to carry out a mass event like 9/11 again, according to the author.  As well as governmental attempts to track and stop potential terrorists in the US, several people are speaking out about the terrorists using Islam as a justification for their atrocities.  Nader Hassan, cousin of the Fort Hood shooter, and Kerry Cahill, whose father died in the attack, have joined forces at the Nawal Foundation to denounce violence and terrorist.  It is hoped that as they spread their message of acceptance and understanding, it will eventually drown out the voices of hate and violence.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of United States of Jihad from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Friday, February 24, 2017

Few people can imagine the utter devastation that results in losing a child.  The author Stephane Gerson chronicles the life of his family following the death of his son Owen in the book Disaster Falls.

Owen was just 8 years old when he traveled from his home in New York to Utah with his parents and older brother Julian.  The mother of the family, Alison, was attending a work meeting there, and the rest of the family decided to come along and make a vacation out of the trip.  Friends had recommended the rafting adventure down the Green River.  A group of 24 adults, children and guides started out on the rafting trip. When the group assembled at a meeting point after the first day of rafting, Owen was not there.  While his parents searched frantically for him, a guide took a kayak and traced their route back where she found Owen's lifeless body.  Although a helicopter had been called in for search and rescue, it carried so much equipment that there was no room for passengers.  Because they were at such a remote spot, the only option was to carry on with the original plan:  to camp overnight and raft out the next morning.

The first part of the book deals with the first year following the accident.  The family dealt with the loss in different ways.  Stephane, the father, was beset by guilt and lethargy.  His wife became restless and walked constantly.  Their son, Julian, was troubled by losing his brother, but also by having to witness his parents' grief and anguish.  The family is constantly comforted by learning new things about Owen as friends and classmates relate stories that they'd never heard before.  Stephane was also frequently told about losses that others had suffered, which he interpreted as a way for the speakers to unburden themselves.  He also learns more about Disaster Falls, including the many mishaps that have occurred there throughout history and how it got its name.  After the accident, Stephane was dismayed that he hadn't taken more time to learn about the area where he would be taking his family.  Later on in the book, he goes to his family's ancestral homeland, Belarus, with his father (whose parents had immigrated to the US in the 1920s).  Although his 80 year old father had never visited Belarus, this trip served to draw them closer together as they reflected on roots and loss.

The final section of the book, End Stories, deals with the family's lawsuit against the rafting company that conducted the trip they were on when Owen died.  The family had been upset that the dangers of the rafting trip were minimized, that the company's representatives were not fully trained or able to handle a possible death and that there was little communication about what was going on during and after the rescue operation.

This is such a horrible scenario.  Of course there's no easy way to deal with the death of a child, but being forced to remain in an isolated area and wait to inform family and friends of the loss is especially heartbreaking.   At the same time, there were some strange things that caught my attention.  First, it was odd that the family saw nothing strange in sending a young child with no rafting experience alone along a very dangerous stretch of water, and that there was no research by the parents about this area before they went. There was another strange incident mentioned.  Apparently Owen was invited to a sleepover and while he was there, he became homesick and called his parents to come and get him.  So naturally, the parents took him to a child psychologist to find out why he had "separation anxiety" -- at 7 years old!  Of course, now looking back, his father is wondering if Owen someone had some "premonition" that he wouldn't be with his family for long.  It's still a heartbreaking tale of loss and the people that are left behind.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Disaster Falls from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review


Saturday, February 18, 2017

I know we are supposed to feel sorry for Lo Blacklock, the narrator of The Woman in Cabin 10.  Soon after events in the story commence, she wakes up to find a burglar in her house.  She is injured when he slams the door in her face, and becomes terrified that he will return.  While this might be an explanation for her unstable behavior that follows, it doesn't explain why she is already on medication for panic attacks, why she constantly drinks too much, and why she is refusing to commit to her longtime boyfriend, Judah.

