My Bookshelf

Knowing Jack by Julie Elizabeth Powell, 2013

What a gripping read! I was engaged from the opening pages. The characters were well-built and believable, the pace quick, and there were a few surprises. I enjoyed watching how Jack and Rosie, who started out as adversaries, became allies and then friends. Definitely left me wanting to hear more about Jack's knowing powers. Narrator Joel Froomkin did a great job voicing each of the characters and bringing them to life. I especially love the cover for the audiobook, which gives a terrific glimpse into the heart of the story. Recommended for anyone looking for a suspense-filled,fast-paced mystery in audio.


Alzheimer's Daughter by Jean L. Lee, 2015

Alzheimer’s Daughter is, above all else, a love story, a romantic love story, and a story about the love between parents and daughters. At its most basic, it is the story of Alzheimer’s, that fearsome, horrific brain disease that leads to the unmaking of a person, the dismantling of a life, with all of the subtle and not so subtle compromises and changes it leaves in its wake, and the acceptance and decision-making it requires from all involved, not only the afflicted but those afflicted alongside them. 

Alzheimer’s is a family disease, affecting not only the one who suffers from it but all those who care about that person’s health, well-being, and dignity. Alzheimer’s Daughter is the story of one woman who confronted and battled Alzheimer’s not only for one parent but for both, and at the same time. The odds of that happening seem unlikely, but it can and it did happen to the family at the center of this story. 

When all else seemed lost, Rosie, our narrator, relied on the love she’d known all her life, the love she shared with her parents, Ed and Ibby, and the love they shared and openly displayed for one another over a marriage of more than 60 years. Their love letters at the heart of this story are a testament to that love and their devotion to one another. This love enabled the four of them  - including Rosie’s sister, Annette – to withstand the pressures and problems the disease demanded. In the end, the most important thing was to ensure that Ed and Ibby remained together, living as husband and wife, despite the loss of their mental faculties. The one thing they never lost was their love for one another. 

One thing I’ve learned through my study of Alzheimer’s is that it’s course is a fairly common one. Many of the issues it causes are likely to hit each person afflicted – the ability to live and function safely in one’s own home, to operate an automobile, to manage money, to take in proper nutrition, to monitor medications, caregiving issues, and the role reversal that often occurs when the child must become the parent’s parent.  

This book offers a deeply personal glimpse into the life of a family battling Alzheimer’s, from its earliest stages – the odd forgetfulness, the tiny mistakes – to diagnosis, to denial, to the debate about safety, the management of simple daily life, dignity, and end of life decisions, all told in a thoughtful, useful manner to guide others through this same process.

Alzheimer’s Daughter is a book that will bring knowledge and solace to those grappling with this illness.  

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 Twitter for Authors, by Marcy Kennedy, 2014

Are you an author looking to build a social media presence with Twitter? Then this book is for you. Marcy Kennedy has put together a thorough, carefully organized, easy to understand, and simple to implement instruction manual on all things Twitter specifically for authors. She starts at the beginning, instructing on how to launch your own Twitter page, design and personalize it, figure out who to follow, and how to compose tweets. She talks about Tweet Deck, Hoot Suite, and other apps designed to make the Twitterverse more user-friendly and accessible. She delves into some of the finer, more complicated facets of the social media tool, such as automation (do or don't), advanced techniques (Click to Tweet), using images, and hosting Twitter events. Everything you need to get started is right in this book. Just open it, prop it next to your PC, Mac, tablet, or other device, and join the rest of us Tweeps. Note: I received a copy of this book at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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Home, by Brenda Kearns, 2014

Brenda Kearns’ well-written and moving novel “Home” is an inside look at the foster care system and how one young girl struggles to hold her family together in the face of unwavering odds. Allie is determined to keep her twin siblings safe and sacrifices her own childhood to do so. Their mother seems to be in a state of shock after losing her husband, struggling with single motherhood, depression, and alcohol abuse. She makes poor choices that lead to her children being removed from her care and sent to 17 different foster homes. Allie, just 14, uses her wits to persuade case workers and foster parents to return her and her brother and sister to their mother in spite of no improvement at home, and she’s successful, until she meets Jo, who sees through her and wants more for her and the twins. This is a heartbreaking tale in which we see deep inside Allie’s anguish and despair over the loss of her life as it was before her father’s death and her mother’s inability to cope. She continue to hope for the best, pleading with her mother to pull it together for the sake of her children, but is disappointed again and again. This is not an unlikely scenario as children in the foster care system often go through the same type of upheaval and turmoil. Kearns does an excellent job developing her characters: the kindly Jo, the exasperating Jonathan, the troubled twins and the strong Allie. The pace is just right, and the ending, though a bit abrupt, satisfying. This is an enlightening story that leaves the reader hopeful that all children in the foster care system find caring homes and astute case workers.


Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search 

by Martin Sixsmith, Penguin, 2013

I saw the movie Philomena and was mesmerized and outraged at the story it told. If you haven't seen it, it's the tale of a young Irish girl sent to live in a convent when pregnant out of wedlock, giving birth to a baby boy in harsh conditions, and ultimately forced to give her baby up for adoption to an American couple three years later after being allowed to form a motherly bond with her son.  I wanted to know more about the story and so read the book written by Martin Sixsmith, but I got more than I bargained for.

This book is more than just the story of a poor Irish girl and her lost child. It is the story of that son, born Anthony Lee, then named Michael Hess by his adoptive parents, and raised in America's Midwest in a middle-class life of privilege and opportunity. He eventually became a valuable member of the Reagan administration. He was also a homosexual, and his story is the story of the AIDS crisis as it emerged in the early 1980s. He would eventually succumb to the disease himself. More than half the book is relegated to Michael's life story, pieced together through interviews with those who knew and worked with him. At times it is hard to believe that Sixsmith was able to put together such a detailed account of a man's life without his input. Perhaps he came upon journals, diaries, or letters that helped him construct this life. I could've done with a little less of the details involving Michael's homosexual activities and relationships, as I don't know if such detail enhances the story and is a violation of his privacy, even though he is no longer with us. Many people's secrets are exposed and in some cases I surmise that these individuals have been hurt by these disclosures. Although it is a fascinating read, and superbly crafted by this talented investigative journalist and writer, I'm not sure if the depths of its scope was either needed or necessary in order to tell what was supposed to be Philomena's story. The movie focuses more exclusively on her story and her quest to find her long-lost son with the help of Sixsmith, and the story of Michael's childhood and rearing, education, emergence as a gay man, gay lifestyle, and rise to prominence in the Reagan administration and Washington politics was not nearly as prominent a role.

This is also the story of a little boy lost, searching for his birth mother, struggling to understand the memories that haunt him of a mother who not only loved him but perhaps did not wish to give him away. It's a damning tale of the Catholic Church that took advantage of these young women and operated under a veil of secrecy and hypocrisy in the care of unwed mothers.

The Selection Series: The Selection, The Elite, The One

by Keira Cass

The Bachelor Meets the Hunger Games

My secret pleasure this summer was reading Keira Cass’ Selection series. I saw the cover of the first book, The Selection, in a Facebook ad and was entranced. I admit - inside this 53-year old woman resides a girl who loves pretty dresses. I thought it would be a great summer read to share with my daughter and bought the Kindle version. I was soon immersed in another world, a new America after World War Four with a caste system and a royal family in search of a bride for its prince. The heroine, America, is chosen from the lower castes to participate in the Selection, a competition much like the reality show The Bachelor. The competition is filled with backstabbing, pretense, rebellion, tyranny, and danger. After book one I was hooked and read the full series The plot was full of unexpected twists and many times I was left thinking “I didn’t see that coming.” The happily-ever-after was much fought for and believable. Recommended for those looking for a clean romance with adventure and suspense.
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Love My Rifle More Than You – Young and Female in the US Army by Kayla Williams, W.W. Norton & Co., 2005

Of all of the books I’ve read as research for the character of Devon, Aerin’s mom in Swim Season, this is the most raw, grittiest yet.  Kayla Williams, a former sergeant in a military intelligence company of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), tells us a remarkable tale of army life where as a woman you’re either “a bitch or a slut,” and she does so in stark language infused with the f-word and other colorful words.  I found this a little curious, given her background and education: a 20-year old cum laude graduate of Bowling Green State University, specialist in Military Intelligence, fluent in Arabic.  Perhaps it was her attempt to sound like one of the boys, but she could have told her story just as well without the profanities.  Nevertheless, this is a provocative look at women in the military during wartime, what they endure, what’s expected of them, and how they prevail.  An excellent choice for any woman considering enlisting.

