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New hero for coffee addicts

The Monk of MokhaThe Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t even drink coffee, but I love it when I can learn a lot and still be entertained. This book tells an interesting history of coffee and the many processing steps and the tasting process as complicated as wine. I also appreciated learning more about Yemen which I had previously only known from reports of war and famine. This is the semi true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, an immigrant from Yemen who grew up in the San Francisco area, sort of ditzi and lacking direction. Then he reads the history of coffee tracing back to Yemen and discovers that his grandfather was actually a coffee farmer back in Yemen. Suddenly Mokhtar has a quest. He infiltrates the coffee culture in San Francisco, returns to Yemen and gets to know the coffee farmers in the different parts of his country. War breaks out and he has to fight just to make it down the street. But he manages to take some samples out of the country and get the experts in San Francisco to agree his country’s coffee is extra special. I was cheering for him in the end.

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Return to Mackinac

The Dockporter: A Mackinac Island Novel (Mackinac Island Series #1)The Dockporter: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For those of us who know and love Mackinac Island, revisiting through this book brings all those memories to life again. The fudge shops. The porch of the Grand Hotel. The rock formations. The booming cannon. And, of course, the poor guy shoveling up the inevitable horse droppings. And for those who have never been to Mackinac, the tale revives those days of young abandon, of friends and foes, pranks and hangovers and warm, sweet love. The book is written as a story within a story. Big city photographer Jack McGuinn is returning to the island after a 10-year absence, for a reunion with his dockporter buddies who, as young men, met the ferries to the island and ported baggage to the hotels on their bikes. On the slow freight ferry to the reunion Jack tells a fellow passenger the tale of his final summer on the island, which becomes the bulk of the book. It is an awkward arrangement sometimes when the passenger interrupts the storyteller to remind the reader of the story-within-a-story format but it pays off in the end when the exciting finale of Jack’s last summer on the island melds into a surprising denouement at the reunion.

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Patterson and Parton

Run Rose RunRun Rose Run by Dolly Parton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Combine the talents of one of my favorite country singers with those of the best mystery/thriller author and you’re bound to get something wonderful. I listened to Run Rose Run on a car trip and was thoroughly entertained for two days. Dolly narrates the Ruthanne character on the audio version so it’s easy to picture her. But the story is really about a scrappy wannabe singer, AnnieLee, who rises to fame with the help of a retired star (Ruthanne). Annielee is full of surprises, pulling a gun out of her backpack, walking out on Ruthanne and turning down fancy clothes. Although her choices are not always the best her spunk is endearing. Though her career gets a big boost from Ruthanne, the cloud of her unrevealed past keeps interrupting with thugs attacking her repeatedly and following her. When the past is finally revealed it doesn’t really seem worthy of so many thugs chasing her but it wouldn’t be a thriller without all those encounters. The title is disappointing since the name Rose isn’t mentioned until the past is revealed near the end of the book. But now I need to get the Dolly Parton album that goes along with the book so I can hear the songs that are mentioned in the story.

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Don’t bother with this one

The Poisoned Rose (The Gin Palace Trilogy, #1)The Poisoned Rose by Daniel Judson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Page after page of pointless violence. Finally about page 255 the author starts tying the apparently random violence together and you get hints of who the characters are and the motivations and corruption that lead to all the rest. But it is too little too late. I scanned scene after scene it was just too boring to read. Even the supposedly good folks are terrible: a protagonist who is constantly in a drunken stupor, a sweet innocent 15-year-old who is depicted as purposely trying to lure the protagonist astray. I finished the book hoping for something to make it worthwhile, but I never found it.

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Mystery in style

If Looks Could Kill (Bailey Weggins Mystery, #1)If Looks Could Kill by Kate White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVE it! The real trick in a mystery is to give the reader enough hints so that they think they are smarter than the detective. Then as the climax approaches, the detective comes to the conclusion the reader already figured out. While the reader is basking in I-told-you-so, suddenly that conclusion falls apart and a totally different, but ultimately logical, perpetrator is revealed, ideally in the midst of trying to kill the protagonist. Kate White does exactly that in this tale of magazine true crime writer Bailey Weggins who puts on her detective hat when her editor’s nanny is poisoned. All the glamour–and politics — of the magazine biz is drawn perfectly since White was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan from 1998-2012. White also has an uncanny skill at describing the oddities in facial features: a head too small, eyes too far apart, eyes so dark the pupil disappears. My only regret is that I waited so long to read this 2002 gem.

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Just another kid in the newsroom

Chasing History: A Kid in the NewsroomChasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom by Carl Bernstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chasing History with Carl Bernstein is a remarkable journey back to the early 60s–the election and assassination of JFK, the civil rights movement and the optimistic beginnings of the Vietnam War — a time when newspapers were the trusted tellers of the tale. Long before Bernstein and his Washington Post co-worker Bob Woodward became famous for exposing the Watergate scandal, Carl was a cheeky teenage copy boy at the Washington Star, with phenomenal powers of observation, a note-taking obsession, and determination to be one of the last of the era to rise from copy boy to page one bylines without the benefit of a college degree.
I have to admit I am biased toward this story. Carl is just four years older than me and much of the business he describes is the world I remember in my early newspaper career. Smelly jars of rubber cement to slather on torn chunks of cheap copy paper when making additions or insertions in pre-computer editing. Linotype machines stamping out pieces of lead type, teletype machines chattering in the corner and dinging with news alerts. And a caring family of devoted reporters and editors working all hours for the stories, most of them idealistic to a fault.
Bernstein’s talent as a storyteller is unmatched. His telling of the assassination of JFK from the point of view of the reporters covering events swept me up so I could imagine being there instead of hearing the report in my high school choir class. He had me crying as if I were hearing about the tragedy for the first time.
Bernstein grew up in DC so he describes the city more as a hometown of friends and relatives instead of a bureaucratic, impersonal political capital. His perspective adds a dimension of soul to every event.
The main part of the book covers the years from 1960-1966 when Bernstein was working at the Washington Star while going to high school and college. It closes as he sells his car and heads off to a new job in New Jersey. In the postscript he tells about working in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, for a couple years before returning to D.C. to join the staff of Washington Post. He also updates the reader on the careers of several Washington Star co-workers who form the family of characters during his six years at The Star. The postscript gets a little tedious but it does answer a lot of potential I-wonder-what-happened-to questions.

