Staff Blogs

Booktalking "My Story" by Elizabeth Smart

In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom in Utah in the middle of a night by a stranger at knife-point. The girl was terrified and feared for her life.

For the next nine months, she would come to know the following well:








Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, teamed up to make her life a living hell. The trio camped in the woods, and Smart experienced unbearable heat, unsanitary living conditions, boring days and long monologues of prophetizing by "Immanuel." The teen was chained inside the tent and raped almost daily.

When pushed enough by his wife, Mitchell would bring the two females into town to scavenge for and steal food. They wore veils, and Elizabeth was too frightened to attempt to flee. Mitchell repeatedly warned her that he would kill her entire family if she attempted to escape. Smart was happy to be getting out of the camp and hopeful that someone would recognize her and report it to the authorities. However, she always returned to camp somewhat dispirited. Mostly, the people they saw treated them with repugnance and disgust since they were unclean and malodorous.

Then, Mitchell got spooked by a cop in the local library who wanted Elizabeth to remove her veil. The captor sited religious obligation as a reason for refusal. Eventually, the police officer walked away, and Mitchell gloated about the incident later at the camp. So, they moved to California after finding enough money for bus tickets. They stayed for six months and spent their time looking for food and shelter. An extreme weather event was interpreted by Mitchell as a sign that they needed to move again. Elizabeth claimed that God had told her that they should return to Salt Lake City. Mitchell, amazingly enough, decided that she was correct.

Mitchell, Wanda and Elizabeth alternately walked and hitchhiked the 736 miles between the cities. The trek was physically exhausting. They walked with heavy packs in the blistering sun, often going a day without food or water. Eventually, the surroundings became familiar. When they were 20 minutes from her house, the teen became hopeful. This hope was dashed to the crushing dread that they were returning to the high camp in the mountains behind Elizabeth's house. As they were walking towards the mountains, a cop car spotted them. More cars quickly surrounded them, and the trio was questioned separately.


My Story by Elizabeth Smart, 2013


This is a bizarre story of the kidnapping and prolonged torture and repeated rape of a 14-year-old girl. Elizabeth Smart's resilience and strength inspire me.


Elizabeth Smart Foundation

Elizabeth Smart's web site


Booktalking "Filthy Rich" by James Patterson

Jeffrey Epstein had a talent with numbers. He could straighten out many a wealthy person's finances in no time flat. Though he was born into poverty, he began to reap the monetary rewards of being an economic wiz. Hobnobbing with the rich and famous soon became second nature to him. He enjoyed a life of luxury, which included owning prime real estate in multiple swanky locations, including Palm Beach, Manhattan, and Little St. James Island, which he owned. Epstein enjoyed attending parties and meeting many women. 

However, there was a pernicious undercurrent to all of the glitz and glamour. Epstein had a habit of hanging out with underage girls. Some of the teenagers that he encountered, he turned into pimps. According to them, the younger the better. His choice hunting grounds: local middle and high schools. When girls visited his residences to give him "massages," he would sometimes offer them $200 to bring in another girl. This seemed like easy money to some, and they obliged. Epstein was seeing two to three girls per day on a regular basis.

All of this coming-and-going activity of young females in and out of Epstein's homes did not escape the attention of the local authorities. In fact, in at least one of the locations where there was an active, ongoing investigation into him, the billionaire made a hefty donation to the local police department. Eventually, a parent of one of the girl "masseuses" went to police with her suspicions about Epstein. It was not long before the house of cards began to fall.   


Filthy Rich by James Patterson, 2016


This is definitely a tale of the differential treatment of wealthy criminal suspects. The scope and breath of Epstein's elaborate brothel schemes is shocking.


James Patterson's web site


Booktalking "Promise Me, Dad: a Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose" by Joe Biden

Cover image for Promise me, Dad : a year of hope, hardship, and purposeIn 2012, Obama and Biden ran and won the presidential and vice presidential race.

In 2013, Beau Biden was diagnosed with brain cancer.

In 2014, Beau's diagnosis and prognosis weighed heavily on the family.

In 2015, Joe Biden needed to decide whether to run for president. His son died in May.

In 2016, Biden decided to take the time he needed to grieve the loss of Beau.

Initially, Joe Biden was hesitant to accept a vice presidential position with Obama in 2012 due to the fact that the job has been widely viewed essentially as a non-position. In fact, when he received the request from Obama while riding the train, he flat-out said no. Later, his family urged him to reconsider the offer. After meeting with Barack Obama and discussing the potential partnership, Biden decided that he appreciated Obama's style of management. He was convinced that he would be able to have input and influence into all aspects of Obama's administration. He would be invited to attend all the key meetings and to give Obama his advice and impressions of each of them.

During Obama's second term as president, concern about his son troubled the vice president. Beau's brother, Hunter, was especially close to Beau, and he provided him with an incredible amount of support. Joe Biden visited Beau at the hospital whenever he could. Beau was an inspiration to all of his family and the medical personnel who worked closely with him. Beau was stoic, and he willingly tried all of the options that the doctors laid out for him. He allowed experimental treatments to be utilized on himself. Through all of the pain and anxiety, Beau had a wonderfully positive attitude about himself, the world, and his loved ones.

As vice president, Joe Biden had the opportunity to travel the world. He ensured that all of his grandchildren travelled to nations with him. He liked to enhance their civic education by taking his grandfatherly duties as seriously as the negotiation talks that he engaged in while he was abroad. In Iraq and Ukraine, he attempted to minimize war and harm to civilians. He spent countless hours in conversation to reach compromises that all countries involved could live with. 