Soldier Girls – The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War   by Helen Thorpe, Scribner, 2014 

Helen Thorpe’s’ “Soldier Girls” is a painstakingly in-depth documentation of three women from the Indiana National Guard who volunteered to serve their country during peacetime, never expecting to go to war.  Michelle, the young college student with a troubled past, Desma, a single mother with limited prospects, and the motherly Debbie nearly thirty years their senior met during their deployment to Afghanistan at the start of that war.  This odd trio forged friendships and bonds that sustained them throughout their deployment and their reentry into civilian life, and through Desma and Debbie’s subsequent deployments to Iraq and its aftermath.  Thorpe interviewed her subjects exhaustively, collected documents, letters and emails, and culled interviews from their fellow soldiers, superiors, friends, and families to tell their stories and the ways in which their lives intertwined.  Their experiences are inspiring and shocking.  Each returned a changed woman for both better and worse, coming home to missed opportunities, failed relationships, damaged children, depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury.  Although the story of three particular individuals in an army of thousands, Thorpe’s tireless research and attention to detail make this an informative, moving read for anyone interested in learning about women serving their country during wartime. 
Learn more here. 

Ruff’s War – A Navy Nurse on the Frontline in Iraq
by Cdr. Cheryl Lynn Ruff, USN (Ret.) and Cdr. K. Sue Roper, USN (Ret.)
Naval Institute Press, 2005

Cdr. Cheryl Ruff’s account of her experience serving as a Navy nurse anesthetist in the early days of the Iraq War is a gripping story of the horrors of war and the sacrifices made by those who go to war, including the medical personnel who accompany them.  Written chronologically, Ruff’s account follows her life as a young teen choosing to enter the navy, her training and education, and the many missions she served on throughout her 25-year career.  Ironically, it is at the tail end of that career that she finds herself in the middle of a war in which everyone –including medical personnel – is considered the enemy and under attack.  She describes in great depth these challenges:  building surgical suites in the dessert without routine supplies; assisting in surgeries for both wounded soldiers and enemies of war; living without the necessities of daily life – clean air and water, fresh food, and sometimes shelter – and working interminably long hours in the OR with little sleep.  I read this book as research for my novel-in-progress Swim Season, and it’s a tough though enlightening read that’s given me a greater respect and admiration for those who selflessly answer the call of duty.  
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 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas
by Marie-Helene Bertino, Crown Publishers, 2014 
This novel is about a day in the life of several different characters whose lives intersect in one way or another before meeting up at 2 a.m. at The Cats Pajamas, a night club on the  brink of extinction due to several code violations. Motherless Madeline, a 9-year old wannabe jazz singer, her teacher, Sarina Greene, divorced and lonely, and Jack Lorca, the failed owner of the Cat’s Pajamas, are all bruised and battered souls hoping for life to get better, eventually casting aside their fears, misconceptions and resentments to accept these changes.  Bertino’s unique style makes this debut novel an engaging read.

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The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green, Dutton Books, 2012

Kids with cancer.  What can be more depressing?  Yet John Green has managed to write a novel bursting with joy, sorrow, hope, smiles, tears, and laughter in The Fault in Our Stars.  Ripe with sadness, rich in beauty, both breathtaking and subtle, this young adult novel is full of tender moments and gut-punching realities. Hazel Grace and Gus meet at a support group for teens with cancer.  Hazel is terminal; Gus is in remission.  Convinced she is a “grenade” destined to explode and leave behind everyone who loves her with a broken heart, Hazel is determined to keep Gus at a distance.  But the two can’t help gently falling in love in spite of their uncertain futures (and whose future isn’t uncertain?) It is no wonder Green received such an amazing reception at BookCon. I hope the movie is a fraction as good as the book.

Learn more here.  


Parables & Ponderings: When God speaks to us through everyday items and incidents 

by Lia London, London Books, December 17, 2013

This little book mixes spiritual insight with ordinary life.

What a great little book to have on hand when you find yourself with a free minute to reflect on God’s presence.  Seems He’s in the small things and Lia London shows us this again and again.  Her parables are down to earth, appearing out of some of the more mundane aspects of everyday life, situations we all can relate to: Nature, Around the House, Traffic, Health, Sports and Parenting.  Some of my favorites are The Dishwasher, The Bucket of Dirty Water, Guard Rails, Windshield Wipers, The MRI, The Kite.  Each is followed by Scripture, relating the two.  Not a book to sit and read from page one to the end, but something to keep close on your nightstand or smart phone to browse through when you have a moment and need a little pick me up.  Well written, humorous, and thoughtful, this little gem makes a great gift and can help get spiritual discussions moving.  Would make a nice little paperback to hand out at prayer meetings and bible studies.
Learn more here.


All the Broken Pieces
by Ann E. Burg, Scholastic Press, 2009

Amazon photo
This award-winning story, told in beautifully descriptive, rich verse, is deeply moving and insightful. Matt Pin is a Vietnamese child adopted  by an American couple in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam. Given to American soldiers by his mother desperately seeking a better life for her son, he is caught between two worlds: a life in middle America where he doesn't seem to fit in, and a life in a war torn country he barely remembers.  Matt takes up and excels in baseball, enduring taunts from his teammates who some see as a representative of the "enemy,"  and receiving praise and encouragement from the adults in his life who see him as a talented young man with "a good arm" and a future as a ball player.  Matt tries to fit in and to reconcile himself with his past, haunted by memories of  the American GI father who abandoned his family, the mother who delivered him to a band of soldiers who ensured his protection, and the mutilated younger brother he left behind, while holding close a horrifying secret.  The book's style makes it easily readable, each word, every line, written with care.  Recommended for middle graders and those interested in lyrical writing, the Vietnam War, and the healing power of love and forgiveness.

Learn more here.
Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter's Memoir
by Martha Stettinius,  Lakemont Press, Horseheads, NY, 2012

I’ve read many books about Alzheimer’s, but Martha Stettinius’ memoir Inside the Dementia Epidemic is among the best.  In this moving, honest, unrestrained story of a daughter’s experience through all the stages of her mother’s Alzheimer’s, we get a glimpse of what a caregiver experiences.  Stettinius shares with us the heartbreaking decisions she made to see her mother cared for, the impact the disease had on her own family, and the ways in which this illness helped repair what was often a troubled relationship between her and her mother.  She starts with her suspicions that something is wrong, that her mother’s mind is slipping.  We then follow along through the diagnostic period, and then the many different ways she sought to care for her mother, some that failed, and others that were competent, trustworthy, and joyful.  This is a well-written, thorough book full of deeply personal revelations and stories most caregivers will find familiar.  It is an excellent guidebook to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
Learn more here. 


In the Water They Can’t See You Cry
by Amanda Beard with Rebecca Paley, Simon & Schuster, 2012

I read this book as research for my novel-in-progress “Swim Season.”  This is the memoir of an extraordinary child, an Olympic champion at 14, who became a troubled young woman and emerged a strong, powerful woman and mother.  Amanda Beard’s story is not a light read, not for someone looking for a feel good book about swimming or instruction on how to become an Olympic champion. She shares her deepest fears and insecurities, her history of depression, cutting behavior, failed relationships, and casual use of illegal substances.  What this book shows us is that champions are not gods, they are human like the rest of us, subject to the same physical, mental, and emotional hardships we all endure.   
Ordinance 93
by Lilia Fabry, MPP,  2013

A futuristic political thriller of a novel, Ordinance 93 takes us on a fast-paced chase as four fugitives attempt to escape from a government that has become all too intrusive into the personal lives of its constituents. The Family Protection Act grants the U.S. government the power to decide who gets to procreate in an attempt to eliminate poverty and illness. This requires all pregnant women to report for registration and approval before their condition progresses. Jason Winters has fathered a child, and seeks to thwart this process with the help of three women,one of whom is his baby's mother. A national manhunt ensues, aided by an all-knowing media and a public hungry for the bounty offered to those who help capture Winters and his women.  Add to this a ruthless megalomaniac appointed as head of the department enforcing this act, and the drama unfolds in chilling ways.  A page-turner that will leave you wondering if one day such a scenario could really happen. 

Front Porch Lemonade
by JudiLynn Taylor, thewordverve inc., 2013

Front Porch Lemonade is the story of a group of sassy Southern women and their close knit  friendships.  Life in a small town is lively and eventful for these women, who love each other and love to spend time laughing and enjoying each others company. Their meeting place is Miss Abby's front porch, where the hostess serves up pitcher after pitcher of her homemade lemonade, along with an  assortment of home-baked goodies, as the  women while away the hours discussing their marriages, children, neighbors, hopes, dreams, and worries.  Each character is well drawn with her own quirks and personality and her own story line. Some will have you laughing out loud and others will  break your heart. It's well-written and a pleasure to read.  Note: I received this book free from Story Cartel in exchange for an honest review.

The Best is Yet to Come 
by Tara Alemany, WestBowPress, 2013

I downloaded this book free from Story Cartel in exchange for my honest review.  I was attracted to the title because of its reviews.  Many readers found the book to be inspirational, and I enjoy reading inspirational stories.  I am a believer in the idea that sometimes “bad things” happen to us so that we may become teachers and inspirations to others experiencing the same difficulty.  Tara Alemany's story of love found and then lost is a deeply moving, personal testimonial to faith and the idea that no matter how bleak a situation seems, good things may lie ahead.
Ms. Alemany was given the possibility of a great love in mid-life, a love she never expected, only to have it snatched away before it reached its fulfillment.  A devoutly Christian woman, she relied on her faith in God to carry her through the grieving process when her beloved Frank passed away after a four-month courtship played out on the phone and in emails.  Although separated by hundreds of miles and several states, theirs was a deeply committed and loving relationship bound by faith.  Ms. Alemany found strength in this faith to not only come to terms with her grief and to move forward, but to use her experience to guide others through the grieving process, offering insight and inspiration to those struggling with bereavement and a subsequent questioning of faith.  She takes us deep inside the happiness of her newfound love and the despair she felt upon Frank's unexpected death.  The commentaries she provides between chapters where she discusses her faith and its impact on her life serve as a sort of guidebook to help the grieving make their own way through to the other side. 
This is an insightful journey into love and loss and I recommend it to anyone who may be wondering why God puts pain in our lives, and what we are supposed to do with it. 
Learn more here.
Released to the Angels Discovering the Hidden Gifts of Alzheimer's
by Marilynn Garzione, iUniverse Star, 2010

It takes a special person to face Alzheimer's head on and find hidden gifts within its heartbreaking and soul shattering core. Marilynn Garzione is that special person. She has traveled the full journey and shares with her readers that all is not hopeless, that, indeed, beauty, peace, and comfort can be found within the long days and even longer nights of caring for a loved one with dementia. Garzione's own husband Pat succumbed to the disease after many years. She chronicled their life together in her book, "Released to the Angels: Discovering the Hidden Gifts of Alzheimer's." It is a breathtaking, raw, honest, and deeply touching account of her caregiver journey. A series of vignettes, short stories from different episodes in their life tied together with love, optimism, and grace, it is a testament to marriage and commitment. Her beautiful, flowing prose is personal. This is a book to be savored, read one page at a time with careful thought to follow. It will be a source of comfort to those struggling with their own caregiving experience. I recommend it to anyone on that journey or those watching from the sidelines.
Learn more here.

The Purpose of Christmas
by Rick Warren, Howard Books, 2008

In this time of worry and concern over political correctness when wishing people "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas," when bumper stickers remind us to "Keep Christ in Christmas," and when the media kicks up a frenzy over the White House's calling the national Christmas tree a "Holiday Tree," there's a little gem of a book by Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) which puts the story of the birth of Jesus Christ back into perspective. 

