Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Big Ten of Grammar by William B. Bradshaw, PhD

The Big Ten of Grammar: Identifying and Fixing the Ten Most Frequent Grammatical Errors by William B. Bradshaw, Ph.D. Synergy Books, July 2010, 135 pp. ISBN #: 9780984235858.

For the sake of speed, those who type in online chats and emails often cut down words and even change words. The end result is that these changes pass over to the professional world where one's presentation often affects the positive or negative outcome of communication. So Professor Bradshaw offers all readers a compact, professional and simple explanation of the most common grammatical errors people make in speech and writing. This is NOT about studying boring, difficult grammar rules. Professor Bradshaw's recommendations about how to remember to speak and write correctly are so simple as to make one wonder why we never learned it this way in elementary or grammar school. The topics include correct use of "I or me," other pronouns like "she/he or him/her," use of apostrophes in possessive nouns, use of commas in a series and much more.
A useful appendix follows the chapters in which the reader gets a comprehensive use of verbs in all tenses, and expanded explanation of plural and possessive nouns.
The Big Ten should be required reading for teachers, students and anyone in business who has to regularly correspond by speech or writing. It's also highly useful for those students preparing for college entrance exams. It's brief but important reading that will make a difference that lasts forever. Excellent text, Professor Bradshaw!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hope Against Hope by Sally Zigmond

Hope Against Hope by Sally Zigmond. Myrmidon Books. July 2010. ISBN #: 9781905802197

To hope is to dream, whether that be the size of a speck or a huge, fantastic longing! Without it, human beings fade from living to merely existing. The characters in Hope Against Hope are so dynamically human in the way they pass through all the cycles of hope that proceed from the head and heart. Saints and sinners in this notable novel are subject to the vicissitudes of history and their own personal strengths and weaknesses that embody hope against hope on every page.

Meet Carrie and May, two sisters thrust out of their home, attempting to surmount devastating poverty and mistaking temporary separation as abandonment. Each, however, has a very unique talent to develop through hard work but dependent on the people and events they meet in the mid-1800s. The possibility of love looms large initially but becomes repeatedly thwarted due to characters who live the negative aspect of the title, for there is a way to self-sabotage hope that at times is deliberate and at other times is unconsciously rearing its ugly head for other central characters like Alex and Charles, a railroad engineer and physician. Add the historical realities of the coming of the railroad to England and Europe, as well as the first beginnings of revolution in Paris, France. Sally Zigmond fashions central characters who refuse to be stereotyped and who develop as strongly as their female counterparts. Guilt over past actions threatens to stymie any sense of fulfilling original dreams for all involved, but hope never dies, thank goodness!

What would a great novel be, as well, without selfish, wicked characters who are so narcissistic that they not only plot the downfall of our heroines and heroes but wind up self-destructing in scenes that are sometimes comically absurd and at other times dastardly evil? A child comes, goes, and returns in poignant scenes that leave the reader practically aching for a benign ending, for what is the future of a child who doesn't even know she is hoping against hope?

Sally Zigmond has fashioned a tale that one doesn't want to end, an old-fashioned historical novel that is part thriller, part romance, part mystery, part social commentary and so much more!

Get ready for a stunning read! Hope Against Hope is a best seller, for sure!!! Read it and recommend to everyone you know who loves a grand reading experience!

Warrior from Heaven by Kermit Zarley

Warrior from Heaven by Kermit Zarley. Synergy Books. June 2009. ISBN #: 9780981546223

How accurate and reliable are end-time Biblical studies and what sources are used to discuss this topic from a scholarly point of view? Kermit Zarley offers readers an unfolding scenario of events that he claims are futuristic in nature, while relying on past Scripture. It's an interesting theory because many scholars claim that these same Scriptures have been fulfilled in the past and therefore are closed matters. But not so fast; Zarley states that these passages will only be fulfilled at the end of times.

Evil is rife throughout the land! A messiah-like creature rises up in what is now central Turkey, draws all nations under his powerful rule and conquers the majority of the Middle East. One last task remains and he convinces the other nations to unite in the ultimate final solution not finished in the Holocaust and other earlier massacres, to destroy every living Jewish man or woman.

While the path to this goal is progressing, the reader is offered a timeline, description and present behavior of Jews observing their festivals, rituals and sacred days based on ample Scriptures provided in side bars within this text. Repentance is the key to who shall be saved, a complete reversal of sinful behavior and without lukewarm attitudes. The shock to the remnant who will be saved is that Jesus Christ is the Messiah they have been awaiting for centuries, and the mourning over their past rejection is quite intense. This story is rife with lamentations for Jews and Christians alike who never embraced their faith with every fiber of life; now is the time for judgment. Who shall last and survive when the wheat is separated from the chaff?

Earthquakes, mystical signs in the heavens that may be interpreted as miraculous events or natural cosmological events corresponding with scientific evolution of the Earth add to the terror of all, a grand, dramatic end that offers no shelter or escape throughout the world.

Who is the warrior and how will the final battle occur? Is the end goal the creation of a new world or is this all a prelude to the end of earth as mankind knows it? You decide? Warrior from Heaven is definitely a fascinating look at this widely debated, discussed, and anticipated (with mixed feelings for sure) topic.

Hella Nation by Evan Wright

Hella Nation by Evan Wright. G. P. Putnam's Sons, a Division of The Penguin Group (USA), Inc. April 2009. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780399155741

What's it like to be the oddball, the type of "out of the box" person or group that most people pretend to admire - from a distance in reality? What makes such folks tick? And whether or not one judges with the terms dysfunctional, weird, strange, etc., etc., shouldn't one understand these outsiders since the world is full of same? Evan Wright, who previously wrote for "The Hustler" magazine and "Rolling Stone" newspaper brings the reader into the world of men and woman who have a very definite but different outlook on the American Dream.

The author introduces the reader to his own evolution from a rebel using drugs to cope with reality into a sober, reflective person seeking to pen his explorations of what he calls a "tour of the Lost Tribes of America. Therefore, the reader is surprised that the opening account concerns American troops serving in Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold in southeastern Afghanistan. The area is a veritable dust storm waiting to happen and one gets an uncensored glimpse into the grinding, tense yet mundane atmosphere these soldiers endure daily, fantasizing and teasing newbies about the happy meals one can get in a nearby village and coping with unremitting sexual tension, fear of being killed and spurts of total inactivity.

The scene then shifts to the world of a professional skateboarder, a daredevil who performs his most dangerous stunts when totally drunk but someone who makes a fortune in this field while claiming to reject most acceptable values and occupations. We continue to meet similar yet different characters, taxi-dance hall girls occupied by would-be fantasy partners, radical protestors with the best of intentions carried out with the most destructive possible means, neo-Nazi groups seriously believing in anti-everything-but-white living, con artists, porn professionals and so much more that defies one's most imaginative moments.

Hella Nation raises more questions than it answers. It stretches the reader's definition from what is acceptable to offer a portrait of men and women who find satisfaction and purpose in unique situations that are rather dark, disturbing, frightening, sometimes funny in a skewed fashion, deceptive, laid back, sacred and profane. In a sense, Hella Nation defies description and in that goal Evan Wright has succeeded in presenting another side of America! The conclusion is yours!

The Rose of York: Love and War by Sandra Worth

The Rose of York: Love and War by Sandra Worth. End Table Books. November 2003. 334 pp. ISBN #: 0-9751264-0-7

"Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King - else, wherefore born?" Tennyson's words from Idylls of the King introduce and perfectly describe Richard of Gloucester's tormented life throughout the complex War of the Roses in English history. History lovers and scholars still debate whether Richard was villain or hero, but Sandra Worth clearly portrays the early years of this future king as a dedicated, passionate youth and man whose sole desire was to loyally serve his King. Growing up without parents, Richard finds his role model in John Neville, the famous Lord Montagu. The Neville family is caught up in what seem to be unending intrigue and conflicting loyalties between the Houses of Lancaster and York.

So Richard matures while he attains the status of confidante and closest supporter of his brother, Edward IV. Shedding needless insecurities and weakness, he chooses to serve with a pure devotion and skill that must wind its way through the bitter hatred of Edward's wife and his own conniving brother George. Eventually this means even turning against Warwick, the Kingmaker, the very man who once saved Richard's life by protecting him from would-be assassins. While the multi-character presentation is complex and ever-changing, Worth superbly portrays Richard's royal behavior through a world laced with nightmarish betrayal and brutality.

Most noteworthy, however, is how Richard handles every challenge with growing strength and grace, at times emulating his friends, family, and foes' strengths and at other times escaping to an inner world in which he analyzes events and people so that he can make and act on decisions emerging from a relentless integrity and dedication to Arthurian standards.

Fifteenth century life comes alive in this author's deft descriptions of agonizing childbirth, life-threatening sea storms, torturous marriage arrangements, urban filth, bawdy sexual dalliance, and ruthlessly bloody battles that are more the norm rather than the exception. What supercedes these gross scenes are the deepening relationships forged upon belief in sacred and secular nobility and dignity.

Richard finds solace in the love he finds in Anne Neville, Warwick's charge, but even here he must eventually take charge of making his destiny with her rather than waiting for permission to fulfill their love.

Sandra Worth has crafted a historical fiction novel that is a true "classic". This reader avidly awaits the second novel in the Rose of York series, Crown of Destiny, to see what becomes of this hero, Richard, "...the flower of men, To serve as model for the mighty world."

The King's Daughter: A Novel of the First Tudor Queen by Sandra Worth

The King's Daughter: A Novel of the First Tudor Queen by Sandra Worth. Berkeley Books: A Division of The Penguin Group (USA), Inc. December 2008. 401 pp. ISBN #: 9780425221440

"Love drew her heart toward him, and shame drover her eyes away." Such are the words shared by Tristan and Iseult in a volume treasured by King Richard of Gloucester and Elizabeth of York, the daughter of King Edward V, Richard's brother. Simple, clear words perhaps but in reality portraying a mesmerizing, complex life of a woman seeking her own role in history!

The story begins with understanding the totally dissimilar nature of Elizabeth's parents, her life intertwined with a loving but unwise father, King Edward, and her overbearingly meddling mother, Bess Woodville, a notorious woman feared by everyone in the kingdom. The latter is a woman like so many other tyrants, possessing an inordinate amount of greed stemming from fear of being deposed and having to return to an insignificant, impoverished status. The description sounds historically objective, but Sandra Worth fully captures the essence of Elizabeth's confused plight in the middle of this calculating shrew who calls herself mother and siblings who eventually will disappear or turn against Elizabeth for a very long time. Who will prevail and what personality will evolve from such chaotic parenting? Imagine such a childhood!

Bess Woodville's plans following the death of King Edward are thwarted by Richard seizing the throne as Protector and then King, and all seems well for a while as he and his beloved Queen Anne rule England. Justice becomes the norm rather than the exception, until Richard's rivals begin to make war to seize the Crown. Times of joy and tragedy follow the royal couple. Will Richard's mercy free Bess and allow Elizabeth a place in his court? For there we read of the intimate bond between this King and Queen about to be tested in the furnace of adversity.

During this time, Elizabeth realizes her mother's lies have distorted the truth. As Elizabeth begins to see Richard with new eyes, how will she be treated by the Queen and by Richard who previously sees Elizabeth only as a despised Woodville?

Destiny seemingly has other plans as Henry VII invades England and Elizabeth agrees to marry the usurper, a union tortured again, this time by Henry's own mother, Margaret Beaufort, a woman even more diabolical than Elizabeth's own mother. Will Elizabeth find honor or regret in her choice made for what she believes is England's good? What can she do against her mother-in-law's influence over her two very different sons, Arthur and Henry?

Again, the author allows clarity and accuracy to prevail as she presents Elizabeth's debacle and evolution over years. Elizabeth of York's account opens a window for the reader to view the benign and treacherous court dialogues, romances and planned unions, as well as important plans and actions of those who serve the Crown for different reasons. Questions regarding the disappearance of Elizabeth's brothers and the identity of the mysterious Pretender haunt Elizabeth through the remainder of her life. Were there other unseen, unrealized possibilities?

Sandra Worth's writing elicits confusing, loving and hateful thoughts, feelings and responses resulting from the reader's total immersion in these carefully crafted historical characters' lives, reactions paralleling Elizabeth's own. The author's creative writing skills are honed with excellent research and insight into personality.

Ms. Worth, superbly done! Readers, prepare yourself for an amazing, wonderful read herein as you sit down to enjoy the life of Good Elizabeth, the first Tudor Queen!

Lady of the Roses by Sandra Worth

Lady of the Roses by Sandra Worth. Berkeley Books - A Division of The Penguin Group (USA), Inc. January 2008. 404 pp. ISBN #: 9780425219140

"I went to bed early one night...tired and preoccupied with musings about love. then - was it a vision, a dream? - Love himself suddenly appeared before me, taking the heart from my breast and handing it to Desire..." An apt quote bespeaks the essence of a tale, in this case the story of the uniquely passionate, tender and forbearing love between Isobel Ingoldesthorpe and John Neville, the Yorkist. Their love endures through the thorny historical events of fifteen years commonly known as the War of the Roses.

Sandra Worth has once again captured the tornado-whirling shifts of loyalty as England watches two mad women change the course of history, Marguerite d'Anjou - Henry VI's French queen - and later Elizabeth Woodville - Edward IV's beautiful wife. The former believes she is trying to bring peace to her simple, holy husband's land, the latter spouse flourishes by feeding years of imagined hurtful memories with unmitigated revenge. Their sheer, unadulterated terror will destroy England's aristocracy, including the famed kingmaker, Warwick, John Neville's brother. John himself will rise to the heights of power and lose almost all of it.

Isobel is a feisty, intelligent and compassionate character whose observations have the same effect on the reader that she experiences. When one thinks that cruelty, savagery and insanity have reached their limit, another betrayal with its accompanying horrors or unexpected deaths arises to leave Isobel and all of England reeling with shock.

When it seems that the common people are suffering the most from their leaders' cruelty and blood lust, it is Isobel who cares enough to help them survive and believe in something higher. Indeed Isobel will audaciously intervene in two hair-raising scenes to plead for mercy for two central characters. Isobel and John's intimate love is the glue holding together a world in which England's rulers precociously attempt to shape its history.

Ms. Worth's singular talent lies in the masterful way she crafts plot and deftly presents an in depth, diverse set of historical characters whom the reader comes to deeply care about. Congratulations, Sandra Worth! Lady of the Roses is an unparalleled, beautiful, dire and memorable keeper in the top ranks of historical novels! What a treat!

The Rose of York: Fall from Grace by Sandra Worth

The Rose of York: Fall From Grace by Sandra Worth. End Table Books. May 2007. ISBN #: 9780975126493

What destiny awaits a King who bases his rule on Malory's account of King Arthur or the chivalric myth and romance of Tristan and Iseult? How much does one embrace idealism while practically dealing with the more demoralizing situations one meets on a daily basis? The Rose of York: Fall From Grace is potent reading for contemporary readers for just that reason - for how many leaders and citizens of any nation yearn for a country of justice, compassion, and nobility? And how many, like King Richard III, are scarred and disillusioned by the ancient good vs. evil battle that ever looms to threaten that heroic vision?

Fall from Grace, the last book in The Rose of York series, depicts a visionary man assuming the crown of England in a time fraught with the treachery of his deceased brother's wife, Bess Woodville and the innumerable disgruntled men and women she has swayed to her dream of wresting the throne from Richard. The mystery thickens with the disappearance of Edward's children! The agony deepens with two more deaths that will plunge Richard into doubt and depression. Foreign powers hasten to take advantage of the King's agony. Worse than the threats are the rumors that turn the nation against King Richard. This brief outline barely touches the poignant depth of this beautiful story of a man whom history does not know whether to bless or curse and whom few realize gifted the Western world with the code of legal justice still practiced today.

'Tis a grand job you have done, Sandra Worth, in this trilogy. This is a deeply moving, well-written book that should become required reading for anyone seeking to know the heights of what a true ruler can imagine and attempt to create, no matter what vicissitudes of life threaten!

Keep writing, Ms. Worth - you are a rare talent at creating meaningful, accurate and literary, historical fiction!

The Rose of York: Crown of Destiny by Sandra Worth

The Rose of York: Crown of Destiny by Sandra Worth. End Table Books. September 2006. 176 pp. ISBN #: 0-9751264-8-2

In discussing Sir Thomas Malory's account of King Arthur's knights, Richard of Gloucester says to Anthony Woodville that his favorite part is when Arthur slays Mordred. While this initial comment might lead a reader to think that Richard is again displaying his brutal character, as he is depicted in history, it would be wise to hear his amplification of that comment, "Justice is done." Woodville responds, "But justice comes at high cost. To get at Mordred, the King must sacrifice himself." Richard replies, "You miss the point. The cost of treachery is what's high. Justice is all that's left."

This lengthy interchange is worthy of significant notice as it parallels the main characteristic of Richard III as portrayed by Sandra Worth in this second novel of The Rose of York series about the King so often maligned in the accepted historical record. Yes, Sandra Worth and other Ricardian scholars and writers have come to a different conclusion - King Richard III always acted from a just and thoughtful analysis of the political facts and opinions available at the time in question.

For it is the audacious and despicable behavior of the Woodvilles against King Edward IV, Richard of Gloucester's brother, and the rest of the Plantaganet clan that almost undoes England's respectable relationships with Europe and almost destroys England itself with civil and political war. Richard watches his brother evolve from an idealistic, strong ruler to a deluded, drunk, blind, and irresponsible weakling totally unaware that his few murderous acts were leading to a disastrous end. As could be expected under such conditions, former loyal advisors and servants become as decadent as their leader because of their own lust for ambition and power. What an education for a future king - and how brilliantly this author portrays the individual as well as the political climate under which this all occurs.

So it is no small wonder that Richard becomes a man totally focused on justice - after watching his brothers and so many more murdered for base and mistaken reasons. His faithful and perceptive wife, Anne, can only comfort him so much but does help him preserve his sanity in the midst of even more horrific events. Indeed, he eventually even learns that his own family harbors momentous secrets that will affect the future of England and which he will not learn about until a most critical moment after his brother, Edward's, death - one for which his brother George was condemned to death by Edward.

Sandra Worth knows how to write superb historical fiction! The reader comes to appreciate the depth of Richard's character in taut suspense through the spare yet plot-driven tale quickly emerging under Worth's deft, depictive skills. With meticulous research, this author proceeds to engage the reader in truly understanding where the term "blind justice" originated and what it truly means in the life of a respectable and memorable political leader of amazing stature!

Congratulations, Sandra Worth! You have done it again with realistic and creative skill - and so much more! I can't wait to read the final novel in this noteworthy series, The Rose of York:Fall From Grace.

Eight Days in Darkness by Anita Woolridge and Angela Roegner

Eight Days in Darkness: The True Story of the Abduction, Rape and Rescue of Anita Woolridge. Synergy Books. April 2010. ISBN #: 9780984076031

Brace yourself for a very difficult but very necessary story that is unfortunately all too true! The writing is expressed for two purposes: first, to complete another phase of the healing process for this brave, feisty, believing woman and second, to reach out to readers for the sake of safety and the always possibilities of healing and blessing!

Anita Wooldridge was abducted from her home on June 25, 1998 in daylight hours with no anticipation of the horrors she was about to endure. One gets the clear perception that she didn't spend too much time going over the newly horrific sexual assaults of various types or brutal beatings she endured at the hands of this pathologically sick man. Instead, Anita wisely realizes that talk is the only way she will survive this ordeal, saying to Tom Steele, or the mole as she refers to him in her account, exactly what he needed to hear. Only in this way did she avoid even more brutality that she could see was so often lying just below his surface appearance and waiting to lash out without warning.

We get some idea of his background, learning of where his rage originated and how it grew to profound mental illness with each new rejection, mockery and humiliation. This certainly in no way excuses one iota of what deviant acts he perpetrated on this innocent young woman, but it should alert all readers to awareness of what acts trigger dangerous possibilities and the need for alertness in all places, for one's own safety and perhaps even the safety of another not so alert and therefore susceptible to such predators.

Faith is the largest reality that allowed Anita to endure. It's not saccharine, meaningless stuff but the gritty test of faith in the most difficult, hopeless situation one could possibly imagine!

The reality of this nightmare week and a day come even more to focus after her rescue by the Howard County Sheriff's Office and the Kokomo Police Department, as well as FBI agents, as one realizes the psychological scars that began to emerge in treatment and through her therapeutic journaling.

This is a tribute to the faith and courage of a very brave woman who suffered so much but totally leaned on her faith that God would help her endure it all right up to freedom and healing.


The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods

The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods. Mira Books. April 2009. ISBN #: 9780778326267

Personal and public agendas are flying in the first of this new fictional romance series. The O'Brien clan is quite a motley crew of individuals who have been so busy pushing their memories into oblivion as possible that the fireworks are always near the surface. The sparks stem from fury in some scenes and oh so fiery, repressed passion in others! Whichever turn the reader takes, he or she is bound to be mesmerized by this vibrant family, beginning with Abby O'Brien Winters, a woman who thinks she knows her own mind - today at least!

Abby, divorced and the mother of twin girls, has a successful financial career in Manhattan, New York. She desperately could use some vacation time but is still surprised by the desperate call she receives from her sister, Jess. Abby drops all and travels to the lovely Chesapeake Shores in Maryland, a community her father built but never really stuck around long enough to cement with his children. Abby and Jess have very different reactions to their mother leaving when they were very young and to their father, the master of incompleteness. Communication is sorely in need of healing, if not an almost impossible goal for either to obtain.

For now, Abby must contend with helping Jess save the Inn at Eagle Point, which is in dire financial condition and which Jess will lose unless Abby agrees to an old lover, Trace Riley's demand that she help to manage the Inn in order to assure it can survive with an adequate income generated from its guests. The demand is outrageous but Abby doesn't have much choice if she wishes to help her fragile (in some ways) sibling. But complications will arrive there as well; an ex-husband who uses Abby's move to further his own needs, a threat to take her to court for legal, full-time custody of the twins.

These are just a few of the conflicts racing through these lively pages. While there are multiple problems, they are depicted in a smooth, linear fashion that never confuses the reader.

Sherryl Woods has created the first of a funny, challenging, heart-rending, passionate and endearing story, a family portrait so powerful that the reader will eagerly await more in another O'Brien tale in the near future!

Very nicely done!

Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods

Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods. Mira Books. May 2009. 400 pp. ISBN #: 9780778326410

Kevin O'Brien has returned to the beloved O'Brien clan with his son Davy, devastated from his wife's death while serving in the Army in Iraq. He just wants to be left alone to freely and fully grieve. His family honors his needs for a while, but then they realize he has a son who needs him. In other words, he needs to slowly join the living in spite of and through his grief. A large, daunting task to be sure! But the O'Brien clan is up to the task as well.

At the same time young Shanna Carlyle has arrived in Chesapeake Bay and is about to open her dream store, a place where the locals and tourists can buy books, games, small toys and puzzles, as well as have a place to have a cup of coffee while they relax and browse through the merchandise. She's got an accounting background to put to good use here but she's also hoping to escape a searingly painful past that she views as damaged.

The day comes when Kevin is finally talked into visiting his sister who owns the store next to Shanna. Finding her shop closed, he stops by and thus begins one of the most cautious, intriguing and endearing romances a reader could imagine. Both are initially ultra-gun shy about calling their relationship anything more than a casual friendship, but to other eyes the sparks are flying whenever they are together.

You'll meet some other fascinating characters, all of whom are desperately trying to matchmake this burgeoning relationship but who have issues of their own that frequently cause conflict between Kevin and Shanna. Is there hope for the couple? What is it that each character needs to face and admit before they can even dream of more than the frightened and grief-filled moments they suffer? Be warned; this sounds complex and heavy but it's definitely not so. Sherryl Woods has a knack of putting just enough tension into a story and then relieving it graciously and beautifully with a scene where the bonds between all of these characters begins to heal and strengthens.

The fictional tale also turns to a realistic, very important environmental issue as well, done lightly but with significant focus!

Harbor Lights is a glorious, enchanting, light-hearted, intriguing and precious story written by an author who just keeps improving with time! Wonderful story to be cherished by readers in any time of the year!

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer. Riverhead Books: A Division of the Penguin Group (USA), Inc. March 2009. ISBN #: 9781594483547

"One day you just woke up, and there was somewhere you needed to be." So The Ten-Year Nap ends, but there's a long journey for many women that needs to be traveled before they waken to new possibilities. Meg Wolitzer offers the reader a bevy of unique characters who have stayed home with their children during their early and formative years. Whether that scenario was driven by choice, necessity or just a natural evolution, each woman finds meaning in being a "stay at home Mom" but at the same time contemplates what life would have been like had other roads been traveled. Just how does one be a good mother and find meaning in that role when the world seems to have stigmatized such a choice as meaningless next to that of a working woman? What happens to one's married state when one's children become one's almost entire world, a world disconnected from the corporate or business world occupied by one's spouses?

Meet Amy Lamb, wife of Leo and mother of Mason. She's madly in love with her precocious son, appreciating the precious and tender moments that would surely be missed if she were to be a working Mom. Because she's made this choice, not one totally supported by Leo, Amy aptly describes their financial situation as the metaphor of a voracious wind tunnel, one in which the bills suck out their meager resources and then fill back in the paychecks they need to support their extravagant lifestyle. Leo's at the top of his mediocre career and would rather just say yes to his wife's demands rather than be considered a husband who can't provide for his family. So resentment and distance expand, never voiced for fear of disappointing the other. Sound familiar? Probably to oh so many men and women living in metropolitan homes with a spectacularly extravagant cost of living.

Or perhaps you might relate more to Penny who has fallen out of love with her husband and begun an affair with Ian because his connection with her former artistic world makes her feel more alive than in the humdrum ordinary daily life of a Mom whose biggest divergence from routine will be engaging in the school's Safety Patrol. Even that role presents a frightening, threatening reality for which Penny and Amy are totally unprepared!

Jill Hamlin, Amy's best friend, has her own secret to face. She and her husband have adopted a daughter, Nadia, from Siberia, who offers her own unexpected challenge. So what's the matter with Jill who doesn't seem to have all those expected gushy feelings for her adopted daughter? From where looms the large issues of abandonment underscoring this family's life?

These are just a few snippets of the plot that forces these women to begin questioning what they are doing in a rapidly changing world which forces change both while they are enjoying their "ten-year nap" and as its end draws near. One even gets a glimpse into the world of woman who straddle the world of work and home, including some humorous scenes such as Maggie Thatcher's exhaustion in her famous office from having to juggle such daunting tasks in a man's tough world.

This fictional story reminded this reviewer of the nonfiction account of Gail Sheehy's Passages published many years ago but still incredibly relevant for charting women's social, cultural and psychological journey through marriage, motherhood and meaning in a world caught between the stereotypical roles of the 50s and 60s and the more liberated, shared parenting roles of the current generation. Meg Wolitzer includes all the humor, melancholy and reflective phases inherent in these women's lives, accounts that will serve to become iconic depictions of an almost forgotten era. Work, after all, is activity with purpose, a definition somewhat vaguely appreciated by those participating in the ironic title of The Ten-Year Nap.

Interesting and memorable story!

The Siege by Stephen White

The Siege by Stephen White. Dutton Books: A Division of The Penguin Group (USA), Inc. August 2009. ISBN #: 9780525951223

Disappointment seems a mild word but can inspire terrible deeds! A number of high profile students at Yale University have been kidnapped and are being held hostage. One by one, the exit a fortress-like building on the Yale University campus and no one knows whether each one will live or die. Very little, in fact, is known about who is directing this horrific scenario unfolding which has even the best criminal officers and investigators stymied. What becomes quickly clear is that this monster killer doesn't want money or any other such expected commodity that can be bargained for the lives of a group of America's most promising students.

Sam Purdy, a suspended Boulder City, Colorado police detective; Deirdre Drake, a CIA analyst; Christopher Poe, an FBI counter-terrorism agent; and Christine Carmody, a New Haven Police negotiator spend hours trying to figure out the siege increasing in intensity because no one can predict who will live and who will die. Their questions and speculations parallel that of the other multiple law enforcement officials swarming outside the building holding the Yale secret society initiates and members.

It's a wild, tension-packed account that never wanes right up to the very last page. It also turns out that a similar event has scarred Agent Poe in a way that frequently comes close to totally debilitating him - posttraumatic syndrome at its most powerful and horrendous level. Each parent of the hostage students has something to bargain with as the stakes begin to become obvious. Will they be strong enough to stay quiet and submit to the demands of the terrorist or contact officials and thereby lose everything?

The Siege is a tautly written, well-researched and realistic novel of a reality that could possibly be the next face of the evolving War of Terror on a local and/or global scale. One wants to pull away from this nightmarish scenario but is compelled to keep reading, having vicariously become part of the lives of these credible and amazing characters!

Superbly done, Stephen White!

On Folly Beach by Karen White

On Folly Beach by Karen White. New American Library, a Division of the Penguin Group (USA), Inc. May 2010. ISBN #: 9780451229212

How do you know when it's time to let go? Emmy has just lost her husband to war and is just existing. There comes a point where her mother says she should buy a local book store in Folly's Finds in South Carolina's Folly Beach, a move that is harsh for Emmy but eventually will be the most healing separation possible! Upon her arrival there, she meets Heath, a survivor of cancer who refuses to think about the past and contemplates only the present, who goads Emmy but who carries a penchant for leaving unfinished business himself. Then there's brusque Lulu who displays just enough glimmers of understanding and humor to intrigue Emmy. And there are the rest of the family, original owners of the bookstore Emmy will buy, who are charming, loving and the most pleasant people around this tourist area, people who really know how to enjoy life and make lemonade from the lemons life flings!

A mystery begins to evolve which is fascinating and rivets the readers more and more to the pages as it deepens. It consists of "bottle trees," a unique creation common to southern America, and the hidden messages within the bottles and hidden within classic beloved fiction pages.

A story begins to piece-by-piece emerge, involving Maggie, Lulu and Cat in the 1940s, when America was at war. Folly's Beach became a haven for military personnel on leave. Love bloomed in those dire days, with soldiers living for love, not knowing if they would live to fulfill their dreams for the future. And rumors circulated about Germans sinking American boats outside the harbors of South Carolina, as well as the possibility that there were actually German spies disguised in South Carolina. The latter rumors though were dismissed as just that.

Maggie and Cat have lost loved ones through death, events that have shaped them into the giving and selfish people they are. But rush not to judgment, for there is more to these representative ladies of the times, as well as much more to the story of Lulu, a child who "misses nothing" and fears losing the few who have not died in her world.

On Folly Beach is a perfect summer read - heck, a perfect read for any time of the year. Karen White knows how to spin a perfectly crafted story and/or mystery, and readers are sure to love this soon to be best-seller, for sure!

Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax

Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax. Berkeley Books - The Penguin Group (USA), Inc. March 2010. ISBN #: 9780425232354

Are you fantasizing that you're on the hit show, "Dancing With The Stars?" What is it about dancing that is so very, very satisfying that it seems like one's soul is flying free, with all the cares and concerns of the world gone for a brief, luscious time? What's it like when one gets to know real people in a real dance studio? What's happening in between the glamorous, exciting, vibrant moments? How can dance transform one's life?

Shot twice - once literally in the butt and then again figuratively by her boss, Vivien Gray is unemployed, with a bruised rear end and a very bruised ego! Unable to obtain another journalistic job as an investigative reporter and finding herself in another precarious state in her lower end of middle age state, Vivien comes up with a unique idea and travels to her sister, Melanie's home in Georgia to find out what the scoop really is about suburban lives. The discoveries and surprises are stereotypical and yet Wendy Wax has a delightful manner of presenting them so that it seems like one is reading about these facts and interpretations for the first time, with quite a bit of humor and playfulness added. How, for example can you tell the status of someone driving an SUV of a certain make and year, after considering all of the stickers all over the bumpers and windows?

The essence of this very readable story, though, is about people changing and evolving, growing apart and then growing closer, speaking one's mind honestly and dealing with the consequences, all in all making pivotal choices and running with the results. So Vivien has to deal with the sense of estrangement she senses in her niece and nephew, as well as the unacknowledged feelings her own sister is harboring against Vivien. Then there's Mom who's never quite satisfied with anything said, done and probably even thought by her daughters or a boyfriend who's never stuck around long enough to establish some depth in a relationship. There's Melanie's friend Ruth whose confidence grows enough to make an incredible challenge to her spouse of many years. On and on we read, moving deeper into the personalities, the talents and quirks of these very human people who are forced to struggle through their crises or forever be stymied by them.

Wendy Wax knows how to spin a credible, humorous, poignant and provocative story with some incredible issues behind it - all in a style that is surprising, credible and in a very real sense, life-changing.

Superbly written, Wendy Wax!!! More please!!!

The Accidental Bestseller by Wendy Wax

The Accidental Bestseller by Wendy Wax. A Jove Book - Berkeley Books - The Penguin Group (USA) Inc. May 2010. ISBN #: 9780515148077

It's a dog-eat dog out there in the publishing world! Success can come and go in a whiff of hot or cold air, and an author must deal with the vicissitudes of a very unpredictable trade. Every author's nightmare is losing the Muse, the days hen not one word will come, no matter how disciplined a writer may be in insisting on writing for a certain time every day, so many hours, so many words, whatever it is!

So we meet Mallory St. James, a well-known successful writer who seems to have it all in the bag and is helping her friend, Kendall Aim, write her last book for a publishing company determined to dump her because of declining sales. Add to that a revelation from a family member that will add to the devastation. But that's what true friends are for, especially when those friends are all relatively successful writers.

The other two friends are Tanya Mason, working two jobs for two children and an alcoholic mother who is not a very nice lady for sure, and Faye Truett, a preacher's wife, who sees her writing success as an extension of his ministry with her beloved inspirational novels. Are all the men in writer's world so selfish or are there a few out there waiting to truly appreciate the person behind the bestseller?

When these three friends come to Kendall 's aim, not only do they create a unique, riveting story but all secrets are out and the really astounding story of each gradually emerges, along with some spicy romance along the way!

The Accidental Bestseller is a sure-fire, summer bestseller that readers will love and other writers will pore over with more identification than most readers will ever know. Are bestseller's accidental? You decide with this one – this reviewer is calling it a summer romp to be seen by many pools and beaches this year!

Great story, Wendy Wax!!!

Saving Max by Antoinette Van Heugten

Saving Max by Antoinette Van Heugten. Mira Books. October 2010. ISBN #: 9780778329633

Max Parkman is a teenager who seems to be having more than a normal teen's share of temper tantrums. In fact, Max is autistic, suffering from Asperger's syndrome. His lawyer Mom, Danielle Parkman, discovers, after a horrific scene in which he physically assaults her, that his journal clearly shows suicidal thoughts and reveals his use of drugs. Her career is on the line right now as she is being considered for a partnership in a prestigious legal firm, but that all goes down the drain for now as she receives the recommendation that Max needs more specialized psychiatric help. So off she goes with him to Maitland Psychiatric Center . The hell is only just beginning!

After having his medications changed, Max begins to physically attack another teen patient, Jonas. Very quickly, Max's diagnosis is revealed as schizoaffective disorder, a discovery that shocks Danielle to her core. A mother's instincts are never off; but before she can do anything more, a violent incident occurs that lands Max in jail and then on trial for murder, with Danielle charged as an accessory to the crime and guilty of obstructing justice. Danielle is a fighting spirit who refuses to accept this and so with the help of a few other formidable characters begins an investigation that is riveting in its relentlessness. The outcome will stun every reader, who in no way can anticipate the real killer and accomplice.

It's an outcome that makes one question the world of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment, a world where human beings are exposed as the flawed and just as mentally ill individuals as the patients they treat!

Saving Max is an amazing story that horrifies, grips and electrifies the reader, who will be rooting for Danielle through every rapidly turned page. At times it's hard to believe this is just a story as it seems so very real! But author, Antoinette van Heugten clearly knows what she's talking about and tells it oh so very, very well!

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. Viking - The Penguin Group (USA) Inc. March 2010. 451 pp. ISBN #: 9780670021475

"There were giants in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." These words from The Book of Genesis in the Bible have been read countless times by both sacred and secular readers. Never until now, however, have we seen such a powerful fictional account of just who these "giants" were, their origin and their place in the future of humanity. All the average person knows about angels is a brief mention of the Angel Gabriel's message to Mary, the mother of Jesus, about her Virgin Birth to come, another mention in The Book of Daniel, and some other, all very brief, allusions to the praise and power of these ethereal, divine beings. But what about the fallen angels also spoken of in Genesis? They were cast out, we are told, and therein ends the story.

Sister Evangeline entered the Order of Sisters of Perpetual Devotion at St. Rose Convent with a firm faith in the power of prayer, a power that enabled her to escape strange memories, one event in particular which still had the potent, discomfiting ability to send her to the consolation of prayer, a balm which could not, however, eradicate the terror of her memories. As the order's librarian assistant, however, she one day receives a letter from an art researcher, Verlaine, which begins the chain of events that will forever alter her life in a dramatic, almost unbelievable manner.

Verlaine has been hired by a wealthy party, Percival Gregori, to find correspondence between the head of Sister Evangeline's order and Abigail Rockefeller, a notable woman of means who has been financing the activities of a group called Angelologists. The studies of this group lead them to realize that the "giants" of old and other fallen angels are still alive, some eternally imprisoned on earth and some in various degrees operating to wreak destruction on a global basis. There are Watchers, Nephilim who are the product of humans and fallen angels, and Gibborim who are warrior demonic angels mindlessly carrying out the orders of the former two groups. The Nephilim and Society of Angelologist are deep in the throes of a formidable battle for these documents that will reveal the presence of a hidden divine instrument.

The story takes us through the mountains of Bulgaria, the streets of Montparnasse in France, the quiet grounds of the convent in the Hudson Valley section of New York State, and the bustling holiday throngs of Manhattan in New York City. Suggestions abound that the Nephilim have been behind the most destructive forces in centuries of history, including the Nazis and other infamous groups.

As Sister Evangeline and Verlaine begin to gradually unlock the keys to the hidden object and creatures of divine origin, the plot progresses at a stately pace, at times offering solid research and a professional, scholarly approach to the topic of angelology (an actual science of study that exists in a quiet unpublicized way) in between acts of progressive exploration, violence and horror that appear at just the right moments. While there's a tad too much repetition about Biblical exegesis from the canon and apocryphal texts about angels, Ms. Trussoni is a master at deftly plotting the evolution of this battle between good and evil, without reducing it to a simplistic or overly dramatic style and including some other fascinating historical studies and angelology studies

The Nephilim are everywhere, but the byproduct of such intense study about the fallen angels and their divine-human offspring is that the Angelologists are able to anticipate the next nail-biting scenario at a hair's breadth of time.

Angelology is a unique fictional foray through the essence of good and evil, a credible story that will leave the reader sorry the story has ended (albeit with such a stunning ending that there is definitely room for a follow-up novel) and contemplating seriously the nature of the sacred and profane around every human life. A guaranteed bestseller not to be missed by any reader who loves a thoughtful, provocative, dramatic and passionate story!!!

The Venetian Judgment by David Stone

The Venetian Judgment by David Stone. G. P. Putnam's Sons - Penguin Group (USA) Inc. April 2009. ISBN #: 9780399155734

Micah Dalton feels nothing as he sets out to avenge the death of his lover in the streets of Venice. That feeling changes to much more than satisfaction, an eerie, numbing but exhilarating sense of pleasure. He knows he should be frightened by this sense of completeness, but the moment turns out to be short-lived. For a very classy case holding a glass cutter is given to him that indicates something is very, very wrong in the CIA from whom he is presently an exiled outcast.

So begins a race over cities in Venice, Santori, Istanbul, England and America with another CIA cleaner, Mandy Pownall, to find out who the mole is within the CIA and what secrets could not only severely damage the CIA and NSA arms of clandestine government offices but also provide a public embarrassment regarding sensitive political realities involving the Vietnam War and more.

Briony Keating, a West Point librarian, and Jules Duhamel, a purportedly notable photographer are engaged in a torrid, seductive romance with questions and tension always lurking just below the surface. Her son has been incommunicado for more than his usual lapses and all of a sudden a microchip arrives in the mail containing information that could blow her own cover. Duhamel is watching very carefully for her reaction, knowing he must complete one set of plans if she responds positively to his involvement and another more horrific scenario if she excludes him from a full explanation. However, Briony is no amateur and carries out a third option totally surprising to both Duhamel and the reader.

The above is a very brief description of a few of the hair-raising, complex scenes in this John Le Carre style espionage tale. As the quickly changing settings weave the reader through the complexities of finding the betrayer continue, the reader is propelled through an air-borne fight, attacks by opponents trying to keep Dalton from completing his mission, and numerous events in which death is the only option to consider in order to be successful, to survive!

The Venetian Judgment is written by a master of the spy novel who clearly knows the ins and outs of the espionage game and the ruthless skills required to destroy end games that could possibly destroy leaders and their political plans! Stunning, fast-paced, at times deliberately confusing but all together an exceptionally satisfactory read!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. An Amy Einhorn Book: G. P. Putnam's - Penguin Group (USA) Inc. February 2009. ISBN #: 9780399155345

It's 1962, a time when escalating tensions are rising between African-Americans (then known as "coloreds") and their white employers and neighbors! Told from three different points of view, this story probes the intimate thoughts about what it's like for the maids of wealthy and middle class white people in Jackson, Mississippi. It's more than just hard, hard work; it's trying to survive in a constantly demeaning, life or death survival environment! That may sound trite, but trust this reviewer - these accounts are absolutely riveting, heart-stopping and poignant in ways that put new definitions on these commonly used terms!

A young woman, Miss Skeetter, wants to be a journalist while her family and friends believe that finding a husband is all that matters, no matter what one's educational background is. Her first question that opens the central plot is to ask if one of the maids, Aibleen, wishes things were different.

Aibleen never gets to complete the conversation, but she remembers the comment as she continues to care for three-year-old Mae Mobley. Aibleen, like other hired "help," is more of a mother to Mae Mobley than her own distant, punishing mother by birth. The pain Aibleen feels over this coldness is stunning when one learns the numbing background of her own deep loss. Yet through it all, Aibleen's quietly muttered thoughts and written prayers to God make the reader roar with laughter and ponder what's important in the schemes and nonsense of daily family life. It is she who provides the impetus for Miss Skeeter's project, to get a few black women to talk about the joys, sorrows, challenges and downright insanity of their service employment.

Then you'll meet Minnie, another maid who doesn't keep jobs too long because of her outspoken, funny, but offensively blunt comments to her employers. When that doesn't work, lies will do to get rid of her since she obviously doesn't know her "place" in this cold, tough world! Her challenges include a violent home life and an employer who is from the seedier side of Southern life, what used to be called "white trash." Miss Celia is lonely and constantly striving to fit in, but it's clear she doesn't have a clue about much!

The project begins on a wrong note and seems doomed to die before it gets going, but tragedy will change all that. Then the reader will be just as stunned at the gritty, fiercely determined nature that arises in a dozen women to tell their tale despite what just might be brutally lethal results. They express their fury and their hysterical barbs as well at the turn of a plan by whites to create toilets for the "diseased" help.

So many other characters and events fill these 464 wonderful pages. This reviewer hardly ever says this about any book, but this is a book you will not be able to put down and will be so, so sorry when it's over. It will change hearts and minds wherever it's experienced!

This is Kathryn Stockett's first novel, a brilliant, potent celebration of astonishing and noteworthy hope for light to surmount darkness, be it in a person's color or behavior! The Help is a wonder to behold and cherish!

Microman USA by Robert Stern

Microman USA by Robert Stern. Illustrations by Mark Hill. Robert Stern Publication. September 2009. 132 pp. ISBN #: 9780980198850

"Lunch feeds the soul. Lunch is Liberty. Lunch is freedom. Lunch is a meal you can believe in. Lunch is hope." Lunch is the metaphor set forth by Robert Stern to represent the politically right perspective. This is the vision of Microman USA who fears and objects to what he sees as a left-wing conspiracy to socialize government.

Americans have a basic right to earn their money and enjoy the fruits of that work in a choice of a healthy, self-sustaining "lunch," according to"Joe the Plumber" or Robert Stern, fighting back with humor in the form of a new "right" hero, Microman USA. He verbally spars with the character "Misery," a gloomy, hopeless guy whom Microman is trying to inspire to fight, to react, to hope and to dream.

These humorous but satirical cartoons don't miss much in the form of policy implemented in the recent past or being planned for the future, whether it concerns education, health care, finance, the right to bear arms, foreign affairs, war, peace and more. Quotations from notable politicians of the right and left are intermixed with Stern's obvious partisan point of view.

Whatever your political bent, Microman USA is a mildly amusing collection sure to provoke conversation, debate and a few chuckles along the way!

Just Like Me, Only Better by Carol Snow

Just Like Me, Only Better by Carol Snow. Penguin Books. April 2010. ISBN #: 9780425232484

It is said that everyone has a double right? Well, what if your look-alike is a drop-dead gorgeous blonde actress who can't go out because the paparazzi hound her every move both day and night? Hire your look-alike who in this scenario is a newly divorced, struggling California mother and substitute teacher. Veronica. Yes, Veronica is really struggling, hustling to work, be a Mom and driver of her landlord's always late kids.

Yes, Veronica gets the opportunity of a lifetime, to pose as the star Haley Rush in order to give the real Haley time to have some private moments to do what everyone loves to do in public. But substituting for a hot star means the makeup, the clothes, the mannerisms all have to be duplicated as well. So begins this comically absurd scenario in which it turns out that the superstar's acquaintances, managers and others are initially experienced as a bunch of boobs who are manipulating a product and not a person. That's Hollywood, right?

Romance begins slowly but then fans into a flame that may or may not sputter out at any moment. Initial perceptions t'aint necessarily true, and Haley's life is really a walking disaster, one step shy of having health problems from her wacky diet and far from what the real world values.

Veronica after surging her way through this disastrous minefield begins to fall in love and really communicate with a few of the apparent parasites around the star. The end result is a lot of scenes that make the reader roar with laughter and others that give us much more of the Hollywood lifestyle that will either thrill or totally disgust the reader, with very little in-between.

Just Like Me, Only Better is a light, funny, satirical romantic comedy sure to be an entertaining tale to many who want a real look at the inner workings of Hollywood!

When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge

When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge. New American Library - Penguin Books. November 2009. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780451227980

"You have choices," are the thoughtful words that deepen an already unfathomable rift between mother and daughter. Is anyone responsible for all the wrong words said? How to revive the joy of mother and daughter in infancy and childhood? Jessie Villareal feels like a failure of a mother but confident in her skills as a police officer. She follows all the rules, as her father, also a police officer, did and would have had he not died early on in her life. But losing the one you love can become both one's biggest enemy or blessing!

Two hikers run into a little girl wearing a fancy dress over her regular clothing. When they call out to her, she flees as if a killer were after her, and the campers find something in the woods that makes them believe this little girl is in terrible danger. From that moment on, the adventure becomes fast and even chaotic as the search for the girl begins, and no one is capable of imagining how they will handle what they are about to find. Pater, an Iraqi veteran, and Lindy are ready with a carefully made plan.

A course of riveting events follows in which the essence of every person involved shows the true colors depicted as a struggle for power, prestige, stereotyping, misunderstanding, protection, honesty and deep love willing to sacrifice it all. The process and outcome forces the reader to re-examine his or her ideas about separation and bonding, as well as offering a more positive point of view of a media more frequently maligned than praised.

Yes, the wilderness does bring one back to one's roots, paring away the skin of modernity that just might be more of a curse than one normally realizes.

Jennie Shortridge is a talented author whose ability to combine reality and idealism is superbly presented in this fascinating novel!

A Piece of My Heart by Kemberlee Shortland

A Piece of My Heart by Kemberlee Shortland. Highland Press Publication. 2009. ISBN #: 9780984249961

"The heart only breaks when love is denied." Mick and Kate haven't seen each other in years but are now thrown together in a manner neither are prepared to handle in a poised style. While Mick's been burying himself in work and in Dublin, Kate has remained in the Irish countryside where she's been working as a nurse and helping to care for Mick's dying parents. When both parents eventually pass away, Mike and Kate are called to Attorney Tighe's office to hear the reading of the will, a revelation absolutely shocking to both. It seems that Mick and Kate have been thrown together whether they like it or not. The question is how do they decide how much they can endure of this new unique situation when being in each other's presence produces instantaneous hormonal fireworks very hard to hide. Their new status tempts them to the limits of their willpower, upsetting the status quo scenarios each has created while also grieving past deep wounds.

Mick pulls back to figure it all out and inadvertently runs into a fellow, Flann Flannery, who seems an answer to Mick's problems. Mick wants to stay in Dublin but needs a manager for the farm he's inherited but can't sell without dire consequences. Flann seems just the right guy for the job and is hired. Only it turns out that Flann is an unsavory character who puts both the farm and Kate's well-being into serious jeopardy and Mick is almost too slow to come to the rescue!

Another twist enters the picture that is about to change Mick and Kate's lives forever. Mick's most recent romance before Kate arrives with a very upsetting announcement which eventually Mick handles with delightful panache that will make the reader roar with laughter. Ah, the tangled webs we weave! But will this web be the end of what seems to be the beginning of a renewed, passionate relationship between Mick and Kate?

Kemberlee Shortland is a pro at depicting numerous romantic moments in a stimulating, unique way that never gets boring or repetitive and evolves to a crescendo experience. The good guy/bad guy scenario unfolds in a credible manner that in turn creates a full-force reaction where one finds Flann or Damean (real name) a totally despicable character and roots for his demise, while eagerly anticipating how Mick and Kate will recover their obviously lost but not forgotten love! Ms. Shortland's style has definitely matured over the last few years, and A Piece of My Heart is terrific romantic/suspense fiction to savor and share with family and friends.

Royal Blood: A Novel of Tudor England by Rona Sharon

Royal Blood: A Novel of Tudor England by Rona Sharon. Kensington Books. April 2009. ISBN #: 9780758228581

What is the ultimate prize, love or glory? And to what lengths will mortals and otherworldly creatures go to obtain one or both of the aforesaid rewards?

Sir Michael Deveraux is sent from Ireland to the English Court of King Henry VIII with a mission to be achieved through cunning, military might and wisdom, undiverted by carnal lust or the excessive trappings of pleasure present in the Tudor Court. But Michael has severe doubts due to the fact that he has so often been bested by his teachers of the military arts. His father, however, knows that Michael possesses all he needs to succeed. However, Michael is very ill-prepared for the carnal and political machinations he is about to encounter.

Princess Renee of France, shamed by her brief dalliance with a common painter, is also being sent to France. The Princess, it appears throughout the entire story, is far smarter than the royal fools she pretends to serve, but even she is about to have all of her abilities tested beyond her present knowledge and experience. Her powers of control will be stretched to the limit!

King Henry of England is a very busy man! When he is not bedding the female members of his court, outside of good Queen Katherine's sight, he must contend with scheming English nobles and embattled Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, all vying for greater power and ties to the royal family and Rome.

The real is about to be accentuated with the death of one of King Henry's lovers, who is also the sister of a high-ranking nobleman. This lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine is murdered by someone evil beyond belief, possessed of a supernatural darkness that will frighten both characters in the story and those who are furiously turning the pages to find out the next revelation in this nail-biting, stunning thriller!

Add an evolving lusty passion between a couple who vacillate between fearsome loathing and passionate, magnetic love for each other. The story also contains a large amount of richly described culture regarding this sixteenth century time period, pertaining to dress, food, religious festivals, and theological tenets of this notable time, taking place when England remained within the Roman Catholic fold.

Rona Sharon has penned one of the most unusual historical fiction novels this reviewer has ever read and stretches the reader's participation and belief in a wholly new style for this genre! Fascinating reading!

The Wish Maker: A Novel by Ali Sethi

The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi. Riverhead Books - Penguin Group (USA) Inc. June 2009. 432 pp. ISBN #: 9781594488757

Pakistan in the 1990's - a time of encroaching Western culture intermingling with traditional ways, sometimes in strident conflict, sometimes winning with subtlety, sometimes being quashed by the more fundamentalist Islamic and political violence. This is the world of Zaki Shirazi, a boy caught between both extremes of obedience to the old or new, and his cousin, Samar Api. It is the latter's voice that serves as the protagonist in this richly descriptive tale of Pakistani life. While the plot develops quite slowly, the description of clothing, jewelry, food, flowers, forests, stores, bazaars, and more are the highlights of the lengthy descriptions offered to the reader, a panoply of sensory elements one begins to actually imagine as being real in one's own world.

Smatterings of history enter with mixed to the Bhutto government and demise, the Muslim suffering in the Bosnian War and so much more. Little by little, the reader begins to realize what a "revolution" to democracy really means to people uneducated and unwilling initially to challenge the despotic status quo. Education, though, teaches one to "see" in new ways, as the narrator muses. In another place, the evolution into a new government and new way of living resembles an appropriately offered metaphor of courting squirrels chasing an erratic spiral down the bark of a tree. You decide which characters are scrambling or sauntering down that tough, bark-like journey to a changed Pakistan.

In another place, the reader is shocked when marriages borne out of love don't survive, an event that forces the reader to realize the enigma of embracing Western culture, a force that sometimes yields effects and affects far beyond the imagination.

The Wish Maker has been compared to Kite Runner, but this reviewer thinks that is like comparing apples and oranges, the latter a more violent foray into revolution and the former a sweeter, full, rich journey through ordinary, every-day life in a world unique to itself and still in the throes of change to this day. More about political and religious conflict would have filled this novel out, not for readers wanting sensationalism and stereotypical ideas confirmed, but for the essence of what opposing sides really thought and said during these notably challenging times in Pakistan's 1990s.

Interesting story, with a portrait-like presentation of people and their little-known but fascinating world!

Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom

Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom. Penguin Books. January 2009. ISBN #: 9780143115137

The fossils Sandy Forsyth loves are a wonderful metaphor for the historical period this novel spans, 1937-1947, in war-torn Spain. For fossils hold full or partial body parts in their last colossal, life-death battle. It's a time full of surprises, when the strong are shown to be weak and vice versa. Sandy's favorite fossil, a dinosaur's limb, vividly displays Spain's hopes and defeats, "...curled, as though the creature had been about to strike when it died."

First, meet Bernie Piper, a graduate of the prestigious Rookwood School in England, now lying at the foot of a knoll in the Jarama Valley, Spain in February of 1937. He's a die-hard socialist, rejecting everything he learned in school and sharing the fight against the Generalissimo Franco's fascist followers. It doesn't look like a victory Bernie will win!

Then get to really know Barbara Clare, an ex in so many ways - ex-Red Cross nurse, ex-lover of Bernie, and expatriate who is lost in her despair over possibly having lost Bernie, seeing the Spanish situation corrode into devastating poverty and death, and being lost in her relationship with Sandy Forsyth who seems bent on recreating her in his own image. But Barbara knows more than she's telling and may have a way to find out if Bernie is still alive as a prisoner of war in the brutal prisoner-of-war camps run by the rigid, ultra-Catholic Republican Guards.

Enters Harry Brett, a spy for the British Secret Service. Harry really doesn't want to be doing this job but is reluctantly enticed into spying on his old school friend, Sandy, in Madrid. Harry's recovering from brutal injuries he received while fighting in Dunkirk, barely over his posttraumatic panic attacks and barely in possession of full hearing yet. The pages that follow rivet the reader's focus in two directions.

The convoluted chronology of Spain's political situation introduces the reader to the powers supporting Franco, the Republicans and the Communists, all vying for supremacy and at the same time feeling Hitler's pincer-like approach ever-looming. Who to trust? Who to support? How to survive? One clearly sees, after a brief while, that there are no winners as each group in its fanatical fervor destroys the land they claim to love. Leaders and manipulators flourish; the poor and destitute live parasitical lives in order to get through this horrific conflict.

What Harry eventually discovers, in the second focus of this novel, is far worse than originally contemplated. Sandy's involved in something bigger and deadlier than even he realizes. As one swiftly turns these pages, he or she is stunned at the breathtaking end in which all bets are off and the plot unravels in a most unexpected manner with devastating results.

C. J. Sansom, with a well-researched, dynamic presentation, vividly presents a historical, romantic, adventurous story in a tightly plotted manner. This story deserves wide acclaim as a notable blockbuster, portraying a too often ignored but potent segment of Spain and England's history and politics.

Prime Time: A Charlotte McNally Novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Prime Time: A Charlott McNally Novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Mira Books. July 2009. ISBN #:9780778327172

Charlie McNally is 46 years old, the winner of several Emmys for her investigative reporting and beginning to severely doubt if she has what it takes to stay in television's demanding game! For intelligence and a knack for sleuthing the hottest story of the day isn't enough these days; instead one must have the looks and sexy appeal to draw viewers back to the fantasy that beauty, charm and brains are all one and the same. Age and weight repel the TV camera. Add to those lurking worries that her high-powered boss, snooty Angela, is just aching to send Charlotte or Charlie packing. And Charlie's beginning to realize that maybe all of her sacrifices that placed her career over a marriage and family weren't all they were cracked up to be!

Now comes a new problem that adds to her diminishing confidence as an aging reporter. It turns out that a series of e-mails have been sent to a select few, messages that look like spam but are actually a code for something far more serious than the usual nonsense promising millions of dollars in five minutes or someone insisting their heartbreaking need can only be solved by a donation of the same amount.

Unfortunately, things start ratcheting up quite a few scales in Charlie's radar screen when she learns of a man's supposed suicide and starts investigating the e-mail messages after his wife requests Charlie's help. With her colleague, Franklin's very smart assistance, Charlie seems to be getting closer to the reason behind Bradley Foreman's death, with some results that seem to be very frightening to his wife, Melanie Foreman. In the process of examining boxes of records that seem to hold the clue to the mystery, Charlie meets Professor Josh Gelston, a sexy looking guy quite impressed by Charlie's Shakespearean knowledge and maybe even more. But Charlie doesn't know if Josh is the friend or enemy in her quest to unravel the refinance messages that she now realizes are linked to some very high profile businessmen and women.

Hank Ryan knows how to plot a thriller for sure. The reader was captivated by the twists and turns that seem to come close to the final solution but more often than not weave their way into something even more sinister. Add together two murders, some very serious threats at an almost gothic-style funeral, an attempted effort at killing the heroine and her partner, and some other just as suspense-driven moments and you have the makings of a best seller crime drama! Prime Time will make you want to read more from this very savvy, smart, funny and intriguing character, Charlotte McNally! This reviewer is very much looking forward to reading the next story in this series, Face Time!

Face Time: A Charlotte McNally Novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Face Time: A Charlotte McNally Novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Mira Books. August 2009. ISBN #: 9780778327189

How deep is a mother's love that would do just about anything, including kill to protect that young woman? Charlie McNally is back again as the 46 year old, multiple Emmy Award-winning TV journalist investigator who is expected to come up with another dynamic story that will win awards and keep Channel 3 news as the most popular Massachusetts TV station. It's a tall order that Charlie isn't sure she can do again, but all of a sudden a story comes along begging to be explored and indicating it's huge enough to topple an election and undo a horrific nightmare for an imprisoned, alleged murderer.

New evidence is introduced to evidence that indicates that Dorinda Keeler Sweeney may be falsely imprisoned for the murder of her husband, even though she did freely confess to that crime. As well as wanting to free a wrongly imprisoned inmate, Charlie is also quickly made aware that such a story might ruin the career of Massachusetts Attorney General Oscar Ortega, who is running on a perfect crime solver reputation but who just might be something that isn't quite as perfect as he suggests.

While Charlie and Franklin, her perfect work partner, are gaining leads in this process, Charlie is also coping with meeting the daughter of her new love, Jonathan. Penny's a young girl who is obviously and unexplainably hostile when Penny appears. She's a little girl missing her parents being together and worrying that a replacement is in line for her real Mom's place. While this oil-water relationship continues, Charlie's own Mom is having her plastic surgeon do beautifying surgery on her and wants Charlie to do likewise. Enticed but wary, Charlie watches her Mom's healing process carefully and refuses to commit to any decision on taking twenty years off her physical appearance a la surgical transformation.

Once again, Hank P. Ryan has done it very well, indeed! As a matter of fact, this novel is much better paced and plotted than her first novel in the Charlotte McNally series. It proceeds at a solid pace and keeps the reader totally hooked into the "Who did it?" mode, anxious to keep flipping the pages to find out more and very sorry when the story reaches its unexpected, exciting conclusion. Keep writing, Ms. Ryan! You've got the stuff for great crime drama!

Drive Time: A Charlotte McNally Novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Drive Time: A Charlotte McNally Novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Mira Books. February 2010. ISBN #: 9780778327974

Charlie McNally is back and ready to swing into action! The plot is familiar - the discovery of a criminal connection that threatens the life and limbs of Charlie and her fellow reporter and camera man. Rather than back away from this conflict, the discovery of an outrageous scheme followed by discovery and revenge. Only there's an added mystery in this latest Charlotte McNally novel - blackmail and death occurring at her fiance's school, Bexter Academy, and Josh just might know too much about the answer to this elusive, deadly mystery begun with threatening anonymous phone calls!

Charlie learns some disconcerting news about Franklin by accident. Instead of ignoring Josh as in previous novel, she's been so preoccupied with him and her relationship with his daughter, Penny, that she unwittingly ignores Franklin, her former tell-all sidekick. But instead of backbiting and nastiness, they decide to make this investigation and possible Emmy-winning story one to top all the previous adventurous stories.

Without spoiling the plot line, there are some very snazzy-looking cars and a very clever scheme to sell more of the same illegally a la carjacking and the use of VIN cloning. This part of the story, replete with dangerous conversations and road chases, is very cleverly juxtaposed with the mystery set in a quaint, private New England school with very prim and proper faculty members reminiscent of the 19th and 20th century, except for the very contemporary use of adoption for a fraudulent fund-raising campaign.

Drive Time is this reviewer's favorite novel in the Charlotte McNally series, action-packed, tense, clever, perceptive and passionate! You have outdone yourself with this latest novel, Ms. Ryan!

Air Time: A Charlotte McNally Novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Air Time: A Charlotte McNally Novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Mira Books. September 2009. ISBN #: 9780778327196

Back in the 1980s one could travel to parts of the Far East and buy copycat handbags, wallets, suitcases and more at phenomenal savings, albeit with a pretty hefty flight fee for the romp! But now Hank Phillippi Ryan tackles another side of this sinister traffic in fake couture with famous labels ascribed to each purchase stemming from Paris and sold anywhere in the world. Only the added costs are higher than any reader could imagine!

Charlie McNally is at it again, hooked into another award-winning undercover story that will perhaps stymie her insecurities for another year but which are forcing her to face even greater personal and career hurdles!

Charlie and Franklin are on their way to have an initial interview with a woman who is willing to talk about the Prada look-alike pocketbooks that are making famous companies lose a substantial chunk of change in their profit margins. But after she meets another woman in the airport, she begins to realize this scamming goes quite deeper. For there are those who sell fake copies at home show and will commit any crime to keep these sales moving. The only way to get the scoop is to go undercover, an opportunity Charlie just can't resist.

How deep is one's career drive that one would risk losing one's life and one's only meaningful love? Is Charlie just driven by the competition in her TV journalistic field or is there more to an addiction to suspense and danger? While the pace in this third and last Charlotte McNally series drives along at breakneck speed, the reader is forced to realize he or she doesn't want Charlie to lose her Josh and begins to get annoyed at Charlie for having her priorities rather skewed! But the conclusion of this mystery overrides those reactions by miles as the central, secret criminals in this high-drama cast are uncovered.

Air Time is a little bit more on the serious side but it still manages to rivet the reader on a controversial issue, the rage for "brands" that will drive some to mayhem and murder! Kudos to Ms. Ryan for an exhilarating, interesting, mysterious and romantic read!

Becoming the Most Important Person in the Room by Rose Rosetree

Becoming the Most Important Person in the Room: Your 30-Day Plan for Empath Empowerment by Rose Rosetree. Women's Intuition Worldwide, L.L.C. Publication. 2009. ISBN #: 9780975253878

Rose Rosetree has written a book focused on awakening and enlivening your sensitivity to the world around and within you! This is commonly referred to as being empathic. No, it's not weird self-help but is about one's sensitivity to the world of "mind, body, spirit, intellect, soul, emotions and environment." Just what would that do for a man or woman?

Providing 30 days of exercises and meditations, the author describes how life-changing these activities may be as you become the vibrantly alive person you were meant to be. The exercises enable one to shut off or out exterior, deafening noise that often clogs one's awareness since we so often wind up turning off so much else beside the noise in a naturally defensive posture; the results of learning to distinguish sounds set up a whole new parameter of acting and reacting. The author also clarifies the difference between being an empath and intuitive gifts that are quite different.

One also begins to acquire the skill of checking one's reactions by stopping to ask what I want or am thinking right now immediately before responding to a "must" or "should" questions which often besiege us in our very busy lifestyles. The reader is even invited to examine how one communicates with a Higher Power, God, or whatever name one uses for a spiritual power to whom one speaks or prays. Emotional healing may be fostered by the awareness growing out of these meditations. These are a very few items included in this varied, comprehensive text about becoming an empath.

The result strikes this reader as not only special for someone who feels like a shadow in the midst of a crowd but also uniquely appropriate for so many in this world who have evolved into human beings living in a mechanical fashion, numb to the world once known so vividly as children.

Being the Most Important Person in the Room isn't about becoming an ego-maniac but a fully empowered man or woman equipped to embrace "ALL" of life's beauty, power, pleasure and so much more! Quite impressive and very, very interesting!

Who Stole My Soul? A Dialogue with the Devil on the Meaning of Life by Vishwa Prakash

Who Stole My Soul? A Dialogue with the Devil on the Meaning of Life by Vishwa Prakash. Synergy Books. November 2009. ISBN #: 97809823114050

"Confused and directionless in a world where good things seem to happen to bad people, and bad things to good people," begins this fascinating meditation on the wisdom required to live a purposeful life! Most of the advice offered here arises from an unwillingness to see things the way they really are, and the Devil is out to set us straight!

Written with a tongue-in-cheek, funny style, the narrator Devil immediately tackles the largest enemy of peaceful living - fears and fantasies. The former are clearly recognized by everyone, but the latter advice calls for some honest self-examination. For instance, there are the lustful fantasies of both males and females that are followed by seeking the "perfect" spouse with whom one can live forever in "domestic harmony." When protesting with sentimental excuses, the Devil quickly cuts off the human for his "bumble-babble...If you begin to bore me with some bombastic Godly spiel, then I'll just lick my lips and chomp your head off." No arguing there...

The Devil even tackles some topics that one doesn't normally consider such as the power of laughter to heal the deepest wounds and help one cope with the toughest challenges like depression and illness. Again, the value of self-giving is mocked by our fiendish narrator. And wonder of wonders, "God and religion are not the same thing!" Add to that humans will never know the difference because they are so busy sucking up and competitively trying to complete their self-made plans!

There is so much more here to enjoy and to stop in order to truly meditate on what shouldn't be glossed over! Numerous quotes from writers of all cultural persuasions are spread throughout the text, making one realize that much research has gone into this work which offers a goldmine in its flip but potent style reminiscent of C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters.

Nicely done, Vishwa Prakash!