Leaving Berlin is a fascinating World War II story

Leaving BerlinI know I’m not alone when I say I love a good book.  I also have become fascinated with history as I get older.  I’m so fascinated with history that I can’t seem to stay off of Ancestry.com researching my family history.

So when I won Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon through Goodreads.com, I was thrilled.  Not only is it set in Berlin, Germany in 1949, right after World War II, it also has been getting lots of buzz in the news.

This is my first Kanon book and I was pleasantly surprised at what a fantastic storyteller he is.  Kanon does a wonderful job of taking the reader through some dangerous situation s while educating them on what happened after the war ended.

The main character is Alex Meier, a Jewish journalist who escaped Berlin before the war and headed to America but is back in Berlin as a spy for the CIA.  He soon encounters old friends from a family who he was very close with growing up.  There is Erich, who has been hidden away in a prison work camp but his family thought he was dead or had escaped.  Erich’s sister Elsbeth who is married to Dr. Gustav Mutter who is trying to stay out of trouble with the State Police and does not help Jews or escaped prisoners.

Their sister Irene is Alex’s old love and really the only woman he ever truly loved.  She is currently living with a German soldier who Alex has asked her to spy on for him.  Then there is another childhood friend, Markus who works for the State Police and is very suspicious of Alex.  Markus keeps showing up in the strangest places and is trying to prove himself as a good soldier to the cause.

Berlin was very dangerous right after the war and there was still a lot of watching the citizens to make sure they are not speaking against the East Berlin Government.  This really brought home that even though World War II was over Berlin was a very dangerous place to live.

It also made me think of my office building front desk security guy, Harold, was in Berlin after the war.  Ass I was reading this book, I kept thinking about Harold and what he might have gone through and if he even dealt with some of these types of characters.  I don’t know if he would ever tell me stories about what it was like in Berlin then.  It would be very interesting to get a first-hand account.

If you are fascinated with anything about World War II and that era, pick this one up.  You will be pulled into a story where you will be cheering for the different characters to succeed and survive and cheering when things go wrong for the not so nice characters.

Book description:

The acclaimed author of The Good German deftly captures the ambience (The New York Times Book Review) of postwar East Berlin in his thought-provoking, pulse-pounding (Wall Street Journal) New York Times bestseller a sweeping spy thriller about a city caught between political idealism and the harsh realities of Soviet occupation.

Berlin, 1949. Almost four years after the war’s end, the city is still in ruins, a physical wasteland and a political symbol about to rupture.  In the West, a defiant, blockaded city is barely surviving on airlifted supplies; in the East, the heady early days of political reconstruction are being undermined by the murky compromises of the Cold War.  Espionage, like the black market, is a fact of life.  Even culture has become a battleground, with German intellectuals being lured back from exile to add credibility to the competing sectors.

Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer, fled the Nazis for America before the war.  But the politics of his youth have now put him in the crosshairs of the McCarthy witch-hunts.  Faced with deportation and the loss of his family, he makes a desperate bargain with the fledgling CIA: he will earn his way back to America by acting as their agent in his native Berlin.  But almost from the start things go fatally wrong.  A kidnapping misfires, an East German agent is killed, and Alex finds himself a wanted man. Worse, he discovers his real assignment to spy on the woman he left behind, the only woman he has ever loved.  Changing sides in Berlin is as easy as crossing a sector border.  But where do we draw the lines of our moral boundaries?  At betrayal?  Survival?  Murder?  Joseph Kanon’s compelling thriller is a love story that brilliantly brings a shadowy period of history vividly to life.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

The Brand Demand is filled with twists and turns

Brand DemandI know a book is good when at the start the author is able to grab me by the front of my shirt and suck me into the story so fast that my feet are in the air and my arms are flailing around.  That is what happened when I started reading The Brand Demand by Johnny Worthen.

Johnny contacted me through Goodreads.com about reviewing his book.  Of course I said yes and I’m SO glad I did.  I was sucked into the story with the first couple paragraphs and didn’t come up for breath for several hours.  Johnny does a fantastic job weaving a story that keeps the reader guessing about what is going to happen, how people are connected and how people are going to act.  He didn’t give anything away until the end.

The main character Galen is fed up with what is happening in the world.  He is fed up with people who cheat on their spouses, cheat on their employer and cheat the general public.  So Galen quits his job and becomes a blackmailer.  He has assembled a team with different skills who helps research the marks to make sure he knows everything about the mark.  Once Galen feels comfortable that he knows everything there is to know about the mark, he confronts them and extracts money.

