March 31, 2016

Looking Back - The Hot Zone

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston
Nonfiction - Science
1994 Random House
Finished on March 3, 1996
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

The bestselling landmark account of the first emergence of the Ebola virus. A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic "hot" virus. The Hot Zone tells this dramatic story, giving a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their "crashes" into the human race. Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.

My Original Notes:

Excellent! Terrifying! Very suspenseful. I couldn't put it down. Made my stomach churn at times. Good detail without being too scientific.

My Current Thoughts:

This must have been quite the page-turner, as I read it in two days. I remember how much it frightened me, and when Ebola broke out in 2014, I was once again reminded of how terrified this book made me feel. I also read The Demon in the Freezer, another biological account by Preston, which had a similar impact on me.

How about you? Have you read either of these biological thrillers? They read like fiction, but they're even more disturbing because they're factual. Now that I’m older, I don’t care to read this sort of book. The world is already too frightening.

March 30, 2016

The Girl in the Spider's Web

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium Series, #4) by David Lagercrantz
2015 Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Simon Vance
Finished on December 7, 2015
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist return

She is the girl with the dragon tattoo—a genius hacker and uncompromising misfit. He is a crusading journalist whose championing of the truth often brings him to the brink of prosecution.

Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female superhacker—a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering. Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Salander for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. The secret they are both chasing is at the center of a tangled web of spies, cybercriminals, and governments around the world, and someone is prepared to kill to protect it . . .

The duo who captivated millions of readers in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest join forces again in this adrenaline-charged, uniquely of-the-moment thriller.

I have now read all four books in the Millennium series. I had a tough time getting interested in the first (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but wound up giving it a rating of 4/5. I enjoyed the next two installments much better (perhaps seeing the movie of TGwtDT helped) and gave them both ratings of 4.5/5. When this fourth installment was released, under a new authorship, I was a bit hesitant. Could Lagercrantz pull it off? Well… yes and no. I enjoyed the audio production (Simon Vance does an excellent job of reading and accents), but once it was all said and done, I’m not exactly sure what took place! It was just a tad bit convoluted. The good news is that I couldn’t see any difference between Larsson and Lagercrantz’s writing, and, the book was entertaining. Just confusing!

Final Thoughts:

I think the only reason I finished this book (and it took me almost an entire month!) is due to the excellent narration by Simon Vance. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have stuck with the print edition after a chapter or two. The Millennium series has been fun, but I don’t plan to read any more.

You can read my thoughts about Stiegg Larsson’s books (and movies) here.

March 27, 2016

Mailbox Monday - Poetry!

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a meme started by Marcia and now hosted on its own blog 

by Claudia Walters Reinhardt

Born in the Prairie State of Illinois, Claudia Reinhardt has lived in Colorado, Boston, and Iowa before taking root in the Great Plains. She has earned degrees from Illinois Wesleyan University and Emerson College. After a long career in corporate communications, she now lives near a prairie and is a freelance editor, writer, and tutor. Her poetry has appeared in numerous print and online journals and in anthologies. A chronically curious, lifelong learner, she is passionate about the environment, literacy, and wellness. She enjoys yoga, hiking, biking, gardening, traveling, and reading. Claudia and her husband, John, live in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The poems in Skating on the Sky focus on nature, family, community, the seasons, and the senses. The book is divided into several topical sections, each highlighted by inspiring quotations and beautiful color photographs taken by the author.

Claudia and I have a mutual friend who mentioned to me how much she enjoyed reading Skating on the Sky. Shortly thereafter, Claudia stopped by the store for her monthly book club meeting and gave me a copy of her lovely book of poetry. I am so impressed, not only with her poetry, but also with the gorgeous photographs she has included in her book. I've started reading the poems, just a few at a time, and I already have several favorites. April is National Poetry Month, so I plan to share one or two of Claudia's poems during the next few weeks. I think you'll enjoy them!

Note to local readers:

Saturday, April 9th at 2 pm
Barnes and Noble, SouthPointe Pavilions
Lincoln, Nebraska

Celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month with us as we welcome local poet Claudia Reinhardt to our store. Claudia will be reading selections from and signing her new book Skating on the Sky from 2:00 to 3:00PM. This book will make a great addition to your collection with each poem highlighted by inspiring quotations and beautiful color photographs taken by the author. 

What arrived in your mailbox this week?

Click on the title for more information.

Find more Mailbox Monday posts here.

March 26, 2016

Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers

Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers: Kitchen Stories from Mary's Farm by Edie Clark
Nonfiction - Essays
2007 Powersbridge Press
Finished on December 7, 2015
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it... and then the richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied... and it is all one. ~ M.F.K. Fisher

Publisher's Blurb:

Life-saving iced tea, Indian pudding "as it should be," dandelion wine made in the days when flowers mean peace, roast lamb on an Icelandic farm, baked beans from those who know best, cod cheeks and ale. Take this journey from the early 1960s all the way to the present and visit all kinds of kitchens on the way through the decades. In Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers, you'll discover a delicious collection of thoughts, memories and recipes, all about food, written by one of New England's most treasured writers. Here, food is not just sustenance but life and spirit and communion all in one. Guaranteed to inspire an appetite, for life and for good food, happily prepared.

What a delightful book! I enjoyed each and every chapter. My dear friend, Nan, gave me this book several years ago and I decided to give it a try, starting on the day before Thanksgiving. It was the perfect sort of book to read during the busy holiday season and I read one or two chapters each night. Each chapter includes a recipe and I marked all but one or two to try. Here's a list, just for fun:

Not Aunt Peg's Fish Chowder
Aunt Peg's Iced Tea (with lemons and oranges)
French Onion Soup
Vinegar Cake (chocolate cake, from The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken)
Indian Pudding (cornmeal, molasses, milk & eggs)
Mushrooms Provencale
Vermont Baked Beans
Chicken and Dumplings (I already have a wonderful recipe, but I'd like to try this one since it's meant to be cooked in a crockpot)
Beef Stew
Cold Cucumber Soup
Orange Couscous

Nothing fancy or elaborate, but her remarks about these recipes made me eager to try them. 

On food and memory:

When I sat down to write this book, I believed I was going to write about some favorite New England foods and include the recipes for each. But as the book progressed, I realized that food cannot be separated from place and memory, family and events from the past. In a way, then, there is no more powerful memoir than the food itself, a sensory cue strong enough to conjure the past as present, the present as past.  Aromas and touch can bring back the pageant of what came before.


Food, made by our own hands or passed to us from loved ones, is, without parallel and without guise, our lifeblood. It is what creates us, mind and body and spirit. Some food is simply nourishment, passed to us through a window of a fast-food chain and eaten from our laps as we navigate traffic. This is hardly food, only fuel, and even that is questionable nourishment. Food created by us and for us is our substance, the essence of love and reminiscence.

Final Thoughts:

I knew nothing about Edie Clark before reading this culinary delight and now I'm curious about The Place He Made, her memoir about her husband's death from cancer, as well as The View from Mary's Farm, an earlier collection of her essays. She has that writing style of familiarity, reminding me of a cozy afternoon spent with a good friend, sharing a cup of hot tea and meaningful conversation. Highly recommend!

Food is an adventure, food is communion, food is comfort, food is love. Food is a very big way that we live our lives. We might as well make it good. ~ Edie Clark

Please visit Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking.
Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

March 24, 2016

Looking Back - The Winter of Our Discontent

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
1996 Penguin Classics (Originally published in 1961)
Finished in February 1996
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Ethan Allen Hawley, a descendant of proud New England sea captains, works as a clerk in the grocery store owned by an Italian immigrant. His wife is restless; his teenaged children are troubled and discontented, hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.

The Nobel Committee, in awarding John Steinbeck the 1962 Nobel Prize for literature, stated that with The Winter of Our Discontent he had "resumed his position as an independent expounder of the truth, with an unbiased instinct for what is genuinely American."

My Original Notes:

Pretty good. It certainly held my interest and I read it in five days. I'm sure I missed some of the underlying themes and wish I had CliffsNotes to help clarify some of the confusing spots. I haven't read Steinbeck since 9th grade! Recommended to me by a friend who said it was his favorite book.

My Current Thoughts:

Since 1996, I've read a few more novels by Steinbeck. I prefer his longer sagas, such as The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden (reviewed here). The Winter of Our Discontent didn't leave much of an impression on me.

The Winter of Our Discontent was Steinbeck's last completed novel before his death in 1968. 

What is your favorite Steinbeck novel? Mine is The Grapes of Wrath, although I did love East of Eden, as well.

March 22, 2016

A Day in the Life Blogger Event

Trish, of Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity is hosting today's 2nd Annual "A Day in the Life" blogger event. I missed it last year, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading posts from fellow bloggers, so this year I made sure to start early! Several people worried that their days would look dull or boring to those of us with full-time jobs or large families, but that wasn't the case. The creative effort of some of these bloggers made the posts fun to read and a nice way to get to know them a little bit more. 

Just a little bit about me before I begin. My husband and I are empty-nesters, living in Lincoln, Nebraska. We've been married for 27 years and have a grown daughter who lives in Dallas, working for JC Penney corporate. (She also has an amazing fashion blog called Fashion Jackson.) We share our cozy home with our 12-year-old Annie-dog, a stray we rescued over 8 years ago. I work full-time as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble, which has been my dream job for 9 years. When I'm not at work, I enjoy reading, biking, traveling and cooking. So, here's an example of a typical weekday:

5:00 Rise and shine! Stumble to the shower.

5:20 Brew a cup of coffee, chat with Rod and try to coax Annie to eat her breakfast. 

5:30 Head back upstairs to enjoy my coffee as I check the weather, email, Twitter and Google News.

6:00 Step away from the computer! Get dressed, make a green smoothie, grab my lunch and head out the door.

6:45 Off to work, which is only a 3.5 mile drive. Sometimes I get lucky and see a beautiful sunrise. I either listen to NPR or my current audio book. Have I mentioned how much I love! I use my library a lot for audio books, but they don't always have what I want.

7:00 Clock in, grab my PDT, a cart of books and start setting displays. Tuesdays are my busiest mornings since this is when the Bestsellers change over, as well as several other displays. I'm able to listen to an audio book on my Nano or phone during those first two hours when we don't have any customers in the store. Best time of my work day.

9:00 Breaktime. Breakfast and a quick peek at social media for 15 minutes.

9:15 More of the usual. Bring out new books from receiving, set promotional displays, relieve the cashier for breaks, etc. Oh, and answering questions like, "Where is your nonfiction section?" or locating a book that was in the newspaper two months ago. You know the one. "It's got a red cover and it's about that guy on that show." Sigh. But then there's always one of my favorite customers, asking for a recommendation for their book club. This is when I think to myself, "I love my job."
11:30 Lunchtime. I either read in the break room or head out for a brisk 20-30 minute walk.

12:00 Work, work, work. I can usually log about 10,000 steps during work.

1:30 Another 15 minute break. So tempted to get a scone or a mocha from the cafe! Or a piece of cheesecake. Or a cookie. Sigh. Oh, wait. Didn't I just walk 10,000 steps?!

3:00 Quitting time. Out of the store by 3:15ish.

3:20 Grocery shopping. Don't you love the local murals?

3:50 Quick stop for gas. Ours has crept up again. I get regular (no ethanol), so it's $2.299/gallon. Today's cost a total of $31.96. That usually lasts about 3-4 weeks, so I'm not complaining!

4:15 Home! Unload the groceries and put the perishables in the refrigerator. The rest can wait.

4:20 Annie's walk. When the weather's as nice as it was today, the park is full of children. Annie gets a lot of attention from the little ones.

We've cut way back on the cookies, but she always gets one after her walks. 

4:40 Check the snail mail. I sort and toss/shred every day so it doesn't pile up.

4:45 Change out of work clothes. Nothing feels better than taking my shoes off and slipping into my ancient (Privo) flip-flops! Ahhhh.

4:50 Toss a load of laundry in the washing machine.

5:00 Feed Annie, pour a glass of wine and head upstairs. Write a quick note to our granddaughter for Easter. Now that she's older (13!), she loves Starbucks! Easier to mail than chocolate bunnies. :)

5:10 Relax and read emails and a quick scan of social media (Bloglovin' Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

5:30 Rod's home. We always spend a few minutes catching up (Annie joins us, of course!) before I start dinner.

5:45 Quick phone call to American Express to sort out my new text alert program. They notified me of a $100 charge at the gas station. Apparently, that's what the gas station automatically charges before reversing the charge to the actual amount. Phew!

5:55 Throw clothes in the dryer. 

6:00 Porchtime with Rod. He's enjoying a beer while I finish my wine. Annie really wants to chase squirrels. Or just roll in the grass.


6:30 Dinnertime. Depending on the night (Rod teaches two nights a week) we either eat at the table or in the living room, watching something on Netflix. We just finished House of Cards, so tonight we decided to watch the second half of History of the Eagles. Man, they were an incredible band. We had leftovers, so no photos.

8:00 Dishes and lunch prep.

8:20 Quick look at email/Facebook/Twitter/Bloglovin' and work on this blog post.

8:45 Heading to bed. Yep. 5 a.m. comes far too early and I want to read for a little while.

8:50 Remembered there are clothes in the dryer. Run downstairs and get them out. Hang up the ones that I don't want to wrinkle and leave the rest for tomorrow.

8:55 Say goodnight to Annie-Dog


9:00 Read! 

10:00 Lights out!

Thank you, Trish! This was so much fun and I look forward to doing it again, maybe in the winter... and when we're retired and living in Oregon!

March 21, 2016

Mailbox Monday

by Fredrik Backman
On sale May 3, 2016

The New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry returns with an irresistible novel about a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village--and in turn finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest places.

At sixty-three, Britt-Marie's orderly life is upended when she leaves her philandering husband and takes a job in the small derelict town of Borg. There, against her better nature, she finds herself being pulled into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, and layabouts--and a handsome local policeman whose romantic attentions to Britt-Marie are as unmistakable as they are unwanted. In this town of misfits, can Britt-Marie finally find a place where she belongs?

With charm and wit, Britt-Marie Was Here celebrates the ways in which even the gentlest of spirits can change the world for the better.

Yay!!! I loved Backman's debut novel,  A Man Called Ove, which I read last May and reviewed here. I can't wait to read this new novel and I still want to get a copy of his second book. How about you? Have you read any of this beloved author's books? If you're planning to attend BEA, you'll be happy to know that Fredrik will be appearing! I wish I could be there.

What arrived in your mailbox this week?

Click on the title for more information.

Find more Mailbox Monday posts here.

March 20, 2016

The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
2011 Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Tara Sands
Finished on November 4, 2015
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)

Publisher’s Blurb:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

The Language of Flowers has been extremely popular with readers and book clubs, so I decided to wait a while and let all the hype die down a bit before reading it myself. I wound up listening to the audio, which was ok, but I don't know what all the excitement was about. I didn't think it was anything special and wonder why so many readers loved it. It held my interest, but it didn't wow me. It’s been four months since I finished and if pressed, I wouldn’t be able to tell you a single fact about the story. Not a one!

Final Thoughts:

Meh. Maybe it was better in print.

March 17, 2016

Looking Back - The Rainmaker

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Rainmaker by John Grisham
1995 Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Finished in February 1996
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

In his first courtroom thriller since A Time to Kill, John Grisham tells the story of a young man barely out of law school who finds himself taking on one of the most powerful, corrupt, and ruthless companies in America-- and exposing a complex, multibillion dollar insurance scam.

In his final semester of law school Rudy Baylor is required to provide free legal advice to a group of senior citizens, and it is there that he meets his first "clients", Dot and Buddy Black. Their son, Donny Ray, is dying of leukemia, and their insurance company has flatly refused to pay for his medical treatments. While Rudy is skeptical, he soon realizes the Blacks really have been shocking mistreated by the huge company, and that he just may have stumbled upon one of the largest insurance frauds anyone's ever seen-- and one of the most lucrative and important cases in the history of civil litigation. The problem is, Rudy's flat broke, has no job, hasn't even passed the bar, and is about to go head-to-head with one of the best defense attorneys-- and powerful industries-- in America.

My Original Notes:

Excellent! What a page-turner. I couldn't put it down. I think I read it in 3-4 days. Different style from his previous books. First person narrative. I highly recommend this for light reading.

My Current Thoughts:

There was a time when all I read was Stephen King, John Grisham and (shhhh, don't tell anyone), Danielle Steel. I loved Grisham's courtroom dramas and the suspense of the good guys beating the big bad guys. I only had a vague recollection of The Rainmaker's plot, but as soon as I pulled up the description on Goodreads, it came right back to me. Then I clicked over to IMDB to see who starred in the film version. My husband was sure it was Matthew McConaughey, but I knew that wasn't right, but was surprised to see that it was Matt Damon. I know we watched the movie when it came out on video, but I still only have a vague recollection of the details. This probably isn't a book I'll read a second time, but I sure would like to see that movie again.

Looking back, I see that I read almost every book Grisham published between 1989 and 2001:

A Time to Kill
The Firm
Pelican Brief
The Client
The Chamber
The Rainmaker
The Runaway Jury
The Testament
The Painted House
Skipping Christmas

So, basically, 10 of his 28 novels for adults. I tried to read one of his more recent books, but couldn't get interested and felt that the writing structure was too simplistic. Are there any that you would recommend? How many have you read?

Find the Good

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende
Finished on October 29, 2015
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)

Publisher’s Blurb:

As the obituary writer in a spectacularly beautiful but often dangerous spit of land in Alaska, Heather Lende knows something about last words and lives well lived. Now she’s distilled what she’s learned about how to live a more exhilarating and meaningful life into three words: find the good. It’s that simple--and that hard.

Quirky and profound, individual and universal, Find the Good offers up short chapters that help us unlearn the habit--and it is a habit--of seeing only the negatives. Lende reminds us that we can choose to see any event--starting a new job or being laid off from an old one, getting married or getting divorced--as an opportunity to find the good. As she says, “We are all writing our own obituary every day by how we live. The best news is that there’s still time for additions and revisions before it goes to press.”

Ever since Algonquin published her first book, the New York Times bestseller If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, Heather Lende has been praised for her storytelling talent and her plainspoken wisdom. The Los Angeles Times called her “part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott,” and that comparison has never been more apt as she gives us a fresh, positive perspective from which to view our relationships, our obligations, our priorities, our community, and our world.

An antidote to the cynicism and self-centeredness that we are bombarded with every day in the news, in our politics, and even at times in ourselves, Find the Good helps us rediscover what’s right with the world.

I read Heather Lende’s previous book, Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, in the summer of 2012 and wrote about it here. I was thrilled to see her new book on the shelving cart at work and quickly snatched up a copy for a quick peek. I wish I could say I loved it as well as her previous book, but this one fell flat and left me wishing for something a bit more substantial. I love essays and thought this collection might be similar to Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, but alas not. I didn’t even find any passages to mark and share. However, I haven’t given up on Lende and still plan to read If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name.

Final Thoughts:

Start with Lende's earlier books and then grab a copy of this one from your library. You can also find her blog here.