A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Turnout by Megan Abbott- Feature and Review


Bestselling and award-winning author Megan Abbott's revelatory, mesmerizing, and game-changing new novel set against the hothouse of a family-run ballet studio, and an interloper who arrives to bring down the carefully crafted Eden-like facade.

Ballet flows through their veins. Dara and Marie Durant were dancers since birth, with their long necks and matching buns and pink tights, homeschooled and trained by their mother. Decades later the Durant School of Dance is theirs. The two sisters, together with Charlie, Dara's husband and once their mother's prize student, inherited the school after their parents died in a tragic accident nearly a dozen years ago. Marie, warm and soft, teaches the younger students; Dara, with her precision, trains the older ones; and Charlie, back broken after years of injuries, rules over the back office. Circling around each other, the three have perfected a dance, six days a week, that keeps the studio thriving. But when a suspicious accident occurs, just at the onset of the school's annual performance of The Nutcracker, a season of competition, anxiety, and exhilaration, an interloper arrives and threatens the delicate balance of everything they've worked for.

Taut and unnerving, The Turnout is Megan Abbott at the height of her game. With uncanny insight and hypnotic writing, it is a sharp and strange dissection of family ties and sexuality, femininity and power, and a tale that is both alarming and irresistible.



The TurnoutThe Turnout by Megan Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Turnout by Megan Abbott is 2021 G.P. Putnam’s Sons publication.

Strange, Twisted, Hypnotic…

Dara and Marie run the Durant School of Dance, which they inherited from their mother- a famous ballerina. Dara's husband, Charlie, who has been with the family since he was a boy, runs the business end of things, as he can no longer dance.

Just as the casting for “The Nutcracker”, the most important performance of the year, is set to begin; a fire causes severe damage to the school.

Enter Derek, the man Charlie hires to repair the damage. Derek is a dark catalyst that exposes the deep differences between the sisters, and who seems privy to all their dark secrets, as he studiously begins to seduce Marie, drawing her out, giving her a boldness, she was never prone to before….

Okay, I confess, some reviewers gave me cold feet about this one. I have loved the other books I’ve read by this author and was a little worried about coming across one that turned me off.

I somehow managed to approach it with an open mind-despite my concerns.

Well, as much as I have mellowed over the years, I’m still able to tolerate, and even appreciate uncomfortable stories that make me squirm in my seat.

This book is very odd, no doubt, but almost has a 'noir' quality about it. It is centered around the exclusive and elusive world of ballet, chronicling unhealthy relationships that go beyond the pale.

Obsession, control, and manipulation are certainly common themes in novels, but creating an atmosphere that utilizes these devices in a way that makes one feel as though the suspense is nearly unbearable, is rare.

It creates a struggle in the reader- a desperation to put the book down and look away- but it also keeps one so entranced they can’t stop reading, despite the heavy dread of what twisted revelation awaits with the turn of each page.

Abbott is very good at exploring the underbelly of sports- cheerleading and gymnastics- for example. This book examines dancing, specifically ballet- to provide the backdrop of the story.

This is yet another extracurricular activity that young people- often girls- participate in as children, but on this occasion the group is more diverse, as male dancers are heavily featured as well.

Often these specialized groups are a tight knit enclave that outsiders can’t penetrate or understand. Giving readers an inside peek behind the closed door, allows us to divulge, guiltlessly, in a little voyeurism.

What we learn will normally strip away the glamorous veneer, and this book does do that, but, in my opinion, this story is more about the characters coping with a stringent lifestyle, carrying a heavy weight of guilt and shame, and the longing that comes with that kind of isolation… which could, and did leave them vulnerable.

The crimes are not original, by any means, but they are perhaps a catalyst that sends our characters to a reckoning of sorts, forcibly, maybe- but through the pain there is a promise of hope and long-awaited freedom from the demons of the past.

This is not a pretty story, any way you slice it. Ballet is beautiful, but we know by now there is a dark side to such beauty. I suppose some of us are just twisted enough to want to see what’s behind the curtain, what goes on behind the scenes, risking disillusionment, in the process.

I can't begin to guess what goes on in Megan Abbott's mind- but I doubt she’s intentionally trying to offend, I just think she’s a writer who explores the dark and hidden depths of humanity- and sometimes this reveals truths we might not want to know.

