The Garden of Small Blessings

This book is about Lillian, her sister, Rachel, her two daughters, Anabel and Claire, and a gardening class she is forced to take. Lillian lost her husband, Dan, in a car accident four years ago. She is struggling to maintain. She was in a hospital for a few months after Dan’s death and is trying to maintain her existence. But life keeps throwing her curve balls.

The first is Edward, the gardening teacher from Holland, who Lilli is attracted to. She hates herself for being attracted to him and does everything in her power to push him away. But Edward likes Lilli, too, and tells her he will wait.

The second is her job. Lillian works at a small publisher of text books. They announce they are laying off the art department. Lillian is faced with having to find a new job. But as an illustrator, she’s in demand.

I loved this book. Lillian is the kind of person I would have as a friend. She’s sarcastic, messy, disorganized, and utterly human. I love her voice. I love that her sister, Rachel, is there to put her in place when need be. Her children, Clare and Anabel, are two of my favorites kid characters because they are written as real kids. If you have kids, you know what I’m taking about. Kids who one minute say the most insightful, brilliant things and the next minute are throwing a temper tantrum because you don’t have the right music in the car.

And let’s not forget the supporting cast. Mike, Angie, Gene, Eloise, Frances, Bob, Richard, Maggie, Berto, and Lillian’s in-laws. Abbi Waxman writes so well. She is so good at developing even the most minor characters, like Rachel’s boss. She is a two-dimensional character, but you still find out something surprising.

I cannot say enough great things about this book. It’s charming and funny and sassy. It is well-written. You slip into the story like a well-worn pair of jeans and it is immediately comfortable and comforting. I really loved this book and I am sure you will, too.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no compensation in exchange for my review. The opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone.


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The Operator

I have read several books about Navy Seals and the killing of bin Laden. I have enjoyed all of them. The Operator is another in that collection and I enjoyed it as well.

Robert O’Neill is from Butte, Montana. He talks about joining the Navy and deciding to become a Seal. He spends two-thirds of the book telling the story of his training and deployments with different Seal Teams. The last third is about killing bin Laden and his life after the Navy. He was involved in the operation that saved Captain Richard Phillips from Somali Pirates. He has been awarded a bunch of medal including to Silver Stars, the second highest combat award.

While I enjoyed the chapters that dealt with killing bin Laden and the fallout from that, I actually liked the first two-thirds of this book more. O’Nell is a good story teller. He shares stories about the men he served with who were dedicated to serving their country and making sure 9/11 never happens again. He tells his stories with wit and humor. He isn’t the wordiest author I have ever read, but that seems to fit who he is.

If you are someone who is interested in military history, the wars in the Middle East, or the killing of Osama bin Laden, then you will enjoy this book. One note – the Navy asked O’Neill to redact some information for national security. As far as I can tell, the only thing he redacted is the number of the seal team that killed bin Laden, which is common knowledge that it was Team 6. So, there is redacted information, but very little. In fact, I was kind of surprised about how much they allowed him to tell of the mission to kill bin Laden. It was truly informative.

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The Gatekeepers

I was a political science major in college. And I constantly have to explain to people that it is not the study of politics. It is the study of government. If I were teaching political science today, I would have my students read The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple. It is a fascinating look at a position in government that, while wielding a ton of power, isn’t discussed often – Chief of Staff of the White House.

I think my favorite part of the book was at the beginning when Whipple describes a meeting between the new Chief of Staff and the former, living Chiefs of Staff. The list of attendees is a who’s who in Washington. Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Leon Panetta, to name a few.

The book is entertaining and readable. I do not know how Whipple kept it to a reasonable length, given he was covering the Nixon to Obama presidencies. But he did. This book provides rich history and deeper understanding of one of the most difficult and often reviled positions in American government. I highly recommend this book.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books and received no other compensation for my review. The opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone.

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I have read all of Linda Fairstein’s Alex Cooper books. And it’s one of my favorite series of legal thrillers. Her last book, Killer Look, I thought, was sub-par. I honestly thought that she phoned it in. The book was lacking the spark that most of her previous books had. I suppose that after you have written 17 novels, it is hard to keep things fresh. I was unhappy that Alex Cooper, after her kidnapping, became a whiner and a semi-alcoholic.

Deadfall picks up where Killer Look leaves off, with the assassination of the District Attorney in front of Alex and her cop boyfriend, Mike Chapman. Deadfall starts with Alex still being whiney and simpering as she’s being questioned by a NYPD detective who seems not to like her. Some people think that either Alex set up the DA or that she was the target of the assassin. I was ready to stop reading and be mad a Linda Faristein for writing another bad book. But I am eternally glad I stuck it out. Alex comes back and comes back strong. The book weaves a story that has several twists and turns in its plot. It is a well-written book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As usual, Ms. Fairstein uses New York City as a character as well. This time the Bronx Zoological Society is a supporting character in the book. Her vivid description of location adds another layer to her writing that I love. While the cliff hanger at the end of this book is not jaw dropping like it was in Killer Look, it will still bring me back to get an answer. If you are looking for a good mystery and a thrill ride, this is the book for you.

I got a digital advance copy of this book from First to Read. I was provided no other compensation in exchange for my review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Target Omega

Mike Garin is a a member of a special forces unit that is charged with dealing with weapons of mass destruction. After a mission in Pakistan, the men come home and are assassinated – except for Garin, who gets the jump on his killers. He is being hunted and blamed for the murders. He is not only being hunted by the FBI, the police, and someone who assassinated his team, but by his own government.

Target Omega is a non-stop thrill ride. Mike Garin is a prototypical special operator (think Scot Harvath or the Grey Man), but he’s also smart and philosophical. The book is well written with one very large plot twist that I did not see coming. I really, really liked this book. It was well written and I cannot wait for Mike Garin’s second adventure.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no other compensation for my review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Make Your Bed

Make Your Bed comes from a commencement speech at the University of Texas in 2014 given by retired Admiral William McRaven. McRaven was a Navy SeAL and was in charge of JSOC when they killed Osama bin Laden. McRaven used the speech to discuss ten lessons he learned being a Navy SeAL. This short book is an expansion of those ideas. And I will say that it’s going to be my go-to graduation present for years to come.

The lessons in this book are common sense. But they are also needed in today’s “safe space world”. As he plainly says, “It’s easy to blame your lot in life on some outside force, to stop trying because you believe fate is against you. It is easy to think where you were raised, how your parents treated you, or what school you went to is all that determines your future. Nothing could be further than the truth. The common people and the great men and women are all defined by how they deal with life’s unfairness.” His advice? Don’t complain. Just do.

Another lesson? Failure teaches you. It’s not always a bad thing to fail. If you live in fear of failure and embarrassment you will never reach your potential. If you are courageous, nothing will stand in your way. And for me, the most important lesson – stand up to bullies. He says, “Bullies thrive on fear and intimidation. Bullies gain their strength through the faint and weak of heart.” Words that we should definitely heed in today’s climate of hatred and intimidation.

I loved this book. It succinctly states what everyone should do – be strong, don’t fear failure, stand up to bullies, make your bed, and never, never quit. Lessons that kids today desperately need. I might also add that some adults need them too.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no other compensation in exchange for my review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Democracy In Black

Eddie Glaude, Jr., has written a really hard book. This book was hard for me to read. It was hard for me to digest. But it was important.

His thesis is that as long as we continue to devalue black lives, we will never truly have a democracy or be free. He contends that we have, since the founding of this country, devalued black lives. Made them less valuable than white lives and as a result, this country is inherently adverse to to black interests and advancements. Being a white woman, I cannot possibly empathize with his point – I have never been where he is. However, this book was hard for me because it forced me to reevaluate my thoughts on race in society. I can say that race doesn’t play a role in my life, but that would be a lie. It does. I see it every day. This book was hard because it made me think about that.

I think this book should be required reading. If for no other reason that it will evoke strong emotions, and, hopefully, a conversation about the current state of race relations in this county and what can be done to make things better for everyone.

I received this book from Blogging for Books and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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The Fact of a Body

The Fact of A Body is subtitled A Memoir and a Murder. I was interested in reading this book to see how the two stories would be woven together. I have to say that had the author just stuck to the murder, the book would have been far more interesting.

I was also a bit confused about the format of the book. For the first two-thirds, she alternated between the past of the crime and her past. The last third was written in straight chapters. It was done because the last third was about her investigation of the murder and the second and third trial of the defendant. But to me, the shifting narrative was confusing.

The story focuses on Ricky Langley, who molested and killed a six year-old boy in Louisiana. He was ultimately tried three times and is spending life in prison. The author wanted to be a lawyer and went to law school. She was opposed to the death penalty – until she was sent to a law firm in Louisiana that was helping Ricky. She found out he was molester and her attitude changed because she was molested as a child by her grandfather.

The reason that I gave this book two stars (I would have given 2.5 if I could have) is that I thought it was a bit long and I didn’t like the style switch at the two-thirds mark. I think the book would have been better organized if it was divided into sections. Section 1 about her; section 2 about the crime; and section 3 when the crime and the author meet.

I won this book from Goodreads. I received no other compensation for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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The Hate U Give

Don’t be fooled by the classification – The Hate U Give is more than an YA book. In fact, when I bought it, I thought it was a regular novel. I am glad I bought it and even happier I read it. This is a book that has changed my life. In the way To Kill A Mockingbird changed my life. I am hoping that many people read this book to open a conversation about things that we do not want to admit exist or talk about.

The story is about Starr Carter. She is in high school. She lives in a rough neighborhood, but she goes to a private school that is mostly white. She attends the school with her two brothers. She has a white boyfriend, that her dad doesn’t know about. Her mother is a nurse. Her dad owns the neighborhood grocery store. He used to be a King Lord – one of the local gangs in their neighborhood. Now he’s not, after he went to prison to save the leader from a long sentence. Starr has an older half brother and younger brother. Her uncle lives in a nice neighborhood near her school. He is a cop and his wife is a surgeon.

Starr goes to a party in her ‘hood. She is there are runs into her old friend, Khalil, who she has not seen in a while. While at the party, shots ring out and Starr and Khalil leave. They are driving in Khalil’s car when he is pulled over by the police. The stop escalates and Khalil is pulled from the car. He is shot by the officer and Starr is the only witness. She is afraid to come forward publicly.

As she struggles with this issue, and with people making accusations that Khalil was a thug and a drug dealer who may have deserved to get shot, her mother tells her, “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.” Truly words to live by.

A little later in the book, she is talking to her father. They are discussing why Khalil may have been selling drugs. Starr suggests lack of opportunity. Her father agrees and then says, “Corporate America don’t bring jobs to our communities, and they damn sure ain’t quick to hire us. Then, shit, even if you do have a high school diploma, so many of the schools in our neighborhoods don’t prepare us well enough.” That paragraph alone is cause for a long discussion about race, poverty, privilege, economics, and education. It should spark a conversation.

Later in the book, Starr and her mother are talking about one of her close friends, who she finds out is really a racist. Her mother says to her, “At an early age I learned that people make mistakes, and you have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them.” Ultimately, Starr decides that her love for her former friend is not enough to overcomes the girl’s very racist statements, that she claims is really joking.

I cannot say enough about this book. It made me feel like Starr. It made me think about all of those words that have become buzzwords in recent years – white privilege, police brutality, opportunity, prison, drugs, gangs. More than a political statement, this book is lyrical and so well-written. I found it astonishing that this is Ms. Thomas’ first novel. It is a gem. If I were an English teacher at any level, I would assign this book. It is just phenomenal and it will stay with me for a very, very long time. Like I said, this book changed my life.




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Aftercare Instructions

I do not think I can say enough great things about this book. I do not think I can quantify how much I loved it. Aftercare Instructions is the story of Genesis Johnson, who is a senior in high school. Her father has died of a heroin overdose – which the entire school has found about. Her mother is not recovering from her father’s death. Her sister lives with her mom’s religious parents. Her life is her best friend, Rose, and her boyfriend, Peter, whose mother us uber religious and uber judgmental.

The book opens with Genesis getting an abortion in New York City and being left there by Peter. She is struggling with everything in her life. Peter’s disappearance is worsened by the fact that he isn’t talking to her. Her ex-best friend, Vanessa, likes Peter and leads Genesis to believe that Peter left Gen for Vanessa. There is a fight. There is a suspension. There is adventure. There is drama.

What made this book so great to me was Genesis’ voice. She is strong, but vulnerable. She is tough, but has a soft heart. She misses her father, but knows she has to function for her mother’s sake. She is an old soul, with a teenager’s view of love. She is quick and witty and sarcastic. Most importantly to me, she is real. Very, very real. Bonnie Pipkin did such a fantastic job developing all of her characters in this book. Even the two dimensional characters pop off the page and come to life.

Don’t read any more of my gushing about this book. Just get it and read it. You will love it.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no other compensation for my review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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