Lo has worked for 10 years as a travel writer at Velocity magazine.  Her boss, Rowan, gets all the choice assignments though.  Lo thinks she's finally gotten her chance to move up the career ladder when Rowan goes on maternity leave and Lo is given the assignment to go on the maiden voyage of the luxury cruise ship the Aurora.  The Aurora is sailing from England up to the fjords of Norway on an excursion to view the Northern Lights.  There are only 10 cabins on the ship, and Lo is in cabin 9.  On the first night of the cruise, Lo realizes that her mascara was in her purse that was taken during the recent break-in at her flat.  She decides to see if her neighbor in cabin 10 might have some.  When she knocks on the door, it is eventually answered by a young woman with long dark hair wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt.  She distractedly gives Lo the mascara and tells her to keep it.  When Lo attends dinner that evening, she is introduced to her fellow passengers, but never sees the woman from Cabin 10.

After dinner, Lo makes her way unsteadily back to her cabin after drinking too much (yet again).  Not only is she affected by all the alcohol, but since the break-in, she's been unable to sleep.  So it's with great weariness that she collapses into bed.  While in a deep sleep, she suddenly is jerked from sleep.  She's unable to tell why, but she has a vague memory of hearing a scream.  As she listens, she hears the veranda door next door open, and then hears a large splash.  She goes to her own veranda to look out, and sees a smear of blood on the dividing glass.   She instantly picks up the phone to report what she's just seen, and a security officer is sent to speak to her.  He tells her that cabin 10 is empty, and even takes her next door to see this for herself.  Although she'd just had a glimpse into the room when the woman lent her the mascara, she'd seen a room in disarray.  Now it's totally empty.  They go and look out onto the veranda, and there's no blood on the dividing screen.

Most people, especially those who had been drinking and were unsure of the circumstances, might have let it go. Not Lo.  She insists on an investigation and continues to ask everyone if they've seen the woman from cabin 10.  She continues to ask questions even when she's warned off by anonymous messages and when evidence of the woman's existence (the mascara and a photo) disappears.  Interspersed with the events taking place as Lo investigates are emails from Judah and news reports that indicate that Lo is missing and hasn't been in contact with anyone since the boat left England.

While the idea of the story is promising, Lo is such an unlikeable, annoying character that I was rooting for the unseen "bad guy" to catch up with her and put us all out of our misery.  She is constantly complaining about how tired she is and how much her head aches, yet she seems to have plenty of energy to drink and pester everyone.  The most annoying thing (out of many) about her is her inability to speak coherently to anyone.  Whenever anyone speaks to her, she begins, "I . . ." and stops to think/reminisce/reconsider.  SHE CAN NEVER SPEAK TO ANYONE NORMALLY! It's beyond maddening.  It's hard to believe that anyone -- boss, co-workers, suspects, fellow passengers -- can take her seriously when she can't form a coherent sentence.  I wish I had read the ebook because I would have liked to search for how many times she said, "I cursed myself for my stupidity."  However many times it was, it surely wasn't as many times as I did.

Final Verdict for The Woman in Cabin 10: ZERO Gherkins, for having a protagonist who was too irritating to live

Thursday, February 16, 2017

DS Nancy Devlin has a secret.  Although she's been awarded a medal for bravery for her work with the National Crime Division, she's spent her entire police career protecting Frank Le Saux, a somewhat shady businessman.  In the 6-part series The Level, Nancy, played by Karla Crome, has to walk a fine line between investigating crime while concealing her own unethical actions.  When Frank calls and asks Nancy to meet him one night, bullets ring out from an unseen gunman, killing Frank and injuring Nancy.  Because she must hide her ties to Frank, Nancy doesn't go to the hospital to treat her own bullet wound.  Things get even more complicated when Nancy is sent to Brighton to investigate the crime.

