A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Monday, June 29, 2020

One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak- Feature and Review


From New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak comes a novel about finding family in unexpected places and the lifelong bonds that don't need a lifetime to forge

When Serenity Alston swabbed her cheek for 23andMe, she joked about uncovering some dark ancestral scandal. The last thing she expected was to discover two half sisters she didn't know existed. Suddenly, everything about her loving family is drawn into question. And meeting these newfound sisters might be the only way to get answers.

Serenity has always found solace at her family's Lake Tahoe cabin, so what better place for the three women to dig into the mystery that has shaken the foundation each of them was raised on? With Reagan navigating romantic politics at her New York City advertising firm, and Lorelei staring down the collapse of her marriage, all three women are converging at a crossroads in their lives. Before the summer is over, they'll have to confront the paths they walked to get there and determine how to move forward when everything they previously thought to be true was a lie.

But any future is easier to face with family by your side.



One Perfect SummerOne Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak is a 2020 Mira publication.

A good sudsy summer beach read

Serenity made a shocking discovery after submitting her DNA to 23AndMe. She has two half-sisters she didn’t know about. Unsure of how they came to be related, Serenity invites her sisters to visit her in Lake Tahoe where her family owns a cabin.

Enter Reagan, who works at an advertising firm, and Lorelei, a stay at home mom.

All three women are at a crossroads in their lives which is centered around their poor choices in men. Things get off to a bumpy start when Reagan and Lorelei clash. Why? Well, it would seem Reagan is riddled with guilt over a heated sexual encounter with her married colleague, while Lorelei has just discovered her husband has been unfaithful. Awkward!

However, it doesn’t take long before the familial bonds of sisterhood take hold, as the three women work to uncover the secrets that will reveal their true heritage.

I am finally coming out of my exclusive crime fiction phase and am ready to get into some ‘summer’ reading. The ‘Beach Read’ label is different for everyone, but for me, it’s contemporary fiction- or what we once referred to as ‘women’s fiction’. I love losing myself in the lives of others, especially when focused on women, as they navigate their family issues, marriages, divorce, kids, friendships and the various challenges and trials of life.

This book was the perfect book to kick off my summer of ‘beach’ reading! I was instantly drawn into the catty drama between Reagan and Lorelei but was soon feeling drawn more towards Serenity as she seemed to have the most to lose by learning the truth and her backstory was truly awful, which made me hope her story would be the most rewarding.

Of the three women, Lorelei’s story is the saddest, yet her character grew more than anyone else's, in my opinion.

She was a little annoying at times, but I was happy to see her gain confidence and realize her self-worth.

I’d love to see Reagan and Lorelei get a story of their own someday, but for now I was very pleased with the progress each woman made, not just in their individual lives, but as sisters. At last, they will know the entire truth about their parentage, and will now have one another to lean on through life’s ups and downs.

The only minor quibble I had was that mystery into the DNA match was often placed in the background, entirely forgotten at times, and the side story involving a neighbor visiting for the summer just kind of fizzled out.

Other than that, the ending was exceptionally well done, and so that I don’t give anything away, I’ll just say it was very satisfying. Certain revelations were especially poignant for one of the sisters and I was so happy that she finally got the peace she deserved!

Overall, another winner for Brenda Novak! This is immersive drama at its finest!






 Brenda's novels have made the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and won many awards, including eight Rita nominations, the Book Buyer's Best, the Book Seller's Best, the Silver Bullet and the National Reader's Choice Award.

Brenda and her husband, Ted, live in Sacramento and are proud parents of five children--three girls and two boys. When she's not spending time with her family or writing, Brenda is usually raising funds for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). So far, Brenda has raised $2.6 million!

Friday, June 26, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY-The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore- Feature and Review


The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice...

As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.

A rich, historical narrative written in a sparkling voice, The Radium Girls is the first book that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind.




The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining WomenThe Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is a 2017 Sourcebooks publication.

“Luminous Processes, declared the local paper, seems to put profits before people.”
‘How quickly we forget.’

Only the most hard -hearted among us could read this book without shedding tears. So be warned this book is not for the faint of heart and while the bravery of these young ladies is certainly inspirational, the anger and frustration I felt about their untimely and excruciating deaths left me feeling emotionally and physically exhausted.

The author has obviously done meticulous research about the women who worked for the Radiant Dial Corporation and the United States Radium Corporation beginning in 1917.

