Sunday, November 29, 2015

Featured Book: Girl in Glass by Deanna Fei

Deanna Fei was just five-and-a-half months pregnant when she inexplicably went into labor. Minutes later, she met her tiny baby who clung to life support inside a glass box. Fei was forced to confront terrifying questions: How to be the mother of a child she could lose at any moment. Whether her daughter would survive another day--and whether she should. But as she watched her daughter fight for her life, Fei discovered the power of the mother-child bond at its most elemental.

A year after she brought her daughter home from the hospital, the CEO of AOL--her husband's employer--blamed the beautiful, miraculously healthy little girl for a cut in employee benefits and attached a price tag to her life, using a phrase, "distressed babies," that set off a national firestorm.

Girl in Glass is the riveting story of one child's harrowing journey and a powerful distillation of parenthood. With incandescent prose and an unflinching eye, Fei explores the value of a human life: from the spreadsheets wielded by cost-cutting executives to the insidious notions of risk surrounding modern pregnancy; from the wondrous history of medical innovation in the care of premature infants to contemporary analyses of what their lives are worth; and finally, to the depths of her own struggle to make sense of her daughter's arrival in the world. Above all, Girl in Glass is a luminous testament to how love takes hold when a birth defies our fundamental beliefs about how life is supposed to begin.

About the author:

Deanna Fei is the author of the award-winning novel A Thread of Sky. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Fei has received a Fulbright Grant and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Huffington Post, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

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Featured Book: The Disappearing Dolphins by Jennifer Kelman

Can You See the Disappearing Dolphins? 

Kevin and his twin sister Jackie always enjoy going to the beach with their mommy, but Kevin can tell that today will be extra-special. 

As he and Jackie start building a sandcastle, Kevin sees a fantastic sight: a dolphin, jumping and playing in the ocean. Kevin is known for his vivid imagination, and when he tells Jackie about the dolphin, she doesn't believe him. 

As he watches the joyful antics of the dolphin in the sparkling sea, Kevin is convinced that the dolphin is real-even he couldn't make up something this fantastic! 

Determined to share the magic of the dolphin, Kevin sets out on an adventure of discovery that will create lifelong memories for him and for Jackie. 

With warm, comforting language and beautiful illustrations, The Disappearing Dolphins is sure to become a favorite with anyone who cherishes the wonder of the natural world as seen through children's eyes.

About the author:

Jennifer Kelman is a licensed clinical social worker, life coach, author and entrepreneur. The Disappearing Dolphins is her third children's book. Her first two are part of the Mrs. Pinkelmeyer book series. Mrs. Pinkelmeyer and her lovable dog, Moopus McGlinden, created by Jennifer, are award-winning children's characters that inspire self-esteem in children through their love, warmth and silliness. Jennifer took a departure from that series to write this lovely tale of the disappearing dolphins. Jennifer is an avid cyclist and tennis player and credits all of her creativity to her young twins.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Featured Book: Baby Lady's Scary Night by Oksana & Marina Davydov

The monster under the bed. The Boogey Man. Those mysterious things that go bump in the night. 

Bedtime can be fraught with fear and anxiety for children with overactive imaginations – and the parents who struggle to comfort them. 

Baby Lady’s Scary Night: A Ladybug Story tells just such a story, a tale of anxious little Baby Lady, who sees things – terrifying things – when the lights go out at night. But what Baby Lady learns about the dark turns out to be not so very scary after all! 

The precious little ladybug discovers that the world that comes alive at night is all in her head. Things are not as they seem – and that’s okay. 

Baby Lady’s Scary Night is a beautifully illustrated children’s book that educates youngsters on how their own imaginations and fears can convince them they’re seeing things that aren’t really there. 

More important, this charming and compelling story shows kids how to employ their own knowledge and logic to recognize these fears as irrational, and overcome them for a restful sleep.

About the authors:

Oksana and Marina Davydov are sisters who have used their love of writing to create their first children's book. They live in Brooklyn, New York.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Club Kit: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

In the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha and The Piano Teacher, a heart-wrenching debut novel of family, forgiveness, and the exquisite pain of love

When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review: Shallcross by Charles Porter

A modern-day Odyssey. A modern-day romance. Shades of A Clockwork Orange with a shocking end and a surprising view from inside a man’s split mind, Shallcross tells the story of a middle-aged car dealer who entertains and haunts himself in a heated hatchery of colorful phanera, film, and music, spawned in the auditory and visual hallucinations he’s experienced since childhood.

Aubrey Shallcross feels lost after selling his business, but conventional cures do not seem to help. In his retirement without executive routine, he and Triple Suiter, his mind’s other voice, ride the good times and bad, going on long hauls through the sawgrass of his psyche and engaging in a scary retrospect of Catholicism after journeying from religious to secular man.

Determined to stay sane and happy on his South Florida farm, he resumes a lifelong passion for training horses, surfing, and music in his oceanfront county, where big cattle ranches stretch inland to Lake Okeechobee. Aubrey falls in love with an unusual woman, and they lead a life of devotion and magic until a rabid stalker, jealous of this love, shoots out the sun.

Received for review

It’s really never a good sign when reading a book makes you feel high as was the case with this. Granted, the main character has auditory and visual hallucinations, but that shouldn’t translate to giving the poor reader nightmares as well. This has the Twin Peaks effect in spades.

I just had no connection with Aubrey and his hallucinations. I did not find them engaging, charming, or anything else. If anything they were annoying and really detracted from the story rather than adding to it.

Since I couldn’t care less about Aubrey and his adventures the book was a bit of a bust for me. I didn’t care about what happened to Aubrey either way as long as he would just shut up. I really could not get through this fast enough.

Overall, unless you are actively searching out a way to feel like you’re hallucinating when you’re reading a book then I would give this a pass. I was not impressed in the least and really cannot recommend it at all.

