Wednesday, December 28, 2016

One for my fellow Emergency Managers

My career field in the US Air Force was emergency management and I am a sucker for disaster books. Ted Koppel was a name I could trust to give me some really thought provoking long-form journalism.

Book Review
Lights Out: A Cyber Attack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath
Ted Koppel
Penguin Random House, 2015
Read December 2016
4/5 stars

A pretty easy, but sobering, read about how a cyber attack on the U.S. power grid could take place and how the country (government, civic organizations, and individual people) would respond/react to the situation. Answer: everyone's response will be piss poor, except for the Mormons and survivalists (aka "preppers"). The biggest loser is the DHS; they don't seem to know how to get themselves out of a paper bag much less planning and supplying for a major terrorist incident via the Internet. FEMA is at least thinking things through and planning accordingly, that is when the head of the department and his deputy can agree on anything (not likely). It seems if the individual is hoping to make any headway in discovering how to plan and respond to such an attack, s/he should look to local and state governments. Also, Koppel's advice in the epilogue is to get back into community-level preparedness as well as individual/family unit-level preparedness. Overall, a solid read I would recommend to anyone, but especially my fellow emergency managers.

Primer on Future Crisis Points

I picked up this book because I am living in Europe for another 18 months and wanted a bit of forewarning or basic knowledge of what I could expect to see in European politics and economics prior to my leaving. Since my second tour of living in England, I have seen the Scottish Independence referendum, the Brexit vote, numerous terrorist incidents, austerity measures, and the rise of hard right-wing parties gaining more political clout and votes across Europe.

Book Review
Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe
George Friedman
Penguin Random House, 2015
Read December 2016
3.5/5 stars

The book is broken down into three sections: the Enlightenment Era and the beginnings of modern science; the thirty-one years from the start of World War I to the end of World War II; and a regional look at the current political and economic climate of today's Europe. I hope the reader likes a lot of European history, because 2/3rds of the book is just that, with an additional introduction that tells the story of how Friedman's family escaped Europe and came to America. Honestly, I wished I had skipped the introduction and first section of the book - it had nothing to do with the rest of the book. Section two's history focus related and influenced what you will read in the third section, so please start there. Section two's history lesson is very basic, but puts all readers (regardless of their depth in World War II and modern European history) on the same page and ready for the third section's content.

I like how the third section was organized and I found the multiple maps of the region very useful; my geography skills get weaker the farther east I go into Europe. Germany and Russia are the dominant players within a lot of the third section's content. Luckily, I found no Muslim bashing; when the conflicts arise between the Muslim and Christian world views, there was a balance to the writing and a depth of knowledge given. Friedman is definitely in the camp of viewing the EU and NATO as too weak to be of anything effective or significant. I found my knowledge growing of little talked about regions such as the Balkans and Baltic states as I read their respective chapters.

I was disappointed in the chapter on Britain - there wasn't much talk of the upcoming (as of the date published, Brexit was just in the beginnings of the campaign stages) EU referendum, the Scottish Independence referendum vote was swept under the rug, and there was no talk about the growing popularity of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) or the rise in both Islamphobia and anti-Semitism (the UK editions of the newspaper The Guardian has a few articles on the latter you should check out). There was also very little to no talk of the backlash to the austerity measures the Tories have enacted. The crisis point here may be internal, but no less flammable, as the riots and demonstrations have shown.

Overall, a good primer for Americans to learning more about European politics and economics today and what to look for in the near future. But it would also help to read newspaper and magazine articles from specific countries as well to keep your knowledge accurate and up to date.

Nuclear Disaster Re-visited

The disaster at Chernobyl is now 30 years in the past. I was perusing the non-fiction titles at the library and came across this translated work. Originally, the work was first published in 1996 in Russian and explored how people living in the Soviet Union, especially in the affected areas, thought and felt about the disaster (in 2005-2006 the work was translated into English).

Book Review
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
Author: Svetlana Alexievich; Translated by Keith Gessen Picador
Macmillan Publishers, 2005
Read December 2016
1.5 stars

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
New Yorker Best Books of the Year
The Guardian (UK) Best Books of the Year

This book was rough to read in the beginning; I couldn't sympathize with anyone who chose to stay in the affected area because they didn't see the harm in radiation. There was a lot of talk by the elderly about how life was far worse during the war (World War II) and they survived, so they could survive this too. Then there were the men who wanted to be heroes or climb the ladder of leadership within the Communist Party that they went willingly to clean up the affected area or the nuclear plant itself. People were very naïve or incompetent. The death toll mounted and yet people continued to believe party officials. With the crumbling Soviet Union, this was a symbolic end to an empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the internal conflicts that arose in the power vacuum created refugees that sought safety in the empty villages surrounding Chernobyl, radiation be damned. Experts in nuclear science were avoided, scorned, or ignored.

