Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Wizard's Choice by Maya Tyler

A Wizard’s Choice. Maya Tyler. Tirgearr Publishing.  July 2019. pb, 170 pp.; ASIN: B07SSVX7DQ.

Kurtis Warde has to make a choice – to live as a wizard or a human.  However, he feels very obligated to his grandfather, who has raised him and protected him from the evils of the feud of centuries between the Wizards and the Faeries.  Kurtis first meets Dee, a vampire, who introduces him to a world of phenomenal sex.  He is obviously besotted by her but she sees their initial sexual encounter as just that and no more.  Kurtis is haunted by the fact that he has no idea who his mother and father are but that is about to change.

He begins to visit Alina, a Life Coach, who has the gift of reading auras and spiritually connecting to her clients with her intuitive gifts of connection.  She quickly connects Kurtis to the fact that his ancestors were the Annunaki, beings from space who were the wizards and faeries of old.  This connection unleashes the continuation of the lethal feud between the two groups and previous spells of protection no longer protect Kurtis and Alina.

Kurtis will soon know his parents but may not be able to heal the strife from which his grandfather has been protecting him all these years. A wizard uprising led by the Bauer family began to cover their plans to overthrow the Delafontaines. Kurtis was related to the faeries who nearly annihilated the family who are actually ancestors of Alina.  This then is the story of how Kurtis will act to end the feud of centuries with the help of Alina and his family.

A Wizard’s Choice is an interesting read, a romance, adventure, thriller, and magical tale full of complex characters.  Modern technology is combined with ancient spells and magic to protect characters from the nonstop conflict.  The choice turns out to be so much larger than Kurtis or his grandfather had imagined! Rather than end on a definitive note, it is clear at the end of this novel that there will be more novels in this series (this is the second in the series, although it may be read as a stand-alone novel). Nicely crafted story, Maya Tyler!

If You Want to Make God Laugh: A Novel by Bianca Marais

If You Want to Make God Laugh: A Novel.  Bianca Marais. Penguin Publishing Group.  July 2019; pb, 448 pp.; ISBN #: 9780735219311.

It’s the late 1900s.  Nelson Mandela is about to become the first African President of South Africa, but apartheid is still very much rampant in the minds of white Afrikaan citizens.  Splinter rebel groups have fought for freedom for years; now some of those groups are out to wipe out all blacks.  In this time of new freedom and old prejudices, three women wind up living together.  Zodwa is a young pregnant woman whose failures have given her mother tremendous grief.  Her brother was part of the Inkatha Freedom Group and is considered dead but his body, living or dead, has never been found.  Now Zodwa will never achieve her dreams of being educated and free.

Two sisters, Ruth and Delilah, are seeking to fashion a life of agreement but past memories in both white women haunt the present.  Ruth was a stripper and prostitute who has been married and divorced three times.  Delilah was a convert to the Catholic faith and fell in love with a priest who later abuses her.  She has a son who becomes a priest and later dies under the dominance of his father.  Delilah would do anything to see her son and discover the truth about their separation.  Meanwhile Zodwa gives birth but her mother gives away the child.  By coincidence, she finds him and agrees to work for his foster parents, Ruth and Delilah.  All three live together with their funny bantering, highly sarcastic bickering and a sense of need that brings redemption to all of their lives.

If You Want to Make God Laugh is an uplifting, solid story that is crafted well and includes a huge segment of African history that has not been well-known up to now, the period of reconciliation led by Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the plague of HIV disease that led to an AIDS crisis.  Change is a process, not a miraculous moment or miracle.  Yet many miracles happen in this tale revealing tremendous violence, sexuality, romance, Church abuse, forgiveness and growth into a new life.  You will never forget this amazing story.  Bianca Marais is a writer to watch and relish with this novel and hopefully with what will follow! Congratulations on this story of relentless love and transformation!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Layover by David Bell

Layover.  David Bell. Penguin Publishing Group.  July 2, 2019; pb, 416 pp.; ISBN #: 9780440000877.

Midway through this memorable story, Joshua Field remembers the quote about the “unexamined life” is not worth living.  During the enfolding plot that follows, Joshua realizes that he has fallen into all of his choices without much independent reflection or decision-making. Thus, he is quite amazed at the words of the woman, Morgan, whom he meets at an airport, when she tells him to quit his job and do what he really wants to do.  She is appealing and evasive at the same time.  Her behavior indicates she is in trouble but after kissing him she tells him she will never see him again.

As Joshua continues, he decides to skip his flight and join hers but is totally flummoxed when she acts as if she never met him.  Later she calls and apologizes.  The story evolves to Joshua following her and learning that indeed she is in trouble.  That trouble involves her former work situation, being treated poorly and the theft of a valuable which she needs to pay for her mother’s hospice care.  Joshua truly grows to care for her but realizes she is as ephemeral as a passing cloud. However, for once, he doesn’t run away and commits to following this mystery through to its conclusion.

It also turns out that her former boss’s brother is more involved in this trouble than just a familial interest.  The discovery of a murderer will follow. 

