Book Review: Storm Shelter, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: Storm Shelter, J.L. Delozier

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Mystery & Thriller: Storm Shelter, J.L. Delozier

Storm Shelter is a prequel novel to J.L. Delozier’s debut thriller, Type and Cross. Protagonist Persephone “Seph” Smith is a psychologist with the V.A. She also gets deployed during emergencies to crisis areas. A pending hurricane sends her from her home in Philadelphia to a shelter in Texas, but she quickly finds that the hurricane is the least of the problems facing the team and the evacuees.

 

Soon after the storm arrives, strange things begin happening. A volunteer with diabetes has a blood sugar crisis, despite wearing his insulin pump. At first this seems like a normal deviation for someone under stress, but the behaviors and emotions of both staff and evacuees seem off, more than can be explained by just the storm. Then, a cook is viciously murdered. As Seph and the other staff look for the murderer, they realize it is only the beginning. Something terrible is happening inside the shelter, and no one is safe.

 

Seph finds that it is difficult to know who to trust and who is affected by the mysterious problems. The team leader is a doctor with a hair-trigger temper. The head of security is a Bronx native without a lot of experience. The priest is a little too fascinated with women’s feet. With these allies, confronting the challenges posed by the evacuees is hard enough. The evacuees include two half-brother gangsters with Aryan leanings, a vietnam veteran with mental issues, a pedophile cowboy, and a hooker with a fondness for yellow. As you can tell by the descriptions, Delozier brings in a wonderful collection of secondary characters to add flavor to the story.

 

Storm Shelter is Delozier’s (and Seph Smith’s) second book, but it’s easy to see why the author recommends reading this one first. It takes place about a decade before the events in Type and Cross. Smith is younger, in a different place in her career, and in a different place in her life. She is less sure of herself, less experienced in trusting her gut, and less able to lead others to follow her. In Storm Shelter, though, she begins to find the toughness we see more fully developed in Type and Cross. Throughout the book we see her grow, become willing to step up when she is needed, and by the end take charge and become the leader her team needs.

 

Delozier’s own experience as a doctor helping in emergency situations shows in her writing. Storm Shelter  is full of small details that make the situation more real. The team suffers from exhaustion as the week progresses. The coffee is awful, the food is bad, and they can’t get clean. Their appearance suffers as their tiredness increases. People make poor decisions, tempers are frayed, and the characters reveal more about themselves in their exhaustion than they do when they are more in control of themselves. I suspect that this is reflective of reality in those situations–though hopefully without a similar body count!

 

Storm Shelter is not a long book, but it is a tight thriller with a dramatic conclusion. Seph Smith is a heroine worth following. I hope that Dr. Delozier has many more sequels–or prequels–to come.

 

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Book Review: Storm ShelterJ.L. Delozier

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Book Review: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Book Series Review: MaddAddam Trilogy, Margaret Atwood

Book Series Review: MaddAddam Trilogy, Margaret Atwood

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Book Series Review: MaddAddam Trilogy, Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam Trilogy: Oryx and CrakeThe Year of the FloodMaddAddam

 

What can be said about Margaret Atwood that has not already been said? Winner of the Booker Prize, perennial finalist for the Nobel Prize for Literature, author of poetry, fiction, non-fiction. Margaret Atwood is one of the greatest living writers in the world today. With current television series inspired by her works The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace airing on Hulu and Netflix, she may be more well-known and well-loved than at any previous point in her amazing career.

 