Nancy grew up in Brighton, where her policeman father, Gil, was abusive to her mentally unstable mother.  This has caused Nancy to become estranged from her father.  Her mother has been hospitalized once again while her mental health issues are being treated and  her medication adjusted.  When Nancy was growing up, her best friend was Hayley Le Saux, Frank's daughter.  Because of her unstable home life, Nancy spent a great deal of time with the Le Saux family and saw Frank as a surrogate father.  This causes her, once she begins her career on the police force, to protect Frank whenever his name comes up in investigations.  Nancy and Hayley lost touch years ago, when Hayley's unsavory boyfriend, Shay Nash, introduced her to drugs and Hayley was packed off to rehab by her parents.  In the years since, Hayley has married a professional footballer and moved to Spain.  When she returns to Brighton for her father's funeral with her two small children, Hayley reveals that she has split up with her husband and will be staying in England.  Frank also has a son, Tate, who is living in a group home for mentally disabled adults.
 
As Nancy begins investigating Frank's death, her boss DCI Michelle Newman assigns her to work with Gunner Martin.  Not long afterward, her colleague and almost boyfriend, Kevin O'Dowd, is sent down from London to also help with the investigation.  Not only must she attempt to hide her personal involvement with Frank, she must also investigate his death while her gunshot wound is causing her a lot of pain.  The crime scene technicians soon discover a 5th bullet at the crime scene.  This bullet is discovered to have DNA that doesn't match Frank's, so the police know there was a missing witness with Frank when he died.  Frank owned a haulage company, and when he had his clandestine meeting with Nancy before his death, he mentioned that he was in trouble and also that he was working on a deal that was a "gold mine."  Before long, Shay Nash contacts the police because he had a shipment on one of Le Saux's trucks that has gone missing.  As the police attempt to trace the shipment, they realize that one of Frank's trucks is unaccounted for.  Meanwhile, another thuggish Brighton businessman, Duncan Elliott, who owns Eagle Repairs has appeared on the scene.  Elliott is very interested in purchasing Frank's business, and he's not a man you say no to . . .

Nancy certainly can be forgiven for playing fast and loose with the rules of professional behavior when she is allowed to get away with so much.  With her superior Michelle Newman's knowledge (both before and after the fact) she commits several crimes that are brushed under the rug.  Nancy grows suspicious of her colleagues when various pieces of evidence are unaccounted for during the investigation.  It's a game of cat and mouse to try to figure out which of her fellow cops are "bent" and working with the criminal elements of Brighton.  As the investigation continues, Nancy has reason to suspect almost everyone. 

Viewers who love British TV will recognize many famous faces in The Level.  Although his appearance is brief, Philip Glenister makes an appearance as Frank Le Saux (although he does get rather a lot of screen time as a corpse!).  Michelle Newman is played by the former Carol of EastEnders, Lindsey Coulson.  Nancy's London colleague O'Dowd will be instantly recognizable as Robert James-Collier, whom many of us loved to hate as the wicked yet oddly endearing Barrow on Downton Abbey.  It's great to see these fantastic actors appearing in new roles.  Beautiful beach side Brighton also adds atmosphere to the series and reinforces the idea that no matter how idyllic the location, bad things can still happen.

The 2-disc set also includes bonus behind-the-scenes featurettes with the actors, writers and directors discussing how the series came into being, why people are fascinated with murder mysteries and even the quality of catering on the set!  It's an interesting look at how much work goes on to create a series and how many people are involved that don't appear in front of the camera!
 
Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Level from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pity poor single mom Louise. She goes out for a night at the pub and engages in a little flirtation and kissing with a hot guy.  Soon afterwards, he's introduced as her new boss. AWK-ward!  Unfortunately, things rapidly get more complicated that even that situation would suggest in the new novel Behind Her Eyes.

Louise's ex-husband has been remarkably generous.  He continues to pay most of her bills and participates in the shared custody of their son, even though he's remarried.  This allows Louise to live in London (although in a small apartment) and only work part-time as a secretary for a psychiatrist.  Once David, her pub guy, joins the practice they quickly rekindle their relationship.  Of course, it's not long before Louise is able to confirm her suspicion that David is married.  His wife is willowy, blonde and beautiful.  Soon after she takes up with David, Louise is nearly knocked down when a woman runs into her (literally) outside her son's school. Improbably, David's wife, Adele, has collided with her.  To apologize for their mishap, Adele suggests they go for a coffee.  Louise admits that she is David's secretary, and while the two women enjoy a nice chat, Adele asks that Louise not mention their meeting to David.  The two women hit it off and are soon seeing more of each other, even going to the gym together.  All this puts Louise into an odd position:  she's having an affair with her new bestie's husband, but he has no idea the two women know each other.