We seem to have lost our way.  The season of Christmas (which is what it is, let's face it, because without the celebration of the birth of Christ December 25th would be just another day) is thrust upon us sooner and sooner by commercial interests intent on using the good will and generosity of those celebrating the holiday to boost their year-end profits.  Bit by bit, the true meaning and spirit of Christmas is diluted into just another sales event.  Coupled with that is the idea that Christmas celebrations should exclude Jesus Christ, because not all of us believe, or not all of us choose to acknowledge his presence in this event.  Inside Warren's lovely little book are all the reasons Christmas is special, unlike no other time, starting with the birth of the baby Jesus in a lowly manger to a virgin mother.  The story of the birth of Christ is a time for celebration, a time for salvation, and a time for reconciliation.  As we go about preparing for our holiday, a refresher course on what it's really all about may increase our joy and understanding.   Warren's book is a perfect way to rediscover and reaffirm the real meaning of Christmas.   
Becalmed: A Carolina Coast Beach Read
by Normandie Fischer
"Becalmed" is a sweet, gentle love story about a southern woman falling for a widower and his young daughter as they try to sail away from their grief over the loss of their wife and mother. Tadie Longworth considers herself plain, not a woman who takes chances, and certainly not someone desired by a man as solid and interesting as Will Merritt. He and young Jilly have docked into town for some boat repairs and become fast friends with Tadie. She and Will start to fall for each other, but Will’s loyalty to his deceased wife pulls him – and Jilly – away from Tadie, breaking her heart and leading her to explore life beyond her own, small town in search of something more. The writing is lovely, the characters rich and real, (especially little Jilly), and the ending sweet. A lovely read.


Untethered: A Caregiver's Tale
by Phyllis Peters

Thomas Conklin is in the midst of a mid-life crisis.  Pushing fifty, he’s facing the arrival of twin daughters with his second wife, impending grandfatherhood, and a simmering realization that his aging parents are in need of assisted living services to remain safe in their home, and it’s his job to make this happen.
Phyllis Peters’ debut novel, “Untethered: A Caregiver’s Tale,” gives us a fast-paced, often humorous peek into the life of a baby boomer as he encounters his place in the sandwich generation - those caring for aging parents while raising their own children.  Full of quirky characters – the Shakespeare-quoting Phineas; a hash-smoking great grandmother from France, a fortune hunter named Gregory – and a few offbeat story lines – squatting in an abandoned cabin, Viking treasure, his once-CEO father’s “episodes” of alarming behavior -  “Untethered” brings the plight of the elderly aging in place to the forefront.  Exploring the serious issues of proper nutrition, driving, personal hygiene, and the need for “absorbent products,” Peters skillfully captures the shock, denial, and final acceptance which often accompany the realization that some of us are called to parent our own parents. 

The novel blends many life-changing themes: new parenthood, becoming a grandfather, a second marriage, a blended family, and old age.  Our hero handles all of it with a sense of humor, sharing his inner thoughts with us through his memoir.  The antics of his father, Martin, come across with some comic relief, although for those experiencing such issues with their own parents they can be anything but funny: a car accident, incidents with the police, elder abuse on the part of a neighbor.  His mother, Lil, is keeping things together as best as she can in spite of her own cognitive decline.  Fortunately, Thomas has a sister who is willing and able to help and the two of them cobble together a plan to enable their parents to age in place with dignity. 

“Untethered” entertains and educates, which makes it a great novel for those confronting elder issues, but for those who are not it’s a fun read.

 Death of a Dyer 
by Eleanor Kuhns

Eleanor Kuhns is a local author (Goshen, New York) who I met during a reading of her first novel, A Simple Murder, which won the 2011  Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition. This is a wonderful tale which takes us back to post-Revolutionary War times in Maine with a unique hero, Will Rees, an itinerant weaver with a talent for solving murder mysteries.  Kuhns, a weaver herself when not serving as Assistant Director at the Goshen Public Library, has an extensive knowledge of cloth making and exhibits it here.  Throw in a Shaker community and there's much in this novel to both entertain and educate the reader.  Her second Will Rees novel, Death of a Dyer, is just as fascinating, as her murder victim, Nate, was studying the process of dyeing cloth at the time of his demise, and her description of this is interesting today, considering we take cloth for granted, not having to start from scratch to make our own clothing.  It's another step back in time, a time not much written about.  Again, Will Rees is called to the task of solving the murder of Nate, an old childhood friend. The mystery alone is worth the read, but it's Kuhn's historical approach to facets of early American life not often included in fiction that makes both books compelling. 
Learn more here.

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