I’mmmmmmmmm Baccccckkkk!

Hi all-

I apologize profusely for having, without warning, left the blogosphere for such an extended period of time.  I moved into a new house, and that, plus 3 kids, a husband and multiple jobs, has kept me very busy! 

But…. I’mmmmmm baccckkkk!  And just in time for Foodie Pen Pal reveal day!  If you have never heard of Foodie PenPal (FPP); it is a wonderful program created by Lindsay at theleangreenbean.  Every month, you are paired with a FPP from anywhere in the USA and someone else is paired with you.  You send a package of food (after corresponding with your penpal to see if they have allergies, interests, preferences or dislikes) to your penpal and someone else sends one to you.  

Here are some more details about the program, taken directly from Lindsay, the Lean Green Bean!

And now it’s time for some details about Foodie Penpals.  In case you’re a new reader, here’s a reminder of what the program is all about:

-On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal! 
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!
-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
-Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month. 
-Foodie Penplas is open to US, Canadian & European residents.  Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. Same with Europeans. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa. 


This month, my Foodie PenPal was Kelly from PA.  She sent me a phenomenal package!!  



Check out this fantastic assortment of goodies!!!  Chips and nut crackers, Kind bars, Raw Revolution Bars and SoyJoy bars, coffee and cocoa, and DARK CHOCOLATE!!  And… these really fun little ginger chews called Chimes.  I left for a trip to Atlanta with my son for his drama festival the day after I received my package and I was so thankful to have so many of the things that Kelly sent to me on my trip (FYI… the trip included a 9 hour drive each way).  I noshed on the chips and nut chips on the ride and used bars as meal replacements to cut costs (and not have to eat hotel food!) But, those little ginger chews turned out to be the star of the package, 1) I LOVE THEM… I am almost out and I have to buy more!!, and 2) one of the younger children in the car ride to Atlanta (3 adults and four kids.. don’t be jealous of my awesome life), got carsick (again.. don’t be jealous) at 6AM (2 hours into my fab ride) and the ginger chews calmed her stomach!  Yay Kelly, you saved the day!!  

In case you are dying to try these ginger chews, Amazon has them!  Click here to check them out!

I know.. this is a book review blog and I have been such a lazy blog matron lately that you are all probably just chomping at the bit for one of my fabulous reviews.  Well, I will not let you down.  I did manage to get some reading in during my crazy moving month (especially during the aforementioned Atlanta trip), so here are some summaries of the books that I read during my blog hiatus:
1) City of Women by David E. Gillham.  Phenomenal!!!  Amazing story of Sigrid, an average woman trying to maintain a normal existence in Nazi Germany.  She is married to a German soldier serving on the Russian front, lives with her cranky mother-in-law and through the course of the book manages to have an affair not only with a clandestine Jew, but also with an atypical Nazi officer.  If that alone doesn’t convince you to read this book, I don’t know what will!  What makes this book unique amongst WWII books (and I have read many a Holocaust book, my mother is completely obsessed with the Holocaust.  If she meets anyone who is Jewish from Europe, she must immediately find out where their parents/grandparents were during WWII.  Obsessed!), is that there are no descriptions of death camps, no recreations of HItler’s henchmen and their conversations; it is merely the story of a woman, trying to live an ordinary life, during a very unordinary time, who is unwittingly drawn into a very extraordinary course of events.  Sex, intrigue and Nazi Germany.. it’s my mother’s favorite trio!

2) The Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm.  So when I read (well, skimmed) the description of this historical novel and saw one of the main characters was Lucretia, I just assumed that this book was about Lucrezia Borgia.  Well.. you know what they say about assuming…. Not at all about Lucrezia Borgia, it was actually Lucretia de Medici (completely different famous Italian Renaissance family), said de Medici being much less infamous and much less interesting than her Borgia namesake.  I kept waiting for Lucrezia to become the raging lunatic, incestuous, tumultuous Lucrezia of history, but it didn’t happen.  Nonetheless, The Last Duchess was a decent story, based on the aptly titled Robert Browning poem, The Last Duchess.  Interesting concept, fairly well executed with believable characters and decent writing.  Worth it if you can borrow the book, not sure it’s worth a purchase.

3) Faith by Jennifer Haigh.  I love Jennifer Haigh.  I have read all of her books and was really looking forward to reading Faith, Haigh’s literary answer to the Catholic priest pedophilia scandals.  The main characters in the story are Sheila, a middle-aged woman whose brother, Arthur, is a priest accused of molesting a young boy.  Set in Boston, Faith is a very unusual take on religion, the priesthood and sexual mores.  We learn about Sheila and Art’s childhood, and the events that led to Arthur taking the collar.  We learn about Sheila’s life, her doubts, fears and estrangement from her faith.  We learn about Arthur’s experience as a priest, his doubts and fears and what leads him to become an accused pedophile.  And, in the end, we learn that not everything is as it seems.  Yet again, Haigh is a master story teller, and I was genuinely surprised by the ending.  I love that!

Happy Reading!!  Look for a SOMETHING NEW coming to BareBookReviews… this Sunday!!! 






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It’s Wednesday… Wwwwwhat’s in my Bookshelf?

As I mentioned in my last post, I am moving to a new house next week. As you can imagine, I am busy packing up all of the possessions that my family has accumulated over the last eight years that we have lived in this house. Today’s job was packing up my books. In the midst of all the piles, I came across a book from one of my prior book group discussions (the book actually belongs to my friend, Lori, so I had better be sure it doesn’t go in the donation pile). Today’ review… Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.
Fun Home is the true story of Alison Bechdel’s highly unusual upbringing, detailing primarily her relationship with her father, a closeted gay man, who was a high school English teacher and also ran a funeral home out of of their house. Bechdel did not learn of her father’s sexual orientation until she was in college, following her coming out as a lesbian, and within weeks of these revelations, her father was dead. The title of the book, Fun Home, serves as a double entendre; it is not only the nickname that her family gave the exquisitely detailed and painstakingly decorated gothic-style home in which she grew up , but it also represents her carnival-like childhood, in which everything is not what it seems.
Fun Home is a graphic novel, not a genre in which I am generally interested, but this one is fantastic! I loved reading the book through illustrations, especially given the vivid descriptions of her childhood home. Bechdel is an incredibly talented illustrator and story-teller; her story alternating between sad and funny, evoking feelings from the reader from empathy to humor. Interspersed with snippets from her childhood journal, Bechdel’s autobiography, is, as the tagline says.. a family tragicomic… a comic filled with comedy and tragedy.

If you have never read a graphic novel..read this. If you love graphic novels.. read this. If you are a middling graphic novel reader… read this. Read this. Enough said.

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It’s Time Travel Tuesday!

Short post today peeps… I am getting ready to move into a new house and packing is exhausting (and I spent all day canning and pickling too.. I need to moved the produce from my garden to my new house!!)

It’s Time Travel Tuesday, where we revisit old reviews! From January 23, 2012 (also known as my old friend Tammy’s 42 birthday, the old girl is almost 43 now, she will always be older than I)…

I am a bit tired today.. not because of my AM workout, and not from giving blood (thank you to my ladies Gisele, Stacy and Julie for inspiring me to get to the Blood Bank – can’t wait to donate again in 2 months!)… but because I stayed up until almost 1 AM reading a book from start to finish. The Yellow House: A Novel by Patricia Falvey. It was a book from my Kindle Deal of the Day. Here’s the review: Interesting because it is set in Northern Ireland in the early 1900s. Believable characters: I particularly enjoyed the main character because she was a ballsy woman (I guess I can relate???). My critique would be that it is the same story we see all the time in books like these…. interesting female character, in love with more than one man, picks the wrong one first, chaos and misunderstanding (and sometimes some deaths) ensue, and somehow in the end, it all works out. However, it’s an interesting setting, interesting era, interesting politics, and an easy, enjoyable read.

If I had to rate this book, I would give it a 3. Good enough to stay up late reading, not good enough to really remember the plot after a week or so. A classic example of toilet reading.

Bare Pairing!!
This novel conjures up a wonderful BarePairing with Colcannon, a traditional Irish dish made with cabbage and potatoes. Colcannon is a simple, delicious and creamy dish that can be a main course or side dish. I found a fantastic twist on this traditional Irish food on the blog, GlutenFreeGoddess, that takes this dish up a notch, making it vegan, a bit spicy and of course, gluten-free. Click here to see the recipe.

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It’s Wednesday… What’s in my Bookshelf??

It’s time for Wednesday.. What’s in my Bookshelf???

Today’s What’s In My Bookshelf review is Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman.  Set in Maine, Red Hook Road follows two families, as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their children, Becca and John, who died tragically on their wedding day.  Over the course of four summers, the two very different families struggle to overcome their differences in backgrounds in order to honor the memories of their children and continue to try to find the little joys in life.  This is a poignant story, written beautifully by Waldman, that draws you into the lives of each surviving character, from the parents of the lost couple, to the siblings, to the grandfather and even the flower girl.  As each character moves through their journey of pain, loss and acceptance, the reader comes to know them a bit more intimately and, in the end, triumphs with them as they begin to live again.  A wonderfully moving story… read this!

I really enjoy Ayelet Waldman.  She is best known for the controversy that erupted around an interview that she did in which it was reported that she claimed that she loved her husband (the author, Michael Chabon) more then her children (she has 4).  In response to the backlash surrounding this article, she wrote a wonderful book, Bad Mother, in which she describes her take on motherhood.  As a mom myself, I enjoyed Bad Mother, as one of the few books on mommydom that truly calls it like it is.  

Read Waldman.. so far she is two for two with me!



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Happy New Year from BareBookReviews! It’s Time Travel Tuesday and Top 10 from 2012!

It’s New Year’s Day 2013 and today’s Time Travel Tuesday post brings back my very first FB book review from January 9, 2012:

Given that I am a voracious reader (and a very vocal person), I am often asked for book recommendations.. so, I thought with the New Year, I will take this year and post and comment on every book that I read in 2012!
So far, I have read Stephen King’s new book 11/22/63 – I highly recommend it, even if you aren’t a Stephen King fan. Second book…A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein… this was a decent book, interesting premise, well-written, would be a great made for TV movie. Third… The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene.. entertaining, a quick read, it is set in Occupied Paris during World War 2. Would love to hear your comments!  

Wow… These were really short… I have come a long way in a year, at least in my ability to wax rhapsodic about my love of books…

What were my Top 10 books of 2012????

In no particular order:

1) 11/22/63 by Stephen King

2) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (If I had to pick one favorite of 2012, this is it!)

3) The NIght Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

4) The 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy by EL James (I hate to admit that these are in my Top 10, but barebookreviews delivers the Naked Truth… no pun intended…well, maybe a bit intended)

5) The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

6) Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

7) The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

8) The Art of Hearing Hearbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker

9) Defending Jacob by William Landay

10) The Light Between the Oceans by ML Stedman

NEW on BareBookReviews in 2013:  BarePairings!

Just as a good meal is best when paired with a fine wine, a good book becomes more enticing when paired with a delectable repast or mouth-watering libation.  As the Mama Bear of BareBookReviews, I have decided to combine my love for books with my food obsession, creating… BarePairings!  When a book that I am reading evokes a fine meal or drink, I will pair a recipe or blog post with the review.  BarePairings will follow select BareBookReviews.

Beginning BarePairings!  My Top 10 from 2012!

1) 11/22/63 by Stephen King tells the story of a man who finds a time portal back to the 1960s and decides that he is going to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing John Kennedy.  His portal back in time happens to be located in a diner, so this BarePairing is from Food & Wine Magazine. Check out this link to see Food & Wine Magazine’s choices for the Top 10 Burgers in the USA!

2) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller that may make some readers so disconcerted that they lose their appetite.  Insert comfort food.  In the book, when the male protagonist, Nick, is trying to find his missing wife, Amy, he is (much to his chagrin) pursued by a woman, Shawna, who is volunteering at the Missing Person’s Center.  Shawna tries to comfort Nick with food and brings him a Chicken Frito Pie (which he shuns, which of course, leading to more problems for him later in the book).  I must admit that I have never had a Chicken Frito Pie, but I did find a really cool recipe for it on an interesting blog, RindyMae, complete with detailed instructions and pictures.  Click here to get the recipe!

3) The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian is a creepy story set in rural New Hampshire where ghost and witches abound, all of the main female characters are named after plants, and herbal magic takes center stage.  Nothing like a hot cup of herbal tea, on a cold evening in New England, sitting by the fire, reading a good story.  Click here for The Wellness Mama’s 10 Health Boosting Herbal Teas.

4) In The 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy by EL James,  Anastasia (Ana), the main female character loses her appetite whenever she is around Christian (the main male character), but Christian holds good food in high regard.  Despite his discerning tastes, as his relationship with Ana progresses, he discovers he is just as happy with the simple things, like plain old vanilla ice cream (there is a fantastic scene with vanilla ice cream.. book 1).  Sure, you could just go the store and buy some ice cream, but nothing tastes better than homemade.  David Leibovitz is the quintessential dessert man and his book, The Perfect Scoop, holds an esteemed place in my bookshelf.  Here is his deliciously simple vanilla ice cream recipe (complete with instructions and pictures.)

5) The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.  The main character of this book, Cora, starts life as an orphan and her quest to discover her birth mother is a prominent and crucial subplot within the story.  Her early life is spent in an orphanage and one of her memories, and later discussions involves oatmeal.  Most people think oatmeal to be a pedantic food, somewhat tasteless, unrefined and not for those of discerning palates.  I disagree.  Oatmeal is one of the few grains that will keep your blood sugar stable; it is a warm and comforting budget-friendly food that can be adjusted to your tastes and desires.  

Mama Bear’s Porridge, er…Oatmeal Recipe

Heat your liquid of choice (measurements depend on how much you want to make…add more liquid for a thinner oatmeal, less for a chunkier version) in a small pot (milk, preferably raw milk, almond milk, coconut milk, etc…. coconut milk is my favorite non-dairy choice).  Bring liquid to a boil.  Add your oats (my current favorite is Bob’s Red Mill’s Scottish Oatmeal, it is yummy and it cooks quickly).  Lower the heat to a rolling simmer and start to add in your extras.  Mama Bear’s secret special addition is frozen bananas.  Add in 1/2-1 peeled, frozen banana, add continue to simmer to allow the banana to melt into the cooking oatmeal.  Stir regularly to keep from sticking.

Optional add-ins:  Other frozen fruit (add in during cooking process… blueberries are my favorite), Dried fruit, nuts and seeds, raw cacao, flax meal, nut butters, etc.  If you like you oatmeal even sweeter, try these healthier ideas: raw honey, raw agave or sorghum syrup.

Click here for some more wonderful Oatmeal recipes from the blog, Oh She Glows!

6) Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard tells the story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, including the few weeks before the event and the days following as John Wilkes Booth tries to escape the authorities.  Not the best book to try to pair with a recipe, however, as I sat and ruminated about Lincoln and the profound effect he had on our country as he toiled to end slavery, I remembered that I have a wonderful cookbook in my collection that was originally written in the 1970s by two women caterers who cooked recipes handed down to them by their ancestors, men and women living as free blacks in post- Civil War south.  The cookbook, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine is an amazing collection of recipes, detailing everything from homemade wine making, to canning preserves, to baking to recipes for authentic Southern delicacies.  The recipes are intertwined with descriptions of their family, both past and present.  I was excited to find that they had a website!   Click here to see their recipe for Spoonbread!

7) The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a story that revolves around a college baseball team, and the zany cast of characters that surround them.  Baseball = Hot Dogs.  The food blog, Serious Eats has a fabulous list of the best hot dogs and sausages near Major League Baseball Parks. Fabulous!  Click here to check it out!

8) The Art of Hearing Hearbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker is a beautiful story about love, loss and redemption set primarily in Burma.  There are several references to traditional Burmese food, primarily curries.  I love curry and cook curries frequently, but, admittedly, have never tried the Burmese variation.  I found a wonderful vegetarian version at Vegetarian Times… click here to see the recipe.

9) Defending Jacob by William Landay is a courtroom and psychological drama, in which an assistant district attorney has to come to terms with the fact that his son may be a cold-blooded killer.  The book addresses the age old questions of nature vs nurture and how far would you go for your child?  Not much for BarePairings here.. the only thing that came to mind was coffee.  I stayed up late reading the book… coffee needed in the morning.  It was a nail-biting ending, coffee needed to stay up and read.  Courtroom drama… coffee.  If you love coffee, Dear Coffee, I Love You is a blog for you…

10) The Light Between the Oceans by ML Stedman is the story of a lighthouse keeper, a veteran of WWI, his new wife and the baby that washes up on the shores of the island off the Western coast of Australia, of which they are the sole inhabitants. Having struggled with fertility issues, this living baby is an answer to their prayers. When they choose to keep her and raise her as their own, without reporting their find, there arises the inevitable consequences.  Interestingly, I used to live in Western Australia.  My favorite Aussie food were Pasties (the a being a short “a” like “ah”).  You would eat them with sauce (ketchup) and they had a variety of fillings (I always prefered the vegetarian version).  I must admit that I haven’t made them since my return to the States (20 years ago!) but I did find a wonderful recipe at Real Simple that looks Real Simple!!! Click here for the recipe.

Hope you enjoy BareBookReviews first Bare Pairings!  Would love to hear your comments!!!








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New Year’s Eve… New Reviews!

First of all, I would like to extend a huge thank-you to Lindsay at http://theleangreenbean.com for her recognition of barebookreviews in her Sponsor Shoutout blog post. Check out her blog, theleangreenbean for great tips on exercise, food (including fantastic recipes) and overall health and wellness. Thank you, Lindsay!

In honor of the coming of 2013, I have 3 reviews for my loyal readers this New Year’s Eve (I just came back from a mini-vacation in Miami, plenty of time to read, shout out to my girl, Marni, for hosting me!!)

Book #1: Dwarf by Tiffanie DiDonato. So, this book looked really interesting on Amazon.com. Tiffanie DiDonato was born with diastrophic dysplasia, a form of dwarfism. Luckily, she was also born with a very plucky mother, who never viewed Tiffanie as handicapped and taught her daughter how to advocate for herself and live in a world made for people much taller than herself. Tiffanie’s mother was also instrumental in encouraging Tiffanie to undergo a series of long and painful surgeries, in which her leg and arm bones were broken, secured with pins and stretched daily to add inches to Tiffanie’s limbs. Sounds interesting right? Plucky mom ala Cher (Rocky Dennis’ mom in Mask), determined child/teen undergoing multiple painful surgeries and long rehabilitations in order to live a “normal” life. Well, that part was interesting. Her mom was awesome, Tiffanie herself was a fantastic, albeit real-life character, and the details of her surgeries and what she went through were quite fascinating. Would have been a great article for People magazine, or maybe even Vanity Fair. Would have made a great interview with Oprah Winfrey. Would have even made a great one hour Discovery Channel special. But, as a full-length book.. not so much. The problem with most memoirs is that the authors are not great writers; their stories might be interesting but a significant portion of them write like they speak, and therefore, their stories would be much better as interviews or maybe even documentaries. See the bottom of this post for notable exceptions…. Reading this book reminded me of a time when I had a few hours to kill and I ended up at Barnes & Noble, in a very comfy chair, reading Rob Lowe’s autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. Of course I loved hearing all about his childhood, how and when he lost his virginity, what it was like making The Outsiders (I stopped reading there, after The Outsiders, who cares? OK.. maybe I should have read through to St. Elmo’s Fire, but I really had had enough of listening to this guy.) Rob Lowe may be very handsome, even at almost 50, but he is not a great writer. Tiffanie DiDonato may have had a very interesting life, but she, also is not a great writer.

Book #2: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker. Now, this man can write. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a beautifully written, charming tale of love, of loss and of finding redemption. The story is set in Burma, and revolves around the protagonist, Julia’s quest to find her father after he mysteriously goes missing. Each character in this novel is unique, infinitely human and so well created that you feel that you know them. In my opinion, a great book contains a good story, well fleshed out characters and a unique and interesting plot. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats has all three; a great story that you will easily stay up past your bedtime to keep reading, fascinating and yet, fallibly human characters that you can easily see in your mind’s eye and a unique plot of which I couldn’t guess the ending (I hate it when I guess the ending midway through the book!) Read this!

Book #3: Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. I have been on a bit of a Susanna Kearsley kick lately. I read The Winter Sea… fantastic! I read The Rose Garden… still good, but not as great as The Winter Sea. Yesterday, I read Mariana. Disappointing. I was doubly disappointed because it received great reviews (on Amazon.com, not always the most reliable source), and it had a really interesting premise. Kearsley is known for her time-travel novels, and although Mariana had a time-travel component, in this case it was more of a past-life experience. Interesting plot, but not well fleshed out. The characters didn’t grab me, the story jumped around a bit and the romance held no passion. Really.. what is romance without passion? If my heart isn’t beating a bit faster by the first embrace, the author has not done her job (see 50 Shades for an example of a full on coronary event… you may need an AED to read it!). I think I am finished with Kearsley…

Notable memoirs in which not only is the story interesting, but the writing is great too!: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent, Mennonite in the Little Black Dress by Rhoda Jantzen, My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock, Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, Night by Elie Wiesel, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

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Time Travel Tuesday!

Keeping it short today in honor of all who are celebrating Christmas…

From January 15 & 17, 2012… during a trip to NYC.

First book read while on my NYC trip… V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton. I admit I love this series. It’s a guilty pleasure… I just love her protagonist, Kinsey Millhone. 

Second book read… State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Good book, well written, brings up several ethical debates, but I still don’t think that the author has outdone her masterpiece, Bel Canto. 

I must admit that I love Sue Grafton’s “Alphabet” series.  Although this series could be categorized under my “toilet reading” classification, I think it is one of the best written “toilet reading” series out there.  The books are engaging, with exciting plot lines, great writing, and fantastic, very realistic characters, my favorite being the protagonist, Kinsey Millhone.   I love that despite the fact that Grafton has been writing these mystery novels for nearly 30 years, the books are still set in the 1980s.  I love the spunk of the main character and I love that Grafton has been able to create nearly 26 (she still has W,X,Y and Z to go!) books that are equally interesting and readable.  Usually book series get less interesting, more verbose (as the writer struggles to replace interesting plots and characters with middling detail) and more plodding as the series goes on, but not so Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery Series.  While I enjoyed some books better than others (I actually listened to the first half of the series on audiobook.. great during workouts), I feel that this series is maintaining its literary integrity even as it nears the end.  Each book is good as a stand alone novel, but even better as part of the greater whole.  My cousin, Beth, and I like to guess what each next book will be called.  Here’s my guess for the next book.. W is for Witness??   We’ll see…



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