Sunday, November 19, 2017

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

Cancer is such a pernicious disease. There isn't one of us who hasn't been touched by it, or knows someone who has. Joe Biden's book, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, is the story of the year the Biden family stood with Beau Biden as he fought for his life, battling cancer. But, it's also the story of a year as Vice-President as Joe Biden pushed his schedule to be so full that he could forget for short periods of time what his son was going through.

Beau Biden, Joe's oldest son, survived the car crash that killed his mother and little sister. He survived his service in Iraq. He was in his second term as attorney general for Delaware with ambitious plans to run for governor, and, maybe someday president. In 2014, he and the family learned he had a brain tumor. And, it was glioblastoma, Stage IV, and not curable. But, if anyone was going to fight cancer and win, it was going to be Beau, with his family, especially his brother, Hunter, by his side.

Biden himself juggled his time between trips to various hospitals to be with Beau, and the business of being vice-president. During this period, that meant dealing with problems in the Ukraine, Iraq, and negotiating with Central America. It also meant eulogies at funerals, and visits to troubled cities. Biden admitted he needed to keep busy. And, in this same period of time, he had to weigh his options. Was he going to run for president? If Beau and Hunter had been by his side, the answer would have been yes. When Beau Biden knew he wasn't going to make it, he pulled his father aside. He knew Joe had the ability to sink into darkness. He knew his father needed a purpose in life. "Give me your word, Dad, that you're going to be all right. Promise me, Dad."

This really isn't a book of what if. Joe Biden knew he didn't have the heart to run in 2016 after Beau's death. It isn't a "what if Joe Biden had run for president book". It is a thoughtful, moving book about a year of fighting for survival, physically and emotionally. It was a tearjerker. I started the book with tissues in my pocket, and I needed them.

For some of us readers, it is a book of regret. Joe Biden says, "I have come to believe that the first duty of a public servant is to help bring people together, especially in crisis, especially across different divides to show respect for everybody at the table, and to help find a safe way forward." It's hard to not wish things had been different, for Beau Biden, for the family, for the country.

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden. Flatiron Books, 2017. ISBN  9781250171672 (hardcover), 260p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright

I'll admit most Christmas books are sweet, perhaps too sweet for many readers. Almost all Christmas novels have happy, satisfying endings. Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright is no exception. However, this is a book I would only recommend to new adults. The main character, Aubrey, and her preoccupation with her own problems was a little too much for me.

The prologue actually spoils any possible suspense in the novel, showing everything will be just fine, and indicating what's happening with Aubrey. I won't do the same. Instead, I'll start with Aubrey's graduation from college. She's twenty-two, ready to start her new life in New York City as she hopes to eventually work in photography there. But, before she graduated, her parents told her they were getting a divorce.

It's a stubborn, upset Aubrey who heads to New York City where she actually has an unpaid internship, and she's never told her parents she's not getting paid. But, she manages to make it until she's sent to Rockefeller Center to take pictures of the lighting of the tree. Then, she's accosted, and robbed of the company's photography equipment. A kind man finds her and asks to give him $50 for the one lens he was able to buy back. That's her first meeting with the extraordinary "Joel Miller" who has an unusual eye for moments and people who are different in New York.

Despite her new friendship, Aubrey's holiday season isn't what she expected, even when her parents show up. But, New York really hasn't changed Aubrey's cold heart, and she reacts with anger, turning away both her parents. Instead of moving ahead with her life, she lets bitterness and anger cloud her judgment, and spoil her first Christmas in New York.

Picturing Christmas is a Christmas story, though. Despite Aubrey's spoiled, angry attitude, there will be a happy ending. But, this time, Jason F. Wright, author of Christmas Jars, doesn't have the right main character to carry off that happy ending. That's why I'd suggest Picturing Christmas for young adults, struggling with their own first apartments, first job, first time on their own. Most of the rest of us will find Aubrey immature and ungrateful. At least she gains a little wisdom at the end.

