gravesThe Girls She Left Behind by Sarah Graves is suspenseful and intense. This is the second in the Lizzie Snow series. Lizzie was a Boston homicide detective. She currently lives in Bearkill, Maine and is a deputy in the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department. She took the position so she can search for her niece. Lizzie’s sister was murdered and her baby was never found.

When not following leads Lizzie is kept busy with the residents of Bearkill and the surrounding area. One of those resident is Jane Crimmins. Jane was kidnapped when she was 15 by Henry Gemerle but managed to escape. She left behind at least 2 other victims but never told anyone about the crime or the other victims. Her kidnapper was finally arrested and 3 victims rescued alive. Now Henry has escaped. Can he be headed to Bearkill and Jane?

Lizzie knows of the case but not Jane’s involvement. Currently she is looking for a missing 14-year-old, Tara. The teen has a history of running away so no one is too concerned. But Lizzie’s instincts tell her something is not right then Tara’s mother receives a text with 2 words “help me”.

Lizzie soon believes that if she can find Henry Gemerle she’ll find her missing teen. But there is a more to this than another kidnapped girl. Can Lizzie unravel the secrets and lies in time to save not only Tara but herself?

curiousJanet Evanovich has collaborated with Phoef Sutton on a new novel similar in tone to her Stephanie Plum series. Curious Minds: a Knight and Moon Novel came out earlier this year. Riley Moon, a recent Harvard grad, is a junior analyst at mega-bank Blane-Grunwald. Her first assignment is to go see the bank’s biggest investor, Emerson Knight, and assure him his money is safe.

Emerson is eccentric, young, extremely rich, and wants to see the part of his fortune that is gold. When bank president Werner Grunwald doesn’t make that happen Emerson devises his own way to get access to his gold.

A reluctant Riley and Emerson travel to the Federal Reserve in Manhattan. What they uncover sends them on a mad dash across the country searching for a missing Grunwald brother, missing gold, and one step ahead of the thugs determined to keep them from reaching Area 51 and foiling the biggest heist in history.

This novel has what Evanovich is known for – humor, clever one-liners, and mad-cap escapes. It’s a light, fun read that will make you smile.

harrisAfter 13 years Charlaine Harris has written another Aurora Teagarden book, All the Little Liars. If you are new to the series, Aurora is a librarian and lives and works in the town of Lawrenceton, Georgia. The previous 8 titles has seen Aurora go through a lot of personal changes and challenges while helping to solve murders.

In this 9th installment the newly married Aurora is expecting her first child. Also her 15 year-old half-brother, Phillip, is living with her and husband Robin Crusoe. Happily caught up in the news of her pregnancy Aurora doesn’t sense anything is wrong then Phillip and 3 other children go missing.

They were seen leaving the soccer field then seemingly vanished. The body of one of their classmates is found at the salon where Phillip and the others were headed. Did the kids have something to do with the death, did they witness it, or have they met a similar fate?

Not one to sit on the sidelines Aurora explores all avenues in her search for the missing kids while dealing with grade school bullies, an estranged father, and morning sickness. This is an entertaining series and hopefully we won’t have to wait so long for #10.

great-foodAh, food! One of my favorite subjects, along with armchair travel, so that makes Great American Eating Experiences: Local Specialties, Favorite Restaurants, Food Festivals, Diners, Roadside Stands, and More by the fine folks at National Geographic a must-read for me.

Lots of great photography, interesting facts, wonderful descriptions of various foodstuffs, and an excellent index to boot, you can’t go wrong here. The book is divided into six geographic regions and then subdivided by state making it a good travel planning resource. Everything you would expect to find (lobster in Maine, russet potatoes in Idaho, chili peppers in New Mexico) as well as some less well-known outside their region treats (coffee milk in Rhode Island, vinegar French fries in Delaware, Cheerwine soda in North Carolina) await you inside. Some things sound so delectable it’s hard to imagine why they haven’t broken out of their regional status, like Wisconsin Kringles, a scrumptious pastry which my Chicao-born sister-in-law familiarized for the rest of the family. They can be purchased online, but I don’t know why no one seems to make them more than a few miles from Racine. And beignets are huge in New Orleans, but don’t seem to make frequent appearances elsewhere.

