Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Books from the New York Times Best Seller’s List January 2014

  How Lucky You Can Be by Buster Olney

Where can you find a good book when you are looking for one?  The library has hundreds of books, but which one should you choose?  One option is to read reviews (like this one) or to wander through book lists, like the New York Times.  This will give you a good idea of what books are being read and enjoyed by others.  Our club decided to pick books from some of these lists.

​The book How Lucky You Can Be was written by Buster Olney, an ESPN announcer.  It is subtitled “The Story of Coach Don Meyer.”  Coach Meyer is the most famous coach that you never heard of… but other basketball coaches around the country know about him.  He devoted himself not only to his teams but also to teaching the art of coaching to anyone interested in the game he loved.  This is much more than a sports story.  It is the story of a dedicated man who at times neglected his family to achieve greatness in his field, passing the legendary Bobby Knight in career wins with over 903 victories, the most by any coach in history at that time.  It took a tragedy for him to express the love he had for his family — wife, children, and his players.

​ Don Meyer had been a college player at Northern Colorado and a head coach for years at David Lipscomb College and Northern State University.  His success was tremendous, but this story really begins on a lonely stretch of two-land road in South Dakota.  While leading a caravan of cars, taking his players on a team-building retreat, Meyer fell asleep at the wheel.  His car veered into an oncoming tractor-trailer truck.  The Coach was crushed, and it was feared that he would die from his injuries.  At the hospital, doctors prepared his wife because they were certain he would not make it through the surgery.  After five hours, Meyer survived but lost part of a leg, his spleen, and had numerous other injuries.  Meyer said that the accident was the best thing that could have happened to him.  He equated it with an angel providing him with a message.  The doctors found that Meyer had terminal cancer.

​ The story describes how this driven coach, who did not want to give up coaching basketball, rose to face the greatest challenge of his life.  He reassessed his life and his relationships.  His three adult children describe the changes that he under went.  Meyer now expressed himself, particularly his emotional self.  He did not hold back telling his children, his wife, or his players how much he loved them.  This tragedy actually has made their family even closer.  This is the story of a man who’s belief in God, his religion, his family, and his team— both coaches and players– gave him the strength to come back to coaching and to fight the lose of a leg and the cancer.  This would be the toughest battle of his life.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly, not only for basketball fans, as an inspirational story of a man fighting to overcome tremendous odds.  (5 of 5)

Other books from book lists rated by different club members:

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Part love story, part meditation on finding spiritual peace in the midst of crisis.  It is a beautifully written, tender and passionate story of a man trying to put his life in perspective.  (4 of 5)

  Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss

A funny, informative nonfiction book with excellent examples of misused punctuation. (5 of 5)

  The Hundred Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

The story spans the 20th century with a character similar to Forest Gump.  (4 of 5)

 The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Multiple story lines and strong women tell the story of World War II.  (5 of 5)

    Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Thought provoking historic novel about women being held back by authoritive men.  (4 of 5)

     Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Published in 1932, a thought  provoking novel anticipates developments that have profoundly changed society.  (4.5 of 5)

 The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

This tale shows how we do get second chances to fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams, especially during the season of miracles.  (5 of 5)

 God is not Mad at You by Joyce Meyer

A book that explains the relationship between God and man.  (5 of 5)

     Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

‘Tis the season to be jolly – a funny novel with a heroine who rounds up stray animals of all sorts as well as a killer.  Duck the Halls! (5 of 5)

    Nighttime is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark

A riveting novel of psychological suspense that depicts the mind of a killer. (4 of 5)

The Club Members rating these books:

Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barb Swanson, Linda Troll, Patti Tullis and Rae Ann Weaver

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, Crime, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Historical, History, Humor, Inspirational, Inspirational, Murder, Mystery, Personal Insights, Religion, Sports, Sports/Entertainment

Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer–America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer

green river running redby Ann Rule

 Reviewed by The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

            We all have a book on a bookshelf that is collecting dust.  It calls to us, and we want to pull it   down and read it.  A variety of reasons keep it on that shelf.  We have been too busy, we have to read something else, or we are just too tired to read right now… maybe tomorrow.  Our club decided to dust off those books and share with others what we finally found.