Note: I was intrigued, though, by the description of the New York Botanical Gardens' Train Show. I think I'm going to have to make a holiday visit there next year.

Picturing Christmas by Jason F. Wright and Sterling Wright. Sweetwater Books, 2017. ISBN 9781462128617 (paperback), 183p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, November 17, 2017

Winners and More Christmas Mysteries Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. The Usual Santas will go to Rob R. of San Antonio, TX. Martha C. of Scottsdale, AZ will receive How the Finch Stole Christmas. The books are going out in the mail today.

But, wait! I have more Christmas mysteries to give away. Mrs. Jeffries, the quick-witted housemaid of a bumbling British inspector, returns for the holidays in Emily Brightwell's latest Victorian mystery, Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women. Cantankerous Christopher Gilhaney manages to insult every guest at a Bonfire Night dinner party. When he's shot dead under the cover of nighttime fireworks, it seems to be a robbery gone wrong, and everyone begins to deck the halls for the holiday season. Six weeks later, the case isn't solved yet, and a motley crew of servants-turned-detectives set out to solve the mystery and save Christmas.

The cover of The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt is still one of the cutest book covers I've ever seen. Defense Lawyer Andy Carpenter has a friend, Martha "Pups" Boyer, who takes in stray puppies and raises them until they're old enough to adopt. With Christmas just around the corner, one of Pups' neighbors turns her into the city for having more pets than she should. Andy's eager to defend her. And, then that neighbor ends up dead after Pups threatened him, and even found the body. Now, just before the holidays, Andy has a murder case on his hands.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at To make it easy, your subject heading should read either "Win Brightwell" or "Win Rosenfelt." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 23 at 5 PM CT so someone can give thanks that they won.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What Are You Reading?

It's that time of year. I'm reading Christmas books here and there. I just picked up Jason F. Wright's new book, Picturing Christmas, about a young woman who moves to New York City. That captures two things I love, Christmas and New York. Wright is the author of Christmas Jars. He co-wrote this book with Sterling Wright. I can't say for sure, but, in looking at the photos, I'm guessing Sterling Wright is Jason's father.

So, what are you reading this week? I'm off for the next couple days, so I have extra reading time. Yay! May you find some time for quiet and reading this week. Tell us what book or audio book you're reading, please.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza

Pete Souza took all the photos of then Senator Barack Obama, so it's no surprise he was asked to become the Chief Official White House Photographer. For eight years, he had full access to take pictures of the President. If you pick up Obama: An Intimate Portrait, you'll recognize some of the iconic pictures. Others will seem fresh. For those of us who admired the 44th President of the United States, it's not only an intimate glimpse inside eight years, it's a collection that brings regret.

There are over 300 pictures in the collection with captions and sometimes short comments that tell the story behind the photos. Barack Obama wrote the foreword, and Souza wrote the introduction.  President Obama was correct when he commented about Souza's work. "It's his capacity to capture the mood, the atmosphere, and the meaning of that moment."

Souza does a magnificent job capturing those moments. Most of us remember the photo of the little boy touching the President's hair to see if he had the same hair. Study those pictures of Obama with children. There's so much joy and pleasure on his face. It's almost the same joy as you'll see when he's with his daughters. You can also see the broken expression when he hears and then speaks about the children shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the day he referred to as the worst day of his Presidency.

With any President, there's an awareness of history in the making. But President Obama and Michelle Obama were aware of their positions, the first African-American President and First Lady. Many of those photos represent those historic moments. But, there are also fun photos, such as Paul McCartney singing "Michelle Ma Belle" to the First Lady. Or, that recognizable picture of the President quieting a baby that cried for Michelle.

Admittedly, Souza staged some shots. He wanted the last helicopter shot of the former President as he flew away from Washington. His comment as he looked at the White House? "We used to live there." But, for all of us who admired the last President and his eight years of service to the country, it's bittersweet to notice a detail in one of the pictures. There's a photo of Barack Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time as President. Each President selects his rug for that room. One of the quotes on President Obama's rug is from Teddy Roosevelt. "The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us."