On the other hand, there are plenty of dishes that make one wonder why ever anyone anywhere would want to eat them. My grandmother made a dish she called scrapple, but it wouldn’t be recognized by any genuine scrapple eaters. Hers was cornmeal and pork sausage boiled together and eaten by the bowl or cooled and cut into rectangles then fried. Well, cornmeal and pork and frying are like “real” scrapple, but (luckily for me), hers didn’t include pig scraps, livers, hearts, and “everything but the squeal,” as does real scrapple. Nor did we eat it with maple syrup. Gulp. She was Southern, not from anywhere near scrapple’s home of Pennsylvania, so either she got her recipe from somebody else or heard about the real thing and said, “Say that wouldn’t be bad if you got rid of everything but the cornmeal and some sausage!” I don’t know, I’m just glad I never had to try to eat the real thing (and I’m not going to start now).

There are more than a few acquired tastes here, including the aforementioned scrapple and Moxie soda (New England, particularly Maine) as well as variants of widely-popular items like barbecue. While popular nearly everywhere, barbecue (whichever way you spell it) surely has more than enough regional differences. North Carolina alone has Eastern (whole hog, peppery vinegar based sauce), and Western or Lexington-style (just shoulder with vinegar but including ketchup and/or Worcestershire sauce) while Kentucky favors mutton, of all things. Never mind Memphis, Kansas City, and South Carolina which has mustard based sauce or vinegar or tomato, depending on the locale.

In addition to regional foods, the book covers numerous food festivals all over the country dedicated to apples, pawpaws, cheeses, the famous garlic festival in Gilroy, California, cranberries, buckwheat, cherries, pork, and ethnic delicacies from Norwegian to Garman to Russian and more.

Curious about things a bit closer to home? Missouri information includes St. Louis favorites Gooey Butter Cake, Toasted Ravioli, and St. Louis-style pizza as well as KC barbecue and Lambert’s Throwed Rolls while Kansas entries include Burnt Ends, the single remaining Harvey House still serving meals (in Florence), elk jerky, potatiskorv sausage, and zweibach (not the dry toast used mostly for teething purposes, but a sweet dinner roll). Oklahoma boasts the unknown to me Bristow Tabouleh Fest, the El Reno fried onion burger, fried okra, and sand plums. Okay, I hadn’t heard of sand plums before, either. Arkansas? Apparently the birthplace of the fried dill pickle and possum pie (no possum involved) as well as chocolate gravy and biscuits, a wholesome breakfast treat.

So, beautiful pictures, interesting food, a smattering of history and culture, what’s not to like? For foodies or travelers, well worth a couple of hours browsing, just eat first so you don’t drool on the book.

World War II. The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent. Four girls named Guinevere. Sarah Domet sets the stage for a story about what it means to be a teenager in search of freedom, and just what that might mean.

The Sisters of Supreme Adoration is a place for girls to go when they aren’t wanted anywhere else. Bonded mainly by name, four girls named Guinevere find friendship in an otherwise unforgiving place. Cared for by nuns who are a bit stereotypically ruthless and cold, the Guineveres are in some ways the Mean Girls of World War II. They are not friendly to the other girls and choose to spend their time together, nearly functioning as a single person.

Ginny, Win, Gwen, and Vere (the narrator) dream of escaping the convent. They must wait until they turn 18 before they can officially leave, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to break free. They imagine they’ll run away to the big city, become secretaries, and marry executives. Their lives will be as perfect as the ones they see in magazines. When the Guineveres attempt an actual escape, they are caught and punished with hospice duty.

One day, five wounded and unconscious soldiers are sent to the convent to be cared for. The Guineveres and another girl named Ebbie are assigned to care for them. When one of the soldiers wakes, he is reunited with his parents. Ebbie is sent home with him to be his caretaker, even though she’s only 17. The Guineveres believe that this is a great injustice. No other girl has ever left the convent early. The Guineveres hatch a new plan.

