Instinct and intent. These are the two overriding concepts woven through The Light of Asteria. Instinct is when you listen to the small voice inside y...moreInstinct and intent. These are the two overriding concepts woven through The Light of Asteria. Instinct is when you listen to the small voice inside you, directing your actions. The voice that is not dominated by wants and needs. Most times in this hectic world, the noise of our existence drowns out the voice and we can no longer clearly hear it. And intent because it isn't enough to do things because it is the right thing to do, we must do them with the right intentions or the acts themselves are tarnished. How much better off would this world be should we start listening to instinct and acting with the purest of intentions?
The Light of Asteria opens in the Appalachians, an area of the country which has always held a fascination for me. Nora starts her life with little, and little expectation for having more. Having a mother who died in child birth and a father who became an alcoholic and put her in foster care, Nora Johnson would seem to have reason to be bitter about life. Her best friends have just gone off to college together, without her, and she's stuck at home with her foster mother Edna, attending the local community college, and working in a mom & pop hardware store. But instead, Nora chooses to focus on how much better her life has been with Edna, someone who truly loves her for who she is, and considers herself a survivor. The survivor mentality has gotten her this far in life, and she expects it to get her through the rest.
Without a doubt, my favorite parts of The Light of Asteria are the descriptions of Edna's mountain and the life on it and the last pure land--which I'm not going to say too much about because of potential spoilers. Isaacs gift of description brings the settings to life and the settings become much like a character. My favorite character? Edna--no question. This woman in her sixties took in a "difficult" child and raised her in a loving atmosphere, and helped Nora retain a core of purity which becomes so important later on in the book. How can you not like a woman who runs down a slip & slide in her sixties?
Overall, Elizabeth Isaacs has penned a well-imagined tale fraught with beauty, innocence, evil, and adventure. There were a few mechanical issues which bounced me out of the story at times, but those aside, The Light of Asteria was an enjoyable read for a debut novel and leaves us with a message of hope. I am looking forward to reading the additional books in this trilogy.(less)
Epic Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Romance, Angels, Demons, Heaven and Earth. I have been waiting for a chance to read The Fallen Queen for quite some time now. I've had the privilege of catching some snippets of the book while playing on Twitter, and the concept intrigued me, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of the book. The Fallen Queen is full of angels and demons, but not in the way you might think. Jane Kindred has taken the story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia and the fall of Imperial Russia and blended it with fantasy, with current day Heaven being a reflection of the happenings of Russia, 1918, down to the rumors of the escape of Anastasia. The result is an engaging tale which takes the reader through a maze of political intrigue, assassinations, and romance.
The book opens in the realm of Heaven with the Grand Duchess Anazakia Helisonovna of the House of Arkhangel'sk, a mere seventeen-year-old, playing against a demon in a game of chance at a wingcasting table in Raqia -- a city of the Fallen in Heaven, and home to several dens of iniquity, such as the Brimstone where our Angel gambled her crystals away. And just like that -- I was hooked. Raqia, the Brimstone, just the names set the atmosphere for what was to come. And opening with an Angel at a wingcasting table? Superb.
Our Angel, Anazakia, is a rather self-absorbed person at the beginning of the book, looking for fun and adventure, and didn't realize she had brought on more adventure than she could handle. Using a form of magic, she split her essence, so there was a version of herself left at home to attend balls, or dinners, things that Anazakia herself would find boring, while the real Anazakia would sneak out of the palace and head to Raqia to experience life.
It is during one of these forays to Raqia when she finds herself at the wingcasting table facing the demon Belphagor, and is gambling away her crystals while her family is violently slain by her cousin Kae -- including the shade of herself.
And lest you think that since this book is about Angels and Demons there are religious overtones to it -- there are not. Angels are the Host and reflective of nobility and the supernal (imperial) family. Demons represent the peasant class. And in this peasant class is Belphagor, The Prince of Tricks, and the hero of the piece. Here is Anazakia's description of Belphagor upon their first meeting:
Raqia's reigning prince that night was a dark-haired demon with eyes as sharp as the waxed points of his hair. He played his hand as cool as you please and barely seemed to notice me, but he put nearly card I discarded into play with his own and soon had me hemorrhaging both cards and crystal. Smoke burned my eyes as the demon nursed his cigar in a deliberate distraction. When he took it between his fingers, I could not help following with my eyes. Beneath the tattered lace of his cuffs, black crosses and diamonds, interlaced with characters of an unfamiliar alphabet, braced his fingers between the knuckles like rings made of ink.
Kindred hooks the reader from the start and takes them on a wild chase from Heaven to the terrestrial plane of man, with the Grand Duchess in the care of two demons as she flees for her life. A brilliantly executed story and one any fantasy lover must read. Jane Kindred is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and would highly recommend you read The Devil's Garden, a novella by Kindred which I reviewed in August, while waiting for the release on December 6th of The Fallen Queen.
I loved this book. I tried to think of another way to start this review, but that is the overwhelming thing that comes to mind. Reading Molly Hacker I...moreI loved this book. I tried to think of another way to start this review, but that is the overwhelming thing that comes to mind. Reading Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! is like getting together with an old friend you haven't seen for a while and catching up on all that has happened in her life during the past year. You know the experience... two friends sitting down over coffee, refilling cups a few times, but then ultimately gabbing as the coffee turns stone-cold. People nearby are muttering because you've held down the best table in the joint for hours and show NO signs of moving on. And when you pull out your phone as the conversation winds down, you're shocked to find that so much time has passed, I mean, really, you only started talking half an hour ago, right?
Molly Hacker, reporter for the Swansea Herald, is very single when the book opens, attending a wedding with her best-friend Tony whom she has always been in love with, but he happens to be married to his high school sweetheart. She is still trying to get over a broken heart from her last relationship with Leo, but is having a difficult time with it. And friends, family, and enemies are NOT helping. In fact, the helping hand of friends, while not responsible for the end of her last relationship, gave it a good shove in that direction. But with her nemesis, Naomi Hall-Benchley, Molly's single status is a challenge, and she considers Molly's say in the matter immaterial. As we romp through this romantic comedy, Molly winds up juggling no less than four men, in the small community of Swansea where everybody knows everybody else's business and considers it their own. That's not a feat most women (or men) could pull off. *Whispers* And Molly is no different.
Maybe one of the reasons I connected so well with this book is that like Molly Hacker, I took my time to find the right guy. Before I took the trip down matrimony lane, I wanted someone I fully connected with, someone who wasn't second-best or settled for. Because I knew that was a recipe for a quick trip through divorce court. I also had the pressure from friends and family (although thankfully none from my mother) about when I'd finally settle down. And like Molly, I didn't give my heart easily, but when I did, it was completely.
Brodey does a fantastic job with the characters, even down to Molly's cat, Captain Jack. I expected no less because last year I read, Squalor, New Mexico, and thoroughly enjoyed Brodey's character development in that book. Randy was an instant fave and the banter between him and Molly is priceless. The only one who borders on caricature is Naomi Hall-Benchley, and it works and I believe is deliberate... and haven't we all had a Naomi in our life in one way or another?
My life has been in hyper-busy mode of late, and there appears to be no end in sight on the to-do list, so I thought I'd read Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! a chapter a night before going to sleep. Yes, it'd take me longer to read, but at least I'd feel like I made progress with it since it is something I have been wanting to read prior to its release. Well, as things go, one chapter turned into two, and two into three, and so on. Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! cost me some precious hours of sleep, but it was well worth the resultant bags under the eyes. And before I conclude and tell you that you'll be missing out on a great romantic comedy if you skip this one, Molly has been blogging for the past year on her website and the posts are just as charming and engaging as the book, with illustrations created for each post. It is well worth a read and a comment or two. Stop by and check it out. And don't miss the video of Molly as she raps about her experiences. So??? What are you waiting for? Pick up a copy of Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! or put it on your to-be-read list today.(less)
Remember those humiliating moments during childhood and adolescence when making a public mistake? Or when someone outside the family has been subjecte...moreRemember those humiliating moments during childhood and adolescence when making a public mistake? Or when someone outside the family has been subjected to the dorkiness that is your parents? If so, you'll have an idea of what it's like to be Darla McKendrick, who is easily embarrassed by her father's cliches and suffered a major humiliation because of a lie told to her by Aunt Didi when she first learned of an aunt she'd never met -- Rebecca.
As Squalor, New Mexico opens, nine-year-old Darla overhears a conversation between her mother and Aunt Didi about her mysterious Aunt Rebecca, who they only discussed when they thought no one else was listening. This time what captured Darla's attention was a word she didn't understand because Aunt Didi described Rebecca as living in squalor, so just as all children do, Darla asked what squalor meant. As her mother hemmed and hawed, Aunt Didi jumped in to answer. "It's a town in New Mexico, Darla. It's an Indian name." Darla had more questions about the tidbits she'd overheard, but the additional questions were squashed and she was sent to finish some homework. But, of course, Darla couldn't let it go, so a couple weeks later, when having dinner with the Alexanders (Aunt Didi's family) Darla questioned why they couldn't visit Aunt Rebecca, and Uncle George took on the answer.
"Darla, listen to me," Uncle George barked. "We don't see your aunt Rebecca because, well, as your aunt Didi says, she lives in Squalor, and knowing Rebecca, you can be damn sure there's no way she'll ever get out. That's it now!" "She could screw her way out!" I said helpfully.
Which of course caused a family uproar as Darla had only repeated the words Aunt Didi said. And for awhile, that was it, even though Darla didn't forget about the mysterious aunt who seemed to make her parents edgy every time her name was mentioned. That is until Darla was in the seventh grade, and her enemy Amy Ludwig, whom Darla referred to as Lughead, smugly answered the question of what cities were in New Mexico, but Darla knew she could top her. "I have an aunt who lives in Squalor!" I said proudly, looking right into the Lughead's eyes. Darla was mortified when she found out that, as her teacher put it, "...you'll find squalor in the dictionary, not on the map."
Lisette Brodey takes us on a journey into a family where secrets abound and cause untold pain as Darla is growing up because there are so many things which are kept a secret and she feels she is being blamed for Rebecca's mistakes instead of her own. And no matter how hard she tries, she can't seem to get away from the shadow that Rebecca still cast in their lives -- even when no one had heard from her or seen her since before Darla was born. Ultimately, Darla and her three cousins, April, May, and June try to piece together the past to help unlock the present.
I'll be honest, when I saw the number of pages listed for the book, my eyes opened a bit as it would be on the long side for a young adult novel. I do know that the novel originally was not intended as a young adult, but does fit in the young adult mold, although can be enjoyed by all ages from young adult on up. So, in a way, I'm glad I read the book on my Kindle because with a Kindle you simply keep on turning the pages, and there isn't the physical reminder of the size of the book (unless you watch the little scroll bar at the bottom). This enabled me to read for the pleasure of it, and I found the story kept pulling me along to the point where I didn't want to stop reading. I wanted to find out exactly what happened in the past and why they allowed the past to cast such a long and all-encompassing shadow over their lives.
Brodey does a masterful job of putting us in the mind of Darla McKendrick and we feel her pain as she is growing and maturing into a young woman. Throughout the book are wonderful characters to meet, such as the detestable Uncle Martin and his latest floozy, Maude. By the time you're done reading Squalor, New Mexico, you'll feel as if you are a member of the McKendrick's extended family, who for all their flaws, really do love one another. Definitely a book to check out.(less)
For someone who loves the children’s through young adult market, books written for a middle grade audience are some of the most fun to read. The targe...moreFor someone who loves the children’s through young adult market, books written for a middle grade audience are some of the most fun to read. The target audience is always ready to suspend disbelief and allow their imaginations full reign and yet are looking for some more complex issues to encounter between the pages. As a child, I loved to lose myself in a book. To enter the world the author devised and play the words on the page like a movie in my head… and, I’ll admit it, I still do. For those moments, the characters are friends and foes, and their world becomes real.
Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup. ~ Anonymous Dragon
I love this quote — it makes me giggle every time I read it. Jacobs has the quote on the title page of the book, and it gives us the flavor for what is to come. Deglan is a ten-year-old hatchling, who has not yet taken part in the Rising Ceremony. The Rising Ceremony causes Deglan some concern because his mark, which every dragon receives at birth, has been changing…and it’s not supposed to. Deglan is afraid because Lord Edric has been searching for the dragon of legend for as long as Deglan can remember, and the dragon of legend has a mark in the shape of a dragon, instead of the more usual crescent or star. Which is exactly what Deglan’s mark has morphed into. Could he be the dragon Lord Edric has been seeking? And if Lord Edric discovers his mark at the Rising Ceremony, will his family be banished… or worse?