Galen decides his latest mark is Richard Brand and Richard is Galen’s ticket to taking down Richard’s father-in-law, the owner of CarsonCo.  Galen finds out that Richard is cheating on his wife and feels he needs to go after Richard even though he doesn’t know everything he should about Richard.  After Galen confronts Richard and makes his demands, Richard disappears and things start to happen that Galen wasn’t expecting.

If you like intrigue, suspense and a little bit of humor thrown in, then pick up this book.  You will not be disappointed.

Book description:

Galen is political. Galen is fed up. Galen is a blackmailer.

Brand is a jerk who has money. He had an affair and Galen found out. Now Brand has new problems.  A criminal and self-styled Robin Hood, Galen must face down a ruthless enemy who does not share his ideological limitations.

In the footsteps of Edward Abbey’s THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG, THE BRAND DEMAND follows a group of political activists who strike at the system with cunning and guile while getting rich doing it.  Galen takes risks and money, but when his plans go awry, he quickly learns that politics are no substitute for wits.

Galen has to come to grips with his own boundaries of action and love while running for his life in Southern Utah. He has to stay under the radar, dodging skinheads and corporate moguls, Latter Day Saints romance writers and cheating husbands and—of course and always—the authorities.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

In Aqua, water isn’t what it appears to be

AquaAqua by M.A. George is about 17-year-old Layla who lives with her Mom and Aunt Cora.  Each year around Layla’s birthday, they move to a different city and different state.  They always move somewhere close to water where they can get in a daily swim.  In Aqua, they have just moved to Texas.

While at the beach, Layla meets Tristan and Pyke.  She is immediately attracted to Tristan.  Pyke, who is covered in tattoos and has a beard, scares her.  While watching them at the water’s edge, Pyke dives into the water and doesn’t come back up.  When she turns around, Pyke is standing there dry.  The next time she sees the guys, as Pyke is diving into the water, he liquefies before he hits the water.

Layla soon finds out her life and family is not what she thought it was.  George does a great job of creating a world where people live in the ocean and they can easily transition into water.  They can also manipulate water and can make themselves dry quickly.

M.A. George does a great job of immediately drawing the reader into the story and the lives of the characters.  She makes the reader care for Layla and Tristan.  The characters have great depth to them and are all very different.

I had a hard time putting this book down.  When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about Layla and Tristan.  I wanted to put my tablet next to my computer at work so I could read it while I was working.  This is well worth the time if you like the paranormal genre.

Book description:

Novelist (unpublished, but cut her some slack…seventeen is a bit early to despair), Slightly neurotic introvert (Alright, let’s be honest…there’s no “slightly” about it), International Woman of Mystery, and…

Okay, just scratch the bio.

The only real “mystery” in Layla’s life is why her father has never been on the scene. Or why her mother drags Layla to a new coastal home every year.

Nothing about the latest hometown seems too newsworthy…until a routine day at the beach leaves Layla questioning whether she’s read one too many paranormal fantasy novels. The plot thickens when a random guy claims to know things about her father—a bizarre claim he backs up with an equally impossible stunt. And Layla soon finds herself on the wrong side of a mysterious attempted drowning…on her own kitchen floor.

When all is done, Layla will attest that fact is far stranger than fiction. And nothing in real life is ever as transparent as it seems…Not even water.

Especially not water.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Before I Go brings out many emotions for the reader

Before I GoBefore I Go by Colleen Oakley is about Daisy who had breast cancer four years ago and she has just received the results of her recent cancer checkup.  Daisy’s cancer has come back and this time she has been told she might live for 6 months.  Just in time to see her husband Jack graduate from veterinarian school.

Daisy is a list maker.  She puts everything on a list.  She has a list for everything that needs to be done with their old house and a list for what she needs to do for school.  One of those items is to find Jack a new wife so he won’t be left alone once Daisy is gone.  When she was 20, Daisy made a list of what she would do if she had months to live.  Seven years later, her list has changed.  I think my list of what I would do if I had a few months to live hasn’t changed.  I would want to either be in a hammock on the beach or in a small house in Tuscany, Italy.  Somewhere quiet where I can die peacefully with a beautiful surroundings.

This hit a little close to home for me.  I’m an 8 year breast cancer survivor.  I was lucky that the cancer had clear margins and didn’t go to my lymph nodes like Daisy, so there is a 99% chance it won’t come back.  Daisy is a confident person who just wants to make sure everything is in order once she is gone, especially making sure her husband is okay and taken care of.  She thinks he needs someone to take care of him because he can’t even remember to pick up his socks that pile up next to the bed.  I think this is only a distraction for her from the cancer and dying because she doesn’t want to come to terms with dying and not getting to do what she wants, like have a child.

When I read the part where Daisy tells her Mom I cried because I couldn’t tell my parents that I had cancer.  I had one of my sisters call because I knew telling them that their youngest daughter, their baby had breast cancer would break my heart as I knew I would be breaking their hearts.  When I called my husband to tell him I was hyperventilating and he couldn’t understand me.  He thought I had been in an accident.

I really liked Daisy and Jack and her friend Kayleigh.  I thought Daisy and Jack had a great relationship and it was sad to see her try to ruin their relationship by pushing him away for the last few months she was alive.  I wanted to reach in and shake Daisy.  Remind her that what she has with Jack is something special and that she needs to spend what time she has left with Jack as much as possible.

Even if you haven’t had cancer like me, this is well worth the read.  The reader is pulled right into the lives of the characters and will care for Daisy and Jack.  Daisy is a great character.  While reading, I wished that Daisy and Jack could live a long and healthy life together.

Book description:

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer four years ago.  How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant Cancerversary; with her husband Jack to celebrate four years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis.  She may have as few as four months left to live.  Death is a frightening prospect; but not because she’s afraid for herself.  She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him.  It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match.  But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan.  As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness or her own?

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Everyone needs to know a Fred Johnson

Fred with Chanda Rubin, professional tennis player.

Fred with Chanda Rubin, professional tennis player.

My heart is broken this week.  Broken because a friend has lost his battle with cancer.  A friend who had the biggest and kindest heart I have ever known.  Fred Johnson came into my life about 25 years ago while I was working at USTA Missouri Valley.  Fred is the kind of guy who smiled when he saw you, gave hugs freely and truly cared about what was happening in your life.

I had the privilege of working with Fred in the same office for several years when my daughter was little.  It was fun to see my tiny little white girl trying to climb the tall black man so she could hug his neck.  If she was around Fred, she had to have all his attention.

One of my favorite moments happened in the office.  Fred was on the phone behind his desk and my 3-year-old daughter stood next to him, hands on her hips tapping her foot giving him a look that said “you better get off that phone and pay attention to me and it better happen now.”  He did cut that call short and then threw her up over his shoulder making her laugh out loud.

Fred with Martina Navratilova

Fred with Martina Navratilova

I left the USTA Missouri Valley and Fred worked there until the end.  He and my husband were very close and they kept in constant contact over the years but over the last eight years, I saw Fred at events for my current job at the Kansas City Sports Commission.  In true Fred fashion, he volunteers for the Sports Commission and for our program WIN for KC.  He even served on the advisory board for WIN.  We had lots of fun out at the Triathlon cheering on the participants.

I always knew that Fred was well known in Kansas City.  Well known because of his giving to other people without asking for anything in return.  Well known because he seemed to put other people before himself.  Mention you know Fred Johnson to a random stranger and 9 times out of 10 they knew him and commented what a wonderful person he is.

My husband presenting Fred the USTA Missouri Valley President's Award.

My husband presenting Fred the USTA Missouri Valley President’s Award.

Right before Fred was diagnosed, he volunteered for the WIN for KC Camp WIN.  A four-day sports camp we hold for girls ages 6-12.  Fred was out there teaching all these little girls tennis even though he felt horrible.  I know he enjoyed volunteering for Camp WIN.  He was there every June for many years.  Seeing him interact with kids, you could tell, that was one of his favorite places to be.

Now he is gone and it’s so hard to wrap my mind around never seeing his smile, never receiving one of his bear hugs, never laughing with him.  I’m a better person knowing Fred and he will always own a little piece of my heart.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Here are a few stories of how Fred affected people’s lives, making an impact.  These stories are from his Facebook Profile:

Gianni Amber North: I met the man I affectionately called Poppa Fred when I was 6 years old.  My mother took me to Parade Park to take tennis lessons.  He and the equally amazing Prentice Blackmon taught a bunch of “hood kids” how to hit forehands and backhands.  They made us believe we could be tennis players.  In the winter, he would kick the basketball players out of Greg Center and pull a tennis net across the basketball courts.  Myself, Mike Johnson, and about 15 other kids would put all of our boots in a pile, throw our tennis shoes on and play tennis.  Rain, shine, sleet, snow, there was never an excuse not to play.  They are some of the best childhood memories I have.  Poppa Fred told me I was talented and that I should keep playing.  And it was in large part because of his encouragement and support that I was able to develop my talent and get a tennis scholarship.

He sent me court shoes, racquets, paid for tournament fees.  He was an ear to vent to when I felt like I wasn’t good enough.  When my mother and I moved to California and he could no longer be there for me in the flesh, he even made sure I had another angel in Ronita Elder.

They don’t make ‘em like Fred anymore- His laugh, his spirit, his truth, his integrity, his love, his kindness.  He was in every sense of the word the embodiment of what a good man is.  He was a fighter and he went out like a champ.  Good or bad everyone leaves a legacy.  Poppa Fred’s is immeasurable, indelible, and all heart.

Margaret R. Acker: My first memory of Fred was back in 1957.  We meet in our brand new Kindergarten classroom.  We were all quiet, scared and not knowing anyone.  He walked over to me (twice my size – the guy that he was) and said “will you be my friend and can I sit next to you.”  He could hardly fit in those tiny chairs, but he pulled the biggest one over next to me and never left my side that first week.  I will always cherish this special friend.  We grew up together and shared many good times. He was such a fighter and always with that dynamic smile.

Jeff Sikes and Fred.

Jeff Sikes and Fred.

Jeff Sikes: Fred took me under his wing when I started working for USTA Missouri Valley in 2005.  The man always took care of me, always looked out for me, and always was a helping hand.  In this digital age of everyone doing things through the computer or an e-mail, he did it old school, you know by actually talking to people and going to them.  I’ll be honest – his typing skills and computer skills sucked, but the guy made more tennis magic happen than anyone I’ve ever seen.  Generations of kids started playing and will continue to play tennis because of his unique personal skills and effort.  He’s the perfect example of the multiplying effect in action:  He was a singular man turning the love of tennis into thousands feeling the same way.

Yeah, Fred and I took a few-too-long-of-lunch-breaks sometimes together, but we were always getting good BBQ or soul food somewhere in Kansas City, or venturing out to places that would leave lasting impacts on me, like the Negro League Baseball Hall of Fame in downtown KC, or the Brown vs. Board of Education national historic site in Topeka.  Sometimes it was just doing fun stuff like sneaking in a couple of seconds of shooting hoops together at an underprivileged school before we’d teach them tennis.

It was a common occurrence him showing me something I’d never seen before, or, putting me in touch with people doing awe-inspiring things for this sport.  He knew them all.  He knew everyone.  Everyone knew him.  Fred was the ultimate connector of people, the strongest link I’ve known in this great big tennis chain.  This sport of tennis has immediately become a less cool place because of the loss of Fred Johnson. We all need to be links like he was, if only to serve the memory of all the effort he put in.

My first week on the job at USTA Mo Valley, Fred Johnson and I went to a maximum security prison in Fort Madison, Iowa together to teach tennis to inmates – still one of the best stories I have.  Every day I was around him was a fun one, an experience, a memory to not be forgotten.

Yasmine Osborn: Thanks for ALWAYS looking out for me, as a junior tennis player, and throughout my USTA career. I promise to keep you alive in my heart and by continuing your legacy of bringing tennis to all! 

Linda Mann: Today, I lost a special friend. More like a big brother, Fred Johnson has been a part of my life for more than 20 years now. As a new member of the tennis community and family, Fred embraced me like a big brother, educated me, guided me, and kept me laughing throughout all of the work we did to promote tennis in the community. His warm and loving spirit, love for his family, and brotherly demeanor made him special to me and all of us who were part of the Diversity & Inclusion community in the tennis world. 

Exposure is a great YA murder mystery

15874689Exposure: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare’s Macbeth by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes is book two of their Twisted Lit series.

When Skye Kingston moved to Alaska, she becomes good friends with a guy named Craig.  Skye has a crush on Craig but Craig has a girlfriend named Beth Morgan.  Craig is also the quarterback of the football team and Skye is a beautiful shy girl behind the camera and takes photos for the high school newspaper.

Even though Beth is Craig’s girlfriend, she is very jealous of Craig and Skye’s special relationship.  Craig invites Skye to a party to hang out with his friends.  He has invited her many times but she has never accepting thinking that Craig really didn’t want her at the party; he is just extending an invitation.  This time she calls his bluff and accepts an invitation, which Beth is not happy about.

Skye doesn’t like to drink so usually she will hold the same drink all night and act like she is drinking it.  So at the party, she doesn’t get drunk like a lot of the kids.  She also really doesn’t know many of the kids except for Craig’s best friend Duncan, who she actually likes.  While at the party, Skye finds out something about Beth that solidifies she is the wicked witch of Anchorage and is someone you don’t want to watch your back around.

Soon someone yells for Flashlight Tag where there is the hunter and the hunted.  Beth hands Skye a flashlight, grabs Craig’s hand and take off into the woods.  Skye doesn’t want to participate so she climbs into Craig’s Jeep waiting for the game to end.  While in hiding, she overhears Craig and Beth talking about something happening and about an accident.  Soon Duncan is found dead.  Was it an accident or was it murder?

This is a very well written story.  I was quickly sucked into the story and read it in 24 hours.  There are some really interesting characters in the story like Skye’s friends Cat, Kaya and Tess.  They are goofy artists who appear to have special psychic gifts.  Then there is Beth, who you really don’t like from the start.  She is a real beatch.

The story flows easily and makes you think about what you would do if you are a senior in high school with your whole future ahead of you.  How would you handle the situation?  Would you say something or would you stay silent.  If you like young adult books, this is one for your book list.

Book Description:

Double, double, toil and trouble. Sometimes, the quest for high school royalty can be deadly! In this emotionally-charged twist on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a self-conscious shutterbug named Skye Kingston navigates a treacherous school year in Alaska fraught with unspoken secrets and tragic twists of fate. Along the way she encounters three strangely prophetic BFFs; one social-climbing, sociopathic cheerleader; and a heart-stopping hottie named Craig McKenzie: the man who would be Prom King. Can Skye save the boy she loves — and herself — before they get caught in the crosshairs?

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passengers seat

Passing Notes brings me back to my high school days

Passing NotesWho doesn’t remember the first love they had in high school.  The stupid things you did to impress them or to show them how much you love them.  In Passing Notes by D.G. Driver, High School Senior Mark is finally dating Bethany, the girl of his dreams.  He has liked her from a far and now he can call her his girlfriend.  He likes to send her text messages that are cringe worthy like 2gethr 4evr or thnkn of u.

When Mark goes into his British Lit class on the first day of school, the classroom is overcrowded and no desks are available so Mark is placed at an old desk shoved in the back and covered with a bunch of files.  While sitting there, Mark notices a heart carved into the desk with something written in cursive.  Mark sits during class copying the cursive name until it fills his paper.  Once he thinks he has it down, he draws it on his hand not knowing that it says Eileen.

He starts pushing boxes aside to find a little more room on the desk and sees a yellowed note written in cursive.  The note says “What kind of note was that?  Does it even make sense?  You can’t even spell, let alone romance a girl.  Try again.”  Mark feels like the note was directed at him.

Soon, as Mark sends text message after text message to Bethany, he finds a yellowed note telling him to try again because what he is doing is not romantic and will push Bethany away.

For a 61 page novella, Passing Notes reads like a complete book.  It gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Mark and doesn’t make one feel like there is something missing.  D.G. does a great job in just a few pages to introduce the characters to the reader so that the reader is swiftly pulled into the story and take the ride with Mark and Bethany.

There were times I cringed at the text messages that Mark sent.  There were times I laughed at what a dork he was.  It reminded me of being in high school and the stupid things we did to get someone’s attention or for the one we thought we loved.  This was such an enjoyable story that made me smile.

Book description:

Mark has finally gotten the attention of the girl of his dreams.  Only, his lame attempts at romance through texts and emails seem to be turning her off.  When he gets put in the back of the room in an over-full class at school, he begins to discover old notes giving advice about how to write a great love letter.  At first he thinks he’s stumbled on some long-forgotten notes passed in class ages ago, but every time he reads them they seem directed specifically to him.  They also appear at the perfect moment each time he needs more advice. It’s like someone is haunting him.

How do the notes keep appearing?  Who’s writing them?  Why? And if Mark follows the ghostly writer’s advice, will he win Bethany’s love?

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat