On Vacation!

Dear Friends,

I am on vacation right now! I am reading many books and will be back next week to share the new and wonderful treasures that I read while I was away. In the meantime enjoy this picture of beach and sand from where we are staying in Mexico!




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Between The World And Me Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me is ostensibly a letter from a father to his adolescent son. But really it is so much more than that. It is filled with stories and history and it is about the struggle of blacks and what our American history has wrought. It is about a black father telling his black child what he knows about race, and injustice and it is filled with rage, anguish, pain and love.

It is also one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. I have described other authors and books as “lyrical” but I feel that I did not truly understand what that word meant until I read Ta-Nehisi Coates. Listen to this passage where Coates describes how the world shifted for him when his son was born.

The truth is that I owe you everything I have. Before you I had my questions but nothing beyond my own skin in the game, and that was really nothing at all because I was a young man, and not yet clear of my own human vulnerabilities. But I was grounded and domesticated by the plain fact that should I now go down, I would not go down alone….”Anyone can make a baby,but it takes a man to be a father” that is what they had told me all my life. It was the language of survival, a myth that helped us cope with the human sacrifice that finds us no matter our manhood. As though our hands were ever our own. As though plunder of dark energy was not at the heart of our galaxy.

Coates reminisces about how he awakened to who he really was and how he could fit into a world where his skin color defined him more than his character, his background or his intellect. He uses stories of revelatory experiences that incrementally changed his thinking, and created  new and different ways for him to understand race. From growing up in Baltimore, to Howard University, to Paris and back,  he  imagines a different way of being American and a different America, where its myth of exceptionalism includes everyone.

America believes itself exceptional, the greatest noblest nation to ever exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorist, depots, barbarians and other enemies of civilization…. I propose to take our countryman’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard. This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American Innocence at face value and not to inquire too much. And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all our names.

Profound, brutally honest, and challenging, this book makes us, especially those of us who are white see through a different prism and see the pain and injustices we have long ignored.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Ken, Sharon, Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? YES!

Read in hardback format




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The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz

Evan Smoak was trained in the Orphan program; a government funded off-the-books program that created deniable assets, or assassins. But after a particularly bad mission, he left the program feeling betrayed by his trainer, the program and his government. Hiding in plain sight, Evan begins to help desparate people who need his particular skills to deal with their difficult problems and quickly becomes known as the Nowhere Man. The rules are this: Evan will help solve your problem and then once the problem is resolved, payment is made in the form of a referral to one other person who is also in trouble and needs the services of the Nowhere Man. Evan likes the work, and by being careful and not making too many waves, he believes that he can avoid the searching eyes of his former employer.

In his newest case he must save a woman who has been kidnapped and placed in a container on a container ship heading for Miami.  It is just the sort of thing  he needs to keep up his skills.  Relishing the challenge Evan begins implementing his rescue plan when he is captured, drugged and  kidnapped. When he wakes up he finds himself in a  lodge in a remote area in the mountains surrounded by snow.  He doesn’t know where he is or even if he is in the US., Canada, or somewhere in Europe. On top of that his captor seems to think Evan is an arms dealer who will provide the materiel he wants to close an important multi billion dollar deal.

With the clock ticking and lives in balance, Evan must find a way to escape from his captor, find out who is behind his kidnapping and rescue the woman on the container ship. This will be his hardest mission yet!

Sometimes you just need an escapist book and this series is entertaining, (even if a little bit over the top,) has an engaging character and intricate and thrilling plots! So on those days when you just can’t stand to read one more thing that is literary, challenging, and vaguely guilt inducing this is the antidote! Enjoy!

Brenda’s Rating:  *** (3 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon and Marian

Book Study Worthy? nahhh…

Read in ebook format.


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The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott

Daniel Connor is traveling to Paris, with a letter of introduction and some precious coral samples, to study anatomy with the world renowned authority,  Dr. Cuvier at the Jardin des Plantes. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and Daniel is determined to make the most of it. But inexplicably the letters of introduction and the coral samples are stolen before Daniel can deliver them to Dr. Cuvier. Daniel suspects a young woman who he met in the carriage on his way to Paris as having something to do with the theft and sure enough after a few days in Paris, Daniel sees the woman again and she promises she will return the items she stole.

While Daniel waits for the woman to return, he makes friends with another young student and he begins to breathe in the the lively intellectual debates that were swirling around Paris that July in 1815. Much to Danile’s surprise, Dr. Cuvier was regarded as  rather passé-a conservative protector of the old order, while Dr. Lamarck with his transformist ideas was considered new and radical. While Cuvier insisted that animal species were hierarchical and fixed, Lamarck insisted that the world was in a constant state of flux and change and progress was revolutionary and full of possibility. These ideas were not only revolutionary scientifically, but also reflected the dynamic political realities of Paris, and Daniel with his limited French was often relegated to the sidelines while his companions hotly debated these issues among themselves.

Just when Daniel feels he must leave Paris and return to Edinburgh in ignominy, Lucienne, the woman, reappears and gives Daniel back some of the items she stole.  Relieved that his difficulties might come to an end, Daniel is strangely drawn to this intriguing and secretive woman, not knowing that Lucienne is wanted by the police as a thief and con artist. Soon Daniel is caught up in a complicated web of deceit as Detective Jago compels him to help him bring Lucienne to justice.

Stott manages to weave together a complicated plot of romance, scientific discovery, and political intrigue that is suspenseful and mostly satisfying. There are times, however, when the various plot lines seem to overwhelm each other rather than creating a cohesive whole. Although Daniel is a well developed character with believable motivations, Lucienne by necessity remains an enigma, flitting in and out, and at times seemingly having competing motivations for what she does. But aside from these rather minor detractions, Stott has recreated a lively and intellectually hungry Paris, with all its competing ideas struggling to take hold in the hearts and minds of its young intellectuals and against that back drop she has set the story of Daniel and Lucienne, who although they are attracted to each other have seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their path.

Brenda’s Rating: *** 1/2(3 1/2 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Lauren, Marian and Sharon

Book Study worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.


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A Fatal Flaw by Dana Stabenow

Spring is arriving in Alaska and for Kate Shugak, who lives miles away from any town or village in the isolated Park, this means charging the battery for her truck, washing the windows and making sure she has enough firewood to see her through until it gets warm. Mutt her dog, half wolf half husky also knows it is spring and is enamored with a large timber wolf who has come calling. Kate, unwilling to fill her house with pups, is determined to keep the two animals separated but it is hard work to drag her dog back into the house. Just as she gets Mutt inside she hears the sound of a helicopter, which decides to land in the clearing right in front of her homestead. Jim Chopin, an Alaskan State Trooper, emerges with a warning.  A local man has had a mental breakdown and has been shooting random people and he is headed straight towards Kate’s homestead. After giving her the news he gets in the helicopter to track the killer by air, leaving Kate on her own.

Luckily, Kate is fully capable of taking care of herself. She is a native of the tribal peoples who live in The Park and she was a member of the Anchorage D.A.’s Investigators staff and contributed to bringing many bad guys to justice. Although now retired from the D.A’s staff she still helps the Alaskan State Troopers in The Park when they need her skills as an investigator.

With the help of Mutt, Kate is able to capture the deranged killer but by the time they capture him he has already killed nine people. As Kate and Jim review the murder scenes, however, Kate begins to have second thoughts about one of the murders.  When the ballistics report returns Kate’s suspicions are confirmed and she realizes that someone in The Park used the cover of the deranged killer’s rampage to get revenge. As Kate investigates, her search for justice reveals painful secrets and the way hatred and distrust can eat away at a relationship until something snaps.

I first heard of Stabenow when I was reviewing books for our family’s Alaskan Cruise. This is the second in the series and is just as good or better than her Edgar award winning first book A Cold Day For Murder. If you like murder mysteries and police procedurals I highly recommend these books! Stabenow’s plots are carefully and meticulously crafted, and her pacing keeps the suspense taut. Kate is a complicated, interesting woman with many secrets who is trying to figure out her place in the world now that Plan A is no longer an option. The landscape of Alaska is a major character in these novels and it shines in all its deadly glory.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Marian and Sharon

Book Study Worthy: yes

Read in ebook format.

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Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

Many years ago Melisandre Dawes had a mental breakdown and left her baby in a hot car. The child died. In the wake of that tragedy and the sensational trial where she plead not guilty by reason of insanity, she left her husband and their two older children, and fled the country. Now twelve years later Melisandre wants to reestablish contact with her now teenage daughters and has hired Tess Monaghan and her partner to provide security for her while she is in Baltimore.

Melisandre is one of those women everyone would envy. Confident, beautiful, rich, and intelligent, she commands attention and makes things happen the way she wants them. Tess, on the on the hand is a working mom juggling a demanding career as a PI and a demanding, strong willed toddler at home. Tess feels succesful if she has clean clothes to wear and is able to get her daughter to bed at a decent hour. Although Tess is intrigued by Melisandre, there is also something off putting about her as well. Was she really driven temporarily insane or was she a master manipulator? Is she cold and calculating or a mother who is concerned about her daughters’ well being? As these questions swirl, Tess and her partner must investigate the threatening letters that someone is leaving for Melisandre, but before they can get to the bottom of the threats, there is a murder and Melisandre, at the center of this maelstrom, is the prime suspect.

Distracted by the strange, cryptic notes she has received, Tess tries to focus on uncovering the truth about Melisandre. Most importantly Tess needs to determine whether Melisandre daughters need to be protected from their mother or whether Melisande needs to be protected from others. As Tess digs deeper she realizes that she must confront her own fears about what it means to be a good parent and what separates sanity from insanity before being able to uncover truth.

Creepy and intriguing, Lippman takes us where we would rather not go. What makes a good mother? Can a mother who killed her own child while suffering from temporary insanity ever be trusted with her children again? Lippman keeps the suspense taut and the plot twists and turns with each revelation. An altogether satisfying read!

Brenda’s Rating ****(4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Keith and Marian

Book Study Worthy? yes

Read in ebook format



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The Shanghai Factor by Charles McCarry

The Washington Post has reported recently that a former CIA case officer, suspected of being the mole responsible for the unmasking and deaths of many undercover agents in China, has been arrested.  The investigation to find the mole has been going on for a number of years now, crippling our ability to get accurate information about China. A clear reminder that spying is not glamorous but in reality a very a deadly business.

In The Shanghai Factor a nameless spy relates his experiences in China working for a nebulous U. S. agency named HQ.  At first he is supposed to immerse himself in the language and culture, but when he meets a woman named Mei and they begin a torrid affair, he suddenly risks exposing himself and HQ.  Trying to put a positive spin on this unexpected notoriety, Luther Burbank, the head of HQ, asks the young spy to go undercover at a large Chinese multi national company and try to uncover whether or not its CEO, Chen Qi, is indeed the head of  the shadowy and impenetrable Chinese Intelligence Service known as Goanbu.

The spy soon realizes however, that in addition to HQ there are others who are monitoring his movements and the cat and mouse game that he is playing becomes even more complicated and dangerous. While, Mei flits in and out of his life, upsetting his dreams of  making their relationship permanent, the spy is drawn further and further into the shadowy and deadly power struggle between HQ and Goanbu, which could upset the balance of power between East and West.

McCarry, like LeCarré, was once a spy himself and his descriptions of what a spy thinks, and feels and their struggles to maintain their cover in the face of intense scrutiny and difficulty feels authentic and true. This book was fascinating and McCarry’s insights into China and the way the Chinese perceive the world and threats to their power were enlightening.  The nameless spy was an interesting affectation that was both helpful and a bit unsettling, since it limited your ability to relate to the character fully. However, it also made you aware of the nameless people who serve as our country’s eyes and ears all over the world and who are often betrayed or die in that service who are never known or acknowledged.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Keith and Sharon

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format


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