Her MaddAddam Trilogy takes place in a future dystopian world that is vividly drawn and frighteningly believable. Many of the characters are in all three books, but the books are not set sequentially and the stories stand very well on their own. Oryx and Crake tells the story of Snowman. Known as “Jimmy” before the plague that destroyed most of humanity, Snowman thinks he may be the last human left alive. He has been put in charge of watching over the “Crakers,” a group of genetically modified humans who were designed by his friend, Crake. The Crakers are a simple people. They know they were created by Crake. They remember their first teacher, Oryx. They know that Snowman is their friend, sent by Crake to tell them stories. But Crake designed them with limited intelligence, believing that high intelligence was one of the problems of humanity. The story unfolds in two ways, with Snowman telling the Crakers a version of history that they can grasp, and with Jimmy remembering his life and his relationships with his best friend Glenn–later known as Crake–and the woman they both loved who took the name of Oryx. Crake and Oryx is unsparing. Jimmy does not look at his life heroically. He is an indifferent student, his family stinks, and he is emotionally distant and cruel toward women. Glenn/Crake is brilliant but cold, dismissive toward most people and disgusted with humanity as a species. The story of how Jimmy became involved with Crake’s experiments is revealed gradually, as Jimmy reflects on his own childhood and adolescence, as he tells fanciful tales to the Crakers, and as he prepares to leave the Crakers in search of food and supplies that he needs to stay alive. Through most of the book we are uncertain whether Jimmy/Snowman is the last remaining human. The book ends, though, with Jimmy learning that a small group of other survivors passed through the Crakers’ village while he was away. He follows their trail, uncertain whether these fellow survivors may be a threat to the Crakers.

 

The Year of the Flood is set in the same world, but is a very different book. Told from two perspectives, it jumps back and forth between characters and time, each section introduced by a sermon and a hymn from the “God’s Gardeners” religious sect that flourished shortly before the plague began. Ren is a dancer and prostitute in a men’s club. She spent part of her childhood with the God’s Gardeners sect, where she became friends with Amanda. At different times both she and Amanda dated Jimmy, the protagonist of Oryx and Crake. Toby did not completely buy into the doctrines of God’s Gardeners, but she appreciated their help rescuing her from a dangerous situation and became one of their leaders. Ren and Toby’s stories intertwine, and also connect them with Snowman/Jimmy, Crake/Glenn, and the events introduced in Oryx and Crake. Their perspective, though, is different. Pre-plague society stratified into wealthy compounds inhabited by employees of high-tech companies and the “pleeblands,” inhabited by ordinary people. The pleeblands were poor, gang-riddled, and dangerous. Jimmy and Glenn grew up in the wealthy, high-tech compounds. God’s Gardeners were in the pleeblands, as were Toby and Ren through most of the story. There were some limited opportunities to move between the two strata, and Toby and Ren do spend time in both, but the perspective of this book is clearly a view from the bottom. When the plague strikes, both are fortunate to be isolated and avoid infection. Eventually they find each other and go after Amanda, who has been captured by some ex-cons who also survived the plague. They find her with her captors at the same time as Jimmy shows up. We learn then that this was the group Jimmy was pursuing also, and realize that they are indeed a threat to the Crakers and to any other survivors they might prey upon.

 

MaddAddam moves the story forward in time. Toby is the main character, but we also learn the story of her companion, Zeb, and the story of the beginnings of God’s Gardeners. Zeb was also one of the leaders of God’s Gardeners, and through his story we learn more about the group and its founder, Adam. MaddAddam revisits much of the same time period as the previous books, this time through Zeb’s story, but it also moves forward as a band of humans and the Crakers come together to create a new type of community. Toby also takes over for the injured Snowman/Jimmy as the narrator of stories for the Crakers. This book has a great deal more humor in it than the other two books, as Toby finds her way through telling stories to people who like to interrupt with questions, songs, and other challenges.

 

Margaret Atwood describes her work as “speculative fiction,” differentiating it from “science fiction.” Her distinction is controversial, but very important to her. Science fiction (to her) involves stories about things that can’t happen yet. Interstellar travel, time travel, or aliens may or may not ever be possible, but they are not possible yet. Speculative fiction, by comparison, involves stories of things that actually could happen. Climate change is happening. Pollution is happening. Plagues have happened, and genetically engineered plagues (and animals and people) are real possibilities based on current technology.

 

I am not convinced there is a bright red line distinguishing “science fiction” from “speculative fiction,” but if she is writing about a world that might happen, it is chilling. The world of MaddAddam is terrible before the plague. Much of the world has been altered through global warming, with major coastal cities flooded and large swaths of agricultural land desertified. Pollution has made air in many cities almost toxic. Greed and corruption have sharply separated the haves and have nots. The plague does indeed clear pollution from the air rather quickly, but survivors struggle to find food. Not every human who survived the plague is willing to work together–those who were criminals before do not change their character after. This is a dark and dangerous world, and the trilogy does not end with “and they lived happily ever after.”

