My book club’s selections for 2015

bookclubHere are the books my book club read in 2015. Check them out. You might find a few to be of interest. At the bottom of the article, you’ll find links to the books we read in 2010, 2013 and 2014.

JanuaryThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The story of how the University of Washington rowing team overcame numerous obstacles to win the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Great writing and strong characters make this book worth your time.

FebruaryAn Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris. Historical fiction that tells the story of the Dreyfus Affair in France, in which a soldier is unfairly accused of treason, convicted and imprisoned while his superiors cover up their knowledge of his innocence.

MarchRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. You know about this one, right?

AprilEinstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. A surreal read and
a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, when he worked in a patent office in Switzerland. Each story provides an insight into Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

MayThe Death of Caesar by Barry Strauss. A detailed examination of the plot against Julius Caesar and what happened to those who carried out the execution. Hint: The friends, allies and relatives of Caesar fared better than his enemies.

JuneThe Nigger of the Narcissus by Joseph Conrad. Excellent tale of a group of sailors on a voyage from Bombay (yes, now Mumbai) to London. A short novella, but it requires intense concentration!

JulyDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. Great telling of the attack by the Germans on a British luxury passenger ship during World War I.

AugustThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Up until the very second they achieved controlled flight, most of the world proclaimed it to be impossible. This is the fascinating story of the men who proved the world wrong.

SeptemberBilly Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow. Fictionalized story of New York gangster Dutch Schultz as seen through the eyes of teenager Billy Bathgate, who was recruited for a brief time to be part of the Schultz gang. We read this in honor of Doctorow, who died during the summer of 2015. A brilliant writer!

OctoberThe Map Thief by Michael Blanding. Edward Forbes Smiley III parlayed his considerable knowledge of maps into a profitable business. His margins improved exponentially when he cut costs by stealing valuable maps from libraries throughout the world. This book provides an insightful look into who he was and how he achieved his thefts.

NovemberFortune Smiles by Adam Johnson. A collection of imaginative short stories. We previously had read Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Orphan Master’s Son, which provided a look inside life in North Korea. Great writing!

DecemberEuphoria by Lily King. This novel explores a love triangle of three young anthropologists working in New Guinea in the 1930s. It is loosely based on events in the life of Margaret Mead.

Let me know what you’ve read this year and what you’d recommend. I’m interested!

Book club selections in 2014

Book club selections in 2013

Book club selections in 2010

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Wings in the Dark – a Jake & Laura Mystery

wingsOver the past year and a half, Phoenix-based mystery writer Michael Murphy and his publisher, Alibi (a division of Random House), have issued three novels in Michael’s Jake & Laura mystery series. I’ve read them all, and I gladly recommend them to you.

The latest, Wings in the Darkincorporates all the elements that make these books such fun – exciting locations, colorful characters (including a few drawn from the pages of history), snappy dialogue, and mysteries worthy of the name.

Each novel is written from the point of view of Jake Donovan, a former private eye turned mystery writer. He’s done well with a series of novels about Blackie Doyle. By the time we get to novel three, he’s also persuaded the love of his life, Broadway actress and movie star Laura Wilson, to marry him. Their trip to Hawaii in 1935 was meant to be their honeymoon, but as always seems to happen to Jake, he gets pulled into a murder investigation. This time, the victim is a local businessman who’s helping to bankroll Amelia Earhart’s historic flight from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland.

Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

Jake has supposedly given up sleuthing, but his work moves the case along farther and faster than anything done by the Hawaiian police. Laura’s okay with Jake’s involvement for two reasons. She’s a bit of an amateur detective herself. More important, if the case isn’t solved, her friend Amelia could be the killer’s next victim, and Amelia’s history-making flight will never occur.

There are plenty of suspects – Hawaiian royalists, who resent the growing prominence and power of the U.S. in the islands; the Japanese government, who believes America is building a Pacific empire that must be stopped; Amelia’s female mechanic, who has aviation aspirations of her own; the victim’s brother, who got short shrift in the family will; and a few more.

Amelia and her husband, publisher George Putnam, play prominent roles in the book. George Patton also makes a few appearances, and his proximity to a successful close to the case just might have contributed to his promotion from colonel to general!

If you’re a fan of Nick and Nora Charles, you’ll enjoy Michael’s work. The fourth book in the series, The Big Brush-Off, will be published next February. Do yourself a favor. Read the first three between now and then, and you’ll be salivating for the next book.

Click on these links to read my thoughts about the first two novels, The Yankee Club and All That Glitters.

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An unusual school of mines

mccaw1Every other month, I travel to Henderson, Nev., to facilitate a community advisory panel. The managers from four plants meet with community representatives from different walks of life. Each plant reports on its progress in five areas – safety, environmental performance, manufacturing issues, distribution issues, and community involvement. Each meeting, we also have a program with topics ranging from economic development and workforce training to risk communication and city planning.

mccaw3This month, for our program, we toured the McCaw School of Mines. You’re probably not familiar with it, and if you attend, you won’t walk out with a bachelor of science in metallurgy.

Instead, the school aims to teach fourth graders in Clark County about the importance of mining to the Nevada economy. Most of the mines in Nevada lie north of Henderson (which is adjacent to Las Vegas), so grade-school students rarely are exposed to mining. By taking a field trip to the McCaw School of Mines, they gain information about mining techniques, mining careers and the vital role that mining plays in the state and national economy. They even get a chance to pan for gold.

The school is the brainchild of Janet Dobry, who recently retired as principal of Henderson’s Robert Taylor Elementary School, and Janet Bremer, who taught at McCaw Elementary School. Both women are or have been part of the community advisory panel. They started small but found ways to approach Nevada mining companies for support and for discarded equipment.

Students come from all parts of Clark County to visit the mine, and they often proclaim their experience to be the best field trip they’ve ever had.

This is a great example of a private-public partnership making good things happen for a community and its children. If you’re ever in the area, ask for a tour. I’m sure the mine will be happy to oblige.

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