Meia, is a ten-year-old foster child who has been bounced from family to family, mainly because of her dreams and nightmares about dragons, until she has finally been placed with a family who take her obsession in stride. The Bensens encourage Meia to talk about her dreams, instead of thinking she is weird. Meia is a daydreamer, and has trouble focusing in class sometimes because her mind takes her on flights of fancy… on the back of a blue dragon.
Deglan and Meia both have their part to fulfill the legend centuries old. An unlikely alliance to say the least, but one that takes us on a roller-coaster ride — exciting from the morphing of the mark to the thrilling conclusion.
Born To Be A Dragon is a delightful read and has almost as many twists and turns as Meia has freckles on her nose. In her debut novel, Eisley Jacobs truly gets into the ten-year-old mindset and has written the book in alternating points of view. So you get the perspective of Deglan and Meia throughout and their different takes on the circumstances as they unfold. This makes it a great read for both boys and girls because they each have a main character to identify with. Each of the characters jump off the page, whether their part is large or small, even down to Philip the garden gnome. In addition, Jacobs has artwork starting each chapter, drawn by satisfied readers who are eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. Charming.
A fun-filled story for dragon-lovers everywhere.(less)
I think I’ve said this before, but I love mysteries. I cut my reading teeth on the cozies of Agatha Christie — I have read every single one more times...moreI think I’ve said this before, but I love mysteries. I cut my reading teeth on the cozies of Agatha Christie — I have read every single one more times than I or anyone else can count — and it didn’t stop there. After mastering the entire Christie collection, I moved on to the works of P. D. James and her Adam Dalgliesh series, got hooked by Elizabeth Peters and the capers of Amelia Peabody, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby, love the animal antics of Rita Mae Brown’s books written with Sneaky Pie Brown, and have shivered through many a Mary Higgins Clark, and in recent years have added Linda Welch’s paranormal mysteries to my “must have” list.
While my list is a little less than comprehensive, you get the picture. And now, I must add another to the must have list, and that is the southern mystery of Denise Grover Swank’s Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes and her main character, Rose Gardner. As you might be able to tell from my listed reading selections above, I enjoy the characters as much if not more than the mystery aspect. And I’ll admit to loving the fluffy grandmotherly Miss Marple more than the efficient, symmetrically-driven Poirot — although I enjoy both. And with Rose Gardner, Swank gives us a character to root for. Through the book, we get to watch Rose blossom into the woman she wants to become. After being kept firmly under her mother’s thumb for twenty-four years, Rose has had enough. She’s had enough of the small town of Henryetta pointing their fingers at her until she shrinks into the background, she’s had enough of having to hide the person she is inside, and as with all “breaking out” situations, sometimes it takes a bit of forcefulness to make it happen. And with Rose there is no exception.
Only not everyone chooses to break out and start living their life on their own terms at the same time their mother is murdered. And then there’s Joe, the cute next-door neighbor, who wants to help her through the situation of being accused of murdering her own mother, but can she trust him? And of course, there is the whole having-seen-your-own-death-in-a-vision thing — and Rose is never wrong in what she sees. The list is delightful, and yet sometimes bittersweet, and provides the backbone to the story.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but will say that Swank gives us a character to identify with and takes us on a ride with more curves and twists than a backwoods mountain trail. I read this on Kindle and it is a rare occurrence, but I purchased it in print, so I can have the author sign it when I see her in person.(less)
Who could resist a title like The Bear In A Muddy Tutu? Certainly not me. Then I glanced at a few sample pages and I was hooked. The beginning of the book was strongly evocative of Peter Hedge'sWhat's Eating Gilbert Grape? with perhaps the characters of Gilbert and Arnie rolled into one. Not that I am saying Alpaugh cribbed anything. I just knew from the introduction of Billy Wayne Hooduk, as he ran away from his domineering, morbidly obese, piece-of-work mother at the age of thirty to become a cult leader (God) in 50 easy steps, I was in for a delightful read full of wonderfully twisted characters trying to muddle through this thing we call life.
Billy Wayne reminds me a lot of my cousin Harold, not really fitting into the world, not understanding the motives of others, underneath it all an innocent, but warped by his upbringing. Billy Wayne suffers a few setbacks in his quest to become God and build a congregation, but his big chance comes when he goes to Atlantic City to try to find members for his congregation there. When the Pisani brothers' circus rolls into town and there is a mishap when the human cannonball is thrown off course by a flock of birds which causes him to crash into the cages and release the tiger which mauls the Pisani brothers, Billy Wayne rides to the rescue and gains his congregation when he shoots the tiger. The circus is then ordered to leave and Billy Wayne starts issuing directions and leads the caravan out of town.
During the fracas with the tiger, the deaths, and the circus leaving town, Gracie, the dancing bear, wound up being left behind and ultimately ended up on the lam. Of all of the characters in the book, Gracie was my favorite. Sweet disposition, happy to dance because she was no longer with the mean man who trained her, but everyone misunderstood a bear, who by the way had no teeth, on the loose. Each of Alpaugh's characters are well penned and with a few words he provides the gamut of their experience on this earth. For all of their quirks and faults, most of the characters in the book pull on your heartstrings. Even the bit characters, like the janitor of the Atlantic City hotel Billy Wayne stayed in, come to life on the page and allow you to understand their plight.
While this book takes a dark look at the human condition, it does so in a somewhat humorous way. You can go from feeling sorry about the things the characters have to face to laughing out loud in a manner of moments. Alpaugh has skillfully woven a tapestry of characters together which pull you along - they become people you know and you want to find out what happens to this circus of misfits. Though the premise may sound ludicrous, it becomes believable and immerses you as the reader in the world created. While it starts off with the antics of Billy Wayne Hooduk, The Bear In A Muddy Tutu winds up being primarily about Lennon Bagg and his quest to find his daughter who was kidnapped by his wife five years previously, and is his reason for living. I don't want to go into too much of the book, as I don't want to spoil anything for you. It is a must read. I will, however, leave you with a quote from How to Become a Cult Leader in 50 Easy Steps:
You can nudge an elephant all you want. You can get right up behind it and put your shoulder to its flanks. You can push with all your might. But unless that elephant suddenly feels compelled to move, it is just as likely to lift its tail and shit all over your head.
I happened to run across this book last year at the Orange County Kids Book Festival. As a girl, I loved ghost stories, and the premise for the book i...moreI happened to run across this book last year at the Orange County Kids Book Festival. As a girl, I loved ghost stories, and the premise for the book intrigued me, and I knew I had to give it a read. Somehow I missed the vampire reference on the back cover and while I love ghost stories, I’m much less happy about reading a vampire tale. But I still gave it a whirl and I’m glad I did.
Paige Parker is thirteen years old and striving to deal with major changes in her life; the death of her father, a move from her childhood home, and dealing with a mother who is coming apart at the seams. The home they move into is a wreck in Paige’s eyes, and there is no way it will become a home. And worst yet, she ends up having a ghost in her room. Not that she knows it’s a ghost from the start. She just knows there are some awfully strange happenings around Heather Hollows.
Now, standing in vampire country, Paige shivered. She rubbed her arms and looked up at the house, its windows now glowing warmly in the early evening. It was the movement of the curtains in her bedroom that first caught her eye. There was a flutter of fabric, and then, when she looked up, a silhouette there in the window. Paige wondered what her mother was doing in her room. The hand that gripped her shoulder made her heart leap. Paige whirled around. “Mom!” she cried, confused as she faced her.
The next morning, after a particularly bad nightmare, Paige decides to put her room in order, but first wants to grab a bite to eat. She puts her iPod on shuffle and Sarah McLachlan fills the room. Next up is a song by Modest Mouse, but as Paige starts her breakfast, the song changes…back to the Sarah McLachlan song which just finished. Figuring the issue is with the iPod, Paige checks it upon return to her room, selects a Coldplay song and again, mid-song, the iPod changes back to Sarah McLachlan. Either her iPod is possessed or there is a ghost with a penchant for Sarah McLachlan — living in her room!!!
Paige’s best friend, Amelia, comes for a visit and the two girls start to uncover the secret of the ghost in the house, and discover the hounds of hell are loose and hunting Paige as well. Paige begins to wonder not only whether she will figure out what is going on, but whether she’ll survive long enough to do so.
Karen Chilton pens an exciting tale weaving the current world of Paige Parker with the past world of Patience Hazard, the ghost. The plot twists should keep the target middle grade audience turning the pages from start to finish. As an adult reading the tale, I did find a few minor inconsistencies which broke me out of my suspension of disbelief. For example, Mercy Brown, the historic vampire of the piece, was said to have been dug up and her heart cut out to stop her from taking more victims. At the time the coffin was opened, the rumors said her hair and nails had grown, and yet at the same time, there were marks on the coffin lid as evidence of her getting out. As a child reading the book, I may have missed the significance of that, as an adult, I did not.
Overall, The Haunting on Devil’s Den Road is an entrancing read, and perfect for its intended audience. (less)
Cancer. The very word can act like the disease itself and worm its way through our bodies, eating at us from the inside out. It is a word which strikes fear in our hearts to hear it pronounced as a diagnosis. Science is slowly finding answers, cures for some variants even, but far too many people battle this disease...and lose.
It is a rare thing to find a person whose life has not been touched by cancer in some way. It is prevalent, dreaded, deadly. As such, cancer is something we can relate to, it touches us, it is personal. I grew up with cancer, not that I had the disease, but have lost too many friends and loved ones to it, including my father. And timely as ever, am dealing with a cancer diagnosis once again as I read Megan's Way. This time cancer struck one of my dogs, and while she is doing fine now, I know the time will come when we have to make the decision.
As you may have guessed, cancer is a major theme in Megan's Way. Megan Taylor is not a newbie to cancer. She has contracted the disease and battled it before and won, or so she thought. Prior to the opening of the book, Megan learns the cancer has returned and buried itself deep in her bones. She won't survive this skirmish. The best she can do is prolong life by a few months, but at what cost? The cure in this case, is worse than the disease, and she has death to look forward to no matter which way she turns.
But Megan does not only have herself to think about. Her fourteen-year old daughter, Olivia depends on her as her sole parent. What will happen to Olivia when Megan passes on? Much of Megan's Way is spent in the point of view of Megan and her thought process for making her decisions about what to do for herself and Olivia. The following is a moment when she is coming to grips with what the disease is doing to her.
When had age crept up on her, like a flower that had bloomed, vibrant and beautiful, and quickly browned around the edges, struggling to simply keep erect. There is no going back. Gone was the energy that once revolved around what could be - wants, desires, and aspirations - and it was replaced with thoughts of what was best, what had to be.
Her small, veined hands felt cold, and she rubbed them together. Her olive skin had lost its sheen. It was slightly more wrinkled than what she had believed it was, what she had envisioned and held onto in her mind for the past few years. Her legs, she knew were no longer strong and lean, but wilted and frail. The reality was like a weight in her heart. She had chosen to ignore it for so long that the realization hit her fast and hard, like a punch to the gut. She had truly thought she could beat it, age gracefully, and maybe even glow.
Megan is not the only one who is keeping secrets. Each of the inner circle of life-long friends has a skeleton in the closet, and each one feels their secret could rip the friends apart.
Melissa Foster does an excellent job describing the physical deterioration of cancer. As the novel progresses, you feel Megan fading physically while striving desperately to stay strong for Olivia. And Foster also masters the confusion and rage of a teenager who knows she's being lied to by her parent. Down to committing a rash act which puts her life and her mother's in jeopardy. She also draws the circle of friends well - life long friends all there for one another, banding together in times of sorrow, celebrating as one in good times.
There is much to commend this book, but there were also parts which I felt didn't work as well as they should have. For example, during the funeral ceremony friends spoke of Megan in terms which as a reader we had no context. We never saw Megan as lighthearted, free spirited, and accepting life as it happened. Granted, when dealing with cancer those things are difficult to achieve sometimes, but they do happen and come with acceptance. The personality described during the funeral service would have savored the moments of life she had rather than wasting them in trying to distance herself from her loved ones to help ease their pain.
Melissa Foster's strongest character in Megan's Way is Olivia. Her depiction is consistent throughout and Olivia grows through the experience. She knows her mother's love for her is absolute, and they share a special bond, even beyond the grave.
What would you do if you came to visit your mother one day and found her huddled in the closet, rocking back and forth, clutching a baby blanket tightly in her hand? And how does the confused and fearful woman connect to a mafia like-gang, drugs, a baby ring, sleazy cops, and an unknown assassin? These are questions which send Ian McCormick on a quest to find out, and he's scared to death he won't figure out the answers in time.
After he found his mother, Corrine, that fateful day, Ian moves in with his mother to care for her. While she does have times of lucidity, she frequently reverts into her own world, losing track of time and rationale, to the point where Ian feels like he will go crazy trying to deal with her. He has been faithfully taking her to a psychiatrist, Dr. Endicott, whom Corrine refers to in her own mind as Dr. Hartley from The Bob Newhart show. Dr. Endicott counsels Ian to find a happy place in his mind and go there when the stress becomes too much.
Ian stopped trying to make sense of the words. Now and then she fell into this pattern of incessant chanting. Repeating words and phrases until he wanted to rip out his eardrums to keep from hearing another sound. Eventually she would stop as quickly as she’d begun.
At times they even had normal conversations. Oddly enough, those were the times that hurt the most. Because that’s when he remembered what his mother had been like before their world had been tipped upside down.
Corrine is convinced that someone is watching her and tells Ian about the men who watch her from across the street. At first Ian believes these men to be a figment of his mother's imagination and part of her psychosis, but then wonders if she may be telling the simple truth. After several months of dealing with the problem of his mother's insanity he wonders what could have caused such a drastic and seemingly overnight change. Since therapy has produced no appreciable results in over the months, Ian decides to take matters into his own hands and hires a private investigator to piece together the past to see if they can determine the catalyst for the change in Corrine. Enter Lucianna Martel, the private investigator, and her uncle Vinnie. As the investigation proceeds, Ian and Lucianna discover there is more going on than meets the eye, and thugs and cops alike may be part of a hit list which includes Corrine.
Hit List is a good suspenseful read, and Darcia Helle does a masterful job at painting the character of Corrine in the depths of her insanity. The story primarily alternates between Ian's point of view and Corrine's point of view, with some sections written from Lucianna's point of view. The sections you spend with Corrine are well done, and as the reader you experience Corrine's confusion, and her knowledge which surfaces periodically that she is blocking out a life-changing event. Unfortunately, once the reason for Corrine's behavior is known, it is a little bit of a let down, as Helle has done such a good job in penning Corrine's fear of remembering and apparent paranoid delusions, the cause simply does not support the results. Despite this, the read up to the reveal is compelling and will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next.
A phone rings in the middle of the night, and former police detective Tony Marcella knows who will be on the other end. His friend and partner for thirty years on the force, Carlos Rodriguez, is calling Tony because of a case, which isn't really a case and he needs his former partner's help. The women of New Castle are commiting suicide at an alarming rate. Three women in three weeks, and detective Rodriguez doesn't believe the women, who seemingly have everything to live for, killed themselves, but in the case of the most recent suicide, eyewitnesses attest to the fact and the locked door provides the only exit. Tony is inclined to tell Carlos that things may just be as they seem until he finds out the identity of the third victim; someone he knows, one of their own, a cop.
Donovan sets up Eye of the Witch as a locked room murder mystery, where the question of how the murders were committed, especially when it appears they were self inflicted, becomes of equal importance with trying to figure out who committed them. In addition, there is the question of how the victims are linked together. At first glance it doesn't seem likely. Bridget Dean, a lawyer on the rise who just accepted a lucrative partnership with a prestigious law firm. Anna Davalos, a Cuban born waitress who worked in a coffee shop. And Karen Webber, a bright, vivacious cop who had recently transferred to New Castle.
At first the victims seem unrelated, but a little detective work brought to light that Anna Davalos worked in the same building as Bridget Dean and Karen Webber was secretly investigating their deaths. More digging unearthed the fact that all of the women were linked because they attended a parnormal workshop several years prior. And the workshop was through the same paranormal research facility which figured prominently in Tony Marcella's last case before retiring. Bridget and Anna also shared the attentions of lawyer Ricardo Rivera, and the women who at first sight had little in common become entwined with one another by the end of the book, with motives, suspects, and red herrings abounding.
The character I enjoyed the most in the book, was Lilith, the witch of the piece. Lilith is irreverent, sarcastic, and has a single purposed focus. Detective Marcella attempted to nail her for murder during his last case, and in the process became the possessor of the witch's ladder, an object he denied having. Lilith needs the witch's ladder back so she can perform a ceremony and her aim throughout the book it to get Tony to admit that he has it and to coerce him into returning it. Here's a sample of her snarkiness while she goes after what she wants:
“Yes. Nobody in your stinking precinct would tell me where you went or what happened to you.” “Really? Lilith, I’m touched. I didn’t know you cared so much.” She made a face as if a sour nut had just come up her throat. “Hardly. You have something I want.” I straightened up in my seat and pulled the kink from my tie. “Do I? Frankly, I didn’t think I was your type.” “P—leeease, Detective. I’d sooner sleep with Fidel, over here.” She jabbed her thumb into Carlos’ side, hitting his holstered gun. They turned and looked at each other, equally surprised. “Yeah, you,” she said. “You can just forget about it, my little Copacabana boy. You are already about as close to me as you are ever going to get. So, take a deep breath and savor it.”
As detective Marcella gets further into the heart of the mystery, more ties keep cropping up with his last case, including a tie to Leona Diaz. Leona had been kidnapped the previous year by the Surgeon Stalker and during this time, Tony Marcella learned of her gift of bilocation or out of body experience. The more things tie to his last case, the more Marcella questions his ability to help his ex-partner solve the mystery surrounding the deaths.
Eye of the Witch is a fast paced read, with lots of twists to keep you guessing right up until the end. While there was much about the book I liked, there were also parts I felt could have been done better or cleaned up a bit. Donovan has some structural issues with the text due to changing tenses and some loose ends at the conclusion, meant as red herrings, but I wanted them integrated a little more instead of left hanging. Another issue I had was with the depiction of Marcella's former partner, Carlos Rodriguez. Tony tells us how respected Carlos is, but there are portions of the book where Carlos is characterized as a buffoon who can not think beyond what to next fill his stomach with. Suspension of disbelief was also difficult in some areas of the book, but not in the arena of the supernatural, as one might expect. At the beginning of the book there is a reference to Marcella not having talked to his ex-partner Rodriguez for six or seven months, since he retired after the last big case, but then later the time reference from the last case is referred to as being a year ago. In light of the time frame, whether 6-7 months or just at one year, the changes Donovan depicts as occurring to make Tony feel uncomfortable with a return to police work seem not quite believable.
I saw one of the biggest, brightest, shiniest glass covered buildings New Castle had ever constructed. It wasn’t just a police station; it was an ultra-modern criminal justice center, complete with jails, courtrooms, administration offices and state-of-the-art crime lab. It had everything a small town cop could want. Hell, it had everything a big town cop could want, too. I told Carlos if he threw in a couple of suites, a swimming pool and valet parking, he’d have a five-star resort for law enforcement and could charge for it on weekends. To this, he laughed, and when he took me past the workout center, complete with pool and sauna, I understood why. “It’s really different here, Tony,” he said. “This facility serves the entire county. We all share resources now."
I felt that it stretched the bounds to believe that such a state-of-the-art building could be constructed from the ground up within that time frame as well as integrating all of the different law enforcement agencies under one roof. But aside from those issues, Eye of the Witch takes you on a wild ride to a thrilling conclusion.
One of the things I enjoy most about the independent author scene is the fluidty of the background in which we work. The process can be dynamic and it is fun to watch some of the iterations that books go through. For example, a book may be released under a one cover and then the author receives some feedback which sparks another idea, and shortly thereafter the cover has been changed. Or based upon reader feedback, the author may subtly change the focus or emphasis of a book. And there are the triumphs as well. Back in August the LL Book Review posted reviews of the winners of our review contest, and there was one conspicuous entry missing. Six-Hundred Hours of a Life by Craig Lancaster was reviewed and should have been the third review posted in August, however, we were contacted by Craig and requested to hold back the review as he had some very exciting news. Six-Hundred Hours of a Life had been picked up by a small publisher, Riverbend Publishing, who specializes in books about Montana, and Craig was in the process of working out the details with his new publisher. We were very excited and pleased for Craig and held back the review as per the wishes of the author. The book has now been released under Riverbend Publishing under the title of 600 Hours of Edward and we are able to publish the review of this fine book. One item of personal preference before jumping into the review. The new cover created for the title under Riverbend Publishing is pictured at the top of the review, but I prefer the original cover (right) which was created for Six-Hundered Hours of a Life.
What would life be like if you were a 39 year old man plagued with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and Asperger's Disorder? What would happen if your routines were upset and suddenly life seemed to be spiraling out of control? 600 Hours of Edward takes you into the heart and mind of Edward Stanton, and through 600 hundred hours, or 25 days, of life with Edward. As a prelude to the story, Edward sets up the framework for why the book was written, which I have included in Edward's own words, so the intention can not be misconstrued. Edward would prefer it.
This is a story of how my life changed. That is what one could call a dramatic statement. It‘s like when people find God; they say, "I found God, and it changed my life." I did not find God. I am dubious that anyone can. When someone says he has found God, he doesn‘t mean it in the way that one would say he found a penny or something else tangible. He is talking about inner peace or something like that, I suppose. I don‘t know. I haven‘t found God, and I don‘t like supposition. I prefer facts.
Even without God, my life did change, and Dr. Buckley suggested that I write about it. She said that writing about it would be a good project for me and one that might even help me understand how it happened and why. Dr. Buckley is a very logical woman, and I always need a new project.
In looking back, I can fit what happened into 25 days, or 600 hours. I prefer to think of it in terms of hours, as I live my life more by a clock than a calendar. I will tell it as it happened, from where I viewed it. Others may have seen it another way. They can tell their own stories if they want to.
I‘ll start with the last day that everything was normal, or what I believed normal to be. That‘s the problem with belief: If you rely on it too heavily, you have a lot of picking up to do after you find out you were wrong. I prefer facts.
Edward Stanton has his days rigidly mapped out, with several rituals to complete as milestones throughout the day. Every morning upon waking, he must record the hour and minute of his waking, and then later, after retrieving the Billings Gazette, the actual temperatures from the previous day, as well as looking at the forecast which is not to be trusted, because Edward prefers facts. He breakfasts on corn flakes while reading the newspaper, frustrated by the way certain features, such as Dear Abby, appear in different sections of the paper and have no pattern as to where they will appear.
Edward is frequently frustrated by the rest of the world's inability to keep to a precise schedule, and lack of consistency. When he becomes frustrated he writes letters of complaint. Prior to what is referred to as the Garth Brooks incident, Edward would draft his letters of complaint and send them out. At the culmination of the Garth Brooks incident, Edward's father, Ted Stanton, bought him the house he now lives in after persuading Garth Brooks to drop the restraining order against Edward.
I think that my letters of complaint to Garth Brooks were entirely justified. If you look objectively at country music, you cannot come to any conclusion other than he ruined it. He also ruined a lot of pop music, especially when he pretended to be that Chris Gaines person and when he covered that song by Kiss. I merely wrote to him and let him know about the damage he was doing, because I thought that maybe he didn‘t know and would stop if he did. I had to write to him 49 times before he wrote back, but it wasn‘t really him. It was his lawyer.
Being a lover of country music myself, I laughed out loud about the Garth incident, and I have to agree with Edward on the whole Chris Gaines thing. Since the Garth Brooks incident Edward's therapist, Dr. Buckley, convinces him to continue writing his letters of complaint, but to file them instead of sending them. In this way, he is able to alleviate some of his frustration with whatever incident caused his ire, and yet not bring himself any grief from repercussions. So the writing of complaint letters has become part of Edward's ritual to follow his nightly viewing of Dragnet episodes (just the color ones between 1967 and 1970). In 2000, Edward recorded all of the episodes, in order, on videocassette, and watches one episode a night at 10:00 p.m. sharp, starting on January 1st with the first color episode and continuing throughout the year. They are all one of his favorites. Edward identifies with Sergeant Joe Friday's love for the facts and his detachment from those he is dealing with.
Taking a leaf out of Edward's book, I would like to document a complaint, albeit a minor one.
I'm sure you have your reasons for telling the reader each time you recorded your waking time during the course of the book that it was the XXX day of the year (287th - 311th) because it is leap year. While this repetition is entirely consistent with your character and I understand you gain some comfort from the repetition, I didn't know if you were aware that for some readers, this tends to be a little monotonous. I realize you are chronicling the 600 hours where your life was turned upside down, but there are mundane parts which have been left out. Perhaps you should trust that the reader will know that it is leap year after the tenth or so iteration, and no longer need to tell us.
Respectfully, as always,
During the 600 hours chronicled in this book, Edward makes a foray into online dating, makes friends with a nine year old boy while painting his garage (three times because the unhelpful clerk at Home Depot couldn't help him come to a single selection, which triggered a letter of complaint), later becomes friends with the boy's mother, and feels helpless as his relationship with his father deteriorates. Due to the Asperger's, Edward lives an isolationist life, so to actually take steps to reach out to connect with another human being through the online dating process represents a huge step forward for him. Through his growing relationship with Kyle, the nine year old boy, we are given a glimpse of Edward's social developmental level as well, which is on par with Kyle or even a little lagging. I fell in love with the character of Edward though because while he has quirks in his view seemingly the rest of the entire world lives without, he tries so very hard to overcome those, and he has a good heart. Edward is truly an endearing character. He is simply confused, or to use one of Edward's favorite words, flummoxed, by social interaction conventions, and has never had any practice with them.
In my own personal life, I am very familiar with the traits and symptoms of someone with OCD, as I have a brother-in-law who is afflicted with this disorder. Edward's ritualistic behavior with recording his time of awakening, the weather, watching Dragnet precisely at 10:00 p.m. each night, eating the same foods week in and week out, are all very recognizable as traits of OCD. Lancaster touches very lightly on the fears which are associated with a break in these routines, and does not allow us into the twisted rabbit warren of rationale which is entailed in the compulsions. The obsession with Dragnet is well portrayed. It started around the same time Edward was forced to leave home and live on his own. Sergeant Joe Friday, with his non-emotional (normally) delivery and liking for the facts, is someone with whom Edward can gain a measure of comfort. Edward feels Sergeant Joe Friday would be more patient with him, and listen to the facts of the issues at hand, than his father, who increasingly communicates with Edward through a lawyer. The greater the divide with his father, the more Edward replaces him with the surrogate, Sergeant Joe Friday.
My familiarity with Asperger's was limited to the character of Jerry on the TV show Boston Legal, so I took the opportunity to educate myself as to this disorder after reading 600 Hours of Edward. I was very interested to find that Asperger's is actually a mild form of the Autistic Disorder, and here in the United States is classified as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). As I read the diagnostic criteria for Asperger's, I marveled anew at how beautifully Lancaster penned the character of Edward. The characteristics of Asperger's were clearly evident, but subtly drawn so as not to get in the way of the story itself. It is humorous to look back upon a scene where Ted Stanton rushes in to save Edward, and is telling someone Edward has OCD. As Edward hears this, he thinks:
This shows what my father knows. The full story is that I‘m obsessive-compulsive and that I have Asperger syndrome.
After reading up on Asperger's I realized how clearly evident this fact is and again paid homage to Lancaster's pen. I could go on and on about all of the really fine points of this book, to the point where I might rival the 80,000 words of the novel itself. The bottom line is this is a book which should be experienced. It is a wonderful read, and since this is his debut novel, I eagerly await Craig Lancaster's next offering. It's time for you to pick up 600 Hours of Edward. What are you waiting for?
For as long as I can remember, I have loved reading mysteries. The idea of discerning clues as I read the story and trying to come up with the answer before the detective does has always given mysteries a little extra spice for me. I'll admit I read more cozies, having cut my teeth on Agatha Christie, than police procedurals, but I enjoy a good story with a lot of plot twists.
As The Twig is Bent opens with George Spiros, an aging manufacturer of wrought-iron furniture, on the way home after a successful business trip, anxious to see his wife, Melina. Scenes of George on his way home to his beloved wife, while on a flight threatened by a storm, are interspersed with scenes of Melina being brutally raped and killed. Melina Spiros is not the first in the string of deaths, but her death and the commonalities of another determine the murderer is a serial killer, who must be stopped. A heart carved on the breast of the victims with four initials, the initials of the victim and JC, and a bible at the scene with a specific passage underlined are the only clues Detective Lieutenant Matt Davis and his team have to unravel the mystery surrounding these brutal murders.
When the case lands in the lap of Matt Davis, he is not pleased. In the twilight of his career, trying to keep his current marriage from going south due to the pressures of the job, a serial killer with religious overtones is the last thing he wants to face. The primary team consists of Davis, his partner of seven years, Chris Freitag, and the recent transfer to the station, Rita Valdez. Rita has a history of inappropriate relations with colleagues, and is trying to live down her past as a homewrecker as well as prove she is a good cop. Rita's biggest problem is that she is lonely. The investigation takes the team into the realm of the local church because of the bible connection and their attempt to determine whether the JC stands for Jesus Christ, giving the murders a religious twist or whether they are the initials of the perpetrator.
Joe Perrone, Jr. takes the reader on a ride through the cyber world where the killer is active in online chat rooms, searching for his next victim; something Melina Spiros found out to her detriment.
The man she had arranged to meet this evening was someone she had met several weeks ago in an Internet chat room, called “Manhattan Singles.” He had intrigued her from the start, and when he had invited her to meet him for a drink, she had been pleasantly surprised, accepting immediately. Privacy was important, so they had agreed upon a small tavern, just out of the neighborhood, where no one would know either of them, especially her. Inviting him back to her apartment had been a risk, but she never intended to do anything more than talk, so she had taken it.
Perrone switches back and forth throughout the book from Davis's point of view to that of the killer, bringing out the murderer's background and what shaped him to be the twisted wretch he has become. While appreciating the background information and the glimpses into the psyche of the murderer, I feel these sections were, at times, a little heavy-handed, telling me the how's and why's instead of showing me. The best of Perrone's writing shines through in his depiction of the relationship between Davis and his wife, Valerie. In particular, their trip on a rare day off to go fly fishing. Perrone's own love of fly fishing imbues his descriptions and I felt like I was standing next to Matt and Valerie as they cast their lines.
As The Twig is Bent is not for the squeamish. There are sections containing brutal details of grisly murders, and glimpses into the mind of the insane. Although I would like to see Perrone go back and polish this novel a little more, removing the passivity, the base story is a good one and is satisfying for murder mystery fans.
We first met Tiff Banks in Along Came A Demon: Whisperings (Volume 1). During the course of the first book, Tiff Banks is established as a person with...moreWe first met Tiff Banks in Along Came A Demon: Whisperings (Volume 1). During the course of the first book, Tiff Banks is established as a person with the ability to talk with ghosts, who are referred to as shades. Tiff used her gift to assist the Clarion Police Department with murder investigations. That career came to an abrupt halt when she accused one of Clarion PD's golden boys, Royal Mortenson, of being a murderer based on the say so of the ghost of a little boy. The actual murderer was Royal's brother, who looks so much like him Tiff had difficulty in telling them apart, so she couldn't blame the shade of a little boy for getting it wrong. The police department was a little less forgiving. And Tiff didn't even tell the police department that Royal is a demon. Okay, so that is what Tiff has been calling those beings which have metallic looking hair, glittering eyes, and pointy teeth. Although, Royal has had his teeth capped.
Since Royal is now Tiff's lover and partner in the detective agency they have opened, Tiff learned Royal is actually a Gelpha. But she continues to think of him and others of his kind as demons. The Demon Hunters opens with a comic scene in which Tiff convinces Royal to go after a kidnapped cat for the reward money, because she was feeling the pinch of being out of a semi-regular consulting fee. After speaking with a rather nasty ghost called Freddy, they got a lead on where the catnappers were located. Tiff then uses her bad-tempered Scottie, MacKlutzy to bring the catnapper out of the apartment while Royal, who has the ability to move at lightning speed, rushed in and out with the cat. Having little dogs of my own, I identified with the description of MacKlutzy squaring off with the catnapper.
If there's one thing Mac hates worse than cats, it's being threatened. He recognized that tone of voice. Terriers are fearless. They literally do not perceive any distinction in size or bulk. Something stood between him and a cat and that something threatened him. Mac attacked.
Following this fun, lighthearted case, Royal calls Tiff to come meet some new clients, Gia Sabato and Daven Clare. Gia Sabato just happens to be an enormously successful author who sprang out of nowhere eighteen months prior to the start of the story. Tiff is surprised when the case ends up being about the abduction of a Clarion Latino former gangsta, who is the lover of Gia Sabato. Tiff doesn't really like her new clients and suspects them of being Gelpha in disguise. On top of that Royal is acting very strange and keeping secrets from her. Add to the intrigue, the mysterious arrival of a nineteenth century journal kept by a fifteen year old British girl on the travels to Burma, and you have a case getting more bizarre by the moment.
When Gia and Daven unexpectedly arrive at Tiff's house and waltz right in, Jack and Mel, Tiff's resident ghosts, go ballistic and try to attack them and force them to leave. And even stranger, MacKlutzy, who never met an ankle he didn't want to bite, runs away from them as quickly as he can and acts scared out of his wits. Even though she is the one who hired Royal and Tiff to find Rio, Gia Sabato doesn't want Tiff to have too much information about the disappearance. Frustrated by being kept in the dark by her clients, and fearful her relationship with Royal could be on the way out, Tiff just wants this case to be over. Once Tiff finally gets them to let her in on what is really going on, she finds out someone is seeking out and killing demons and their Dark Cousins. No one will tell Tiff exactly what a Dark Cousin is, but she quickly figures out that they really don't get along with Gelpha and that it is taboo to even mention what a dark cousin is. Join Tiff and Royal on their hair-raising adventure to find The Demon Hunters.
Linda Welch pens her characters with authority, and you are instantly taken into the world of Tiff Banks and her demon lover, Royal. Her story contains action from start to finish. You feel like you know Tiff from the instant you pick up the book and want to stay with her as she jets all over this world and through otherworlds in search of answers. I'll be anxiously waiting for the next installment in the Whisperings series. (less)
Reviewed by Special Guest Reviewer: Denny Griffie, SKI - USCG, Retired
Having spent 20 years in the United States Coast Guard and having traveled all o
...moreReviewed by Special Guest Reviewer: Denny Griffie, SKI - USCG, Retired
Having spent 20 years in the United States Coast Guard and having traveled all over the world while serving on an ice breaker out of the Pacific North West for Uncle Sam, I love ocean sailing. When for our first anniversary my wife, author LK Gardner-Griffie, suggested we take a cruise I wasn't sure I would like it or not. Not because I no longer wanted to set sail, but because I was used to being on the job while on a ship. Would I be able to make the transition to being a passenger or not? Well, I found that I enjoy being on a ship more as a passenger than I did as a member of the crew. Now I love cruising vacations and love to take one anytime we have the chance. When the opportunity came up to read and review Permanent Passenger: My Life On a Cruise Ship I was eager to see how the experience of working on a cruise ship compared to my experiences as a lead petty officer on an ice breaker. So anchors aweigh.
If you are looking for a literary discussion of living on a cruise ship containing several nuggets to ponder in a philosophical sense, this book is definitely not the one for you. But, if you are looking for a fast paced, light read, filled with personal experience, down to the nitty gritty of life below deck, then Permanent Passenger: My Life On a Cruise Ship is a good selection. Micha Berman is definitely more of an entertainer than a writer, but as I read through the tale of his adventures of working for a cruise ship line, I laughed out loud page after page. I found I could relate to Berman's experiences in more ways than I could count and that in essence working for a cruise line was not much different than setting sail for Uncle Sam, with a few notable exceptions. The major exception is of course, that you can't just quit Uncle Sam's service, unless you'd like to face a court martial.
In both cases, life on ship is a microcosm of society, and it definitely is a classed society with the levels of society indicated by the decks of residence.
As I walked through these decks it dawned on me I was entering a different neighborhood, one with its own culture and rarely seen by passengers. The first sign that you had entered crew city was the obvious lack of carpeting on the floors and the sheer bareness of the shiny metal walls. The exuberant colors of the passenger halls were replaced by a stark hospital like setting and a general feeling of unadorned survival. A second clue that this was not passenger living quarters was the trash littering the floors, the most common item a shred of wet cardboard standing guard outside a crew member's door, the last remnant of a six pack of beer. Finally in this new neighborhood, hallways also served as soccer fields. Crew members, many from Latin America, often held soccer matches in these hallways not wider than 3 feet, during their off hours, bouncing off the doors, screaming and hollering, there was no way to stop them from enjoying their national pastime.
The staff living quarters consisted of five decks, the lower the floor, the more cramped and dirty the conditions and the more unsafe it was to wander. Think of it as the United Nations with the top floors representing the rich and fortunate nations of the world like the United States, Europe and oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The bottom floors might be closer to third world countries such as India, Sudan, or Guatemala.
As the assistant cruise director, Berman was fortunate enough to live on the top level, which meant he was the sole occupant of his nine by nine quarters. In the below decks, often times there were two or three to a room of that size or smaller. Permanent Passenger: My Life On a Cruise Ship is a very personal account of life on a cruise ship as crew, and contains an intimate look at what the life entails in a humorous style down to the bowel habits of the author. Since I am easily amused by bathroom humor and there were many parallels to life on an ice breaker, I identified with Berman which helped to make this an enjoyable read. The book also contains Crazy Cruise Trivia between chapters citing facts such as how much chicken, steak, and ribs may be consumed during the course of the day by the passengers. The book winds up with the Ten Commandments of Cruising:
1. Get on, Live it up, Get off 2. Get off the ship whenever you can 3. Have Goals 4. Eat out at every port 5. Always be friendly to crew 6. Avoid alcohol and gambling 7. Don't forget the passengers 8. Enjoy the sea, moon, and stars 9. Stay suspicious 10. Develop a few close friends
Permanent Passenger: My Life On a Cruise Ship is a good book for someone considering working for the cruise industry because it gives an insider viewpoint. Of course, Berman's perspective is that of someone who has one of the cushiest jobs on the ship. There might be a completely different perspective from someone who has served on a cruise ship as a member of the kitchen or cleaning staff. Another industry related book, Cruise Confidential, is written by someone who spent his stint as kitchen staff which provides an additional angle to life on a cruise ship. As lead petty officer on the ice breaker, I was in charge of the ships stores and my primary job functions occurred when we were in port, so I was known as a passenger by my shipmates. Hat's off from one permanent passenger to another for pleasurable read.
Crosswords, acrostics, logic problems, word search, all of these were a big part of my youth. I could spend hours with a puzzle book figuring out the answers and filling them in. Sudoku had not yet come into vogue, or I'm sure I would have spent many a pleasurable hour working on those as well. With More Kindergarten Sudoku: 4x4 Classic Sudoku Puzzles for Kids I got my first taste of Sudoku and was able to enjoy for the first time what has become all the rage in puzzle books. For the other Sudoku novices in the audience who have been wondering what this is but afraid to try and learn the rules, fear no more. The classic Sudoku 4x4 has only three rules:
1. Each row must have the four numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 occurring just once. 2. Each column must have the four numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 occurring just once. 3. Each block must have the four numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 occurring just once.
While most of us know what columns and rows are, the Kattans provide clear pictures to help illustrate this for children. If you are wondering what constitutes a block, the block is pictured below.
Also included at the front of the book are two examples of puzzles laid out step by step.
The only thing that I would have liked to see with the step by step solution was a little bit of an explanation that could be provided as the target audience of this book is quite young. Something like, the first step to solving a puzzle is to search for the open cells, where the number has to be a particular one. For example, in the outside colum of step one, the only number that can go into the open cell is the number 1. In the bottom row, the only number that can go in the open cell is the number 4. Having taught preschool and Kindergarten for several years, I found a few words of explanation can help to ward off a great deal of frustration.
The only other aspect of this book that I would change is the organization of the puzzles themselves. There are a combination of Easy, Medium, and Difficult puzzles on each page. For something targeting a young audience, I would have preferred to see them organized by sections, so that while working the puzzles, the child (or adult) can master the easy and slowly make their way to the more difficult.
Each page contains four puzzles, and the back of the book contains a list of the answers - but don't cheat! More Kindergarten Sudoku contains 96 Classic 4x4 Sudoku puzzles to entertain and provide hours of delight.
Hannah And The Magic Blanket - Land of the Dinosaurs represents Barry Nye's debut children's story. Inspired by the imagination of his granddaughter, Hannah, Nye brings her imagination to life in this first of a series books about Hannah and her magic blanket. We meet Hannah as a spunky preschooler, who is preoccupied with playing dinosaurs and whose favorite toy is a purple dinosaur. After a hard morning at play, Hannah lays down on the couch for a nap snuggling with her pink blanket and purple dinosaur. The next thing she knows, she is in an unknown land and Mommy is nowhere to be found. Hannah's spunky spirit takes her exploring and she soon runs across a purple dinosaur, just like her favorite toy at home. The dinosaur is very unhappy because she has a stone stuck between her toes. Hannah helps the dinosaur, whom she names Lulu, with the stone and they become fast friends.
“It should be pretty simple to remove,” Hannah said. Lulu pulled her foot back and said, “Maybe we should wait for my Mommy.” “Nonsense,” exclaimed Hannah. “I can do it!” Lulu gritted her teeth. “OK,” the baby dinosaur said reluctantly, “but please don’t hurt me.”
Lulu takes Hannah home with her and they play along the beach while Lulu's mom makes them some chocolate chip cookies. During Hannah's adventure, she is able to help out her new friend with the stone between her toes, and later on is rescued by Lulu, cementing their friendship forever.
Nye crafts a good read-to-me book for young children. The illustrations are colorful and expressive, capturing the moment for the reader in a delightful way. For the most part the story flows easily and will be easily understood and appreciated by the younger set. One part which I felt could be potentially confusing is when Lulu and Hannah are playing by the lake and Hannah suggests a game of hide and seek, then they are splashing in the lake, and then playing hide and seek. I felt that the sentences may have somehow become rearranged because it would have made more sense for them to splash in the water and then for Hannah to suggest hide and seek followed by their playing of the game.
Hannah And The Magic Blanket - Land of the Dinosaurs represents the first in a series of books featuring the spunky and imaginative Hannah. Land of the Robots is currently being illustrated, so we can look forward to the release of the next adventure of Hannah and her magic blanket soon.
What more fitting way for the LL Book Review to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than with a review of a book about leprechauns. I was delighted to run across P.J. Cowan's Michael O'Brien and the Magic Hat. Michael is a young leprechaun who, unlike other leprechaun children, was born without magic. So, when Michael turned seven, the Leprechaun council had a tailor make him a magic green hat that when he wore gave him as much magic as any other leprechaun child. Michael would put the hat on his head the moment he woke up in the morning and take it off only to go to bed at night.
One morning Michael decides to skip school so that he can engage in his favorite activity, fishing.
Michael didn’t catch fish because Michael didn’t use a hook. He tied a worm to the string and watched as the fish chased after it. When he was done fishing, Michael would untie the worm, thank it for it’s help and let it go. That was fishing to Michael O’Brien.
On the day he skipped school, while he was watching the fish, a playful breeze came by and stole Michael's hat. While chasing his hat, Michael is captured by a woodsman because he is unable to become invisible to humans without his hat. Suddenly Michael learns that there are consequences to skipping school.
Michael O'Brien and the Magic Hat provides a fun and adventurous way for children to learn, though Michael's mistake, the value of going to school. P.J. Cowan provides a wonderful tale for small children that will make a good bedtime story to share with your children or grandchildren. Cowan started telling stories to her own children many years ago to teach and entertain, and finally started putting the stories down on paper for her great-grandchildren. While the tale of Michael and his magic hat is delightful to read, what makes this book stand out from the crowd are the illustrations. Cowan used the illustrative talents of MikeMotz.com and the results speak for themselves. Cowan's story comes to life in bright colorful illustrations that will captivate the young audience they are meant to entertain. Just look at the example of the picture showing Michael receiving his magic green hat from the Leprechaun council. The picture is bright and happy with lots of color and kindly expressions on the faces of the older leprechauns.
P.J. Cowan has several other stories already published, and I for one am hoping that she has several more in her arsenal to keep us entertained for years.
When I saw this book posted for a review request, I knew that I wanted to read and review it. The title says it all. I immediately thought of the past several years of attempting to bring my own mother into the computer age. It has been a slow and go process and one day, she will finally give in and buy a computer. The frustrating thing is that she has taken some classes and does very well in the classes, but then when it comes time to buy, she postpones because "she needs to know more about that whole internet thing." I haven't given up hope.
In the story, if you haven't guessed it already, Grandma goes out and buys a computer. The problem is that once it has been delivered, she has absolutely no idea what to do with it. Fortunately for Grandma, her grandson, Timmy shows up unexpectedly and comes to her rescue. He assists her in connecting the unit up and explaining some of the parts as he goes. This allows an opportunity for Grandma to become confused by the lingo.
"Almost done," said Timmy. "All I have to do now is connect the mouse." "MOUSE," shouted Grandma. "Did you see a mouse?" "Oh my," she thought. "Kitty must not be doing her job."
The illustrations for the story, done by Acesgraphics, are darling. If Timmy were a blond, he could have passed for a cartoon version of my nephew when he was that age. Grandma's First Computer is a very short, but charming educational story which details computer components in a simple to understand manner. Linda Hayes combines the educational features with the bonding between two very different generations and does it with humor and simplicity. The story winds up with Timmy telling Grandma she has a lot to learn, so we may expect to see another book with Timmy and Grandma in the future. I'm not so sure that senior citizen groups will appreciate that all of the senior's in the book are depicted with canes, or that it is intimated that no senior citizen knows anything about computers, but the target audience of young children will want to read it again and again. This is a must read for the young school age.
Sixteen is a pivotal age, stranded between childhood and adulthood. At sixteen life ranges from ecstasy to despair and the cause of the emotion can be trivial or momentous. I remember wanting to be taken seriously, to be treated more as an adult than a child. To be free to make my own decisions for the course of my life. But of course, along with the freedom of decision, comes responsibility and consequences for those choices.
In Katherine Marple's novel, Okay, the sixteen-year-old unnamed female protagonist makes choices which swiftly alter the course of her life, and takes her best friend, and protector, London with her. After setting up the pair as best friends, living in the same neighborhood, in the same style homes, the differences are revealed. London has a loving, supportive family to come home to, while the protagonist fears her alcoholic, abusive father. Coming home late from a graduation party with London, the protagonist attempts to sneak into the house avoiding her father's wrath, unsuccessfully. When he has beaten and choked her, and threatened her with more abuse and potential rape, the protagonist runs to her best friend to enlist his help.
“Please,” I begged. “Let’s go now.” He solemnly nodded his head, stroked my hair, and whispered, “Okay.”
Having convinced London to abandon his loving home, his college career, and essentially his future to run away with her, the protagonist wastes no time in making bad decision after bad decision along the way. Drugs, alcohol, and sex with relative strangers, and all the while London is there to pick up the pieces. The protagonist is on a roller coaster of emotion from the freedom of living a life she has never known before to the despair over some of the choices she has made.
Marple presents a strong, clear point of view with her unnamed protagonist, and while I found the pacing to be a little quick, lacking in emotional depth with the heavy topics the book covers, the voice is unwavering and draws the reader along. For the bulk of the book, the lack of a name for the main character was not an issue, but a few times felt a bit gimmicky. The narrator herself explains the lack of name.
My name isn’t important. What is important is helping someone hope for a better view, at the end of his pain. That is the purpose of my story; to help someone heal.
Stumps in the Cellar begins with 7 year old Colin Whilliker moving to a new house with his parents. The problem was, in Colin's opinion, the house was too old and decrepit to move into. He didn't understand how his dad could be so happy moving into such a wreck, and it didn't seem to bother his mother either.
Most of the windows were either broken or missing. The porch sagged at one end. The paint was peeling, and there was a big hole in the ground filled with old garbage not too far away. "Well," Colin thought to himself, "at least the garbage may be interesting."
While his parents were working on fixing up the house, Colin decided to go exploring. His dad told him to not go in the creek and to keep the house in view. In trying to get a better look at the creek, without going too close, he climbed to the top of a small hill. What Colin didn't realize is that he was now standing smack-dab on top of the Stump's house, which was built underneath the hill.
The Stump's appear to be small people, although not to be confused with the little people who live across the meadow. Bertram (Bertie) Stump is an irascible old man, who just wants to be left alone, doesn't like visitors, and likes to threaten Colin about what he will do if Colin walks on his roof again. All of the bad-tempered blustering by Bertie is waved away by the goodness of Hennifred, his wife. Hennifred is definitely an optimist and looks to make the best of any situation. One of my favorite Hinnifred moments comes when the fruit cellar has been flooded and Hennifred regards it as a bonus because she now has a swimming pool.
Colin quickly makes a new best friend in neighbor Tish. Tish is definitely a tom-boy and loves to fish, get dirty, and has spotted something that she wants to set traps for. Based on her description, Colin figures that what she thinks might be an animal is actually the Stump's, so he has to gather up his courage to go and warn them.
While the warning about the traps that Tish was going to set helped to improve Colin's relationship with Bertie, accidentally flooding their house, and later smoking them out and causing them to lose their home stretched the bounds of Bertie's already not so good nature. That's when Colin had the idea to let the Stump's live in the cellar.
The title alone is delightful for the target age group of 8-10 year olds. I find that this story is something that most of that age group can identify with. Colin is a very likable youngster and though trying his best, tends to get himself into trouble somewhere along the way. The illustrations throughout the book are engaging, and Mr. Smallman has put together a book that is sure to amuse his readership.
While a fun read there are several questions throughout the book which remain unanswered, and the book ends with a big cliff hanger, which leads me to believe that we may soon have another story with the Stump's to devour.
Opening the cover of Motherless Child - stories from a life is like arriving at Sarah's home, where she welcomes you with that special brand of southern hospitality, invites you to sit down for a spell and have a nice tall drink of ice tea while she tells you stories from her past. Reading this book brought back memories from my own childhood of sitting in my grandmother's parlor and having her tell us stories of life from yesteryear, while gently rocking back and forth in her rocking chair. I could almost hear the creak of the floorboards as her chair went back and forth over that well worn track.
I tend to stick more with fiction reading than non-fiction, but as I was looking at the previews for potential review, Sarah Gordon Weathersby captured my attention. The preview left me wanting to read more and to find out what happened to the people that I had already met through the pages of the preview. Ms. Weathersby tells her life's story in a very conversational style, inviting the reader to get to know her and her family in a very cosy manner. She starts off with some of her earliest memories, which happen to be when she was two years old. Being the youngest of 7 children of an Episcopalian minister, Sarah was both the pampered pet, and at the same time left to her own devices quite a bit because everyone was going in different directions all of the time. One of her earliest memories was of being a two year old at Christmas time.
My brothers enjoyed participating in the fantasy for me, and that year they came home on Christmas Eve wanting me out of the way so they could wrap gifts, told me I had to go to bed because they heard sleigh bells in the sky, and sent me off to bed clutching my favorite rag-doll, Sally. The next morning, there were animal footprints through the house, that my brothers said were made by the reindeer. I found out years later they had dragged the dog through the dirt, and walked him through the house.
Can't you just imagine the boys dragging that poor dog through the house to make the footprints? Although Ms. Weathersby starts with some of her earliest memories, and the book ends with the most recent, Motherless Child is not written in a strictly chronological manner. She starts off to tell you about one point in her life, and in order to help you understand will embark on another story which provides the back story to the fabric of her life. Through the telling of her life, Ms. Weathersby also provides the reader with a keen perspective of history as it was happening from her point of view. We see the major events, such as John F. and Robert Kennedy's assasignations, as well as Martin Luther King's through her eyes and her observations of her family and friends to the same events.
Motherless Child was written to give her daughter Teal, whom she had to put up for adoption 40 years before, the story of her life and why she couldn't keep her baby. The agony over the decision to do so, and the hole that left in her heart for all of those years after, come shining through the words on the page. We feel the pain of separation along with Sarah, as well as her inability to forgive herself for having made that decision and how it colors her life from that point on.
Through Sarah's eyes, we see her awakening to the division of people by the color of their skin, how her mother developed her sense of pride of self and what she could accomplish, and how it felt to go from an all black school to a racially integrated one. Through the pages of Motherless Child I came to admire Ms. Weathersby a great deal. No matter what she set her mind to accomplish, she did. After choosing to attend a university which only had six black students in her first year, she decided to learn German and ultimately studied abroad for a year in Germany. She spoke the language so fluently that when she confronted a professor about the lack of black faculty on the staff, she was then offered a position at the school as long as she completed the necessary graduate work. While she chose not to follow that course of action, she later decided to throw her hat into the extremely male dominated technology ring at a time when it was just starting to put its name on the map. Working myself in the technology arena, I am well aware that it is still male dominated, but far less so than when Ms. Weathersby joined the ranks, and yet she continued to excel in her field. I don't think it ever occurred to her that she might not succeed at anything she tried, and so she did succeed.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the cover of the book. It is very simple in concept as it appears to be family photos on a mantle, yet in its simplicity conveys to the reader a sense of what the book is about. While Motherless Child - stories from a life was written for her long, lost daughter, and was extremely cathartic for the author to be able to tell her story, it has a much broader appeal. My husband an I recently attended a production of the musical version of The Color Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker, and I feel that the appeal of Motherless Child mirrors the appeal of The Color Purple. Through the eyes of Sarah Gordon Weathersby, we see and experience a slice of life from a very intimate perspective. This book delivers laughter and tears as we experience Sarah's life with her, and leaves the reader feeling uplifted. Bravo.
It's time to let out your inner child and delight it with a fairy tale. Fairy tales were something that as a child I couldn't get enough of. A trip into the land of fantasy where there were kings and queens, witches and wizards, beautiful damsels and handsome knights, and where trouble lurked around every corner. Fairy tales were wonderful because good prevailed and evil always lost in the end, so you could be deliciously scared about what was happening, secure in the knowledge that the hero would prevail in the end. Bob the Dragon Slayer brings this storybook format back to us, and this time, the fairy tale is for the adult. Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. brings his unique sense of humor to us in this fairy tale, and it is a tale that will have you chuckling, chortling, and laughing out loud.
We previously met the writings of Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. in Review 36: Poetic Musings of an Old, Fat Man. His poetry is well crafted and has established Mr. Gilleland as a wordsmith, so I definitely looked for good things to come with this novella. Mr. Gilleland begins the tale in classic style:
Long, long ago, in a place far, far away there was an age of chivalry, a time of royalty, of gallant knights and fair ladies who were always getting themselves into distress and needing to be saved (seems like a clever dating technique to me, but whatever), of wizards and magic, and of course, of dragons needing to be slain. It was a land of castles, fine clothing and jewels, great feasts, and live dinner entertainment with much dancing and music making. . .but not for Bob.
Bob, a peasant lad, is traveling the land just trying to keep himself fed through odd jobs and handouts. He had no hope of glory, and luxury is something he can not even imagine. Until he arrives in a valley where a dragon is terrorizing the people, and the king has declared that whichever knight slays the dragon will have his daughters hand in marriage. Bob, being curious, decides to scope out the problem of the dragon, never dreaming of fighting the dragon himself. But then he meets Stephen, self-proclaimed wizard extraordinaire, who has just graduated from wizarding school. Stephen tells Bob that he will help him slay the dragon and gives him the brother sword to Excalibur, whom Bob had never heard of. Since he is the first to wield the sword it is his duty to name the sword, so Bob names the sword Bruce, because he has always liked that name.
Armed with Bruce, Bob goes into battle against the dragon and slays the dragon. When Princess Wendie realizes that she will have to marry the peasant, Bob, she whines to her father that she can not do it. Lawyers get involved and it is determined that Bob is not eligible to win the hand of the princess in marriage, because the terms of the proclamation state "whatever gallant knight slew the dragon", and Bob is merely a peasant.
Bob turned to Stephen and implored, "Do something! Use some magic! They are robbing me of my future!" Stephen sadly shook his head. "Even wizards are powerless against lawyers and their fine print. I can be of no aid to you."
Bob decides at that point that he will have to become a knight and goes off in search of a damsel in distress to save. When none of the damsels in distress will let him save them because he is not a knight, Bob changes his plan to earning wealth by slaying dragons. In his travels seeking out dragons to slay, Bob meets Lord Wilfred, whom he quickly dubs Willie. Lord Wilfred is so relieved that Bob slew the dragon so he didn't have to make the attempt that he brought Bob back to his castle and teaches him to be a knight.
After Bob leaves Willie, he rescues Lady Katherine, who is Willie's fiancée and travels with her back to her father's castle. Katherine's father turns out to be Edward, the Duke of Westmorland who has sworn to avenge the death of his best friend, the Duke of Westbury and rightful heir to the throne. A few more twists in the plot has Bob leading the army put together by the Duke of Westmorland into battle against the King, brandishing Bruce astride his faithful steed, Spot. This story has all of the fairy tale elements present and is delivered in a delectable tongue in cheek manner.
The only modification that I would make to the book would be to remove the prologue. In it Mr. Gilleland has the McClair family begging the patriarch to tell them a tale and he obliges with the tale of Bob. It is not necessary to the book and doesn't add any value to the work. Let the book start in the classic style of "Long, long ago. . . " and carry on from there. Bob the Dragon Slayer is a very quick read that will leave you smiling at the end. Though written as a fairy tale, this is definitely not a story for children as there are references to Kate's ample cleavage as well as other more adult themed comments which are scattered throughout the text. So, talk to your inner child and let it experience Bob the Dragon Slayer.
I can sum up Meet Robby the C-130 in two words: Absolutely Delightful! This children's book is definitely a home run swing. Meet Robby the C-130 is a book which was created to help military children handle the times when either Mommy or Daddy is deployed and away from home. With the occupation of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, absentee parents have become a way of life for many military families. Beth Mahoney writes of what she knows well, having grown up as a child of the military, turned military wife of 17 years. She is raising her 3 children while her husband is frequently deployed, along with running a military parenting organization.
Meet Robby the C-130 starts off by introducing the child to the C-130 airplane and describes the types of cargo that this plane carries. It then moves on to introduce the standard crew that takes care of Robby and what they do. Mrs. Mahoney then delves into the emotional side of how Robby feels when he has to be away from his family and the things he does that help make him feel better. Throughout the course of the story, she relates what Robby is feeling to how the children feel when a parent is absent. At the back of the book are several pages which prompt children to draw their own pictures depicting how they feel, what mommy and daddy look like and so on. In addition to those pages, there is a page with tips for parents on how to use the book.
While the story is cute and written to the level of the intended audience, what makes Robby such a charming book is the illustrations. Zachary Porter does a marvelous job of capturing the essence of the words. Just to look at the pictures of Robby makes me smile. There is one page which describes Robby missing his family while he is deployed and the picture shows Robby with his head on a pillow, crying while looking at a picture and clutching his teddy bear. Priceless! I can just hear my two year old niece saying, "Poor Robby! He's so sad." And just because she is such an empathetic little person, she may even shed a tear because she is sad that Robby is sad.
Meet Robby the C-130 was created with military children as its primary market, however, I feel that the appeal of this book is much broader. It appeals not only to military children who have to deal with Mommy or Daddy deploying, but also to any child who has a parent who must leave for any reason, and as a tool for teaching children who are not dealing with separation that there are children who do. A copy of Robby will definitely be finding its way into my niece's Christmas package this year. It is a terrific addition to any Christmas stocking.
Right off the bat, I'll 'fess up - I've come to the Meg Cabot party a little late. Meg started writing her young adult novels after I had already passed through that stage of my life and in fact after I had written my first young adult novel. After taking a too long break from writing, I am back to it and forging ahead, and along with that, I am reading more than ever. I knew I wanted to read some of Meg Cabot's work, but didn't want to start with the Princess Diaries series as it was ten books in length, and knowing me, I would have to read them all one right after the other and I had a book of my own to write. So, I started in November last year with the Heather Wells Mystery series (I have read all three currently available, but have only written the one review for Size 12 is Not Fat so far). Then in July while I was waiting for some feedback on my completed novel, through @compelledtoread on Twitter, I was led to her post about the Mediator series by Meg Cabot. The description of the series captured me, so I grabbed my Kindle and downloaded a sample of the first book in the series Shadowland.
To say I consumed this series would almost be an understatement. As soon as I completed one book, I downloaded the next and continued to read. Bless the ease and accessibility of Kindle to more reading material and thanks to Meg for having the books available in Kindle format so I didn't have to go to the bookstore or wait for a delivery. Sometimes instant gratification can be wonderful.
We meet sixteen year old Suze Simon (short for Susannah) as she arrives in Carmel, California from New York City to move in with her mother, new stepfather, and three stepbrothers. She's been living with her grandmother for the last six months since her mother married Andy because there was no space available at Mission Academy for her to attend school. Suze, who doesn't let anyone except her mom call her Susie, is trying to make the best of it, but is not really excited to be leaving her friends, well, friend Gina, to move in with a new family in a strange new place, but wants to make her mom happy. She is distressed to learn that not only is the school she will be attending old, but her new house was built in 1849, and Suze doesn't like old buildings. This may seem like a really strange dislike until you realize the reason Suze doesn't like old buildings is that they are much likely to contain other things that are old, like old ghosts. And while in many ways, Suze is a normal, angsty, maladjusted teenager, the thing which sets her apart is she can see and talk to ghosts.
To cap things off, the first thing she runs into in the new house, in her room of all places, is Jesse, a ghost who has been living in the house, in her room, since the mid-1800's and refuses to leave. When Suze starts Mission Academy, a catholic school, she is less than thrilled to almost immediately run into a ghost. It is the ghost of a girl who committed suicide and is the reason the vacancy opened up for Suze to attend school. What is mind blowing to Suze is she is not the only person who can see this particular ghost. Father Dominic, the principal of Mission Academy, is a mediator just like Suze. They are both shocked to find someone else with their gift, or as Suze sometimes thinks - curse. Father Dominic considers this to be a fortuitous sign and decides he must tutor Suze on the proper mediation methods, as Suze tends to mediate a little after the fashion of Rambo, striking first and asking questions later. As mediators, it is their job to help the ghost determine why they are still on this earth and help them pass on into the next life. Suze has found getting physical from time to time with the ghost in question is sometimes necessary, because it comes as a shock to them that she can actually touch them, and her punches hurt.
One of the true powers of Cabot's writing is her ability to draw the reader into the story. Her characters are penned with authority, and they are quirky, yet lovable, even though sometimes a little prickly. We, the reader, can identify with Suze Simon as she worries about the minutiae of normal teenage girl life - how to fit in at a new school, boys, how to make friends, boys, clothes, boys, etc. We've all been there, or are there. Suze makes some poor decisions, and learns to regret some of her choices, but the teenager within understands why those choices were made. The writer in me pays homage to the power of Cabot's pen. Meg you rock.
As I Rode with Cullen Baker opens, we are met with a scene evocative of Gone with the Wind with Tara burning in the background. Set in the South in the midst of the civil war, fifteen year old Jessica Linville watched while the Federal cavalry burned her house to the ground. When I was younger, I used to love a story set in the south during civil war times with a feisty female character at its center, so this book drew my interest immediately. Let me clear one thing up right away, despite my reference to Gone with the Wind, the character of Jessica Linville is nothing like the character of Scarlett O'Hara. Jessica is a proper young lady with manners, a sense of propriety, and has a genuine caring attitude toward her fellow man. And Scarlett had none of those qualities. However, the character of Jessica is a strong one, and she has a strong voice which carries the action of the book as seen through her eyes.
In order to escape the renegades who are taking the very last that Jessica had, Joshua, who has worked for the family Jessica's entire life, hacks off her hair, dresses her in slave clothes, and they run off through the night. Jessica lost her mother six years previously to fever, and her father recently in battle, so she lived with the family servants, all of whom, except for Joshua, ran when the soldiers arrived. Joshua didn't want to let down the memory of her father by running out on her, but did his best to try and get her to safety.
With bluecoats in the wide drive, he’d forced me into the darkness, saying, “We can’t stay, Miss Jessica. These renegades would harm you.” Now, silhouettes of a dozen riders trampled the lawns, cheering as my home burned. I threw myself prone in the dirt in despair, and felt the thudding hooves beat like devils’ hearts in my chest. Joshua seemed gone a long time before I saw him returning through the neglected cane rows. Sporadic shouts broke through the diminishing roar of flames, and I prayed that none of those men would notice the hunched figure dodging flickering bands of firelight. He knelt beside me, gasping, “Here’s the shirt you got to put on.” Disentangling part of a bundle, he didn’t wait for my approval but began tearing at stubborn dress hooks, uncovering me to the chill air. He slid the correct arm into place as if I were an infant. “Step outen them clothes, shimmy an’ all. No— don’t stand up—” Pushing at the pale green dress material, then the white linen, I stripped to the skin and shoved first one foot, then the other, into the legs of a slave boy’s britches. They were limp with being worn, and though I was small for fifteen, tight through the hips. Joshua set a hat, rank with sweat, on my disgraced head, and I realized he was disguising me as a boy.
Unfortunately, the color of Joshua's skin turned out to be a problem in the town where he attempted to send a wire to someone to come and pick up the boy, Jess. In one of the senseless acts that abounded during that time period, a mob of men attempted to lynch Joshua, but then shot him as Jess was trying to remove the rope from around his neck. Before the mob could turn on her, Cullen Baker rode up on his horse, scooped her up, and rode out of town. Thus began Jess's adventure with the notorious outlaw, Cullen Baker.
Although Cully knew from the very start Jess was not a boy, he does not blow her cover, and goes to some lengths to help preserve it because he takes her to the camp of the Independent Rangers, who specialized in pursuing and capturing men who deserted the Confederate Army, but which more often than not took advantage of the fact that most of the men in the Arkansas and Texas areas were away at war, leaving mostly elderly men, women and children. This left the door open for acts of intimidation, rape, theft and violence for groups of well armed men like the Independent Rangers. Jessica's feelings toward Cully are ambivalent. She can't seem to reconcile the fact that he would save and protect her from a mob, but also steals. But then Cully gives the money away.
The next place we stopped was a frame shack that a big wind would blow into Cass County. The rusted tin roof must have leaked considerably, and the cracks where chinking had fallen out were wide enough for a ferret to crawl through. A dirty-faced boy about ten answered the knock. He looked cold, in a thin shirt, trousers which struck his shins two inches above his ankles, and barefoot. Saving his shoes—if he had shoes— for winter, no doubt. More of the money passed to him. He beamed at Cully and threw a cheerful wave to me. I waved back. “Consumption,” Cully explained, settling himself in the stirrups. “Won’t last till Christmas.” I was sorry for the boy, especially because he had to live his short life in such poverty. At least, before the war ruined things, I’d known comfort and plenty and the love of respectable people. “Cully.” “What?” “Which do you think is worse—to have nice things and lose them, or never to have them in the first place?” “You tell me,” he said shortly, and then we came to a settlement of three houses together, none looking like it could withstand a hard rain. He parted with more currency at all of them. When we were on our way again, I couldn’t help asking, “What will we do for money?” “There’s ways of getting more.” “Stealing it!” “How the hell else would I get it? You see anybody around here going to give me a job and pay me a wage?”
I Rode with Cullen Baker is a fast paced read, somewhat short in length as is necessary for the target age group. While some of the story line is somewhat predictable, RLB Hartmann spins an engaging tale and keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next. Hartmann uses the historical figure Cullen Baker, and weaves a story set during a time when his whereabouts were unknown, making the story potentially feasible. The Cully in the story is a much more romanticized version of the historical figure than you will find in the Wikipedia information about Cullen Baker. However, it was fun to suspend my disbelief and take a journey back to the south of the civil war times and take a ride with a wild desperado with a not often seen softer side. I think Hartmann's target audience will love the adventure.
The Simplest of Acts: And Other Stories is a short collection of short stories. In only 102 pages, Melanie Haney manages to take us into the hearts and lives of eleven separate individuals. My hat is off to anyone who can write a short story, because as hard as I try, I am never able to limit myself to telling just a snippet of the story. Haney not only masters the short story format, but she also spins a tale rich with emotion which gives you a glimpse into another's soul during those quiet moments in life. In The Simplest of Acts: And Other Stories, the story themes are primarily about loss and grief, however, there are moments of hope shining through. Life as seen through vignettes, Haney take you into the mind of her character, shows you what you need to see and feel, and then is off to the next story.
This is one of the few books that I have re-read before writing the review. I read it through the first time with complete enjoyment of the mastery of Melanie Haney's craft, and then read it the second time through with an eye as to what to highlight for a review. Haney has a very strong voice which she uses in each of the pieces of first person, stream of consciousness style. She also picks those quiet moments in life, not the big parties or events, but the mother sitting at the side of her daughter's hospital bed, waiting for the inevitable; the yearning to leave the small town life and see the world; the death of a cat; the loss of mind and more.
While I enjoyed every story in the book, I will only highlight a few of the stories which are my favorites. Haney opens the book with An Ordinary Evening, in which a mother is struggling to have an ordinary evening away from the hospital. Her daughter has been in a tragic accident and is a mere shell, and exceptionally unlikely to recover. We pick the story up at the point where the mother has maintained a vigil at the daughter's bedside for months, only leaving to see a therapist at periodic intervals. The therapist is recommending Claire spend a normal evening at home, cook herself dinner, sleep in her own bed. In addition to this, Claire's ex-husband wants her to consider pulling the plug because their daughter deserves to be put to rest.
I wake up alone in the bed we once shared, but didn't last night. I muse for a moment how the conversation will go with Dr. Tanner. Will his calm and concerned expression hold steady, when I tell him our experiment in ordinary nearly ended with me sleeping with my ex-husband on the living room floor.
In Only in Bellington we meet Emmy, who is tired of working and living in a small town. She has been saving her money while working at Quality-Sure and once she reaches $10,000, she's going to leave the dust of Bellington behind. Before her death, her mother always wanted to travel and see the world, and Emmy takes after her. While still $3,000 short of her goal, her father, who Emmy lives with, introduces a new girlfriend and Emmy considers that she has enough to move on. At the start of the story, Emmy is waiting for her break to be over, not joining those in the break room.
..... It smells and it's loud with her coworker's constant chatter. Who's sleeping with who this week? Who did what in the storeroom? Where're they going drinking this weekend? None of which matters to Emmy. She's here for her paycheck, the weekly reminder that she's one stop closer to leaving this town. This town is Bellington. It is five thousand people living in five square miles of houses built practically on top of one another and a one-way Main Street that's a quarter mile of Mom 'n Pop stores and one Quality-Sure (purveyors of all your drugstore needs at low prices you can count on.) There's only once chain restaurant, a McDonalds built in the sixties, whose owner panicked when rumors blew into town that a Burger King might franchise out their direction. It never came though, and to this day, Emmy asserts it as proof that you can't have it your way in Bellington.
Only in Bellington and The Simplest of Acts are both award winning stories. The Simplest of Acts centers around the death of a beloved mother and Eve, the oldest daughter, visiting the house prior to the funeral to gather inspiration for writing the eulogy. This story in particular hit home with me as it seems that I have been to too many funerals, and the preparation that comes along with them.
One of my favorite stories in the collection is Shoes, Falling because while having a realistic view of what can happen in life, it is also the story which has the most hope, and is a little more lighthearted than the rest. Daisy, a paycheck to paycheck waitress, has fallen into a construction hole at her apartment complex and broken her ankle. Daisy is an optimist, and definitely someone who practices making lemonade when life hands her lemons. She lives in the apartment complex with her daughter Theresa, who sometimes becomes a little exasperated with her mother's optimistic view. Perhaps I enjoyed this story so much because Daisy reminds me very much of my own mother, and like Theresa, I am ever trying to get her to see the world in a realistic way and to protect her from being taken advantage of.
The only criticism I have with The Simplest of Acts: And Other Stories is the formatting of the book. The lines are double spaced and the paragraphs are not justified. This is not significant enough of an issue to keep anyone from reading it. Reformatting the book would reduce the page count even further, which would allow Ms. Haney room to include a few more stories. Which would be a good thing because what I wanted most after reading all of the stories was more. A fantastic job by Melanie Haney.
When this particular book was posted on the Pick Me! tab of the LL Book Review, I knew, being the only woman regular reviewer, if I didn't review it, the book would be declined. We keep a separate document with all of the review requests submitted where we, after reviewing the available information about the book, signify whether it is a selection we would like to review or not. Just for grins, after I added Birth in Suburbia to the list, I left it open to see how long it would take my fellow reviewers to place an N next to it. As soon as they looked at the list, they updated this selection as a No, and it was left to me to give it the final thumbs up or thumbs down. I went through my usual process of first reading the review request submission, then going to the product page and reading the preview available.
When I read the preview for Birth in Suburbia, I was pleasantly surprised. Based on the write up, I knew this was a novel and not a textbook, but was apprehensive about whether the author truly pulled this book off in novel format. The preview convinced me there was a story line and what I read was well written, so I asked for the book for review. I'm going to cover a couple of things that I feel hamper this book from being as good as it could be first, so then I can focus on what I liked about it. I'll be candid, I don't like the title. I feel that the title so limits the readership of the book that the author will lose some sales because of it. I'm not sure what I would call it, but I know I would take the word Birth out of the title, as that alone limits the appeal to expectant mothers. The same can be said for the book cover. Three pregnant women holding their bellies will appeal to expectant mothers and very few others. This may be the author's intent, in which case both the title and the cover should serve it well.