By the time Joshua meets his father at the end of this account, they have a new relationship, one borne of truth and honesty. 

Layover is a fine mystery for all lovers of the genre and a multilayered approach about fulfilling one’s dreams!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Lions of the Sky by Paco Chierici

Lions of the Sky. Paco Chierici. Braveship Books. Copyright 2018. $26.99; hb, 292 pp.; ISBN: 9781640620674.

Being a Top Gun fighter pilot is not for the timid.  It’s fiercely difficult; that’s why these men and women are being tested and trained to be fighter pilots are going through real and simulated scenarios.  The action of lack of action can mean instant injury and/or death. Enter the cockpit of an F/A-18 Super Hornet and feel the force of gravity on take-off.  This team are not loners; they’re highly dependent on each other for survival.  Sam Richardson is the leader.  Sam’s dealing with a problem; he’s got two females in this latest division. He had become close to a former female pilot who died in an airplane crash.  The questions haunting Sam are did she cause the pilot error and was it because she was a weaker female pilot?  Sam has to unlearn that error in thinking because it so severely affects the current women being trained to fly in battle missions.  There are nail-biting scenes galore that are truly thrilling adventures that are so enjoyable.  Also one experiences many drinking sessions, sharing of meals, sharing of training – supportive and challenging, sad moments at funerals, gifting of hilarious and serious nicknames, on-shore leaves for officers and trainees, etc.  I absolutely loved this novel and learned so much during it.  The author is a real pilot with over 20 years of experience.  The conflict these men and women are getting ready for is a death-dealing one in the South China Sea where China is preparing to do battle with Taiwan and the Philippines over a slew of islands.  Not a training session – Paco Chierici knows how to depict the real deal!  Highly recommended historical fiction of the 21st century!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Off the Grid: A Mystery by Robert McGaw

Off the Grid: A Mystery.  Robert McCaw. Oceanview Publishing.  July 2, 2019; pb, 304 pp.; ISBN #: 9781608093618.

On the main island of Hawaii lie numerous fields of lava-strewn, barren ground that have destroyed almost all homes, buildings, and cars in the path of exploding volcanoes spread throughout the Big Island. The mystery begins when a tattered piece of cloth leads to the remains of a man who has obviously been tortured before he was murdered and then destroyed in a horrific explosion when a truck and car collide.  A blood-curdling scream is heard as Chief Detective Koa responds to the scene but is followed by an explosion that completely destroys the car which had held the screaming woman.  So begins the hunt for the planners of what quickly seems a planned murder of both victims.

Meanwhile, an election is looming for governor and one of the campaigner’s policies involves drastic cuts in the police department, including laying off one of Koa’s peers who lost his legs in a work-related criminal investigation.  Smithy is twenty-one months away from a pension, one Koa and their peers believe is well-deserved.  There’s also something strange about the way the would-be governor, the mayor and the head of the police are cozying up with each other that goes beyond the usual political machinations.

This then is mystery driven by seemingly insignificant but related past facts.  What is a former Navy Seal doing with spending hours growing variations of orchids.  What is his girlfriend, a former spy, doing with boxes of money that arrive regularly from China?  Who are the goons that try to insert themselves in the investigation supposedly on behalf of the CIA in Langley, Washington? 

Koa has his own secrets, ones that he has sublimated into a hunger for seeking justice wherever he finds it questioned or abused.  He does not brook fools or interference, even with supposedly patriotic or noble motivations.  The struggle will reach all the way back to the beginning of the Iranian nuclear arms policy and a number of American and Chinese spies involved in the Kosovo crisis of the 1990s. 

Koa has unbelievable but remarkable detective skills and leaves no stone unturned in his search for the truth and justice regarding these two murders.  He is well-connected and capable of making connections where others would fail to tread.  This is remarkable international thriller plot that will more than satisfy others who love to read this particular genre.  Injustice ranges from Indonesian killer goons to the top of CIA and Chinese politicians.  

Off the Grid is fine historical and mystery fiction.  Well done, Robert McCaw.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry by Richard Kirshenbaum

Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry.  Richard Kirshenbaum. St. Martin’s Press.  June, 2019; pb, 320 pp.; ISBN #: 9781250150950.

Two beauty industry icons are at war in both personal and entrepreneur affairs.  They are Josephine Herz and Constance Gardiner.  So what does it take to rise to such a level of rivalry and glamor?  This is their story, which includes their amazing ideas about beauty that went beyond popular ideas of how women could dress in the most attractive style possible and wear a fragrance to enchant everyone around the wearer. 

Josephine Herz is out to offer beauty salons where one could get a full-day spa treatment that would enhance one’s skin and hair appearance.  Her goal was to make women feel like royalty and to attract higher-end customers in society’s eyes.  She always hired the most talented staff including the African-American assistant, CeeCee, who stayed with her as brilliant aide and lover, until an ultimate betrayal (since being homosexual was illegal during the 1930s in America).  CeeCee then moved her talents to the competition.