Anyway, I liked this book, despite the controversy and the mixed reviews. I don't know what that says about me- except maybe I haven't lost my penchant for dark crime fiction, just yet.

Overall, this one is not quite on par with the other books I've read by Megan Abbott, but still a mind tripping story that kept me riveted to the pages.



Born in the Detroit area, she graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature and went on to receive her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University. She lives in Queens, New York

Monday, November 29, 2021

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing- Feature and Review


Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the esteemed Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest.

He says his wife couldn't be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while.

Teddy really can’t be bothered with the death of a school parent that’s looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is on pushing these kids to their full academic potential.

All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way.

It's really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.



For Your Own GoodFor Your Own Good by Samantha Downing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing is a 2021 Berkley publication.

Wickedly Good!

The prestigious Belmont Academy takes a shocking downward turn when a student, Courtney Ross, is accused of killing her overbearing mother.
Enter Teddy Crutcher, the newest recipient of the ‘Teacher of the Year’ award, a man harboring some deep resentments towards his successful and affluent students- and Zach Ward, Courtney’s best friend.

Zach and Teddy have butted heads in the past, but each of them is determined to help Courtney, which triggers a domino effect… and bodies just keep piling up… which garners the school its own hashtag-

#Homicide High

If you like dark humor and smart, twisty psychological thrillers, you will love this book!

Downing examines the dark side of teaching, private school politics, parental involvement, and the way students become pawns, at the mercy of those who hold their futures in their hands..

For their own good...

I love Downing’s writing style and how seamlessly she can switch between first-person narratives, giving the reader the viewpoint of both the teachers and the students. I found myself gasping out loud one minute and laughing out loud, the next.

Overall, a thoroughly entertaining psychological thriller from the first page to the last!!



Samantha Downing is the author of the bestselling My Lovely Wife, nominated for Edgar, ITW, Macavity, and CWA awards. Amazon Studios and Nicole Kidman's Blossom Films have partnered to produce a feature film based on the novel. Her second book, He Started It, was released in 2020 and became an instant international bestseller.

For Your Own Good was released on July 20, 2021. It has been optioned by Robert Downey Jr. and Greg Berlanti for HBO Max.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere- Feature and Review



From Donna VanLiere, the New York Times bestselling author of The Christmas Hope series comes another heartwarming, inspirational story for the holidays, The Christmas Table.

In June 1972, John Creighton determines to build his wife Joan a kitchen table. His largest project to date had been picture frames but he promises to have the table ready for Thanksgiving dinner. Inspired to put something delicious on the table, Joan turns to her mother's recipes she had given to Joan when she and John married.

In June 2012, Lauren Mabrey discovers she's pregnant. Gloria, Miriam, and the rest of her friends at Glory's Place begin to pitch in, helping Lauren prepare their home for the baby. On a visit to the local furniture builder, Lauren finds a table that he bought at a garage sale but has recently refinished. Once home, a drawer is discovered under the table which contains a stack of recipe cards. Growing up in one foster home after another, Lauren never learned to cook and is fascinated as she reads through the cards. Personal notes have been written on each one from the mother to her daughter and time and again Lauren wonders where they lived, when they lived, and in a strange way, she feels connected to this mother and her daughter and wants to make the mother proud.

The story continues to from 1972 to 2012 as Joan battles breast cancer and Lauren learns to cook, preparing for the baby's arrival. As Christmas nears, can Lauren unlock the mystery of the table, and find the peace she's always longed for?



The Christmas Table (Christmas Hope, #10)The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere is a 2020 St. Martin’s Press publication.


Lauren and Travis learn they are about to become parents. Lauren’s friends from Glory House pitch in to help her prepare for the pending arrival. Visiting a local shop, Lauren buys a used table and discovers, by chance, a stack of old recipes. Not knowing how to cook, Lauren decides to try out these recipes. As a result, she realizes how special these memories must be for someone and hopes to find the table’s previous owner.


John Creighton is trying to build a table for his wife, Joan, hoping to have it done by Thanksgiving. While John struggles with his project, Joan, who is battling breast cancer, begins work on the Thanksgiving meal- determined to make it more special than ever. For inspiration, she turns to her mother’s recipes…

In all the years I’ve been reading Christmas/holiday books, I have never read one of Donna VanLiere’s books!! I do have several of them on my Kindle- but… well, you know the score by now…

I’m thankful I made time to look through my TBR pile for older holiday stories before diving into some of the newer ones I’ve added this year. This is such a lovely story! The power of prayer and faith is woven throughout the story, as does the various stages in life and the challenges and wonders they present.