The chapters alternate between Adele's past and present, as well as shifting the present narrator from Adele to Louise.  When Adele was a teenager, David (whom she'd always had a crush on) rescued her from a fire that killed her parents.  Although the death of her parents left her wealthy, Adele was unable to cope with the tragic events and spent some time at a rehabilitation center/hospital where she met recovering addict Rob.  Even though she's in love with David, she knows he'll get along well with her new best friend Rob once they meet . . . but is she being overly optimistic?

As present events unfold, Louise becomes increasingly suspicious of David.  While he appears kind and loving, disturbing events surrounding Adele make her concerned for her new friend.  Why does Adele have to rush home to take David's calls at a certain time every day?  Why does she take so many prescription medications?  And what about those bruises on her face?  Could David really be dangerous?

Events become more and more nail-biting as we grow more concerned for Adele (is she in danger from David?) and Louise (ditto?).  Could the events that happened during the deaths of Adele's parents have something to do with why she and David are locked in an uneasy marriage?  As is being mentioned, there is a final twist that will surely hit the reader out of the blue (it did me!).  If you like to unravel a mystery and be hit with a shock ending, this is the book for you!

Disclaimer:  I received an Advanced Reading Copy of Behind Her Eyes from Flatiron Books in exchange for this review


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Molly Lefebure was a young journalist in London when she was tapped to become the secretary for forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson during the years of World War II.  She details her experiences, including some involvement with famous murder cases, in Murder on the Home Front.

As the secretary to Dr. Simpson, Ms. Lefebure was required to attend autopsies and visit crime scenes in order to take notes.  Often, she apparently lugged along a typewriter to do her work.  Some of the interesting cases she helped with were the Dobkin murder (where the murdered woman was first mistaken for a bombing victim), the Luton Sack Murder, and the pitiful case of poor Joan Pearl Wolfe, who lived in a "wigwam" in the woods and was bludgeoned to death by her Canadian soldier lover.

Ms. Lefebure doesn't seem at all bothered by death, bodies (no matter what condition the unfortunates are found in), dismembered limbs, etc. but she's very judgmental of the behavior of the people who end up the victims of violent crime.  In one chapter, she mentions a "not very interesting" murder of  "a girl of fifteen and a half who had already given much trouble by running around with men" (easy to read between the lines that the teenager was just asking to be murdered and how boring it all was).  Then there's the case of the young soldier who commits suicide, apparently because of the shame he felt at having been diagnosed with a venereal disease.  The author laments "if the soldier had been a young middle-class intellectual, instead of a respectable working-class boy" he would have been able to shrug off the experience.  She further demonstrates her lack of sensitivity when she describes Rachel Dobkin, who was murdered by her husband, as being a "poor, stupid, inoffensive little woman."  There are also plenty of shocked comments on the state of some houses (as a result of the housekeeping practices, not the because of the crime scenes) she visits.  The book begins with an editor's note stating that some passages were edited for this edition.  I shudder to think what was left out when sections like those mentioned above were allowed to stay.

While the book was originally published in the mid 1950s, when attitudes were apparently very different to the sensitivities of today, it's still rather shocking to read how little sympathy Ms. Lefebure had for the victims.  Still, I suppose it takes a tough exterior to be able to work around such tragic and upsetting scenes, so maybe she wasn't as unfeeling and dismissive as she appears.

Final verdict for Murder on the Home Front  Two Gherkins for being an inside look at a fascinating time in forensic science unfortunately written by an unsympathetic narrator
The book Radical Beauty starts off with a dedication to the reader: "May you fully accept and embrace the unique Radical Beauty that you already are."  Three hundred and five pages later, you have presumably transformed your already perfectly fine Radically Beautiful self into . . . an even better version?  Unsettling dedication aside, the book is full of information, advice and recipes to help make healthy lifestyle changes.  With the start of the new year, nearly everyone is looking for a fresh start and this book has many great ideas to put that new motivation into action.

Divided into 6 "Pillars" (Internal Nourishment, External Nourishment, Peak Beauty Sleep, etc.), the book aims not to sell readers on the latest fad diet or cosmetic or exercise routine, but rather to make women feel better and regain their confidence in their own skins.  Instead of seeing beauty as a temporary and constantly elusive quality, every woman can achieve her own beauty that is unique and doesn't rely on comparisons either to others or some societal, impossible ideals.

Pillar one takes a very thorough and informative look at how the foods we eat impact on our outer appearance (oily skin, dull hair, brittle nails, etc.) as well as our overall health.  While everyone knows this in theory, the way the authors break down and explain the good and bad foods (and why they fall into these categories) is very interesting.  I especially like how each author gets his or her say.  For instance, Kimberly Snyder sees no use for dairy in modern diets at all, while Dr. Chopra feels it can have a place at the table, in moderation. Seeing that the experts have a hard time coming to consensus on dietary advice even for a chapter in a book helps to illustrate how seriously confused the average consumer is!  The nutritional portion of the book is the largest chapter and contains lots of practical advice.  One idea I liked was the suggestion to "visualize" all the gross things that are going on inside your body as it tries to digest a large or unhealthy meal.  If that doesn't have you running for the kale aisle in the grocery store, nothing will.

The other sections of the book deal with such topics as ingredients to look for (as well as those to avoid) in beauty products, advice on getting a good night's sleep (and the detrimental effects of not doing so), best practices for beauty based on the seasons, ways to make your home healthier and of course, the benefits of exercise.  There is a section on yoga practices (complete with photos!) and what each pose does to benefit the body (I don't care how beneficial it is, I still have no hope of achieving pyramid pose in this lifetime).  The final pillar in the book deals with attaining spiritual beauty including ways to be kind to yourself and stop negative thoughts and self-criticism. This section also includes helpful information on meditation and combating stress.

The book ends with some Radical Beauty recipes, although as with most recipes, there are plenty of ingredients that you are unlikely to find in your kitchen (garam masala? tamari? Anyone?).  Still, the book is very educational and inspiring, although it is so packed with suggestions that it would be difficult to follow all of them. If you're looking to improve your physical and emotional health, however, you can find plenty of ideas in this book.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Radical Beauty from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pity the poor English royal family of 600 years ago.  Even if you were comfortably sitting on the throne, any number of sketchy relatives could be on the sidelines, quietly plotting your downfall.  You might think you were comfortably #1 in line for the crown, but if you had the misfortune of having your father die before you came of age, plenty of uncles and cousins would be ready to step in and "help" you to rule.  The fascinating series Britain's Bloody Crown takes a look at a turbulent time in English history that came to be known as The Wars of the Roses. This four-part series from Acorn Media is a mix of narration by historian Dan Jones and re-creations of events and battles from that unstable time in history, with several interesting historical documents thrown in for good measure.

The root of the trouble can be summed up with the title of Episode One: The Mad King.  Henry V had been a strong and vibrant ruler, who defeated and ruled most of France.  His son, Henry VI, was decidedly less regal and had no interest in messy things like battles.  That was fine while the Duke of Suffolk was alive to keep things in check, but after his death in 1450, the country was on the verge of collapse.  When a band of rioters breech the walls surrounding London, Henry flees the city.  His no-nonsense wife, Margaret of Anjou, takes control of the situation, along with Lord Somerset, who lost a lot of territory in France and came home to England.  The king's cousin, Richard, Duke of York, decides he is the man to run the country and comes to London with a small army to demand the king make him Protector of England.  There is something of a power struggle between the two factions of Queen Margaret and the Duke of York.  This continues off and on for many years -- the nobles don't want to be governed by a French woman, but the Duke of York tries to raise money by forcing the rich to give up some of their land, which doesn't endear him to Parliament, either.  Eventually the Duke of York is killed after chasing Margaret to Scotland and attempting to capture her.  While it would appear the Queen's side won, the divisions had already been sown that would result in more bloodshed over the next quarter century.