The writing was translated to make much of the reading make sense, but some of the people profiled talked about WWII or philosophy and it ended up reading more like a word salad. It was repetitive, especially from the elderly and party men/women, who never broke from the official Communist Party story of what happened and how the West was trying to create trouble for the Soviets. Not much insight was found reading this book, so it can be an addition to your reading about the Chernobyl disaster but can not stand on its own for knowledge base. A good book if you are looking to beef up your academic work with first-person accounts or quotes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Author Spotlight: Michael Lewis

I came to Michael Lewis' works via the 2015 movie adaption of The Big Short. I was a bit obsessed with that movie, watching it almost every night after my husband went off to work. So I was happy to see Lewis' books in my local base library. I read the following four books in 2016:
Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street - 5 stars
Read in November 2016
This was a real page turner. Lewis takes the reader back to the late 70s and all through the 80s and tells the story of one "rogue" investment bank, Salomon Brothers, Inc. There is a big section of this rather short (249 pages) book that is devoted all to Lewis Rainrie and his newly conceived mortgage backed securities (MBS) trading department - this is the beginning of what would lead to the global recession of 2008. This section really helped give the reader more understanding and insight into Lewis' other book about MBS, The Big Short. The other big section deals with Lewis' experience as a bond trader in London. Lewis is funny, honest (he often talks about how he was at times fearful or completely out of his depth), and observant of human behavior and interaction.
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine - 5 stars
Read in June 2016
ONE BIG CAVEAT to reading this book: You must have a firm knowledge of financial lingo and some concepts featured in this book (mortgage backed securities, credit debt obligations, credit default swaps, etc). This is not a textbook for the layperson - this is inside baseball style. This is a great addition to those other books about the financial crash of 2008, but can't serve as "the go-to guide".
This book is different enough from the movie (The Big Short starring Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling) to really be a separate thing; this works if you didn't care for the movie but still was interested in the story. For me, I loved the movie and I also really loved this book, but for different reasons; I will note that watching the movie before reading the book made the book easier to understand (also I got to picture Bale every time his character shows up in the book, which makes any reading much more enjoyable).
I had already liked and appreciated Lewis' style of writing from reading Flash Boys, and this book follows the same formula - follow the outsiders who mastered (and yes, profited from) the complicated web that is the US financial system. These are not just outsiders, these guys (yes they were all males featured in this book - Meredith Whitney was only mentioned in the introduction) were not the Wall Street type of guys, so very few insiders took them seriously. Lewis' writing does have a snarky bent at times, but it was in the more light-hearted moments, so he didn't come off as mocking. Due to the subject matter, this is a bit dark and cynical look at Wall Street. There are winners (our outsiders) but even they didn't feel like much of a winner after seeing the destruction caused by Wall Street greed. There is a section on the taxpayer bailout in the epilogue and my copy (library loan) was the updated version with a new afterword (describing the reaction the book and Lewis himself got after publication).

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World - 4.5 stars
Read December 2016
This book is a collection of articles written for Vanity Fair about the sovereign debt crisis that happened in the aftermath of the global recession in 2008. I didn't know about this book until I was perusing my library's non-fiction shelves and saw Lewis' name on another economic book. I had to read it, and so glad I did. The reader is taken to Iceland, Ireland, Germany, Greece, and finally Southern California (one of the biggest areas of the mortgage meltdown that triggered the recession). I learned a lot about the economic and culture of the countries from reading this and know understand a lot more about the undertones of the political strife now going on in Europe as a result of the sovereign debt crisis. Lewis keeps his entertaining and charming way of writing while getting to the heart of what led to the crises felt all over Europe. The book also goes into the bankruptcy of Vallejo, California and the public financial crisis of San Jose, which also helps understand the political climate in California. I read this just after finishing George Friedman's Flash Points: The Emerging Crisis in Europe and would recommend the two books together.
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt - 5 stars
Read June 2016
This was the first Lewis book I read. Great book detailing how High Frequency Trading (HFT) is scalping ordinary investors, penny by penny. What The Big Short did for the bond community, this books does to the stock/equity community. You do need a basic grasp of investing concepts and lingo to understand what Lewis is describing, but he does use easy to understand examples to illustrate how HFT works. Much of HFT happened during the time of the subprime mortgage bubble, but came more to light after the post-bubble burst consequences had subsided. HFT has caused short-term crashes and will probably continue to do so, so investor beware and be aware.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I Think I Am Coming Down With A Case of....Bout of Books 18!

It's that time to sign up for Bout of Books (cycle 18)! Woo-hoo! I am glad to be back for one of my favorite read-a-thons and kicking off the first week of 2017 is sure to put me on the right foot for my reading year. As usual, here is the mandatory blurb (button can be found on the sidebar):

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 2nd and runs through Sunday, January 8th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 18 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

You have until 11:59 pm on January 3rd to sign up. Come join me!

Goal Posts:
1. As usual, have fun! This means participating in challenges and discussions, which I didn't do last cycle and ended up not feeling as accomplished or happy about my performance.
2. Since I am also doing a Romance Genre Bingo challenge with some online friends, I decided to knock out some of the books for the bingo during BoB 18. So my goal will be six books for this cycle:

Sarah Sunshine (Montana Romances #2.5) by Merry Farmer
Historical romance featuring an interracial couple - heroine is Native American, hero is white
My Friend the Bride by Nicolette Dane
Contemporary lesbian romance
Heir to a Desert Legacy by Maisey Yates
Yates' does Arabic romances so well, she leaves me in a puddle of emotions
The Bride and the Brute by Laurel O'Donnell
Medieval romance
My Writing Professor by Nicolette Dane
Contemporary lesbian romance with a New Adult spin
A Bit of Bite by Cynthia Eden
Paranormal romance 

Living La Vida Local

No real reason for why I borrowed this book from the library; it just seemed to call me. I am glad I listened to the call.

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
Bill McKibben
Henry Holt and Co, 2007
Read in December 2016
3.75/5 stars

This was my first book written by Bill McKibben, a journalist and environmentalist. I think I have been wanting to lighten my carbon footprint but needed a little guidance on how to go about doing it. Living in Europe has opened me to be more accepting of local suppliers and retailers; the fact that shopping at our base commissary is a chore could be another reason I am happy to buy and live the European way. So it should come as no surprise that the chapters dealing with American style of agriculture and the end of factory farming/industrial farms were the most impactful to me. I was also very interested in how politics were given the local is better treatment. Granted, the author lives in Vermont, a more liberal area of the U.S., so his ideas work because the state population is much more likely to want to live locally. The only area of the book I had to disagree with is the part where he talks about local currency; it seemed to be more of a throwback to the early days of the republic and was difficult for those living in border areas to live and work with differing currencies of the individual states. I think most of the ideas found in this book resonate with me because I read about them post 2008 global recession, so the ideas were not as radical (some were indeed necessary and some were probably implemented in 2009 and thereafter) as they were in 2007. Overall, I found this book to be useful in helping me start my journey to living less globally and more locally.

Listen to Your Gut!

I have been in a real non-fiction tear the last six weeks and my library has really fed my need for long-form journalism and personal essays. This has led me to read some rather sobering topics, such as the focus of this book review.

Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues 
Martin J. Blaser, MD

Henry Holt and Co, 2014
Read in December 2016
3.75/5 stars

Dr. Blaser premise is that we are doing serious damage to our bodies by emphasizing the ideas that all bacteria is bad and must be eradicated. He begins by giving the reader a background on how bacteria and humans evolved together. It was dense with science, but still understandable to the average reader. This sets the stage for the exploration of how bacteria, sometimes specific species or strains, work with our bodies to mention normal bodily functions. Modern chronic illnesses are discussed in relation to missing important bacteria, such as obesity, asthma, Type 1 diabetes, ulcers, irritable bowl syndrome and Crohn's disease, and throat cancer. Experiments are described and explained to further his argument.

Dr. Blaser does not condemn anyone; he is really trying to educate the public to re-think their use of hand sanitizers and asking for antibiotics from doctors for the slightest sniffle. Also, he shows evidence that America's high rate of C-sections may be a factor in why more children are diagnose with food allergies and hay fever. Therapies, treatments, and possibly cures may come from finding which bacteria is missing and re-introducing them into the human body. It was thought-provoking and interesting while still being scientifically useful for medical professions.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2016 Celebrity Memoirs, Part II

Continuing my year end look at the celebrity memoirs I read in 2016. I have Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me? on my library borrows/TBR and will hopefully get to it by this weekend.
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini - 4 stars
Read July 2016
I meant to just start this book this morning, but couldn't put it down until I finished it. Content wise, it was heartfelt, gossipy, and authentic. Writing quality could have used some polish, which is not surprising considering Remini dropped out of formal education at the eighth grade.

Remini had my interest from the first page, but it was her descriptions of growing up in an Italian-Jewish family in Brooklyn circa mid-1970s and early 1980s that made me smile. Italian-American families are so alike, I thought she could have been a cousin of mine. I still remember her from her guest spots on Who's the Boss? and Saved by the Bell! Her rise in Hollywood was painful but much more realistic than child stars or models turned actors. She was very real about her wanting to be an actress for the money, but stayed and dealt with the hardships inherent with the acting world because she loved the work. She doesn't hold back about the crap that Scientology is known for, and she names people and their rank/role within the organization. If Remini ever writes another book, I will read it.
P.S. I never liked Tom Cruise or his movies, but damn he is quite the douche-bag

Yes Please by Amy Poehler - 4.5 stars
Read July 2016
This was a great memoir that read like a conversation between friends. I am glad she focused on herself and her work rather than her divorce. Amy Poehler was real, showing scars, warts, and mistakes as well as good times. There is a lot of celebrity name-dropping, but mostly it was her friends or mentors that she spoke of who also happened to be pretty well known.
Warning that there is a bit of stream of conscious type of storytelling, so she would start with a story from her childhood, halfway through it would turn into a story from her twenties, then return to the story from childhood to bring everything back around to her point. There was some filler, such as pictures and pages from scripts.
Bossypants by Tina Fey - 4 stars
Read July 2016
This was a quick and enjoyable read. I did laugh out loud at several chapters. This book was written towards the career women who want a family life too. It also focused a lot on her writing career (for both improve, sketch, and scripted comedy shows). I did feel a connection with Fey, but also feel she self-edited a lot.

2016 Celebrity Memoirs, Part I

Something about 2016 made me reach for celebrity memoirs a lot. Some were gossipy, some were serious - most were a combination of the two. Here is Part I of my 2016 Celebrity Memoirs Reading List:

Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart - 4 stars
Read February 2016

Miranda Hart is my soul sister. I laughed too loudly (and garnered so much attention from strangers) reading this book. Fun and lighthearted but a lot of truth about the modern life. Although some of her pop culture references would only be recognizable to Brits/Commonwealth residents, I think the humor would be appreciated by Americans. My favorite chapter was the second one, about Miranda's taste in music - I could have written that chapter, as I too do not have an edgy taste in music.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae - 4 stars
Read February 2016
Honestly, I had never heard of Issa Rae before reading this book. After reading this, I went straight to YT and subscribed to her channel. She has such a refreshing and honest voice in a world in which reality tv stars and celebrities just try too damn hard to be famous for nothing or for drama.

What drew me originally to this book was just the cover and the back cover statements from people whose work I like. If they liked Issa Rae, then I would give her a shot. Superficial? Yep. But that is how I roll in the non-fiction non-history section of the library. And I am very glad I gave her a shot. This book had parts that were relatable (especially for kids and teens growing up in the late 80s and all of the 90s) and other parts that were so different, it was eye-opening.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny
by Holly Madison - 4 stars
Read April 2016

Read until 3 am this morning, then picked it back up as I was cooking breakfast. Could not put it down.

I admit to being a big fan of the reality tv show The Girls Next Door and Holly's World, which followed the lives of Holly, Bridget, and Kendra and Holly's move to Las Vegas after leaving the mansion. Holly was my favorite, with Bridget a very close second (Kendra was too damn annoying for my taste - that laugh alone is like nails on a chalkboard to me). So I jumped at the chance to read Holly's story about her time in and after living in the Playboy cult.

And cult is the best way I can describe her experience as part of the Playboy image/marketing scheme circa 1999-2010. There were rules and politics, all enshrined to feed the bloated ego of a fading icon. I always got the impression that Holly was a lot smarter about the situation and the relationships that surrounded her than the tv show or Playboy PR machine would portray her as. I didn't buy her "love and devotion" to the old man, especially when she had more emotion and connection with Bridget or Mary (Hefner's long time secretary) in a brief scene than in all the PR stunts. And I was right; she is smart, business savvy, and has quite the work ethic. She had enough good sense to avoid the hard drugs and prostitution ring, yet emotionally and mentally broken enough to stay for nine years (seven of which she was a main girlfriend) in a cycle of abuse. She owns up to her decisions to move into the mansion and every decision afterwards. However, she also has no problem naming names and burning bridges.  I was pleasantly surprised to know that Bridget and Holly remain close friends to this day. The fact that Holly and Kendra are on the outs with each other is a healthy decision on Holly's part.

If you are a devoted HH/Playboy fan, you may see Holly as bitter, since Hef does not come out of this book looking good at all (and neither does Criss Angel). For me, it just validated that the good PR he gets is a complete control and fabrication of any and all situations. The financial mess that Playboy and HH is in now was pretty known to Holly and Bridget back when they lived in the mansion.

As far as the use of Alice in Wonderland theme to tie the book together, I think it was well done. Alice is a dark story dressed up as a children's fantasy story; likewise, Holly's time with Playboy was a dark story dressed up in sex and glamour. Needless to say, I will be reading her next book (The Vegas Diaries, out now).


Yes, My Accent Is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven't Told You by Kunal Nayyar4 stars 
Read April 2016

I should mention that I am a big fan of The Big Bang Theory, so my review may seem a bit biased.
Nayyar was born in London and raised (from the age of 4 until he left at 18) in New Delhi. That is about the extent of the usual memoir structure you will find in this book. Nayyar took the rest of the book in a different direction than most memoirs - rather than a play-by-play of his life, there is snapshots and small moments described and his life lesson learned from those times. He is not a comedian by trade or training, but a business major who took theater/acting classes for all of his electives and went on to pursue acting in graduate school and in his career; however, he admits to feeling quite comfortable with his business degree being his Plan B.
Nayyar comes across in his writing as a sweet, smart, kind, joyful, and witty man who is comfortable in his own skin. I use witty rather than funny; although this book has some great one-liners and a bit of snark in places, it was not a humor book nor was it meant to be a humor book. People seems to mix up Nayyar with his character on screen and some are disappointed this isn't a "funny" book. It is meant to be Nayyar's way of sharing his life and Indian culture with his fans.
If I had to choose one part of the book I liked the most, it would have to be the chapter devoted to his traditional Indian wedding. So much partying, yet the love for his bride and their families was evident. It was also interesting to note that the role of Dr. Raj Koothrappali was 1) originally named Dave/David and 2) not of any particular ethnicity. The writers and producers of the show reworked the character to fit Nayyar after seeing him audition. And I am so glad they did. I could have done without the poem he wrote back in 2012.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Series Spotlight: The Debutante Dropout Mystery Series by Susan McBride

Another transfer post from BookLikes.

This cozy mystery series, written by Susan McBride, is wonderfully modern without trying to hard to be hip. The amateur sleuth, Andrea Blevins-Kendricks (aka Andie) is a Dallas, Texan blue blood that rebelled at 18 by ditching her coming out party and going to art school. Among other societal faux pas, she works as a web designer (sometimes doing pro bono work for non-profits) and drives a Jeep. But no matter what, she loves her friends and family.

Now if Andie could just stop finding dead bodies everywhere, that would be great.

Here are my reviews of the books I have read in order of appearance in series:

Blue Blood - 5 stars
Trigger warning: There is a scene in the beginning of the book that is a sexual harassment/attempted rape and stalker behavior.  There are also references to videotaping of consensual sex without permission of one of the participants.

Her mother, the high matron of Dallas rich society, was eye-rolling superficial and cliché for the first 25-30% of the book, then Cissy does something that just freaking endeared me to her; by the end of the book, I didn't know who to love more, the daughter or mother. I freaking loved the scenes with Andie and Brian - there was a real connection that at times made me think this was a romance and not a cozy mystery. Brian is a great beta hero - something I needed to balance out all the alphas I read in historical romances. 

The Good Girl's Guide to Murder - 4.5 stars
Andie learned her lesson from the last book and called for back up/had a Plan B before sneaking into a potential threatening situation.
The structure of the story was a new twist (at least to this cozy mystery newbie). Rather than having the murder happen immediately in the first couple of chapters, we don't get the murder until Chapter 20. In the lead up, I got a wonderful story and a list of suspects that I really felt I knew -- making the mystery more engrossing. Also, there were a series of mishaps prior to the murder, so there was a plot going on with all the characters.
The one problem I had with the book was the MASSIVE INFODUMPING in the first two chapters. The info was on the relationship between Cissy (mom and socialite to beat all other socialites) and Andrea. If you read book one, you got a good handle on this relationship already; chapter one and two was complete overkill.
The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club - 5 stars
I love this series the more I read it. Completely engaging mystery and the humor kept me reading long after I should of put the book down and made dinner. Cissy takes center stage, and earns it because she listens to her gut.
I learned a valuable lesson - know your state's history - for if you ever need an alias, you can always go with the name of one of the dead corrupt officials that ran your state. Knowledge is power people. I love the new recurring character Stephen Howard - who was the only person outside Cissy and Andie who figured out the history of Cissy's alias. Then he went along for the ride and kept up the ruse.
Humor was in regards to situations, not people. There was not a whiff of sexism or ageism - since the book focuses on the dating lives of those living in retirement communities, it would be easy to mock the love lives/loneliness of older people, but Ms. McBride avoids that in respect to her characters and readers.
Night of the Living Deb - 3.5 stars
First, you have to read the acknowledgments at the front of the book - Ms. McBride does her research very thoroughly.
I have been waiting for Malone to make a real appearance back into the series. He has been a telephone call for the last couple of books and I wanted a few scenes with him and Andie. As it turns out, this book is all about Malone - how to clear his name and at the same time save him from being killed by his kidnapper. Cissy, Stephen, and Ali had to pick up a lot of the detective work because Andie was too emotional to think straight. And Andie really didn't listen to her gut or the advice from others - she let the fear take over. This is not the kind of Andie I wanted to see. Once Andie got her groove back, it was game on. This was my least favorite book in the series.
Too Pretty to Die - 5 stars
This installment was just fun and funny that I ended up reading it faster than probably the other books in the series. Andie is a bit reckless in this book, but smart enough to get herself out of sticky situations. She also has good instincts, knowing the murder wasn't a suicide from the beginning. Cops are pretty incompetent in this book - less bitchy attitudes, more solving crimes so that Andie doesn't have to do the job for the police may help. The side story with Janet's job was interesting motivation for Andie to help solve the case. I hope the PI that Cissy and Stephen hired doesn't become a possible love interest for Andie. I don't do love triangles, and I am too vested in Malone's relationship with Andie to see her with someone else.

Say Yes to the Death - 4.5 stars
It was fun being back with Andie and the gang from Dallas. The characters were still rock solid as before, and the plot was page turning, if somewhat predictable as I guessed correctly who was the murderer after certain clues dropped. Cissy is still my favorite character. This book also tied up some loose ends from the previous book, making the entire story arc satisfying. Can't wait for #7.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Series Spotlight: Tourist Trap Mysteries by Lynn Cahoon

Another migration from BL to here type of post. Today I am giving the spotlight to a great cozy mystery series. Tourist Trap Mystery series by Lynn Cahoon is set in the fictional small coastal town of South Cove, California. The MC, Jill, is the owner of a coffee shop/book store and runs into an alarming number of dead bodies (as one does in a cozy mystery series).

I really love this series and it will also give me feelings of homesickness for California (even though I only lived in California for a little over five years). The cast of recurring characters are not as quirky (read: annoying) as in other cozy mystery series. Over all, the big reason I read this series is that is comforting and fun. I listed the books in order of their appearance in the series.

Guidebook to Murder - 4 stars
The book that kicks off the series. This was a bit of a tear jerker at the end, so keep the tissues handy. The story is one of the most mystery heavy in the series, with the romance in the distant background.


Mission to Murder - 3.5 stars
 I read the first book in the series over a year ago, and yet within the first chapter I felt connected to the characters again and the first 3 chapters were read within a couple of hours. I wasn't as interested in the murder mystery as I was in the different relationships of the recurring characters, I felt the mystery wasn't as good as the characters or the writing.


If the Shoe Kills - 4 stars
A fun, escapist story complete with a return of old friends in the small, picturesque town of South Cove. This is the third installment and I was sucked into the story line real quick. It is a holiday-themed story and by the end of the story I really wanted a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  it read more like a romance with a mystery sub plot. I enjoyed it because I love the recurring characters and the setting, but I would not recommend unless you already read book one and/or book two, as this seems more like a gift to readers of the series and a way to set up for the next book.


Dressed to Kill - 4 stars
The author twisted it up a little and had Jill not be the one to find the dead body, or have anything to do with person who was killed. Another twist was this wasn't an out-of-towner, but a resident  I liked that Jill was finally the rescuer rather than the one being rescued in the confrontation with the killer. I agree with the killer - Det King (Jill's hunky bf) was a little obtuse with all the evidence, especially with the evidence, clues, and theories Jill feed him. I hope he isn't this dumb in the books to come after this one; I like when they bounce ideas off each other and come up with the smart, right answers. Hunky is better when it comes with a side of brains.


Killer Run - 3 stars
Good installment in the series but too light on the mystery front. Another case of victim and murderer from out of town, so there is no sense of tension within the community. Pretty quick read. I like the way the author set up the next book's plot line at the end of this book without muddying the plot line of this book. I just need more mystery and less cozy; the victim and murderer was plainly made within a couple of chapters - even before the dead body was found.


Murder on Wheels - 3 stars
Better than the last one, but there is something missing at the end of this mystery - namely a good motive for why the murderer committed the crime. There was too much focus on the love lives of the gang. Amy was an utter cow to Jill for a ridiculous reason. I didn't like the fact that Greg dismissed Jill's theory or gut instinct, and low and behold, she was right and solved the murder. Greg might be Mr. Perfect, but he can be a bit of a dim-bulb compared to Jill and Toby.


Tea Cups and Carnage - 4.5 stars
The magic is back in this installment. The last couple of books have lacked something on the mystery end of the stories, but this kept the plot line on the mystery and the relationships took a back seat. Although the victim and murderer was once again out-of-towners, there were really good ties to the community via the clues to solving the murder. I'm a little tired of mini story lines about the love lives of Toby and Sasha, but I still enjoy the relationship between Greg and Jill. And I really like the tie in between the Tourist Trap Mystery series and the author's new cozy mystery series. I admit to not caring anymore about Jill's nosiness or her gossipy ways of solving the murders.


There will be an eighth book, titled Hospitality and Homicide, coming May 16, 2017. It is already on my 2017 reads list.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Author Spotlight: Courtney Milan

Since I am sensing a beginning of an end at (a reader site that is a cross between Tumblr and Good Reads), I am moving over my reviews and ratings from there to here. I am starting with author Courtney Milan and her books. She has one historical series (The Worth Saga) not mentioned here because I haven't read it yet - I tend to collect her works when they become available and wait until the series is done and all installments published before binge reading. I don't read New Adult romances; however, if you do, you may want to check out her Cyclone series.

The Carhart Series
     This Wicked Gift (#.5) - 0 stars
The story made me physically cringe with embarrassment at several points. It was also deeply depressing story.
     Proof by Seduction (#1) - 3.5 stars
There were parts of the story that dragged due to having the same angsty conversations.  However, the writing is fresh and deals with sensitive topics with a deft touch; the conflict between MCs was based on real issues. 
     Trial by Desire (#2) - 3 stars
The historical aspect of the story was a bit more woven into the story rather than used as flavoring (such as the Anglo-Chinese opium wars). However, yet again the story needed a strong edit to remove some of the repetitive angst. I skimmed a lot of inner dialogue in this book.
Definitely not my favorite series from Milan. This was her very early work (first published by Harlequin) and shows promise, but is only average reading. I don't have a favorite from this series, but I recommend skipping that novella.
The Turner Series
    Unveiled (#1) - 4.5 stars
I liked the fact that Anna was the victor in the feud between her brothers and the Turner brothers; it showed she had some balls and brains - more than the men involved. Anna was a heroine I liked and respected;
    Unlocked (#1.5) - 5 stars
Their journey to love was honest and emotional. Best reunion scene EVER.
    Unclaimed (#2) - 5 stars
The woman saves herself time and again (once in a duel!), and the sexual tension is off the charts without a sex scene for 75% of the book.
    Unraveled (#3) - 2.5 stars
The longest book due to many unnecessary characters and plot line bloat. Didn't like the heroine at all. But hero was the best brooding hero.
Unlocked was my first read from Milan and what made me fall in love with her writing. I didn't know until the end that it was part of a series. Needless to say, the rest of the series was bought soon after finishing the novella. My favorite book in the series is Unclaimed - I cried while reading certain parts.
The Brothers Sinister Series
     The Governess Affair (#.5) - 4 stars
Since it was a novella, the courtship was short (about a week between meeting and marrying), and at times I didn't buy into the love aspect so much as that I thought if was more lust and friendship. The best part of the story was the last section, titled Aftermaths & Beginnings, that really carried the storylines into the next book but also tied up loose ends from this story.
     The Duchess War (#1) - 5 stars
I liked the sex scenes between the two MC virgins, who knew enough about their individuals likes/dislikes (via masturbation on both their counts) to help each other come together. The cause of each MC's angsty was revealed slowly, like peeling away layers of an onion.
     A Kiss for Mid-winter (#1.5) - 4 stars
Bets/wagers are also a favorite plot trope of mine, especially when the MCs discover/admit their feelings to themselves about half-way through the wager and scheme to get the other person to win.
     The Heiress Effect (#2) - 5 stars
The couple's verbal interactions and physical embraces made their relationship real and Oliver did a proper amount of groveling at the end for my taste. I liked it best when they were working together on a scheme, as they respected each other's talents and brains. You might need a hanky for the scenes of Oliver's grief after his Aunt Freddy died (her story was so nicely woven into the bigger story). The secondary romance plot line was also so good.
     The Countess Conspiracy (#3) - 3 stars
The plot line worked....the romance didn't; this ended up being the weakest book in the series. There was too much angsty characters/situations, too much repetitive dialogue and inner monologues that brought down a decent story.
     The Suffragette Scandal (#4) - 5 stars
Edward has no F*CKS to give the world in general or British nobility crowd he was born into specifically, but is always ready to help a friend in need. She gives as good as she gets and is a BOSS without having to demean/demand things of her colleagues or family. She gets stuff done. There is a secondary romance (f/f) between two side characters from previous books that was so sweetly and perfectly done.
     Talk Sweetly to Me (#4.5) - 3.5 stars
The book starts without a cute meet, so I felt a little like I was dropped into a show where the story was already in progress. I liked Rose, but she needed a longer book to be fully fleshed out character and to create a more believable change in her mind about falling for Stephen. The romance was okay, but I couldn't really connect with couple.
This series is often recommended by romance readers for those readers who want to dip their toes into the genre or those readers who have biases against the genre. The stories are very character-driven in this Victorian era series. And the book covers can give you serious dress lust. My favorite installment  is The Suffragette Scandal. I highly recommend this series, but prepare for the need for tissues and chocolate while reading.

Stand Alone Novellas
What Happened at Midnight - 5 stars
The MCs, Marry and John were so wonderful both as individuals and as a couple.
The Lady Always Wins - 3 stars
Unfortunately, a douchebag hero brought this book down a star.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Tea Review: Harriet's Tea Room, Bury St. Edmunds

My friend, a fellow military spouse, was leaving England and moving to a new duty station. Thinking of something to do for her going-away party, I asked her if she liked an afternoon tea thrown in her honor. Turns out, she has never been to a proper English afternoon tea even though she lived here for three years. Well, that settled the matter and I made plans for a group of us to go to the local Harriet's Tea Room, which for us was in Bury St. Edmunds (there are two other locations, Norwich and Cambridge).

First, the building itself is from the 1900s, so the façade is gorgeous. Inside, high vaulted ceilings and marble tables and floors give the tea room such an upscale and elegant feeling. The wait staff were warm and professional. Taking a look at the menu, you can see a variety of price points to fit individual budgets - this is a plus for any group getting together. The afternoon tea menu is no exception - they take their tea serious at Harriet's! I choose the Special Tea, priced at 19.95 GBP, which include tea of choice, tea sandwiches, scones, and sweet treats. I picked the house blend called Harriet's Special Blend. My friend chose the same tea, but asked for the decaffeinated version.

A lot of food - all delicious.
The food was delicious, but a special mentioned should be made about the macaroons. I ended up taking a box of them with me to bring home as treats for my family and so did a few of my friends. I was very happy with my choice of tea; it was rich and full-bodied, especially as I like to add milk and sugar to my black teas. I only ate one scone, as I was saving some more for dessert.

It was a successful going away and I do want to go to Harriet's more often so I can sample the other teas they offer. If you find yourself in Bury St Edmunds, give Harriet's a try - a beautiful tea room with good food and service.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Tea Review: Cranberry Vanilla Wonderland by Celestial Seasonings

This was another new holiday tea I bought from the commissary on base. Once again, Celestial Seasonings re-designed the box covers, so the cover on the website is different than the holiday one shown on my box. I have to admit, this is one beautiful tea box cover - it definitely gives off the winter wonderland vibe and I love the woodland scene. Maybe in the future, CS can sell prints of their holiday covers to the public.

This is a herbal tea and caffeine free, so it is suitable for everyone; as always, it is a good idea to check the ingredient list just to ensure you are not consuming anything that could be harmful to you.

First Impressions: The color of the tea is a nice red, although I had hopes it would go darker (this picture was taken about 10 minutes into steeping). The scent is barely noticeable when using a cup with a lid, but noticeable and pleasant coming from a mug.

First Sip Reaction: This is a good tasting cup of tea. A little bland, but a nice vanilla finish.
Bottom of the Cup Reaction: Reminds me a great deal of cinnamon-apple tea, which I do enjoy, but where was the cranberry? I wanted some tartness or kick to complement the vanilla. The vanilla was in perfect portion and didn't make the tea overly sweet despite the absence of the cranberry. It still was a bit bland tasting.
Final Verdict: I continued to drink the tea until the box was empty because it was a nice, comforting tea but it is not something I would purposely pick up again. This tea is designed for those drinkers looking for something close to the cinnamon-apple teas without the heavy cinnamon taste or smell. I would recommend drinking this tea warm; it didn't hold up to drinking it cold taste-wise or color-wise.
If you want to try Cranberry Vanilla Wonderland for yourself, you don't have to wait until December! You can order online at Celestial Seasonings; however, please note that the US site does not recognize APO zip codes, so if you are military living overseas, try using Amazon.
Until next time, happy sipping!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Autumn Reading Preview

I'm so ready for autumn - cozy blankets, crisp apples, and spooky reads. Two online friends put together a Halloween Bingo that started September 1st and ends October 31st. I have already planned out my reading for the two months based on what books I have or can borrow from the library that would fill in the squares for a black out card once again.


 I have two classic books on my reading list: Dracula by Bram Stoker and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. This will also help me complete my reading goal of 4-6 classic books read in a year.
I am not much for horror or gore, so most of my picks for bingo are from paranormal romance (PNR)genre and cozy mysteries. Some PNR choices include books #2-4 of Tiffany Allee's Files from the Otheworlder Enforcement Agency series (I read book #1 back in January and loved it enough to pick up the entire series)

and  the ...In Death novellas from J.D. Robb (these novellas can also be found in anthologies with various other authors, but I am not interested in those other stories - just want my Eve and Roarke) - so far I have read these two, with another four to go.
Vampire vs. Lt Eve Dallas

A Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story done with NYC 2060 spin

I also have some YA in the mix:
And there are a couple of comics/graphic novels:

Overall, I'm enjoying a break from historical romance and non-fiction books. In addition to the bingo, the autumn edition of Dewey's 24 Read-a-thon is scheduled for Saturday, October 22nd.