Overall, though, it’s an inspirational story that will warm your heart and leave you with a full heart and a smile on your face!!



..a mom, a wife, an animal lover, and a closet comedian at home. She's passionate about cooking (...and eating), reading, movies and teaching, inspiring, challenging and encouraging dreamers! She doesn’t like watching sports on TV but is a huge fan of athletes under five feet tall who call her Mom. Donna also loves to write books. As a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author, her 14 titles include The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Blessing -

Friday, November 26, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Miracle Road by Emily March- Feature and Review


Perfect for fans of Robyn Carr and Debbie Macomber, New York Times bestselling author Emily March’s seventh book in the Eternity Springs series is a heartwarming story that celebrates the miracle and joy of love during the holidays.
After tragedy strikes his team, college basketball coach Lucca Romano arrives in the haven of Eternity Springs to reassess his life. Even a winning record and big offers can’t dent the wall of guilt that Lucca has built around himself. Nothing can—except maybe a vibrant new neighbor who won’t give up on him.
Schoolteacher Hope Montgomery believes in miracles. She has to believe—because giving up would mean crumbling under the greatest loss a parent can endure. Hope understands Lucca’s suffering; she lives it herself every day. However, the high school team needs his coaching expertise, so she sets out to draw him from his cold, solitary shell and into the warmth of life in their small Rocky Mountain town. But when a weak moment leads to consequences that shake Hope’s faith, it’s up to Lucca to put aside his heartache and show the teacher that here in Eternity Springs broken hearts can heal—just in time for Christmas.




Miracle Road (Eternity Springs, #7)Miracle Road by Emily March
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miracle Road by Emily March is 2013 Random House publication. 

Hope is a kindergarten teacher starting over after her daughter, Holly, was kidnapped and she went through a divorce.

Lucca turned his back on his life and refused to ever coach or drive a van or bus again. He doing manual labor and trying not to think about the past.
When Hope and Lucca find they are neighbors the two them slowly form a friendship. Each of them believed they were not able to maintain a relationship with anyone because of thier troubled past.
But, with the help of some good friends and reaching into their own past and experiences they are able to their troubled pasts.
But, Hope also has to deal with an angry and bitter ex-husband who blames her for the kidnapping of their daughter. Even though Hope had allowed herself to open up to Lucca just a little and think that maybe she could start living her life again, a chain of events throws her into a tailspin causing her to let her fears, guilt and pain rule over her heart and head. Will Lucca be able to help Hope believe in herself again- and in Lucca?

The whole Ramono family is on hand to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas and for Hope- a very Happy New Year!

There are a lot of life lessons in this book about dealing with tragedy and letting go of guilt and giving yourself permission to be happy again. While Hope and Lucca were the focus of the story, the secondary characters, especially Lucca's mom and sister Gabi also had stories out in the forefront. Ga

Overall, tbis one gets 5 stars



Emily March is the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels, including the critically acclaimed Eternity Springs series. Publishers Weekly calls March a "master of delightful banter," and her heartwarming, emotionally charged stories have been named to Best of the Year lists by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Romance Writers of America. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Emily is an avid fan of Aggie sports and her recipe for jalapeƱo relish has made her a tailgating legend.

Emily invites you visit her website at www.EmilyMarch.com

Thursday, November 25, 2021




Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Forever Young by Hayley Mills- Feature and Review


Iconic actress Hayley Mills shares personal memories from her storied childhood, growing up in a famous acting family and becoming a Disney child star, trying to grow up in a world that wanted her to stay forever young.
The daughter of acclaimed British actor Sir John Mills was still a preteen when she began her acting career and was quickly thrust into the spotlight. Under the wing of Walt Disney himself, Hayley Mills was transformed into one of the biggest child starlets of the 1960s through her iconic roles in PollyannaThe Parent Trap, and many more. She became one of only twelve actors in history to be bestowed with the Academy Juvenile Award, presented at the Oscars by its first recipient, Shirley Temple, and went on to win a number of awards including a Golden Globe, multiple BAFTAs, and a Disney Legacy Award.

