Saturday, December 31, 2011

Legacy of the Highlands by Harriet Schultz

Legacy of the Highlands. Harriet Schultz. Kindle Edition. Cottage Park Press. 443 KB. ISBN #: B0062LPAO2.

After a passionate, sexy evening, Will Cameron goes out to buy some ice cream. He's worried and has something to tell his wife, Alexandra or Alex, but decides not to mar a perfect evening. Four hours later Alex awakens to find two policemen at her door, announcing Will is dead. She's obviously overcome and her friend Francie helps her make it through the funeral and luncheon held thereafter. Alex blames herself for mentioning the alley that was a quicker way home but also the place where her beloved was killed!

She's also annoyed that Will's former best but now estranged friend has shown up for the funeral but is so overcome with grief and inability to handle Will's family and friends that she allows Diego Navarro to take over. She tells him she has to get to Logan Airport and get out of Boston and soon thereafter she is comfortably resting and recovering in Diego's Florida home, a luxurious retreat where rest and food prepared by a caring maid allows Alex to begin the healing process. But Diego has something to confess to Alex as well as his overwhelming feelings for her that are beginning to slip out. More and more, she is also responding to him, a rather incredible response given the depth of her love for Will and the short passage of time since his death. Whatever is happening here?

The plot thickens as a family secret and an ultimate betrayal connected with Scotland begins to emerge. Scotland has small segments of its population who want separation from England and have signed a certain document in which members of an elite group vow to do everything possible to further the cause of separation from England - and not peaceful. Yes, financial and other agreements leading to Scottish independence are not enough for this group, and Will becomes the means to punish the one who chose other priorities. How will they do it? The story moves from Boston to Florida to Boston to Scotland and back home to Boston. Will's family is guarding some devastating facts that prove to be unforgiveable. Punish the family before the betrayer. But they don't realize that Diego and his bodyguard, a former Massad agent, have different plans and they are not peaceful either? How much will Alex play along?

Harriet Schultz has written a fascinating mystery/thriller novel. There's a bit too much of waiting for the story to evolve but it's worth the wait as events begin to spin out of control both on the personal front between Diego and Alex and on the international front for those seeking revenge. Will there be a satisfactory finale? Read it and discover what possibilities follow for all involved in this lethal story! Nicely done, Ms. Schultz!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The First Rule of Ten - A Tenzing Norbu Mystery by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

The First Rule of Ten: A Tenzing Norbu Mystery. Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay. Hay House, Inc.  January 2012. 312 pages. ISBN #: 9781401937768.

We meet Tenzing Norbu on a very bad day! He has been grazed by a bullet and he knows if he keeps it up, he'll be dead and definitely off the road to enlightenment that he has been following for years since he was a Tibetan monk. His life is turned even more upside down when a woman shows up in front of his home. She's a former druggie and cult follower now looking for an old friend, Zimmy. Ten, as he's called, puts her off and she sadly leaves, followed the next day by a messenger who announces she's been murdered. Ten's overwhelmed, to say the least and wonders why he's so off-track in being attuned to the whole person in front of him that he missed something wrong or chose to ignore the faint glimmer that might have saved her life - or might not have!

The rest of the novel is a complex journey and mystery in which Ten explores quite a few obnoxious and shady characters associated with the cult, some very prosperous businessmen who seem to have a rather unique interest in the land owned by the cult and that owned by its neighbors, some innocent neighbors who seem to be falling prey to some lethal diseases and medical problems, and of course those who are assisting Ten with his research and technological needs.

Add to that a soulful cat, Tank, and a pretty new girlfriend who begins to care but is put off very quickly by Ten's brusque occasional responses - but still hangs around...

Change happens and how does one flow with the ups and downs of those vicissitudes without losing one's cool or as Ten would put it, flowing with the connections, dealing with the paradoxes, caring without getting in the way?

To say more would be unfair, but this is a grand read that is fun, wise, thrilling, and quite different from the stereotypical mystery novel. This reviewer absolutely loved it and can't wait to read the next book in the series!!! Great story!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hidden Summit - A Virgin River Novel by Robyn Carr

Hidden Summit - A Virgin River Novel. Robyn Carr. An MIRA book from Harlequin. 352 pages. ISBN #: 9780778313007.

Leslie Petruso and Conner Danson are some duo! Both are loaded with pain and look forward to a life unencumbered with a member of the opposite sex. Leslie was married to a man who wound up cheating on her and now, even though they are divorced, just won't leave her alone. So she leaves to take a job as far away as she can get from him as she knows her old friends and neighbors either pity her or wonder what she did to push Greg into the arms of another woman who is now carrying a baby he swore he never wanted when married to Leslie. Off she goes to a job where her former skills are respected and people seem more than kind and welcoming!

Conner Danson is divorced as well from a woman who slept with anyone available, almost to the point of an illness. Add to that he was unfortunate enough to witness a murder. While he is waiting to testify against the successful businessman killer, his business is burned to the ground and he receives threats of worse to come in the future if he dares to go to court. So he has been placed under protection with an alias and arrives in the same town as Leslie. But he's not so comfortable with that for many reasons the reader will learn.

When Leslie and Conner meet, both are very careful not to get connected even though the sparks are very clear to each one. As time goes by, both begin to talk, date, and then on to a hot, steamy closeness that belies their original intentions. However, things become complicated on both sides when Greg appears on the scene and Conner wants to share the truth with Leslie.

The pages fly by in this quick-paced, tense, emotional, and passionate story that will thrill every reader who loves romance fiction. Robyn Carr knows how to craft a great story within the romance that keeps the reader flying through the pages, wanting to have the mystery elements come to a satisfying closure but totally unsure until the very end how that will be accomplished. Great story, Robyn Carr!

Voices of the Dead by Peter Leonard

Voices of the Dead. Peter Leonard. Introduction by Elmore Leonard. The Story Plant. January 2012. 320 pages. ISBN #: 9781611880328.

Harry Levin, is a scrap metal dealer who has become successful businessman. His life is turned upside down when his daughter is killed in a car crash. He travels to Washington D.C. and then Germany to find the man who callously killed his daughter and received no penalty for this horrific murder. But when he finally figures out who the man actually is, he tries to approach him and is attacked by the man's bodyguard. Fortunately, Harry has no problem handling the attacker but he is horrified by the callous treatment of the man who killed his daughter, a casual offer to pay for the funeral. This simple, poignant tale, in which Harry himself barely displays any emotion other than anger and some mention of tears, becomes even more terrible when Harry discovers that this man is the notorious Ernst Hess, now a German diplomat still carrying out unbelievably awful deeds!

The reader learns that Harry Levin is a Holocaust survivor who escaped being shot to death by playing dead and then crawling out of a hole filled with other dead bodies during World War II. After following Hess, he discovers Hess is still doing something to Jews that absolutely must stop. The story of the chase between the two, with Hess realizing who Harry is and determined to stop him from pursuing his course and Harry looking for proof to finally get some justice on many levels, is tautly plotted and gripping on every page.

This is a story that must be told, even if it is in fiction form, for it is still occurring in some parts of the world today. No spoilers here - there is so much more that will hold the reader in awe and horror, but one can't stop reading...and hoping that justice must be accomplished. What a story - fine, fine writing Peter Leonard!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Poor Richard's Lament: A Most Timely Tale by Tom Fitzgerald

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Poor Richard's Lament: A Most Timely Tale. Tom Fitzgerald. Hobblebush Books. 2012.  640 pages. ISBN #: 9780984592135.

Expediency is the heart of Tom Fitzgerald's foray into the imaginary life of Benjamin Franklin. For two hundred years have passed since the death of this notable American hero, years that Ben has had to pen the story of his life and include all of his wrongdoings. But Ben has left out quite a bit, and now he stands before his colleagues, now Judges, Alexander Wedderburn, John Adams and the Reverend William Smith. In multiple scenes that almost seem like Scrooge being judged in the well-known A Christmas Carol, heavenly swirls of colors, smoke, and lightning flashes accompany each new revelation that surprisingly damns this historical giant!

For as we proceed, we come to learn that while Ben lived by the virtues of Industry, Frugality, Resolution, Order, Cleanliness, Silence, Chastity, Sincerity, Temperance, Justice, Moderation, and Humility, Expediency was forefront in the way he treated his family. A fine balance of humor and tragedy fill each story as we learn of Ben's abandonment of his wife for years at a time, a sickly woman whose greatest yearning was for the return of her beloved husband. When Ben turned from loyalty to King George III of England, he unfortunately demanded his son William do the same and disowned him as a son after he refused to do so. He who taught his son to always be loyal betrayed both King and progeny forever! 

Fitzgerald is ruthless the way he has the Judges present scenes of Ben and other citizen's slaves being ordered around, beaten, and even tortured to death for amusement. He who spoke about the equality of all denies both the equality of women and slaves. While this sounds severe, Fitzgerald does manage to combine irony, some funny scenes, and a buffoon-like characterization of the Judges that keeps the reader intrigued and flipping the pages.

Finally, Ben is allowed to visit contemporary Philadelphia and other American cities he formerly knew and make a difference. But history repeats itself not for Ben but for others who supposedly admire him but certainly live lives that are bound by the same sense of expediency and hypocrisy, some almost ridiculous and some with horrific results. They include a President and his aide who will do anything to guarantee winning the next election, a drug-free man trying to forge a new life clean of the killer crack and helping others to live instead from a life of dignity and self-respect.

Poor Richard's Lament is certainly not light reading, however this description hardly covers the amazing breadth of Ben's life and influence that is covered herein. Ben is a sympathetic Petitioner and it is the potent scenes that speak most loudly, much more than anyone else's pompous words. This novel is so cleverly constructed and so informative of what the reader probably doesn't know about Ben Franklin's life that the reader is riveted to every page and more so as one progresses. Yes, Ben, "make one's self acceptable in one's own eyes the eyes of others foremostly." Great literate historical fiction - one of the most cleverly crafted novels this reviewer has read in years!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No Story to Tell: A Novel by K. J. Steele

No Story to Tell: A Novel. K. J. Steele. Fiction Studio Books. 2011. 388 pages. ISBN #: 9781936558209.

Victoria Lackey is a fighting survivor, beginning on the day of her birthday when her twin died and she lived. Her family weren't too thrilled with her and wished her brother had lived. One doesn't need too much of an imagination to know how she grew up; her abusive father and cowering mother die young, followed by an Aunt; and Victoria falls where she will. It's amazing as we progress and meet Bobby her husband who treats her more like a child and possession than a wife. Then we meet her friend, Rose, who seems to be the only one who is sensitive to Victoria's inner world - a world no one in this small town of Hinkley really knows about - oh what a surprise is waiting to burst out of its shell!

Then we meet Elliot Spencer, the man who thinks and feels so widely that he speaks to Victoria's dreams in a way that mirrors so much within any reader's life as well. For Victoria wanted to be a dancer but the people around her, except for her mother who once fought for her to be in a dance recital, thwart her every attempt. Now she decides to give in to the fancy to start a dance school. Where will it go?

How will Bobby react to his new woman who most of the time reacts with fear and submission to him, while he in turn demeans and commands her. What choices does she have. The plot evolves with some strange phone calls and messages that Victoria believes are coming from Elliot and which encourage her more. Again, what a surprise is coming that will shock readers to the core!

One can dream about the "road not taken," but Victoria is a well-developed character who begins to observe her world and dream about possibilities, something almost every reader can relate to in some way.

No Story To Tell is about recreating one's world - something to tell one's self more than other dreamers and idlers! Fascinating read, Ms. Steele!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fool's Mate by Laura Pedersen

Fool's Mate. Laura Pedersen. CreateSpace Publisher. 2011. 452 pages. ISBN #: 9781463652883.

Josie Kincaid is a cable news network journalist who wants to be reporter who makes a momentous, award-winning contribution to her job. But Josie's a definite out-of-the-box character who is funny, sloppy, and tough lady who is often her own worst enemy. She courts disaster on the job, has cost the company a heap of money by getting into dangerous situations and leaving behind costly wrecks. Her excessive drinking and reputation as the gal who sleeps around with anyone certainly don't help her public persona.

Now she's royally ticked that her company is chipping away with budget cuts and a newbie has been placed in her cubicle, a posh, upscale Yale graduate lawyer who is smart, preppy, and serious, everything that Josie isn't. About all they have in common is having famous parents. That's all about to change, and the journey is the exciting concern of this very funny novel. It all begins when Calvin, the newbie, marries a "society" gal, and Calvin and Josie are thrown together in a journey to Africa, a trip that will change everything and require Josie to grow up fast. Is she up to the task?

Rambunctious and still attracted to Calvin, Josie finally faces the seriousness of a threatening election situation in North Africa that could change all of Europe. Now she has to begin learning to listen to her head and heart about the news and Calvin! What a trip!

It's been quite a while since this reviewer read a Pedersen novel; her skill has evolved in a grand way that I found so pleasing! Fool's Mate bounces along and then proceeds at a taut, riveting pace as the cast of characters in this cleverly-crafted novel live, learn, and grow in a way that gives new meaning to folly and wisdom!!! Delightful!!!

You're Not the One by Alexandra Potter

You're Not the One. Alexandra Potter. Penguin Group, USA. 2011. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9780452296909.

Lucy Hemingway and Nat Kennedy believed they were bound together ever since they visited Venice, Italy and hear a message about those couples who kiss on a gondola traveling under a certain bridge. They each have a memento of that experience and are totally elated with knowing how deep and solid their love is and will endure!!!

But things crash when Nat meets someone else and tells Lucy he is sorry but he will be getting married. It's now ten years later and Lucy pretends it is "water under the bridge" as the saying go. But deep down, she has never stopped loving Nat and wondering what happened to their guaranteed dream life together. Meanwhile, she's an assistant at an art gallery with an owner, Magda, who wants to be Lucy's matchmaker. What follows is as much of a mystery as a romance as Lucy on an assignment to deliver art pieces to a buyer discovers that the purchaser is Nat. As the days go by, they discover their new love but also discover some irritating quirks about each other that are both funny and yet puzzling. How is the promise of eternal love and never being unconnected to happen when they cannot tolerate each other for more than a few minutes?

And what about Adam whom Lucy meets and could really love getting to know and date were it not for Nat who keeps popping up in Lucy's world too often for it to be coincidence? Must Lucy and Nat do something to break what now feels like a curse? How many misunderstandings can Adam endure? What about Lucy's sister who was formerly so cold and uncaring and now reveals a devastating secret that changes Lucy's perspective on all the aspects of her crazy bohemian life?

You're Not the One is a funny, romantic, mysterious, intriguing read you won't forget for a long time. It certainly makes one think about who is "the One!"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Other Life: A Novel by Ellen Meister

The Other Life: A Novel. Ellen Meister. Penguin Group USA. 320 pages. ISBN #: 9780425243374. SEE SPECIAL OFFER AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE!

So many readers have pondered Robert Frost's poem where one wonders what life would have been like on "The Road Not Taken." But what if one had the opportunity to do just that, to see what life would yield if one had made a different decision about one's lover or spouse, one's job or anything else one considers of ultimate importance?

Quinn Braverman lives two lives. As a child, she learned that there were portals she could enter that would take her to another world. Her mother knows about these entrances into another world existing at the same time as the present one but full of different places and "other" people. Quinn isn't a very secure person and at one time ditched her needy ex-boyfriend, Eugene, to marry Lewis, the man who is caring, observant, and totally in tune with pleasing Quinn rather than himself! Sounds like a dream, right?

But Quinn's life is suddenly turned upside down when she discovers her pregnancy is in danger and the baby she is carrying has a huge medical problem. So is suburban life with this new devastating problem one to continue or should she see what it would be like if she had actually stayed with Eugene in his musical, citified life?Where would she be and more important, who would she be in that other world?

It's a terrifying journey yet one Quinn cannot stop pursuing. There's a mystery connected with her deceased, artistic mother to which Quinn seeks an answer, hoping to achieve peace with her presently questionable life. She seems to sense that the answers will not only determine what her marriage will be like in the future but also help her make the very important decision about this as yet unborn child.

The Other Life is riveting reading and finely written. It deserves a wide audience for its tense, complex, and yes, painful but beautiful world! Finely done, Ms. Meister!!!

Ellen Meister, author of THE OTHER LIFE is doing something really fun for Book Clubs! She just launched a program to thank book club members by name in the acknowledgments section of her next book. She has a Book Club Guestbook on her site now and anyone in a book group that read or plans to read THE OTHER LIFE is free to sign up. All they need to do is visit her site at and fill out the form. That's it!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Event Horizon Conspiracy by Robert E. Bonson

Event Horizon Conspiracy. Robert E. Bonson. Xlibris Corporation. 2011. 208 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781465376183.

A man walks toward a limousine driver who nods and opens the door for him. The doors close and locks are in place. For an unspecified reason, the passenger panics and panics and panics; he then tries to get out of the car, fails, and succumbs to a mind-boggling, claustrophobic, fearsome pain that spreads and spreads!

So begins this story of two researchers who have disappeared and the attempt to find them by a relative and Russell, our hero with past experience in aeronautics, criminal investigations and mystery writing. As the story progresses, it seems that this rather secretive research about rDNA is tied to the 2012 Mayan Calendar feverish public commentary about the end of the world or some other scenarios just as shocking and ultimately ending with the same demise of Earth.

What is happening at a funeral home where dead people are buried but no families are involved in the final days of the deceased? Why are there two murders that follow rapidly upon the sharing of secretive information that just might lead the investigators closer to finding one dead researcher and one who still might be alive? If the research isn't connected to the Mayan calendar predictions but instead a diabolical plot to eliminate all but a select few, what can and can't be done to prevent such a horrific possibility from coming to pass?

Robert Bonson's novels have always been intriguing, but this mystery specifically exceeds all of his earlier stories. The complexity of the plot is credible, fear-filled to the point of producing anxiety, and obviously well-researched. The information behind the incredible schemes is depicted in layperson's terms, with enough theoretical possibilities to make the reader believe he or she is right there and that this will indeed all come to pass!

Congratulations Robert E. Bonson on a fascinating, gripping mystery and adventure tale sure to engage many future readers!!! Very nicely done!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

At The Mercy of the Queen - A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Anne Clinard Barnhill

At The Mercy of The Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. St. Martin's Press. January 2012. 448 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780312662134.

Lady Margaret Shelton, or Madge as she is known throughout the novel, arrives at the Court of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Madge is 15, close in age to Anne, who is soon to wed Henry. For Henry's late Queen has been put aside, Henry has formed his own Church of England after splitting with Rome over his soon-to-be-Queen Anne. It's a dangerous time for all but the King, who revels only in a reign that gathers more and more wealth from the old Church, delightful food and drink, and of course his voracious sexual appetite now focused solely on Anne. But this novel is as much about Madge as it is Anne Boleyn. For Madge's fortune is explicitly tied to the ups and downs of Henry and Anne's relationship. And all too soon, there are more "down" moments!

Anne and Madge are enigmas, one minute displaying piety and virtue and the next speaking about the most outrageous forms of lovemaking, etc. For neither, quite obviously, is sure of how to gain and keep love. Both are slow to realize how a word spoken impetuously can cascade into dramatic scenes that could cause banishment or even death. Madge is betrothed to a loathsome Sir Norris while she madly falls in love with another man of no real consequence in Henry's Court, Arthur. Anne urges Madge on, as her own romance with the King waxes and wanes, decreasing as she gives birth to a girl and then proceeds to miscarry other babes, including one who would have been the long-sought-after Prince or heir to Henry.

At one point, the Queen will sacrifice the virtue of Madge in order to regain her husband's fancy, a plan that quickly falls apart as Henry suspects the "French" techniques of love as beyond debauchery and obscene. Ironically, the other members of the Court, outside of Cromwell and Jane Seymour, have little place in this tale, even Anne's brother, George.

Having read many, many accounts of Queen Anne Boleyn, this reviewer didn't expect to be so enthralled with another account of same, but Anne Barnhill has managed to craft a thrilling, human, and inspiring portrait of two characters who really did so little to deserve admiration, beyond their obvious physical beauty and charm, but who manage to have readers rooting for their success, even when one knows the end of the story for Anne.

Well-done, Anne Clinard Barnhill! Anne Boleyn is much more likable and probable in your depiction. This is a graceful, spicy, terrible, and totally engaging novel!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Because of You by Cathy Maxwell

Because of You. Cathy Maxwell. Avon Romance Publishers. October 2011. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9780380797103.

"It's not right to hold onto the past once it is done and over." These are words that Yale Carderock thinks and feels on a daily basis. Being a rake is often depicted as fun, adventurous, and far above the mundane thoughts and actions of the majority of people. Yale would have agreed years ago when he was in the throes of his own hedonistic lifestyle, but he's paid dearly for those years, not so much in money as in wrecked relationships. First, he's come back to find his father, with whom he'd hoped to have a stormy but ultimately successful reconciliation, is dead. Second, his reputation is so besmirched that it seems almost hopeless for him to resume living in that village within Northumberland, England in 1806. But he's in for some unanticipated challenges, the chief one being a very spunky female.

Samantha Northrup is living alone and on the verge of being evicted from the vicarage home where she's lived her entire life, the home where her father the Vicar earned the respect and reverence of his parish, that is until he died and they had grander ideas for new residents. It's not easy being treated like an old shoe and Samantha doesn't know what to do next. How shocked she is when an unknown man appears and insists on her giving him the keys to the secret Ayleborough vault.

After their initially charged conversation and reaction to each other, Marvin Browne as he calls himself becomes deathly ill and Samantha will be the one who fights for his life and nurses him back to health. From there on the plot spins wildly with the neighbors forcing the two to marry because "Marvin" has been naked in front of Samantha, then remarried because she was first married to a man with a stolen name. If one doesn't read this as an obvious tongue-in-cheek satire, one would fail to appreciate this as being downright silly.

Not wanting to provide a spoiler, suffice to say that now the larger conflict follows with Yale's brother, the Duke, wanting Yale to assume his rightful place in the family and village and then a devastating loss to his personal business. Through it all, the passion between Yale and Samantha increases, with each vowing no attachment to the other person. It's a rather futile goal in the face of the steamy sex and connection that's being solidly forged in more ways than one.

Romance fiction lovers will love this novel which adds interesting local and foreign elements to an exciting and endearing story of seduction out of conformity in so many ways.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wendy Wax Giveaway Opportunity!


Starting this week, Ten Beach Road author Wendy Wax is offering a book a week for each of six weeks, all women’s fiction.

This week is week one and the winner will receive a copy of Carly Phillips’ new bestseller SERENDIPITY. This Saturday morning week two starts and highlights Jill Shalvis’s latest.

In the following weeks, one reader a week will be randomly selected to receive a book. Coming weeks will offer the latest novels from first novelist K.J. Steele, Carol Snow, Marie Skinner and Wendy.

To enter, readers just go to, click on Contest News: Enter Wendy’s Latest Giveaway Now, and enter their email address as directed and they are in the running. Each Saturday begins a new giveaway and offers another chance to enter.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Charles Dickens: A Life by Jane Smiley

Charles Dickens: A Life. Jane Smiley. Penguin Group (USA). November 2011. 224 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143119920.

Charles Dickens is famous for depicting the lower class to the middle and upper classes of England and eventually the world, an existence most would prefer to acknowledge. But few realize how driven Dickens was to produce social results that would put an end to the evil and devastating consequences of poverty and ill-treatment far too many poor people endured in that revolutionary time. Jane Smiley, a scholarly and best-selling author, presents the entire life of Charles Dickens in a way that enhances our admiration and respect for this prodigious author.

He is revered for the way he combined artistic vision with social action in a new world of capitalism rapidly expanding. Thus he presents new ideas: "care and respect are owed to the weakest and meekest in society, rather than to the strongest; that the ways in which class and money divide humans from one another are artificial and dangerous; that pleasure and physical comfort are positive goods; that the spiritual lives of the powerful have social and economic ramifications."

Smiley then proceeds to depict the familial and authorial characteristics of this man who penned novels, short stories, and plays, often in serial form. We learn how his style evolved as he developed an uncanny sense of what people responded to, a sort of early understanding of the power of advertising. By placing the humorous with the tragic, he forced readers to face social inequalities and the consequent suffering therein. Smiley sees his weakness in providing a connective understanding of this world rather than providing a collective solution that is more political in nature. We also realize something heretofore unknown, that it was Dickens' own background that he was forced to dig into and expose, with the revelation of past experiences in social context. It led him to greater awareness of the power of important individuals that often expressed itself in what were truly moments of weakness rather than strength.

Dickens believed that mental attitude was to prevail over whatever challenging and daunting experiences life throws one's way. When it came to family, however, Dickens was unable to apply this recognized philosophical truth. He had a relatively content relationship with his wife and multiple children yet at times was guilty of not only negligence but perhaps of infidelity, amply described in these pages. Smiley then takes us through the plot and characterizations of each novel, describing what worked and failed to work; we note how Dickens learned from his mistakes and lack of connection, always driven by the financial elements driven by his increasing or dwindling sales. His love of the theater is recorded, a fact few know about this creative writer, a love that was actually a preference that remained relatively unfulfilled except for some short-lived projects in that genre.

All in all, Jane Smiley has given the world a comprehensive, fascinating portrait of a writer who was known as England's first novelist and whose novels continue to be read and dramatized in movie and play form throughout the world. Excellent biography, Ms. Smiley!

James Joyce: A Life by Edna O'Brien

James Joyce: A Life. Edna O'Brien. Penguin Lives - Penguin Books, USA. November 2011. 192 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143119937.

Emotionally bereft, haunted by poverty, cynical of religion and politics, James Joyce spends his whole life determined to grasp every experience to its dregs. Edna O'Brien masterfully conveys how these attitudes and consequent behaviors both attracted and repulsed professional and consumer readers throughout Joyce's stressful, conflict-ridden life. In the beginning of his life, he moves from being an ardent Catholic to one who projects his hatred of his own lusts upon the priests who formerly inspired him. A fluctuating love-hate relationship exists between him and the predominant political leaders of his time as well. Yet O'Brien doesn't allow the reader to forget that he passionately loved the land he was to reject for most of his tortured life, condemning them as he wrote, "Poets were the keepers of spirituality and priests the destroyers and usurpers."

Ibsen is Joyce's first love, sharing with him a hatred of hypocrisy and falsity. Joyce read voraciously throughout his whole life, and it is that knowledge as well as every facet of his own world that will fill the pages of Ulysses, the work he is most famous for crafting. Support and rejection fluctuate from Joyce's family, including his closest brother Stanislaus. O'Brien calls the relationship with Joyce's mother, as with all brilliant writers, "the uncharted deep." For Joyce it was an association of the Host of Catholicism, the prostitutes and his mother's tenderness," hardly associations yielding a good connection to family, romance, and religion. He will wed Nora Barnacle and their marriage will be full of attraction and repulsion as life becomes more ordinary when the writer can revel only in the extraordinary, unique, and almost frenetic moments that give purpose to his understanding and writing.

Memory and exile are the elements fueling the pages of his novels and stories, to which one must add knowledge. O'Brien takes us through each work Joyce constructed, the reactions of individuals and Ireland and the difficulties in publishing Joyce knew, chiefly because of what was perceived to be criticism highlighted with the most obscene language and images. Sexual passion continues to fuel his life with Nora, a woman who pleased him in this one way but could never even come close to understanding his mind. His family life is even more stressed later on with the mental instability of his daughter, Lucia, a woman who finally is committed yet who remarkably resembles her father in so many of her ramblings and associations.

While many know the highlights of James Joyce's life, Edna O'Brien presents her knowledge and analysis with aplomb, implying with depth the undercurrents of Joyce's mind and soul, while stating the obvious; interpreting and making connections that the average reader might miss while again implying that so few truly understood what drove Joyce's scurrilous and debasing depiction of life's grand and sordid aspects. Brief but potent, O'Brien's biography of James Joyce is a phenomenal read about an unfathomable writer - both are brilliant, indeed!!!

The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White

The Strangers on Montagu Street. Karen White. Penguin Group (USA). November 2011. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451235268.

It's 5:15 a.m. and the phone and doorbell are ringing in Melanie's home. While she's used to seeing and hearing voices of dead spirits at all times of the day, she doesn't like the messages she's hearing about listening to her heart. So far she's been guarding her heart quite fiercely, thank you very much. So how surprised is she when Jack, her ex-boyfriend and whom she secretly yearns, is at the door, asking her to house his daughter who has trekked her way to his door after her mother died. Jack never even knew until now that he has a daughter, a surly, angry gal at that!

Several plot elements are happening here which basically involve voices and things violently moving by unknown hands, voices haunting Melanie with incessant messages involving Jack's daughter, Nola, and the mystery behind a Gothic dollhouse temporarily being held at Melanie's mother's house.

Nola's tough exterior doesn't frighten Melanie as they share the experience of abandonment and both search for healing. Their lack of trust frequently complicates the story, a hesitation and cynicism that is quite understandable and can truly only be understood by those who have known the same. As Nola slowly and not without clashes adapts to her father's presence and insistence on his love, she becomes the connection with some very sad and other very angry spirits. She and Melanie's Mom, as well as best friend Sophie and Jack, prompt Melanie to investigate further. Replete with mysterious, dark, and many terror-filled pages, this novel has enough multiple threads to keep the reader riveted and furiously flipping the pages to read faster.

The journey Melanie and Jack shares has a consistent pattern to it. Banter together with a constant edge, followed by a resisted tender moment, followed by a thoughtless or accusatory comment, flight in anger or frustration, and then an appearance where neither acknowledges the previous altercation. Each deeply yearns for and needs the other, but both are battle-shy and ultra-hesitant to go where their heart is indeed directing and suggesting. Passion is frequently waylaid until...

Karen White is a skilled writer deftly crafting a mysterious and fascinating ghost story with romance and a touch of Southern history threaded into its engrossing pages. Well done, Ms. White - I absolutely loved this novel!!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Winter Discovery by Michael Baron

A Winter Discovery. Michael Baron. The Story Plant. November 2011. 60 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781611880274.

Reese Rubato and his family are characters returning from Michael Baron's earlier work, When You Went Away. Reese doesn't miss much and has a million questions as every 5 year-old boy does. For now, it's winter and Christmas is approaching. He misses his Mom or one should more correctly say he misses not knowing her. But all of a sudden something happens that makes him realize she's not far away at all. Yes, it's a gooey feeling it creates inside him but one he loves and cherishes every time it happens.

This is a very brief story that is unusually free of tense conflict but is no less charming and thrilling for that absence. Reese's Dad and step-Mom are very patient and loving with Reese, and the family enjoys the preparations for the big holiday with humor, seriousness, and obvious care.

Reese is going to have the most memorable Christmas possible but until then enjoy reading about snowflakes, living snowmen, and so much more. Michael Baron knows how to touch every emotion a reader could experience and the feeling one gets is after having a satisfying and delicious meal!!! Exquisite story, Michael Baron!

Against the Storm by Kat Martin

Against the Storm: The Raines of Wind Canyon. Kat Martin. MIRA book from Harlequin. October 2011. 400 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780778312925.

Maggie O'Connell is sitting in a bar when she sees a wild conflict break out between a young famous rock singer and his wife and her lawyer, the spark being the fact his wife wants a divorce. A young, sexy-looking, powerful guy breaks in and manages to take out the singer and his companions. Maggie tries to take pictures but the guy takes away her camera and erases the photos. She's annoyed but drawn to this guy who brooks no disagreement. Her friend reminds Maggie of her own present problem and how she might want to connect with this guy after getting his card and phone number. It's not too long before she receives a frightening message on her phone machine that makes her quickly decide to try to engage his help.

Nothing is simple in this multi-layered-plotted story. Trace quickly decides to help Maggie, although his stronger instincts tell him he should walk away and stay uninvolved. He learns she's got a secret that is obviously an obstacle in her inability to get police help and protection for an obvious stalker. Add to that he finds her ultra-sexy, having a penchant for attractive red-headed women. At a certain point, he's sure he's had enough when he learns she's lying to him, plus his ex-girlfriend keeps showing up at the wrong times and always begging for more of what he's left in the past.

Meanwhile the phone messages and written messages inside her apartment heighten the suspense and Maggie's fear. It seems strange that her half-sister and baby appears in the middle of all this chaos and Trace learns one of his former clients has met an untimely and very suspicious end. The pace quickens as does Trace's decision to forgive Maggie; the passion quickly develops along with the threats. Trace is no dummy and while sharing his love of the ocean and ranches manages to solve the prevailing two mysteries of the novel, with a most satisfactory ending that is both surprising and thrilling.

Kat Martin's writing gets better and better. She writes a great mystery and adds just enough romance to entice and endear every reader. Great, haunting, and sizzling story, Ms. Martin!!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Red Bird's Song by Beth Trissel

Red Bird's Song. Beth Trissel. The Wild Rose Press. August 2010. 334 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781601548122.

Charity Edmonson is furious that her mother is insisting she marry someone she considers dull and boring. She would marry for love, but in Revolutionary America such is rarely the custom. However, this beautiful woman's life is about to dramatically change when a Shawnee war party attacks Charity's village, murdering her father and brother. Charity doesn't have much time to mourn her losses, as a Shawnee native named Wicomechee, or Meechee as she comes to call him, falls in love with Charity's beauty and spunky nature immediately.

Another native, Chaka, would have Charity for a wife, but his methods are cruel because he believes he can possess her by force and brutality. He is in for some very strong rebuffs in some very undignified scenes that increases the reader's empathy and support for Charity and Meechee's future together. Charity is not an easy catch however, and her humor and rebellious nature are amusing and anxiety-producing depending on the scene. She's one very modern woman!

But the romance is slow to spark, although the physical attraction between the two is immediate, for Charity observes over time the merciless nature of these warriors whose anger is fueled by the death and injustice they have repeatedly endured at the hands of the white men. So scalping and brutal attacks are a reality that strikes Charity as bestial and beyond the pale. For now, Charity is helping her friend, Emily, who was also kidnapped and is pregnant. Even that part of the plot is complex, when Emily meets a former lover, Colin, who escaped from a perilous situation to become a Shawnee warrior.

The story escalates when George III's red coats catch up with the natives, and all are forced to face their prejudice and hatred. Beth Trissel knows how to craft a simple but engaging story that produces mixed emotions and thoughts in the reader, with a surprising ending that the reader never suspects is coming. Very nicely done, Beth Trissel!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Becoming Marie Antoinette. Juliet Grey. Random House Publishing Group. August 2011. 480 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9780345523860.

Marie Antoinette's life began as the youngest archduchess of Austria, her mother, Maria Teresa, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire and Austria. Madam Antonia, as she is known until her marriage, is expected to excel in all academic subjects as well as social skills. For her mother is planning to unite the fortunes of Austria and France by wedding her daughter to the Dauphin, the son of King Louis XV. But Madame Antonia is just beginning her teen years when she discovers how she is to be remade in her mother's image of what a French Queen should be! Juliet Grey does a fine, fine job of conveying the stark and boring quality of this life by combining it with Marie's vivacious and humorous nature. If she keeps her spunk, a fine Queen she will be!

The novel proceeds with the reader receiving descriptions of wondrous clothing, meals, and landscapes in Marie's childhood world, broken by the devastating death of one sibling and departure of another to be Queen in another land. Slowly but surely, Marie realizes her role in life is to obey her mother and satisfy every demand for the sake of Austria. It's a heavy burden and one that prevents rebellion, given the alternative destiny of a break with France and more wars that accomplish nothing but death and destruction.

An amazing ceremony occurs when Marie is finally wed by proxy and travels through Austria into France. There she discovers a dauphin who is phenomenally shy and totally uninterested in touching Marie, let alone consummating their marriage. In the light of the King's flagrant flaunting of his mistress and other "loose" behavior occurring in the King's court, this quandary is irksome but then soon changes to sympathy and actual liking of the Dauphin. For he is a "man of the people" in his heart and mind and totally uninterested in the boring, garish world of the elite, a fascinating characterization given what was the norm of royal behavior at the time, completely and elaborately described in these pages. Lovers of fashion and style can immerse themselves in pages of haute French couture and cuisine of the 18th Century French court.

Marie and her husband evolve into sympathetic characters but not without their detractors, as Marie begins to spurn court etiquette, threatening a way of luxury and splendor for the entire French court but endearing the young couple to the reader and common people.

The novel ends on a hopeful note, where the Dauphin becomes King Louis XVI and Marie becomes the Queen of France. Each has a vision full of charity and benefit for the French people, the fulfillment of which will be presented in two forthcoming novels about their life. Juliet Grey's initial novel about the cursed Queen is quite innocent yet revealing. A young girl is forced to grow up fast and become the perfect "Queen," a sacrifice to politics as her mother would admit frequently. Her training is her childhood, one that terrorizes her more with fearful anticipation of failure than actual events that will someday be her nemesis. Etiquette is all and impression is everything! The machinations of a French court full of fawning and deception creates an atmosphere of distrust that is the norm rather than the exception, one that Marie herself sometimes exacerbates.

Congratulations, Ms. Grey, on your fine fictional account of this very real, audacious world and the transformation of a naive, unsure girl into a formidable worldly leader! Superbly done!

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

Lamb. Bonnie Nadzam. Other Press, LLC. September 2011. 288 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781590514375.

David Lamb is a middle-aged man disappointed in life, having recently been asked to take a long break from his job, suffered the death of his father, and having failed in a romantic relationship. So he's got a lot of pent-up hurt and anger inside; at least that's how it feels to the reader. It's not too long before the reader realizes he or she is not breathing often with fear and puzzlement. For David Lamb initially decides to teach 11 year-old Tommie a lesson when she, while her friends are watching, sashays up to him and asks for a cigarette. How he does it is shocking and mind-numbing, eliciting from the reader frantically passing questions about his sanity and her audacity. This is the pace and tone that unremittingly flows in the following pages.

Nadzam has presented what would be a character study of an innocent man trying to simply respond to life as it appears, to find some sense of normalcy in life. Giving something of that nature to Tommie is how David sees something valuable he has to offer. However, kidnapping an 11 year-old girl and rationalizing his way into her life as providing some love and stability, given the lack of some in her own background and present family life, is debatable and never quite convincing as the reader's mind keeps thinking this is all wrong and rather perverse, albeit not overtly so sexually.

Off they travel to the West where David seeks to introduce Tommie to the wild and free wilderness or camp life that turns out to be quite different from what both expect! His girlfriend even manages to show up and become a temporary part of this "family." David says it best, "There is a small person inside of him wishing to tell Tommie all about it and then another person inside of him crushing the wishes like empty beer cans against a cinder-block wall." But still he tries, knowing he will return Tommie to her mother. As their journey proceeds, other memories keep interfering with his plan and make him say things wise, foolish and confusing to Tommie's young ears. At the same time, this is more attention and care than Tammy's parents have given her in her entire life. Perhaps a glimpse inside this complex man or would-be Daddy (and more?) will touch this young girl's life in a positive way forever? Will she ultimately love or hate David long after she returns home? Read and decide!

Lamb is not a novel to like or dislike. It is a thriller that is more about inner thoughts and feelings, about communicating same to another hungry to hear and feel worthy of attention. It makes the reader begin to fully ponder the depth of character in humanity, not easily definable and yet more worthy because of the effort to understand and let the complexity lie as it is without judgment. Lamb is a risky but gripping read for sure!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Lady of the English. Elizabeth Chadwick. Sourcebooks, Incorporated. September 2011. 544 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781402250927.

Two women desire to be the Queen of 12th Century England. One, Adeliza, wife of Henry I, sees her role as an actual Queen to be that of peacemaker in a realm where loyalties are based on ambition and the acquisition of power through land and riches. Such loyalties are bound to fluctuate as the tides of power fluctuate over the years.

Another woman, Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, has been promised she will be Queen upon the King's passing. Henry believes he has guaranteed this in having his counselors and liege lords pledge their loyalty on bended knee to Matilda. This is Matilda's story, a journey of yearning and suffering as Stephen of Blois usurps the throne after Henry's death. Matilda is married to Geoffrey of Anjou, a brutal man who almost destroys his wife. Scathingly sarcastic, Geoffrey, however, is a superb military strategist and supports Matilda's quest for the crown only because he believes it will benefit his own dreams of power.

The plot is not as simple as described so far. There are moments of temporary victory, moments of intense sorrow, and ultimately moments when the realization strikes that the timing is all wrong for Matilda's ascension to Queen of England. Thus a brutal civil war begins that tears apart a country undeserving of the shifting spheres of loyalty and success that follow.

Adeliza, believing Matilda should rightly fulfill her queenly destiny, and the men who surround Matilda are complex characters as portrayed in this engaging novel. Matilda is remarkably unable to truly control her strategy and even disregards the advise of those more knowledgeable about how to win over the lords who begin to see Stephen's weaknesses. Adeliza risks much in her loyalty to Matilda, shown in some heartrending scenes that remain potent long after they are read. Indeed, Adeliza is frequently the more sympathetic character than Matilda, a tough woman who hides her heart because she fears it may be deemed weakness.

The Lady of the English is an interesting story about this little-known slice of history and the woman who spent so much of her life in truth preparing another and those around her for the role of ruling the formidable Kingdom of England. Fascinating Middle Ages historical fiction!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Anything by Michael Baron

Anything. Michael Baron. The Story Plant. October 2011. 290 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781611880212.

Ken and Melissa are two lawyers who have discovered each other and are about to be married. Melissa has dramatically changed Ken’s life without trying to, and Ken knows his life is fulfilled in a way it could never have been with all the stereotypical women he previously dated. One evening, however, when they are visiting her parents, a few days before their wedding, Ken realizes there is something from her past that has taken the joy out of her life, a loss clearly evident in the way she avoids looking at pictures from her teenage years. Up to now, Ken has been buying her gifts from a strange man who runs a unique jewelry shop. Everything from there is always different and always delights Melissa.

Ken returns to the shop and makes an agreement with Stephon, the owner. Ken is warned he may not like the outcome or consequences of the action he is about to take but refuses to heed the warning. During the magical trip he takes after that visit, he discovers the joyful childhood of his future bride until one fateful evening. He is devastated and on returning to the present, Melissa is appalled at his discovery as well. Ken, however, refuses to let go and returns to Stephon for one more trip to the past. To say more would be a definite spoiler but the story is far from over as Ken tries to change the past, which changes the present as well. Nothing, for sure, is solely as it appears.

The remainder of the story is a quest for recovery, one Ken will not release even though an old acquaintance advises him of its futility. The power of enduring love moves beyond our wildest dreams as the novel ends with a most unlikely ending, one that is not just a happily ever after story, but one that touches the heart with its true essence, a miracle indeed.

Michael Baron knows how to pull every string of a reader’s heart. The plot may seem implausible but there is enough mystery, magic, and deep abiding love to make this novel a pleasing story that would make a lovely movie as well. Charming and well-plotted for sure, Anything is a beautiful romance novel that will engage every reader who loves this genre!

To Wed a Wild Lord by Sabrina Jeffries

To Wed a Wild Lord. Sabrina Jeffries. Pocket Star Publishing. November 2011. 384 pages paperback. ISBN #: 9781451642407.

Lord Gabriel Sharpe’s heart has been broken twice already in his very young life. The first time came with the mysterious death of his parents and then with the untimely death of his friend, Roger Waverly. In between all of this mind-numbing grief comes a challenge from Roger’s sister to race “the needle’s thread,” a hair-raising course which turns into a single lane between boulders. Why would Gabe want to woo her but refuse her challenge? And what does his grandmother’s meddling ultimatum have to do with her anger over who he chooses to marry?

Gabe tells his grandmother he can’t die, in a race or otherwise, because he is “the Angel of Death.” She, of course, doesn’t have a clue what that means and only ascribes it to his impetuous nature. He truly believes he was the one who should have died in place of his parents, something to do with a mysterious stranger who arrived at his home and took one of the family horses out the same day his parents died. He believes that insults and a coincidence of events led to his losses and that he is cheating death over and over and over.

It is Virginia Waverly who throws all of Gabe’s rational explanations to the wind little by little, that is until she hears a rumor that he is wooing her only for purposes of an inheritance he can only have upon being married. Another character, General Waverly, calls him out on his guilt about Roger’s death. The provocative banter, wildly sexy scenes, and funny moments increase in various stages until one can feel the tension in more ways than one with every turned page!

By now the passion between Gabe and Virginia is searing in intensity, attracting these two volatile characters to the point where Gabe realizes he must abandon all the machinations and woo for real! He must enter a race to win a great, passionate love beyond what words can convey! As always, Sabrina Jeffries titillates and thrills the reader with both a mystery about to be solved and hot, steamy, sexy connection that must be fulfilled in order to finally cheat death for one last time! This fourth story is even better than Ms. Jeffries’ previous novels in the Hellions of Halstead Hall series.

So Near - A Novel by Liza Gyllenhaal

So Near: A Novel. Liza Gyllenhaal. New American Library. September 2011. 336 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9780451234575.

One minute, a father is worry about his father’s business turning sour in a changing economy. Then the same father is enjoying a baseball game, having a few beers, and thinking how great life is, while his wife is preparing for a large barbecue party. Half an hour later, their lives are turned upside down with a terrible, terrible loss, and the horrific future seems to be an impossible reality to get through. Everyone tries to ensure that there is no guilt to be carried but each parent believes he or she is to blame for this nightmare they are now living second by second, minute by minute…

How does one cope with the most devastating death one would not want to imagine? Cal’s brother says a lawsuit is the answer, yet Cal suspects his brother Edwin’s motives are questionable. They are and the further shock that eventually is disclosed is expected because of certain moments when the reader is expecting something financially crushing is about to happen, so aptly does the author foreshadow each phase of this world-shaking event.

Little by little, Cal and Jenny Horigan mourn in different ways and learn not to speak in order not to expose blame or self-recrimination. It reaches a point where each turns elsewhere for desperate communication. Before the Horigan marriage totally sinks into a hole beyond redemption, a stranger comes into their world in a way that could put the finishing touches on a doomed relationship or perhaps provide something else of a more miraculous nature.

So Near is a heart-rending, honest, pragmatic, searing look at love that is called to endure far more than any person should ever have to bear but a love that is so deep that a spark remains to be kindled by a series of miraculous mistakes and interactions. Read it and weep! Read it, smile, and celebrate the gift of life! Tender, compelling novel, Liza Gyllenhaal – you so obviously know of what you write!!!

Justifiable: Oregon by Pamela Wright

Justifiable: Oregon. Pamela Wright. Reaction Press. July 2011. 298 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9780983580935.

Tilamook Rock Lighthouse in Seaside, Oregon is a scary place all by itself, but what goes on inside this fortress is even more frightening than anyone could contemplate. For whoever is brought here in a drugged state is first subjected to tortured interrogation followed by death and cremation, with no traces left that anyone ever existed here. The cause is “justifiable” as the title of the series suggests, get the details of the crime and eliminate the criminals who would normally never be caught. The plot thickens as we learn that a current investigation has to do with a drug cartel who are pumping already superstar athletes with performance-enhancing chemical drugs that guarantee success. But there’s a huge problem when athletes start dropping dead and it’s discovered that what killed them is far from what was suspected by those testing for addicted champions.

The Doctor who is handing out these drugs has no idea of their real content and so is so stunned upon discovering what could not expose his guilt but prove to be his total undoing as an athlete physician caring for men and women expected to be “winners.” The threat of unexpected death looms in many quarters beyond what the reader can imagine at the beginning of this tautly plotted, nerve-wracking novel.

Dan Morrison knows this is way over his specialized skills and seeks help from others known as the Special Forces team, at the same time knowing that his progression deeper into this mystery could put his friend Sarah into a serious position of jeopardy. But even Dan realizes he doesn't know Sarah or her past so well, especially what she has sacrificed in the name of past missions as well as the present case. Traffickers and pedophiles are the subject at hand and the cartel doesn’t stop there. One team will search the world if necessary to find the lost and taken, eliminating the scum that preys on the weak and helpless.

Pamela Wright has penned a deftly plotted, well-written action novel in which all characters rivet the reader’s attention, up to the last shocking scene in a devastating war of in which the members of a righteous team forge through tense conflicts and scenarios and have no problem justifying their final solution! Gripping, plausible read! The scales of justice are balanced with a unique method of saving the innocent. Nicely done!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Citizen Out - A Novel by Marie Crist

The Citizen Chronicles: Citizen Out: A Novel. Marie Crist. Reaction Press. July 2011. 276 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9780983580904.

Citizen Out opens with a ghastly scene, a predator spying a group of little girls, picturing what he could possibly do with one of them, and then choosing who will be his willing, in his sick mind, partner. The plan is to enjoy her even up to the moments of her death. It's a breath-stopping scene and makes the reader disgusted and then horrified - that is until the mind-jolting second when the perpetrator is hit in the neck with a death-dealing knife. A sigh of relief pervades the reader's being, for this death is preferable to the suffering an otherwise innocent young girl would have endured prior to her death and her family's devastating reaction.

Sound implausible? Not. For in spite of Amber alerts and vigilant neighbor watches, etc., little girls and boys are being abducted, abused, tortured and sometimes murdered, leaving behind scars and grieving beyond description. This is a fictional story that could become reality, a group of citizens who are highly trained, globally connected, and motivated to stop each "mark" as the perps are called before each devastating crime begins, not after.

Kevin and Celeste are one team of this team of citizens with a lovely family and a good marriage. In fact, it's the one point in this book that was rather annoying, not that they were happy but the way the author expresses dialogue is very stilted and almost artificial, plainly unnatural. The point is obviously this juxtaposition of happy family versus the sickos destroying families but it needs to be more relaxed and normal. Anyway, several plot lines now begin to follow.

The first is Kevin and Celeste managing their schedule as they work for this company behind the citizens, the second the method of seeking and gaining new recruits in the characters of Seth and Veronica, and the third is some rather public figures and hoods involved in the marketing of children.

The message is very clear, the scenes in part are riveting. Finally, there is one unplanned event that changes everything at the end of the novel, which leaves the reader assured of another tale in these chronicles. In spite of many construction flaws, this is a novel that leaves readers with a multitude of disturbing but vital thoughts, feelings, and questions, with possible acceptable and perhaps not so welcome answers flitting through the former. Unique and significant issue presented in novel form for sure!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore. Stella Duffy. Penguin Group (USA). September 2011. 352 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9780143119876.

Theodora of Constantinople is smart and sassy as a very young woman. She is not so pretty but what she lacks in beauty she more than makes up for with her decent singing voice, comedic acting abilities, and the ability to improvise when the show is going awry or some facet produces an unexpected audience effect. She has a fierce ability to put up with much discipline in her art, forceful teaching that at times seems almost abusive.

Her talents are acknowledged after one particular evening's performance, but unfortunately a selfish act on her part forces her destiny elsewhere, to a monastic community where she undergoes physical and spiritual training that transforms her life in a realistic, moving direction. No, this isn't a sudden conversion but a series of meditative moments that enable her to know who she really is. She is now ready to take on a more serious mission, in the middle of the Chalcedonian schism where authorities war over Christ's divine and/or human nature. Her sharp, intuitive nature however becomes even stronger until she succeeds in getting the position of assistant to Justinian who will soon become Emperor of Constantinople.

To tell more would spoil the magic of this well-written, adventurous, poignant, comedic, sexy, dramatic, and intelligent novel that reads like an in-depth biography, one sure to appeal to many types of readers with diverse interests. The descriptions of the people, food, architecture, theater performances, and more are so vivid that it seems that the reader is there taking it all in. Stella Duffy is a talented writer who carries the reader to many points where one is laughing, crying, thinking and rapidly reading with such eagerness that one doesn't want the story to end. a must read and sure to be a best seller! Just wonderful!!!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Little Bride - A Novel by Anna Solomon

The Little Bride: A Novel. Anna Solomon. Penguin Group (USA). September 2011. 320 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781594485350.

Minna Losk has experienced much suffering by the time she's 16 years old. Her mother abandoned her father and her, and her father lives a tortured life between forgetting and memories that affect Minna until she lives her entire life surviving loss. Things are not much better after her father dies and she is shipped off to relatives and then a family who present as haunting, dysfunctional, and even mentally ill people. Her job is to be a serving girl. But lest one judge too quickly, these are Jewish people who live through the late 1800s pogroms in Odessa and other Russian towns. Waiting to be brutally attacked day after day after day could stretch any one's sanity to the limit!

Then Minna has the opportunity to become an American bride to an unknown man South Dakota. The journey overseas to her new home is fraught with watching people die from seasickness and starvation, with additional violent scenes to scar even the toughest character. It turns out she is about to marry into a home where the first wife has also abandoned the family, finding the wild West far too much for her grand ideas of living in America. Max's two sons, Sam and Jacob, believe Minna can never understand their past life. Their relationship is odd as they are closer in age to Minna and Max is twice her age and a religious Jew whose family believed he was going to become a famous Rabbi someday!

Minna typifies the harsh brutal life of a farmer's wife meant to help eke out a living on unyielding land, with no money to put into bettering a farm that is really not a farm. Suddenly a relationship develops between Minna and one of the sons, and secrets begin to be revealed.

While the plot seems fairly straight and even simplistic or stereotypical, there is nothing of that because of the way in which Anna Solomon takes the reader into Minna's mind, spinning stark and literate reflections with a tortured reality that defies one's idea of how much can be endurable. The Little Bride is a highly literate, uniquely lyrical account about the Jewish immigrant experience in a harsh American frontier that respects no gender, culture, or class. Remarkable novel!

Fallen by Traci L. Slatton

Fallen. Traci L. Slatton. Telemachus Press, LLC. July 2011. 240 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781935670896.

The world is coming to an end from the mists, phenomena that eat through metals and flesh, leaving behind a sand-like, formless substance. One woman, however, has survived and with her daughter now travels with seven children. They arrive at a camp led by a mysterious, tough guy named Arthur who has created a safe camp and community where the mists cannot attack, but that does not mean they are safe by any means!

For Arthur possesses the ability to sense when the mists are approaching and is able to raise his arms and make the mists disperse permanently. So why is he is so hard and what secrets does he possess about the mists that he will share with no one. Emma makes a very quick agreement with Arthur in order to ensure the safety of her young charges, but she's clear that means no commitment. Arthur wants that contract to mean she will obey him no matter what, and therein the sparks begin to fly.

Emma lives to love her kids, several of whom have very specific and unusual psychic powers, a reality that seems to be tied to the presence of the devastating mists but one that saves their lives more than once. Arthur and the community members have other known and unknown enemies who can be just as lethal as the power bent on eradicating humanity and even the earth. Another female community has several members with their own gifts and they know something about Arthur that they keep telling her to ask him about; this part of the novel occurs with some annoying frequency but does add to the mystery of it all.

The remainder of the novel concerns the ultimate confrontation between rogue riders, Arthur's former friend and now enemy, Alexei, and some conflicts based on so-called Tesla technology. Science can be a very dangerous subject! Ultimately, a surprising conclusion leaves the reader breathless and yet anticipating a return to the core personal and communal conflicts and chaos in another follow-up novel.

The reader is forced to consider previously stable definitions of time, obedience, psychic powers, science, and most importantly, love. Powers exist, perhaps, that enhance long-ignored mental skills but is the power of memory too strong to allow for new ways of relating and the freedom to explore same without guilt and ignoring the instinctive inclinations of the heart?

Many, many questions arise as one reads this story that defies what can be falsely read as a simplistic story/plot. Traci L. Slatton is a writer to watch closely, including in whatever sequels follow this unique, well-written sci-fi novel!

Promissory Payback by Laurel Dewey

Promissory Payback. Laurel Dewey. The Story Plant. August 2011. 80 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781611880076.

Detective Jane Perry is a no-nonsense, gritty investigator who believes a loaded gun is what keeps you both flexible and safe. However, the victim she is about to witness will make her come close to losing her latest meal. Carolyn Handel is a 62 year-old woman found with the word "karma is a b--ch" across her back and her mouth stuffed with a strip of paper in her mouth with the words "Promissory Note" on it, along with a chair clearly placed to be facing the unfortunate but obviously fearful victim. Not pretty at all!

It seems that Carolyn was in the habit of losing people's money, in the recent past several well-meaning friends who had no idea they were being taken in by a scam. But who could it be among the people Detective Perry begins and continues to interrogate as potential perpetrators of this horrific murder? Usually one can predict "who done it" within a relatively short period of time, but this is not the case at all.

Laurel Dewey has spun a short but potent mystery thriller that gradually reveals startling and unsuspected clues evolving into quite a surprising solution that will amaze readers. The perfect crime rarely exists. Here, however, it comes close only because of the links missed behind the planned end of Ms. Handel but quickly ascertained by the sharp, quick-thinking detective.

Very nicely and cleverly done, Ms. Dewey!!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven

Velva Jean Learns to Fly. Jennifer Niven. Penguin Group (USA). August 2011. 432 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9780452297401.

Velva Jean Hart is tired of small town living, including a husband who is part preacher and part moonshiner. She'd been told she had a wonderful voice and a record producer actually made a record of one of her "Yellow Truck..." songs, telling her to look him up if she ever got to Nashville, Tennessee from rural Appalachia in Alluvia, North Carolina. So she sang every song she knew as she left her home all the way to the point in Tennessee where she got a flat tire. But Velva Jean is a spunky gal and managed to conquer this problem, find a place to live, and make a friend who would help until Velva Jean finally found a job. Even after those difficult challenges, in which she bore rejection after rejection, she still managed to find a place where people could enjoy her voice and zesty personality! But a record contract did not loom, especially after she was told she needed years of music experience before she'd be ready for recording. She didn't care - she just kept writing song after song after song!

Life, however, changed dramatically with the breakout of WWII, and Velva Jean's brother, Johny Clay, introduces her to a flying lesson that changes her passion forever. She goes on to become a female pilot and joins a select group of women flyers carrying out secret but no less dangerous missions within America. Here the story mixes her increasing love of flying, desire to do more for the war effort, and the horror she experiences as tragedy after tragedy happen to those she loves and others she doesn't know. Some die by attack but some are killed because of human mistakes; the latter are just as devastating and Velva Jean is responsible for bringing it to the attention of those who should be doing something about it.

There is much more day-by-day description of what an amazing woman Velva Jean and other women flyers like her become. It's a quick, shocking way to grow up but this plot is filled with humor and persistent dedication, the essence of Velva Jean's personality.

This novel has some very slow parts but does evolve into a funny, interesting and wonderful historical fiction piece that elevates the place of women in a time when they were expected to stay home and sew for the war effort. It includes as well the respect these women flyers known as the WAFS or Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Jennifer has depicted a slice of life in the war that few Americans know about, and Velva Jean Hart is an unforgettable, spunky gal who stands for the best women contributing to the war effort at that time! Nicely done, Ms. Niven!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Eden Prescription by Ethan Evers

The Eden Prescription. Ethan Evers. Createspace Publisher. October 2010. pb. 326 pages, ISBN #:9781439276556.

An unanswered question looms large in the minds and hearts of both cancer patients and those without but fearing this killer disease. Dr. Elliot Lindell is a scientist operating outside of the normal medical community. He's spent years coming up with a cocktail of unusual ingredients that include an acceptable cancer drug combined with Vitamin D, ginger, gingko, pomegranate, and other hard-to-access natural products. He's also a computer whiz who has invented a computer model that simulates the growth, division, and destruction of cancer cells upon reception of this new and successful cancer cocktail. Annika Guthrie is his brilliant assistant, a woman highly and idealistically motivated by the possibilities inherent behind a cure for this devastating disease.

This thriller story has drug companies vying for possession of the most effective drug and the formula for the most potent combination to do the job of destroying cancer cells. The money is their motive for obtaining what will finally constitutes a wonder drug for cancer patients. The plot thickens when bits of information leak to the right and wrong parties, and an international hunt ensues that includes attempts at theft and murder, actual murders, and faked murders. It turns out The Eden Project is an international finance group with powers and funding to accomplish anything from wars to blatant collapses of key financial countries, always geared to their own recovery and the surpassing of their own wealth and power wherever they operate.

The reader will be riveted to this tale in which victory begins to seem impossible and a confusing war of individuals and groups clash with increasing intensity to the point where the reader is unsure who is friend and who is foe. However, knowing that the bad guys lose doesn't stop one from furiously reading ahead to the striking end. Somehow in the midst of all the chaos or mayhem, one gently learns a lot about not only drugs and plants but also how cancer cells supposedly operate under varying conditions, what works at destroying parts of the cells, and what might be a more powerful, less destructive cure for those suffering from the actual disease.

Speculation is rife on what could possibly happen to the medical community if a cure for cancer were ever found, of the making and unmaking of fortunes, of those who use science in a faithful, humanitarian, professional way and those who do the severe opposite. The Eden Prescription is a sometimes too repetitive but constantly thrilling read about what perhaps lies ahead in the future for anyone and everyone involved with finding a prescription cure for all, with implications larger than longer life for all.