Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner Book Review

Reviewing A Fall of Marigolds. 
A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner is both heart-breaking and triumphant. It is a story of two women who lost the men they loved during two separated tragedies. A co-worker recommended this book to me. The first chapter was easy to read. I was immediately hooked. Then I got bogged down in the second chapter. My co-worker encouraged me to continue reading. I'm so glad I did! 


A Fall of Marigolds


Chapter 1 begins with Taryn and the setting is Manhattan in September 2011. Her story begins at her job - a job she loves in a boutique fabrics shop. Her specialty is identifying and matching old fabrics. Taryn's word-of-mouth advertising is that she can always find a match to old and rare textiles. Her response is, "Almost always."  There is one piece of material that stumped her. Lily's "French-made from an Indian design, and surely a hundred years old" marigold patterned scarf was a mystery. 

Taryn was a young widow, her husband killed during the 9/11 attacks. And she was raising her daughter alone. Taryn had no way of knowing how that customers scarf would tie together the past and the future.

Chapter 2 opens with Nurse Clara at Ellis Island, August 1911. The shift from a setting in this century to a setting 100 years ago was jarring for me. I got stuck in Chapter 2 and had to re-start it a couple of times (from a combination of the book and from my typical response of falling asleep as soon as I begin reading).  Clara's voice was subdued and her story seemed as though it was going to be boring compared to Taryn's.  I am so glad I continued reading because Clara's story was not boring. 

We spend days with Clara and the other nurses and doctors on Ellis Island as they care for the immigrants who are ill, contagious, and often dying. It became very hard for me to put the book down as the relationships on the island, and the characters become fully formed. Clara has reason to sound subdued. She lost her love in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. 

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire occurred and the issues with the elevator and stairs trapped the workers on the floors above the fire. 145 people died, either in the building or while jumping to their deaths from the windows. 

Part way through Clara's story, I began to think that the author would tie the two story lines together in some fantastical or annoying way. I was happily wrong. The lives of the characters were woven together in a beautiful way.


Author Susan Meissner


In the Author's Note, Ms. Meissner writes 
"I strive to be as accurate as possible when I create an imagined story in a historic place .... I have in these pages proposed how one nurse might have experienced Ellis Island Hospital in the second half of 1911."

I enjoyed reading about Nurse Wood and the writing was so engaging that I could completely imagine the setting. A setting that I had never before given much thought. I felt as thought I was on the streets during 9/11. And as though I were watching Nurse Clara care for those who were recovering or dying on Ellis Island. 

The book dealt beautifully with tragic events, grief, and mourning. The age-old battles of how to make sense of tragedy, how much to let yourself love, and how quickly to trust. And finally, how does each person try to make sense of life, the "hard and beautiful aspects of a full life."





Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ed McBain's 87th Precinct Mystery Series – Book & Author Review

The 87th Precinct Series

This series of police procedurals were featured around a group of detectives in a big city police department. McBain's publisher was looking for a new group of mystery stories with a fresh and original lead character.  McBain decided his character would be a cop dealing with murders, along with the other crimes most cops have to deal with on a daily basis. But then he thought if he were going to do a whole series, then having just one cop as the central character wouldn't be realistic enough if the character was the only person solving the crimes over and over. 

Instead, he decided to base his characters on a squad-room full of cops with different traits and ways of handling situations, all working together. That way he could introduce new characters along the way as one cop got killed or transferred to another department.  Thus his 'lead character' became a conglomerate of characters, different ones being featured in different books in the series, with the others being visible to various degrees throughout each story. 


New York City - Source: Pixabay
McBain wanted to place the series in New York City, his hometown with which he was familiar.   As he began his research, he found he was at the NYPD almost daily and soon became a pain-in-the-neck to that police department who were too busy working real crimes to sit and discuss fictitious ones. If he were to base his books in New York City, he'd have to verify every fact.  

Instead, he decided to 'invent' a city that was LIKE New York but not quite New York.  Thus, a mythical city was born.  McBain named his city Isola, which is Italian for 'island' and if you are at all familiar with NYC you will recognize Isola as Manhattan, as well as knowing that 'Calms Point' is Brooklyn. McBain stated that he had a ball 'inventing' historical background and naming places to suit his fancy for each section of his 'city'.  Along the way, the city then also became a character. Quite a unique approach to a mystery series and one that did not seem to have been done previously. 


Who was Ed McBain?


Evan Hunter a.k.a. Ed McBain nee  Salvatore Albert Lombino (Source: Wikimedia)

The 87th Precinct police procedural mystery series was written under the pseudonym of Ed McBain. Prior to this series, the author had written and published a variety of short stories under several different pseudonyms.  But unknown to me until I did MY research, Ed McBain's real name was Salvatore Albert Lombino which he legally changed to Evan Hunter in 1952.  

Evan Hunter was the author of the well known book and movie 'Blackboard Jungle' and also the screenplay for the Hitchcock film The Birds. By the time he switched to writing crime fiction, he was best known in the literary field as Ed McBain. 


How Ed McBain Wrote the 87th Precinct Mystery Series



Source: Pixabay


"I usually start with a corpse. I then ask myself how the corpse got to be that way and I try to find out—just as the cops would. I plot, loosely, usually a chapter or two ahead, going back to make sure that everything fits—all the clues are in the right places, all the bodies are accounted for.”

*(quoted in the Wikipedia article about the 87th Precinct.)

  

Summary


Available on Amazon Kindle
My favorite part of the background for the 87th Precinct series was the story McBain told in an afterword to the third book, The Pusher.  He had set up this group of characters, detectives working in the 87th Precinct, which he called his 'Conglomerate Hero'.  He introduced them to us individually (see the list of regular characters in the Wikipedia article called 87th Precinct - the detectives of the 87th Precinct), let us as readers find our favorites, then proceeded to bump off mine and everyone else's top favorite ~ Detective 2nd Grade Steve Carella ~ in book three.

See, McBain had originally described the series as being about cops going and coming, cops getting killed and replaced by other cops, as a way to keep the readers interested by introducing new characters here and there. Steve Carella gets shot in The Pusher, mistaken for someone else, so McBain ends the book by killing him off. He thought he was pretty hot stuff, doing something no one else had ever done in crime fiction writing, killing off a guy we'd all been rooting for throughout the first two books. McBain figured he was being innovative! 

So he gleefully sends off book three to his agent, who calls the next morning and said “What did you do?  It's Christmas Day, Carella is dead, you've killed the hero.”  McBain tried to tell his agent that no, Carella isn't the hero, he's just one of the characters. It doesn't matter that this is the third book he's been in and that the story ends on Christmas Day!

The agent sends the manuscript on to the publisher and the  next day McBain gets a call from his editor saying “What did you do?” “It's Christmas day, Carella is dead, you've killed the hero.”  McBain kept saying “No, no.” Remember what I told you in the beginning about cops getting killed, other cops replacing them…..remember all that?”  His editor answered with, yes, but nobody said you could kill the hero.  McBain tried again to say “but he isn't the hero.”  His editor replied “He's the hero. Period.”  McBain went back to his typewriter and rewrote the ending.  

Needless to say, Steve Carella survived and remained the hero of the 87th Precinct throughout the series! 


Cop Hater, First Book of the Series
McBain's first 87th Precinct book, 'Cop Hater' was published in 1956. By the time the series ended shortly before the author died in 2005 at age 78 McBain had written 55 books in the series. (And I've read them all more than once). A truly terrific series of mysteries!









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Quick Links:

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(c) Wednesday Elf - 9/1/2018




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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Come to the Quiet by Denise George: A Book Review

Are You Tired Today and Longing for Rest?


I know I am. Although I now live only with my husband and neither of us works outside the home, I still find it hard to find the rest I need. It's especially hard to find quiet rest. It seems there is always some kind of noise in the background. Maybe it's a neighbor using a leaf blower or my husband watching television or a motorcycle driving by. Since I've moved to the city it's never been quiet. That's why I have to use white noise to block unwanted sounds and get to sleep.



Even though I work at home as a blogger, it seems I never have time to relax. There's always something to read or write, photos to take or edit, other blogs to visit and comment on, and social promotion to do. That's on top of the normal chores involved in keeping us fed and in clean clothes, doing necessary housework, and paying bills. Interruptions come in the form of phone calls, husband, workmen, and knocks on the door. There are errands to run, doctor appointments, and emergencies to deal with. I have to plan carefully to spend time with friends.

Many reading this have even more on their plates than I have -- a full time job outside the home, children to care for, getting children where they need to go in their own busy lives, etc., etc., etc. It never stops, and probably neither do you until you drop physically and emotionally exhausted into bed at night.

The Right Book at the Right Time


Solitude and quiet have always been important to me. Up until we moved into our house in a small city I always had a place to get away to de stress . Since we now live in a one story house and have a television which can be heard from almost every room, it's been much harder to have my solitude. And I've been feeling the tension build. Sunday I had almost the entire day to myself and I spent most of it reading this book: Come to the Quiet by Denise George. I found it sitting on a shelf of samples publishers had sent me years ago. For me it was certainly the right book at the right time.



My husband was gone almost all day. I took advantage of the solitude to rest my body and my spirit. This book was like a drink of ice cold water on one of those triple digit summer days we've had this summer. It confirmed my need to escape to solitude more often.

When my mind and body can't rest my spirit suffers, too. Rest for body, soul, and spirit are essential for physical and mental health. George's book explains how we can find the quiet and rest we must have even though it seems like there is no time or place for it. We were created for quiet. To be healthy we must leave room for quiet rest in our lives.



Finding Rest in the Midst of Stress

George points out that we often bring unnecessary stress on ourselves. Maybe a mother doesn't really need to work outside the home. George helps a woman who has a choice evaluate the value of her job to herself and her family. Denise George also recognizes that some women must work -- especially those who already have the stress of parenting alone. She suggests ways even single working moms can find quiet rest in the midst of their stress.

She also helps us work through our priorities. Misplaced priorities are a major source of our stress and overwork. Some stresses are easy to get rid of by changing habits we might not have even thought of as stressful. She points out some of those stresses that have easy fixes. She explains ways we can tune out external noise we can't control and have a more peaceful life.

I think many of us are so used to some stressors we don't even realize they are there, but George shows us some practical ways to escape them. There are changes we can make and places we can go to rest our stressed minds. George's suggestions will help anyone, no matter what causes the stress or how economically well off one is.

Christian Answers to Stress

Christian women's lives can be as stressful as any other lives, but our faith and relationship with Christ mean they don't have to be. It's very easy to buy into the world's mindset and get our sense of worth from what we do instead of who we are in Christ. This book shows us how to let Christ transform our minds. It also offers suggestions for resting our bodies and spirits.

Stress eventually affects our bodies enough to make us sick. Researchers have determined how much stress we can take before this happens. The book contains a stress test that gives points for various life events and pressures and you can see how close you are coming to the 300 points that can make you sick. As the points add up, quiet, self-care, and solitude become more important than ever in keeping you well. There are plenty of suggestions in this book for lessening the stress both you and your children have in your lives.

George invites us to come to Jesus when we are physically and emotionally overburdened and find rest for our spirits and minds. She shows us how to do that. She leads us to the quiet place of healing and shows us how to guard our hearts against the hate, prejudice, bitterness, and selfishness which stress us and  hurt others. Jesus can replace those things with agape love in our hearts.

Jesus invites you to come and rest with him. He wants to lift your burden of stress and lead you to his quiet place of refreshment for your body, mind and spirit. Come to the Quiet will give you the details on how to rest in Him.









Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Dear Mad'm by Stella Patterson: A Book Review

Dear Mad'm Decides to Move to the Wilderness


Dear Mad'm is the name by which many readers know Stella Walthall Patterson who wrote a memoir with that title.  She did something I'd be afraid to do. Her Arcata friends and family were ready to retire her to a rocking chair and wait on her when she  turned eighty. But a doctor had told her she had "young legs." She wanted to see how far they could still take her. She preferred a life of adventure to a life of ease.

Dear Mad'm by Stella Patterson: A Book Review
Photo by get directly down, Flickr, modified. CC 2.0


By the time she was eighty, Stella Walthall Patterson had lived a full life. Born in Stockton California on October 14, 1866, and orphaned at seven, by the age of sixteen she had graduated from Mills Seminary (later Mills College). She had published her first story in the Oakland Tribune when she was only fourteen. Later she studied in Paris and became proficient in art and music.

Her first husband was Judge Augustus Belcher. She lived with him in San Francisco, socializing with other writers, including Jack London and Ambrose Bierce. The 1906 earthquake and the fire that followed prompted her to leave that area. She had lost everything.

Judge Belcher liked to hunt in the Trinity mountains, and he sometimes hired James Patterson, a rancher in Willow Creek, to act as his guide. Thus, he had occasion to meet Stella.  In 1907, Stella surprised all her friends by marrying Jim Patterson and moving to his Hawkins Bar Ranch in Willow Creek. During the years in Willow Creek, the couple adopted two children -- Ralph and Thelma.

By the time Stella was eighty, she was separated, but not divorced, from Jim Patterson. At the time this book begins, Stella was living in San Francisco again. Not long before her eightieth birthday, while visiting with friends based in Arcata, she injured her leg. After her X-rays in the hospital, the Sister in charge told her she had "young legs."

 She had lived an active and busy life. She had traveled to Europe and mingled with the cultured people of San Francisco. After marrying Patterson she was a rancher's wife, and the couple also had some contact with miners.

The day before her eightieth birthday, as she sat at her friend's house recuperating with her leg propped up, she still felt young. She didn't want to stick around, "waiting to be carried out feet first" when she could still be enjoying new adventures. She wanted freedom to do as she pleased.

 She decided to go live in an old mining cabin she had bought two years earlier as part of a placer mining claim. It had no modern conveniences. She imagined that in the wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains overlooking the Klamath river she would have solitude and the space to live as she pleased with no human interference. She decided to go for it. She packed her bags, took leave of her friends, and took a bus to Willow Creek. From there she planned to take a mail stage to her cabin. It was 1946. She had promised herself to stay there a year.


Getting to the Wilderness Cabin


The mail stage driver Tom left Stella and all she'd brought with her at the foot of the fifty-foot trail that led UP to her cabin. Evening was rapidly falling. She was exhausted. She pondered the mound of luggage and boxes that somehow had to get up the steep trail to her cabin. She writes:

I had been feeling young and gay all day. Now I felt as old as Methuselah. There was work ahead and no one but me to do it. 

She lugged her belongings up to the edge of her property. Her mind was filled with doubt. She asked herself what she was doing "sitting on a box in the Klamath National Forest far from electric lights, plumbing, inner-spring mattresses" and everything else she had in San Francisco. She contemplated how she would get her things up the trail and into the cabin. She decided to take only what  she needed for the night in one load and come for the rest in the morning. Once inside she took a jar to fill outside at her water barrel. She could feel the scary darkness all around. She recalls:

The feeling of being alone on that vast mountainside, no neighbor within hailing distance, was working on my nerves. I might scream, yell, shout. None to hear. Just an echo from the bluffs cross the river to answer me. 

After taking every safety precaution she could think of, including putting a chair against the door and loading it with pots and pans that would clatter if moved, she crawled into her bed and fell asleep.

Dear Mad'm by Stella Patterson: A Book Review
Klamath River Photo courtesy of Tony Webster on Flickr, CC 2.0 License


Meeting the Neighbors


Life in the primitive cabin (actually a shack) did not quite offer the solitude Stella hoped for. First, she did have neighbors closer than she thought They were the "boys" she had hired to take care of her mine assessment work. She called them Dearsir and Up'nUp. You'll need to read the book to find out why. They just called her Dear Mad'm. The names stuck.

Very early that first morning she heard a knock on the door. She was still barefooted with her hair down. The door opened and Dearsir announced he and his partner had brought her luggage up to the cabin. She learned they had moved about half a mile up the mountain to Bent Pine Cabin. She offered them coffee and then realized that wasn't enough. She didn't have much, but she fed them bread, butter, and all her strawberry jam with it. She did manage to grab one slice herself. The men invited her to come along with them to shop at the grocery in Happy Camp in a couple of days.

Another neighbor was the eccentric Frenchy. He roamed the trails with a book in one hand an a bulb of garlic in the other. He always offered a helping hand when needed.

One day sixteen-year-old Milly came to call from across the river. She wanted to be very proper, but she was very lonely. Once Stella discovered her stilted Victorian speech came from Emily Post, she encouraged her to just be herself. They became great friends.

Occasionally Up'nUp's wife Nora, who lived in Yreka, came to visit and stayed with her.

Later Stella would meet the men's chickens, goats, and English shepherd dog Vicki. She would also meet their mule Pete "the friendliest mule" DearSir ever met. That had not been Stella's first impression.

But Stella's most dangerous neighbors were  her wild ones -- a cougar and a rattlesnake. By the time she met them "the boys" had given her their dog Vicki to be her companion and protector. She turned out to be both.


Peace and Adventure

Photo by Miguel Vieira, Flickr, modified. CC 2.0

One of Stella's first projects was to plant a flower garden. She didn't think she'd be successful with vegetables, but she had always wanted a flower garden. In fact, when she had shopped for her trip she had bought more seeds and bulbs than food. Although the gardening work was difficult, it motivated her, as it does every gardener, to envision the blooming color her labor would bring forth in a few weeks or months.

At the end of the first full day in the cabin she had her first adventure. She came face to face with an escaped billy goat at her door. But the "boys," to whom the goats belonged, quickly caught up with them, took them away, and promised to bring her goat milk in the morning. She didn't like goat milk. Of course, she'd never tried it.

She then puzzled over a way to deal with the rats who lived just between her ceiling and her roof. Her method met with less than success until Frenchy came up with an answer a bit later.

It wasn't long before Stella finally met Pete. Their relationship got off to a rather bad start. It's quite a humorous scene, but you'll have to read it to fully appreciate it. For now we'll just say that first encounter almost made enemies of them forever. That animosity didn't help much when she later had to help trim his hooves.

Dear Mad'm by Stella Patterson: A Book Review
Mule, courtesy of  Pixabay


One day the "boys" came by in the morning to tell Dear Mad'm they were leaving on a trip to Arcada and leaving Vicki with her for protection and company. Vicki was a permanent gift even though the men would return in a few days. She turned out to be a very valuable gift.

That night there was a terrible thunderstorm. Both Stella and Vicki were frightened to death of the storm that might fell the tree above the cabin. Vicki hid under the bed. Somehow, though, they got through the storm without damage and no trees crashed down on them.

Dear Mad'm had another adventure when the men took her to see her claim. It was up a very steep trail -- too steep for her to climb -- so they dangled her on a rope between them. They let her walk back down with an occasional lift where needed.

She did have a few quiet days of birdwatching and relaxing, but one day while she was in her garden with her nose to the ground she heard heard the whirring sound of a rattlesnake. Vicki sounded an alarm, and I'll let you read the book to see how it ended. Their encounter with the cougar that had been raiding the men's goats was also very tense. The men couldn't believe how she'd solved that problem.

But something even topped that. A storm came up when the group of friends were on the way back from Happy Camp one night. It sent rocks crashing down on the narrow mountain road as Dearsir drove the jalopy around the curves. You'll be on the edge of your seat reading that chapter.

Not long after that night Up'nUp's very pregnant wife Nora came to visit two weeks before her due date and stayed a bit too long. Never a dull moment!

You can purchase Dear Mad'm here. 

Never Too Old to Be Needed


As you can see, Stella's expected year of solitude didn't go quite as planned. But she certainly did have adventures on those "young legs" of hers. Near the end of the year in her cabin she had committed herself to, there were many changes in their mountain "neighborhood." Stella had just about decided those changes would make her continued presence unnecessary because no one would need her there anymore. But another big event persuaded her to stay several more years. The book explains what happened to change her mind.

Dear Mad'm moved to a travel trailer in Redding, California, in autumn, 1955, near Thelma, and died on December 23, at the age of 89. She is buried in Redding. She died just before her book was published, so she never got to see it. Stella Patterson's writing sparkles. Her book is also sprinkled with delightful and comical line drawings by Alice Harvey, who was an illustrator and cartoonist for the New Yorker. 

In the years since her death Dear Mad'm has had so many fans wanting to know what happened to her after her book ended that one of her relatives wrote a sequel to try to answer the questions. That book is Dear Mad'm: Who Was She? I'm hoping to read it soon. I just discovered it.

If you are interested in active aging, nature, animals, wilderness living, placer mining, or neighbors bonding and helping each other like family, don't miss this book. It will make you laugh and it will give you moments of heart-stopping suspense. It will show you you're never too old to have adventures when you're young at heart. 




The biographical information that was not in the book came from these sources:

Related Book Reviews You May Enjoy

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  • Driving Miss Norma Book Review: When faced with months of draining medical procedures for treatment of what is expected to be terminal uterine cancer, Miss Norma chooses not to undergo surgery, radiation, and chemo. She decides to live out her life outside the confines of a hospital and accepts an invitation from her son Tim and his wife to take to the road with them in their RV. It is this coming together that will completely transform all of their lives.
  • Can't Wait to Get to Heaven Book Review: The whole Can't Wait to Get to Heaven adventure started when the elderly widow Elner had just wanted pick a few figs to make some preserves "for that nice woman who had brought her a basket of tomatoes." She didn't know about the wasp nest in the fig tree and the adventures that would follow in her brief trip to Heaven. 









Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Fastest Things on Wings - Book Review

 Fastest Things on Wings Book Review
She huddles over the ice-cold, lifeless body wondering if any resuscitation effort can make a difference at this point.  It appears that Gabriel is gone, but Terry tries one last-ditch attempt to revive him.  While tenderly cupping the tiny hummingbird in her hands, Terry gently bathes Gabriel in the warmth of her breath, in the heat of her life-giving essence.  Against all odds, Gabriel responds with a twitch of the teeniest of feet.  And so the real work, magic, and mystery of rehabilitation begins.  Though the healing journey will be long and arduous, Gabriel is fortunate to have landed in the hands of Terry Masear, the miracle-worker you would want if you were an injured or desperate hummer fighting for your life.

To read Masear's Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood, is to enter the mesmerizing world of the astonishing hummingbird, along with gaining a deep sense of gratitude and reverence for the extremely rare individuals who choose to give all that they've got to save the lives of these magnificent creatures.  This book is far more than a fascinating chronicle of what it takes to rescue and rehab a day-old nestling the size of a bumblebee.  It is truly a love letter to be cherished by each of us who has ever known the romance of being in the presence of a hummingbird's majesty.  The rescue stories shared provide glimpses into both the human heart and the heretofore misunderstood, or unknown, nature of the world's mightiest warrior on wings.

Though seemingly fearless, Masear's patients reveal a tenderness and vulnerability few people ever get to witness.  Take Pepper and Gabriel, for instance — two birds that had previously experienced the kind of dazzling flight not even known by the highly vaunted Blue Angels.  Pepper and Gabriel could fly backwards, upside down, in a 360-degree spin or barrel roll, and dive at the speed of 385 body lengths per second.  As Masear notes, the grounded hummingbird, the one with serious back or wing injuries, is the one that often elicits the greatest heartache in the rehabber.

"Young hummingbirds like Pepper who have lost everything at such an early age hit me hard, even after all of the tragedies I have seen in rehab.  Their memory of flight and overpowering desire to float freely again drive every fiber of their being and make me want desperately to help."

As we accompany Masear on her daily rehab rounds tending to hummingbird victims, we meet birds that have somehow survived being driven down the Los Angeles freeway at speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour, while trapped under flapping windshield wipers, for over 90 minutes, plus victims of limousine windshield collisions, and birds trapped in sky-diving wind tunnels, along with victims of encounters with cats, dogs, tree-trimmers, soccer nets, and hummingbirds injured by both their own species and the human species.

You are sure to develop an affection for Brad, Iris, Pepper, Gabriel, and any number of other rehab patients.  These extraordinary hummingbirds teach us all vital lessons about nurturing others, about the nuances of healing both body and spirit, and about the powerful connections that defy previously held notions about the relationships that are possible between humans and hummingbirds.  You don't have to be involved in animal rescue or rehabilitation to appreciate the intricacy of Masear's ministrations to the baby hummers she affectionately calls the "naked babies" (newborns), the "bobbleheads," or the "dinofuzz."

But, if you happen to have previously engaged in saving the life of a precious animal, this book is likely to touch your heart in unforgettable ways.  It is now the height of hummingbird season where I live.  I found this to be the perfect time to immerse myself in Masear's mission to help all hummers not only survive, but thrive.  Though I have read volumes about hummingbirds in my quest to know as much as possible about these birds that I adore, I was delighted to gain so many new insights.  I highly recommend this book.  It is the type of tribute to beautiful creatures, and their loving champions, that will bathe your spirit with life-giving warmth.








Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review

Las Vegas (Sin City) Is a Great Setting for Murder Mysteries


Anything can happen in Las Vegas and often does. The Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas has been one of my favorites for years. Just this week I discovered another mystery series set on the Las Vegas Strip - The Lucky O'Toole mysteries by Deborah Coonts.

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


Why Las Vegas? Where else does one find such a diversity of characters in one place? Where are there so many themed hotels for the rich and famous within only four miles of each other? Where else is there so much temptation for people to act on their baser impulses? Greed abounds in the casinos, criminals come to look for easy victims, and thousands flock to the hotels every day to attend large conventions for organizations catering to groups ranging from booksellers and beekeepers to Elvis impersonators and swingers. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip attract all types.

Such throngs of people from so many backgrounds with such diverse motivations and objectives can lead to all kinds of problems. That's why the hotels and casinos need their public relations experts to keep the lid on anything that can produce bad publicity or legal problems. The PR people do everything from soothing the ruffled feathers of celebrities to dealing with naked men asleep in the stairwells. Occasionally they discover dead bodies as they go about their work.

Meet Temple Barr and Midnight Louie


Temple Barr, the protagonist of the Midnight Louie Series, and Lucky O'Toole, who stars in her own series, are almost complete opposites in looks and personality. Although each is a public relations expert working on the Las Vegas Strip, in most other ways they are completely different.

Temple is a short redhead and loves her spike heels. She is a public relations freelancer for hotels on the Strip. She lives in a condo at the Circle Ritz with Midnight Louie -- a large black tomcat who moved in with her. He comes and goes as he pleases through her bathroom window, and when Temple starts discovering bodies as she goes about her public relations work, Louie helps her finds the murderers. Carmen Molina, head of homicide for the Las Vegas Police, does not appreciate their help and seems to consider Temple a suspect much of the time. Yet there's also a soft side to Carmen as she seeks to raise her tween daughter.

As the series begins, Temple has two men in her life -- the Mysterious Max, a magician who is her current love interest and lives with her when he's around, and Matt Devine, a neighbor at the Circle Ritz, an ex-Catholic priest. They share a zany landlady who adds humor to the series. As the first book in the series, Cat in an Alphabet Soup opens, Max is missing. Throughout the series he appears and disappears. This allows Matt to begin to step into his place. Temple has a bit of trouble deciding which one to choose.

Temple and Midnight Louie obviously have a relationship that is mutually satisfying. On more than one occasion he saves her skin. He often gets his feline family to help him investigate. He also tells many parts of the stories, alternating with the narrator. He is all tomcat! He considers Temple his roommate -- not his owner. Cat lovers will especially love Midnight Louie. Learn more about this series in Why I Love the Midnight Louie Series.

Lucky O'Toole


Although I've read all the Midnight Louie books but the last five, I have just begin to read the Lucky O'Toole series, which is written in the first person. I started with Lucky Double: A Two-Book Lucky Bundle which includes the first two books in the Las Vegas Adventure Series: Wanna Get Lucky? and Lucky Stiff. As I write this, you can get this 718-page duo as a free download to introduce you to the series. The link below should reflect any change in this price. I have now finished four books in the series (two novellas were offered free as a download at the end of Lucky Stiff.)




Whereas Temple was easy to like and seemed somewhat vulnerable from the start, Lucky comes across as continually harried, brittle, and somewhat snarky. She seems to hold herself together with alcohol and caffeine. Although she has office help in the form of the already trained and efficient Miss Patterson and the newly hired young Brandy Alexander, she is constantly on the run, dealing with one crisis after another.

Whereas Temple is short and hardly ever goes anywhere without her spike heels, Lucky is six feet tall  and can barely walk in hers. She is not afraid to use her height to intimidate people who are causing problems and she can be one tough cookie!

Lucky reigns over the public relations department of the Babylon, a mega casino resort. She lives nearby in a multi story premier residence called the Presidio. Her friend Teddie, a female impersonator and musician, lives in the penthouse above her. He's in love with Lucky, but she doesn't seem to know it, is afraid to have a serious relationship, and doesn't want a casual one. Her roommate is a foul-mouthed macaw who constantly cusses at her. Lucky's language is not pristine either.

Lucky's mother Mona is the madam of an upper scale house of ill repute in the town of Pahrump, sixty miles down the road. Lucky is not sure who her father is. Mona gives the girls who come to her a safe place to ply their trade and helps those who want to leave prepare for different jobs in the world outside. She believes she is running a halfway house for ladies of the night.  Temple, on the other hand comes from a traditional family.

Although  both women live life at a frantic pace, Temple spends more time away from work than Lucky and has deeper relationships. In comparison, Lucky's relationships (except with Teddie) seem more superficial. It's fairly easy to get to know Temple, but Lucky keeps a lot inside. She is hard to get to know.

It seems Deborah Coonts is more interested in creating an exciting plot than in developing complex characters. I care more about Temple, Max, and Matt than I do about Lucky, Teddie, and the other characters in the Lucky series. It's possible I will care more as the series develops if each book continues to build on the ones before it.

The individual books in the Midnight Louie Series work together to build one grand plot that will not be resolved until the end. Yet each book can also stand alone even as it leaves you wondering at the end about what's next in the romantic triangle.

Although there are quirky characters in both books, the minor characters in the Lucky series seem more bizarre to me. Those who hold traditional moral values will be more comfortable with the Midnight Louie books than the Lucky series, although there are diverse sexual orientations and unmarried sexual partners in both. Lucky gets disgusted with some of these people when they create problems she has to solve,  but she seems to accept their lifestyles and antics with an "it takes all types" attitude. When she finds a naked man sleeping in a stairwell because he's had too much to drink, or half a couple in the wrong room, it just adds to another day's workload to get people back where they belong.

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review
Photo is from Pixabay with my Edits

Plots and Settings


Though both of the series are set primarily on the Las Vegas Strip, Temple Barr gets away from the Strip more often than Lucky, who is fortunate if she can get away from the Babylon to eat, sleep, and get Mona out of  jams. Much of the action in the Midnight Louie series takes place at the Circle Ritz as Temple relates to the two men in her life and their eccentric landlady. The cats roam, too, as they attempt to keep Temple safe and help her solve murders. I enjoyed the many changes of setting Douglas utilizes -- some even outside the United States. The European settings shed light on Max's mysterious past fighting the IRA.

The Midnight Louie characters (with the exception of the villains) have a warmth that I don't see much in the Lucky series. The relationships are deeper and the conversations more personal. Temple's concern for people is more than casual. She really cares about the people she encounters -- even her antagonist Lieutenant Molina.

Lucky, on the other hand, has many acquaintances and colleagues, but very few real friends. Almost any attractive man sets her hormones raging but she doesn't follow through with one-night stands, at least not as far as I've read. Whereas Temple comes across as nurturing and friendly, Lucky seems edgy and defensive. After all, she was raised in a whore house until she was in her early teens, and that's hardly a supportive and wholesome environment.

Sex is also treated differently in the two series. In the Midnight Louie books, we know it happens, but we don't have many details. We don't see sex used for its own sake or for shock value.  It's always in the context of a committed relationship and only when it is integral to the plot.

Deborah Coonts, on the other hand, almost uses sex as a filler, and as many different kinds as she can work into the plot. The accounts of Lucky's amorous activities give readers just enough detail to stimulate their imaginations and then the readers' imaginations take it from there. There few details on the activity of the swingers and gay couples except to let you know it's happening. In the Lucky books it's hard to go six pages without reading about lustful thoughts, compromising situations, or sexual encounters. It seems almost everyone is obsessed with sex, jealousy, or revenge.

All the main characters in the Midnight Louie series have a life apart from work -- even Carmen the homicide detective. They are multifaceted. Although the murder mysteries capture reader interest, the plots are character driven. Readers will care as much about what happens to the characters as they do about how the mystery is solved.

The Lucky O'Toole mysteries are more plots decorated with the characters who are the tools for solving them. By the third and fourth books I was starting to see more of Lucky's personality and heart, but even then I didn't know her as well as I did Temple after the first book. Here are the beginnings of the plots in the books I've read in this series, to give you an idea.

Wanna Get Lucky opens with a woman falling from a helicopter into the lagoon in front of one of the hotels. In Lucky Stiff a tractor trailer full of honeybees overturns right in front of the Babylon. Not long after that someone feeds a young woman to the tiger shark in a tank at another resort. In Lucky in Love Lucky has to oversee four couples who are competing in a reality show to win a wedding extravaganza. For several days she has to keep them from killing each other until the final filming night when the winner is chosen. Lucky barely escapes being killed herself in Lucky Bang when she discovers a bomb in the restroom of a friend's restaurant.

My Recommendation


You may want to read Midnight Louie books if

  • You prefer complex characters to shallow ones
  • You want to follow the main characters through an entire series
  • What happens to the main characters is just as important to you as how the mystery is solved.
  • You enjoy complex plots with lots of action
  • You like to see books in a series build on each other.
  • You like to see a variety of settings in a book and in a series
  • You prefer to avoid offensive language and gory murder scenes
  • You like cats
  • You want some warm humor mixed with the mystery 
  • You have traditional moral values but don't expect all characters who share them to always live up to them
  • You want to read about characters you'd invite home for a family dinner



Lucky O'Toole books may appeal to you if
  • A fast action plot pace is more important than complex characters
  • You like to follow the same main characters through an entire series 
  • You like to see books in a series build on each other.
  • You like quirky characters
  • You're okay with lots of four-letter words and snarky comments
  • You like to see characters with a lot of sex appeal and who think about sex a lot, even though the sex scenes leave a lot to the imagination
  • You prefer not to see a lot of blood and gore in your mysteries
  • You are comfortable with cynical or sarcastic humor
  • You are comfortable with characters whose lifestyles are far from the norm such as swingers and those who like threesomes 

I prefer the Midnight Louie books because I love getting to know both the feline and human characters. Although the Lucky O'Toole books kept me entertained, the language and attitudes of many of the characters distracted and annoyed me. 

What do you like best about your favorite mystery writers? Are there particular kinds of characters that attract or repel you?  



Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Reviewing Northern Lights by Nora Roberts

Reviewing Northern Lights by Nora Roberts
I enjoy books written by Nora Roberts, specifically the romantic suspense books that she writes. Northern Lights is at the top of my list of my favorite books. Recently, I've been so tired that it has been difficult to concentrate on new material and find myself stuck reading the same paragraphs night after night. I decided to read something familiar and that wouldn't require so much concentration but couldn't find my print copy of Northern Lights. I looked to the internet for a digital copy. Because Nora Roberts is a prolific writer, with well over 200 titles published, I found that this book may be lost among them so I decided to highlight one of my favorite stories by this author.


Northern Lights in Lunacy, Alaska


Ignatious Burke (Nate) is a Baltimore cop who accepts a job in Lunacy, Alaska. The baggage he brings, that doesn't fit in his carry-on bags, includes the trauma of watching his partner die on the street in Baltimore. Nate can't shake those feelings of guilt. So he accepts a job in a tiny, remote Alaskan town. So remote that he arrives by small plane.


"Strapped into the quivering soup can laughingly called a plane, bouncing his way on the pummeling air through the stingy window of light that was winter, through the gaps and breaks in snow-sheathed mountains toward a town called Lunacy, Ignatious Burke had an epiphany.
He wasn't nearly as prepared to die as he had believed." - excerpt from Northern Lights 

As you would expect, in Lunacy, there is a cast of eccentric characters. To be expected as the 500+ residents of Lunacy refer to themselves as Lunatics. Nate's job duties include, but are not limited to, Moose versus vehicle incidents, taking care of drunks, and watching over his quiet little town. Quiet until the remains of a body - clearly murdered - is found preserved in an ice cave.

The murder victim is Meg's father. 

Meg was born and raised in Lunacy, is a bush pilot, and is quite able to fend for herself. She lives with her dogs, outside of town. Meg is described by some reviewers as unlikable and cold. I describe her as efficient. She is not needy or clingy. Meg begins in a casual physical relationship with Nate but over time it begins to become a more meaningful connection. 

Like small town life, the story line is in no rush. Other reviewers refer to the story line as a "gradual climb" and a "slow burn". I agree and I would add that it is comfortable. When Meg's father's body is found the story begins to become more tense and we begin to find reason take a closer and more suspicious look at the many eccentric residents of Lunacy.  

Who has killed Mr. Galloway - keeping the secret for all these years and walking the snowy streets with the unsuspecting Lunatics of Lunacy, Alaska? And now that the body has been found, who will the killer go after next in order to cover his/her/their tracks?


Additional things to consider about Northern Lights  


Because I am recommending a book that won't be everyone's cup of tea, I feel I should add a few side notes and warnings.  

  • There is a bit of "gore" (there's been a couple of murders after all - one in Alaska and one on Baltimore). 
  • There is profanity. 
  • There are a couple of sex scenes (4 sex scenes for a total of 10 pages is what another reviewer counted). 
  • This novel was written years ago, about a setting years before that (published in 2004, with a journal entry in the book dated February 12, 1988). It is not PC by some standards today.
  • There is also a review that reports a dislike for how the Alaskan residents are portrayed. 
This story will not be everyone's style. It is mine. I like gritty and a bit of gore. Swearing typically doesn't bother me. I tend to like my fiction slightly caricaturized - after all, why read a story if the character is as mundane and boring as I am? And finally, I am very familiar with people who talk, think, and behave just like the people of Lunacy. So this level of alleged political incorrectness was not shocking to me. But I have read a couple of reviews (out of hundreds) in which readers seemed to be significantly triggered so I felt I should give this bit of information in the interest of full disclosure.

If you are curious, but not sure about the story, Amazon provides a sizable "look inside" sample. If the story sounds intriguing but you aren't quite sure, take a peek at the Northern Lights free sample. 

I enjoyed this story, characters, and setting very much. I have read this book multiple times and have it downloaded to begin again. In my opinion, reading about snowy Alaska during the tired, heat-wave days of summer is a great escape. 




Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

How to Conquer Clutter by Stephanie Culp – Book Review

The 'clutter' shown in these photos is my house at the present time. My house does not normally look like this ~ this is the result of weeks of sorting and packing to make a major move.  But if your house frequently assume a look such as this, you might be ready for this book by Stephanie Culp titled “How to Conquer Clutter”


Clut`ter To fill with scattered or disordered things that restrict movement or efficiency.  A collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.

Or, as the author says, “all that stuff you've got all over the place that everybody keeps telling you to get rid of." 


Normal Clutter Invasions



(c) Wednesday Elf Sorting & Packing to Move

We all deal with some form of clutter from time to time, no where near as bad as my current chaotic "moving mess". 


  • The children scatter their toys throughout the living room because they want to play where their special adults are instead of in the playroom or their bedrooms. 
  • We get out a project and the dining room table stays cluttered while we are working on it.
  • You get interrupted in the middle of a long-term desk or computer project and would lose your place if you put it away before you were finished with it. 
  • You have a sewing or crafting project that will take several days to complete and putting it away before you are done would be wasted effort. 


The clutter referred to in this, and similar, books refers to the stuff that starts as a small problem and, over time, becomes a very large and overwhelming situation. By that time, we make excuses for not dealing with it. Now the 'clutterbug' handles it by saying “I'll just put it over here 'for now'. But soon 'for now' becomes forever and here  comes that clutter crisis.


Author Stephanie Culp


Stephanie Culp is an organization and time management consultant who has written several books on getting organized. Her organization firm has helped people and small businesses get – and stay – organized since 1982. 


How to Conquer Clutter


Source: Pixabay

In How to Conquer Clutter, Stephanie helps you get yourself organized and reduce or eliminate the clutter that has taken over your life. This book is informative and humorous and will give you simple ways to take back control of your stuff. 


Pack Rat – A large, busy-tailed rodent from the Rocky Mountains that collects and stores food and miscellaneous objects. Just like you!

Available on Amazon
Stephanie includes a “Pack Rat's Excuse Almanac to help you deal with the mess in your life, a 'clutter quiz' to help identify problem areas and 19 'Clutter Checklists” to provide practical ideas for storing everything you cannot live without. She deals with each area of clutter from A to Z, from addresses to ziplock bags and everything in between.  Included are areas inside the house, outside the house and under the house! Culp even tells you how to use this book by defining the worst area of clutter in your life and identifying specific problem areas so you will know where to begin. 

How to Conquer Clutter is a helpful guide to get control of and 'conquer' your clutter!  Having read this book myself (which helped me especially with my admittedly biggest clutter problem area ~ dealing with paper - filing, purging, processing, etc), I am now passing my copy of the book on to my daughter, who is an admitted  'pack rat' just like her dad. 

(c) 2018 by Wednesday Elf












Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.