Now, in her charming and forthright memoir, she provides a unique window into when Hollywood was still 'Tinseltown' and the great Walt Disney was at his zenith, ruling over what was (at least in his own head) still a family business. This behind-the-scenes look at the drama of having a sky-rocketing career as a young teen in an esteemed acting family will offer both her childhood impressions of the wild and glamorous world she was swept into, and the wisdom and broader knowledge that time has given her. Hayley will delve intimately into her relationship with Walt Disney, as well as the emotional challenges of being bound to a wholesome, youthful public image as she grew into her later teen years, and how that impacted her and her choices--including marrying a producer over 30 years her senior when she was 20! With her regrets, her joys, her difficulties, and her triumphs, this is a compelling read for any fan of classic Disney films and an inside look at a piece of real Hollywood history.



Forever YoungForever Young by Hayley Mills
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Forever Young by Hayley Mills is a 2021 Grand Central Publication.

Hayley Mills came from a family of actors and grew up, rubbing elbows with her parent’s friends and colleagues- like Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, for example.

While her older sister did some stage acting, when Hayley was growing up, acting never really crossed her mind. In fact, she was pretty much a normal kid, doing normal kid things- and was a bit of a tomboy. In what was more a fluke, than anything else, she was cast in one movie, but that appeared to be a one-off thing, which was fine with her, until she caught the eye of Walt Disney… and the rest- as they say is history.

I was a huge fan of "Pollyanna". The cast was stellar and of course Hayley personified that role. I’m hazy on some of the other movies she did for Disney, except for “The Parent Trap” and her last one- ‘That Darn Cat’.

I hate to admit this, but once I had outgrown Disney movies, I never thought about Hayley again until I had children of my own, and I found myself re-watching some of her Disney films.

There is only one post- Disney movie that sticks in my mind now- “The Trouble with Angels”.

I didn’t know one thing about her personally, except her father was in ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ and I’d seen a few of her sister’s movies over the years.

In some ways, Hayley appeared to live a charmed life while growing up, but of course, there were issues. Still, she approaches the darker side of fame and her tough experiences candidly, without sounding embittered, excepting some resentful sounding passages about her alcoholic mother.

Many of Hayley’s experiences sound so typical of Hollywood and the pressure that is placed on young performers, which takes its toll on their health.

Hayley stayed in line a lot longer than most before finally going a little wild. A chance at playing 'Lolita', a controversial marriage to a much older man, and a religious epiphany, are among some of the surprises in the book, I knew nothing about. Her juxtapositions about losing that role, feeling pigeonholed as a Disney star, with Sue Lyons- who got the part - was interesting… and true.

The book trails off when Hayley is pregnant with her first child- which might have been by design as the book’s intent was to focus on her life up until she is firmly cemented into adulthood- a plateau she struggled to obtain after her childhood was immortalized on film for many generations.
Hayley’s life has encompassed so much more than what is etched in our childhood memories of her, but she is for many of us, despite all her efforts to be otherwise…

Forever young.



Hayley Mills is an English Actress, the daughter of Sir John Mills and Mary Hayley Bell, and younger sister of actress, Juliet Mills. She won the Academy Juvenile Award for Disney's Pollyanna. For her success with Disney, she recieved the Disney Legend Award. She published her memoirs, Forever Young in 2021

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March- Feature and Review


In 1892, Bombay is the center of British India. Nearby, Captain Jim Agnihotri lies in Poona military hospital recovering from a skirmish on the wild northern frontier, with little to do but re-read the tales of his idol, Sherlock Holmes, and browse the daily papers. The case that catches Captain Jim's attention is being called the crime of the century: Two women fell from the busy university’s clock tower in broad daylight. Moved by Adi, the widower of one of the victims — his certainty that his wife and sister did not commit suicide — Captain Jim approaches the Parsee family and is hired to investigate what happened that terrible afternoon.

But in a land of divided loyalties, asking questions is dangerous. Captain Jim's investigation disturbs the shadows that seem to follow the Framji family and triggers an ominous chain of events. And when lively Lady Diana Framji joins the hunt for her sisters’ attackers, Captain Jim’s heart isn’t safe, either.

Based on a true story, and set against the vibrant backdrop of colonial India.



Murder in Old BombayMurder in Old Bombay by Nev March
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How did two women fall from a university tower only moments apart from each other?

This is the question Captain Jim Agnihotri is asking after having read about the case while convalescing in a military hospital. The captain had been enjoying reading Sherlock Holmes mysteries, until he learns the women’s deaths were written up as suicides- and is moved by the stirring letter, Adi, the brother and widower of the two women, writes to the press begging respect for his wife and sister, insisting the women did not commit suicide!

Inspired by Sherlock Holmes, the unsatisfying investigation, and Adi’s letter to the press, Jim offers to privately inquire into the matter for Adi, who readily accepts the invitation. Along the way, Jim is introduced to Adi’s sister, Lady Diana Framji, who is determined to help with his investigation.

The two make a good detective team, but their feelings for one another grow much deeper as time passes…

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical mystery, the premise, the backdrop and atmosphere, the romance, and the way everything came together in the end.

The author vividly captures the divisions of the day, the customs, and hierarchy. The story is educational, suspenseful, and emotional, but also, clean and entertaining. It was interesting that the book was based on a true story- which makes it even more fascinating!



Nev March is the first Indian born writer to win Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Award for a First Crime Novel. Leaving a long career in business analysis, she returned to her passion, writing and teaching creative writing. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Crime Writers of Color. A Parsee Zoroastrian herself, Nev lives with her husband and sons in New Jersey.

Listed as one of New York Times Best Mysteries of 2020, Murder in Old Bombay was nominated for five national awards in 2021, including the Edgar Award, and the Anthony, Barry, Hammett and Macavity Awards.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

FOODIE FRIDAY- Field Notes to Food Adventure by Brad Leone- Feature and Review



Join Brad Leone, star of Bon Appetit's hit YouTube series It's Alive, for a year of cooking adventures, tall tales, and fun with fire and fermentation in this cookbook with more than 80 ingenious recipes

Come along with Brad Leone as he explores forests, fields, rivers, and the ocean in the hunt for great food and good times. These pages are Brad’s field notes from a year of adventures in the Northeast, getting out into nature to discover its bounty, and capturing memorable ideas for making delicious magic at home anytime.
He taps maple trees to make syrup, and shows how to use it in surprising ways. He forages for ramps and mushrooms, and preserves their flavors for seasons to come. He celebrates the glory of tomatoes along with undersung fruits of the sea like squid and seaweed. Inspiration comes from hikes into the woods, trips to the dock, and cooking poolside in the dead of summer. And every dish has a signature Brad Leone approach—whether that’s in Sous Vide Mountain Ribs or Spicy Smoked Tomato Chicken, Sumac Lemonade or Fermented Bloody Marys, Cold Root Salad, Marinated Beans, or just a few shakes of a Chile Hot Sauce that’s dead simple to make.
This is a book about experimentation, adventure, fermentation, fire, and having fun while you’re cooking. And hey, you might just learn a thing or two. Let’s get going!


Field Notes for Food Adventure: Recipes and Stories from the Woods to the OceanField Notes for Food Adventure: Recipes and Stories from the Woods to the Ocean by Brad Leone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Field Notes for Food Adventure: Recipes and Stories from the Woods to the Ocean by Brad Leone is a 2021 Voracious/ Little Brown & Co. Publication.

I love recipe books!! Sometimes I just like thumbing through them, looking at the lovely presentations and the unique ways of preparing food, I never would have thought of.

This book grabbed my attention because of the title. I have never seen the YouTube series, but I had an idea the author would introduce me to foods found in specific locations, that were perhaps, off the beaten path.

I thought it would be interesting to see what those unique ingredients and methods of preparation might be- and who knows, I might find something I could try, even if the ingredients were hard to find or didn’t grow in my neck of the woods.

I’m glad I gave the book a chance. As it turns out the author sticks mainly to locations in the Northeast- which is a long way away from me.

Still, I loved the unique adventures, and learned a lot about fermentation, fungus- aka- mushrooms- and maple syrup. I’ll have to take a pass on the squid, though.

This book has some interesting preparation methods, and I thought, as I was looking through it, that this one might be a big draw for those who enjoy fly fishing and hunting.

Truly, I think this book, is quite educational!!