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The mystery of the road not taken

 

The Other MeThe Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like a book with messages and this one delivers many. Everyone has wondered about the road not taken, what would life be like if you had married so-and-so or selected a different college, so the basic premise of Chicago artist Kelly who suddenly finds herself in a different life as small town Michigan wife with a wanna-be graphic design career, spotlights a lot of the what ifs. A man from her past who she could have loved. A better relationship with her parents. But it also gets into real life questions of how we manipulate each other. How mothers may steer daughters toward husbands and homes instead of careers, how men use dinner and gifts to bribe affection and then rely on that affection to build their own self-worth. Is it fair to change someone else’s life to improve your own? Do we actually know what is best for someone else? And as Kelly says she learned in art school: a failure isn’t the end it is the beginning, a lesson, the start of something new.
Technically this book is science fiction because it deals with time travel. I am not usually into science fiction but this one plays out more like a mystery because Kelly is trying to solve the mystery of how she has suddenly been pulled out of one life and into another. But as a mystery thriller fan I expect a lot of action. For me the first 90 percent of this book plods along, as Kelly goes along with her new life not making waves in case someone will say she is crazy, slowly unraveling rumors of some new AI ap at the local tech company, Gnii; overheard phone conversations, a mysterious thumb drive.
The climax is plenty exciting and fast-paced. When you think about it, however, a story about time travel is guaranteed to be happily ever after because if you don’t like the ending you just go back in time to fix it.

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Ban my books, please

     

     Every now and then society goes on a book-banning binge. 

      From Virginia to Washington State, Covid-weary conservatives are suddenly noticing books that have been on the school’s library shelves and required reading lists for years. They are offended by language, racial issues, LGBTQ characters and anything else that might upset their kids (who are too busy with violent video games and explicit television shows to notice.) 
       The effect of all this book-banning is the same as always: sales are skyrocketing. 
        Consider “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the Holocaust in which Jews are drawn as mice and the Nazis as cats. The work earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, but in 30 years its popularity has dimmed a little. No edition of the books was in Amazon’s top 1,000 a week ago. But after the book was banned by a Seattle-area school board, two editions jumped into the top 20 and one edition is sold out. 
        Demand is also up for Tony Morrison’s 1970 “The Bluest Eye” after a St. Louis area school banned it because of the racism and sexual abuse the main character endures. Even the 1960 classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” is once again facing protests that the racism depicted is just too hard for today’s kids. 
       There’s nothing new or unusual about protests being the best form of promotion. I remember a few years back when I was covering the play “Corpus Christi” in Grand Rapids. The show had to move to a larger venue and add performances after protestors complained Christ was being depicted as homosexual. 
       Maybe Jordan Daily News Mysteries could benefit from negative publicity. After all, my books have much of what these book banners detest. The collection of characters is diverse which naturally leads to some racial issues. One book has a gay character who actually kisses someone of the same sex on the lips. Oh, my. 
      The language might be considered offensive since one of the main characters has a habit of making up his own curse words. Sex is implied, though the dirty details are left to the imagination. And dealing with serious subjects such as a serial killer or a nuclear threat can be pretty stressful for readers. 
        So go ahead and ban my books. I can use the sales. 

Teen sleuth learns quickly

The Hidden Staircase (Nancy Drew, #2)The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in this classic mystery series kicks up the action and the stakes considerably over the first book. Nancy actually rescues her father and saves his life. She pieces away at the mystery in baby steps, always reporting every finding to the proper authorities and receiving their praise, so when she needs to ask for help from the authorities they are quick to respond. Nancy is investigating “ghostly” happenings at the home of a friend’s grandmother while her father is off in Chicago seeking a man believed to be involved in a land swindle. Mr. Drew is on his way to visit his daughter when he is kidnapped and Nancy soon figures out that the “ghost” is related to the land swindle. Secret passages, tunnels and trap doors give this story plenty of surprises, not to mention the usual hazards involved in an aging mansion. I am still surprised how good everyone is…the wary cooperate, the bad guys confess, and happily ever after is pretty much assured. On to book 3.

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How I Became a Mystery Writer

The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1)The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered Nancy Drew in the school library when I was in 6th grade. Before the year was out I had read every book my library had in the series. It inspired me to want to be a mystery writer, which I accomplished after a career in journalism. Recently I decided I wanted to reread the stories that started it all. About the only thing I remembered about Nancy Drew was that she had neat little sports car and her father was an attorney. Turns out that information is revealed on the first page of the first book so it didn’t take long for the stories to grab me. Rereading after all these years I am struck by how kind and gracious people are. Looking for information about a missing will Nancy calls on a woman in her 80s. Turns out the lady is recovering from a fall down the stairs. Although Nancy has just met her she quickly pitches in to bandage her up and make a grocery run and fix her some lunch. I wasn’t surprised that a protagonist would behave so nicely but what surprised me is when she left she went next door and informed the neighbor, who was a stranger as well, and that neighbor drops everything to take care of her injured neighbor including doing her laundry. There is just an underlying assumption that people will take care of each other that I don’t think today’s characters have. So I am on to Book 2 next.

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