Book Review: Death Over Easy

I’ve reviewed Maddie Day before. I still love her Country Store Mystery series. In the latest installment Robbie is up to her ears in murder suspects, some of whom are staying at her freshly opened B&B.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

June’s annual Brown County Bluegrass Festival at the Bill Monroe Music Park in neighboring Beanblossom is always a hit for Robbie’s country store and café, Pans ‘N Pancakes. This year, Robbie is even more excited, because she’s launching a new bed and breakfast above her shop. A few festival musicians will be among Robbie’s first guests, along with her father, Roberto, and his wife, Maria. But the celebration is cut short when a performer is found choked to death by a banjo string. Now all the banjo players are featured in a different kind of lineup. To clear their names, Robbie must pair up with an unexpected partner to pick at the clues and find the plucky killer before he can conduct an encore performance . . .


My thoughts:

I like Robbie. She is such a fun, yet capable woman. She doesn’t bumble all over place. She handles her shit, effectively.

And she takes responsibility when she screws up. Asking for help. Researching solutions. I might want to be friends with her. Maybe. People die around her a lot. LOL

She tries to stay out of crime but people tell her things. I can relate to that. People tell me things, too. Luckily I have managed to avoid any murders.

The entire series has been a solid cozy read. (this is book four maybe?)

Book Review: Lies My Teacher Told Me

The hubs and I had dropped the kiddo at his D&D game and snuck out(approved by the host) to get a little alone time. We hiked for a while, having all those conversations that build up between dates because you can’t get through three sentences at home without the kiddo interrupting…and then we went to the library. I’ll be honest all our dates end the evening at the library. The ability to search shelves without the kiddo tugging at your arm saying he wants to go now, his stack of books is heavy, etc…oh mama. Anyway, I came across a copy of Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. I had heard really good things about it.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

Since its first publication in 1995, Lies My Teacher Told Me has become one of the most important—and successful—history books of our time. Having sold nearly two million copies, the book also won an American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship and was heralded on the front page of the New York Times.

For this new edition, Loewen has added a new preface that shows how inadequate history courses in high school help produce adult Americans who think Donald Trump can solve their problems, and calls out academic historians for abandoning the concept of truth in a misguided effort to be “objective.”

What started out as a survey of the twelve leading American history textbooks has ended up being what the San Francisco Chronicle calls “an extremely convincing plea for truth in education.” In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen brings history alive in all its complexity and ambiguity. Beginning with pre-Columbian history and ranging over characters and events as diverse as Reconstruction, Helen Keller, the first Thanksgiving, the My Lai massacre, 9/11, and the Iraq War, Loewen offers an eye-opening critique of existing textbooks, and a wonderful retelling of American history as it should—and could—be taught to American students.

My thoughts:

I expected more or less or something different anyway from this book. I guess I hoped for more discussion of the lies and what is really true. I like that kind of thing. While there is a good measure of that, it felt like more than half of every chapter was reviews of textbooks. Textbooks that were heinously boring when I didn’t actually read it in high school. And now I have to read excerpts of it while this guy explains why they’re boring and bad.

Maybe the problem is I already teach all the sides of every story in my history classes and encourage a healthy debate, so he was preaching to the choir?

It’s a good read if you don’t mind skimming a bit.

Book Review: Word by Word

I get it, I have an odd reading penchant. Word by Word, the Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper is an excellent example of my need to know something about everything. Oooh a book on lexicography, I know jack all about lexicography, I should read that.

Basic Summary(Courtesy of Amazon):

Many of us take dictionaries for granted, and few may realize that the process of writing dictionaries is, in fact, as lively and dynamic as language itself. With sharp wit and irreverence, Kory Stamper cracks open the complex, obsessive world of lexicography, from the agonizing decisions about what to define and how to do it, to the knotty questions of usage in an ever-changing language. She explains why small words are the most difficult to define, how it can take nine months to define a single word, and how our biases about language and pronunciation can have tremendous social influence. And along the way, she reveals little-known surprises—for example, the fact that “OMG” was first used in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917.

Word by Word brings to life the hallowed halls (and highly idiosyncratic cubicles) of Merriam-Webster, a startlingly rich world inhabited by quirky and erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate. Certain to be a delight for all lovers of words, Stamper’s debut will make you laugh as much as it makes you appreciate the wonderful complexities and eccentricities of the English language.

My thoughts:

It’s been a while since I read a book that had me laughing so hard I cried, gasping for breath. I’m being totally serious here. This book was hysterical.

It’s a lot of detail about words and how they come to be defined. Some of that is more interesting than other parts, but you can skim pretty easy over the too much sections and still laugh your a** off in the funny parts, which are numerous.

This is a great book if you like to learn about new things in a way that won’t make you want to gouge your own eyes out.

Side note to help the lexicographers out: Dictionaries to do not make words, they are not the arbiters of how words should be used, they record how a word is already used in written context. As Stamper points out, removing or adding a word does not actually change society. If it did, don’t you think they would have removed the word murder years ago?

Book Review: Murder on Millionaire’s Row

I thought I was grabbing another cozy. One set in Gilded Age New York, but a cozy none the less and I expected it to suck. I don’t know why I expected it to suck but I did. I was wrong. On all accounts about Murder on Millionaire’s Row by Erin Lindsey.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Rose Gallagher might dream of bigger things, but she’s content enough with her life as a housemaid. After all, it’s not every girl from Five Points who gets to spend her days in a posh Fifth Avenue brownstone, even if only to sweep its floors. But all that changes on the day her boss, Mr. Thomas Wiltshire, disappears. Rose is certain Mr. Wiltshire is in trouble, but the police treat his disappearance as nothing more than the whims of a rich young man behaving badly. Meanwhile, the friend who reported him missing is suspiciously unhelpful. With nowhere left to turn, Rose takes it upon herself to find her handsome young employer.

