Book Review: Secret Santa The Mystery of the Magic Watch

Secret Santa: The Mystery of the Magic WatchSecret Santa: The Mystery of the Magic Watch by David Tank
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Secret Santa
The Mystery of the Magic Watch
By David Tank

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Retired UW-Stout English Professor David Tank, has done it—again! If you’re looking for an original, locally created gift for that little reader in your life, look no further.
Each chapter opens with a clue; a vintage photograph to tempt your imagination. Author Tank has packed this new escapade with many historical factoids and woven into the characters’ lives are enduring life-lessons. The gift of family, how stealing is stupid and whenever time-traveling always bring plenty of Milky Way candy bars to share.
This is the second Secret Santa mystery and boy are the stars of the story off on a major magical adventure! As you probably already are well aware, time travel is a really handy way to get from one place to another especially if you’re Santa and have all those gifts to deliver in only one night. Normally this may seem a nearly impossible endeavor, but Nick (alias Santa) is not only the man behind the white beard, but also an avid inventor. One of which is the Chronambulator; a time-traveling machine with many uses and as Nick’s knowledge of the invention grew, his closet-sized time machine shrunk to the size of a pocket watch.
Even Santa can be influenced by the myriad of advances in technology and in the case of his magical watch, a visit to the Apple Store was the catalyst.
“I’ve been using the Smart Watch as my inspiration, ” Nick continued. “I’m shrinking the workings for my time machine down to a size that will fit into a pocket watch, which is synchronized with the full-sized Chronambulator. Let me show you.”
Sam, who is almost 12, and his sister Abby, 7 are the time-traveling duo along with their leader, Nick. Abby inadvertently pockets the watch and literally disappears back to New York City and the year is 1922.
Besides the overall journey-through-time escapade, the reader is also given a great deal of historical facts to consider in the very real way author Tank shapes this story for his protagonists. Such as the fact that sheep used to roam Central Park. That the merry-go-round ride running back in 1922 was actually driven by steam and after befriending not only the great magician Houdini but his wife, you even learn the secret of one of his most famous tricks! Which is how in the world do you make an elephant disappear? Actually, the secret is safe with Abby.
By the time the story winds up, it is Christmas Day and since the children had been time-traveling, no one is the wiser. All in all, this mystery will not only have your kids ready to find a watch like Abby’s, but also remember that the true gift of the holidays is found wherever family is gathered and magic is possible.
Happy Holidays!

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Book Review: Sharp Objects

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sharp Objects
By Gillian Flynn
Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson
For Halloween I read a gripping mystery/thriller not for the squeamish. If you got a jolt of WOW from reading Gone Girl, you are in for an intense, enigma drenched shock-loaded, secret-packed page turner. This treacherous tale is driven by a pack of mean girls on steroids and the twists and turns will have you guessing all the way to the blood-pressure-through-the-roof ending. I mean, holy cow!
Phew. Now if that intro didn’t pull your reading curiosity to click over and reserve a copy of this baby, read on.
Meet Camille Preaker, a thirty-something woman with a face that could have launched her into magazine cover stardom. Instead she chose the life of a Chicago newspaper reporter with a focus on crime. Really gruesome crime. The kind that sells papers. The kind you read with the lights on. That kind.
Camille grew up in the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri and it is there she is sent by her hard-drinking chain-smoking editor boss to cover a murder. A little girl was strangled and now another is missing. This particular town is not only where Camille grew up, it’s where her younger sister Marian died. It’s also where her beyond belief rich mother still lives and it’s there that this story really rocks. And rolls.
Camille has an issue, a problem, a mental condition. I’ll let her tell you:
“I am a cutter, you see…My skin screams. It’s covered with words—cook, cupcake, kitty, curls—as if a knife-wielding first-grader learned to write on my flesh….Sometimes I can hear the words squabbling at each other across my body.”
I know. Totally bizarre right? But can you imagine a better protagonist unraveling a mystery where she grew up along with all those words carved across her body and all that history in that small troubled little town? And it gets far more intriguing too. Camille has a step-sister, Amma, who is only thirteen, but beyond beautiful and much more dangerous than any sweet little spoiled rich girl ought to be. And then there is the mother. Adora. You just can’t even imagine.
Author Flynn has a razor-sharp snap with every word she chose, her metaphors will blow you away and the dialog hits you square in the eye. Underneath the clever turn of words her journalistic background allows her to root out the motivations of the horrible things we do to one another and somehow give them justification. This is perhaps her greatest triumph as a writer. The ending, though a huge relief when it hits, left me a little slumped with disappointment in my chair. Then I learned this book is now a short series movie and I really am not sure I could re-live this crazy story. Then again, why not?

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Review: The Luckiest Girl Alive!

Luckiest Girl AliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Luckiest Girl Alive

By Jessica Knoll

Who needs a beach/porch read? You do. This fact-paced, snappy novel packs a really satisfying (though it will make you squirm) ending. For a long time, I had wondered, what in the world is an ‘unreliable narrator’ and who would use one? And what kind of an author would pen a novel with the lead actor cast as a nasty, jaded human. Author Jessica Knoll does both and boy is this a kicker.
Give this opening a read:
“I inspected the knife in my hand….my fiancé. That word didn’t bother me as much as the other one that came after it. Husband. That word laced the corset tighter, crushing organs, sending panic into my throat with the bright beat of a distress signal…Slip the forged nickel and stainless-steel blade soundlessly into his stomach.”
I know. And believe me, the tension level in the tale is tight as a drum. One thing that I will share with you is that at the very end of the book, Knoll reveals one really horrible part of her book is autobiographical and had I known that from the start, I would have given TifAni FaNelli a little wriggle room. She is the lead in this train-wreck and boy does she have an opinion. About everything.
Twenty-eight-year-old Ani (alias TifAni) is rocking what she desperately wants you to believe is the most incredible life EVER! Living in New York, working for a high-brow women’s magazine, wearing the best of the best designer this and that and her body, a size zero with dangerous curves. Ani is the epitome of young female perfection in accordance with the super-hyped world of high-fashion. In other words, this dynamite babe is one hot tamale. Only that way inside is a fourteen-year-old girl who never fit in. Never. But dang, she did her best to try. And they did their worst in the process.
Through flash-backs we are led down the rocky road of what created this desperate woman/girl to reach for something we are constantly and ferociously led to believe is the ultimate goal. Looks, body and the perfect man will make your life incredibly amazingly perfect. Right?
Except, it doesn’t.
There are not one, but two defining moments that spin TifAni’s life literally out of control. They are both shocking in their own right and together create an amazing backdrop to how someone can be motivated to do some pretty unbelievable things in order to create an illusion of not only fitting in, but making it.
The fascination of the structure as well as how in the world is this all going to end create a pulse that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. The snide and snarky internal dialog of Ani adds to this quirky character and ultimately her barely discernable tender insides allow you to nearly like her.
Nearly.
There are many life lessons Ani draws from and one that sticks with me is how, no matter the odds, the good guys just never completely win. But honestly, it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the journey and boy is this one a doo
• Great for book clubs

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Review: FACTFULLNESS

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You ThinkFactfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FACTFULLNESS
Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
By Hans Rosling

This book will give you something we as a nation, no, wait a second, make that the world really needs right now.
Facts.
Things are not as bad as you may think they are especially when you have the facts. Want to test yourself about your basic knowledge of the world? Try these three questions, then check your answers at the bottom. No peeking.
1. In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?
A: 20 percent
B: 40 percent
C: 60 percent
2. Where does the majority of the world population live?
A: Low-income countries
B: Middle-income countries
C: High-income countries
3. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has…
A: Almost doubled
B: Remained more or less the same
C: Almost halved
Author Hans Rosling, a renowned Swedish doctor, researcher and lecturer in global health, created this book for all of us who have been getting the present state of the world totally wrong. It’s not your fault, entirely, but it is up to you to get your facts straight and realize that overall, we’re on the right track. Why does your blood pressure surge every time you tap through the news or talk to your co-worker? Author Rosling calls it the overdramatic worldview which is usually stressful as well as misleading. Why? The main reason the media does this so well is very simple; it keeps you watching, clicking, tweeting and wanting more of the same. It’s time for something new. Why have we gotten stuck in this mind-numbing treadmill? Rosling has a simple theory.
He believes we are intrinsically interested in gossip and dramatic stories. Admit it, we are. Our quick-thinking brains crave human drama in all its myriad of foibles, which he refers to as our dramatic instinct. This is what causes misconceptions that directly influence an overdramatic worldview. He feels we need to control our appetite for the dramatic because it prevents us from seeing the world as it is and leads us terribly astray.
One of the biggest influences our media uses to keep us clicking back for more is—fear.
“When we are afraid, we do not see clearly. Critical thinking is always difficult, but it’s almost impossible when we are scared. There’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.”
This simple fact is not only easy to discern by reading any news headline but is the single most powerful driving force constantly moving us further and further away from the facts. What other facts might you learn from Rosling that will alleviate your daily self-induced dose of unproductive chain-and-ball stress?
Consider these.
Facts (exact numbers see link) of bad things decreasing in the world: oil spills, children dying, deaths from disasters, hunger. Facts of good things increasing: women’s right to vote, science, girls in school, literacy, child cancer survival.
“…a fact-based worldview is more useful for navigating life…and probably more important: a fact-based worldview is more comfortable. It creates less stress and hopelessness than the dramatic worldview, simply because the dramatic one is so negative and terrifying. When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems—and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.”
Rosling is no Pollyanna, however. In a recent essay in the Guardian, he addresses the obvious challenge to his reasoning… “My guess is you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that everything is fine, and that feels ridiculous. I agree. Everything is not fine. We should still be very concerned. As long as there are plane crashes, preventable child deaths, endangered species, climate change sceptics, male chauvinists, crazy dictators, toxic waste, journalists in prison, and girls not getting an education, we cannot relax. But it is just as ridiculous to look away from the progress that has been made. The consequent loss of hope can be devastating. When people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may lose confidence in measures that actually work.”
The world is not as bad or lost or scary or messed up or un-fixable as we tend to believe. Know the facts and focus on what is important.
You.

· Know the facts
· Want more? gapminder dot org
· Correct answers: 1: C, 2: B, 3 C

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Review: The Opposite of Hate

The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our HumanityThe Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity by Sally Kohn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Opposite of Hate
A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity
By Sally Kohn

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

We all hate. All of us. That means me, and unfortunately it also includes you. We are not born to do this; to judge and then hate others. We are taught to hate by the world around us. And by the way, hate is a four-letter word, worlds away from another four-letter word: love.
Author Kohn first came to my attention when her Ted Talk landed in my in-box. If you’re not familiar with Ted Talks, you should be. Hate has always been a fascination to me, how bullies can develop from even the nicest seeming individuals and what is the motivating factor that allows us to hate others? How this powerful emotion can blind us into choosing sides and spewing hate.
It has to stop.
“In different ways and to different degrees, consciously or unconsciously, all of us, in one way or another, sometimes treat other individuals and entire groups of human beings as though they are fundamentally less deserving than we are.”
Though I do feel Kohn went slightly off the rails sharing examples in the book and over-explained several scientific research projects on the subject, her message is none-the-less important and very timely. I should caution you, as in the following quote, Kohn can be very harsh in her observations of our country’s past, but don’t let that stop you from hearing her larger message.
“The United States was founded on hate—the hatred that justified colonial annihilation of American Indians and that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans. Hate divided the country during the Civil War and, a century later, spawned protest movements and backlash movements, with activists vying over issues of justice and human rights. And Americans are not alone in this legacy…”
To understand how society can justify hate is not that difficult. If you don’t have the capacity to imagine yourself as black, Muslim, gay or anything you are not, you can justify hate. Everyone has done this to some degree. We all think we have it worse, which gives us permission to marginalize others by bullying, disregarding completely or simply not seeing our similarities. You name it, we find a reason and then we slather on the hate. The solution to changing this behavior of us vs. them is pretty simple. It’s there in front of you and it’s up to each and every one of us.
“We need to meet the people we hate and learn their stories, which means supporting institutions and policies that foster connection-spaces, and also creating our own. Getting outside ourselves, breaking through the physical and mental walls of our own narratives and viewpoints.”
The bottom line; it’s nearly impossible to hate anyone up close, in person, face-to-face.
“What I’ve learned is that all hate is premised on a mind-set of otherizing. The sanctimonious pedestal of superiority on which we all put ourselves while we systematically dehumanize others is the essential root of hate. In big and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we constantly filter the world around us through the lens of our explicit and implicit biases. This abets rationalization and looking the other way about widespread injustices, such as dismissing entire communities that don’t have access to health care, of entire nations locked in civil war because they fall outside the sphere of our moral concern.”
There is a crisis of hate surging through the US and the world and we need to see it. Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Consider this. You don’t have to agree with everyone, or give up your particular beliefs or views, you don’t even have to like everyone. Actually, the opposite of hate is so much easier to do and be and teach and experience and share. We really only have to keep this one thing in mind; we are all basically connected and equal as human beings.
The opposite of hate is—connection.

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