As to finding a work around for these recipes- I would say- absolutely!!

No, I can’t get the ramp onions around here, and no I wouldn’t be able to get the exotic mushrooms, but there is no reason why one couldn’t prepare these dishes using some substitutes common in your region.

The book also made me think about visiting the Northeast someday- and I will have to find the time to check out the author’s YouTube channel- “It’s Alive!”

This is not the typical cookbook, or Recipe book. It has a gorgeous presentation, with vivid color photographs- including photos of the locale, which are incredible!

Overall, this is an enlightening, adventurous book for those who enjoy gathering ingredients in the great outdoors- from the woods and the oceans- as the title states.

It would also make a great Christmas gift!!



Brad Leone is an American chef and YouTube personality, known for "It's Alive with Brad" and It's Alive Goin' Places. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America- by David Kamp- Feature and Review


From bestselling writer David Kamp, the engrossing, behind-the-scenes story of the cultural heroes who created the beloved children’s TV programs Sesame StreetThe Electric CompanyMister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Free to Be...You and Me, and Schoolhouse Rock!—which collectively transformed American childhood for the better, teaching kids about diversity, the ABCs, and feminism through a fun, funky 1970s lens.

In 1970, on a soundstage on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a group of men, women, and Muppets of various ages and colors worked doggedly to finish the first season of a children’s TV program that was not yet assured a second season: Sesame Street. They were conducting an experiment to see if television could be used to better prepare disadvantaged preschoolers for kindergarten. What they didn’t know then was that they were starting a cultural revolution that would affect all American kids. In Sunny Days, bestselling author David Kamp captures the unique political and social moment that gave us not only Sesame Street, but also Fred Rogers’s gentle yet brave Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; Marlo Thomas’s unabashed gender-politics primer Free to Be...You and MeSchoolhouse Rock!, an infectious series of educational shorts dreamed up by Madison Avenue admen; and more, including The Electric CompanyZOOM, and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. It was a unique time when an uncommon number of media professionals and thought leaders leveraged their influence to help children learn—and, just as notably, a time of unprecedented buy-in from American parents.

Kamp conducted rigorous research and interviewed such Sesame Street figures as Joan Ganz Cooney, Lloyd Morrisett, Sonia Manzano, Emilio Delgado, Loretta Long, Bob McGrath, and Frank Oz, along with Free to Be’s Marlo Thomas and The Electric Company’s Rita Moreno—and in Sunny Days, he explains how these and other like-minded individuals found their way into children’s television not for fame or money, but to make a difference.

Fun, fascinating, and a masterful work of cultural history, Sunny Days captures a wondrous period in the US when a determined few proved that, with persistence and effort, they could change the lives of millions. It’s both a rollicking ride through a turbulent time and a joyful testament to what Americans are capable of at their best.



Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed AmericaSunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America by David Kamp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution that changed America by David Kamp is a 2020 Simon & Schuster publication.

What a fun and informative look back at a special time for children’s television!! Because I was right at the perfect age for this creative, and educational explosion of children’s programming, I can’t say I was aware of the behind-the-scenes history of these programs or how they were received by children and their parents.

This book takes us through the early days of children’s educational programming, introducing us to beloved people like Fred Rodgers and Jim Henson before they were household names. The politics, the funding, the complaints and praises- the staples of these programs, how they came into existence and the impressive impact they had on children and our society, is a fascinating journey to take.

I will confess that some portions of the book, especially in the beginning, was a little dry, but it became more and more interesting as it went along.

Because Big Bird appears on the cover of this book, one might presume the book is hyper-focused on Sesame Street, but it isn’t. The book covers many other educational programs- including Schoolhouse rock- which I LOVED- I still know all the words, if that tells you anything.

Personally, Captain Kangaroo was the program I was able to watch most often due to our inability to pick up more than one or two TV stations in the rural area I lived in. Occasionally, I could get ‘Electric Company’ to come in, but I don’t recall being able to watch Sesame Street until later- when I was probably too old for it- but still watched it on occasion, anyway.

Mr. Rodgers was also difficult for me to see very often- but later in life- younger cousins and my own children, who adored Fred Rodgers, gave me a second chance to fully enjoy his lovely, gentle way of teaching children.

Despite being aware of these programs -some of which I sampled growing up- and then fully enjoyed later with my own children, I never fully grasped the impact these shows had on our nation overall. Children were not the only ones who benefited from these programs- adults learned to read because of them, as well!!

Yes, these shows opened an entirely new world for children. It was healthier than watching blatant advertising geared towards kids or watching silly shows with no valuable content. These shows dared to introduce diversity and realism, appealing to kids from all walks of life and for the most part, these progressive steps were embraced by parents from all political stripes, while teaching children important lessons and preparing them for school and for success, no matter their personal backgrounds.

While I don’t always agree with everything these shows teach and have questioned some issues addressed from time to time-especially considering the age of the viewing audience, I have to look back now and think- What a great achievement!!

Sadly, times have changed, politics has affected federal funding, which has waxed and waned since the late seventies, but the effects these shows had on our country has been a long lasting one and continues to impact future generations, even though the formats have changed and we’ve lost so many of the important figures that helped create positive, educational options for children.

This is a wonderful bit of history to explore, it’s full of nostalgia and feel-good inspiration, I wish we could have bottled it up back then! It’s a spirit lifter, but it also shows we have some key elements missing today that need to make a comeback…



David Kamp is an author, journalist, lyricist, and humorist. Among his books are the national bestseller The United States of Arugula (Broadway Books, 2006), a chronicle of America’s foodways; the upcoming Sunny Days (Simon & Schuster, May 2020), a history of the Sesame Street-Mister Rogers era of children’s television; and, as co-author, Martin Short’s bestselling memoir, I Must Say (HarperCollins, 2014). A longtime contributor to Vanity Fair, he has profiled such figures as Johnny Cash, Sly Stone, Lucian Freud, Kerry Washington, Bruce Springsteen, John Hughes, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and the Brill Building songwriters. His work also appears regularly in the New York Times. His first outing as a lyricist for the stage, for the John Leguizamo musical comedy Kiss My Aztec!, had its world premiere at Berkeley Rep in the spring of 2019; the show is now New York-bound. David began his career at Spy, the legendary satirical monthly. He lives in with his family in New York City and rural Connecticut.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce- Feature and Review

Belle Sorensen loves men.
She loves them to death . . .

Early in life Belle Sorensen discovers the world is made only for men. They own everything: jobs, property, wives. But Belle understands what few others do: where women are concerned, men are weak.

A woman unhampered by scruples can take from them what she wants. And so Belle sets out to prove to the world that a woman can be just as ruthless, black-hearted and single-minded as any man.

Starting with her long suffering husband Mads, Belle embarks on a killing spree the like of which has never been seen before nor since.

And through it all her kind, older sister Nellie can only watch in horror as Belle's schemes to enrich herself and cut down the male population come to a glorious, dreadful fruition . . .

Based on the true story of Belle Sorensen whose murderous rampage began in Chicago in 1900, Triflers Need Not Apply is a novelistic tour de force exploring one woman's determination to pay men back for all they have taken.




In the Garden of SpiteIn the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce is a 2021 Berkley publication.

A gripping fictional account of serial killer Belle Sorensen-Gunness

As a young woman, Belle is viciously attacked by a former lover, leaving her irrevocably damaged, unable to have children, and deeply embittered.

Her sister, Nellie, who lives in America, gives her a chance to escape her ruined reputation- but even Nellie, who gives Belle the benefit of the doubt at every turn, can't turn a blind eye to her murderous ways…

Wow. I was not at all familiar with Belle or her true backstory until I picked up this book. This fictionalized account of Belle’s life is very well written, filling in the gaps with interesting possibilities as to Belle’s frame of mind, her manipulations, plotting, and the thrill she receives from killing.

Belle was a prolific killer- dubbed "The Black Widow of La Porte, Indiana"- using men to achieve, and further, her financial comfort.

The book switches narratives between Nellie and Belle- as one chronicles her descent into mass murder and the other continues to live in denial, rationalizing and hoping for her sister to settle- until finally she must face her suspicions once and for all.

The story is very eerie, atmospheric and edgy, despite its rather slow pacing. Bruce did a terrific job with the characterizations, painting a terrifying portrait of Belle who seemed completely devoid of a conscience, so bent on her spiteful vengeance, she completely loses any vestiges of humanity she may have once held-

While Nellie desperately searches for an explanation, some way for her to cope with, or rationalize, Belle’s criminal enterprise.