Pete Souza's Obama: An Intimate Portrait is a gorgeous collection of historic photos. It's the perfect gift for the person who admired President Barack Obama. (Give them a box of tissues with it.)

Pete Souza's website is

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza. Little, Brown & Company. 2017. ISBN 9780316512589 (hardcover), 352p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of the book.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson

I hope those of you who read mystery series take my suggestions seriously. Wendy Tyson's Seeds of Revenge is a fascinating mystery with well-developed characters in a small town. There's a complex, character-driven plot. But, I'd recommend that you start with A Muddied Murder, the first in the series, if you can. The main character, her family and friends, are so interesting in this third book that I wish I had started with the first one.

Megan Sawyer, ex-lawyer turned organic farmer and cafe owner, is on her way back from a business trip to Philadelphia when she comes upon a stranded car. Then she finds the owner, walking through the snow. Megan picks up Becca Fox, not realizing she's bringing trouble into the town of Winsome, PA. Becca is heading to her aunt Merry's house, but when she and Megan arrive, Becca is furious to see her estranged father. She makes no secret that she blames him for her mother's death, and says he killed her.

Megan had left Winsome for college when the Fox family lived for a short time in Winsome. She never knew the troubled family. But, Megan witnesses the end of an argument between her great-aunt Sarah and Paul Fox, Becca's father. When Paul's son finds him dead in their rented house, it quickly becomes apparent that many people in town disliked Paul Fox. And, Megan's great-aunt had an unusual connection to Fox and his death.

There are so many aspects of this book that I like. Megan is a mature, intelligent character, a widow, an ex-lawyer. She has an excellent relationship with the young police chief. "She'd come to respect his abilities and toughness as a new police chief, and he seemed to appreciate her insight." The two work well together, and, in most cases, she keeps him informed in advance of any actions.

Seeds of Revenge involves families, and issues in several families, including Megan's own. Megan aches to make things right for the town she loves. Traditional mysteries, and particularly cozy mysteries, often deal with an imbalance. Something sets off the balance in a small town. Megan has a reason to search for a killer. "And once again there was a sore festering amongst the good people of Winsome."

You can start with the third book in "A Greenhouse Mystery" series, Seeds of Revenge. I suggest, though, that you start with A Muddied Murder.

Wendy Tyson's website is

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson. Henery Press. 2017. ISBN 9781635112788 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Ghost of Christmas Past By Rhys Bowen

There’s an atmosphere of sorrow and foreboding that hangs over Bowen’s latest mystery, The Ghost of Christmas Past. After Molly Murphy Sullivan’s miscarriage and the events during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco (Time of Fog and Fire), Molly’s still mourning. And, Daniel's job is in jeopardy because of his honesty, and his refusal to cooperate with Tammany Hall.

This Christmas promises to be bittersweet. It looks like Molly's beloved almost-daughter, Bridie, will be moving back to Ireland. And, Molly's best friends won't be home for Christmas. But, just as Molly plans to give up heart, they receive an unexpected invitation. Daniel's mother is visiting the Van Aikens, wealthy friends in Scarborough. They invite the Sullivans to come for Christmas, so Daniel, Molly, Bridie and two-year-old Liam head out of town.

Once they're at the estate, Molly suspects something is wrong. She sympathizes when she learns of the disappearance of the Van Aikens' only child, a toddler, ten years earlier. But, her suspicions are aroused when a young teen appears at the door on Christmas Eve, claiming to be the missing Charlotte. It takes a mystery to turn Molly's emotions around. As Daniel continues to tell her, she just wants to make everything right.

It's been quite a while since I've read one of Bowen's Molly Murphy books, but they remain favorites of my sister's. Readers like me, who have not read one in quite a while, can easily catch the storyline in this haunting and surprising story of Christmas.

Rhys Bowen's website is

The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen. Minotaur Books, 2017. ISBN 9781250125729 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.