The practice of ‘dip, lip, paint’, which was encouraged by the factory, to prevent waste, and to give the brush a sharper point, but exposed the women, who painted luminous dials on watches, with deadly radium. The factories were so popular, due to the wages, which were well above average, and because of the ‘glow’ the women had due to the radium exposure, which they were assured was perfectly safe. Some of the women even painted the substance onto their faces to see themselves glow in the dark.

Five women in particular stood out, as they battled what was termed ‘occupational diseases’, taking their case to court, but there were many more. The court cases were long, hard fought, and had many disappointments before all was said and done. It was a hard battle which lasted for many years, but the effects lingered on for these ladies’ offspring, for years to come.

But, the author really excelled at bringing these women to life, giving them a voice, so to speak. All these women were so very young, so full of life and hope. To hear, in horrific detail, their pain and suffering made for some very difficult reading. Catherine Wolfe Donohoe is one that stood out for me, with her loyal husband, Tom.

The suffering these women endured, was gruesome and unimaginable. Again, I warn you, this material is very graphic, and the author drives this point home with such vividness, I swear my joints and teeth ached.

This is a battle that waged for many years, with the factories refusing to accept that the radium was dangerous, then trying to hide that it was dangerous, by any means.

This is a painful story, one that highlights greed and deceit, but also proves what can happen if you stand up for yourself, speak out, and refuse to give up. The women featured here saved countless lives, while giving their own.

This is a powerful, gut wrenching story, and it’s one that has played out in various forms, since the years highlighted here, with various companies hiding dangers or releasing flawed products onto an unsuspecting public.

These women should never be forgotten and their bravery should set a shining example for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation. You never know, you may, like the women featured in this book, bring about new standards of health and safety, expose dangers, and force accountability on those only concerned about their own bottom line.

Bravo to Madeline Piller, whose championed these ladies by raising funds for a bronze statue honoring these brave women. The statue was unveiled in 2011, in Ottawa, Illinois.

5 stars






 Kate Moore is the author of more than fifteen books across the genres of gift, humor, biography, history, and children's brand publishing. She is a multiple Sunday Times bestselling author.  Her work has been published in national newspapers, translated into more than twelve languages, used in national advertising campaigns and performed at the South Bank Centre, London.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett- Feature and Review


Hollywood Park is a remarkable memoir of a tumultuous life. Mikel Jollett was born into one of the country’s most infamous cults, and subjected to a childhood filled with poverty, addiction, and emotional abuse. Yet, ultimately, his is a story of fierce love and family loyalty told in a raw, poetic voice that signals the emergence of a uniquely gifted writer.

We were never young. We were just too afraid of ourselves. No one told us who we were or what we were or where all our parents went. They would arrive like ghosts, visiting us for a morning, an afternoon. They would sit with us or walk around the grounds, to laugh or cry or toss us in the air while we screamed. Then they’d disappear again, for weeks, for months, for years, leaving us alone with our memories and dreams, our questions and confusion. …

So begins Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett’s remarkable memoir. His story opens in an experimental commune in California, which later morphed into the Church of Synanon, one of the country’s most infamous and dangerous cults. Per the leader’s mandate, all children, including Jollett and his older brother, were separated from their parents when they were six months old, and handed over to the cult’s “School.” After spending years in what was essentially an orphanage, Mikel escaped the cult one morning with his mother and older brother. But in many ways, life outside Synanon was even harder and more erratic.

In his raw, poetic and powerful voice, Jollett portrays a childhood filled with abject poverty, trauma, emotional abuse, delinquency and the lure of drugs and alcohol. Raised by a clinically depressed mother, tormented by his angry older brother, subjected to the unpredictability of troubled step-fathers and longing for contact with his father, a former heroin addict and ex-con, Jollett slowly, often painfully, builds a life that leads him to Stanford University and, eventually, to finding his voice as a writer and musician.

Hollywood Park is told at first through the limited perspective of a child, and then broadens as Jollett begins to understand the world around him. Although Mikel Jollett’s story is filled with heartbreak, it is ultimately an unforgettable portrayal of love at its fiercest and most loyal.



Hollywood ParkHollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett is a 2020 Celadon Books publication.

An unconventional journey fraught with adversity, but ultimately an inspirational memoir

To be honest, I went into this memoir blind. I think I added it mainly due to the mention of a cult, a topic I am often drawn to. However, before starting the book, I Googled Jollett, and listened to his music, wondering why I had not stumbled across him earlier.