 

Not everyone will enjoy this trilogy, but it is well worth the time to read it. Margaret Atwood has an extraordinary gift with language. Her prose is often beautiful but can also be spare and blunt when it needs to be, utterly hilarious in one chapter and wrenchingly painful in the next. Each of the three books is different enough that they could be mistaken for works from three authors, yet they are also seamlessly woven together into one inseparable story. The story itself is frighteningly realistic. Atwood may not write about aliens, but her monsters are all the more real because they are the monsters we rightfully fear the most: those that dwell in the hearts of humans.

 

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Book Series Review: MaddAddam Trilogy, Margaret Atwood

Book Review: Agent in Place, Mark Greaney

Book Review: Agent in PlaceMark Greaney

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Thriller: Agent in PlaceMark Greaney

The Gray Man is back. Courtland Gentry is an assassin. After years running from the CIA, he has made his peace with them and even worked for them in Asia. But not all went well with that op, and he fears he may have lost some of his edge when he developed feelings for a Russian agent he met. So Gentry takes a job capturing the mistress of the Syrian president. Although she is guarded by elite Syrian forces, this is the Gray Man. What could go wrong? Plenty!

 

Agent in Place takes us from Paris to Damascus in a thriller that grips you from the first page and refuses to let go until the last. In this seventh installment of his Gray Man series, Mark Greaney shows us the hardened mercenary we have come to know already. But this version of the Gray Man has found some softness. Gentry has always fought for what he deemed to be “right.” He killed people who deserved to be killed, he spared the innocent and the bystanders, and he refused jobs that did not meet his standards. So, when he is offered a job by Syrian opposition forces in exile to strike a blow against the mass murderer in charge of the country by capturing his mistress, he accepts. The plan is to free her from his clutches so she can testify to his double-crossing the Russians, thus removing his support from his primary backers. But there is a small complication: her four-month old son is still in Damascus. She will not speak out until he is safe, and only the Gray Man has the tools and the courage to rescue the child.

 

Mark Greaney is an expert in weaving a complicated plot that still manages to stay tied together. Agent in Place also shows us some new sides to a familiar character. Gentry does not know anything about children, especially babies. Facing Syrian intelligence agents and special forces, he is completely flummoxed by the formula needs of the infant. It does not occur to him that traveling with a baby means packing diapers. It also shows glimpses of wit. Deep in the Syrian desert, surrounded by fighters from many sides, he complains that his travel agent had told him he was heading to a “clothing optional” resort. Still, for those who go into the book looking for action, there is plenty to satisfy.

 

I was surprised by one major plot twist which seemed to rely completely on luck, or perhaps deus ex machina. Greaney is a good enough writer to make it work, but I have to admit that seeing Gentry get bailed out of a hopeless situation by getting unexpectedly captured by good guys felt a bit contrived. I suppose that occasionally even the Gray Man deserves a little bit of good luck–he certainly has more than his share of bad luck–but when a character known for using his wits, his skills, and more than a little violence to get out of trouble is accidentally captured by actual allies in the midst of the Syrian civil war, it was a bit disconcerting.

 

Mark Greaney puts a lot into his novels. He has degrees in political science and international relations, both of which play major roles in all of his books. In preparation for his novels, Greaney has traveled to dozens of countries, interviewed leaders at the Pentagon, and taken training in weapons and combat from actual military trainers. The preparation shows, as his locations feel authentic, the descriptions of combat are intense and heart pounding, and the politics and international intrigue feels pulled from the headlines.

 

All in all, it was a typically satisfying Greaney novel. The good guy won, taking out a bunch of bad guys, and the Agent in Place was indeed in the right place and at the right time. Not a bad beach read.

 

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Book Review: Agent in PlaceMark Greaney

Book Review: Less,  Andrew Sean Greer

Book Review: Less,  Andrew Sean Greer

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Fiction: Less,  Andrew Sean Greer

Arthur Less is about to turn 50, and his life is a mess. His longtime boyfriend Freddy is getting married to Tom and his publisher has turned down his latest novel. So, to avoid going to the wedding and to ignore his 50th birthday, Arthur plans a trip around the world. This is the premise for Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Less.

