I should say, this copy. We've managed to go through three copies so far... books and water don't mix well....moreThis book rarely leaves our bedside table.
I should say, this copy. We've managed to go through three copies so far... books and water don't mix well... lol!
Tina and I recommend Jude's book without hesitation. The title reads "101 positions..."... but if you are like me and my inamorata, you will find countless variations... almost another book in itself!(less)
Richard Godwin’s One Lost Summer takes a detour from the author’s trademark noir / psychological thriller / horror stylings and answers with a resound...moreRichard Godwin’s One Lost Summer takes a detour from the author’s trademark noir / psychological thriller / horror stylings and answers with a resounding “Yes!” the question “Can Richard write anything other than horror thrillers?”
A novel steeped in mystery and suspense, with a subtle yet unmistakable eroticism, One Lost Summer takes the reader deep inside the mind of a damaged man… a tortured soul… where we are witness to the ‘shrouded’ dance of the watcher and the watched.
The story begins one hot summer… the mystery, long before that. And if there is a moral to this story, it is this…
Some things… once lost… were not meant to be found.
Unfortunately, some people find that out too late.
Identity… it is what makes man… it is what breaks man. If I had to choose one word to describe the theme of Richard Godwin’s latest novel… a blend of noir mystery and psychological thriller… ‘identity’ would be that word. Some might disagree with that, but… to paraphrase Joe Pesci in Goodfellas (I think)… “It is what it is.”
At first blush, One Lost Summer would appear to be a simple obsédé noir… a middle-aged voyeur drowning in the pool of his own desire, spending his every waking moment, as well as not-inconsiderable amounts of money, watching his neighbor and cataloging her existence on film.
But… with a master story-teller such as Richard Godwin… well, ‘simple’ just doesn’t apply. This soon becomes apparent as the layers that make up the mystery of filmmaker Rex Allen’s new life are exposed to the often unforgiving glare of the reader.
One Lost Summer is a slow reveal. That is not to say the story is slow, on the contrary; the pacing of One Lost Summer is ‘pitch-perfect’, to borrow a phrase from the music world. Page after page, the suspense builds… occasionally ebbing, so as to allow the reader a respite to consider what has transpired so far.
And to ponder on the two traps of man….
Identity… and memory. One is lost without the other.
Memory can be a cruel mistress. She will taunt and tease… scattering words and broken thoughts, like breadcrumbs, on the floor of one’s conscious. If there are secrets that she is not ready to give up – and there always are - no amount of begging will help. Memory will reveal the bits and pieces of one’s past in her own fashion… and in her own time. And… she always wants something in return. Always.
And this is the ‘crux’ of Rex’s problem. Memory, or more accurately, the absence of a good portion of his, is what drives Rex… what moves him to uproot from his home outside greater London to the suburbs of Surrey, where hopefully a change of scenery and distance from the noise and static of his former life will bring some peace and where Rex can begin to rebuild what was lost. If only he had more than a few broken shards from which to start.
Rex Allen has an obsession. He sees beauty in the ordinary and ordinary in beauty, and seemingly, has an almost singular compulsion with dominating the spirit of those who cross the path of his obsession.
It starts with a single image… flashing in the recesses of his mind like a relentless strobe… teasing something deeper, something still chained… unable to rise to the surface of Rex’s consciousness, where it can be named and placed in this new life of his… put into perspective.
And from that image, a word… “Coral…”
And from that one word, in what is… for lack of a better word… a Dr. Frankenstein-esque quest, Rex attempts to bring to life something more than just a memory. And in doing so, he discovers – or, rediscovers – the ‘flexibility’ of his own moral code. Ironically, he fails to see, or refuses to see, his own reflection in the morality of this new ‘world’ he has found himself in and which he soon grows contemptuous of.
When at last he can begin to enjoy – although, I’m not sure that ‘enjoy’ was ever a part of Rex’s emotional make-up… ‘possess’ might be a better word – the fruits of his labors, something changes. The stage of Rex’s little deux jeux de caractères is suddenly crowded with the arrival of ‘truth’… stage right.
But, as I mentioned earlier… one should be careful of what they wish for. La vérité n'est pas toujours mis un libre.
From page one, the narrative of Richard’s latest novel has a mesmeric hold on the reader, pulling them along… with questions rising as images flash past… and just when the reader thinks they have a firm grasp on the reality of the story, there is that Godwin “turn” that makes the reader sit up and go “Oh!”
At times, the tension is almost palpable… like the taste of silver amalgam… and brings an expectation not unlike that conjured in watching the recalcitrant fuse of a firework moving inexorably toward its explosive conclusion.
And at other times, there is an almost dreamlike quality to parts of the narrative that is like - to borrow Richard’s words – “… a key turning in a lock. Over and over and over…” And with each page turn… a flash of memory… not unlike that of light glinting off the polished surface of a key turning in a lock, as another bit of the mystery is revealed.
Seductive and suspenseful, One Lost Summer is a dark, richly woven mystery… a riveting tale of deception of self and a frightening look inside the human mind and the lengths and depths one will stir to possess another. Richard Godwin writes, with disturbing clarity, the psychosis of a man possessed by beauty, to the exclusion of all else.
One Lost Summer is a `must-read'... it "hits all the marks" of a classic and timeless mystery and is well worth a few sleepless nights.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw (Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest) 5 August 2013 (less)
(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer. In addition to reviewing books that I myself have purchased, I am also a freelance reviewer for Howard...more(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer. In addition to reviewing books that I myself have purchased, I am also a freelance reviewer for Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. My reviews are based solely on the merits of the book, and I receive no remuneration from the publisher or author, other than a copy of the book, in exchange for posting a review on my blogs, GoodReads and Amazon. The following is my review of Nicole Baart’s SLEEPING IN EDEN; purchased on Amazon. Thank you – vmls)
~~**~~ Sleeping in Eden is told in alternating chapters… present and past drawing nearer with each turn of the page of this story of life and of death… and all the paths between the two.
The discovery of a body just beneath the hard-pack floor of a disused barn - the scene of an apparent suicide Dr. Lucas Hudson has been called out on, to act as coroner on the case, is the beginning of the unraveling of a lie that has chained three families to a past not entirely of their choosing and has now brought a fourth family into a mystery almost a decade old.
Oh what a tangled web we weave. When Lucas holds back what will later turn out to be a crucial piece of evidence, the ‘good doctor’ takes that first step into the web. Why did he do it? Leverage in a failing relationship? A desperate attempt to plug the leak in his marriage before it sinks completely? Will what started out for Lucas as a little lie, end up destroying him and what little chance left to his marriage? Even as Lucas questions his own motives behind this fresh deceit, he is unable to understand his wife Jenna’s continued grieving over a loss years before; a loss Lucas seems unwilling or unable to understand or share. The river of denial runs deep in some.
Fifteen year-old Meg Painter doesn’t ‘play safe’ like most girls. She isn’t afraid of scrapes, bruises and torn nails. She also doesn’t ‘play it safe’ when it comes to boys, as is soon evidenced in how hard she falls for the new kid on the block, Dylan Reid.
Dylan is a bit of a mystery… a troubled boy, some instinctively sense and try to warn Meg about… a mystery with a past, who at times seems oblivious to Meg’s feelings, or perhaps he does but his young heart, already battle-scarred, isn’t ready to go back in to the fray just yet.
So, where does that leave Meg? Meg finds out that, as the author so eloquently puts it, “… death by devotion is a slow, aching bleed.”
Jess Langbroek, the third side in this teenage love triangle, loves Meg with a intensity almost as fierce as Meg’s own independence. Jess is the ‘safe choice’… every girl’s parent’s ‘dream’.
Meg is torn. Meg doesn’t want to play safe. Meg doesn’t want what it seems everyone else wants for her. Meg desperately wants to “step out of her perfect, pre-planned life” and make her own choices… live her own life.
The ‘echoes’ of Meg’s choices will one day haunt a man already haunted by ghosts of the past.
And that’s probably a good place to stop. I don’t want to give too much away.
I love the structure of this story… it really could not have been written any other way. Nicole has crafted an absorbing and spell-binding tale that fans of mystery and of contemporary fiction alike will ‘devour’, and then ask for more.
Suspenseful, fast-paced, impossible to put down… Nicole Baart’s latest novel, Sleeping in Eden, is all this and more. Having already proven her gift of finely-crafted prose in previous novels, Sleeping in Eden more than satisfies readers’ expectations from this extremely talented author. Nicole’s skill in setting a scene and creating mood with ‘pitch-perfect’ pacing and compelling narrative style will have readers talking about Sleeping in Eden for a very long time to come.
Nicole writes with passion and compassion, drawing on her own experiences and understanding of the unique nature of the family of man. One of the most satisfying things about her novels is the characters she draws… real, vulnerable, redemptive… complicated and unpredictable at times... there is a dimensionality to the people in Nicole’s writing that has become a trademark and one of the reasons she consistently brings out best-seller caliber novels. They are drawn in such a way that the reader can’t help but connect at some level. There is a relatability… I think that’s the word I want to use… that pulls the reader into the story.
And un-stereotypical characters… let’s not forget that. In Lucas Hudson, Nicole has written a truly rich character… a chimera of the two male stereotypes most often identified with. Normally a safe, ethical and reliable man, a faithful and responsible man… the deepening mystery in the barn brings out in Lucas, the ‘bad boy’… questionable motives and ethics, setting aside his own accountability and becoming tangled up in sins of omission and unwelcome desires he can’t quite seem to vanquish.
* Teen angst… unrequited love… a mystery that demands to be solved… coming of age… we’ve all read books before that had at least one of those elements as the main plot. In Sleeping in Eden, Nicole takes these elements and weaves an indelibly sharp and poignant story of lives crossing time… innocence lost…love lost… and love found… of forgiveness and second chances… of seeing beyond one’s own self… of ‘waking up’.
Beautiful and bittersweet, Sleeping in Eden is at once a mystery… a love story… a cautionary tale of walking through life with eyes half-shut, unaware of the life around us, our impact on others and theirs on us.
It is a reminder that faith, fate, destiny, karma - whatever you want to call it - brings one back to the grace they had once lost and the true path of their journey.
I recommend Sleeping in Eden without reservation. This may just be Nicole’s best yet; written with verve and authority, and a unique understanding of the human condition. Beautiful prose, engaging characters and a plot that will keep you engaged to the very end… make Sleeping in Eden a ‘must-read’.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw 29 June 2013 (Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest) email@example.com
(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer. I am also a freelance reviewer, listed with Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. I choose...more(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer. I am also a freelance reviewer, listed with Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. I choose the books that I wish to read, the opinions expressed are my own and my review is based solely on the merits of the book. Other than a free copy of the book, I receive no compensation from the publisher or the author. My reviews are posted on the GoodReads website, Amazon and my personal blogs. The following is my review of Sandra Byrd’s ROSES HAVE THORNS, generously provided by the author. Thank you – vmls)
Roses Have Thorns is the third in Sandra Byrd’s Tudor series novels. As with The Secret Keeper, the first of Sandra’s novels I was privileged to read, Roses Have Thorns captivated me from the very first page with Sandra’s rich prose and evocative narrative style, weaving a brilliant tale with unforgettable characters amidst the peace and the turmoil of mid-16th century England.
With a heroine one can’t help but love and admire and as much deceit, infidelity, murder, treason, intrigue, romance… set during the reign of Elizabeth I, the virgin queen of England… one could put into 300 pages, “page-turner” and “I could not put this book down!” are phrases that immediately spring to mind with Roses Have Thorns.
On the eve of leaving for England, Elin, ladies maid to Princess Cecelia of the court of Sweden’s King Erik, discovers two things… two most disturbing things. One…Phillip, Elin’s fiancé, and her sister, have become romantically entangled… to put it mildly… and, two… Elin’s dowry has been gambled away. Her departure from Sweden is thus bittersweet. Elin’s heart is torn from the deceit and betrayal of those nearest her, but her regret at leaving home when her future is suddenly uncertain is tempered with the prospect of finally journeying to England, and all that it promises. Little does young Elin know just how long, or how much, her journey will encompass.
After an arduous ten months of travel and travail, Princess Cecelia’s ship finally arrives in England, where new adventures await the princess and her entourage. For Elin, the coming days are also a time for some hard decisions to be made. Circumstances back home have left her an uncertain future and Elin, through chance or divine design, soon realizes that her future, though it be without her own mother, is in England.
Elin, having ‘anglicized’ her name and now Lady Helena, joins the court of Queen Elizabeth and…
I should stop here before I tell away too much.
In Roses Have Thorns, Sandra brings the reader a richly imaginative story of Tudor England during Elizabeth I’s reign, told through the eyes of one of the Queen’s most trusted ladies. The author’s carefully crafted narrative will thrill fans of historical fiction with its attention to detail and history of the period. History class in school was never this much fun to read! Evocative and at times suspenseful, Sandra weaves an indelible tale, the fabric of which is rich with romance and intrigue, compassion and adventure, tumult and peace, betrayal and faith.
The story’s protagonist, 17 year-old Elin, is ‘transformed’ through marriage to William Parr, into the second-highest-ranking woman in England at the time, Lady Helena Von Snakenborg, Marchioness of Northampton, and one of Elizabeth’s most trusted confidants. It would be no understatement to say that Helena controlled access to the queen; she was indeed a powerful figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, finding herself, at times, neck deep in royal intrigue.
Over the course of the next forty-plus years Helena serves her queen, at times making tremendous sacrifices – she was married twice and bore her second husband eight children - to serve her adopted queen and country.
It is here that Sandra really excels in the telling of Roses Have Thorns, giving the reader not only Helena’s view of events which transpired during Elizabeth’s reign, but also a view of the inner workings of the queen’s chamber, making the reader privy to many private conversations between lady and queen and leaving little doubt that Helena was a favorite of Elizabeth’s and much loved by the queen.
What makes Roses Have Thorns even more compelling, for fans of fiction and of Tudor history alike, is that Helena Von Snakenborg was a real lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth. It is quite exciting to have Helena’s point-of-view presented in this re-telling of the life of Elizabeth I and I can’t think of a more authoritative author on the subject of Tudor history than Sandra Byrd, to tell the story.
A storyteller who mesmerizes from the very beginning, drawing the reader in with her narrative… a richly woven tapestry of character and place… and a pacing that is both emotive and suspenseful, Sandra shows a mastery of the craft that few others of the genre can touch.
Roses Have Thorns is a ‘must-read’ for all… not just for fans of historical fiction. I recommend this book without reservation. I enjoyed the story immensely and while it is difficult to pick out a favorite passage, if pushed to it, I would have to say that the incident with the bee would be in a very close tie. This scene tells so much in such a small amount of words… it is a testament to the author’s skill.
I will close with this ‘caution’… you will want to have a box of tissues near to hand, especially at the closing pages.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw 10 June 2013 (Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest) (less)
(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer. I am also a freelance reviewer. On occasion, I receive advance copies of books from publishers, for rev...more(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer. I am also a freelance reviewer. On occasion, I receive advance copies of books from publishers, for review. My reviews are based solely on the merits of the book, and I receive no remuneration from the publisher or author, other than a copy of the book, in exchange for posting a review on my blogs. Through a contest sponsored on Goodreads.com, I recently ‘won’ an ARC of Lauren Kessler’s latest non-fiction book, COUNTER CLOCKWISE. The following is my review. Disclaimer: I have taken care to not, with a couple of minor exceptions, directly quote from the book. Please note that the opinions and any 'claims' the reader may infer from this review are mine, and not necessarily those of the author. Thank you – vmls)
“If I could turn back time… if I could find a way…”
In Diane Warren’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”, Cher sings of love and of regret over things said and things done… wishing to turn back time and take away the hurt. But as we all know, time moves in one direction.
Or, does it…?
In Lauren Kessler’s Counter Clockwise, the author writes of ‘turning back time’ in a more literal and profound sense… in a way that will change your life… in a way that will improve the quality of your life, not just now, but as one grows older… chronologically, that is. With solid research and testimony from experts in their respective fields behind her, Lauren explains that while ‘age’ may be something measured by passing of years on a calendar, how we age… the speed at which we ‘grow older’ is something that we have much, much more control over than one might think.
Lauren’s “Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging”, as Counter Clockwise is subtitled, is an odyssey of discovery… and a search for the truth behind the hype… through the anti-aging ‘realm’. A market that some estimate, in the next couple of years, will exceed $200 billion in revenue.
Lauren explores the pills, supplements, creams, lotions and assorted devices pushed on a largely unsuspecting public that is in search of the fountain of youth. She tackles fitness and exercise regimens that would make even the most hardcore Marine boot camp drill sergeant toss in the towel and head for the lockers. The lure of cosmetic surgery, guaranteed to take years off your body (if not your mind), along with thousands of your hard-earned dollars, sings its siren song to Lauren. Does she succumb? Ha! If you’re expecting spoilers from me, you haven’t been reading my reviews.
Diet. When we hear that word, most of us think in terms of losing weight, but remember this… ‘diet’ is not just a verb. Diet, in the noun form, is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and if your quest is to ‘turn back the hands of time’, what, when and how you eat is even more important. Lauren’s research - I would have loved to be her research assistant, at least for this part - takes her through the science of food and nutrition in search of the right foods and combinations of foods that will promote optimal health and get those narrow black hands winding backward around the clock face. Think you know what a superfood is? Want the real lowdown on dark chocolate and red wine? Pay particular attention to that chapter.
Even a good diet doesn’t mean your body, and mind, can’t use a little help from the supplement market. Lauren has done a great deal of research in the area of supplements and come up with her own list. I think this is a list worth paying attention to.
Exercise… how important is it? Lauren gives us the ‘sweaty truth’. After reading Chapter Eleven, I am rethinking my current exercise regimen… which presently consists of a daily five-mile run - more if my stress level is up. Deadlines and commitments; what are you gonna do? - and thrice-weekly visits to the gym. Yeah, yeah, I know… there are seven days in a week. But, I’m young. I’ve got plenty of time, right? Hmmm… might want to be re-thinking that ‘philosophy’, Veronica.
There is a philosophy, a sound one, by the way… unlike some of the hoke and hype surrounding some diet, exercise, and supplement ‘stay young’ regimens… that explores how the mind contributes to whether we age well, at a ‘normal’ pace, or age quickly.
Lifestyle, diet, attitude… the wrong combination of these can give a thirty-year old the body – inside and out – of a sixty year old. And vice-versa… the right combination… well, imagine being 60 in calendar years but with the outside body of a 50 year old - without the benefit of cosmetic surgery - and the inside body of a 40 year-old? (My words, not Lauren’s – vmls)
In Counterclockwise, Lauren shows us how we can not only slow down the march of time, but even reverse it, to some degree. Has she found the fountain of youth? No… there is no such thing. Forget all those infomercials and so-called ‘experts’ on ‘midnight’ television, hawking the latest ‘key to eternal youth’… it is for the most part little more than ‘snake oil’.
Want to know a secret? You have the key… not to eternal youth, but to living longer… to living younger than the age on your driver’s license.
I hesitate to say that there is one single thing that will ‘turn back time’, that will slow down that clock and turn you into an ‘anti-ager’… but in a very real sense there is.
One thing, from which everything else flows…
Attitude. As is pointed out in the book… “expectation rules outcome”. This is a simple, yet deeply profound truth that it seems, humans need constant reminding of. What we think… how we think… is what we become.
Getting into the proper mindset. Why does anything fail? Diets… exercise… jobs…. relationships… all have one thing in common for not succeeding. Our attitude. If you don’t ‘expect’ to meet that weight goal… if you don’t ‘expect’ to finish that marathon or 10K race… if you don’t ‘expect’ to get that job you want… you won’t! It’s that simple. You can’t just want something to happen… you have to make it happen. All of the research and advice Lauren offers in Counter Clockwise will help you make things happen.
My wife, Christina, has on more than one occasion remarked that I “act like a twelve year-old.” Well, pardon me for not always acting my age, but as Chapter Twelve - unless they get renumbered; I am reading an advance reader copy, not the final ‘to-market’ book – points out, that may not always be a bad thing. If I had only five seconds to summarize the ‘message’ in Chapter Twelve, it would be this…
Think young… live young… be young.
Fortunately, I don’t have only five seconds…
In the 21st century job market, more so than at any other time perhaps, youth… the perception of youth, that is… ‘rules’. Wisdom, experience and knowledge take second place to a pretty face and a ‘fit and trim’ body. You can take the band aid approach to ‘youth’… cosmetic surgery and the latest fad diet, but if what you really want is to look, feel and live not just younger, but longer… with a better quality of life….
Read Counter Clockwise. This book is not 230 pages of opinion and conjecture. The author has, through exhaustive research and at times, incredible self-sacrifice, written a roadmap, if you will, to a happier, healthier and longer life… a life “increasingly disease-resistant and increasingly energetic”. Lauren has consulted with some of the top experts in their respective fields, subjecting her body and mind at times to total strangers, and come away with some very good news.
We can ‘turn back time’. But remember…
You can’t just want something to happen… you have to make it happen.
I’ve read a book or two on self-help, diet and exercise… and wasn’t terribly impressed. I’ve listened to a spiel or two at conventions, fairs and such… and was more impressed with the free water bottles and key fobs than the product or the pitchman’s speech. After reading Counter Clockwise, however… I recommend it without hesitation. I don’t say this about a lot of books I read, but this one… it will be life-changing. Lauren covers all the bases here with good solid advice, as well as some resources, to set you on the path to a more fulfilling life.
Lauren's keen sense of humour, and occasional snarkiness - gotta love it! - made this a thoroughly enjoyable read, as well as being very informative and educational.
There was one thing missing from the book, though.
I didn’t see the chapter on the health benefits of Sonic’s Texas Toast Breakfast Sandwich or Five Guys’ Bacon Jalapeno Cheeseburger (yes, with the cajun fries!)… I’m sure they will be in the final version of Counter Clockwise. Right, Lauren?
One final thought…
“Lauren, I have to side with your daughter on this… don’t mess with my smoothies!”
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw 12 May 2013 (Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest) (less)
"I am a violent man, Miss Fox," Garton-Jones said, without bravado or inflection. "I can and will do whatever is necessary to control this estate. Rem...more"I am a violent man, Miss Fox," Garton-Jones said, without bravado or inflection. "I can and will do whatever is necessary to control this estate. Remember that."
When I read that blurb on the back of Riot Act, I knew I was in for another fantastic and thrilling ride with Charlie, in this, the second of Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox thrillers.
I was not disappointed. Riot Act is every bit as good as the first in the series... and then some.
Beautifully paced, with engaging characters, action and suspense at every page turn, Riot Act will satisfy even the most hardcore action thriller fans.
The Yorkshire Post hit it right... Zoe makes it all seem so effortless. Yet, completely satisfying to her readers. And, I am not the easiest person to satisfy. Zoe does it effortlessly.
Riot Act gets five-stars and a hearty recommendation from this reader. Zoe is a five-star story-teller!
Thank you, Zoe... looking forward to #3.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw 12 May 2013 Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)
(Reviewer's note - I am a writer and freelance reviewer. I received no compensation or inducement to review this book. Thank you. vmls)
Nancy Klann-Mor...more(Reviewer's note - I am a writer and freelance reviewer. I received no compensation or inducement to review this book. Thank you. vmls)
Nancy Klann-Moren’s The Clock of Life is a rich, wonderful story with a distinctive flavor and narrative, engaging characters, and written with a compassion for some of the darkest days in the history of America.
The Clock of Life is an excellent historical fiction, which takes place in the American South in the last quarter of the 20th century. Reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird in many respects, The Clock of Life is a “coming-of-age" story about a young boy growing up in a small town in Mississippi. It is a story of truth and freedom… of injustice and inequality.
Told in ‘first-person’, in a clear, compelling voice, Jason Lee, the son of deceased Vietnam War veteran JL Rainey recounts his growing up in Hadlee, Mississippi during a time of much unrest in America. The Vietnam War and the civil rights movement had a profound and lasting impact on much of the country and Jason Lee's 'world' bears much of the brunt of that… a world where racism and intolerance runs deep. Jason Lee learns a great deal about his father and the kind of man he really was through stories from others. It is from these stories that a yearning grows.
In his befriending of a black schoolmate, Jason Lee - through many trials -grows in both character and spirit, learning and appreciating the meaning and value of friendship, freedom and tolerance for others in a society that often takes freedom for granted and does not fully appreciate the sacrifices of those who went before… those who fought and died to secure and ensure freedom for all… and a society that too often turns a blind eye to tolerance and acceptance, unable or unwilling to stand up to injustice and inequality.
Jason Lee wants to be like his father.
Ghosts of the past and the realities of a society rife with injustice and inequality, Jason Lee faces many challenges – not least among them broken hearts and the loss of a very close friend - and while [growing up] he doesn't always make the right decisions, Jason Lee, like the rest of us - especially those who also grew up in that time - learns and grows from his mistakes. He learns that while the 'right thing' isn't always the easiest thing to do… it is the right thing to do.
Jason Lee is becoming the man his father would have been proud to call son.
The author brings a strong narrative style, a very definitive sense of place and a stunning eye for the idiosyncrasies of rural life in the American South to The Clock of Life. Page after page is rich with a flavor that rings true for anyone growing up in that same period and place. One of the greatest strengths of this story, I feel, is the dialogue, with its finely-balanced dialectal quality, which adds to the overall imagery through-out the story.
There is a realism and depth to the characters in The Clock of Life that is sadly lacking in a lot of the fiction on today's market. Historical fiction especially demands richness in character, place and plot. Nancy achieves all three with such seeming ease that one forgets that this is her very first novel.
A minor scene perhaps, but like countless other 'little' scenes throughout the novel, Jason Lee and Samson's first shared experience with moonshine really struck a chord with this reader; in that relatively short passage is a great deal of truth.
A constant thread through-out The Clock of Life is the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War… both times of bitter conflict in which many lost their moral compass, some never to regain it... and the inequality and injustice those events engendered, and the scars left behind.
The Clock of Life is a powerful and thought-provoking morality play, if I may use that phrase, which will have a lasting impact on the reader. I came away from this story with many of the same feelings I had after the first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird. Nancy has written a humbling and inspiring tale of the courage and the strength of the human spirit, a story that evokes in the reader a broad range of emotions and hopefully, a degree of compassion and understanding for our fellow citizens.
If there is one thing we can take away from this story, it is this….
It is one thing to know the difference between right and wrong; that’s something we all learned in the third grade. It is quite another thing to have the courage and conviction of one’s beliefs and to live one’s life for the betterment of mankind and to have empathy and compassion for the family of man. Freedom isn’t free and justice isn’t blind. We should not live our lives with the presumption that freedom doesn’t have a cost and that justice can be dispensed equally with eyes shut.
Nancy has earned numerous accolades – among them, her debut novel was a finalist in the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards - for The Clock of Life, which should come as no surprise, and her novel has been adopted by the Los Medanos College’s English Department, to be taught in the school’s freshman writing classes.
The Clock of Life is a "must-read" and I recommend it without hesitation. Thank you, Nancy, for a thoroughly engaging story… one that will stay with the reader for a long, long time.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw 6 August 2013 (Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)(less)
Dark... gritty... humourous... Katherine cuts right to the heart of a man's soul... or a woman's for that matter... to that 'dark side'... where somet...moreDark... gritty... humourous... Katherine cuts right to the heart of a man's soul... or a woman's for that matter... to that 'dark side'... where sometimes, reality truly is stranger than fiction.
Katherine's keen understanding of the human condition... what makes us tick when the chips are down... our back's up against a wall... or we've just bloody had enough make for some very imaginative and compelling stories.
Toxic Reality is a wonderful collection of morality tales, written by a master... oops, excuse me... mistress of the craft. Katherine understands the power of words and crafts her stories in such a manner as to make them unforgettable.
If you have trouble sleeping or wake from a nightmare with the threads of one of Katherine's stories clinging to your conscience... be sure and thank Katherine!
Me... I'm double checking the bulb in my night light! ;-)
I recommend this book without reservation!
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw 20 January 2013 Cannon Beach, Oregon (less)
Author and former editor of Dark Valentine magazine, Katherine Tomlinson brings us Nightfalls: Notes From The End of The World, a collection of short...moreAuthor and former editor of Dark Valentine magazine, Katherine Tomlinson brings us Nightfalls: Notes From The End of The World, a collection of short stories themed around 'the end days'... 'armageddon'... 'end of the world'... 'sorry folks, we ran out of calendar, it's been nice knowing you'. Contributors were asked to tell a story about the last day on Earth.
Katherine has brought together an amazing group of people... some of the most talented writers in fiction today. I am both humbled and honoured to be a part of this anthology. Proceeds from sales will benefit at-risk children and their families.
I’d like to take just a few minutes and say a bit about this fascinating collection.
“A few minutes, Veronica? Say a bit?” Okay, okay… maybe you want to pour a fresh cup before you settle in to read this.
Nightfalls: Notes From The End of The World begins with a story from the man who gave me my first 'break' in to the 'print world'.
If memory serves, I first met Thomas Pluck over at Flash Fiction Friday. The thing is…
Memory can be a cruel mistress. She will taunt and tease… scattering words and broken thoughts, like breadcrumbs, on the floor of one’s conscious. If there are secrets that she is not ready to give up – and there always are - no amount of begging will help. Memory will reveal the bits and pieces of one’s past in her own fashion… and in her own time. And… she always wants something in return.
But, I digress…
For anyone who has ever read Thomas’s stories, Acapulcolypse is everything one has come to expect from Mr. Pluck… deftly written with a wonderful undercurrent of humour. I daresay none of us will look at an ocean cruise quite the same way again.
In Some Say The World Will End In Fire, Sidney Anne Harrison brings us a new twist on the ‘world ends in a big, blazing ball of fire’ trope with a revealing look into one man’s madness. There is a poignancy here that sets the mood beautifully. The symbolism is inescapable – “The vegetable just continued to stare down at his string beans, as if they held some secret meaning.” - and makes for a very compelling read. Sidney tells a frightening little tale that left me cold! Well done, Sidney!
“Ren wakes up to find he is scratching his balls.” And thus begins Chris Rhatigan’s premonition on how life on this big blue spinning marble ends. In Forward Is Where The Croissantwich Is, Chris brings us a quirky little tale, replete with wit and a rather disturbing look inside the mind of a man whose lift doesn’t quite make it to the top floor, if you’ll pardon the euphemism. At the end, Chris’s character puts the whole matter of the ‘end of days’ into a perspective that only someone who has seen too much truth, could truly understand.
Kit Laurange’s Somebody Brave conjures up the apocalyptic demise of an ‘other-world’, where ogres and goblins seek to destroy man and dragons eat the sky… where the rattle of ‘bones’ decide… but wait, I can’t tell you! That’d be giving away the surprise!
In Our Lady, by Dale T Phillip’s, an uncle does what he must to make sure his nephew has Christmas before… before los ángeles quemar.
Nigel Bird, one (of many, I might add… don’t want to be giving Nigel a big head, eh?) of my favorite writers, offers up Greene Day… a DJ’s reflections on the end of all things, good and bad, and waxes nostalgic over regrets too late to change now. Nigel’s brilliant sense of humour comes through perfectly with that last caller! Nice one, Mr. Bird!
Megan McCord’s Isabel is a heartbreaking tale of life, love and loss; a touching and poignant look at the ‘end of days’. This one left a lump in my throat and a salty dampness on my cheek.
Anyone who has read Sandra Seamans knows that her writing never disappoints. And so it is with The Memory Keeper… a memorable tale of… well, I can’t say too much without revealing the heart of the story. Let’s just say that there’s a warrior woman and a wise woman… memories to keep and an ending one won’t forget. Brilliant and imaginative, The Memory Keeper is one of my favorites!
Bon Appétit, Barb Goodman’s most welcome addition to this amazing collection, delivers the not-so-subtle message that one reaps what they sow and that no matter how much time man has left on this spinning orb, it’s never too late to stand up for ourselves. Great story, Barb!
Christopher Grant’s Déjà Vu is a wonderfully crafted story with a very interesting twist to the ‘end of the world’ theme… a nicely written tale that challenges one’s perceptions of forever.
Denial only works for a short while and then reality kicks it to the curb, as evidenced in Matthew Funk’s It’s Not The End Of The World. Sharp and tightly written, Matthew’s writing is always a pleasure to read.
A Sound As Of Trumpets offers up one woman’s rationalization for felicide. Unfortunately, for her, karma really can be a bitch. Berkeley Hunt writes a nice little ‘quiet horror’ here that is quite satisfying to read.
Col Bury – who let this bloke in? (just kidding, Col!) serves up the darkly humourous Supper Time… a gritty little tale that, were I a man, I would no doubt be squirming in my seat and touching parts of me for reassurance. Ahh... but look and see who gets the last laugh here!
It takes the end of the world for a son to reconcile with his parents in Alex Keir’s poignant Call The Folks.
A few must be sacrificed for the greater good in Dellani Oakes’ Blackened, a futurist tale of an alien-wrought Armageddon. I’m not a huge sc-fi fan, but I really enjoyed this story!
The End of Everything is AJ Hayes’ poetic ode to the end of… well, everything! Beautifully paced verse brings startling imagery to one’s mind’s eye as AJ unveils mankind’s fate.
Last Shift, Steven Luna’s darkly humoured tale, reminds us that, in the end, we get what we deserve… and sometimes, more than we deserve. Written in the voice of an ego-driven male, Last Shift is definitely on my short-list of favorites. A little insight into the male mind is never a bad thing, right?
Curse you, Steven… now I can’t get the image of that hot chick in black tank top and shredded jeans, blowing white vapor over her red-painted lips, out of my head!
Into The Night, by… oh, wait… I can’t write about my own story; that’d be a bit self-serving, wouldn’t it? I will say this though. In writing Into The Night, in order to bring the emotional depth to the story that I had in mind, it was necessary to resurrect a part of my past that has taken me a long time to come to terms with. Such are the ‘sacrifices’ a writer makes for their craft.
There is a quiet, building horror to Richard Godwin’s Blackout… from the opening lines with the two protagonists discussing proper language use – I’m paraphrasing here: ‘just because the world is ending, is no reason for sloppy language’ – to his description of a naked woman in the street and two men eating her legs, Richard builds on a theme… inevitability. Blackout is one of Richard’s ‘quieter’ stories… it is also one of his most powerful stories. Poignant and reflective, Richard Godwin delivers!
“… Val Sweeney had been present at the beginnings of a few too many apocalypses…” And with that rather cryptic remark, Scott J Laurange’s Amidst Encircling Gloom captivates the reader, pulling them into Scott’s intriguing tale of Earth’s last days. There is a thread of subtle humour throughout that strikes just the right chord, woven in with some beautifully descriptive phrasing…. “Val’s smile had fallen into his scotch…” … I can almost hear the splash! Brilliantly macabre, Amidst Encircling Gloom is a ‘must-read’!
Devotee, G Wells Taylor’s contribution to this little soiree, is a haunting look at one man’s ‘world’… a world that slowly fades away… a world where not even the eternity of love can stop the inevitability of time. Devotee is truly memorable. This is a story that is going to stick in my mind for some time.
R.C. Barnes' Princess Soda and the Bubblegum Knight is the powerful and moving story of sisters facing the last day… and granting one last wish before… night falls and not even an echo survives in the darkness.
In The Last Wave, Kaye George gives us a look at an ‘end times’ precipitated by a shift in government. It’s a cautionary tale… “Be careful what you wish for; you just may get it.” After reading this story, I may cut back on my blogging.
In Allan Leverone’s The Dogs On Main Street Howl, not even an apocalypse can keep Kate from making it to Broadway. Only thing is… there is no one to share her success with. Except for the overdue baby nestled in her distended womb, Kate is alone in the ‘Concrete Jungle’ … just her, the baby and…‘The Things”.
The Knitted Gaol-Born Sow Monkey, by Peter Mark May, offers a ‘last day on earth’ look on prisoner Anthony Slaven… who exchanges one prison for another. Dark magic blended with dark imagery, Peter’s story left a chill over me. Nicely done, Peter… nicely done!
We always think… hope, rather… that there is time enough to reconcile past regrets. Christian Dabnor’s Crossfade explores this hope, bringing to the reader a deftly written tale of human frailties and failings.
Jesse James Freeman brings us The Tasting, a tautly-written plague apocalypse tale. There is a dark poignancy here that rather tugs at the heartstrings. Brilliantly descriptive and evocative, The Tasting is a memorable read.
The Annas, by Patricia Abbott, is a haunting story… a morality tale, really… of a future doomed before its inception. I must admit, the feminist in me finds a certain appeal in the concept presented in The Annas. I probably ought not say too much more though, lest I give something away. Patricia has written a wonderfully imaginative story with an ending that gave me goose pimples! I enjoyed The Annas so much I had to read it again… and then, again! Brava, Patricia!
Jimmy Callaway’s Night Train To Mundo Fine is a quirky little tale with a fine erotic touch. I suppose there are worse ways to spend your last day on Earth. Nice one, Jimmy!
Thank you, Katherine, for your tireless efforts in bringing this all together. I'm sure I speak for everyone involved in this project in saying how much we are honoured to take part in this with you, especially one done for such a worthwhile cause. Knowing that the proceeds will go to benefit at-risk children and their parents was all the incentive we needed to 'put pencil to paper' and bring a story or poem to you. And, knowing that we are helping others is all the 'thanks' we could ever ask for.
Thank you for giving us this opportunity to, if I may borrow a few words from your introduction to Nightfalls, 'light a candle against the darkness'.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw 12 January 2013 Cannon Beach, Oregon (less)
An amazing, riveting story! I will be back to do a proper review in a bit, but I will tel you this...
I recommend this book without hesitation! Lisa ha...moreAn amazing, riveting story! I will be back to do a proper review in a bit, but I will tel you this...
I recommend this book without hesitation! Lisa has written an incredible story of a group of teens caught in a situation that would test the spirit and endurance of anyone. And she is such a mesmerizing storyteller, I had to keep reminding myself that this is a work of fiction. Lisa's telling is so real... it gave me shivers!
(Reviewer's note – In my junior year of college, I suffered a six month ordeal that nearly ended my life and even now, almost seven years later, still...more(Reviewer's note – In my junior year of college, I suffered a six month ordeal that nearly ended my life and even now, almost seven years later, still has me looking in the back seat before I get in any car and still wakes me in the middle of the night, the dying echo of tortured screams floating on the night air. After reading freefalling, I find myself asking if I really know what true suffering is? I am in no way mitigating the trauma of rape and the ordeals of myself and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of women, young girls and children; don’t get me wrong. But, I do have my life… my pain and suffering is mostly memories now. The girls who live on the streets? Pain and suffering is their life… it isn’t just a memory.
I have received no compensation for this review, nor do I know the author personally. My five-star rating is based solely on the merits of the book. Thank you. vmls)
“please dear God I ask of thee send four angels down to me one to watch and one to pray and two to carry my soul away”
With those spare words, thus begins a story that is both transformative and unforgiving.
Darlenne Susan Girard's freefalling is the heart-breakingly poignant, breathtaking and tragic story of a young girl's 'journey' from innocence lost at the tender age of 14, to her death two and a half years later... the victim of circumstance and the unbearably crushing weight of an all too often heartless and cruel world, filled with takers and users, to whom compassion and empathy are nothing more than words on paper… lofty ideals of a civilized society that these unfortunate souls… the streetwalkers… now live on the edge of. Although, perhaps ‘living’ is too polite a term.
I will try not to put too much of the story in my review, but this is probably a good place to caution the reader about spoilers.
Forced to leave by an impossible situation at home, the protagonist, 14 year old Melinda, finds herself on the 'mean streets', virtually penniless and with little more than the clothes on her back... and woefully unprepared to face a less than certain future. A future so bleak in fact that any Las Vegas bookmaker would give long odds indeed that Melinda would last a week, let alone 30 months in the unforgiving, harsh and at times utterly ruthless, world the young girl has 'tripped' into.
It is only her chance encounter with perhaps the one person in this new 'world' - Angel - who thinks of more than just herself, that Melinda finds a fighting chance. Angel takes Mouse, whom she has 'christened' Melinda as, under her wing, showing that even when life seems at its darkest, a candle of hope still flickers.
Will this unlikely friendship be enough to save Mouse? And what will happen when she discovers that the unthinkable has happened to her? What will she do… this once innocent girl who has yet to reach the age of 15? Who can Melinda turn to for the love and understanding, the guidance and wisdom she desperately needs? Is her fate now to be determined by the whims of a psychotic streetwalker, who is at times so immersed in her own pain and suffering that she cannot help anyone else?
As we soon find out, it is street justice and street wisdom that are the girls ‘guiding light’… their ‘beacons of survival’, if you will. And like countless thousands of girls before her, Melinda finds herself doing ‘whatever it takes’ to survive.
freefalling is probably the hardest book I have ever, or will ever, read. This is a testament to the incredibly powerful and moving writing of Ms. Girard and her keen insight into the human condition. I cried most of the way through this book and had to put it down several times... I simply could not go on, having become completely overwhelmed at the tragedy unfolding on the pages in front of me. Even now, it is hard to take my mind back to the story.
freefalling is written with such uncompromising clarity and brutal honesty that one wonders if it really is the product of a prolific imagination or is a story told so well and so real because the author lived it? It is truly the mark of a great story-teller who knows her craft, when readers ask such questions.
Melinda (Mouse) and Angela (Angel) are without a doubt two of the most unforgettable people I have ever read. The author had me craving a burger and fries more than once when I would read one of the diner scenes. Darlenne - may I call you Darlenne? Ms. Girard seems so formal - weaves a story rich in detail and filled with characters drawn with the creative brilliance of a master storyteller. I actually found myself shivering at times, when Darlenne would describe one of the countless street scenes with Mouse or Angel standing curbside in the rain or in whatever meager shelter the street offered… the wet and cold soaking through to the bone.
The author’s unique style… the pace and tempo of her writing… conveyed the pain and despair… the desperation and hopelessness of the girls all too well. As I said earlier… their pain was all too real as I struggled through the pages… palms sweaty and heartbeat racing as the brutal words of Darlenne’s narrative brought forth images of the street life these girls endured.
What kind of life is it… on your knees trying to coax a little life into some stranger’s flaccid flesh, just to earn enough money for a meal, maybe a bottle and some cigarets? Or, lying on your back on a filthy bed in a filthy hotel room… legs spread… dignity and hope only distant memories… as some poor bastard spills his seed… adding to the soil around you and reminding you of your own worth… barely less than zero.
A life where violence is the only ‘gratuity’ you will ever receive for services rendered. And even in that, there is a bitter irony.
Of all the men in this story, only one seems to engender any sympathy, and even Al has his own agenda… something a new girl on the streets, like Melinda, soon enough learns. Everyone has their own agenda… everyone looks out for number one.
The acerbic Carla is another character in the book, a ‘tough’ girl whose philosophy is ‘fuck or be fucked’ and who fails to see the irony of her own situation. Angel sees the irony of her life, yet is helpless to change it. And Mouse… poor little Mouse?
The power of Melinda’s own life was taken from her before she fully realized what she had. That is the real tragedy. That is a tragedy that happens every single day… everywhere. That is a tragedy that crashes through every social strata of every society
You and I have ‘avenues’… means of escape… when life around us gets ‘rough’, more importantly; we have support systems – family and friends – who care about us, and us about them. The girls on the street have neither. They can’t afford friends… friends will only disappoint them and hurt them.
For Angela, Mouse, Carla and the others… friends are a burden they cannot bear; the weight of reciprocity is too much. There is more than enough tragedy and despair in these young girls’ lives and a friend is only someone else they will use and then disappoint, in their own search to fill the void in their lives… a void that only one thing can fill, because they’ve given up on everything else.
Well, there are two things… but a quick death isn’t something anyone on the street seems to want. They prefer a slow, painful death; seeing it as a sort of redemption for what they’ve done… for what they’ve allowed themselves to become. These girls gave up long ago believing that it was anyone’s fault but their own for the bleak existence that they now endure. Some of them may still believe in love and even think they have found it… but in the end, they will only chase it away with a needle or a pill or a bottle. And sometimes… all three.
The girls exist on the streets… little more than a ‘fingerhut’ for some other tortured soul… as penance for something they did or something that happened to them. But, penance isn’t enough… without redemption, penance is an empty gesture. For these girls, the only redemption is the slow death of giving up their lives… piece by piece… everything human about them. These girls become little more than ‘the walking dead’, riding a freight train of drugs and alcohol that gains speed every day, until one day it takes a curve too fast. And in a heartbeat… the closing credits of a life they no longer recognize, flash before their eyes… then… silence.
Despite all the promises she makes to herself and all her good intentions, Melinda finds herself on that freight train. Yet one more tragedy in an already tragic life, only… she’s brought an unwitting passenger. Can Mouse get off of that train before it runs away… before its speed takes her around that curve… and all of her promises disappear… like tears in rain.
There is a passage from a song on one of my playlists that would run through head at times, while reading freefalling -
Still falling Breathless and on again Inside today Inside me today Around broken in two ~ Mazzy Star
I recommend freefalling without reservation. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t for the faint-hearted. And, unless your heart is carved from stone, you’re going to get angry… you’re going to cry... you’re going to be made uncomfortable. Good! And just maybe you’ll do something about that.
freefalling is uncompromising and unapologetic. Anything less almost seems dishonourable.
Thank you, Darlenne, for a story that is going to stay with me for a very, very long time.
What’s that you say? How does the story end? Well, I can’t tell you that; now can I? I will leave you with one final word –
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw Cannon Beach, Oregon 2 September 2012
I laughed... I cried... I fell in love with Alice Teakle!
In her debut novel, Karen Bergreen has created a wonderfully plucky heroine one can't help bu...moreI laughed... I cried... I fell in love with Alice Teakle!
In her debut novel, Karen Bergreen has created a wonderfully plucky heroine one can't help but fall in love with, Alice Teakle. Alice is a little bit everywoman. I mean that in the sense that there is much in Alice that we can all identify with. Alice isn't perfect... she has her flaws... doesn't always show good judgment and sometimes needs pointed out to her when her moral courage is lacking. Sound like anyone we know? Really? Stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself that question.
Following Polly is delightful romp (ewww, I hate that word!) through the world of a girl and her obsessions. A world this reviewer can identify with to a degree. I am a writer and a people watcher... okay, sometimes, I follow people too. Not quite to the degree of Alice to be sure, but...
Karen has written an original, brilliant and totally believable story in which she has drawn characters that are well defined and absolutely believable (am I the only one who squirmed in discomfort at some of the things her characters did, only because I recognized my own behavior?). And Karen has done it with a humor and verve that make Following Polly one of the most compelling reads I have come across in quite a while.
Sometimes curiosity doesn't kill the cat... but it will get her 25 to life behind bars and the privilege of being some bull dyke's plaything. Unfortunately, Alice doesn't really consider this when she begins stalking Polly Dawson... a woman who snubbed and took advantage of people like Alice probably from her early days in preschool... Polly is just that kind of person.
Alice first meets Polly in college, where Polly does what Polly does best... and Alice doesn't forget. Years later, having just been sacked from a job she didn't particularly like and a boss she liked even less, Alice's neuroses and obsession come full bloom when Polly comes back into her life. And, before her best friend Jean can say "... umm... sweetie, that's a really bad idea!"... Alice is off!
Unfortunately, for Alice anyway - Polly was a bitch and bitches get their just desserts (I'm paraphrasing the author here... *wink*)- things quickly go pear-shaped (it's a UK idiom... Google it) in Alice's stalking... err, I mean, following and Polly Dawson turns up dead. Alice has the extreme bad luck of being the first one to discover the still-warm, but no longer breathing, body.
With all evidence pointing to our plucky heroine, Alice decides that a strategic exit stage right is in order and quickly throws on her invisibility cloak. Or, would if she had one. Oh, and something else...
Someone else comes back into Alice's life as well... will this person turn out to be her savior... or her downfall?
I hate spoilers and I don't much care for reviews that are little more than chapter and verse synopses of the book, so I will stop here. I don't think I've revealed anymore than the back cover of the book does. Anyone who has read my reviews knows I don't simply write down the plot points. My goal is to get you to read the book, so I will give you a few little teasers and my take on the story, but if you want to know whodunit or do the ill-fated lovers finally overcome all odds and live happily ever after or is justice truly served... you will have to read the book.
In closing, Karen Bergreen's wicked sense of humor truly shines in Following Polly. This is definitely a must-read and I can recommend it without hesitation.
Thank you, Karen, for a wonderful read. Even though I bawled through the last twenty pages. I can't help it... I'm just a hopeless romantic, I guess.
"I love you, Alice Teakle!"
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw Cannon Beach, Oregon 12 August 2012
BOOK REVIEW – SANDRA BYRD: THE SECRET KEEPER By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer. I am also a freelance rev...moreBOOK REVIEW – SANDRA BYRD: THE SECRET KEEPER By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer. I am also a freelance reviewer, and listed as such with Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. What this basically means is that I am on an email list and the publisher notifies me of new releases. If I see a book that I like, they will send me a free copy in exchange for my honest review of said book, as well as posting the review on my blogs. In other words, I choose the book that I wish to read, the opinions expressed are my own and my review is based solely on the merits of the book. Other than a free copy of the book, I receive no compensation from the publisher or the author. My reviews are also posted on the GoodReads website. The following is my review of Sandra Byrd’s THE SECRET KEEPER. Thank you – vmls)
This is the second of Sandra Byrd’s Tudor series novels and the first book of hers – among only a small handful of historical, or period, fiction novels – that I have read. My reading tastes typically run to more contemporary writing, leaning heavily toward noir fiction. The Secret Keeper however, has ignited a desire to read more period novels, especially of Sandra’s. I was completely engrossed from the very first page.
Sandra writes with an authority and verve that fires the imagination; her words drawing in rich detail images of castles and estates, highborn men and women of polite society, opulence and regal deportment. I fell immediately in love with the period language Sandra writes with. It lends an authenticity that draws the reader into a scene and clearly delineates between classes of characters – commoners and the servants of nobility and royalty from those highborn and regal persons. Sandra’s charismatic writing has awakened in me a thirst to read more of this period in history especially.
Sandra’s rich prose and evocative narrative style weaves a brilliant tale, creating unforgettable characters and events…eliciting a range of emotions in the reader not dissimilar at times to those in her characters. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I laughed… I cried… I sat upright in suspense… at times relief washed over me… as I became immersed in the story. There was one particular scene… I shan’t leave details here, lest I spoil it for the reader… that left me shaking in quiet rage. I had to put the book down. It was a full day before (here, Sandra would use ‘afore’) I could take it up again.
By the end of the book, I had affected, with some small success, a manner of speech similar to that in the book. Christina, my wife, was amused to no end (we both enjoy role-play), however; one of my co-workers expressed concern that I had suffered a concussion.
Set amidst the back-drop of the tumultuous court of Henry VIII and his marriage to wife number six, Kateryn Parr, The Secret Keeper is a novel of royal intrigue, power struggles and the test of a woman’s faith and beliefs in an era when women were highly placed but valued less so. This was a period during which heresy to the king was dealt with unequivocally… regardless of whether a person was highborn or common. Deceit and treachery often ran rampant. It is into this world that the protagonist, Mistress Juliana St. John, finds herself thrust.
The Secret Keeper is told from the point of view of Juliana St. John, daughter of a knight of the realm who comes to King Henry’s court as a lady-in-waiting to Her Grace, Kateryn Parr. This shortly after a prophecy comes to Juliana… a vision of peril brought upon a highborn woman… a vision that Juliana is determined not to see come to fruition. Mistress St. John is also a woman with a secret… a woman upon whom the burden of more secrets will soon rest.
Warned not to let the ‘sheen’ of the court overcome her, Juliana tries to remain steadfast to what she sees as her ‘mission’, her purpose for coming to the royal court… her service to Kateryn Parr and the safety of Lady Elizabeth. Juliana is soon caught up in the intrigue though, as Her Grace has decidedly different views than those of the king on the matter of religion… views that in light of Henry VIII’s edicts, would be considered heretical as well as treasonous. Juliana must be ever mindful of where and to whom she ‘looses her tongue’, while maintaining her allegiance to the queen. Duplicity and betrayal appear to be de rigueur if one is to survive in the royal court; Mistress Juliana must be ever vigilant and true in the face of it.
Early on in the story, Juliana meets and falls in love with an Irish nobleman. However, before much can come of it, her own innocence in manners and matters of the court place her in dire jeopardy and something happens to the fair Juliana. In the immediate aftermath, Juliana must make some difficult decisions that will change the course of her life. This particular event highlights with a brutal clarity the inequities between men and women in 16th century England. I should say no more on this though so as not to have to place a spoiler alert on my review.
Throughout the story, Juliana’s faith does not but momentarily waver as she is faced with choices that dramatically illustrate a strength and quiet dignity befitting one who serves a queen, remembering always that God has a plan and a purpose for her. Even when she finds out a secret of her own lineage, one that would shake most of us to our very core, Juliana remains strong! There are morality lessons to be learned here, for both the spiritual-minded and the secular person.
The Secret Keeper is replete with the customs and manners of Tudor England and has a well-balanced religious tone… authentic to the period. I particularly enjoyed the scriptural ‘lessons’, if you will, throughout the book and found personal comfort in some of the passages quoted.
All of this makes for a vibrant, compelling read.
One thing that really set this story apart more than anything else, I believe, is that it is told from the point of view of one of her ladies-in-waiting instead of from Kateryn herself. I think that adds a clarity and objectivity that telling it from Kate’s perspective would have been lacking. We are privy to Juliana’s innermost thoughts and insight, following her on an often perilous journey.
The Secret Keeper is a splendidly detailed and thought-provoking novel… rich in history and humanity… and told with an enthusiasm and compassion for her characters that reveals the author’s passion for the period. While it is a work of fiction – something I had to remind myself of more than once - it is also a ‘gutsy’ work. I daresay there are some who might not entirely agree with certain aspects of the story. Sorry… I can’t say more without revealing too much. I agree with the conclusions Sandra reached in her research… and am most appreciative at how those were evolved in the story. I daresay Sandra just may have solved an historical mystery of some magnitude… and done it with a thorough logic and understanding of that period of history. In a moment of fancy, one might wonder if she had perfected time travel and ventured back to one of the more fascinating periods in English history.
The Secret Keeper is a ‘must-read’ for all… not just for fans of historical fiction. I recommend this book without reservation.
I will close with this. The ending may not be what some expected, but it is well worth the journey to get there.
The Secret Keeper is a powerful, life-affirming story and proof that even after having written more than thirty books, Sandra Byrd is still master of her craft.
Even better than 'Bitter Is the New Black', which was definitely a seven star read!
I'll try to get back later with a few thoughts on Bright Lights, Bi...moreEven better than 'Bitter Is the New Black', which was definitely a seven star read!
I'll try to get back later with a few thoughts on Bright Lights, Big Ass. For now, trust me when I say this...
YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK! Hell (sorry for the sweary word), you need to read all three of Jen's books! I've just started 'Such A Pretty Fat', and it is every bit as great as "Bitter" and "Bright Lights".
If I wasn't gasping in 'mock horror' - "OMG!!!! She did NOT just say that!" Oh yes, she did! - I was rolling on the sofa, or the floor, doubled up in laughter!
Jen, sweetie? Love you girl, but you made me pee in my favorite pair of UnderGirl panties... the ones with the hippos. Fortunately, I was on the couch at the time and not down on the floor on my honey's treasured Barbara Barry rug... her treasured WHITE Barbara Barry rug, I might add. Oh, if that had happened, Tina would not have been a happy little camper... not at all!
I gotta ask. If you had that moment to do over, would you have stuffed that 'gay porn' mag in Fletch's bag? I would have... in a heartbeat. Not to Fletch, obviously - unless you gave me the nod - but I could just see the look on Tina's face when she opened her briefcase at her staff meeting the next morning. Bwaaahaa!!
Okay. Me? Craving? A Peanut Buster Parfait.
Veronica Marie (The Pajama Thief) Lewis-Shaw Cannon Beach, Oregon 19, September 2012 (less)