But, despite my unfamiliarity with the author, I found myself pulled into his original approach, in which he uses the voice of his childhood,making it seem as though we are living these experiences right along with him. It is instantaneously obvious that Mikel’s upbringing is irregular, to say the least.

Although I have heard of many cults, I was not familiar with Synanon, the cult Jollett lived in until the age of five, when his mother finally escaped. Again, I did a little Googling and learned that the cult was supposed to be a drug rehabilitation center but had turned violent.

While it is a relief to know the family made it out of that situation, Mikel’s childhood is far from stable. Addiction, narcissism, and a lack of traditional parenting, forces Mikel to become wizened beyond his years.

This is a powerful, compelling memoir. Jollet’s extraordinary writing technique gives one a poignant look at addiction and the emotional drain that reigns on all of those involved. His words are tender and merciful, his memories affecting, and his courage inspiring.

Despite the painful scars, Mikel’s hard work and personal growth have broken chains, providing him with the strength and insight to become a productive and successful adult.

Overall, a compelling memoir I am so glad I took a chance on!






Mikel Jollett is the frontman of the indie band The Airborne Toxic Event. Prior to forming the band, Jollett graduated with honors from Stanford University. He was an on-air columnist for NPR's All Things Considered, an editor-at-large for Men's Health and an editor at Filter magazine. His fiction has been published in McSweeney's

Monday, June 22, 2020

MONDAY'S MUSICAL MOMENT: Country Music: An Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan- Feature and Review


The rich and colorful story of America's most popular music and the singers and songwriters who captivated, entertained, and consoled listeners throughout the twentieth century--based on the upcoming eight-part film series to air on PBS in September 2019

This gorgeously illustrated and hugely entertaining history begins where country music itself emerged: the American South, where people sang to themselves and to their families at home and in church, and where they danced to fiddle tunes on Saturday nights. With the birth of radio in the 1920s, the songs moved from small towns, mountain hollers, and the wide-open West to become the music of an entire nation--a diverse range of sounds and styles from honky tonk to gospel to bluegrass to rockabilly, leading up through the decades to the music's massive commercial success today.

But above all, Country Music is the story of the musicians. Here is Hank Williams's tragic honky tonk life, Dolly Parton rising to fame from a dirt-poor childhood, and Loretta Lynn turning her experiences into songs that spoke to women everywhere. Here too are interviews with the genre's biggest stars, including the likes of Merle Haggard to Garth Brooks to Rosanne Cash. Rife with rare photographs and endlessly fascinating anecdotes, the stories in this sweeping yet intimate history will captivate longtime country fans and introduce new listeners to an extraordinary body of music that lies at the very center of the American experience.



Country Music: An Illustrated HistoryCountry Music: An Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Country Music: An Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan, (Kenneth Burns), is a 2019 Knopf Publishing Group publication.

I love Ken Burn’s PBS documentaries. However, I will make a sheepish confession – Often times I tuned in to these documentaries, even though the subject matter wasn’t always one I was all that interested in, just so I could listen to Peter Coyote narrate the series. I love his voice!

While I haven’t seen all the Ken Burns documentaries, the ones I have seen were absolutely incredible. The only one I deliberately did not finish was the one about the Dust Bowl- it was just too depressing.

When I heard Burns was about to do a documentary series over Country Music, I was intrigued. I have had a love/hate relationship with country music, but I was very excited about seeing Burns’s presentation.... And for another opportunity to listen to Peter Coyote!

Unfortunately, I was unable to watch all the episodes of the series when it aired. I caught the first few episodes, but before I was able to go back and finish watching it, it was no longer available to stream on my PBS channel. Maybe someday I’ll be able to find it on a streaming service or on DVD … at an affordable price.

So, while I’m waiting for that, and saving my pennies, I decided to check out this illustrated companion book.

The research, of course, is impeccable and as stated, the book is packed with photographs. It was a fun trip down memory lane for me, in many ways. Now, I know what you are thinking. Aren’t you the big rock, blues and jazz fan? You listen to country music??? I know, many of you would never suspect that the music I was most exposed to growing up was, in fact, country music.

This book, along with the few episodes of the series I got to see, puts the genre into perspective and proves that it is respected across the board by many musicians who are primarily blues and rock artists. The roots of the genre solidify its worth in my eyes and I found the journey through this unique history to be quite interesting and very compelling.

The series is much more in depth, of course, but this book is a great summation especially considering the amount of time covered and the wealth of material that is included, along with all the photographs.