☆☆☆☆ = Didn't Like It

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Featured Book: TaleSpins by Michael Mullin

A trilogy of alternative fairytales & retellings for YA readers. 

Meet Creepy the unknown 8th dwarf and learn the truth about Snow White. 

Discover a teen princess who hires The Frog Prince witch to get revenge on a Mean Girl at school. 

And learn what happens when a man who lives high above ground encounters a boy thief named Jack!

About the author:

Michael Mullin lives in Pasadena, CA, although all his sports allegiances remain in his native New England. He wrote TaleSpins, a collection of three twisted fairytale retellings for YA readers. The first story, which features Creepy the unknown 8th dwarf, has become a cult hit with book bloggers and has also been published in graphic novel form ("8: The Untold Story"). Michael is also co-author of several titles in the award-winning Larry Gets Lost™ picture book series, and wrote the middle-grade humor/adventure titled Rocketboy: The Return of Dr. Megaton.

He lives with his wife and their teenage twins. The kids pretty much run his life, despite his best efforts to appear as if he is running theirs.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: Are You Fully Charged? by Tom Rath

Tom Rath's latest international bestseller (6th WSJ/NYT bestseller, over 6 million copies sold) reveals the three keys that matter most for our daily well-being, as well as our engagement in our work.

Drawing on the latest and most practical research from business, psychology, and economics, this book focuses on changes we can make to create better days for ourselves and others.

Are You Fully Charged? will challenge you to stop pursuing happiness and start creating meaning instead, lead you to rethink your daily interactions with the people who matter most, and show you how to put your own health first in order to be your best every day.

Received for review

This is another prime example of a rich guy trying to tell the little people how to live. He has no clue what is like to live in the real world and that comes through in his “keys”. The author seems to firmly believe that people can just choose whatever job they want and not only get paid well for it but enjoy it as well. Perhaps that has always happened for him, but for the vast majority of people that is simply not feasible.

The author also believes that you should give up an increase in income for the greater good - i.e. that you should do a lower paid job if it provides more job satisfaction and contributes more to the community. Clearly that does not apply to him though, since he’s a multi-millionaire. I don’t see him actually trading in his lucrative writing career for a lower paid job. Technically he says that he did give up his lucrative consulting job but he traded that in for a lucrative book deal so that’s not really giving much up.

So, the main idea of this entire book is a hippie like “do what feels good and don’t focus on the money”. That’s great if you’re actually already loaded but not so great for everyone else who actually needs to eat and have someplace to live where your roommates aren’t cockroaches.

Overall, while the concept is intriguing the author’s “keys” are idealistic and fatally flawed - unless you are actually already rich and trying to “find yourself”. I really cannot recommend this.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer

While we eat, work, and sleep, bees are busy around the world. More than 20,000 species are in constant motion! They pollinate plants of all types and keep our natural world intact. In Bees, you'll find a new way to appreciate these tiny wonders. Sam Droege and Laurence Packer present more than 100 of the most eye-catching bees from around the world as you've never seen them: up-close and with stunning detail. You'll stare into alien-like faces. You'll get lost in mesmerizing colors and patterns, patches and stripes of arresting yellow or blue. Whether you linger on your first close look at the Western Domesticated Honey Bee or excitedly flip straight to the rare Dinagapostemon sicheli, there's no doubt you'll be blown away by the beauty of bees.

Received for review

I’m a huge fan of honey so when I think of bees my mind immediately goes straight to the honeybee, but I was surprised and slightly thrilled to discover that there are over 20,000 species of bees (plus about 20,000 more that don’t even have names yet!). There are bees that horn in on the hives of others, there are those that live underground, and of course there are the beloved honeybee (which is actually a rarity among bees).

The book provides stunning, detailed photographs of each bee it catalogs and provides a few tidbits about its behavior and where it lives. Bees from everywhere from Australia to Europe to the United States are covered in loving detail.

Since this is mainly a photography book it’s a very fast but quite educational read. I was fascinated by the colors and sheer variety of the bees featured. Some were cute and furry looking and some would probably be excellent models for horror movie villains.

Overall, this is a beautifully photographed and incredibly detailed book that is sure to be thoroughly enjoyed by bee lover and any photography lover in general. It would also make a gorgeous and thoughtful gift for a bee lover. I definitely highly, highly recommend it.

★★★★★ = Loved It

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Featured Book: Levi Sawyer: Dancing with the Devil by Larry A. Bieghler

An Outlaw's Cruel Revenge...

After Levi Sawyer came home one day to find his wife murdered and four of his horses stolen, he swore that he would bring justice to the men who committed this terrible crime. 

He followed the outlaws over the Blue Mountains and into the Walla Walla Valley. When the outlaws abducted a young woman, he became part of the posse that rescued her, killing two of the criminals in the process. But the most dangerous of the band survived...the heartless Willard Pile, who will stop at nothing to get his revenge. 

Sawyer went back to Montana to settle his affairs, but now he's in the valley again, and ready to make a life with his new love. But Willard Pile has other plans. Sawyer and the men of the Marley Ranch, assisted by their friend Badger, will have to track down Pile and his men. There will be no peace for Levi Sawyer until he fulfills his stop Willard Pile once and for all. 

This colorful, compelling historical novel will keep you enthralled from the first page to the last.

About the author:

Larry Bieghler's Levi Sawyer books were inspired by historical information about the Walla Walla valley, where the author has lived for many years. The success of the first novel, Levi Sawyer: Shadow of a Dead Man inspired Larry to write a sequel, and he is now considering a third novel in the series.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Featured Book: Cousins in Calico by Ruth West

Two young girl cousins in the piney-woods area of West Central Louisiana in 1920 enjoy time together as their mothers, who are sisters, and their fathers, who are brothers, carry on the typical lives of rural families during this era following World War I. 

The men, after serving in France during the war, returned to their families to build nice log houses and find work at the local sawmill in Fisher. 

The cousins loved playing together, but were also required to help with the chores. A neighbor child, older than they, presented problems. While the thick pine forests were a boon to the sawmill trade, they were filled with wild animals and timber rattlers. 

Both mothers were expecting babies at the same time, which added much intrigue to the story of two children who were told very little about where babies come from. 

At this time, transportation consisted mainly of horses, wagons, buggies and mules. There was only one telephone, located at the Commissary, the company store in Fisher. Electricity had not come to the rural areas, so light was furnished by coal oil lamps. Some fortunate families had ice boxes. 

The story entails times of anguish, joy, and intrigue. It is related by the nine-year-old, Lizbeth Ann Hunter.

About the author:

Ruth Elizabeth West was born and raised in the area about which her book is written. It is not intended to be autobiographical, but there are similarities to the lives of her parents. Ruth lives in Norman, Oklahoma. She taught in the public schools of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Missouri for thirty years. She has B. S. and M.ED degrees from East Central University, Ada, OK.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: Dylan: Disc by Disc by John Bream

Dylan: Disc by Disc features each of Bob Dylan's studio LPs--thirty-six releases in all. Rock 'n' roll musicians, songwriters, and critics sound off about each release, bringing from the shadows not only Dylan's extraordinary musical accomplishments but the factors in his life that influenced his musical expressions. From The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan to Blonde on Blonde, from Blood on the Tracks to Shadows in the Night, Dylan: Disc by Disc rouses generations of Dylan fans with a unique, hip, stunning exposition spanning the music legend's storied career.

Few figures in American music have compiled a body of work as impressive as that created by Dylan. Winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, eleven Grammys, and one Oscar, and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Dylan is one of the most honored musicians of our time. He has arguably done more to shape American music culture than any singer/songwriter. Beginning with his early acoustic folk releases, Dylan showed an early penchant for doing whatever he wanted with his music by electrifying his sound at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, playing a leading role in the late 1960s protest culture, and playing with the Band. His long career far from over, he moved into his "Christian" period, his struggle for artistic identity in the 1980s, his return to critical success in 1997, and his release of an album of songs Frank Sinatra sang in 2015. The son of an appliance salesman from Hibbing, Minnesota, always accommodated his own muse, critics be damned.

Commentators include Questlove of the Roots and the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Rodney Crowell, Jason Isbell, Suzanne Vega, Ric Ocasek of the Cars, Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding), longtime Dylan pal Eric Andersen and Minnesota musicians Tony Glover and Kevin Odegard, both of whom have been in the studio with Dylan. Other well-known voices in Dylan: Disc by Disc include Robert Christgau, Anthony DeCurtis, Alan Light, Joe Levy, Holly George-Warren, Joel Selvin, Jim Fusilli, Geoffrey Himes, Charles R. Cross, and David Browne.

Dylan: Disc by Disc is beautifully illustrated with LP art and period photography, as well as performance and candid backstage images. The book contains liner notes-like details about the recordings and session musicians, and provides context and perspective on Dylan's life, concerts, and career.

Dylan: Disc by Disc presents Dylan fans and all lovers of music with a compelling, handsome, one-of-a-kind retrospective of the life and music of an American legend.

Received for review

I’m just going to admit right off the bat that I’m not a hardcore Dylan fan. Yes, he’s good and I appreciate his work but I’m not in love with him. However, I simply could not pass up such a gorgeous looking book and had to give it a try.

From the very first page you can see the love and care that went into creating this book. Each chapter features a single album with original cover art, pictures of the artist, and all sorts of information about the musicians who worked on the album with Dylan. Every song on each album is lovely discussed by several industry leaders and its historical and/or personal significance is described in detail.

Overall, this is an absolutely gorgeous book and simply a must have for any Dylan fan. It would also make a stunning gift that is sure to be appreciated. I certainly highly recommend it.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: Lusty Little Women by Margaret Pearl


Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy are coming of age, and stirring temptations await them around every corner. The handsome young neighbor, attentive doctor and mysterious foreigner introduce the little women to the passion-filled world of the feminine arts. Will these steamy encounters fulfill their deepest yearnings? Have they found true love or been blinded by lust? This scintillating twist on Little Women infuses the original text with sexy new scenes that will surprise, arouse and delight.

In this reprise, your favorite characters are a little older and a lot more adventurous, ready to plumb the depths of their previously constrained courtships. Jo with Laurie, Meg with John, Marmee with the old gentleman; all these couplings and more will thrill both well-versed and new fans of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel.

Received for review

I think I may be the only person on earth, and most certainly the only female, who did not fall in love with Little Women when I was younger. Not even Joey reading it on Friends was enough to compel me to give it another chance. So, when I saw this I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. Thankfully I gave it a whirl and I was rather pleasantly surprised.

I was frankly expecting something more along the lines of Anne Rice's retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale but this was significantly tamer which is actually much appreciated since I'm not sure I really want to read about such normally staid characters having explicit sex.  I mean, that's like reading about what Scarlett O'Hara got up to in the bedroom.  It's just not cool.  Any sexual content is described using the very gentlest romance novel wording.

At over 550 pages this is decidedly on the longer side, but the author does an admirable job of making the text readable enough that it’s almost enjoyable. The text has the same old fashioned feel to it as the original but the contents are infinitely more readable.

Overall, this was an interesting new take on the original book which fans of the original might enjoy. I wouldn’t go out of my way to rush out to buy it, but it’s an amusing read. I would, however, not give this as a gift to anyone who enjoyed the original book. This is not something you’d present as a Christmas gift to your great aunt.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Featured Book: Harnessing the Mind-O-Matic by Stirling Mueller

Six year old Timmy Smith has finally decided it is time to destroy the Mind-O-Matic in his attic. It's been hypnotically enslaving his siblings to a monotonous suburban life. 

At the same time it's been protecting them from Central, and organization responsible for kidnapping their parents. This extraordinary boy thinks he's accounted for all possible outcomes for what will happen next. He is wrong.

Now Central will stop at nothing to capture the children and the secrets they possess. The Smiths must solve the hidden puzzles placed by their lost and mysterious parents before Central catches them, for if they are captured, their parents will be lost and Earth will surely be enslaved. Luckily the children are much more then they appear and are a force to be reckoned with.

This wild ride through suburbia, across the globe and ultimately the galaxy is not to be missed.

About the author:

Stirling Mueller is the chief engineer of a space program based in Los Angeles area with a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering. His four children's different personalities were an inspiration to the book and are exhibited in the main characters. The responsible one, the day dreamer, the warrior, and the thinker are all characteristics displayed in his children and each of us.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Guest Post: William J. Hall author of The Haunted House Diaries

Author William J. Hall, author of The Haunted House Diaries, stopped by to share with us an article he wrote.

Nestled deep in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, a 1790 farmhouse sits near the epicenter of a paranormal commotion. The family that resides there regularly encounters its own ancestors and strangers--human and 
non-human--who seemingly occupy the same physical space in our world while remaining in their own, parallel worlds. When famous ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated, they dubbed it "Ghost Central."

Here's your chance to unlock and experience the private diary of farmhouse resident Donna Fillie. This amazing record spans five decades and recounts a parade of uncanny occurrences, including:
  • Notes from old friends who insist they didn't deliver them
  • A grandson playing with an invisible--but very real--friend
  • Donna awakening to phenomena at precisely 12:42 a.m., an eerie correspondence to her house number, 1242
This compelling work includes many other unexplainable details of a wide variety of phenomena that frequently occur in this otherwise normal area of Connecticut, which may also be the site of a secret military base.

After reading The Haunted House Diaries, you will undoubtedly wonder: Are our assumptions about the paranormal all wrong?

About the author:

William J. Hall, author of the paranormal best-seller The World's Most Haunted House: The True Story of the Bridgeport Poltergeist on Lindley Street, returns with another profound investigation into the unknown. Hall is professionally equipped to recognize trickery: After more than 25 years as a performing magician, he knows how to create and recognize illusions. He is also an experienced researcher of the unexplained, from folklore and urban legend to fortune telling, the pyramids, and other mysterious tales. His syndicated column, "Magic and the Unknown‚" ran for six years in multiple newspapers. Hall has two sons and resides in Plainville, Connecticut.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski

In 2006 Jamie Tworkowski wrote a story called “To Write Love on Her Arms” about helping a friend through her struggle with drug addiction, depression, and self-injury. The piece was so hauntingly beautiful that it quickly went viral, giving birth to a non-profit organization of the same name. Nine years later, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) is an internationally-recognized leader in suicide prevention and a source of hope, encouragement, and resources for people worldwide.

Jamie’s words have been shared hundreds of thousands of times online. They’ve shown up on T-shirts and posters and even tattoos. Now, for the first time, Jamie’s writing is available in the form of a book. If You Feel Too Much is a celebration of hope, wonder, and what it means to be human. From personal stories of struggling on days most people celebrate to offering words of strength and encouragement in moments of loss, the essays in this book invite readers to believe that it’s okay to admit to pain and it's okay to ask for help. If You Feel Too Much is an important book from one of this generation’s most important voices.

Received for review.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this since I'd never actually heard of the author or his work before but I was very pleasantly surprised.  There may possibly have even been some sniffling and teary eyes on my part while reading.

This collection of stories (most quite short, some a bit longer) is surprisingly emotional.  The author presents each and doesn't force a viewpoint on you, he simply allows you to form your own conclusions about what the "lesson" should be.  Oddly, it's really quite a calming approach.  It all feels very chill and relaxed but not that the author doesn't care, because he clearly feels very deeply about each story, but that he is just there as a facilitator for the journey and not a tour guide.

The stories themselves are as a group a memoir, but they're almost like snapshots in a life.  Like you're flipping through a photo album with the author and he pauses and tells you the story behind each photo that you point out.  It's a very unusual and pleasant experience.

My favorite quote from the book is from the "disclaimer" at the end:  

What if all those things that make up your story, the hard stuff and the good stuff, all the fears and dreams - what if all of it matters?  I want to suggest the possibility that right now, today, tonight, you are living a story that is entirely unique, a story that is sacred and priceless, one where no one else can play your part.

The one thing that drove me absolutely bonkers is that throughout the entire book not a single "I" is capitalized.  Not a single one.  It eventually became tolerable but still left an annoying urge to whip out a red pen and fix every single one.

Overall, this was an entertaining and emotional read and I highly, highly recommend it.  This would also make a lovely gift.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Featured Book: Gone Before by Judy Fisher

As a child Judy Fisher doubted, and feared, the idea that those who have crossed over can be with us in our lives on Earth. 

As an adult, she faced the illness and subsequent death of her mother, which taught her more about life and death than she could ever imagine... 

Gone Before tackles the complicated and emotional issue of life after death in an intelligent, compassionate way, taking the reader on the author's quest not only to cope with her grief but come to terms with death and what comes afterward. 

It's a compelling story of the miracles that occur as this life morphs into the next, and an uplifting lesson of love and hope.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Featured Book: Lead with Mercy by Robert Goodson

Lead with Mercy: The Business Case for Compassion Business leaders are held accountable for hard results: the bottom line. Corporations are no place for soft concepts like mercy, compassion, patience and forgiveness—or are they? 

Author Robert Goodson, a certified executive coach, makes the case for compassionate business leadership that is, in the end, also a sustainable and rewarding business model. Lead with Mercy presents a discussion of provable, measurable results and positive return on investment. Lead with Mercy cleverly blends Goodson’s two decades of personal leadership experience with that of experts in business, leadership and psychology to make a compelling case for compassionate leadership. 

Readers will learn how to earn the right to lead, what it means to be accountable while delegating responsibility to others, and how to provide colleagues with their own clear vision of compassion, innovation—and, of course, success. Lead with Mercy … offers business leaders a True North to navigate the morally murky waters of today with the timeless principles of yesterday. 

The book will serve as a touchstone text for generations of leaders seeking a higher purpose in their work. – Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn, Founder and CEO, GrowthLeaders® Lead with Mercy will convince you that compassion is not only the correct path, but that there are also real, positive impacts of merciful leadership. 

The book thoughtfully balances the “feel-good” aspects of compassionate leadership with practical metrics, demonstrating that the feel-good business model is actually good for business!

About the author:

My name is Rob Goodson. I am happily married with three lovely children; we live in Virginia near Washington, D.C. My thoughts, observations, and commentary on leadership have been formed by over two decades of study and practice (both giving and receiving) in leadership experienced in the military, the for-profit business world, and as an executive coach. My passion for and perspective on leadership have also been influenced by my spiritual life. Just as mercy is a central tenet of my Catholic Christian faith (as it is in several other religions and belief systems), I believe it can and should be a part of successful leadership and business practices. I'm a proud graduate of Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. I received my commission in the U.S. Army from Virginia Tech's Army ROTC program and subsequently spent just over eight years on active duty as an intelligence officer. I resigned my Regular Army commission in late 2000 and joined a Fortune 500 consulting firm as a defense consultant. Shortly thereafter I was mobilized as an Army Reservist after the attacks of September 11th and served in Operation Enduring Freedom. After my two mobilizations I returned to the same company, where I've been for almost 15 years. Within my firm I lead a business unit and I also serve as an executive coach as part of our firm's leadership development program. I'm a Certified Executive Coach through the Center for Executive Coaching.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: 30 Lessons for Loving by Karl Pillemer, Ph.D.

Karl Pillemer’s 30 Lessons for Living first became a hit and then became a classic. Readers loved the sage advice and great stories from extraordinary older Americans who shared what they wish they had known when they were starting out. Now, Pillemer returns with lessons on one of the mosttalked- about parts of that book—love, relationships, and marriage.

Based on the most detailed survey of longmarried people ever conducted, 30 Lessons for Loving shows the way to lifelong, fulfilling relationships. The author, an internationally renowned gerontologist at Cornell University, offers sage advice from the oldest and wisest Americans on everything from finding a partner, to deciding to commit, to growing old together. Along the way, the book answers questions like these: How do you know if the person you love is the right one? What are the secrets for improving communication and reducing conflict? What gets you through the major stresses of marriage, such as child-rearing, work, money issues, and inlaws? From interviews with 700 elders, 30 Lessons for Loving offers unique wisdom that will enrich anyone’s relationship life, from people searching for the right partner to those working to keep the spark alive after decades together.

Filled with great stories, wise observations, and useful advice, 30 Lessons for Loving is destined to become another classic.

Received for review.

While the book is admittedly not politically correct this is a wealth of information on long term relationships.  You must keep in mind a couple of caveats though - the author seems to believe that anyone who wants to can get find a mate and get married and that everyone (and every couple) wants children.

The author addresses issues from money to children in-laws in a gentle yet firm way which makes reading incredibly enjoyable.  Each subject has supporting anecdotes from various subjects which really helps to illustrate the lesson.

Overall, this is a rather long, but enjoyable read which is sure to be beneficial to anyone desiring to make their relationship the best it can be.  I certainly recommend it.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: Coffee for Consciousness by Vito Mucci

"Live in the Now." "Don't worry, be happy." "Follow your bliss." These catch-phrase imperatives confront us on a daily basis, but so few of us seem to know how to do any of those things. If you've repeatedly tried and failed to manifest your better self or a more resonant life, you might be saying, "You know, it's not that easy." Coffee for Consciousness 101 is the instruction book you've been waiting for-because you're right; it's not easy. Finding yourself takes work, and sharing yourself with the world in love takes even more work...but the rewards are amazing. Our longstanding unhelpful definition of risk and reward is just one of the concepts that author Vito Mucci deconstructs with compassion, humor, and a deep understanding of the ways in which our beliefs about ourselves and the world get in the way of achieving conscious presence in the world, and consciously evolving relationships with ourselves and others. Our beliefs and ideas are the lenses through which we look at the world; this book gives you the idea of Perspectives, a new set of lenses that change what you see, and consequently, who you can be. Rooted in the author's decades of experience in managing his PTSD and addictions through careful cultivation and alteration of consciousness, Coffee for Consciousness 101 is a fascinating, joyful, and deeply practical exploration of how to read the road map to positive change and greater presence.

Received for review.

I wanted to like this, I really did.  The premise was intriguing but it just did not deliver anything that I could really call applicable in real life.  Perhaps that was due to the fact that I could barely keep my eyes open while reading this.

This was extremely dry and outright boring in parts.  It felt like a textbook at some points and I'm pretty sure reading about string theory would actually be more entertaining.  The book really needs to come with instant espresso attached since you need all the caffeine you can possibly consume to make it through even a chapter without nodding off.

Overall, while some of the author's points are valid the presentation is just not ideal.  This does make an excellent soporific but if your intent is to actually stay awake I would give this a pass.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Featured Book: To the Survivors by Robert Uttaro

To the Survivors is a deeply-moving, empowering, and brutally honest book about one man’s journey as a rape crisis counselor combined with true stories of sexual violence shared by real survivors in their own words.

Gently and beautifully constructed, To the Survivors is moving, tender, sharp, and piercingly true all at once. The reader will encounter uncensored written stories, poems, and interviews shared by women, men, and one transgendered person who have been raped and sexually assaulted.

The impact of this work is far reaching – it is multi-cultural, multi-generational, and fully expansive in its ability to reach people's hearts and minds around this critical human issue.

Robert Uttaro believes anyone can benefit from the words in these pages; rape survivor or not.

About the author:

Robert Uttaro is in his eighth year of working and volunteering as a rape crisis counselor, public speaker and community educator. Inspired by his undergraduate studies in Criminal Justice, he continues to embrace a life-long commitment to activism and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence. Serving as a counselor, Uttaro supports rape survivors and their significant others through various legal and case management issues. He also facilitates workshops aimed at education, prevention and exposure of the realities of sexual violence. Uttaro is currently touring many universities and high schools throughout Massachusetts.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: 100 Days of Happiness by Fausto Brizzi

What would you do if you knew you only had 100 days left to live?

For Lucio Battistini, it’s a chance to spend the rest of his life the way he always should have—by making every moment count.

Imperfect, unfaithful, but loveable Lucio has been thrown out of the house by his wife and is sleeping at his father-in-law’s bombolini bakery when he learns he has inoperable cancer. So begin the last hundred days of Lucio’s life, as he attempts to right his wrongs, win back his wife (the love of his life and afterlife), and spend the next three months enjoying every moment with a zest he hasn’t felt in years. In 100 epigrammatic chapters—one for each of Lucio’s remaining days on earth—100 Days of Happiness is as delicious as a hot doughnut and a morning cappuccino.

Wistful, touching, and often hilarious, 100 Days of Happiness reminds us all to remember the preciousness of life and what matters most.

Received for review

Very rarely do I come across a book that is equal parts funny, sad, sweet, and beautiful, but this was one of those infrequent gems.

I started this thinking "Hey, it can't be that sad." and ended it with tears running down my face feeling like I'd just watched Beaches again and had my heart ripped out.  They really should attach a small packet of tissues and a mini chocolate bar to this book so you can recover after you finish the last page.

Lucio is decidedly lovable despite his flaws and he's someone you just want to have the best happen to him, even if it is for his final few months on Earth.  He's bumbling and has a decided Arthur Dent quality about him that just makes you shake your head and smile fondly.

It's not all tears with this, but knowing that there is a time limit on Lucio's story makes each chapter just that much more poignant and special.  The highs are higher and the lows lower but it's all worth it.  The emotional rollercoaster is just beautiful but beware and do not read the final few chapters in a public place unless you want to have concerned looks sent your way as you wipe away tears as your nose runs.

Overall, this is an amazing book.  It's heartbreaking and gorgeous and leaves you with the best kind of book hangover.  There will be tears, lots of tears.  So, so many tears.  But it is all worth it and I really do believe the book leaves you a better person for the experience of reading it.  At the very least it will make you take a fresh look at your own life and really appreciate so much of what you take for granted.  Obviously, I highly, highly recommend this.

★★★★★ = Loved It

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Received for review

This was one of those books that I had a love/hate relationship with.  I frankly didn't like the characters but the story was just so well written that I couldn't keep myself from continuing to read it.

I really, really, really did not like the author's portrayal of white people as prejudiced.  Every since white person in the book was prejudiced and hated everyone who wasn't middle class and white.  And, from reading the author interview at the back of the book, she really does feel this way.  Ironically she has no issues making sweeping generalizations about white people in general but she's not prejudiced at all.  Of course not.  Because only white people can be prejudiced.

In any case, the story was truly interesting and reminded me a bit of The Lovely Bones.  It really makes you think about what you do and do not say to your loved ones.  There are so many things that we all talk about every day but some things that should be said go unsaid for various reasons and this is a really rather touching look into those things and how they affect our relationships.

Overall, while I am not fond of the author's personal beliefs about race and despite my genuine dislike of the characters I found this surprisingly readable.  It was very well written and the pages just flew past.  It was an interesting story with a well crafted resolution and I certainly recommend it (with the caveat that you might be disturbed by the author's blatant dislike of all white people).

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Featured Book: Harry Potter and the Art of Spying by Lynn Boughey and Peter Earnest

The Harry Potter series is more than just a story about a young wizard who saves the world from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The seven-book saga is an excellent primer on spying, intelligence, and politics.

Join spy novelist Lynn Boughey and thirty-six-year CIA veteran and executive director of the International Spy Museum Peter Earnest as they review the spy craft employed and celebrated in J.K. Rowling's bestselling books.

From the invisibility cloak to house passwords to Fred and George Weasley's Extendable Ears, Harry Potter & the Art of Spying is full of spy lessons for the secret-agent-in-training in the Muggle realm.

Learn how to break secret codes, gather intelligence, read character's motives, and why Severus Snape is the best double agent ever.

About the authors:

North Dakota's first Truman Scholar, attorney Lynn Boughey is the author of spy-novel Mission to Chara, has served on the national committees relating to military matters, and has taught university courses in political science, terrorism, international relations, criminal law, and criminal procedure.

Peter Earnest is the former Senior CIA National Clandestine Service Officer and is the Executive and Founding Director of the International Spy Museum in Wachington DC. Peter has written several books relating to intelligence, including Business Confidential: Lessons for Corporate Success from Inside the CIA.

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Featured Book: The Oklahoma Gamblin' Man by Gary Rex Tanner

The Oklahoma Gamblin' Man threads it way, as we share the unique experiences of Rex Albert Tanner, through a fascinating period of American history that begins prior to World War I and never really ends.

Beginning in Oklahoma's indian territory, proceeding through the "Roaring 20's," the Great Depression's gangster era World World II and the development of California as one of the nation's most powerful economies, Rex Tanner plays his small part in a unique, colorful and sometimes hilarious fashion.

To read his story, accompanied by original songs, authentic photographs of the characters within and original watercolor paintings of many highlighted scenes, places the reader squarely in the middle of the Oklahoma Gamblin' Man's life and leaves you with a sense of having known someone purely original.

About the author:

Gary Rex Tanner is a second generation "Okie" born in Modesto, California before WWII. He is also a singer songwriter and is currently working on a new CD related to his first book "The Oklahoma Gamblin' Man" He lives a quiet somewhat reclusive life with his wife Daisy in a remote area of North San Diego County in California, overlooking a small lake with a majestic unobstructed view of Palomar Mountain.

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Review: The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski

Set in Arco, Idaho, in 1970, Val Brelinski’s powerfully affecting first novel tells the story of three sisters: young Frances, gregarious and strong-willed Jory, and moral-minded Grace. Their father, Oren, is a respected member of the community and science professor at the local college. Yet their mother’s depression and Grace’s religious fervor threaten the seemingly perfect family, whose world is upended when Grace returns from a missionary trip to Mexico and discovers she’s pregnant with—she believes—the child of God.

Distraught, Oren sends Jory and Grace to an isolated home at the edge of the town. There, they prepare for the much-awaited arrival of the baby while building a makeshift family that includes an elderly eccentric neighbor and a tattooed social outcast who drives an ice cream truck.

The Girl Who Slept with God is a literary achievement about a family’s desperate need for truth, love, purity, and redemption.

Received for review

As soon as I saw the title on this I almost dropped it like a hot potato but I decided to persevere and give it at least a couple chapters before making an ultimate decision.  I did make it through a few chapters and then had to abandon it.  I just couldn't manage to slog through any more.

The premise was just ridiculous - a member of an evangelical church being a science professor?  Who even did that hiring?  I mean, could there even be a worse combination than that?  What is he teaching exactly?  That dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time?  That the world is 6,000 years old?  It's a mystery.  I almost gave up right there but continued to slog onwards like a turtle swimming in cold molasses.

Grace was an idiot.  I fluctuated between wanting to smack some sense into her and wanting to commit her since she was obviously batshit crazy.  Jory was a complete bitch and I had absolutely zero sympathy for her either.

Overall, between the completely ridiculous premise and the decidedly unlikeable characters I really cannot recommend this.  The only enjoyment I found in it was when I finally gave up all hope and closed the cover for the last time.  I think it would actually be more entertaining to read a textbook about astrophysics than this book.  Admire the pretty cover and then just walk on by.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: Triumph of the Heart by Megan Feldman Bettencourt

When Megan Feldman Bettencourt found herself embittered after a breakup and a string of professional setbacks, she met an extraordinary man named Azim. Azim had forgiven the man who killed his beloved only son, and even reached out to the killer’s family. He truly seemed to be at peace.

As a veteran journalist, Megan recognized it for the amazing story it was. But as a self-admitted grudge-holder, she was perplexed. Was there something wrong with him, or was there something wrong with her? She wondered about our ability to forgive—why we have it at all, why we do it, and whether it can help us.

Triumph of the Heart is the story of Megan’s quest to understand this complex concept, from both a scientific perspective and a human one. She draws on cutting-edge research showing that forgiveness can provide a range of health benefits, from relieving depression to decreasing high blood pressure. She examines situations as mundane as road rage, as painful as cheating spouses, and as unthinkable as war crimes. Through stories of people and even communities who have forgiven in the toughest of circumstances, she shows us how they’re able to do it, the profound sense of freedom they feel afterward, and the evocative implications for peacemaking worldwide.

This journey takes Megan from recovered addicts who restarted their lives by seeking forgiveness, to a Baltimore principal who used forgiveness techniques to eradicate violence in her school, to genocide survivors in Rwanda who forgave the people who killed their families and perpetrators who are still trying to redeem themselves.

Along the way, Megan strengthens her own powers of forgiveness, altering her life in ways she never expected. With grace and compassion, she reveals that our human capacity for forgiveness not only makes us healthier and happier, but is the key to healing, growing, and living well.

Received for review.

Clearly I'm not an Oprah touchy feely kind of person so I went into this prepared to not like it.  I mean, who even forgives someone for killing their family in a genocide or for breaking their marriage vows and cheating in their own home?  I know I wouldn't be able to but I wanted to read more about those who apparently have this ability.

This was a fascinating look into not only the emotions of forgiveness but the science of it as well.  It details how freeing forgiveness can be for both the person doing the forgiving and the one being forgiven.  It actually does make you happier and healthier to let go of the pain and forgive someone.

This really made me think about just how far I would go to forgive someone.  Would I forgive an alcoholic who apologized after they went into recovery?  Probably.  Someone who cheated on me?  Perhaps.  But I had to draw the line at someone who murdered someone I loved.  That is just too far for me.  I'd rather be the one flipping the power switch for the electric chair at their execution.  That's great that others have been able to forgive truly horrendous deeds but that's just too much for me.

Overall, this is an enthralling book that provides a glimpse into a most likely underused ability and what it means for everyone involved.  The stories will have you smiling, tearing up, and ready to throw the book at a wall because you can't believe someone would actually do something like that.  It's truly an emotional journey that is rather exhausting but completely worth it.  I certainly highly, highly recommend it.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Featured Book: It Tolls for Thee by James Williams

It Tolls For Thee is a stirring depiction of a soldier’s struggle to cope with the loss and betrayal in combat.

Get ready for an emotional and physical roller coaster that will leave you breathless.

Follow Dan Ross in his drive for revenge. Be enlightened by the broad indictment of the war mongers, who have their own selfish motives for igniting the conflict.

Learn the secret to the triumphant peace found in the hearts of those unable to escape their chaotic corner of the world.

Experience the love and redemption only God can facilitate.

About the author:

James Williams is a guy who took forty years to decide what he wanted to do with his life. Born in the “Show Me” state, Missouri, he has lived in Texas since he was very young. Williams graduated from the University of Houston-DC with a degree in accounting, but he never worked a day as an accountant. His Missouri stubbornness prevented him from staying at any job for more than three years at a time. Consequently, he has had fourteen different full time jobs in the thirty years he and Julie have been married. Williams always had a wanderlust spirit, but the pressures of providing for his wife and four kids required him to keep his nose to the grindstone. Writing was the farthest thing from his mind, except for silly poems and songs he wrote for the kids when they were little. Never a big reader of fiction, Williams confined his reading to the newspaper and history books, but he had a knack for telling stories. So on a whim, he decided to write a novel. Williams lives in Tomball, Texas and now that he knows what he likes to do, you can find him at work on his next book.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Review: The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

A darkly satirical novel of love, revenge, and 1950s haute couture—soon to be a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth

After twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town she was banished from as a child. She plans only to check on her ailing mother and leave. But Tilly decides to stay, and though she is still an outcast, her lush, exquisite dresses prove irresistible to the prim women of Dungatar. Through her fashion business, her friendship with Sergeant Farrat—the town’s only policeman, who harbors an unusual passion for fabrics—and a budding romance with Teddy, the local football star whose family is almost as reviled as hers, she finds a measure of grudging acceptance. But as her dresses begin to arouse competition and envy in town, causing old resentments to surface, it becomes clear that Tilly’s mind is set on a darker design: exacting revenge on those who wronged her, in the most spectacular fashion.

Received for review.

I'll admit that as soon as I saw that this was going to be made into a movie starring Kate Winslet I had to read it since I love Kate and since I will most likely see the movie I wanted to read the book first.

I gather the whole idea of the story was for you to feel some sort of sympathy for Tilly and empathize with her.  I can genuinely say that it didn't work for me.  I didn't like Tilly and I didn't find her empathetic in the least.  She was okay but certainly not someone I had a real connection with and I really didn't care one way or another what happened to her.  I understood her motives but her behavior was quite unsavory.

My favorite character by far was Sergeant Farrat who had some of the best lines in the book and whose running commentary on the fashion made the entire book that much more enjoyable.

The fashion was described in quite a bit of detail so fans of Project Runway and such will find this quite informative.  I found all the various descriptions rather tedious and by the time peplums and organza were being discussed for approximately the five hundredth time I'd had tor resort to skimming those portions.

Overall, this was an interesting read with a marginally likable main character.  It's not quite happy enough to be Chick Lit and would probably fall more under the general fiction umbrella.  It's a perfectly acceptable read and if you're truly interested in fashion I'm sure you'll find this infinitely more enjoyable than I did and I certainly recommend it to you.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Review: Rainy Day Sisters by Kate Hewitt

Welcome to Hartley-by-the-Sea in England’s beautiful Lake District, where two sisters who meet as strangers find small miracles tucked into the corners of every day….

When Lucy Bagshaw’s life in Boston falls apart, thanks to a scathing editorial written by her famous artist mother, she accepts her half sister Juliet’s invitation to stay with her in a charming seaside village in northern England. Lucy is expecting quaint cottages and cream teas, but instead finds that her sister is an aloof host, the weather is wet, windy, and cold, and her new boss, Alex Kincaid, is a disapproving widower who only hired her as a favor to Juliet.

Despite the invitation she offered, Juliet is startled by the way Lucy catapults into her orderly life. As Juliet faces her own struggles with both her distant mother and her desire for a child, her sister’s irrepressible optimism begins to take hold. With the help of quirky villagers, these hesitant rainy day sisters begin to forge a new understanding…and find in each other the love of family that makes all the difference.

Received for review

I'm all for Chick Lit in moderation so I added this to my TBR pile with the intention of reading it on a cold, rainy day while sipping a cup of tea.  I did and it was quite a good experience.

There's nothing new or spectacular about this novel.  It's fairly standard Chick Lit with family drama and romantic drama and everything is wrapped up nicely in a little bow at the end.  It's angst and fluff with a guaranteed happy ending.  The characters aren't anything extraordinary, but they're solid and well written and serve their roles perfectly.  I didn't love the characters but I didn't hate them.  I was just sort of neutral about them the entire time.  I knew everything would turn out fine for them in the end so I wasn't particularly emotionally invested but the writing kept me engaged throughout nonetheless.

Overall, this is a pleasant read and certainly a good way to spend an afternoon.  If you're a Chick Lit fan than you are almost guaranteed to thoroughly enjoy this.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Featured Book: History of Street Cops by Greg Zito

Chicago Cabrini Green Housing snipers History of Street Cops Gangs, drugs, guns in the city of Chicago. And real snipers. Cabrini Green Housing had snipers firing on the police, residents, firemen, anyone in the area of Cabrini Green Housing, every day.

In 1970, Sergeant James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato were murdered by snipers at Cabrini Green Housing Units. Their killers are serving 199 years in prison.

Eight years later, my partners and I worked Cabrini Green Housing area arresting gang members and in four years confiscated over 660 various types of weapons.

We also arrested five snipers at different times and locations, firing at residents, the police, and firemen.

My partners and I survived through the years as Chicago police officers.

About the author:

I always wanted to be a police officer, to help people and to prevent criminals from injuring people. I started my police career as a teenager when I joined the U.S. Army as a Military Police Officer. My duty was town patrol. Then when I returned home to Chicago, I was hired as a Chicago Transit Authority Police Officer, then as a Chicago Police Officer.

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