Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THE SEAGULL by Ann Cleeves





 Seagull (Hardcover) (Ann Cleeves)


More and more, I watch British television via PBS.  Sometimes, however, I don't catch a series
on its first run.  The mystery series VERA  is one of those that I did not watch when it ran on PBS,  but I discovered it later and have watched all 5 seasons via streaming and DVD.  I love that libraries in our joint library system often purchase whole seasons of British tv on dvd.  I have now have seen so many episodes of VERA that I forever have her dented, rusted Land Rover and her green vest etched in my memory.  But what remains even stronger is her voice, softly calling a victim or potential witness, "Pet," a combination of sympathy and support.  I knew from the beginning that the television series was based on a series of books by Ann Cleeves, but it was not until I had exhausted all the dvds that I decided to try one of her novels. THE SEAGULL is the latest novel, just published in the US in September, 2017.  At 393 pages, I found the book slower than the 90 minute television shows, but I was surprised that I saw and heard the tv Vera on every page, especially when she called someone "Pet."  The entire television series has an underlying thread regarding Vera's rocky relationship with her father, now deceased.  THE SEAGULL brings Vera back in contact with some of her father's old mates and brings to the forefront again that her father's activities were not always legal. 

While I would have liked this mystery without ever watching a single VERA episode, I found the book so much richer because I had.  Beside visualizing and seeing Vera herself and her young colleague Joe, I could imagine the seaside town which is the setting for the book. When the action moves to Vera's isolated cottage, the place where the lonely girl and her father co-existed, I know what it looks like.  I can almost feel the misty rain and the wind that always seems to surround it.  I will certainly try another Ann Cleeves novel, either another Vera Stanhope mystery or perhaps one from the Shetland series, which have also made their way to the tv screen.  And I hope both television series continue production.

I obtained my copy of THE SEAGULL through the Winnefox Library System.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy



You've heard of the Rosie Riveters who toiled on the production lines during World War II, and if you're a historical fiction fan like I am, you've probably read a book or two telling about the women who flew new aircraft to their home bases, a real need for the war effort.  And thanks to the movie HIDDEN FIGURES, you now probably know more about women's role in the early days of the space race of the 1960's.  Recently we took a trip to Dayton, Ohio and while at a museum, we discovered that Dayton and the Sugar Camp of National Cash Register Company, and hundreds of WAVs, played an instrumental role in building the BOMBE machines.The American  4- cylinder BOMBE machines were similar to the British 3 cylinder effort, but could decode German ENIGMA messages faster. Immediately, I said to my husband. "I wonder why someone hasn't written a book about this?" and we talked a bit about the Bletchly Circle effort in Great Britain. That was on Wednesday, October 18th.  Little did I know that on October 10th, Liza Mundy's in-depth nonfiction book CODE GIRLS was released.  Somehow, (I honestly don't know how) the book came to my attention a few weeks later, and when I did my normal check of our library system catalog, I found a copy had just been purchased by a nearby library.  You can imagine that soon the book was in my hands!

 Code Girls


In the early days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a plea went out to colleges and schools across the country.  Needed were women who were good at math for the war effort.  Not much was said about what they would be doing, but colleges selected their best and many school teachers were also recruited.  Tests, mostly consisting of math problems and puzzles, were administered and offers of government employment, with wages clearly better than school teaching, were extended to the best students.  Some were employed as civilians, others for the Army, and others for the Navy.  All were administered oaths of secrecy.  A former girls' finishing school, Arlington Heights, was retrofitted for living and working quarters for those who worked for the Army.  Soon it would be clear that the women would be working as cryptologists or code breakers.  While Great Britain and its famous Bletchly Circle were trying to break the German Enigma code, America worked on both the Japanese Army and Navy codes.

I am NOT a mathematician, and my foray into cryptology has never gone beyond a simple substitution code or a bit of pig-latin, so I really struggled with some of the descriptions in the book.  The Japanese Navy used multiple layers of code and actually more than one code within their messages, but the men and women working on these intercepted messages would build on what they had already discovered, often finding that even a name or a place would prove vital information.   It was the personal stories of the women that I found so fascinating. While their families and friends believed the women were working as administrative assistants -- basically paper pushers, the women were actually discovering positions of submarines, planned sea attacks, and more. After the war, most returned to civilian lives, never speaking about their war work,  Ann Zeilinger Caracristi stayed on in Washington D. C.  The separate Army and Navy security efforts would join after the war and become what we know today as NSA, the National Security Agency.  Caracristi would become NSA's first female Deputy Director.  The work of the "Code Girls" was only declassified in recent years, and a few women, now in their nineties were able to be recognized by their families and communities for their efforts. 

If you are like me and love finding those times, places, and people that the history books have chosen to ignore, you will want to read CODE GIRLS by Liza Mundy.  Right now, I am wondering if the movie rights to this book have already been sold and when we will all be seeing these women acknowledged on the big screen.  I suggest you read the well researched version before we are treated to the Hollywood version.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ordinary Graces:Word Gifts for Any Season by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

{More About Lucinda McDowell}

Lucinda McDowellLucinda Secrest McDowell is passionate about embracing life — both through deep soul care from drawing closer to God, as well as living courageously in order to touch a needy world. A storyteller who engages both heart and mind, she offers “Encouraging Words” to all on the journey. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, Cindy is the author of 13 books, including “Ordinary Graces,” “Dwelling Places,” “Live These Words,” “Refresh!,” “Quilts from Heaven” and “Role of a Lifetime.” Whether co-directing the “reNEW – retreat for New England Writing,” mentoring young moms, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages.
Find out more about Lucinda at http://EncouragingWords.net.
Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for Any Season (Abingdon Press, October 2017)
Everyone loves to receive a gift.
And God has given us many, such as his grace—the gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. Promises from the One who declares we are already loved, already accepted, already created in his image. The question becomes, will we truly receive that gift? Will the reality of it actually change the way we think and notice and reach out?
God’s Word will stand forever, in any season of life. These truths prompt us to respond with compassion and courage.
Through inspiring devotions, Lucinda Secrest McDowell reveals biblical blessings that remind us that: God’s promises give us strength, God’s grace can be most evident at our weakest points, a proper response to our abundance of blessings is simply gratitude, and the “more” we are all looking for is the same abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Would you like to receive these gifts of ordinary grace? Join Lucinda in focusing on one word a day through devotional readings and short benedictions for any and every season to explore the many facets of Grace, Strength, Gratitude, and Life.


 

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of Ordinary Graces
  • A $75 Etsy gift card
  • A grace bracelet
  • A set of Ordinary Graces greeting cards

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on November 24. The winner will be announced November 27 on the Litfuse blog. (Plus, you can read a free sample chapter.)

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{More about Ordinary Graces}

Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for Any Season (Abingdon Press, October 2017)
Everyone loves to receive a gift.
And God has given us many, such as his grace—the gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. Promises from the One who declares we are already loved, already accepted, already created in his image. The question becomes, will we truly receive that gift? Will the reality of it actually change the way we think and notice and reach out?
God’s Word will stand forever, in any season of life. These truths prompt us to respond with compassion and courage.
Through inspiring devotions, Lucinda Secrest McDowell reveals biblical blessings that remind us that: God’s promises give us strength, God’s grace can be most evident at our weakest points, a proper response to our abundance of blessings is simply gratitude, and the “more” we are all looking for is the same abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Would you like to receive these gifts of ordinary grace? Join Lucinda in focusing on one word a day through devotional readings and short benedictions for any and every season to explore the many facets of Grace, Strength, Gratitude, and Life.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Read a sample chapter for FREE!


MY IMPRESSION:
 
This past year,  I savored Lucinda Secrest McDowell's book DWELLING PLACES:WORDS TO LIVE IN EVERY SEASON.  By the end, the book was worn, pages ruffled and marked up with notes of who to share the two page devotions with and messages to myself to reread.  While it is  always a sense of satisfaction to finish a book, I was sad that the there were not as many devotions as there were days of the year.  I am delighted that I will be able to start 2018 with a new book by
Lucinda Secrest McDowell.  ORDINARY GRACES:WORD GIFTS FOR ANY SEASON again follows the two page format.  Each entry begins with a
Bible verse and then focuses on how to recognize the daily gifts of grace, how to accept it, and how to extend it to others.  Like DWELLING PLACES, each devotion ends, not with a prayer to God, but with a message from God to the reader.  Some may think putting words in God's mouth is presumptuous, but I found those simple, warm passages to be most encouraging and settling.  Arranged under four major topics - Grace, strength, gratitude, and life- ORDINARY GRACES promises to be again a book that will end up tattered and marked up with insightful notes.  I think this book would make a wonderful small gift for loved ones this season or for someone battling one of life's rough spots.  I received a copy of ORDINARY GRACES from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

MURDER IN DISGUISE by Donn Taylor


 

 

Murder in Disguise by Donn Taylor

A story of murder, a rumored secret life, and anonymous threats—don’t miss book three, Murder in Disguise, of Donn Taylor’s Preston Barclay Mystery series! Visiting professor Preston Barclay decides to investigate the department chairman’s mysterious death. The more Press questions, the more dangerous the threats against him become, and the more determined he grows to clear his friend’s name. Can Press’ stumbling efforts prevail against the entrenched forces of the police, the campus radicals, and an unseen but powerful criminal organization that increasingly puts lives in danger?
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{More about Murder in Disguise}

Murder in Disguise (Lamplighter Mysteries, October 2017)
Official verdict: Suicide.
But why would that vigorous department chairman kill himself? To avoid disgrace? Those rumored ventures on the dark side? Some other secret life? Visiting professor Preston Barclay wonders. But his questions bring no answers, only anonymous threats. He has enough problems already, proving himself on a strange campus while radical faculty do all they can to undermine him. Worse yet, that sexy siren assigned as his assistant complicates his courtship of the beautiful Mara Thorn.
While Press keeps asking questions, Mara’s research reveals a cancer of criminal activity that permeates the community and even the campus itself. The more Press questions, the more dangerous the threats against him become, and the more determined he grows to clear his friend’s name.
But can Press and Mara’s stumbling efforts prevail against the entrenched forces of the police, the campus radicals, and an unseen but powerful criminal organization that increasingly puts their lives in danger…?
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Donn Taylor

{More About Donn Taylor}

With a PhD in English literature (Renaissance), Donn Taylor taught literature for 18 years at two liberal arts colleges. Now retired, he has published suspense novels, mysteries, and poetry. His historical novel “Lightning on a Quiet Night” was a finalist for the 2015 Selah Awards. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. In a prior incarnation, he led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. He now lives in the woods near Houston, TX, where he writes fiction, poetry, and essays on current topics.
Find out more about Donn at http://www.donntaylor.com.

MY IMPRESSION:

At first glance, MURDER IN DISGUISE has much to offer.  First there is the apparent suicide of the department head at the university where Professor Preston Barclay has taken a summer position.  Too many suspicious questions regarding this death remain unanswered, including where are Jordan's research notes and his beloved coffee cup?
So within hours of arriving, Press and his karate-kicking girlfriend Mara's attentions are entrenched in solving the mystery.  I've read other reviews of this novel, and it appears that some readers  love the Press-Mara duo and their dynamics, but I soon tired of Preston's "music in his mind" and the constant word plays.  And it seemed that the campus "culture" wars got more focus than the crime of sex trafficking.  I never really felt any sincere outrage from Barclay once he suspected that the trafficking of young girls was what Jordan had been investigating.  Instead, the narration goes forward with the mix of word play humor and suspense, but no drive to rescue the youngest victims and return them to safety.  When I read author Donn Taylor's credentials, I feel that I should like his work better than I do. I am glad that others have liked the series, but it did not click with me.

Monday, November 6, 2017

THE BELOVED CHRISTMAS QUILT by Wanda Brunstetter



 Product Details

Wanda Brunstetter has written over 80 books, many of them Amish fiction.  Since Wanda has family ties to the Amish, I have always felt her books portrayed the group quite accurately.  For her latest release she has teamed up with her daughter-in-law, Jean Brunstetter, and granddaughter, Richelle Brunstetter, to tell three Christmas tales.  THE BELOVED CHRISTMAS QUILT crosses three generations of Amish women who each find strength and comfort through the scripture embroidered on the back of a green and red quilt, first given to Dena, a young wife who dies too soon.

As Christmas approaches, I always find that time to read is a precious commodity, and I am not alone in that time crunch. I think that is why Christmas novellas have become so popular.  As readers, we don't want to shy away from books for a whole season; yet, seldom do we have time to delve into a lengthy, complicated novel.  Novellas, usually less than 200 pages, can be read in one or two sittings, and their focus on characters living out their own Christmas seasons, can put one in a holiday spirit. In less time than it takes to watch a television drama, I was able to finish one of the stories. I think that is a great way to end a busy day.  If you have someone on your gift list that enjoys Amish romances, why not pick up a paperback copy of these three stories: Luella's Promise, Karen's Gift, Roseanna's Groom? I received a copy of this collection from Barbour Publishing; I was not required to post a review, and all opinions are mine.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden







 A Dangerous Legacy (Empire State, #1)


 In A DANGEROUS LEGACY, Elizabeth Camden again delivers what I've come to expect from her writing: a strong heroine who has found a place in a male dominated career, interesting new advances in America's inventions and technology, and a story filled with mystery and challenges to the very class-structured society of the 19th  and early twentieth centuries.  Lucy Drake and her brother have lived their entire adult lives trying to regain control of their grandfather's patent for a plumbing valve, which has fallen into the hands of their ruthless, cheating uncle.  Both Nick and Lucy work long hours just to pay lawyer fees: Nick underground in the city's water/sewer works and Lucy as an UP telegraph operator. Now almost penniless, it appears that they may need to give up their long, tireless fight.  Then Lucy intercepts a message incriminates her uncle and cousin in a plot to stop the selection of Panama for the new transcontinental canal.  Seeking help from her new friend British Sir Colin Beckwith, Lucy and Colin devise a plan to learn more about what is behind the cryptic telegraph message.

I first read  Elizabeth Camden when I read BEYOND ALL DREAMS about a map librarian at what would become the National Archives.  Being a librarian myself and the mother of an archivist, I was drawn to the historical perspective of establishing the National Archives.  Finding out that Camden herself was a librarian, I began to appreciate even more her detailed looks at changing social class, emerging careers and technology.  I look forward to her next novel and encourage others to check out her work.



Saturday, October 28, 2017

NOMADLAND: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder




 Product Details


Russ and I have been campers our entire marriage, starting out almost 46 years ago with a blue and white cabin tent, to be followed by two different pop up campers filled with our three kids and often extra friends.  Then we experienced another series of tenting years that led back into a roomy pop camper and an even roomier, dreamy 27 foot travel trailer.  Now, after several years with no camping, we are back on the road occasionally with a 17 foot R-pod tear drop. In our retirement years, the thought of full-timing has faintly called, but our roots are too deeply dug into our home community, especially since all 6 grandchildren and their parents are less than 2 hours away.  Still, I belong to several Facebook camping groups and often see postings from people, both young and old, who live fulltime in their RV's, and their lifestyles always intrigue me.  So when I heard Jessica Bruder on NPR talking about her new book which investigates the hidden-in-plain sight phenomenon of RV nomads, who are houseless, not homeless, and travel the country from one short term job to another, I was intrigued.  Promoted as ways to earn some extra money as you see the country, these short term jobs are often a needed life line for people who survive on social security, ssi disability, or shrinking retirement funds.  For over three years, Bruder traveled off and on with people like Linda May and others who work as forest camp hosts, seasonal sugar beet workers, amusement park employees and Amazon workcampers. Long hours, no benefits, and low pay seem to be common denominators across the jobs.  Bruder gained access to the inner stories of many of these campers and shares their tales of how they ended up on the road.  The recession of 2008 seems to be a turning point for many as lost jobs and up-side down mortgages pushed them into old rvs, vans, and trucks outfitted with the barest necessities and perhaps a solar panel to boondock (living off the grid).  As Bruder joins in on  the winter rendezous in Arizona and other group gatherings she finds another denominator -- most of these travelers have given up on the American dream.  No longer do they seek or expect to spend their final years in their own bricks and mortar home; most believe it is a lifestyle that has betrayed and failed them.   While many spend the winter months in the Southeast on National Parks land where they can camp for free for a limited number of days and then travel to work jobs in the summer and fall, they must move about in between,  often "hiding in plain sight" on city streets and parking lots.  Others crash for short term stays at relatives and friends.  Although there are patterns to their travels, stability is rare. 

I found this book both fascinating and disturbing.  There is a bit of admiration for those who choose to shun belongings and seek a simpler life, even when I know I could not fit my life into 200 square feet or even less. That the nomads have used social media and word of mouth to create a support network is remarkable.  I was pleased to read Bruder's stories of friendships made and help extended. But I feel a sadness for those who were forced into this nomadic life, whether from the economic downturn or personal upheaval, and even after making such a choice, must scratch for survival.  People in their late 70's should not have to work 12 hour shifts at Amazon, regularly lifting 50 lb. boxes, and constantly on their feet, often incurring injuries that don't heal for months.  Jessica Bruder's writing focuses on America's "subcultures and dark corners of the economy."  While these topics could be depressing, Bruder approaches this story of the nomadic life with sensitivity and intelligence, making the book a joy to read.  I actually read the entire book in just a few hours, finding I could not put it down, except to share details with my husband.