I think this book-and of course the documentary- might be a real eye-opener for those who have a tendency to roll their eyes at country music, or hold it in contempt, thinking it is a lesser form of music. The country music industry is packed with talented writers, singers, and musicians. Not only that, Nashville is very business oriented, which might also surprise a few people.

The only complaint I had, was that once we reached the nineties, the era of time I was most appreciative of country music, and the part I was most looking forward to, was very rushed through. George Strait and Randy Travis barely had a paragraph each!! Seriously? Strait has more number one hits than any other artist in any genre, and he only got a paragraph?

The other thing that gave me pause was how often Marty Stuart was quoted and how heavily the author leaned on excerpts from interviews with Marty. I was wondering why a more diverse group of artists weren’t interviewed for this book and began to think maybe the author and Marty were good pals or something.

Other than that, this book is exceptional, especially while exploring the musical roots of the genre and digging into the early history of country music and how it managed to hang on all these years, surviving all manner of musical trends and suffering from a deep identity crisis. It’s really very interesting.

This book is not just for fans of country music. It should also appeal to all music lovers, as well as history buffs. If you aren’t a fan of country music, or if it’s a genre you are mostly unfamiliar with, I challenge you to check this out- and the documentary- then sample some of the music- older stuff and newer stuff alike. If you open your mind and heart you might be in for a real treat and you just might surprise yourself!






Dayton Duncan is an American screenwriter, producer and former political aide. He is best known for his collaborations with documentary maker Ken Burns

Friday, June 19, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor- Feature and Review


The author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?



The Cottingley SecretThe Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor is a 2017 William Morrow Paperbacks publication.

Charming and magical-

This novel is based on the real events surrounding a group of photographs taken by sixteen year old Elsie Wright and her nine year old cousin, Frances Griffiths, in Cottingley, England in 1917.

The photographs allegedly captured images of fairies at the Cottingley Beck, a stream where the two girls often played. The photos garnered the attention of Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who featured the story in ‘The Strand Magazine’, in 1920.


For years the public debated whether or not the photos were genuine, or if it was all a big hoax. This novel tells a fictional account of Elsie and Frances, and their adventures, alongside the current day story of Olivia Kavanagh, a woman who has come to set her grandparents affairs in order after the death of her grandfather.

Olivia is engaged, with a life back in London, but after inheriting her grandfather’s bookstore, she begins to reassess her life and decides to stay and manage the bookstore, unable to bring herself to sell it. But, along with the bookshop, Olivia’s grandfather left behind a manuscript written by Frances Griffiths, in which she details what really happened back in 1917, and puts to rest, the question regarding the one photo Frances insists is the real deal.

                                              FRANCES GRIFFITHS AND THE FAIRIES

This is a delightful and fanciful accounting of Elsie and Frances' life story, and how they gave the gift of hope and a little bit of magic to people during the dark and bleak days of world war one. It is fascinating to me how people seized hold of the possibility that the fairies did indeed exist and could be captured on film. I think there is a bit of psychology behind that, with world war one raging in the background.

I also enjoyed the way the story unfolded bit by bit through the eyes of Olivia, who has found the courage to rediscover her true self and in so doing, finds that maybe, just maybe, believing in fairies and magic might not be a bad thing, after all.

For me, this story occasionally had a sad and bittersweet tone, but mostly it was sweet and whimsical, and I enjoyed immersing myself in the dual time lines, allowing myself to be swept away by the history and even felt a slight tingle of magic along the way, so much so, I might have become a bit of a believer, myself.

Although this novel is mostly conjecture, I think the author captured the atmosphere perfectly and built an interesting story around true events. I have since done a few Google searches on the Cottingley fairies. It’s an amazing story that captured the public’s imagination for decades. I think the time and place had a lot to do with why those pictures became such a phenomenon, but that the myth persisted as long as it did is what makes the story so captivating.

Overall, I think what makes the story work, is the reminder that sometimes believing in something gives it a certain power, regardless of how fantastical, and sometimes, something fantastical can give people real hope, and that magic comes in many forms.





Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A MEMORY OF VIOLETS and THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. 

In 2017, Hazel will release two historical novels: THE COTTINGLEY SECRET (August, William Morrow/HarperCollins) and LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS (October, William Morrow/HarperCollins). 

Hazel was selected by the US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and was a WHSmith Fresh Talent selection in spring 2015. Her work has been translated into several languages and she is represented by Michelle Brower of Aevitas Creative Management, New York. 