 

Less is a funny, bizarre, quirky novel about a trip that does not quite go as planned. Arthur is a so-so novelist with books that have barely made a ripple in the world’s awareness. He is most noted for being the former lover of a famous poet, though his own work has gathered a bit of a following in translation (which, he admits, is likely more due to the gifts of the translator than due to his own writing). However, he does get the occasional odd invitation: a poetry symposium in Mexico, a prize ceremony in Italy, a teaching assignment in Berlin, a writing assignment in Japan. When you don’t want to turn 50 alone in your home in San Francisco, and you CERTAINLY don’t want to go to your ex-lover’s wedding in Tahiti, you can string several of these together and voila! You have a most-expenses paid trip around the world.

 

I found myself with an interesting set of mixed emotions reading Less. In many ways, the protagonist and I are very different. He is gay, promiscuous, and friends with famous literary figures. I am straight, married, and my friends have not yet attained the level of fame they deserve. He is traveling around the world, and my last trip out of the US was almost 40 years ago. Yet throughout the book I found myself nodding in recognition at our shared journey. I am 52, so very recently went through the same numeric passage facing Less during his trip. The physical changes wrought by middle age are all too familiar, as are the emotions as you realize that your first 50 years did not go according to the script you thought you were writing–and you likely don’t have another 50 years to rewrite the story. Less may be “about” a gay man’s trip around the world, but it is so much more. It is about every man’s (every person’s?) trip through life, as embodied by a strange, sometimes clueless, protagonist.

 

Throughout the book, Less muses on his life. His relationships with the two men he spent years with. His frenemies who seem to both understand him better than he understands himself, and who do not know him at all. His work as a writer. His family, including a father who tried desperately to raise a “straight” son by taking him camping and other outdoorsy pastimes. The nature of love. Aging. And travel itself. His musings are often funny, often poignant, sometimes filled with self-awareness and self-discovery, and sometimes completely clueless.

 

In his trip, Less is given some interesting advice. One person encourages him to get fat. She also advises him to give up on love. Another person informs him that he is a “bad gay.” Less finds lovers in Paris and Berlin, though it’s fair to say he does not find love. He buys a tailored suit in one country, loses a (different) tailored suit in another country, and finally loses all of his luggage, returning home with only the suit he purchased. All of these incidents and so many more are told with whimsy, compassion, and amusement by a narrator who clearly adores Less, quirks and peculiarities and all. When the identity of the narrator is revealed at the end of the novel, it is not entirely a surprise. It is, though, a delight.

 

By the end of the novel, Arthur Less has changed. He knows himself better. He has found his writing voice again. He is ready for the next stage in his life. The journey to finding himself may have taken him around the world. But the journey within was much longer. Less is a novel that definitely gives the reader more. I highly recommend it.

 

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Book Review: Less, Andrew Sean Greer

Book Review: Music of the Ghosts, Vaddey Ratner

Book Review: Music of the GhostsVaddey Ratner

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Fiction: Music of the GhostsVaddey Ratner

 

Vaddey Ratner calls her second novel, Music of the Ghosts, “a story of survivors.” It is a deep, thoughtful, heartfelt story of two people whose journey to escape the killing fields of Cambodia is still fraught with danger and tragedy, even decades after the regime was overthrown.

 

Teera is a young woman who escaped Cambodia as a child with her aunt. They were the only two of a large extended family to survive. Teera’s aunt raised her and guided her through high school in Minnesota, college at Cornell, and then back again to Minnesota. Many years later, though, her aunt contracted cancer and died soon after the diagnosis. Among her dying wishes was for part of her ashes to be returned to Cambodia, to the temple in Phnom Penh she had helped raise money to rebuild. The building was dedicated to the memory of Teera’s father, a musician in pre-war Cambodia. More than a little lost after the death of this central person in her world, Teera returns to Cambodia to honor her aunt’s wishes…and to meet an old musician who has sent her a mysterious letter.

 

Tun remained in Cambodia after the war. He lost everyone and everything. One of the few who survived his imprisonment, he had been held with Teera’s father near the end of the war. Tun had also been a musician, and the two men were familiar with each other before the war. While they were imprisoned together, Teera’s father entrusted Tun with the location of three musical instruments he had made by hand. Although they were not of any particular value, they were literally the only things he had left, and he asked Tun to find his daughter and give them to her. Tun had returned to Phnom Penh many years after the war looking for any signs of his friend’s family–and found the temple. There, the broken and crippled man was given a home and the opportunity to play his music. Eventually, he managed to write Teera, telling her of the instruments and of his friendship with her father.

 

Shifting back and forth between these two characters, author Vaddey Ratner brings us into a Cambodia that still struggles with its past. Everyone who survived the Khmer Rouge period was a victim–but many of the victims were also victimizers. Tun started the war as a soldier for the Khmer Rouge. During one of the purges, though, his loyalty was questioned. His daughter was raped and murdered, and he was thrown into prison. Under torture he gave up names of people he knew. Some of those people were subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Whether this was because he gave up their names or not is unknowable–the “Organization” was arresting and killing people under any pretext, so it’s quite possible the names he gave were given up by other people as well, or that they would have been captured for other reasons. But the guilt he feels is real.

 

This is a reality for the actual Cambodia as well. What do you do with people who fought in the war? Most of the soldiers who fought against the Khmer Rouge were killed. But many of those who fought for the Khmer Rouge were killed or imprisoned and tortured by the regime itself. Should those people be held accountable for bringing Pol Pot to power? Or was their own experience at his hands enough punishment? Tun is physically and mentally shattered after the war. His family is dead, his body is broken, and his mind is haunted by his crimes. Yet he feels that he should be held more accountable. Ratner ultimately leaves that to the reader to judge.

 

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Book Review: Music of the GhostsVaddey Ratner

 

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner

Book Review: In the Shadow of the BanyanVaddey Ratner

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Historical Fiction: In the Shadow of the BanyanVaddey Ratner

In the Shadow of the Banyan is a beautiful, haunting, exquisite story that will live in my heart for a long, long time. “War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father’s footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his.” Gripping the reader from that first sentence, Vaddey Ratner takes us back to 1970s Cambodia. Told from the perspective of seven-year old Raami, we follow her family from their home in Phnom Penh to exile in the countryside and then from exile to forced labor. It is a story of survival more than triumph, and not everyone in her family survives.

 

The Khmer Rouge killed hundreds of thousands of their own people. Some estimates are over two million deaths during their four-year rule. Many were executed for supporting the former regime. Many more were worked to death or died of starvation in forced labor camps. Others became sick and died from inadequate or non-existent medical care. Raami is witness to every form of death and atrocity visited by the “Organization,” the term the regime used to describe itself. She herself is forced to labor, prohibited from going to school, taught to forget her past and serve the revolution. Although she holds onto the memories of her childhood including the poems and stories of her father, her spirit and her body are brutalized by misuse.

 

Yet, Raami is resilient. In the face of death, abuse, loss, illness, forced labor, and every other imaginable horror visited on her and her family, she continues. Despite there being no reason to hope, Raami lives. Despite every reason to lose her ability to love, Raami loves. As much as it is the story of one little girl, In the Shadow of the Banyan is the story of the Cambodian people. Brutalized and forsaken, both she and they survived.

 

There was a time, not too many years ago, when America was a place of hope for refugees and other victims of brutal regimes. Author Vaddey Ratner was a little girl in the “killing fields” of Cambodia. She, like her character, survived those days and came to America. Ratner arrived as a refugee in 1981 not knowing English. In 1990, she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and went to Cornell, where she graduated summa cum laude. In these days when this country seems to have strayed from that vision of being a country of immigrants, perhaps this book can remind us why an America that stands for freedom for the oppressed and hope for the persecuted is so important.

 

Ratner may have arrived not knowing English, but she has become a master of the language. Her prose is achingly beautiful. She spends paragraphs describing rain, then compares that rain to the sorrow expressed by her mother. One character tells the story behind his shaved head and his scars, describing in detail how he obtained those scars to save his family–and how it ultimately did not matter. Ratner weaves Cambodian folk tales into the story through poetic retellings by Raami’s father and through more traditional stories told by peasants and servants Raami meets. These details bring light to the darkness of the story.

 

In the Shadow of the Banyan may be told from a child’s perspective, but it is not a children’s book. It is a book about the loss of childhood, the loss of an entire generation’s childhood, the loss of an entire nation’s innocence. It is also a book about resilience and hope. Ratner reminds us that the most desperate people can embody grace and empathy. Hopefully, she reminds us that the most blessed people can do the same.