Constance Gardiner’s business began with door-to-door saleswomen who were enabled to become their own part-time businesswomen, earning up to 40% profit.  They were highly skilled and trained sales personnel who knew how to make every housewife gradually open up to exposing what they had and what they needed.  Ultimately, they were convinced that the pretty colors and colorful shades of makeup would give them that extra “something” that would enliven their marriages or lovers. 

Each woman was ashamed of her origins and Josephine tortured by her failure to extract one sister from war-torn Poland.  Constance always wanted to be more than she was and defied the era’s anti-Semitic tendencies.  Pride and ego were everything and kept them moving forward despite the weaknesses they displayed in their choice of aides, friends and lovers.

Both women open salons around the world and monitor their success and occasional flaws.  After Josephine dies, the Gardiner business sues for a stolen mascara product – a la CeeCee – but in the end, Constance has to admit that their rivalry was actually a parallel journey to be toasted in victory!!!!

Richard Kirshenbaum has crafted an account of the best and worst in the lives of the beauty icons of the early twentieth century, sparkling with descriptions of their virtues and vices, their friends and rivals, their brilliant discoveries and their hatred of the competition’s successful development.  It’s a grand read which would make a phenomenal movie.  For those who love style, fashion, business, makeup, salons, and more, enjoy the dramatic ride of Rouge….

The Good Sister: A Novel by Gillian McAllister

The Good Sister: A Novel. Gillian McAllister. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright June 2019, pb, 400 pp.; ISBN: 9780525539391.

Martha and Becky Blackwater are extremely close sisters.  However, all that closeness is blown to bits when Martha’s eight-week-old baby, Layla, is found dead while in Becky’s care.  Becky quit her job so become Layla’s nanny.  The death of Layla, though, exposes many aspects of Becky’s life that might be construed by the jury at the trial to indicate Becky was at fault.

The chapters are narrated by the Blackwater family, acquaintances, neighbors and others who knew both sisters.  The author does a marvelous job at depicting the thoughts and feelings of these narrators during the trial with a sensitive touch.  Martha is fraught with guilt about returning to work on the charity group she created plus guilt at leaving a daughter who suffered from reflux from birth and spent most of her awake time crying from discomfort.  Becky is overwhelmed with this new job but feels too guilty to admit it; instead, she descends into drinking too much and too frequently, to the point that her child Xander is frequently afraid of her.  Others see warning signs of danger, including yelling from Becky’s home at odd times of day and night.

The parents of both sisters are anxious but try to be supportive of both sisters.  They have lost a grandchild but love their children.  No one seems to know the truth of what happened, that is until the very end of the story.  It’s unforgettable when this secret is revealed.  All still have to learn to live with the loss and the aftermath in this breach of trust and love that almost destroys an entire family.

A memorable, finely-crafted novel, The Good Sister is a good read about relationships and what challenges do to them in the present and future.  It’s also a warning about making false assumptions from evidence that is highly subjective.  Every situation is unique and above-second-guessing.  Nicely done, Gillian McAllister!

The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin

The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel.  Jeanne Mackin. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019; hb, 352 pp.; ISBN #: 9781101990544.

“Clothes…are moods, desires, the quality of our souls and our dreams made visible.”  Of color – “If blue is the color of paradox, and red the color of life and death and the passion between beginnings and endings, then yellos is the color what is most precious…of sunshine, of gold, of sins’ halos…the color of eternity…” and so much more.

Lily Sutter, overwhelmed by grief for her dead husband, visits her brother Charlie in Paris, France in 1938.  Charlie is in love with a married woman who want Lily to accompany them on their nights out in Parisian society.  German officers are a constant presence with war looming in the minds and hearts of everyone; however, they party, dine, and spend money galore knowing that drastic changes lie in the near future.  Lily will meet someone unexpected eventually but go through so many challenges and problems before that chance at love occurs.

Lily is invited by Elsa Schiaparelli to work for her as an artist who paints backgrounds for her designer shows each season.  Elsa and Coco Chanel are constant and virulent opponents in the world of fashion design. 

The two dominant themes running through every page of this delicious, sumptuous story are the beauty of fashionable clothing and designs and the unique personalities vying for superiority.  Sometimes that competition comes close to murderous disaster.  Anyone in love with color and clothes will fall in love with these sensual, rich descriptions of styles created to present a theme such as those of carnivals, seasons, astrology and so much more.  Colors are blended with brilliant jewels and scarves, handbags, hats, etc. to enchant the eye and shape of a wearer. The reader wants to see more from these two astonishingly talented fashion designers. So competitive are the designers’ introductory shows that scouts watch for anyone taking notes or making drawings to put in the press ahead of other writers. Lily’s artistic talents add brilliance to each collection.

Elsa is a rabid hater of fascism and Coco uses the ever-present Germans for what she later knows may be dire circumstances needing protection and survival. Heartbreak, however, follows for so many.  Elsa has an independent daughter, Gogo, who initially seems a spoiled brat but when necessary becomes Elsa’s greatest supporter and strength. 

The Last Collection… is glorious historical fiction superbly presenting character and personalities that each reader will remember for a very long time!

Irreversible Damage - The Katie Suarez Social Justice Series - A Novel by JL Ruiz

Irreversible Damage: The Katie Suarez Social Justice Series: A Novel. JL Ruiz. WPR Publshing.  May 2019. pb, 218 pp.; ISBN #: 9781889379944.

Katie, the heroine of this novel, is a Mexican-American raised by two Mexican lawyers in Paradise Valley, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.  This is her tragic and eventually positive story of how President Trump’s political campaign against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who are “Dreamers” has yielded horrific, tragic results for families, friends and acquaintances.  It all begins with the deportation of a Mexican for not having proper immigration papers, an act that destroys his family.  The author within this novel does a superb job of explaining how Mexicans began their history of high art and culture by the polices of Spanish invaders who ruined the reputation of Mexicans to less than second-class citizens.  This is the same attitudes and though processes that began in America under Trump, a program devised to portray Mexicans as rapists, drug dealers and criminals.  It’s a policy that was strengthened by false advertising in the news media and elsewhere.  It was cemented by Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona’s actions of deliberately arresting and deporting Mexicans.  It was approved by those who found these actions united their basest beliefs which now had public approval.  It turned people into prejudiced individuals who really didn’t need or use reason to confirm their biases.

Katie’s family became over fraught time riddled with argumentation and fragmentation.  A young man, Mark, is convicted of a sexual crime because of the prejudiced influence of a school bully.  Mark is murdered in prison and her parents wind up divorced because of the indescribable grief and fragmentation.  Katie’s school project is given a poor grade because the teacher cannot move past her own prejudices about the low status and behavior of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. 

This then is how Katie is first overwhelmed by phenomenal pain, anger and sad frustration but then rises up like a phoenix from the ashes of her tragic life to fight for unification of people despite their cultural diversity.  It’s an unforgettable story because it is so well-researched, accurate and truthful about the current state of Americans who have been fed a pack of false lies and biased news reports.  Katie becomes a lawyer who forms several anti-defamation groups.  We are all equal and deserve to treat and be treated in that reality; this is a must read for young adults and adults.  It should be mandatory reading in high schools and colleges.  Its accounts and educational advice will and should influence American government and politics today and in years to come!  Highly, highly recommended reading – MUST reading!  It is an American story about us all!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Those People by Louise Candlish

Those People.  Louise Candlish. Penguin Publishing Group.  June, 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9780451489142.

Lowland Avenue is an upper middle class street in a perfect neighborhood, where the residents get along and cherish the Sunday street rules which ban parking and establish a place where children can draw in the streets, ride bikes, skateboard and all in all play without fear of approaching danger from encroaching transportation.
But the peacefulness and perfection are about to disappear.

For Darren and Jodi, a young couple, move into the neighborhood.  Their noise of blaring rock music at all hours of day and night along with their car business manifest in dozens of cars and vans parked on the lawn and around the street immediately draw the ire and complaints of their neighbors.  Efforts at talking out the problem result in the hurling of foul language and angry diatribes. 

At first there are efforts to band together but it turns out that nothing being done is illegal. But the spreading of the neighborly hate is fast spreading through the internet and yielding some protesting articles in  a local newspaper.  However, all of this turns ugly very fast with no change looming on a street fast moving toward attitudes that could become very dangerous.

Finally, a disaster happens with the collapse of a scaffold for renovations and the death of a resident on the street.  Accusations fly and now it’s hard to figure out who is throwing legitimate protests and threats of a response and what turns out to be another death before the end of this riveting but virulently angry novel.

What is most amazing is how what starts out as a disagreement quickly destroys the peace of home owners, frays the tempers and marriages of some, and elicits a response that becomes criminal. Astonishing and violent story that doesn’t end soon enough!

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. Roselle Lim. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019. pb, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9781984803252.

Natalie Tan returns home to Chinatown in San Francisco after the death of her mother or Ma-ma.  Her Mom was agoraphobic, never leaving her home until the day she died.  Her grandmother or Laolao was famous for the Chinese restaurant she successfully ran in Chinatown, cooking authentic Chinese dishes that fellow neighbors, families and visitors relished and which they sorely miss.  But the neighborhood is now in a crisis and in danger of disappearing with each bankruptcy or sale that occurs!  Natalie, however, has a rich and audacious dream, an achievable goal albeit fraught with immense challenges!

On opening the restaurant doors, Natalie is struck by the deteriorated condition of the statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion.  Her response? “A revered goddess shouldn’t be treated this way.” It’s clear that Natalie is rejecting her mother’s avid belief in ghosts and demons.  At the same time, a Chinese realtor is banging on the door, intensely and immediately trying to get Natalie to sell the restaurant.  Natalie is made of tougher stuff, although she certainly doesn’t realize it yet. 

Great food with beautiful music makes for a phenomenal combination that makes people, especially Chinese people, happy and successful.  A neighbor gives Natalie a book of Laolao’s recipes – not just any book of recipes but dishes that if cooked just right will bring healing and happiness to the person eating this blessed dish, whether it be of savory dumplings, scallion pancakes, succulent dishes with oysters and so much more.  Natalie also finds a picture of her grandmother and is told a prophecy that Natalie will do the same thing. 

This is the outrageous and oh so beautiful plot of this simple yet profound story, and Natalie sets about making it happen.  For those who are adventurous, the novel also holds recipes of the best of the dishes Natalie prepares.

And to add to the sparkling excitement of this venture is a romantic element for which Natalie is now ready. 

Some might say this is a simplistic story but the ideas behind the preparation of exotic and exquisite dishes, as well as familiar selections, is something desperately needed in these fraught and constantly challenging times.  Roselle Lim gets my vote of confidence for a lovely story that will capture the interest – and appetite – of many, many readers.  Oh, and would love, love, love to see more about Natalie in the future! Happy Reading and Eating because you will be hungry during this memorable read!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Dreams of Falling by Karen White

Dreams of Falling. Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2018; hb. 416 pp.; ISBN #: 9780451488411.

Ivy, Larkin, Margaret, Cecee, Bitty and a host of their former friends fill these pages with mysteries and secrets!

Larkin left Georgetown, South Carolina for New York nine years ago but gets a telephone call noting that her mother Ivy is missing.  While she is traveling home, Ivy is found, fallen through a rotted plank of a staircase in their old plantation home.  Close to the house are moss-covered trees in which one puts ribbons which are inscribed with one’s dreams.  There, the characters discover there are ribbons newly placed which hold mystifying messages or dreams. Who placed them there and what do the ribbon messages mean?

The plot in this latest novel by Karen White is simple and yet oh so complex.  Larkin obviously felt very insecure and incapable when she lived here as a child.  However, everyone else remembers her as a forward, more than capable and amusing child and teen, to the point that her strengths made others feel less capable and even inferior.  So the memories of her former friends emerge more as confessions, envy and slightly critical of her for leaving.  South Carolinian relationships seem quite binding and even at times slightly oppressive which adds to the mystery in each scene as it unfolds.

Ivy never recovered from losing Ellis, her first husband and deepest love; her artistic abilities and kindness to all are noteworthy.  Cecee is the preacher’s daughter who along with the others went on a phenomenal trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when a teen that changed her life forever.  Bitty, another artist, seems to be a follower but has her own past relationships and dreams that never quite unfolded as she wanted.

As the tales unfold about the past, will new romantic interests emerge?  Will Ivy come out of unconsciousness or not?  Larkin spends a great deal of time discovering things about her mother from other people.  As she talks to her unconscious mother in the hospital, Ivy is internally hearing it all and responding mentally.  Only when these dreams, scenes and discoveries are fulfilled in the way they must can each character truly let go of the past and embrace the present.

Dreams of Falling is another lovely story penned by the talented Karen White!  This is fine, interesting and endearing historical and contemporary fiction for all to thoroughly enjoy.  Nicely crafted and recommended reading!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Favorite Daughter: A Novel by Patti Callahan Henry

The Favorite Daughter: A Novel. Patti Callahan Henry. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019. pb, 368 pp.; ISBN: 9780399583131.

Lena (Colleen) Donohue proceeded to walk to her wedding and instead accidentally walked in on an act of betrayal that ultimately changed her life forever.  She loved her hometown of Watersend, South Carolina but fled to New York on that traumatic day.  One can leave to New York and begin a successful life as a journalist but can one forget one’s true “home” and return without having to deal with her immense pain and inability to forgive?  Can one learn to trust again and perhaps even learn to love without waiting for another disaster to follow?

When Lena’s brother Shane begs her to come home to help with their Dad, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Of course, she returns but does everything she can to avoid her sister Hallie.  That’s not really possible but they realize concern for their father must take top priority. 

So they decide to throw a 60th birthday for their father and to create a memory book that spans Virginia, Ireland and South Carolina, so that he can remember and refer to it frequently before his memory declines completely.  In the process of doing this, the family discover secrets very close to Lena’s heartache and how their parents coped with their sense of betrayal and forgiveness.

Eventually Hallie will have that conversation she’s always wanted to have before Lena ran away to New York but not until many terse, sniping words pass back and forth between the two formerly very close sisters.  Yes, home is more than just a place.  It’s a location where all the ups and downs as well as the acts and words that destroy and bind happen, albeit a wee bit contrived. The personalities are spunky and tender in just the right spots.  It will trigger the reader to contemplate what one considers to be one’s own precious memories!

The Favorite Daughter is a good read, a story brimming with passion, love, hate, forgiveness and renewal.  It’s also a lovely story of a beautiful part of the country which is described in all its lush greenery, marshland and seaside.  A very nice summer read!

Where I End and You Begin by Preston North

Where I End and You Begin. Preston Norton. Disney Press.  June 2019; pb and e-book, 416 pp.; ISBN: 9781484798355.