While this is a work of fiction, many truths were incorporated into the story. Belle wasn’t the most prolific female serial killer out there-apparently- but she was likely responsible for more deaths than can be proven.

This account of events is shocking and the portrayal of Belle is riveting- and of course has prompted me to look for further reading on this subject.

Overall, this might not be a paranormal or supernatural tale- but it is a good story to read close to Halloween.

Because it is based on true events, it is even more terrifying, and left me chilled right to the bone!



Camilla Bruce was born in central Norway and grew up in an old forest, next to an Iron Age burial mound. She has a master's degree in comparative literature, and have co-run a small press that published dark fairy tales. Camilla currently lives in Trondheim with her son and cat.

Friday, November 12, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe- Feature and Review


A wounded warrior and his younger brother discover the true meaning of Christmas in this timeless story of family bonds.

As far as ten-year-old Miller McClellan is concerned, it’s the worst Christmas ever. His father’s shrimp boat is docked, his mother is working two jobs, and with finances strained, Miller is told they can’t afford the dog he desperately wants. “Your brother’s return from war is our family’s gift,” his parents tell him. But when Taylor returns with PTSD, family strains darken the holidays.

Then Taylor’s service dog arrives—a large black Labrador/Great Dane named Thor. His brother even got the dog! When Miller goes out on Christmas Eve with his father’s axe, determined to get his family the tree they can't afford, he takes the dog for company—but accidentally winds up lost in the wild forest. The splintered family must come together to rediscover their strengths, family bond, and the true meaning of Christmas.



A Lowcountry Christmas (Lowcountry Summer #5)A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe is a 2016 Gallery Books publication.

Circa 2010

Times are tough for the McClellan family. With the holidays approaching, ten-year-old Miller has his heart set on getting a dog for Christmas. Unfortunately, his family doesn’t have the means to afford a dog.

But, on the bright side, Miller’s older brother is coming home after having been injured in the war. His parents are relieved and thrilled to have Taylor back home. But once he arrives, it becomes apparent that he’s wrestling with some heavy issues.

Taylor is suffering from PTSD and as such has been assigned a service dog- a BIG service dog- named Thor!! Thor’s presence in Taylor’s life is a Godsend. Taylor finds in this amazing animal the type of patience, devotion, and understanding he needs on his long road to recovery.
Meanwhile, Miller is developing a resentment towards Taylor- especially after he’s approved for the service dog. But, on Christmas Eve, Miller sets out on an expedition, only to get lost. Luckily, he had taken Thor with him…

This is a rare re-read for me. MAM is one of my favorite authors and while her Beach House series is my favorite, the Lowcountry series holds a special place in my heart, too. This book is connected to the series, as Taylor is now married to Harper, and is looking back at a special Christmas in his past.
This story is one of my favorite modern holiday themed novels. It’s a touching, heartfelt story, that will warm you all the way down to your toes. Thor is a very important part of the story, and that is one reason why this one so strongly resonates with me.

This book can be read as a stand- alone- so if you are looking for an outstanding holiday story this season, I highly recommend this one! It’s so good, I read it twice!





New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe found her true calling in environmental fiction when she moved to coastal South Carolina. Already a successful author, she was captivated by the beauty and fragility of her new home. Her experiences living in the midst of a habitat that was quickly changing gave her a strong and important focus for her books.

Mary Alice Monroe writes richly textured books that delve into the complexities of interpersonal relationships and the parallels between the land and life. Monroe’s novels are published worldwide. She has achieved many lists, including the New York Times, USA Today and SIBA. She has received numerous awards, including several Readers’ Choice Awards, RT Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2008 South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing and was featured at the National Festival of the Book. In 2011 THE BUTTERFLY'S DAUGHTER won the International Book Award for Green Fiction.

Mary Alice is an active conservationist and serves on the Board of the South Carolina Aquarium, The Leatherback Trust, and Charleston Literacy Volunteers. She is a frequent speaker at book festivals, conferences, and private events.

Monroe lives with her family on a barrier island outside Charleston, South Carolina. Her new novel, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES (May 2012), is the prequel to her bestseller THE BEACH HOUSE and completes her first trilogy. 

For more information, videos, contests and more, visit her official website: www.maryalicemonroe.com