They’ll care for the soldiers – who they call Our Boys – and when the men wake, the girls will of course be sent home to care for each soldier. They’ll marry and be free of the convent. The girls believe, in typical teenager fashion, that severe injustices have been dealt to them. And, for some of them, this may well be true. But the girls become reliant on this dream, to heart-breaking ends.

Vere tells the story of the Guineveres, her perspective shifting from the collective view of the group as a whole to her occasional personal insights. She also includes intermittent bits of information about the girls’ future lives. Each girl gets a chapter of her own to tell the story of how she came to live at the Sisters of Supreme Adoration. There are also chapters that tell the story of female saints and their various suffering. These chapters, while sometimes unsettling, relate in some way to each girl and her own story.

There are other subplots, like the stories of the other girls at the convent and Father James, the alcoholic priest whose struggles are not made easier by the girls. And these side plots are where more of the stereotypes regarding Catholics are found. But the central plot of the four Guineveres is the most compelling. Though Vere does give glimpses at the girls’ future lives, the events at the convent are told in a way that does not betray their lack of life experience.

Overall, this was a great read. Though a few stereotypes creep in, they are mainly relegated to subplots. The central plot is strong and gripping. Each Guinevere is, despite her bond to the others, a complete character with an identity that comes to life on the page.

For some book reviews I dilly-dally on choosing a book, either because nothing as jumped out as absolutely wonderful or because there are too many options to pick from. But as soon as I saw “When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II” I knew this would be my review book.

Molly Guptill Manning’s “When Books Went to War” covers reading and censorship during World War II and the impact of both on the war. On May 10, 1933, over eighty thousand people watched or participated in a massive book burning in Berlin that started a conflagration of flames that crossed Germany. Crowds cheered as “un-German” books were burned in 94 different book burnings. “Un-German” books included all works by Jewish authors, and a multitude of other authors including Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Helen Keller, Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells.

People across Europe and America were outraged at the destruction of books and censorship of ideas. Demonstrations were held in America, while H.G. Wells established the Library of Burned Books in Paris in 1934. The library held copies of all books banned or burned by the Nazis, and also held in safekeeping books and writings donated by anyone who thought their collections were at risk. In an ironic twist, when the Nazis took Paris, they took the Library of Burned Books into safekeeping, carefully preserving the items in the collection.

By 1938, over 18 categories of books had been banned by the Nazis, with 175 titles and 565 authors on the list. Hitler was fighting his war on the battlefields and in the libraries. The ALA, or American Library Association, felt that the best weapon against Hitler was a book itself. By encouraging Americans to read, his book burnings and censorship would stand in sharp contract and his propaganda would be diluted.

Books had been found in American wars ever since the Civil War. In 1921, the Army Library Service was created by the War Department to be responsible for 228 libraries at Army Posts at that time. But the service quickly had its funding cut, fell into neglect, and state libraries were allowed to take books for their collections. By the time WWII came around, there were no desirable titles left and new camps had no books or libraries at all. With the draft enacted, soldiers were pulled from their civilian lives, stationed far from home, and many times stationed places with very little means of entertainment. Reading was their only outlet.

To help with the drastic need of reading material for soldiers, the ALA started the National Book Defense Campaign. The public was encouraged to donate books to be sent to Army Camps in America and to soldiers overseas. The response was overwhelming, but the logistics in sorting the books, filling the need for wanted reading material and shipping heavy hardbacks made the job almost impossible. It was quickly realized that a soldier carrying a heavy pack of equipment would have difficulty carrying hardback books around, conveniently sized, featherweight volumes were needed instead.

When the Council on Books In Wartime was formed in 1942, they wanted to see how books could help the war effort. They took as their motto “Books are weapons in the war of ideas”. Before the 1940s and paper rationing, paperbacks were almost unheard of. Most bookstores wouldn’t stock them at all. Pocket Books was the first American publishing company to mass produce paperbacks, selling them five-and-dime chains and drug stores. As of 1943, no book existed that met the specific needs of the soldier on the frontline, it would have to be invented. Thus, the “Armed Services Edition” or ASE, was born.

The ASE was small, durable, and of topics that would educate and entertain soldiers. By the end, over 1300 different editions were printed. History, popular fiction, westerns, poetry, educational texts, plays, and a variety of subjects were selected. Every new printing had soldiers eagerly devouring books, trading them, and searching for titles. These little books fit perfectly into a pocket, so they were found where ever the Army and Navy were.