Ezra Slevin is one very anxious, crazy and sleep-deprived teenager and his friends are as crazy as he is in singular ways.  His main objective these days is to get up the guts to ask Imogen to the prom.  Imogen is a beauty, although rather nerdy, who is more into helping her friends than impressing them with her dazzling, blond looks.  Her best friend, Wynonna, thrives on making fun of Ezra and thus proves to be the foil that keeps Ezra from ever getting close enough to Imogen to ask her the big question.

On a night when their class was to gather to watch a solar eclipse, they manage to get caught sneaking into the local high school. The punishment – play a role as a member of the other sex in a Shakespearean high school production. But more importantly is that Wynonna and Ezra further on in this out-of-control dramatic presentation wake up in the other person’s body.  Not only are they freaked out by this occurrence but they over time also decide that it’s funky enough that they want to keep doing it.

During the switching Ezra discovers Wynonna’s secret crush on his good friend.  Finally they work out a deal to keep switching bodies in order to get a romantic relationship they want.  There’s plenty happening through this unique plot to compel questions and ponder the idea of gender identity and how it affects males and females.  And what happens when one switches gender and wants to stay there?

There are many literary and historical allusions that come up in many conversations – all accomplished with a funny and insanely humorous style that never lets up.  While this story takes place about ten years ago, the issues are more than relevant to today’s concerns with sexual identity and how we treat each other depending on one’s gender, some great and some forcing prolonged reflection on the not-so-nice ways that have become questionable parts of today’s culture.

This is a sharply plotted, wittily crafted, crazy and funky story perfect for today’s teens and, perhaps, adults as well!!!

Cleverly crafted and presented, Preston Norton!!! Keep writing!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Once More Unto the Breach: A Novel by Meghan Holloway

Once More Unto the Breach: A Novel. Meghan Holloway. Polis Books. Copyright May 14, 2019, pb, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9781947993600.

Rhys Gravenor is looking for his son in WWII-torn Paris.  He deeply regrets his last conversation with his son, Owain, who declared his “conscientious objector” status and was called a coward by his father.  Now, he carries a letter from his son in his pocket while searching for him. Rhys fought in WWI and knows the horrors of war but is alarmed and horrified by what he observes in cities and towns around Paris.  The cruelty and barbarity displayed by the Germans cannot fail to leave nightmarish scenes etched upon the memory of any and all observers. 

In his search, Rhys is joined by an American nurse and now serving as an ambulance driver, Charlotte Dubois has her own memories and secrets but proves to be formidable, brave and a person of impeccable honesty.  The upshot of this revealing story is that Jewish children are being sought out for destruction, and Owain is part of the Resistance trying to save them by getting them out of the country.  In the midst of it all is a man, Henri, who is also seeking Owain in order to recover missing works of art that Germans are stealing and moving to their own facilities.

In the search by all, hundreds of executed individuals are found slaughtered and left without burial.  Works of art are found hidden and awaiting transport.  Wounded German soldiers are found near death.  Remaining Parisian residents and other town survivors are slow to speak but loyal to those whom they know are honorable people.

Rather than being a factual account of what is mostly already known by most people, Once More Unto the Breach is told starkly with honesty, tenderness and tribute to those who risked and suffered so much to stop the senseless torture and murder being inflicted on France by German soldiers and leaders.  It also includes numerous scenes of the loyal and lovable dog Otto which will warm your heart amidst the chaos. 

This is a thriller novel easily rated as a 5/5.  The author successfully endeavors to show all sides of a war that at one point has no winner but only too many losers.  This is remarkable historical fiction you won’t soon forget.  Watch for more from this skilled author who knows how to craft a great story!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

How Not to Die Alone. Richard Roper. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright May 28,  2019, pb, 336 pp.; ISBN: 9780525539889.

Andrew is a 42-year-old man who is a bachelor.  He works for the Death Administration Council.  What that basically means is that when a person dies without anyone, Andrew must check out if there are any family, any cash or bank accounts to pay for the funeral, and stay until the body is sent to the morgue.  But Andrew is a good soul, albeit pathetic, who even goes to the funeral of the deceased.  The intriguing part is that as this story begins, he lies through his teeth to his coworkers, saying that he is married, has two children and works in a posh home in an upper-class neighborhood.  One could understand that but he makes it worse by adding to the story frequently to the point where his peers are dying to meet his family and visit his phenomenal home.  The saving grace for a very difficult first few chapters is that Andrew has a ripping, great sense of humor in spite of his pathetic lies.

Two occasions mark the turning point for Andrew.  One is a new co-worker, Peggy, who is married with two daughters.  At first, he is intent on helping her to adjust to her new job which is the same as his job.  Little by little, with some innocent but increasingly revealing conversations, he finds himself realizing he’s falling in love with her.  She has a bad marriage that’s little by little falling apart and he discovers he really cares what happens to her. 

At the same time, he has a strange relationship with his own family, especially his sister who wants him to face his past.  Sally and Andrew had a close but fraught relationship and she blames him for the fact they have grown apart.  A tragedy happens and Sally’s ex-boyfriend is convinced Andrew is responsible because Sally worried so much about him.  What the boyfriend wants is a wake-up call for Andrew.

The plot evolves and doesn’t quite go where everyone expects, but it can be said that Andrew is a new person as a result of the experiences he has with Peggy and Sally.

Hang in reader because this is a story that can’t be quickly forgotten and therein lies its redemptive qualities for both the characters in the story and the reader who is made to question and think about relationships and people.  Interesting, annoying but redeemable contemporary fiction!

Deep Water Blues by Fred Waitzkin

Deep Water Blues. Fred Waitzkin. Illustrated by John Mitchell. Open Road Media. Copyright May 2019. $7.99; pb, 160 pp.; ISBN: 9781504057738.

This is a story about creating beauty and prosperity in the already gorgeous Bahama Island.  On the Island of Rum Cay, Bobby Little uses his popularity to create businesses that offer superb hospitality and atmosphere to welcome rich tourists.  He’s very good at it but unconsciously elicits jealousy from those less successful.  Fisherman are more than welcome here and Bobby often dreams of catching a huge marlin, yes like something out of the book or movie The Old Man and the Sea.

Tragedy strikes when numerous Haitian refugees around found dead after their boat fails and Bobby and his friends have to find and bury more bodies than anyone could imagine.  It changes everything, casting gloom and horror over the whole area.  It certainly changes Bobby who takes off for his annual European visit and returns to find someone else has begun to develop the marina at Rum Cay and elsewhere.  Bobby at first is friendly about it but when the challenge becomes less than friendly, Bobby meets it head-on.  And his nemesis Dennis will come to an untimely demise! 

Fred Waitzkin is a highly skilled writer who knows how to depict beautiful scenery, love of water life, marinas and beach life as well as outstanding character development.  Bobby is a charismatic individual whose magnanimous nature is what attracts people to his marina.  He is never demanding or demeaning and is without grandiose dreams although he could be if financial developer if he chose such a goal.  One reads and picks up the peaceful nature of Bobby’s world but then feels the tension when Dennis enters the scene with his grand plans.  Islands are places of peace, not meant for violence and competition.  Run Cay’s integrity is maintained through the natural development of change and conflict.  Finely crafted, Fred Waitzkin!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Lovely and the Lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Lovely and the Lost.  Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Freeform.  May 2019; pb, 336 pp.; ISBN #: 9781484776209.

Search and rescue work is not for the faint of heart.  But what if one of the searchers has been herself lost and found from the wilderness with no memories of the past except those of fear and loneliness?  Kira Bennett was found by her foster mother, Cady Bennett, who continues carrying on search and rescue missions. Kira’s relationship to her foster parents and siblings is another aspect of this mystery since Kira was found unable to speak and petrified of human beings. Kira participates in their family searches because what else can she do, knowing the terrors of having to live in forests and surviving with skills learned for survival.

One of the delights of this story is getting to know the animals who are part of the search and rescue team, Silver, Saskia, NATO and Dutchess, lovely canines who are dedicated, relentless in finding their quarry, and loving friendliness.  They become part of Kira’s survival in their present search, when glimmers of her own memories threaten her ability to continue with the desperate search for a missing girl.  Their intuition matches her own, having lived in a feral state that bonds them into a natural unit pursing their mission.

Tracking is a careful skill that can be thrown by natural events, accidents and more.  While they continue their search, she meets Gabriel, the son of an abusive Sheriff. Gabriel’s brother is also one of the missing, which adds another twist to the story that keeps the river riveted to the mystery of this family.

Kira will discover aspects of her own past as the search for the mission is accomplished but with more problems than answers.  The Lovely and the Lost is a fine read, albeit sometimes confusing with a too large cast of characters.  Kira’s world seems realistic and mysterious which adds to the mysterious drama of each aspect of this account.  Nicely done, Jennifer Lynn Barnes!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Park Avenue Summer - A Novel by Renee Rosen

Park Avenue Summer.  Renee Rosen. Penguin Publishing Group.  April 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9781101991145.

Alice Weiss fulfills her dream by leaving the Midwest to live in New York City.  She has few skills and only one connection, a friend of her mother, who connects Alice to become the secretary of the now legendary Helen Gurley Brown.  At the time of this novel’s account, the magazine Cosmopolitan is massively failing and Helen Gurley Brown is hired to revive it before it dies.  Connected to the Hearst family, Helen gets the job but is expected to fail.  However, no one realizes how vastly talented is this new Editor-in-Chief, no matter how crazy her ideas sound!

Gurley envisions a new post-WWII woman, a woman who can work, have ideas and has unspoken thoughts about sex and fashion that are shocking and elicit rejection from all men and quite a few women as well.  Imagine wondering, at that time in the 1960s, how one could improve one’s sex life, look sexier, stand out as powerful and capable women, and so much more.

Staff on the magazine are quitting by droves and there are those who leak to the public Gurley’s ideas which in one sense gets attention, both negative and positive.  Alice meanwhile learns the hard way not to trust fellow employees, both male and female.  Sex seems to be a tool but Alice is too much of a strong woman, although horrified and intimidated at first, to become part of the manipulative betrayals happening throughout the office.  She herself has apprentice-like skills as a photographer and meets Christopher, who mentors her and never goes beyond a professional and friendly stance, with a hint of something more looming in the future.

When the July issue finally emerges, it has rave sales but Gurley still has to fight to have her ideas for the future emerge unscathed by the Hearst family.

Park Avenue Summer is a delightful read, both for depicting the historical changes happening in a society wanting “more” in the personal and professional worlds.  Nice job, Renee Rosen! 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Great Pretenders by Laura Kalpakian

The Great Pretenders.  Laura Kalpakian. Tirgearr Publishing.  March 2019; Kindle mobi, 283 pp.; ASIN: B07N974NW5.

Roxanne Granville is a spoiled, rich granddaughter of a theatre and movie powerhouse.  Her mother dies in the very beginning of the story and her resentment of her grandfather’s lover is beyond words.  She can’t understand how Denise could replace Julia because Roxanne really has no idea what a love affair with commitment is and how it could change.  Therefore, she announces she will have nothing to do with him until he drops Denise.  His response is laughable, a fairy tale in the land of the rich!

So what does a woman with fame to her name do when not living in a beach home in Malibu?  She has no real skills but isn’t shy on ideas.  She decides to be a book agent, supporting and selling the types of books that are turned into shows and movies.  Roxanne proceeds to do something daring, something that carries the chances for amazing success as well as the chances of looming disaster.

Hundreds of former writers and actors were fired when Joe McCarthy’s Committee for Unamerican Activities was conducting its investigations and congressional testimonials, rooting out anyone and everyone even slightly associated with the Communist Party.  Those who refused to admit involvement with Communism or who refused to name other people involved pleaded the Fifth Amendment.  The results were tragic and devastating!

Now Roxanne, who deeply feels for these talented but now unemployable writers, begins to sponsor their written works under the names of anonymous, unknown writers.  Anyone with half a brain knows this but stays silent; Roxanne is admired for her guts and/or stupidity in proceeding with this plan.  Will it work out for all involved?

Then Roxanne goes one step ahead with trouble and falls in love with an African-American guy, Terrence Dexter during a time when Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are protesting openly about the Jim Crow laws in vogue.  Roxanne grows up fast when she sees in Terrence how black people live with daily prejudice, laws and abuse based on racial discrimination. 

In the end of this fictional account, one may say that differences between characters reach a semi-satisfactory resolution but definitely not the solution all are hoping to attain.  Roxanne comes across as a spunky, daring woman but her cleverness remains hidden below the surface.  Only when life’s circumstances become beyond her control does the reader begin to appreciate Roxanne’s true life-changing stamina in many notable ways.

The Great Pretenders is a remarkable story describing turbulent historical times and how these difficulties were met by Hollywood and feisty, challenging characters!  Good read!!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Law and Addiction: A Legal Thriller by Mike Papantonio

Law and Addiction: A Legal Thriller. Mike Papantonio. Waterside Productions.  April 2019. pb, 312 hp.; ISBN: 9781939116468.

Opioid addiction has become a national crisis!  More cases of overdose fill the news on a weekly basis.  Police regularly carry and administer Narcan for overdosing addicts.  Meanwhile, as Mike Papantonio has so carefully and deftly delineated in this fictional account of reality, attempts to deal with the problem on a local and national basis continue, attempts to stem a raging flood of addiction and death.

Jake Rutledge is a new lawyer who lost his twin brother to this horrifying disease.  Jake and Blake had a favorite term they used with each other about having each other’s back.  Now Jake is determined to carry out his promise because of his grievous loss.  Having no money and no connections isn’t exactly a wild card in legally pursuing the sources and markets that are part of the mass distribution system of selling opioids.  However, Jake’s got guts and high-caliber intelligence to get his search going. So he begins by suing two companies that sell massive amounts of drugs to little known small towns in and around what is known as “Zombieland.” 

He then connects to a highly successful lawyer with a dynamic record of experience in suing Fortune 500 companies.  They begin by suing companies who have made a killing (literally and figuratively) in West Virginia and Ohio.  Readers will be riveted to the course of each court phase and the wiliness of Jake and Deke, his attorney second chair, in challenging big shot attorneys.

Readers, however, won’t be ready for the methods used to suppress and then shut Jake up.  No spoilers here.  Suffice to say, Jake meets Blake’s former girlfriend who is now addicted to Oxycontin and helps her through her gritty efforts to withdraw from her addiction.  He himself is about to undergo empathic thoughts and feelings after hoodlum attempts to bribe his efforts fail.

The reader also meets several characters who deal and distribute drugs, individuals who are caught innocently in the dragon net of illegality and can’t get out to survive!  

All in all, the reader can anticipate the ending but that’s only after brutality and other machinations have all failed to stymie Jake’s efforts.  Mike Papantonio has penned a necessary legal thriller that everyone should read.  The question readers are left with is “Where do we go from here?”  Highly recommended contemporary fiction!