Ann Rule is famous for writing about true crime.  Her two most well known books tell of her work with the police in her backyard of Seattle, Washington.  Her personal knowledge and contact with the serial killers in both cases makes her books very personal accounts.  This book presents the facts and emotions around the “Green River Killer,” perhaps the most prolific serial killer in history.  He is serving 48 life sentences in prison.  This serial killer recently took part in an interview with the media admitting that he has killed nearly twice as many women as are now credited to him over a period of nearly two decades.

The author dedicated a large portion of the book to the young women that the Green River Killer murdered.  This means that the reader must spend a great deal of time learning about dozens of the Green River victims.  Rule describes their lives, included the rejection, the abuse, and often the sadness that drove most of them to prostitution.  A missing or murdered prostitute does not create as much urgency in a community that another type of murder might.

Although the book jumps back and forth between the victims, creating accounts that are somewhat confusing, the author deals with each individual–both victim and perpetrator—fairly.  It is sad and amazing that such a horrible killing machine actually existed.  This book is eye opening in many ways and an interesting true crime read.  I would recommend it.  (4.5 of 5)

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Mystery, Tragic Events

The House at Sugar Beach

the house at sugar beach

by Helene Cooper

Reviewed by The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club    

The author of this autobiography is Helene Cooper, the White House correspondent for the New York Times.  She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and lived in a privileged class.  Her home was a 22-room mansion at Sugar Beach.  Living by the sea, with her parents, her sister Marlene, and her foster sister Eunice, provided an idyllic existence of wealth and privilege.  Their fall from grace occurred when President Tolbert and his entire cabinet were executed, and the government was seized in a coup.  The author’s class, called the “Congo” class, was now on the run.  Her family fled to America for safety.  Eunice, her foster sister and close friend, belonged to the Bassa tribe and chose to stay behind.  Cooper went from high school to college, fell in love with journalism, and developed a career in which she traveled and reported on everything, except Africa.  Although she missed the sister they left behind, she made no attempt to contact her.

            The first part of the book talks about the history of Liberia and Cooper’s own family history.  It also introduces her family and friends, explaining how her view of the world changed when the coup took place.  Her mother, Mommee, was a strong figure in her life.  Mommee had “gumption” and helped her family survive the roving bands of soldiers, or more correctly thieves and rapists.  Her mother made a deal with a gang, allowing the soldiers to rape her if they would allow her daughters to be left in safety. 

Cooper then describes coming to America and her experience in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1980.  This was the first time she attended a public school system, and she was “the girl from Africa.”  Eventually, her father got an accounting job in Greensboro, North Carolina.  She became involved in her school Journalism class after being inspired by reading “All the President’s Men.”  At first she wrote reviews of TV shows.  She also became involved in the school’s “High IQ Team,” similar to current Scholastic Quiz teams.  She was accepted at the University of North Carolina in 1983, and, of course, majored in journalism. 

Throughout her new life in America, her family maintained their ties with Africa.  Her father, who had a drinking problem, experienced a difficult time making it here, so he headed back to Africa where he would be “a bigger fish in the small pond of Liberia” rather than “trying to swim upstream in the United States.”  Cooper, however, did not go back.  She would not communicate with her sister, Eunice.  It took a near-death experience while she was reporting on the Iraqi War to make her realize that she had unfinished business in Liberia.  The last part of the book describes her reunion with Eunice and with her family’s culture.         

Key Ideas from different club members

 Tells about the history of Liberia, interesting that it was settled by American slaves; Interesting story of the family’s struggle during the civil war; Very informative; Her language was a bit difficult to understand; Horrific and deplorable living conditions seen through the eyes of a young girl; Not easy to get into this book; Disappointed; Some parts were just boring; Thought there would be more about her life as a reporter; Slow; Easy to put down and not pick back up.

The Club Members Rating of this Book: 

Linda Bowman, Pat Gombita, Mona Herell, Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, William Simmons, Helen Skalski, Barbara Swanson, and Linda Troll

 Club’s Average Rating: 2.5 of 5           Rating Range:  2.5 to 4   

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Autobiography, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books

Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead

written by Louise Penny

The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

The author, Louise Penny, is one of the most decorated mystery writers alive today.  She is the only author to have won four Agatha Awards for Best Novel, and she’s not done.  Ms. Penny is a Canadian who lives in a small village south of Montreal.  This explains why her hero, Armand Gamache, is a French Canadian and why her crimes take place in Canada.

This story is a fusion of three events.  The first is an emotionally crushing confrontation with terrorists, which resulted in death and injury to police officers in Garmache’s division.  The second is a murder of a hermit in a small town of Three Pines that has already been solved, or at least someone is in prison for the crime.  The central part of the novel occurs in the walled city of Quebec, the French-speaking center of the bilingual nation, in a rather unusual setting—a library that maintains the history of the English in the city.  The swirling events are much like the swirling snow and winds of Canada’s winter—making it harder to see what is right in front of Garmache.  He must try to make sense of finding a body buried in the library’s basement.  It is the murdered corpse of a fanatical extremist who has spent his life trying to find the burial site of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain.  Why would anyone want to kill him?  Why would he be buried in the basement of this library?  Garmache has to deal with many personalities and with his own weaknesses and frailties to solve this murder.

Ms. Penny not only ties the three stories together and maintains our attention, but she also tells us about her homeland.  She blends history, Champlain’s life and death, with current issues, such as terrorism and the separatist movement in Quebec.  Her characters are strong but fragile in many ways, relying on good investigative skills but also on love and loyalty to find solutions.  Garmache must relive the horrors and sadness of past events before he can bury his dead.

Don’t let Louise Penny’s approach of swinging back and forth in explaining the three different events throw you.  They will make sense as the author develops the story.  Although each of her books is a self-contained story, it would probably be wise to read this series in sequence to see the development of the characters.  Do not hold back from reading this particular book, however.  It will be a worthwhile experience.

Key Ideas from different club members:

Wasn’t impressed, author didn’t distinguish or describe most of the characters;  A lot of characters, too many, hard to follow;  Starts slow;  I like Inspector Armand Gamache;  Liked the book;  Surprising ending;  Flashbacks helped me understand the story;  Nice book, continuation of series;  Fresh mystery, easy to read.

The Club Members rating of this book:

Linda Bowman, Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Juanita Sanner, Bill Simmons, Helen Skalski, Deb Stewart and Linda Troll

Club’s Average Rating:  3.9 of 5       Rating Range: 2 to 5

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Murder, Mystery

That Old Cape Magic

OLD CAPE MAGIC

written by Richard Russo

Fourth Tuesday Mystery and Book Club Review

             This book is a story of flawed marriages and weird relationships.  It is about a middle-aged man who has a difficult time dealing with reality.  He cannot let go of the past and grow up.  Jack Griffin has been carrying his father’s ashes in the trunk of his car, afraid to give them up.  His mother is constantly calling him and is driving down to meet Griffin and his wife, Joy, to attend a wedding at Cape Cod.  His family went on vacation here as he was growing up.  They would sing Frank Sinatra’s song “That Old Black Magic” but would change the words to “That Old Cape Magic,” which explains the title of the novel.  This is also where the Jack and Joy honeymooned thirty years ago, and set up a plan for their lives, which they followed to the “T.”  This is now where Griffin reassesses his life and marriage.  He does not want to become his parents.  A year later, Jack and Joy attend another wedding—their daughter’s—but this time, they bring dates along.  How could all of this have happened?

            The novel is a story of deep introspection.  Griffin has to confront his parents, their irresponsibility, their failed marriage, his own troubled marriage, his wife’s family, his daughter’s marriage, and what his own life is all about.  The story is spread over a period of one year, but there are continual flashbacks to earlier periods in Griffin’s life that help him during the soul-searching that he undergoes. 

            There are moments of great comedy mixed with moments of great sadness.  The ending is surprising and uplifting.  This novel received a broad range of response, from those who could not even finish the book to those who liked it.  The author is considered an outstanding writer who has received numerous honors and awards.  Our club feels that this might indicate his other books are better than this one.  It is not recommended.

                Key Ideas from different club members

 Very sad; Hard to read at times; Difficult to get the story line; Bounced around too much; Too focused on the psychological aspects; Not as good as the cover says; Took awhile to finish; I wasn’t really enthused about it; It got better toward the end; Sweet version of “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?”