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Book Review: In the Shadow of the BanyanVaddey Ratner

Book Review: The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper

Book Review: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

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Fiction: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

Friday, March 5th, 1954. A young freshman congressman wakes up from a drunken stupor lying in the bottom of a ravine in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Nearby is a crashed Studebaker…and the body of a young woman. So begins the story of The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper’s first novel, but hopefully not his last.

 

Jake Tapper is a leading correspondent and analyst for CNN’s Washington DC bureau. As such, he has seen the inner workings of modern Washington firsthand. In his debut novel, though, he turns his attention to an earlier era, the 1950s. Ike Eisenhower is president, Jack and Robert Kennedy are rising young stars, and Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn are headlining the news on a daily basis with their hearings on “the Red menace.” Tapper may not have been alive to cover Washington during that time, but he brings a journalist’s eye and a storyteller’s art to bring the time to life in this book.

 

The Hellfire Club is a private, invitation only, club that is one of several such secret societies in Washington. It is so secret, in fact, that few know about it and even fewer will talk about it. There, barons of industry socialize with political leaders from both sides of the aisle. Deals are done, sins are shared, reputations are made and destroyed, and the real power in Washington is exercised. First-term congressman Charlie Marder gets swept up in this world before he knows what’s happening. His exemplary service as an Army captain in WWII Europe and his career as an academic at Columbia have failed to fully prepare him for the battle lines in Congress. Enemies masquerade as friends, true friends are hard to find, and successes become failures with the stroke of a pen. Even the strongest of relationships are tested in this kind of turbulence.

 

Charlie’s wife, Margaret, is an academic herself. A zoologist, she is much more familiar with the workings of nature than of politics. Wild horses could drag her away–and they do. She leaves Washington to participate in a study of wild horses on islands off the coast of Maryland. This leaves Charlie alone in Washington. There, he finds that the taste of power and the pressures of the job lead to compromises he never expected to make, and he finds that he is not entirely the person he believed himself to be.

 

Charlie and Margaret are wonderful characters. Neither are saints. Both make mistakes. Their journey together and their recognition of the other’s failings and strengths makes for a powerful story arc. There are times in the book when neither of them is particularly likable. Yet, by the end, I was cheering for each of them and for their relationship to make it. Any long marriage will face struggles–though most of us don’t have to confront the temptations or the threats that walk the halls of Congress. Charlie discovers that he is not the same person without Margaret. He needs her to be his best self–and that humility guides him (and them) through the powerful conclusion of The Hellfire Club.

 

Tapper brings the transitions of the 1950s powerfully to life. It is easy to look back and gloss over the Eisenhower era as one of peace and stability. In fact, the dramatic transformations of the 1960s were already taking root in the previous decade. Black veterans were being elected to Congress–in very small numbers–but they were not allowed any real power. Women were seldom seen in any leadership roles. Mostly they were used by men in power as toys. Sexual abuse was not only tolerated but expected. Yet the book hints at the changes that were brewing. Margaret Marder has a career, one she intends to pursue even while her husband is in Congress and even while she is pregnant. Charlie’s one true friend throughout the book is Isaiah Street, an African American congressman from Chicago. These relationships help him survive the challenges facing him. Beyond their value to the story, though, Margaret and Isaiah help us remember how far we’ve come in such a relatively short time.

 

Tapper makes 1950s Washington come to life in The Hellfire Club. Within the first 50 pages we have appearances by the Kennedys, the Nixons, Lyndon Johnson, and other power players from history. It may be a book of fiction, but Tapper weaves actual historical figures into the narrative, along with actual events (such as a shooting in the Capitol by Puerto Rican separatists), to make it feel like we’re reading about actual intrigues and cover ups. The Hellfire Club may be a dangerous club to join, but it’s a wonderful book to read.

 

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Book Review: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

Book Review: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: Type and CrossJ.L. Delozier

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Fiction: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Persephone “Seph” Smith is a profiler. Her acute empathy allows her to get into the minds of criminals, understanding the way they see the world and sometimes anticipating their next moves. When a killer executes a plot to release a deadly virus into the world, one with the potential to kill well over half the population, Seph is called to join the team pursuing him. What follows is a globe-trotting chase matching Seph’s wits against those of a killer who seems just as capable of seeing through her as she is of seeing through him.

 

J.L. Delozier is a doctor with years experience in both community medicine and in treating people during the worst of emergencies. Her clinical expertise shows in the details of the book, but does not overwhelm the story. This may say something about me, given that the book is about a mass murderer using biological weapons to cull the population, but I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. Seph is a thoughtful protagonist, capable of using her intelligence to track and capture the criminal, but also one who considers seriously the ramifications of life and death when confronted with the reality of plague in a modern era.

 

Type and Cross raises some interesting questions. What would people do when they knew they had a month to live? Delozier poses some intriguing possibilities. Some would turn to religion. Some would see an opportunity to strip off the veneer of civilization and give in to much baser instincts: rape and pedophilia, for example. Some would withdraw their savings and take that “bucket list” trip. Others would huddle close to loved ones. These possibilities are not dwelt upon. They are listed as observations Seph makes as the world confronts mass mortality, but they show the depth of the author and the character. We are mortal creatures who never fully accept our mortality. Each of us tends to live as though we have all the time in the world. Curiously, though, that refusal to bow to the inevitable might make us powerful enough to live beyond our years.

 

Seph realizes she will die. (Spoiler, though, she doesn’t.) The disease will kill almost everyone. This gives her an element of freedom to pursue a hurried relationship that, if they had more than a month to live, might not have developed. It pushes her to appreciate and welcome her family roles as a sister and an aunt. But it also focuses and motivates her to complete her task and find the killer. If she dies, when she dies, she will die doing what she is supposed to do. Ultimately, that may be all any of us can live for.

 

I am looking forward to finishing the prequel book, Storm Shelter. Although Type and Cross was published first, it should be regarded as the second book in the series according to the author. Regardless of the order you read them, J.L. Delozier has given us a delightful protagonist who may have to save the world again someday. I am glad she is up to the task.

 

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Book Review: Type and CrossJ.L. Delozier

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

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Book Series Review: Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Mitford, NC is an idyllic town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that bursts with all the drama of big city lights in the package of small town interpersonal relationships. In Mitford, cake competitions are as fierce as Superbowl Sunday and potlucks can vibrate with the tensions of a boardroom during a hostile corporate takeover. In Mitford, folks celebrate the first harvest of sweet corn and the turning of the fall leaves. In Mitford, they bake from scratch and start making Christmas presents in the fall. In Mitford, people share joys and hide pain. In Mitford, they laugh and cry, and some die, but mostly they live. The characters of the town are all people who live and they don’t feel like characters but like real people.

The heart of the Mitford Books belongs to the main character, Father Tim Kavanagh. Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest, shepherds, cares, and prays for his eccentric parishioners and the entire town of Mitford. The majority of the series is seen through his eyes. As clergy, or retired clergy, or just good friend, Father Tim is the man that the town goes to share all of life’s secrets, sorrows, challenges, milestones, and triumphs. Father Tim is just the fellow to share a story or two over a glass of cold southern sweet tea.

The Mitford Books should be savored on a Sunday afternoon or evening as a gentle way to prompt reflections during the transition between weeks — preferably, in a cozy and cheerful room with some southern sweet tea and a light treat since Father Tim always needs to look after his blood sugar levels.

Southern Sweet Tea

  • 12 regular sized black tea bags
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (to keep liquid clear and not cloudy)
  • 1 cup sugar or Splenda/stevia (if serving to Father Tim)
  • 1 quart filtered water
  • 1 quart ice cubes

In a large glass measuring cup, place the tea bags and add the baking soda.

Pour the boiling water over the tea bags.

Cover and steep for 15 minutes.

Take out the tea bags and do not squeeze them.

Pour the tea mixture into a pitcher; add the sugar.

Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Add in the ice cubes.

Let cool; chill in the refrigerator and serve over additional ice.

Garnish with lemon slices or mint sprigs

 

Cornbread Cookies

Father Tim is very fond of cornbread, however, cornbread is not very fond of Father Tim as it sends his blood sugar to bad levels. Hopefully, the lower sugar, ground chickpeas, and whole wheat flour in these cookies will prevent a sharp sugar spike, yet satisfy that cornbread craving.

