Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: 'Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat' by Caroline Burau

✰✰✰ Have you ever wondered about who is on the other end of the line when you dial 911? What does it take to be the calm in the storm when faced with emergencies? Author Caroline Burau answers these questions and more as she tells it like it is by sharing stories of life in the hot seat. On a daily basis, emergency dispatchers across the country alternate between periods of boredom and chaotic activity. As first responders, dispatchers must be prepared to handle anything from reports of theft to multiple car accidents to horrific shootings to delivering a baby.

While all jobs have challenges, life as an emergency dispatcher can require sacrifice and perseverance, grit and assertiveness. The call centers are open 24/7, including holidays, and shifts can vary. Burau discuss the challenges of learning a new job while raising a daughter as well. She is also very candid about her previous drug addiction and how that influenced her desire to help people.

Readers will feel as if they are along for the ride as they experience the highs and lows of a job that few people think about, but depend upon when they are in trouble. 
  
The Bottom Line: Burau’s book is a fast-paced look at the complex job of being an emergency dispatcher. As a former journalist, Burau’s writing is brutally honest, easy to read, and sometimes humorous. The anecdotes provide an inside look at what it’s like to be in the hot seat with lives depending on you. Recommended for anyone considering a career in law enforcement and rescue work. 
  
Book Club Notes: As a group we had lots to say about this book. Some of us really enjoyed it, while others really didn't. Nonetheless, everyone had an opinion. We agreed that this is a tough job, and not everyone is suited for the pressures of being an emergency dispatcher. Most of us have used the service with varying experiences. Getting to read about emergencies from a first person perspective was interesting. The chapters were mostly short and easy to read. However, a few of us didn't like the choppy writing style. Burau talks a lot about the frustration of not getting to know the end of people's stories, and we agreed. We wanted to know the ends of the stories as well. Finally, we all learned the importance of knowing where you are at all times.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the highest), members rated the book from 2 - 4 with an average of 3. Recommended for book clubs looking for a short, yet engaging, read. There was plenty to discuss within the pages of this book.
  
This book did not include a discussion guide. Thus, I took the time to come up with questions to provide structure for our discussion. Since these questions might be useful to other groups, I have included them below. The questions are divided into categories which suited our group. 

For the reader:  
  • Before reading this book, did you have any understanding of what being a dispatcher is like? Did you think it would be easy? How have your impressions changed?
  • All of the calls are different. Would that kind of work appeal to you? Why or why not? 
  • Imagine you are in the “hot seat.” How would you deal with it?
  • Was there a story from the book that made an impression on you?
  • Were there any parts of the book that made you stop reading?
  • This is basically a book about helping people. Does anyone have a job helping people? What does it mean to you to be able to help others?
  • Have you ever called 911? Please share your experience.
About Burau: 
  • Burau shares her past about being a drug addicted teen. How did this influence her decision to become a dispatcher?
  • How did becoming a mother and a dispatcher at the same time affect the author? In each role she worries: “What if I make a mistake & someone gets hurt?”  Plus, the 2 roles continually step on each other. 71
  • She wonders: “Maybe parenting is something you’re either good at or you’re just not.” 73      Are parenting skills something you are born with or something you learn?
  • She says,  “I was also haunted by the idea that what you did or didn’t do in high school would absolutely shape who you became in adulthood.” 20                Do you agree?
  • Her brother was hyperactive. That was his word. Growing up Burau didn’t know how to define herself. She didn’t have a word. 19     Which word would you choose to describe her? How would you define yourself growing up? And now?
  • Burau wants this job to be her calling. 35       Discuss what it means to have a calling. 
About the Job: 
  • Do you consider dispatchers to be first responders?
  • What are some of the qualities that would make someone a good dispatcher?
  • By taking the call, she becomes involved. Discuss the emotional toll of being involved.
  • Discuss almost never getting to know the end of the story. P. 114
  • Discuss NO debriefing opportunities for the dispatchers.
  • Discuss the complexity of the job: multiple screens, giving first aid, gathering information, dispatching, etc
  • How does new technology change the job? (This book was written in 2006.) Also, consider there are fewer land lines and more cell phones now. How does this complicate the job?
  • What do you think of regional dispatch centers compared to local?
  • Discuss her relationships with the other dispatchers.
  • Discuss Kristen. The other dispatchers fear her. The cops, who depend on her, respect her. Kristen has been there 30+ years. “I wonder if it was a conscious decision on her part, or just a slow, steady slipping away of the years. 107            Do you think the author misjudged Kristen? Have you ever misjudged anyone?
  • Discuss the personal sacrifices of working this type of job. For example, the challenges of raising a child while on shift duty.
  • Do SASGs or Wannabes help or hurt the police?
  • Talk about EMD (emergency medical dispatch).
  • Burau notes that on the job: “Not only is there no way to make everyone happy, it’s nearly impossible to make anyone happy.” 150     Is this true in other situations as well?
Other Questions: 
  • She asks, “Why are we so hesitant to act on anyone’s behalf but our own?” 149 And if you knew something was happening in your neighborhood, would you call home? 85
  • Discuss why domestics are the most dangerous calls they take. 142
  • She notes: Sometimes “victims of mid- to low-level crimes are more irritable than victims of high-level or violent crime. They have had more time to think about how badly they’ve been wronged.  They don’t get enough validation from anyone around them about how badly they’ve been wronged.” 192                            Do you agree?
  • One day someone makes light of death. It bothers the author. 124 Would it bother you?
  • She is dismayed that “…sometimes I find myself taking a certain tone with people that I know I would hate if I were on the other end of it.” 153        Has this happened to you? On either end? How did you deal with it?
  • Discuss the writing style.
  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the book.
  • Rate the book from 1 – 5 and share why you did or didn’t enjoy it. 

Details: Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau. Paperback published by Borealis Books in 2006. 206 p. ISBN: 978-0-87351-602-0 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review: 'Hero of the Empire' by Candice Millard

✰✰✰✰½ Leader. Power. Strength. And Optimism. These are all words associated with one of the world’s greatest leaders of all time, Winston Churchill. However, there was a time when words to describe him might have included: Arrogant. Conceited. Entitled. And spoiled rich kid.

When Churchill was just 24, he was completely convinced that he was destined to become the Prime Minister of England. But, no one else thought so. Although Churchill lost his first election by a landslide, he was not one to give up. He knew that in order to achieve his lofty goal, he must excel on the battlefield.

As a war correspondent, Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899 to cover the Boer War. Only 2 weeks later, he was captured and held as a prisoner of warWhile others simply accepted their fate, Churchill dreamed of freedom, and he pulled off a daring escape. All ALONE with just 4 slabs of chocolate, his wits, and lots of luck, Churchill crossed hundreds of miles of enemy territory to freedom.

Along the way Winston Churchill evolved from privileged, conceited youth to respected world leader. How was this possible? In the words of Winston Churchill, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference.”

The Bottom Line: From the author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic comes the true story of Winston Churchill’s road to fame and heroism. Once again, Candice Millard has woven together an epic adventure filled with danger, courage, lucky breaks, and never-ending optimism. Highly recommended for history buffs and readers who enjoy biographies.

Details: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard. Hardcover published by Doubday in 2016. 416 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-53573-1

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Betty Bunny Loves Easter' by Michael B. Kaplan

✰✰✰✰ Betty Bunny is a handful. She loves Easter so much; she wants to be the Easter Bunny when she grows up. So when Easter rolls around, she's ready to collect lots of Easter eggs. When she realizes that her family is helping her, she puts her foot down. This year she is determined to find the eggs all by herself.  It's not easy, but Betty Bunny discovers how great it feels to accomplish something on your very own.

The Bottom Line: This adorable installment of the Betty Bunny series focuses on independence. Little ones in preschool and kindergarten will relate to this Easter tale about learning to do things on your own. The festive, colorful illustrations are engaging and hilarious. Highly recommended for story time and bedtime reading.

Details: Betty Bunny Loves Easter written by Michael B. Kaplan & illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch. Hardcover picture book published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2015. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-8037-4061-7

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review: 'The Passover Lamb' by Linda Elovitz Marshall

✰✰✰½ Little Miriam is excited for the Passover seder to begin at her grandparents' house. It's her first year to to sing the Four Questions at the seder. Before her family can leave the farm, all the chores must be done, and Miriam discovers that something is wrong with one of the sheep. Though it's late in the season, new lambs are soon born. Unfortunately, one of the newborns is left lying all alone in the hay. It looks like Miriam's family will have to stay at home, until Miriam hatches a clever plan.

The Bottom Line: Illustrated with soft watercolors, this sweet tale was inspired by a true event. Check out this gentle story to read with your little ones.

Details: The Passover Lamb written by Linda Elovitz Marshall & illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss. Hardcover picture book published by Random House in 2013. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-93177-1

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Book Review: 'April Fools!' by Else Holmelund Minarik

✰✰✰½ It's April Fools' Day, and Little Bear wants to create some mischief. As he climbs out of bed, he tries to think up a trick to fool Mother Bear, but he waits to long. All morning long Little Bear and his friends try to think up April Fools' jokes. Soon they grow hungry, and when they arrive at Little Bear's house for lunch, the joke's on them!

The Bottom Line: Little Bear is popular with little ones ages 3 – 6. Hahner's watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are pleasing to the eye and draw attention to Little Bear. Recommended for Preschool story time.


Details: April Fools! (Maurice Sendak's Little Bear) written by Else Holmelund Minarik & illustrated by Chris Hahner. Hardcover picture book published by HarperFestival in 2003. 24 p. ISBN: 0-694-01694-2

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Review: 'Looking for Mr. Good Witch' by Joyce & Jim Lavene

✰✰✰✰ When handsome, young male witches begin to turn up dead along the Carolina coast, everyone is baffled. It's difficult to kill a witch, so who could have done it? There's only one possibility...a rare sea witch. Sea witches must mate every one hundred years in order to continue living. So far, this sea witch hasn't found her perfect match, but now she has her sights on Brian Fuller.

Molly and Elsie have been hoping to retire soon. However, after their friend, Olivia, died and their spell book went missing, all plans for retirement have been put on hold. As they struggle to find the missing spell book and find replacements for themselves, they end up in the middle of another dangerous mystery. Olivia isn't much help in her ghostly form, while her daughter, Dorothy, struggles to control her new powers.


With strong forces working against them, Molly and Elsie must rely on their wits and wisdom to compensate for their faltering magic. Will it be enough to identify the sea witch and save Brian from her evil spell? This paranormal, cozy mystery will have you on the edge of your seat as you follow the twists and turns of this installment of the Retired Witches mysteries. 

The Bottom Line: This fun weekend read will enchant both adult and young adult readers. This mystery has plenty of action and suspense, with just a dash of romance mixed in. Highly recommended for cozy mystery buffs and readers interested in a bit of the paranormal. This engaging series has endearing characters, and I'm looking forward to reading the next one. While I have been reading the books in order, it isn't necessary to do so. 


Details: Looking for Mr. Good Witch by Joyce & Jim Lavene. Paperback published by Berkley Prime Crime in 2015. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-425-26826-1 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Ten Lucky Leprechauns' by Kathryn Heling

✰✰✰✰½ Follow one wee leprechaun as he searches for treasure. Along the way, his treasure hunt leads him instead to find more leprechauns. One after another, the number of leprechauns grows until together they find a surprise at the end of the rainbow. 

The Bottom Line: Kids ages 3 – 5 will love the catchy, rhyming verses as they learn to count to ten. This wee picture book is perfect for preschool story time.


Details: Ten Lucky Leprechauns written by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook & illustrated by Jay Johnson. Paperback picture book published by Scholastic in 2012. 24 p. ISBN: 978-0-545-43648-9

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book Review: 'Truck: A Love Story' by Michael Perry

✰✰✰½ Humorist Michael Perry brings readers the true story of a truck, a garden, and a girl. As a confirmed bachelor, Perry enjoys a comfortable life in Wisconsin. He proudly serves with his neighbors on the New Auburn Area Fire Department and spends his time writing. He is surrounded by family, good friends, and fun times. However, as Perry approaches forty, he yearns for something more.

Peppered with anecdotes about the characters he encounters on a daily basis, readers follow Perry through a year of truck restoration, amateur gardening, and finding true love. Will he finally settle down with the girl of his dreams? Check this one out for your book club and discuss his adventures.


The Bottom Line: This is an endearing look at small town life in the Midwest. No matter where you live, readers will relate to searching for true love and finding a sense of belonging. Perry writes about family and friends with humor, kindness, and respect. His writing brings a unique focus to everyday things and an appreciation for living in the present. Recommended for car enthusiasts, gardeners, and romantics who enjoy a happy ending.


Book Club Notes: Our group was quite divided in their impressions of this book. Half of the group really liked it. We enjoyed Perry's humor and take on small town life. We discussed the possibility of living off the grid…at least for a little while. We also had a sincere discussion about the challenges of blended families and marrying later in life.


Those who didn’t like the book had trouble with the first chapter or two. A few didn’t finish reading it. They were especially bogged down with the descriptions of repairing the truck, which contrasted with those who really enjoyed the same descriptions. Finally, some members had difficulty reading about hunting.


We all agreed that we did learn something from this book, including a recipe for tomato stock. Also, several members mentioned that they would like to talk to the author because he sounded like a really nice guy.


Ratings for this book averaged around 3.5 (on a scale from 1 – 5), and several people will be looking into Perry’s other books. 


Book clubs can find book discussion questions from the Madison Public Library hereAdditionally, here are some more questions I asked the group: 

1. Discuss the following quote: “No matter our vocation, we so often find ourselves living life as a form of triage.” p. 107 

2. Anneliese says: We are what we are because of what was. p. 148 What does she mean? Does anyone ever feel like they wish they could change the past? Or ask for a do-over? 

3. Perry writes: “It’s so easy to get caught up in our brief little history…You forget sometimes what a disruption you are. And how late you have entered the game. p. 184   Have you ever felt like this? 

4. Discuss the difficulties of blended families. 

5. Which topic appealed to you the most and why? Repairing the truck? Gardening? Finding true love? Small town life? 

6. The author and Anneliese discuss living off the grid. Would living off the grid appeal to you? Why or why not? 

7. Compare and contrast small town life vs. city life. 

8. What is the appeal of this book beyond the Midwest? 

Details: Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry. Paperback published by Harper Perennial in 2007, reissued in 2016. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-06057118-4