As soldiers made their way across Europe, they carried ASEs that were titles that had been banned by the Nazis. After years of oppression and censorship by the Nazis, there was basically no longer an independent publishing industry in Europe. To help with this, Overseas Editions, OEs, were printed to replace books that had been banned and destroyed in occupied Europe. The ASE model was so popular, and so cost efficient in regards to paper use, that it was used by the British publishing industry to help rebuild after the war.

Because the ASEs, a multitude of soldiers returned home with a love of reading that they did not have when they first went off to war. They brought that new appreciation for reading with them to college as many of them used the benefits of the new GI Bill. Many other veterans carried home their ASEs that helped them survive a trying and difficult war.

The history of the ASE was fascinating and I barely brushed the surface of the fight against censorship and how the love of reading impacted WWII. I finished this book with a list of “new” old titles to read, and an appreciation of how important books have been and still are. Come by the library and pick up “When Books Went to War” to enjoy this read yourself.when

Clarinbaseball-bookda Iowa, population 5,562, sits just north of the Missouri state line. With a rich history this small town was home to the “Mother” of 4H Jessie Fields, bandleader Glenn Miller, very briefly Johnny Carson, and Merl Eberly.

Unless you are a huge fan of collegiate summer league baseball, you are no doubt thinking ‘Merl who?’ Michael Tackett’s The Baseball Whisperer: a Small-Town Coach Who Shaped Big League Dreams more than answers that question.

Usually it would be hard to recommend a book that starts with a funeral and ends with a death. But the inspiring story of Merl, his family, and community that Tackett relates is a rewarding read, especially so if you’re a baseball fan.

Merl believed in second chances.  He was given one as a high school dropout who spent his time hanging out with his friends and drinking. High school football/baseball coach John Tedore issued him a challenge, “Come out or get out.”

Merl took the challenge. He went back to school and joined the team. He still struggled with other aspects of his life but on the athletic field he was a natural. Through Coach Tedore and being part of a team Merl learned about discipline and teamwork.

He spent his life passing on lessons learned. During an interview he said “However corny it might sound, I think we’re all supposed to do something while we are here on this Earth. I guess the good Lord took me out of the garbage can and said, “Go play sports, but don’t forget the message that it teaches you.’ If you get the opportunity, pass it on.” Merl did that for over 40 years through the Clarinda A’s.

Merl loved baseball and started playing at a time when it was more about the game than the money. He tuned a town team into a premier collegiate summer team. He put together a plan, rallied his community and created a program that rivaled the best in the country.

The community of Clarinda was essential to the plan. Local businessmen contributed money, families housed and cared for the players. Each player that came to play for the Clarinda A’s was given a job for the summer.

One of those players was Osborne Earl Smith who arrived in the summer of 1975. Smith came from the Watts section of Los Angeles via Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo to this small white community set in the middle of cornfields. His summer job was with a construction company where he was their first African American employee.

This seeming mismatch resulted in a close enduring friendship between Ozzie, Merl, and the town. Ozzie embraced Clarinda and Clarinda embraced him. The fans loved his signature backflip when he took the field each night. He came to the A’s with intelligence, defensive ability and the willingness to work. He left a better hitter who could steal bases and play phenomenal defense. He also left with a different view of the world.

Ozzie was not the only major leaguer to play in Clarinda.  There were many including Chuck Knoblauch, Von Hayes, Bud Black, Jose Alverez, Cal Eldred, Andy Benes, and Jamey Carroll. Most of the talented players that came to Clarinda never made it to or beyond the minor leagues. But they all left Clarinda a better ball player and a better person because Merl passed on lessons learned. As he said “It’s not about can we make them a better baseball player. It’s about can we make them a better person.”

Much of Merl’s story is told through the players who played for him. Their remembrances of the time they spent living and playing in Clarinda reveal the impact that summer had on their life.

“The Baseball Whisperer” is a tribute to Merl, to Clarinda, and to baseball. It’s a story I didn’t know and now won’t soon forget.