The investigation takes her from the marble palaces of Fifth Avenue to the sordid streets of Five Points. When a ghostly apparition accosts her on the street, Rose begins to realize that the world around her isn’t at all as it seems―and her place in it is about to change forever.

My Thoughts:

This is a fantasy mystery with all the trimmings. And I loved it.

Rose is fun, flat out amusing. She has great adventures, thinks about things in unusual ways, and generally shows the reader a darn good time, even if it is at her own expense.

I have to admire a woman who handles herself in a time where that alone could get you in trouble and this book has more than one such woman. Nicely balanced with men who mostly appreciate them. So the historian in me is suspending her disbelief at that because it made for good reading.

I am vastly impressed by Erin Lindsey and I can’t wait for the next one.

Book Review: The Radical Element

Still on the hunt for short stories for my creative writing kids, I have breezed through a lot of anthologies lately. The Radical Element, edited by Jessica Spotswood is the only one in the first batch of 8, I actually finished.

Basic Summary (courtesy of Amazon):

In an anthology of revolution and resistance, a sisterhood of YA writers shines a light on a century and a half of heroines on the margins and in the intersections.

To respect yourself, to love yourself, should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It’s a decision that must be faced when you’re balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it’s the only decision when you’ve weighed society’s expectations and found them wanting. In The Radical Element, twelve of the most talented writers working in young adult literature today tell the stories of girls of all colors and creeds standing up for themselves and their beliefs — whether that means secretly learning Hebrew in early Savannah, using the family magic to pass as white in 1920s Hollywood, or singing in a feminist punk band in 1980s Boston. And they’re asking you to join them.

My thoughts:

I liked this anthology tremendously.  From the very first story I knew I would be reading it from cover to cover rather than scanning for something that didn’t make me want to poke my eye out.

Again I don’t want to give away too much. But who hasn’t thought about running away with the circus?

I did use one of the shorts for my class, in our segment on comedy. I wanted to show them that comedic writing didn’t have to be just fart jokes. That you could wrap something ugly and complicated like racism in comedy and make your point.  Stacey Lee did so quite well in the Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave.


Book Review: Twisted

I am almost positive I’ve read Twisted by Jeffrey Deaver before. I love his books and do tend to read them all. But recently I picked it up again when looking for short stories for my creative writing class to dissect this year. It was fun to reread and enjoy the twist.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver delivers an electrifying collection of sixteen award-winning stories that will widen your eyes and stretch your imagination. Diverse and provocative, Twisted showcases Deaver’s amazing range and signature plot twists: a beautiful woman goes to extremes to rid herself of her stalker; a contemporary of William Shakespeare vows to avenge his family’s ruin; and Deaver’s most beloved character, brilliant criminalist Lincoln Rhyme, is back to solve a chilling Christmastime disappearance.

My thoughts:

I love the introduction to this book where Deaver talks about how when you write a novel, you can’t simply twist it at the end or your reader, feeling cheated, will hate you forever. But in a short story, the investment is much less, you can play with the reader without irritating them.

I don’t want to give away any of the endings. But there are one or two that are simply spectacular.  In my favorite, the twist is so artfully woven in, I immediately went back to reread it as soon as I finished it. Not a clue. Not a one. Out of nowhere, slam.

And he’s right, if I had invested 8 hours reading 400 plus pages, I would have been pissed. But 20 minutes of thinking, oh yeah I get whats going on here, only to find out I was sooo wrong, that was amusing.

Book Review: Radioactive

This year for history I am teaching Man’s Greatest Accomplishments. I had several things in mind I wanted to cover with the kids (organization/gov’t, domestication of plants and animals, epidemiology, writing) and then I asked them what they thought were man’s greatest accomplishments. This has led to me researching in depth a lot of things I only previously considered from other view points. Like the atomic bomb. Oh, sure I am all over the political, military, and cultural ramifications and even the consequences. But how the made it? Crud, I need a library. Radioactive by Winifred Conkling is one of the many books I read, and a well written one at that.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

The fascinating, little-known story of how two brilliant female physicists’ groundbreaking discoveries led to the creation of the atomic bomb.

In 1934, Irène Curie, working with her husband and fellow scientist, Frederic Joliot, made a discovery that would change the world: artificial radioactivity. This breakthrough allowed scientists to modify elements and create new ones by altering the structure of atoms. Curie shared a Nobel Prize with her husband for their work. But when she was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences, the academy denied her admission and voted to disqualify all women from membership. Four years later, Curie’s breakthrough led physicist Lise Meitner to a brilliant leap of understanding that unlocked the secret of nuclear fission. Meitner’s unique insight was critical to the revolution in science that led to nuclear energy and the race to build the atom bomb, yet her achievement was left unrecognized by the Nobel committee in favor of that of her male colleague.

Radioactive! presents the story of two women breaking ground in a male-dominated field, scientists still largely unknown despite their crucial contributions to cutting-edge research, in a nonfiction narrative that reads with the suspense of a thriller. Photographs and sidebars illuminate and clarify the science in the book.


My thoughts:

This book was a super intriguing read. Both a step by step process of how nuclear fission and the chain reaction occurred and the nasty way politics, war, and human frailty impacted the way the world at large viewed the process. Some were rewarded for their efforts. Others were denied credit or blamed. In one case, Lise Meitner, she was both denied credit and then blamed as “the little lady who start this whole mess” after the bombs were dropped. She was much more gracious in the situation than I would have been.

Whether you dig science or not, this is a good read. As always, I found a lot of the psychology of humans the most interesting portion.  And I got enough details to be able to answer my students complicated questions, which they always ask about every topic.