Among his many accomplishments, 46-year-old Beau Biden was a Delaware state attorney general, and he served for a year in the Iraq War. He was married, and he had two children. He wanted everyone to be happy, and he did not want his illness to sadden his father. He urged his father to run for president in 2016. Beau would have been so proud to see his dad take on the herculean task of running to lead the country through the pandemic and racial strife of the USA in 2020.

Promise Me, Dad: a Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose by Joe Biden, 2017


This was a touching book that was difficult to get through due to the pain and heartache of watching a vibrant middle-aged man suffer through cancer treatments. 


Beau Biden Foundation


Booktalking "Racing Manhattan" by Terence Blacker

Jasmine "Jay" Barton longs to work with horses at a racetrack. She visits all of the yards in the racetrack to request a job. At the last barn, the wife of trainer, Mr. Wilkinson, summons her to speak with him. The trainer reluctantly agrees to giver her a job as a "lad." The lads act as grooms, cleaning the stable, horses and tack. Her training consists of instructions to do as she is told, not ask questions, and remain quiet. The horses come first, or so they say. 

The teen has a front-row seat to the ugly underbelly of the horse world. She gets paid little, and her rent is deducted from her paycheck. She is assigned to work in the back yard with the second string horses, which is much less snazzy than the stable filled with prize equines. The girl observes one of the workers threaten a horse with a pitchfork and the remnants of evidence that his abuse has left behind. She sees a neglected horse left in a bullpen with a solemn, disconsolate look in her eye. Then, Jay is caught between a nasty colleague and a terrified horse when someone plays a trick on her. 

The girl's home life was troubled, which led her to the job with horses. Jay loves the majesty of horses, and all of these magical qualities are personified in Manhattan. The mare is a big, grey Thoroughbred who has shown promise on the track, but then turned sour. Her unfriendly attitude has led to her disuse. She dislikes men in particular, and no one approaches her without fear of injury. However, Jay takes a shine to her. The troubled teen sees through the equine's  bravado. She acknowledges the fact that the horse despises people simply because they terrorize and attack her. The teen begs her supervisor to allow her to work with and ride Manhattan. She is deterred at first, but persistence leads the way to a better life for both girl and mare. Mr. Wilkinson, finally, grudgingly, allows Jay to bond with the cantankerous equine.

The young apprentice rider is handling several other horses, and as time passes, she is even assigned to work a race. Jay cannot believe that her dream goal of becoming a jockey has suddenly become true! She has been working hard in the gym on the racehorse simulator to build up her racing muscles, and she studied hard at the training school. Jay rides the second string horse in front of the owner. She is told to ride in the race, but not to win since a winner for that race has already been selected. This unexpected requirement slaps Jay in the face with the reality of the racehorse industry.

Racing Manhattan by Terence Blacker, 2018


The horse racing world is notoriously difficult for both equines and humans. I worked briefly in Australia as a hotwalker at a notable horse racing barn. This book was clearly well-researched and was written by a former amateur jockey.


Books about horse races

British Racing School

Gai Waterhouse Stables



Booktalking "The Perfect Horse: the Daring Rescue of Horses Kidnapped During World War II" by Elizabeth Letts

Hitler stole more than 17 million lives, including 6 million Jewish lives. 

He confiscated the mental health of many survivors, and many years of people's lives wondering and worrying about the war.

Adolf Hitler also kidnapped horses. 

Alois Podhajsky, director, rider and riding instructor from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, devoted himself to saving the precious Lipizzaner and Arabian horses that were taken from Austria and shipped off to Czechoslovakia. Numerous military officials, such as Colonel Hank Reed, spent much time trying to save these horses. The equines were moved from farm to farm to attempt to escape the dangers of war. Their handlers did not want the hungry Russian troops to eat the horses, have them shot or otherwise destroyed by war, or simply frightened into dangerous situations or starved to death due to lack of resources. Food was scarce for both humans and equines; grain and hay was rationed. 

Lipizzaners are a rare and fantastic breed, and people did not want this treasure to be lost and the art of dressage to die out. The horses execute high-level dressage movements, which is a delicate dance between horse and rider. All of these moves occur naturally in the wild during play, sex or fighting. Sometimes performed to music, dressage requires the horse to execute physically difficult maneuvers that are subtly cued by the rider. Examples include a piaffe, is a trot in place, and a passage, an extended trot with a distinct pause midair, in which the horse appears to "float." Other moves are pirouettes, hand gallops and leg yields. Airs about ground are courbettes and caprioles.  

The horses were moved from place to place, sometimes by walking them and sometimes by truck. The treks were exhausting for the equines, and many died during the arduous journeys. In some cases, moving the horses was impossible, and the troops simply attempted to protect the horses where they were. Broodmares ready to drop foals and young colts and fillies could not make the journey on foot. Thankfully, the determination of the American military force allowed some of these precious, sweet, and well-trained animals to be preserved. The high-level art of dressage could live on.

The Perfect Horse: the Daring Rescue of Horses Kidnapped During World War II by Elizabeth Letts, 2019


This was a tragic story of the incredible toll that WWII took on non-human animals as well as humans. The suffering that the entire world endured in the early 1940s makes the obstacles that we face today pale in comparison. I have seen the performance of these magnificent creatures live, and it was an awesome sight to behold.


Books about Lipizzaners

Spanish Riding School