For more information, visit www.hazelgaynor.com 


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Town Called Malice by Adam Abramowitz- Feature and Review


A bike messenger navigates Boston's gritty underworld of gangsters and blood money in this novel with more twists and turns than Boston's streets, in Adam Abramowitz's A Town Called Malice.

Boston's fastest-talking, baddest bike messenger Zesty Meyers is back in town...Bosstown.

Boston's Big Dig has put a brand new shine on the city, its once insular neighborhoods awash with new money and runaway development. Not everybody is happy with the change. Zesty is struggling to keep his courier business afloat and is falling behind on rent, while his brother, Zero, owner of a moving company stocked with ex-cons has hired an unemployed rabbi who begins to exert a strange influence on the family and delivers most of his sermons with his fists.

When a rock and roll legend suspected of murdering his girlfriend reappears after thirty years on the run, Zesty is once again haunted by his family's dark past and the mounting evidence that his father, Boston's former Poker King now suffering from Alzheimer's, has long been dealing from the bottom of the deck. From shady bars to college campus underground poker leagues, Zesty's speeding toward trouble, desperately trying to map out a future in a town where stop signs are optional, signaling is for the weak and Karma lurks around every corner with payback on its mind.



A Town Called MaliceA Town Called Malice by Adam Abramowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Town Called Malice by Adam Abramowitz is a 2019 Thomas Dunne Books publication.

I do not recall how this book came to my attention because I added it to my TBR pile a long time ago, but whoever pointed me in this direction is owed my gratitude.

Set in Boston, the story follows Zesty, a bicycle messenger trying to stay afloat, and come to terms with his father’s Alzheimer’s disease, while his brother Zero, owns a moving company packed with dubious employees.

But, Zesty’s life becomes even more complicated when a former rock star, who was the prime suspect in his girlfriend’s disappearance and probable murder, suddenly resurfaces. The situation drags Zesty’s father into the equation and points uncomfortable fingers in his direction. Did his father have something to do with the girl's death?

Meanwhile, Zesty gets caught up in another case in which a college student may have gotten in over his head with the Russian mob. This leads Zesty to forge a relationship with a cop on suspension, and an attractive reporter who could be in the direct line of fire.

Although this story is a little busy at times, and the construction is a bit off kilter, I found this to be a very engrossing mystery. The author did a terrific job of giving the city of Boston a prominent role, while developing a zany cast of characters, featuring Zesty as an unlikely, and unconventional hero.

The pacing is quick and packed with sharp, witty dialogue. The novel examines the fallout of gentrification and class divisions in Boston, while building a gritty, but also stylish crime story. Zesty’s funny sarcasm, coupled with his poignant monologues, which examines his conflicting relationship with his father, makes him an undeniably likeable character.

I thought the various threads all came together nicely in the end. There were a few surprises and twists I didn’t see coming, but what I liked best was the redemptive aspects, which might have been the most rewarding part of solving the mystery.

Apparently, this book is a follow up novel to Boomtown, which I haven’t read. But this book worked just fine as a stand-alone- Although I am definitely interested in finding a copy of the first installment and I do hope we'll have the pleasure of meeting up with Zesty Meyers again someday.

Overall, despite some unevenness, I thought this was an impressive, slightly offbeat, but quite enjoyable crime drama.





Adam Abramowitz grew up in Allston and Boston's South End working as a courier, bartender, doorman and long-time mover at Nick's Cheap and Friendly Moving Company. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts Boston, Adam currently teaches in Mount Vernon, New York.

Monday, June 15, 2020

MONDAY'S MUSICAL MOMENT: The Beatles A to Zed by Peter Asher- Feature and Review


A legendary record producer and performer takes readers on an alphabetical journey of insights into the music of the Beatles and individual reminiscences of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Peter Asher met the Beatles in the spring of 1963, the start of a lifelong association with the band and its members. He had a front-row seat as they elevated pop music into an art form, and he was present at the creation of some of the most iconic music of our times.

Asher is also a talented musician in his own right, with a great ear for what was new and fresh. Once, when Paul McCartney wrote a song that John Lennon didn’t think was right for the Beatles, Asher asked if he could record it. “A World Without Love” became a global No. 1 hit for his duo, Peter & Gordon. A few years later Asher was asked by Paul McCartney to help start Apple Records; the first artist Asher discovered and signed up was a young American singer-songwriter named James Taylor. Before long he would be not only managing and producing Taylor but also (having left Apple and moved to Los Angeles) working with Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, Robin Williams, Joni Mitchell, and Cher, among others.