The spacing of the book is double spaced and combined with the wide margins and large indents makes the book much longer in page length than it needs to be. Reformatting the book to widen the margins, decrease the indents, and changing to single spacing vs. double would significantly reduce the page length, and as a result, the base cost, which is something all POD authors need to be conscious of. By making those changes, the reduction in page length would allow the author a little more freedom with character development, which I felt was somewhat lacking. I believe Carol Falaki to be a good enough author to develop the characters well, but I had a sense as I read the book that some sacrifices were made to allow for detailed explanation of the birth process and to keep the page length down a bit.
Friends Debbie, Helen, and Liz are all pregnant with due dates close together. Chrissy rounds out the group of friends, and she already has a daughter and is divorced, and not eager to enter any new relationships. Each of the friends is facing a different path in life and Birth in Suburbia follows each of these friends down their path toward birth, and in the case of Chrissy, outgrowing bitterness. Carol Falaki has chosen to provide a picture of three different types of births and gives each of her main characters one of the types.
Birth in Suburbia begins with Debbie, who is the central character for the book, unsure about her marriage, and unsure about what to expect from the birth of her impending child. The below passage is what sold me on reading Birth in Suburbia because here was a story line I could sink my teeth into. As the book opens, Debbie is walking down the street on her way to meet Chrissy and is approached by a very old woman.
A pale knotted hand reached out and gently touched Debbie's stomach. Debbie smiled; she was used to it. "Mothers never leave their children," the old woman said. "I have no intention of leaving my baby." "Not you dear. We are all children you know." Debbie looked past the woman, along the street, to where Chrissy was waiting for her. "They used to burn midwives as witches," the woman added. "I was one you know." "A witch?" "A midwife dear, long ago. There's something you should know." The woman's look was direct, and for a moment Debbie felt like a rabbit caught in headlights. "Your mother is with you." The woman lowered her hand and without another word continued on her way. Debbie watched her turn the corner. The sound of the shopping basket wheels faded into the warm air. That old familiar lump in her throat, that unresolved anxiety, returned. Debbie's mum had died three years earlier.
Liz, unmarried and doesn't want to be, has made the decision to have a home birth, and we follow her as she prepares for the birth of her baby at home. Her mother, Maggie, is very supportive and her father, Harry, just wants to stay out of the way. Helen is married to Nigel, who is involved and excited about the upcoming birth of his child. Helen's mother, Anne, is concerned about Helen's pregnancy because she herself had a bad experience. Helen goes late and ends up needing to be induced and ultimately requires an emergency Caesarean section. Debbie, is married to Sean, but is insecure in the marriage as her due date approaches. She remembers how Chrissy's ex, Jack, started behaving as she got closer to the delivery of Natalie, and Debbie is very much afraid that Sean is having an affair. She also feels alone facing birth without her mother. Debbie gives birth in the traditional hospital, non-complication style.
One additional character arrives toward the end of book - Gemma, who is completing her training to become a midwife. I would like to have known a little more about Gemma, as she was present for all three of the births. Maybe just a bit about why she decided to become a midwife, and some of the challenges she had faced so far in her training. I liked her character because she provided the perspective of experiencing the three different types of births with a fresh eye, rather than someone who has done this hundreds of times in the past.
There is a fount of information about the birth process, and feelings both physical and emotional that birth mothers go through prior to birth, in this book. At the end of the book, my feeling is that this should be categorized as a novelized text book, as it has its feet planted firmly in both categories with the wealth of information it contains as well as the fictional story lines.
Escaping Innocence is set in a time when the world, or at least the United States, was a little more innocent. During the turbulent times of the sixties, we as a nation lost some of that innocence through war, drugs, and the sexual revolution. Each generation has grown up knowing more at an earlier age, experiencing more, and therefore, the innocent days of youth are gone in the blink of an eye.
In Escaping Innocence Joe Perrone, Jr. takes us on a trip into the heart and mind of David Justin. We see the world from David's perspective, starting out at age 14 having his first wet dream. After that, David can hardly think about anything but sex. Shortly after this, David meets his soon to be best friend, Craig Reilly, while he was in the library studying about the American Revolution. Craig introduces David to the nude photos in the latest copy of US Camera, and a friendship is born. David in his early teenage years reminded me of a quote by one of my favorite TV characters, Jeff Murdoch (Coupling, BBC) where Jeff is explaining to his friend Steve how you could wipe out all of human kind if you were an alien with a mind ray.
Make all women telepathic. Because if they suddenly found out about the kind of stuff that goes on in our heads, they would kill us all on the spot. Men are not people. We are disgustoids in human form.
David actually makes it through school and graduates, through the grace of one of his teacher's who passes him through on effort shown rather than actual marks. Once he is out of school, David is set to meander through life. He doesn't really know what he wants to do, other than find a way to get laid. He longs to take after his boss at the liquor store, who has more money than he needs, and goes through life with one woman after the other. Once he decides that working at a liquor store for the rest of his life is not the job of his dreams, he makes the decision to go to college. His first attempt at college was to commute to an art college. The sealer for that deal for Dave was the fact that one of the classes in the catalog was 101 Nude Drawing. He could hardly wait. This was the climax of his young life, he would be able to sit and stare at nudes for a class. The golden day finally arrived and he eagerly awaited the model. Much to his chagrin, the model turned out to be a short black man, and not a tall luscious blonde. Nude models were not supposed to be MALE! He decided to give it one more try, after all, it could't get any worse than that, until an old grandmotherly type, dropped her robe and struck a pose. So ended art school for Dave.
After drifting for a little while longer, and nearly getting caught up by a military recruiter to join the Marines, Dave decided to go away to school. Leaving home and going to college in another state allows David an opportunity to mature and to start growing up. Not only that, but he is actually able to start focusing on class work, enough so that he makes the Dean's list in his first year. Of course, he also made the other Dean's list by leading a drunken mob of college men on a panty raid and is then nearly expelled.
During the summer, David and his friend Bobby-Bo take a vacation in Ocean City, and are determined to rid themselves of the stigma of virgin. Dave meets a girl who is so beautiful he can hardly catch his breath, and she really seems to like him too. The problem is that David has been raised with values and as much as he'd like to put those out of his mind, when push comes to shove, he can't. He has the desire, he wants to take that next big step, but always at the last minute, can't seem to follow through.
“Oh, God,” I moaned. I was scared, and growing more so by the second. What should I do? Should I do it? Yes or no? The confusion was overpowering. Visions of catechism class, with Sister Agnes remonstrating against temptation, invaded my subconscious, crowding lust from my thoughts. At the same time, Missy’s hand was roaming around in my shorts, heightening my arousal, and adding to my consternation. This was Armageddon: Missy versus Sister Agnes and the church! It should have been a toss-up, but it wasn’t even close. In fact, it was no contest. Sister Agnes and Catholicism won by a TKO!
What starts out as a horn dog's guide to self-pleasure winds up being a story of self-discovery and awakening to the world around him. Joe Perrone, Jr. does an amazing job of getting inside the head of the adolescent David Justin and letting us see the world through his eyes. Mr. Perrone allows David to age and mature so naturally, you'd swear that you've known David all of his life.
From the very first word, Death at Disney evoked a strong sense of the 1950's cop show, Dragnet. Not because the story is a period piece, but while I read the opening I could hear the narrator for Dragnet in my mind, becoming the voice of the main character, private investigator, Albert Cummings. The story opens with Cummings visiting the world of Disney, "the happiest place on earth", as it is billed. And we enter into the thoughts of Cummings as he spends his time alone observing he is not the only unhappy person there. This was to be the dream vacation of a lifetime; it's just too bad he is unable to share it with his wife, who is now an ex, and his daughter. Through the introduction, we see Albert Cummings as a jaded, tired, professional, who didn't see how his job destroyed his family until it was too late. He is fast becoming irritated with the ubiquitous Disney cheer, and has found nothing to distract him from his own depressing thoughts.
Death at Disney is written primarily in first person present tense, which works well for this story because Albert has come to a cross-roads in his life. What he has lost is left behind, and he doesn't have a good sense of what's ahead so he is living in the here and now. That all changes when he meets Sarah Williams, a teenage pickpocket, trying to scrape together enough money to sustain herself by fleecing tourists at Disney World.
I now take a look around me and notice the direction in which the majority of the throng around me is heading. With a small gleam in my eye, I notice most of them carrying various guides to the park and following the directions like sheep. I turn to the left at the first intersection I can, avoiding the sea now turning right. As I make the turn, I feel a bump at my side. A hand snakes into my jacket with a fleeting touch. It feels almost like a butterfly kissing a rose petal, but I’m trained to be very conscious of my surroundings and my body. I grab the arm before the person can leave my side.
Up until Sarah was introduced into the story, the writing style was a stream of consciousness monologue for the most part. It establishes the character of Albert Cummings and provides some of his back story for the reader. When Albert catches Sarah attempting to pick his pocket, he decides not to turn her in to the park police, but instead works a deal with her. If she turns in all of the wallets she has lifted, which she has stashed in her purse, he'll let her go. Albert even goes a step further and tells her to call him Uncle Frank and he'll vouch for her by showing his private investigators license, and will say his "niece" just found this purse full of wallets. And of course, part of the deal is that she not steal any more so he isn't put into the position of having to turn her in later in the day. The upshot is they both enjoy each others company so well, they spend the rest of the day at the park together experiencing it like a father and daughter, enjoying it to the hilt. Until, during a stunt show, one of the audience members collapses dead to the ground. Albert is roped in to help find the killer, with Disney footing the tab. Will Albert find the killer before the killer turns the tables on him and Sarah?
While I normally don't mix critiques and reviews, there are just a few minor issues which keep this very good book from being an excellent book, and I value the strength of Julio Vazquez's writing enough to point them out. First off, the cover does not do the book justice. While I do like the mouse ears on the headstone, the pink background simply doesn't work for the semi-hard boiled private eye mystery story within. Even something like the legs of a crowd walking behind the (smaller) headstone would work, with a bolder, larger title. There also needs to be some attention given to the line editing of the manuscript. It may be the copy I was reading; however, occasionally there is the number one at the beginning of a line, such as 1Anywhere or 1"Yes." In addition to those strange instances, on a few occasions Albert Cummings, who has assumed a pseudonym of Frank Cousins when dealing with the suspects for the murder, calls himself Cummings to the suspects, or one of the characters who only know him as Cousins, calls him Cummings.
One final observation, which is purely my personal opinion, Vazquez intermittently brings sexual overtones into the thoughts of Albert Cummings about Sarah, and it felt forced, did not advance the story line, and would be better to have been left out. It made me uncomfortable with Albert's character at times because it just didn't fit the character I knew throughout the rest of the book. And while I understand his loneliness, and needing to feel loved, I would have been much more comfortable with his having those types of thoughts about another adult, rather than a teenager. It sullied the close father/daughter development that was building between Albert and Sarah with pedophile overtones, and I don't believe that was the intent of the author. That being said, those passages are brief and very few. The book would just be better without them.
I thoroughly enjoyed my read of Death at Disney. Mr. Vazquez has the gift of turning a phrase. One of my favorites was in the quote above of almost like a butterfly kissing a rose petal. What a beautiful image, especially in juxtaposition to the sad overtones of the previous passages. The development of the relationship which springs up between two lonely people, who meet by chance, is done very naturally. I like a character with spunk and it is Sarah's spirit which helps to bring Albert out of his funk. And helps him to see the world from a fresh perspective, through the eyes of someone, who with her experiences, could be jaded, but isn't. Through the pages of Death at Disney, Julio Vazquez establishes himself as a talented author with a strong voice, who crafts a suspenseful tale. Death at Disney is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys a good old fashioned murder mystery.
As a side note, Death at Disney marks the first book that I have read for review on my Kindle 2. I converted the PDF to the Kindle format, loaded it to the Kindle and was able to enjoy the experience completely. I even played around with some of the Kindle features, such as playing some of the book as an audio book using the Text to Speech feature. While the voice is not quite as robotic as I would have expected, if I listened to it reading fiction to me for any extended period of time, I would go absolutely crazy. There are, for obvious reasons, no inflections to the words or sense of dramatic timing, but I think for a textbook, or some other business related writing, it would not be as bad. I was also able to highlight text and make notations so that they were easy to find once I was done reading the book. The Kindle also kept my place for me, when I had to turn the unit off during the course of reading this book. I remember the eagerness I felt when turning the Kindle back on to get right back into the story, exactly where I left off.