 The Club Members rating this book:

Pat Gombita, Pat Kuna, Mona Herell, LeeAnn Schrock, Helen Skalski, Julie Shultz, Juanita Sanner, Linda Troll, Barbard Swanson, RaeAnn Weaver, Deb Stewart (and William Simmons)

 Club’s Average Rating:  2.9 of 5               Rating Range:  1 to 5

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Mystery

Yonder the Bridge

by Eva Berck

The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

Every reader wishes that they could shout out to an author as they read a book and ask “Why?”  Our book club had the opportunity to do just that at our last meeting.  Eva Berck (Cook) was kind enough to sit with us and answer our questions about her autobiographical book, Yonder The Bridge, for nearly two hours.  She explained why she wrote the book, what it was like growing up in Germany, and meeting her husband, how they got married and began their family.

It is a wonderful story of the life of a courageous young girl.  She tells us about working with a German farm family, badly injuring her leg, and losing her father.  The author grew to be an independent young woman.  She describes her experiences in Greece, as a secretary of the occupying forces, and later in Berlin.  Mrs. Cook explained what it was like in Germany during the World War II and during the peace that followed the conflict.  She, her family, and the German people experienced a lack of food, of resources, and even of hope as they were squeezed between the American victors and the occupying Soviet soldiers.  Although it is a story of her life, it is ultimately a love story, which had to overcome the oppressive Russian forces following the war.  It contributes to our understanding of the history of that time period and what it was like under Soviet rule.

This is one of several books written by Mrs. Cook.  The books are available to read and to buy from the Mary S. Biesecker Library.  They are an important part of the history of our community because they tell a tale of a family that has meant so much to Somerset Borough and to Somerset County.  We highly recommend this book to everyone.

Key Ideas from different club members:

Fantastic; Wonderful story; Captures the reader at the beginning and won’t let go; A little long and it jumped around at times; Excellent writing; Wonderful journal; Kept me interested, I liked it a lot; Very informative; Appreciated hearing Mrs. Cook in person; I have read the book twice; Her style of writing is so entertaining and gives such a vivid picture of the German Culture.

Club Members rating this book:

Anna Baird, Linda Bowman, Alice Fritz, Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, Sharon Shaffer, Julia Shultz, Bill Simmons, Lynn Simmons, Helen Skalski, Deb Stewart, Barbara Swanson, and Linda Troll

Club’s Average Rating:   4.4   of   5           Rating Range:    4   to   5

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Foul Play at the PTA

By Laura Alden

Published by Obsidian

Copyright ©2011 

Laura Alden gives us a second installation of the PTA Murders. Who knew that Wisconsin could be hazardous to your health?

Beth Kennedy is a single mom with 2 kids that she loves. She makes sure to come to her kid’s hockey games, attends school functions, manages her home, owns and manages a children’s book store, and is secretary of the PTA. Still she finds time to solve murders. I say murders because this is the second book from Laura Alden in which Beth is impressed into solving a murder because the local sheriff’s office is getting nowhere fast.

In this PTA mystery the local nice guy is murder in the school parking lot after a PTA meeting, but no one can imagine why because everyone genuinely liked him. Beth doesn’t want to get involved, but when she starts losing business at the book store because local do gooders think one of her new employees is a murderer, Beth is compelled to find the real killer to clear an innocent name and get business back to normal.

The PTA murders are not for serious mystery novel fans. Even the casual fan enjoys trying to figure out whodunit before they get to the end of the book, but Alden doesn’t give you that opportunity. Alden does her best to throw you off the scent of the killer giving mildly compelling reasons for others to be the culprit, but the reader is not introduced to the killer in the beginning so how can they ever be considered.

In actuality there seems to be little intrigue and a whole lot of family, boyfriend, PTA interaction with only a small amount being useful to the case at hand. With all of the preceding said however, for those of who just like to sit down and lose themselves in someone else’s story without trying to figure things out this is a great book. The main character, Beth, and her sidekick, Marina, are likable and easy to relate to. And her peripheral characters meld well with the story and its main characters. Alden really does a great job of creating characters like local busybodies and PTA parents that you actually hate, probably because we all know someone like them. I really was more interested in the families Thanksgiving plans, the PTA meetings, the book store, and her budding relationship than I was with the mystery itself.

Needless to say in the end this is a fun and easy book to read, but don’t expect a mind shattering mystery. She presents us with a super mom but not such a super sleuth.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Family, Murder, Mystery