Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Neil Patrick Harris, Choose Your Own Autobiography (Crown Archetype, 2014).

Also available or Nook and Kindle.


Reviewed by Kevin A. Penrod, Jr.

Off the bat I am gonna say this is the funniest autobiography I have ever read! In the tradition of the "choose your own adventure" books where you are put in the lead role as the character and have to make choices to decide the outcome, Neil Patrick Harris puts you in control of his life. Reading this book, I occasionally made the wrong decisions, decisions that lead to death by avalanche, rapids, quick sand, and murder, and to a girl displeased with a magic trick in which you (Neil Patrick Harris) pretended to cut her sisters’ finger off. I also had an outcome in which you (once again Neil Patrick Harris) imagined all your fame and were actually working at a deli for the rest of your days. But the right choices lead to a pretty fun life: being a child doctor on the show Doogie Howser, being named president of the magic castle, starring in numerous movies and Broadway shows. Which led to your first gay experience; after somewhat hiding it, you come out to the world to very little discrimination. And that leads to you meeting the man that will become your husband and going through the stressful journey of having your twin children through surrogacy. With a lot of jokes here and there, a crossword puzzle and a secret page *ssshhhhh*.

I could not put this book down. I found myself continuing because I found that once I thought I made all the possible decisions, I would find a whole new path in his life story. I recommend this book to fans of comedy, his show “How I Met Your Mother,” and autobiographies. Once again such a fun read.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Steve Almond, Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto (Melville House Printing, 2014). 177 Pages.

Also available for Kindle and Nook.

Reviewed by Chuck Dayton
This is a treatise written by a journalist and former sports reporter and play-by-play man. It is his ruminations about his fanatical habits of watching football and being a fan of the game since early childhood. This book is neither long nor complicated, but the end result of reading it may be both long and complicated for the reader.
I am a football fan, of course, as any family member will attest. I have given some thought through the years to the sham of college football, but that hasn’t deterred me from being a Hawkeye fan or watching NFL games on TV. I will say up front that my fandom and viewing habits have not yet changed since I read this book, but I am still thinking the over the issues which are presented here.
Almond divides his concerns over football into chapters addressing each of them. His major moral questions center around head injuries and concussions at all levels of the game, money and tax issues associated with the professional game, the continuous charade of the “student-athlete” in the college game, the “rape culture” that surrounds both college and professional players, and the general and overall affect a game of aggression and violence has on society in general.
Almond makes some sweeping recommendations in the epilogue of the book. Among others, they include: revoke the NFL’s non-profit status – let them pay taxes!; enforce a weight limit on players; include graduation rates in a college team’s national ranking; and require a 3.0 GPA to play varsity football. In another part of the book, he also argues for the disengagement of football from universities and substituting clubs (at NFL expense), which is the European model for sport.
This book has some food for thought. Mr. Almond has stopped watching all football as a result of his research. He also admits that most who read this book conclude he is crazy!  Each person, after reading what is presented here, can make a decision for her or himself about the future of football in their individual life. 

Monday, November 10, 2014


Susan Wittig Albert, The China Bayles Mystery Series (published by Berkeley, 1992-  )

Available in hard cover and paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook.


Reviewed by Kathy Smith Morales

My introduction to the China Bayles mystery series came on my birthday several years ago as a gift from my husband. He saw book #14, Bleeding Hearts, on display in a bookstore and thought I might enjoy it.  The author of the series, Susan Wittig Albert, is a local author – local for us, anyway.  She lives near Austin, TX and I learned recently that a friend is in a women’s writing group with her. 

The main character, China Bayles, lives in the fictional town of Pecan Springs, located between Austin and San Antonio. China left her high-powered career as a criminal lawyer in Houston to seek a quieter life in Pecan Springs as the owner of an herb shop. But her past life as a criminal attorney keeps her busy solving mysteries in her new hometown.

I enjoyed the local flavor of Bleeding Hearts and the inclusion of some recipes that played a part in the story was a fun bonus. I decided to start at the beginning of the series and now make a habit of putting a couple on my Amazon wish list every year. My son thoughtfully obliges. I just had another birthday, so I’ve just finished reading Rueful Death on a road trip. Next up – Love Lies Bleeding.

This is a fun series. Each book has some herb or flower as part of the book title and as an ongoing theme throughout the plot. Each chapter begins with a bit of information, a quote, a recipe – some little extra something related to the herb of the book title. 

According to Wikipedia, Albert describes her books as "cozy mysteries" because they do not describe much violence or gratuitous behavior. Sometimes that is just what I want.

P.S. I also read that she used the pen name Carolyn Keene to write for the Nancy Drew series in the 1980s.

[NOTE: You can find a list of all the books in this series at the author’s website. See http://www.abouthyme.com/China/index.shtml. The website also has discussion guides for book groups and recipes for foods that might be served at a book club meeting.]

Monday, October 27, 2014


Martin Dugard, The Last Voyage of Columbus: Being the Epic Tale of the Great Captain’s Fourth Expedition, Including Accounts of Swordfight, Mutiny, Shipwreck, Gold, War, Hurricane, and Discovery (New York & Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2005).

Also, Read by Simon Jones onTime Warner Audiobooks , for Nook and Kindle.


Recommended by Wilda Morris

I found the recording of Martin Dugard’s book, The Last Voyage of Columbus, on sale at my local public library. I almost passed it by because of the subtitle. But the price was right and I wanted something to keep me awake while I was driving.

And yes, it is “an account of swordfight, mutiny, shipwreck, gold, war, hurricane, and discovery.” It reads almost like a novel. Dugard has suggested that it is “an adventure book,” which is a good description.

The book begins with Columbus imprisoned in his beloved Santo Domingo on the Island of Hispaniola. His problems, Dugard says, “began ironically, with his greatest success.” His royal sponsors, Ferdinand and Isabella, who regretted the very generous contract they had made with him before his first voyage across the Atlantic, seemed in no hurry to extricate him from his current predicament.

Returned to Spain in chains, Columbus managed to convince the sovereigns that their representative, Bobadilla, had exceeded his authority. They ordered that his chains be removed, maybe in part because he was making such a display of them, and getting a lot of sympathy from the people as a result They summoned him to court to explain himself, sending a sizable sum of money to pay for his travels to Granada where they were stationed at the time. I won’t spoil the surprise of exactly what happened as he knelt before Isabella. Suffice it to say, he was not re-incarcerated, and eventually they backed his fourth and most thrilling, trying, and dangerous voyage.

In a discussion of the book at https://search.yahoo.com/search?p=martin+Dugard+The+Last+Voyage+of+Columbus&ei=UTF-8&fr=moz35, the author says there are 900 books on Columbus listed on amazon.com, but his was the first to focus almost entirely on this voyage. He developed some admiration for the Admiral of the Ocean Sea whose leadership was tested in so many ways on this fourth voyage, especially the year spent shipwrecked. Two of the four ships Columbus had started out with had been lost and the other two were riding very low in the water because ship worms were eating away at the wood. Columbus beached the boats and kept the crew members on board for an entire year until they were finally rescued. They could have been rescued much sooner, but officials in Hispaniola didn’t want to rescue Columbus, for fear he would try to retake his governorship of the island.

Want to read or listen to an exciting tale of adventure? I recommend The Last Voyage of Christopher Columbus.