The Beatles from A to Zed grows out of his popular radio program “From Me to You” on SiriusXM's The Beatles Channel, where he shares memories and insights about the Fab Four and their music. Here he weaves his reflections into a whimsical alphabetical journey that focuses not only on songs whose titles start with each letter, but also on recurrent themes in the Beatles’ music, the instruments they played, the innovations they pioneered, the artists who influenced them, the key people in their lives, and the cultural events of the time.



The Beatles from A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery TourThe Beatles from A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour by Peter Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Beatles A to Zed by Peter Asher is a 2019 Henry Holt & Company publication.

I know what your thinking. Another book about the Beatles? Don’t you think that by now this group has been examined in every which way one can possibly imagine? Yes, but for some reason I never grow weary of reading about the Beatles- However… it has to be a quality book, and not a rushed to market ‘cash grab’ or gossipy tell-all.

With Peter Asher’s name attached, and with the super high ratings for this one, I just couldn’t help myself- so, yes, ANOTHER Beatles book.

So, what did this new book have to offer that countless others books haven’t already rehashed ad nauseum over the years?

Well, there are plenty of interesting people and places that crop up in this book that were just on the periphery of the band, that made some contribution to the music, the sound or were influenced by the Beatles, or helped to inspire the group, spawning new ideas and creativity.

The author, whose sister once dated Paul McCartney before he met and married Linda, knew the band members personally, and continued to work with or around them for years.

Now, Asher also has his own radio show on SiriusXM, which airs on The Beatles channel, called “From Me to You.” This book stemmed from that show, and one might consider it a ‘radio’ tie in.

The format is part of what makes the book stand out from all the other Beatles books. Asher goes through the entire alphabet, listing all things pertaining to the Beatles associated with that letter. Don’t expect the obvious songs or people and places. Asher did work hard to come up with off the beaten path associations, rare tunes, events or little -known pieces of trivia to keep things interesting.
However, some letters were nearly impossible to work with and Asher’s creativity did elicit a groan or two, but he good naturedly acknowledged the occasional ‘cheating’ and some really far out there connections.

Other than that, Asher had to dig deep to avoid repeating information everyone already knows about the Beatles and worked hard to provide readers with links to the Beatles they might not have known about, or considered previously.

Still, though, at the end of the day, a lot of the information wasn't all that new- or unknown- but was merely presented to me in a different, more challenging way, so that it felt fresh.

It’s a fun book, however, and Asher had an enthusiastic approach, sprinkled with humor and inside knowledge that added a personal touch to the book.

Although the book didn't quite live up to all the high praise, for me, at least, it was a nice book to thumb through on a hot, lazy afternoon. It's an easy read, and gave me something light and pleasant to enjoy that didn’t require a great deal of concentration. Once again, I am reminded of why I love the Beatles and the myriad of ways the group influenced music and pop culture.





Peter Asher is a British guitarist, singer, manager and record producer. He came to prominence in the 1960s as a member of the pop music vocal duo Peter and Gordon before going on to a successful career as a manager and record producer. As of 2018, he tours alongside Jeremy Clyde of Chad and Jeremy in a new duo entitled Peter and Jeremy, where they perform hits from both of their respective catalogues.[ In 2019, Asher published a book The Beatles from A to Zed about his personal reminiscences about the band.

Friday, June 12, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Classic Household Hints: Over 500 Old and New Tips for a Happier Home by Susan Waggoner- Feature and Review


Containing household hints and full-color vintage art, this book provides information ranging from cleaning and organizing to buying and handling food. It includes hints and instruction on picking avocados, picking the freshest eggs from the store, removing floor wax, and more.


Classic Household Hints: Over 500 Old and New Tips for a Happier HomeClassic Household Hints: Over 500 Old and New Tips for a Happier Home by Susan Waggoner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Classic Household Hints: Over 500 Old and New Tips for a Happier Home by Susan and Waggoner is a 2007 Harry N. Abrams publication.

This little book is just chock full of little bits of trivia, tons of ideas, and helpful hints, tips, and advice about household cleaners, tools, and devices, all designed to make your life easier and help save you money, while keeping your house clean and organized.

The book is divided into segments, ranging from organization and clutter to food tips. The author takes readers through the entire house, even the basement, and suggests ways to clean every room in the house from top to bottom and keep it that way.

Many of these ideas are great and work just as well in the modern household as they did in the past. Some of them, of course, are not as economical to use today, and some hints may not work with the latest appliances without changing the formula up a little.

The vintage photos are fantastic and the history of when certain mainstay cleaning products and tools came on the market was fascinating! Toilet Paper, wire hangers, Hoover vacuum cleaners, cheese slicers, gas stoves etc.

There is also a funny segment about some old cleaning advice from the past that didn’t quite work out- such as a 1950’s era book claiming that an inexpensive way to clean upholstery began with a loaf of bread. ?????

Trivia, nostalgia and humor aside, this is indeed a very helpful little book. Did I try any of these tips? As a matter of fact, yes, I did. During the pandemic, like so many other people, we baked our own bread. To keep it fresh, I followed the instructions in this book and found it to be most effective. I tried several other things, that today we might call 'hacks', and plan to experiment here and there with some other tips in the book.

This was a great find, especially at a time when we are much more mindful of keeping our homes safe and clean. But, the book was much more than I had anticipated. My husband and I had a blast thumbing through it, looking at the old pictures and discussing the products our parents used back in the day, and many that we still use in one form or another today.

Although many of the tips are 'classic' ones, there are 'current' tips too, but these may seem a little old fashioned too, because a lot has transpired in the thirteen years since this book was originally published.

But, overall, this little gem has many timeless and ageless remedies, and often employs common, easy to find, economical items that work just as well as buying expensive products. I’m glad I stumbled across this book!





Susan Waggoner was born in Iowa, grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs, and received degrees from the University of Iowa. She now lives and writes in New York City.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

TRUE CRIME THURSDAY: Member of the Family by Dianne Lake- Feature and Review


In this poignant and disturbing memoir of lost innocence, coercion, survival, and healing, Dianne Lake chronicles her years with Charles Manson, revealing for the first time how she became the youngest member of his Family and offering new insights into one of the twentieth century’s most notorious criminals and life as one of his “girls”

At age fourteen Dianne Lake—with little more than a note in her pocket from her hippie parents granting her permission to leave them—became one of “Charlie’s girls,” a devoted acolyte of cult leader Charles Manson. Over the course of two years, the impressionable teenager endured manipulation, psychological control, and physical abuse as the harsh realities and looming darkness of Charles Manson’s true nature revealed itself. From Spahn ranch and the group acid trips, to the Beatles’ White Album and Manson’s dangerous messiah-complex, Dianne tells the riveting story of the group’s descent into madness as she lived it.

Though she never participated in any of the group’s gruesome crimes and was purposely insulated from them, Dianne was arrested with the rest of the Manson Family, and eventually learned enough to join the prosecution’s case against them. With the help of good Samaritans, including the cop who first arrested her and later adopted her, the courageous young woman eventually found redemption and grew up to lead an ordinary life.

While much has been written about Charles Manson, this riveting account from an actual Family member is a chilling portrait that recreates in vivid detail one of the most horrifying and fascinating chapters in modern American history.



Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the SixtiesMember of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake, Deborah Herman is a 2017 William Morrow publication.

Raw, brutally honest, and harrowing account of Dianne Lake’s life in the Manson Cult.

It goes without saying that this book is difficult to read. Dianne holds nothing back as she takes us through her life, explaining how she ended up with Manson and what her life was like inside his cult, living under his thumb, and how she survived.

First and foremost, don’t start labeling me as judgmental until you’ve read this book, because I’m going to call out Dianne’s parents right away. In my opinion, Dianne’s vulnerability stems from a lack of direction and accountability from her parents, who let her down in a big way. Their selfishness, lack of maturity, and complete irresponsibility, led a fourteen -year old girl directly into the path of a psychopath. As a child, she had already experienced some ghastly situations in her family, which, coupled with her parent’s behavior, made her a prime target for Manson’s con, and Dianne fell for it hook, line and sinker.

If you want an insider’s look into what took place during the years leading up to the Manson murders, this is it. You couldn’t get a more candid story than this one. Even if you know a lot about the case, the trial, and so on, Dianne’s story, no matter how knowledgeable you think are, will leave you stunned, shocked, and bereft for everyone who suffered at the hands of this monstrous lunatic.

I won’t go into details, because you want to hear Dianne tell her story, her way. But I highly recommend this book to anyone who can stomach the many difficult passages it contains, because Dianne’s story is ultimately one of triumph, even if she downplays it.

This lady was brave beyond words and she really, sincerely turned her life around. Many people come out of situations like the one Dianne found herself in and have a hard time getting themselves together, understandably.

But sometimes people really do find strength in their faith, which is what Dianne did. Not to sound too cynical, but often times when someone survives a traumatic experience, they have a short- lived dalliance with God or religion. But, for Dianne, it’s the real deal. I believe every word that came out of her mouth, and I do believe she is a real, sincere Christian lady. She endured so much and of course the demons of the past never fully went away. She still has scars and endured challenges in life, of course, and it has taken years of therapy, but I think she's been blessed with a normal, quiet life -for the most part. I think writing this book was cathartic for her and I'm glad she was brave enough to share her personal experience with us, no matter how harrowing.

When the Manson murders took place, I was nowhere near old enough to truly comprehend how chilling the crimes were. I remember seeing the news reports, and I do remember Manson and his ‘girls’, scared me to death.

As a teenager, I attempted to read ‘Helter Skelter’ but it gave me nightmares. I don’t think I ever made it to the end of that one, and I’ve tried to read it multiple times- although I think I might have screwed up my courage to try reading it again.

Just as Jeff Guinn’s book, Manson was released a slew of other books came out around that time pertaining to Manson and his commune/cult. I passed on all of those because Manson still had that eerie effect on me, even though I have read many terrifying true crime books over the years and read tons of dark crime fiction. ( I may also give Jeff Guinn's book a try someday- He did a great job with The Road to Jonestown)

So, while I saw this book had received high marks, I passed on it, and kept doing so for a while. Then I read "The Girls", by Emma Cline- mainly because I knew is fictional- which piqued my curiosity about this book. So, after seeing it continually pop up on my radar, countless times, I finally felt compelled to try it.

I now have a much better understanding of Manson’s pathos, and how he managed to have such a strong hold on the people living in his commune. He was a con man, pure evil, and without conscience.

Dianne’s story is utterly terrifying, and is truly the stuff nightmares are made of. While her personal journey is a poignant one, at the end of the day, she has proven that with her faith, her temerity, the love of her husband, and the support of her children, she is a strong, inspirational person, who can finally make peace with her past.

Overall, this is a very compelling memoir. It has MAJOR trigger passages, which should go without saying. It’s a very, very disturbing story, and very difficult and hard to comprehend on so many levels, even after all this time.

However, I still think it is worth the discomfort to see Dianne triumph over her demons.






Dianne Lake is a retired special-education teacher and mother of three. She is the author of Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Perfect Wife by J.P. Delaney- Feature and Review


Abbie awakens in a daze with no memory of who she is or how she landed in this unsettling condition. The man by her side claims to be her husband. He's a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley's most innovative start-ups. He tells Abbie that she is a gifted artist, an avid surfer, a loving mother to their young son, and the perfect wife. He says she had a terrible accident five years ago and that, through a huge technological breakthrough, she has been brought back from the abyss.

She is a miracle of science.

But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband's motives--and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together forever? And what really happened to Abbie half a decade ago?

Beware the man who calls you . . .



The Perfect WifeThe Perfect Wife by J.P. Delaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Perfect Wife by J.P. Delaney is a 2019 Ballantine publication.


I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading this book. I did not realize it had a sci-fi element in it, but, I’m glad I chose it without picking up on that, because otherwise I might have passed on it.

The author has constructed a very clever premise in which Abbie, who suddenly awakes- unsure of herself or her surroundings, believes she must have been in an accident of some kind. However, she soon learns, from her husband, Tim, that she is a ‘companion robot’ made in the image of his dead wife. She begins to piece together memories and information from the 'real' Abbie as she attempts to connect with her autistic son and be the perfect wife to Tim.

What ensues is an intelligent and darkly imaginative look the consequences of technology, and the possibility of robotic feelings of empathy and maybe even accountability. Some of the characters are almost satirical, but the story is still wildly original. As the mystery deepens, so do the complexities, and the various, and often surprising, emotions that develop with the story.

The format is also unique with both first and second person narratives, which paves the way for an incredibly shocking revelation that made my jaw drop open.

Overall, I really liked this book. It was shocking, and gave my brain a nice workout, and was a nice change of pace for me.






JP Delaney is a pseudonym for a writer who has previously written fiction under other names. Delaney is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Girl Before, which is being brought to the screen by Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment.