Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On a quiet street near a pub in a working class neighborhood is Slade Alley from which one might find Slade House. Slade house residents discreetly lure certain people to visit...a visit from which they will never return. Visitors find the short and narrow black iron door, which is the entrance to Slade House at 9 year intervals beginning in 1979. After each disappearence, there is a flurry of activity to locate the missing person which eventually ends. During the interval years the missing people are forgotten until a new disappearence occurs. Events come to a climax in 2015 with a hair raising conclusion that the reader will not see coming.This is a true modern day horror story! The premise is original, the suspense electric, and the protagonists portrayed in each chapter are characters with whom the reader can  relate. It so grabs you that it can be read in one sitting.  A most intelligent, thought provoking and profoundly disturbing read. 

Review by Karen 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Review:  Between the Notes by Sharon Russ Roat
Ivy Emerson’s life is forever changed when her father’s business fails and the cost of her brother’s therapy for a disability causes the family to lose their home.  The family moves from a posh, affluent neighborhood to Lakeside which for Ivy is the same as living on the wrong side of the tracks.  The new apartment, a quarter of the size of her home will not fit her beloved piano! Ivy’s piano is the primary way she deals with her emotions which she expresses by composing and singing about the events of her life.   Ivy hides the change from her high school friends and a cute new guy with whom she hopes to start a relationship.  The more Ivy tries to hide the change in her life with lies the more complicated things become.  Along the way she also sees how much she thinks she knows about her friends and new people she meets in Lakeside that she thought she could never like.   As events unfold Ivy learns that not everyone is who she thought they were…including Ivy herself. 
A delightful and charming story that is sure to be enjoyed by teen readers and adults alike!

Review by Karen    

Monday, November 16, 2015

Beautiful Life Lessons....

Image result for very good lives

Book Review:  Very Good Lives; the Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J. K. Rowling

J.K Rowling, the perennially popular author of the Harry Potter series, and also titles for adults shares her brand of wisdom about handling failure, and still living a very good life.   It is her address to the 2008 graduating class of Harvard University.  The benefits of failure and the power of imagination propel one forward and provide the resiliency necessary to handle both success and disappointment.  Imagination was instrumental in keeping her focused during periods of poverty.  “You will never truly know yourself or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity” she says.   “Life is not a checklist of acquisitions or achievement; your qualifications or curriculum vitae are not your life”. Very Good Lives, the Fringe Benefits of Failure Importance of Imaginations is a powerful and instructive reading experience.    

Review by Karen

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The search begins!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
By Maria Semple

Bee's mom has gone missing, and Bee's not going to stand for it. Told through e-mails, notes, video footage, and anything a private investigator might get her hands on, this is the story of the search for Bernadette Fox. Bernadette has made plenty of enemies since moving to Seattle, but her daughter, Bee, idolizes her. This precocious, brilliant 15-year old, is thoroughly devoted to her mom but she hasn't noticed some of her flaws. For instance, Bernadette's fervent desire to avoid contact with anyone outside their family. Or her intense fear of leaving the house, so much so that she hires a woman in India to take care of all of her affairs via the internet. When Bee gets a good report card and tries to cash in on her parents' promise to take her to Antarctica, Bernadette agrees. But through an unlikely and increasingly madcap series of events, planning for this trip brings the Fox family's world crashing down around them. And then, Bernadette is gone.

Though it may seem like Bernadette is the clear victim here, she's quite a polarizing figure. My sympathies veered wildly between the characters at times, and Bernadette's bitter view of the people around her is occasionally difficult to swallow. But Bee's optimistic attitude and the bizarre actions of some of Bernadette's rivals help the entire book come together as a story of a woman against the world. In the end, you really do wonder what happened to her. And you're rooting for Bee to find out.

This title is available as a book, an audiobook, and a downloadable audiobook. I listened to it, so if you've got a commute to work consider this a recommendation for you.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

History is BIG!

Book DVD Review:  Big History A& E Television Networks, History, Lions Gate Entertainment
Big History is a new way to understand the evolution of life including mankind and historical events through a linking of activities/happenings that have occurred in the Universe and on our planet. The interconnectedness of life is explored through a “history” of the superpower Salt, the Pocket time machine, H2O, Horsepower revolution, Gold Fever, Megastructures, Defeating Gravity, World of weapons, Brain boost, Mountain Machines the Sun, Silver Supernova, the Agrarian age, Black Death, voyages of Columbus, industrial revolution, prehistoric geology and global warming.  Also explored are current concerns such as population growth, global disparities, human evolution and a variety of empires including Mongol, Mayan and Aztecs civilizations. Each facet studied in the DVD series subtly links to all others creating a magical “Gestalt” about creation of life in all its forms.      
"Big History" represents a new kind of history, one that artfully interweaves historical knowledge and cutting-edge science. In an age of global warming, when the fate of the earth hangs in the balance, scientific advances permit us to see the universe as never before, grasping the timescales that allow us to understand the history of mankind in the context of its ecological impact on the planet.
I was enthralled by Big History because it makes many disciplines accessible to the lifelong learner. It is a very long series but well worth the effort as it provides a timeline that is more like a “web” underscoring how life itself is made up of many facets all interconnected. Please pick this one up because it will both challenge and engage you!
Review by Karen 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Who Are You Gonna Call?

Here are a two non fiction books to get you in the mood for Halloween.

"The dark-eyed woman first appeared in the 1970s, standing near a fireplace in a long black gown. She was sad and translucent, present and absent at once. Strange things began to happen in the Santa Fe hotel where she was seen. Gas fireplaces turned off and on without anyone touching a switch. Vases of flowers appeared in new locations. Glasses flew from shelves. And in one second-floor suite with a canopy bed and arched windows looking out to the mountains, guests reported alarming events: blankets ripped off while they slept, the room temperature plummeting, disembodied breathing, dancing balls of light. La Posada--"place of rest"--had been a grand Santa Fe home before it was converted to a hotel. The room with the canopy bed had belonged to Julia Schuster Staab, the wife of the home's original owner. She died in 1896, nearly a century before the hauntings were first reported. 

In American Ghost, Hannah Nordhaus traces the life, death, and unsettled afterlife of her great-great-grandmother Julia and her family, from Julia's childhood in Germany to her years in the American West with her Jewish merchant husband, to the spas and seance rooms of the late nineteenth century, to World War II and beyond. In her search to find and understand her troubled ancestor, Nordhaus travels across America and Europe, and unearths family diaries, photographs, and newspaper clippings; meets with historians, genealogists, psychics, and ghost hunters; and learns along the way some unexpected lessons about living. American Ghost is a touching journey of roots and memory, a story of pioneer women and immigrants, villains and visionaries, frontier fortitude and mental illness, imagination and lore. As she follows the strands of Julia's life, Nordhaus discovers a larger tale of how a true-life story becomes a ghost story--and how difficult it can be to separate history from myth."-- 

Summary provided by publisher.

Step into the mysterious world of haunted plantations, where you'll meet the restless spirits of soldiers, slaves, and owners who roam the antiquated halls. Presenting majestic homes from seven southern states, this remarkable guide contains dramatic history and true stories from the days before and during the Civil War. Join paranormal expert Richard Southall on an awe-inspiring journey through each plantation, exploring grand houses and their ghastly ghouls. 'Haunted Plantations of the South' presents fascinating research, in-depth interviews with ghost hunters, and unforgettable encounters full of paranormal activity and evidence. Discover the phantom casket of the Sweetwater Plantation, the Man in Black who haunts Bellamy Mansion, and many more compelling ghost stories along the way."-

Summary provided by publisher 

Friday, October 9, 2015


Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This fantasy novel is reminiscent of a cross between a dark version of Beauty and the Beast  and the Harry Potter series.  Agnieszka, our heroine, is plucked from obscurity and thrown into confusion, loneliness and chaos before discovering how to use her magic.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”  As the story starts, the reader learns they are waiting for a reaping. Every ten years, the Dragon takes a seventeen-year-old girl off to his tower for a decade of servitude.  The girls are released after their time in the Tower but they are always subtly changed from the simple girls they once were. The Dragon is what they call the local wizard who protects their valley. The valley is a lovely and green place, but all there are endangered by the rapidly encroaching Woods, a malevolent forest which literally eats people to sustain itself. The people of the valley have become resigned to the reaping as the only way to protect their homes and families.

The whole village of Dvernik has always known that when their turn comes, the Dragon will choose the beautiful and fearless Kasia. Instead, he chooses her best friend, Agnieszka, which confuses and dismays everyone. Agnieszka is clumsy and plain. She can’t cook, can’t stay clean for even five minutes, and is notoriously casual about following directions. What possible use can she be to the Dragon?  What will happen to her now? What will happen to the people of the valley?

Educating herself by reading the books she finds in the Dragon’s library, Agnieszka realizes that she has a strong and intuitive magic of her own.  The plot unwinds slowly but steadily as she learns more of magic, and the Dragon, and the world beyond her small valley.

This book has an original setting and characters that are charming, flawed, and thoroughly likeable. Agnieszka has an inherent kindness and a resilient spirit.  Her loyalty to her friends, her family and her home make her an admirable character.  The Dragon is, like the Beast, both more and less than what the village gossips say.  The plot builds slowly but steadily and there is real momentum and horror in the last third of the story. The resolution is satisfying and just open-ended enough to leave the reader wanting more.

For teens and adults who are secretly hoping for an acceptance letter to Hogwarts.

Review by Amy

Monday, October 5, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Book Review:  Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is a thought provoking portrait of a time that is important to remember because  the events it portrays underscore longstanding but not always easily recognized influences on American Ideology. Jean Louise, aka "Scout" Finch has come back to Maycomb Alabama to visit her father Atticus, her former best friend/beau Henry and other citizens of the town. Initially content with poignant reminisces of her childhood with Henry about times shared with her deceased brother Jem, she begins to see a culture that has not changed since the jury trial in which her father, Atticus served as the defense attorney decades ago. Disappointed with what she believes is Atticus's betrayal of his values at a council hall meeting and after a searing argument with him she is catapulted into adulthood by her wise uncle. Uncle Jack assists Jean Louise in setting her own interior "watchman" or conscience. This book starts out slowly but builds to a powerful conclusion from Part VII onward. Part VII exquisitely portrays Scout's difficult coming of age during a time when right and wrong blur with the passage of years. A book for our times, the fact that it was published now is very important. It is worth exploration by readers who look for ways to face truths that can be obscurred by what seems to be virtue during dark times.      

Review by Karen

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert by Marc-Antoine Mathieu

This graphic novel takes us gently down a “rabbit hole” into the museum’s endless subbasements. Which museum?  The answer is a taste of things to come.  Although called by many names, “they say that these names are nothing but anagrams of the museum’s real name, which has been forgotten.” 
Archivist Edeus Volmer and his assistant Leonard arrive on a stormy night to begin an inventory of the sub-basements.  The novel’s panels proceed with beautiful pools and avenues of pale light set within umber shadows that often recede with a cinematic sense of distance in space.  Months, and longer, pass as the archivists travel the basements. In some, a curator entertains us with wit on art and memory. Others provoke us with insights on originality, and creativity.  In the “restoration workshop” experts view their work with small headlamps because, “for restorers light is the enemy of color”, and “darkness preserves colors”.  In the “department of copies” the curator regrets that the practice of copying the masters isn’t fashionable.  “Copying isn’t original any longer.”   In the “department of archives” we watch Volmer and Leonard fly on a rolling book ladder, their coats flapping like superheroes’ capes through the upper stories of a city of archives. 

Finally, Leonard comes to tell Volmer that this “limitless universe” suggests that an inaccessible “essential” exists.  Being inaccessible, limitless paths to travel are all the more important.  I was entertained and captivated by every path.

Review by Ken 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Theology of Space

The Book of Strange New Things
By Michel Faber

The idea of sending a missionary into space is not new. Mary Doria Russell explored the idea of a Jesuit mission to another planet thoughtfully in The Sparrow, which is a book that everyone should read. But while that book includes the thrill of discovery and the subsequent race to be the first to visit the planet, Michel Faber starts his book with a colony firmly established. Our missionary, Peter, simply applies for the job to be the pastor to an alien population.

The decision to leave his wife, Bea, is not easy. First, she is the one who brought him to religion. Second, they've founded a church on Earth that needs minding. But they decide that this opportunity is too good to pass up. How often does a person get chosen to spread his faith to people who have genuinely never heard of Christianity? And so Peter boards a ship and flies off to a community created by USIC, a gigantic corporation who is trying to make a profit off the new planet.

When Peter arrives he discovers that his job is much easier than he'd imagined. The alien race have not only heard of Jesus, but are hungry for a pastor to tell them more. Peter is thrilled at this, but also discomforted at the strange reception of the rest of the staff at the USIC base. They are largely nonreligious, but also uninterested in anything having to do with home. As Peter gets updates from Bea about constant tragedies happening back on Earth, Peter can't get anyone at USIC to care. He's torn between a hugely successful ministry and a feeling that the distance between his wife and himself is growing too great to cross.

This book is about distance, both physical and mental, and what sort of people are best suited to leave everything behind. It's also about the way our environment can shape our faith. What would the belief system on another planet look like? How would the residents react to a new one? For armchair theologians and science fiction enthusiasts, this is an excellent read.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Originally written as a novel and transformed by the author into a play, Ayn Rand's Ideal  tells a story that underscores the need for "ideals" in life and how we turn our back on these if offered the opportunity to live from them. It tells of the events in the life of Kay Gonda, a larger than life movie screen goddess who is wanted for murder. She visits six different fans seeking shelter from police. A  respectable family man, a cynical artist, an evangelist, a playboy, a far-left activist and a lost soul each  have written her heart felt letters about the value she brings to their very existence and who provide Kay with a glimpse of their life. She asks to stay for one night in order to allude the police. All but one of the fans she visits can not or will not help her because she asks more of them than they can deliver. The end has a twist that while expected was not envisioned to be what occurred! It was very interesting to read the novel first and then the play because both literary forms evoke different responses from the reader. As the preface states, "a novel uses concepts and only concepts to present its events, characters, and universe. A play (or movie) uses concepts and percepts; the latter are the audience's observations of the physical actions, their movements, speeches et al.". Leonard Peikoff. The reader can experience each version differently with more activity and involvement in the play than in the novel. As only Ayn Rand can, she speaks for the artist in riveting prose that exites, devastates and challenges....the Idealist.     

Reviewed by Karen 

Friday, August 14, 2015

:Modern Scholar: Literature of C.S. Lewis

Literature of C.S. Lewis by Professor Timothy B. Shutt 

Professor Timothy B. Shutt brings to life the works of C.S Lewis in this 14 lecture series. Beginning with the early years in life of C.S Lewis he discusses his life and events that carved his inner philosophy which was the evocation of "joy". Though C.S Lewis is known and loved for his Chronicles of Narnia series, he also wrote a riveting science fiction trilogy which consisted of the titles "Out of the Silent Planet", "Perelandra" and "That Hideous Strength" in which he seeks to present an unfallen world, a world of Peace and a world of complexities.  Also presented are analyses of his apologetic works such as Mere Christianity, which was written for the entire Christian family including Roman Catholic and all Protestant branches of the faith; Miracles and the Problem of Pain. Other scholarly works include the Screwtape Letters, the Discarded Image, the Allegory of Love and the Four Loves.  Woven through all of his fiction and nonfiction is a singular theological theme which is the complexity of the world which includes dark and light and all shades in between. Prior to experiencing C.S Lewis's works I was familiar only with the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. After listening to these wonderful lectures I am moved to read his other works which include food for thought and contemplation.       

Reviewed by Karen 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Philosophy in Action

The Just City
By Jo Walton

In Plato's Republic you'll find a template for a city intended to maximize justice among its inhabitants. If you're already falling asleep, don't worry. You don't have to be a philosophy major to enjoy this book. But author Jo Walton takes Plato's thought experiment and uses it to tell a story. What if the gods of Olympus were real and two of them decided to create a city and fill it with people who desire to follow Plato's guidelines? Would such a city succeed?

After setting the gears into action the goddess Athena and the god Apollo both take the form of children in the city so that they can see the experiment unfold. Their friends and teachers are taken from throughout history, some of them famous and some of them unknown, but all of them striving to do their best. Of course, the definition of what's best is different for mathematicians from the Renaissance and philosophers from the Information Age, so there are some bumps in the road. Then Athena brings Socrates into the city to to see what has been created from Plato's ideas and his own words. He begins asking questions and some cracks begin to appear in the idea-driven foundations of the city. How far are the gods willing to go with their human experiment? And how long will the humans agree to stay within the rules Plato gave?

As I said, this book doesn't require a philosophy degree, but it will definitely get you thinking. Check it out if you've pondered anything recently. Or if you think time-travelling gods might be fun to hang out with.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review:  Her by Harriet Lane

One day Nina instantly recognizes Her, Emma, a woman who unknowingly has a profound influence on her life.  On a street on an ordinary day Nina fastens her attention and intention on finding a way into Emma’s world entering her life as unobtrusively as Emma did her decades ago.  On the surface this story unfolds as two very different women find connection despite the differences in the arcs of their lives. Beneath the surface of the bright promise of a budding friendship the psychopathic menace of Nina’s obsession with Emma grows slowly as poisonous memories of unspoken loss and withering contempt become laced with a desire for revenge.  The chapters alternate with Nina and Emma sharing their life experiences and record of their encounters most of which are descriptions of the same events.  Slowly the tension builds as barely remembered nuances are remembered by Emma and Nina’s inner fury builds to a shocking and unresolved conclusion. All I could murmur after reading this was….Oh my God…Oh my God…what a story.  This one is slow in spots, but subtle tension kept me reading,   wondering and hoping for a happy ending that I knew would not happen.  Harriet Lane’s prose is luminous and involving; delicious as it builds characters neither of which is truly likeable but who one longs to know more about.  Well worth your time if you enjoy slow and easy suspense.

Review by Karen 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Beyond The Spellman Files

If you haven't read the delightful mystery series The Spellman Files, put them on request now!

Lutz's new offering How To Start a Fire is a departure from the Spellman mystery series which concluded last year. Lutz began working on this book in 2006, right before she sold the first Spellman files book.

The story follows three friends (Anna, Kate, and George) who meet in college and keep in touch beyond their college years. The friends come from differing backgrounds and they each bring something unique to the friendship. They form a strong bond that is tested by jealousy, substance abuse, stubbornness and the passage of time. The description may appear to be chick lit, but the story goes deeper than most chick lit and is presented in a fresh way.

The narrative jumps back and forth through time which can be confusing but if you ignore the years on the chapter page the story is easily navigated.

Review by Cara

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review:  My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teege
One day Jennifer Teege picked up a book in a library in Hamburg Germany.  The title was I Have to Love My Father Don’t It? written by Monika Goeth.  This was her mother’s name! Looking inside the book she found pictures of her Grandmother Ruth Irene Kalder Goeth and of her Grandfather, the master of the Plaszow Concentration Camp…Amon Goeth!    This event in a library was the beginning of the author’s research of her family’s Nazi past.  The author relates her horror which propels her into depression. Slowly and inexorably she pulls together all the loose tendrils of her existence;  her mother’s abandonment as a child, finding her Nigerian father, gradually reconciling the loving grandmother who cared for her with the woman besotted with love for a man who shot Jewish people for sport in the concentration camp near the grounds of their home.  Jennifer Teege’s journey takes her to the sites of the Plaszow and Auschwitz concentration camps, to her friends in Tele vi and other parts of the Middle East who had family members impacted and  finally to the families of survivors of the Holocaust. 
This was a difficult read but so worth the effort.  It brings a personal resonance to the horrors of a time past and helps the reader to understand that the effects of that time live on generations after the events.  One weeps with and cheers Jennifer Teege’s courage, humility and willingness to open wounds to build understanding of a time we must never revisit.

Review by Karen  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Reads Suggestions?

It's hot and the best way to beat the heat is to grab a book and find some shade. Here are some suggested titles from various sources to keep your mind off the heat! 

Publisher's Weekly 2015 Best Summer Reads

The Independent's Best Summer Reads Chosen By Literary Luminaries

Amazon's Summer Blockbusters

NPR's Beyond the Best Sellers Selected by Nancy Pearl

New York Times Cool Books for Hot Summer Days

Huffington Post 18 Brilliant Books

Read anything great that you would like to share? Post a comment!

List compiled by Cara

Monday, June 15, 2015

A year abroad, among the beautiful people

The Last Enchantments
by Charles Finch

Did Donna Tartt's Secret History fill you with a secret yearning to study Classics with the trust-fund crowd at some leafy liberal arts college? Did you find Whit Stillman's callow Manhattanites inexplicably appealing as they partied languorously through Christmas break in Metropolitan? If so, The Last Enchantments will leave you positively homesick for Oxford.

Finch's latest novel, his first not starring Victorian detective Charles Lenox, follows 25-year-old Will Baker to Oxford. It is 2005, with the US firmly mired in Iraq and Bush still president. Baker, scion of an old-money New England family quits his job as a Democratic operative, abandons his wealthy and well-connected longtime girlfriend, and heads to England to pursue a Master's in English literature.

The story is slight: Baker falls in and out love, studies, parties, graduates, and agonizes ad nauseam over whether to stay at Oxford, work in international finance or return to politics in time for the 2006 midterms. The characters are well-drawn, memorable and eminently believable: Tom, t; Anil, the sweet gangsta rapper from India;  Oxford, the city and its colleges, is a character in itself. Finch studied there, and his lush, loving descriptions of the place, its people and peculiar customs will leave you half-convinced you actually lived there.

The characters are loathsome and charming in that way unique to the hereditary rich.

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Review by Don Beistle

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

History for fans of historical fiction

by Amanda Vaill

During the Spanish Civil War, Madrid’s posh Hotel Florida hosted a motley collection of mostly foreign artists, intellectuals, journalists, war tourists and spies. The fighting was never more than a few miles away, and every so often a Fascist shell would blow out some windows or kill a pedestrian in the street below. For a taste of real action, you could drive out to the front after breakfast and still make it back in time for dinner and drinks.

Ernest Hemingway stayed at the Florida, of course, and came away with a play (The Fifth Column), a novel (For Whom the Bell Tolls), a bundle of short pieces, and a third Mrs. Hemingway. Amanda Vaill has written about Hemingway before and clearly has little love for him; here he is a boor and a dupe who never realized Soviet agents were playing him like a fiddle. He and Martha Gellhorn are the famous pair among the three couples featured in Vaill’s excellent Hotel Florida, but what the others might lack in name recognition is more than made up for in drama.

Photography or history buffs may be vaguely familiar with the doomed romance of photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, but Vaill brings them vividly to life with fresh details from friends and family. Though Capa and Taro’s story is pure big-screen material, Vaill manages to keep a lid on the melodrama without muting either the beauty or the horror of their days together.

Loyalist press officers Arturo Barea and Ilsa
Kulcsar round out Vaill’s sextet, and in some ways their story is the most gripping. Neither consumed by Capa and Taro’s youthful audacity nor insulated by the wealth, fame and American passports that shielded Hemingway and Gellhorn, Barea and Kulcsar demonstrate that civil war can kindle revolutionary passions (both political and personal) in the most ordinary hearts. Barea and Kulcsar’s story enthralls because they are unexceptional individuals caught up in exceptional times and—unlike their famous counterparts—the outcome is always in doubt.

Hotel Florida is well-researched, and Vaill’s deft exploitation of new or little-known sources gives it an unexpected richness. The brisk narration, eye for detail and abundant use of dialogue had me checking the spine label to see whether it is historical fiction or remarkably well-written history. Hotel Florida is history, but history with living flesh newly hung upon its dry and dusty bones.

Review by Don Beistle