In Episode Two, The King Maker Must Die, the Duke of York's son takes the crown and becomes Edward IV.  Edward is still a teenager, and his closest advisor is Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick.  Edward relies on Warwick's counsel, and Warwick is feeling pretty confident about his status at court.  He goes to France to arrange a marriage between Edward and a French princess.  Meanwhile, Edward has gone behind Warwick's back and married Elizabeth Woodville.  She is a widowed mother of two, which would have been scandalous enough, but she brought with her a large and politically unconnected family. Edward immediately begins putting Elizabeth's relatives into advantageous positions and marrying them off to members of the aristocracy.  Once again, two sides form:  the king vs. Warwick.  Warwick goes to France and allies himself with the exiled Queen Margaret.  The two are eventually able to defeat Edward's forces and restore the weak King Henry VI to the throne.  But Henry is no more of a ruler this time than he was before, and Edward is soon able to return to the throne.

One of the most tragic events in English history is played out in Episode Three, The Princes Must Die.   After King Edward IV was returned to the throne, England enjoyed a period of stability.  Unfortunately, this didn't last.  When he died in 1483, there was yet another power struggle.  While his son, 12-year-old Edward V was the heir to the throne, the late king had apparently asked in his will that the boy's uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, be named as protector of the country until young Edward came of age.  The queen, and her Woodville clan, want the young king to be crowned immediately.  While a coronation date for the young king is set, in the meantime Richard sets about grabbing power himself.  He has young Edward and his brother imprisoned in the Tower of London, attempts to have them declared illegitimate, accuses loyal allies of treason and executes them, sets about killing the most troublesome and powerful Woodvilles, etc. The young princes disappear and  Richard can now have himself crowned king, but there are forces at work to challenge his claim.

The final episode, A Mother's Love, documents the life and behind-the-scenes maneuvering of Margaret Beaufort, mother of the future King Henry VII.  A 13 year old widow when she gave birth to her son in 1457, Margaret had to use her considerable intelligence to protect herself and her son.  Her late husband was a half-brother to the late King Henry VI, so her son has a tenuous claim on the throne.  Margaret marries two more times, the last time to Lord Thomas Stanley who was a rich and influential steward in Edward IV's household.  Margaret is constantly scheming to get her son's lands returned to him and is successful while Edward is alive, but after his death, she decides that Richard needs to be removed from the throne.  Because she has inherited much wealth, she sends money to fund an invasion to her son Henry, who has fled to France.  Henry is eventually able to return to England to challenge Richard for the crown at the Battle of Bosworth Field.  No one is too upset when the devious Richard is defeated.

I enjoyed seeing the people and events of this historical period come alive, and it was very interesting to hear the somewhat irreverent comments of Dan Jones as he explained the motivations that drove the various people to commit seemingly unthinkable actions "for the good of the country."  Jones argues that most of the people were motivated by the desire to protect England and to ensure that peace and stability were restored to the land, but the violence that occurred seemed to always get out of hand.  I was a bit surprised by some of the events (no doubt my lack of historical knowledge contributed to this!).  For instance, whenever someone wanted to challenge the sitting king or ruler, they would just throw together an army of 5,000 or 10,000 men and march toward battle.  I had to
wonder where all these soldiers were coming from.  I know jobs were likely hard to come by (particularly for the non-nobles out there), but I do wonder what would cause someone to throw his lot in with a person who was challenging the current king.  Maybe if they were on the winning side they'd be given lands or money, but it still seems like a risky proposition, particularly if you were on the losing side.  Additionally, it was a bit unclear how some people were able to throw their weight around and have people arrested, confined or executed without any authority.  For instance, before Richard was crowned king, he had several of the Woodvilles arrested and charged with treason -- on what authority???  And why wasn't the queen (widow of the old king and mother of the new one) able to stop it?  It's all very murky.  Events moved very quickly and those in favor one day could suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of events.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Britain's Bloody Crown from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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