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Splenda/stevia
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 cup canned chickpeas drained and minced in food processor
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven 325

In stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and Splenda/stevia. Add extract, honey, and egg.

In separate bowl mix together remaining dry ingredients (corn meal, flour, baking soda, and salt). Then slowly add to wet ingredients with the mixer on slow.

Use a cookie scoop to form dough balls on baking sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes till edges barely start to brown.

 

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

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Book Series Review: China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

China Bayles is the main character of the 28 and counting China Bayles Herbal Mysteries, a cozy mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert. After an intense career as a lawyer, China Bayles moves to the small college town of Pecan Springs, Texas to restart her life as the owner of an herbal shop. China uses her logic and  critical thinking skills gained as a lawyer and her knowledge of herbs and human nature gathered as a business woman to solve the mysteries and crimes that she and her best friend Ruby seem to fall into in their not quite quiet little town.

Each book features an herb that figures predominately as the title, theme, and key to the mystery. In addition, Albert sprinkles herbal facts, recipes, and even the occasional craft to support the herbal theme. The generous number of books in the series allows readers to follow the milestones of China’s life in Pecan Springs as her relationships, business, and role in the community grows. China is the kind of character you want to get to know in a small town like Pecan Springs. She’s funny, friendly, and has all the typical concerns and baggage that readers can relate to in a heartbeat like her stress in pulling together a meal after a long day or her musings over wardrobe and weight.

China Bayles Herbal Mysteries are the perfect books to savor on a summer weekend while sipping iced tea with something sweet.

Fresh Mint Iced Tea

Albert generously shares through out the series different recipes that China and best friend and business partner, Ruby would serve in their tea shop venture Thyme for Tea or at home. However, this fresh mint tea outlines a simple process that can be done as a quick gather in the garden after work that will be ready in time for a week night supper.

  • 8 sprigs of mint per cup of water
  • Optional: mix and match mint sprigs with basil, lemon verbena, lemon balm, or chamomile
  • Honey or sweetener of choice to taste or one sprig of fresh stevia per cup of water
  • Boiling water half the amount of water needed based on number of fresh herb sprigs gathered
  • Ice to equal to half the amount of water needed based on number of fresh herb sprigs gathered
  • Garnish: a slice of fresh citrus – lemon, lime, orange and/or a small slice of melon – watermelon

Let the fresh herbs, sweetener, and steep in the hot water for 10 minutes in a heat proof pitcher to create a concentrated liquid. Add the ice and let cool in the refrigerator until serving. Remove the pitcher herbs with tongs and serve with a fresh sprig of mint and ice in individual glasses. Add a garnish of citrus and/or melon for extra flavor.

Variation: use 4 sprigs of herbs and one tea bag per cup of water

 

China Bayles, lives in Pecan Springs, TX so in honor of her town here are two pecan recipes to snack on while reading about her adventures.

Pecan Butter Balls

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Chop the pecans in a blender or food processor until you have two cups. Combine all of the ingredients except confectioners’ sugar. Gather the dough into a ball. With floured hands, shape into one-inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheets. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and spray them with Pam. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Pull the cookies and papers off the cookie sheet and onto a cooling rack and let them cool slightly; be sure they’re still warm and then gently shake them in a bag with the confectioners’ sugar. Place them back on the paper and add more confectioners’ sugar while they cool. Makes 5 dozen.

 

Ginger Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
  • 3/4 cup pecan halves
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger  or 2 teaspoons grated crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Directions

Grind the oatmeal and pecan pieces in a food processor until they resemble cornmeal–reasonably fine but with some texture. Whisk the whole wheat flour, cornstarch, ginger, salt and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the oat/nut mixture.

In another medium bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth and light, about 1 minute. Gradually add the granulated and light brown sugar; continue beating until evenly combined, about 3 minutes more. Add the vanilla and the egg.

Mix in the dry ingredients to make a dough. Line a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans with plastic wrap and pack dough into the bottom half of the pan. Press to level off the dough. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on top and refrigerate until completely firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove dough from the pan and unwrap. Slice dough in half lengthwise if using a large pan. Slice each log crosswise into 1/4-inch thick cookies. Place the cookies about a 1-inch apart on the prepared pans. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and crisp. Serve.

Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 1 week.

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

If you enjoyed this post see:

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon