Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews

From 3-31-12 Snowybrook Inn - Book One by Scott Reeves

 Fantasy Short Stories for Adults - 3 stars

This book is set in a mysterious place called Snowybrook.  Unlike what you may think, this fairy tale is for adults.

Everything in this little village centers on the inn that is run by Mikel Fairdawn.  It seems to be the gathering place for all the residents where drink and food and conversation can be had around a roaring fire.  Visitors come and go as well throughout the book.

I didn’t really realize it at first but this book is a few short tales all mingled together and centered on the life of Mikel Fairdawn who finds himself involved with fairies, goblins, witches, dragons and the like.  Of course the soldiers are always hanging about too and no one in this little village trusts the soldiers.

The innkeeper feels it is his duty to keep everything running smoothly so he tries to intervene to fix any problems that arise, even trying to change the course of history at one point to protect the town from the soldiers.  The tales that arise in this book are pretty ridiculous situations, but this is a fairy tale after all and that is what is expected in a good fairy tale.

Mikel does have two helpers at the inn, a fairy named Merrybright and a not-so-bright boy named Bubba.  We soon learn that Mikel and Merrybright are in love and having an affair.  They sneak off into the woods as time permits, leaving Bubba Boy in charge, which is a recipe for disaster.  As I mentioned earlier, Bubba isn’t the sharpest tack in the box.  His lack of judgement almost spells disaster for the inn and the entire vale at one point.

Once again Fairdawn comes to the rescue to intervene between the soldiers and to fight a dragon.  At one point he even falls under a witch’s spell as he ties to return the sword of a fallen comrade.

Merrybright’s parents don’t approve of her relationship with the innkeeper but they can see it is true love and know she will not marry the fairy they had in mind for her.  They finally accept Fairdawn, but in the end he has to prove his true love for her by yet another quest.

This book was interesting and full of crazy characters.

From 8-23-2012 Daimones by Massimo Marino

What would you do if You Woke One Day to find your life had Completely Changed?   4 stars

That’s exactly what happens to Dan, his wife Mary, and their daughter Annah, in this debut novel by Massimo Marino. This book gives the reader a different view of the apocalypse.

Dan and his family had the almost-perfect life in the French countryside until a mysterious windstorm in February. Nobody realized that anything unusual had happened until it was time to drive Annah to school. Vehicles of every type littered the highway, their dead drivers still behind the wheel. Dan decided to return home and instructed Mary to stay put instead of going to her teaching job. No one was answering the phone at any of the emergency departments. The family didn’t know what happened, so decided to go check on their friends next door only to find more death.

Once they discovered that they were the only survivors of some catastrophe, Dan decided it was best to stock up on emergency supplies. Therefore, instead of looking for a new job, which was the plan, he went to the mall and began to collect food, medical supplies and other things the family may need, not knowing what was coming later.

Luckily the internet still worked, so Dan decided to launch a massive campaign to find any other survivors in hopes of learning more about what they were facing. While they waited for a response, not expecting any, they continued to collect supplies, even going as far as befriending some neighborhood dogs and arming themselves with survival gear.

At first, it was hard to simply go into the stores and take things without paying for them, but of course, there was no one to pay. The whole world had become a ghost town. After awhile that got easier and Dan even allowed himself a few luxuries, as well as the needed supplies.

At home, to keep a sense of normalcy, they went by the calendar and home-schooled Annah. After school and on weekends they trained the dogs and practiced shooting with the arsenal Dan had gathered. Everyone tried to stay busy.

However, more changes came as the months went by and their lives took some turns that even they could not have ever predicted in their wildest dreams. Yet, now, it was a case of survival and adapting to what came their way.

The down-to-earth writing style of this story makes it an enjoyable read, with a bit of humor as Dan contemplates things along the way and even scolds himself for some of his thoughts when they turn morbid. The characters are real as they face their challenges; the descriptions of the countryside and Geneva are beautiful, bringing the reader into the story to hear the birds chirping, see the blue sky and witness nature taking back the towns and villages.

The conclusion is surprising, giving the reader lots to ponder. In fact, it is so much information that I had to read it twice in places and think, perhaps, this could have been broken up into smaller increments making it easier to take in. The ending brings some closure about the catastrophe to this family, but also lays a heavy burden and responsibility on Dan.

The entertainment value of this story deserves five stars, but I’m giving it four only because there are a few editing issues.

From 12-2-2012 Marigold - Book One of the Elven Chronicles by Marya Ashworth

 A very pleasant fairy tale - 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although it's for young readers (8-12) I think it could be enjoyed by any age group. The book is full of adventures and activities that young teens could relate to; horseback riding, skating, and listening to music, dances, relationships, shopping and homework. And of course there are adventures with good and evil and bits of magick scattered throughout the pages.

I liked all the characters in this book. I think they are well drawn and we get a sense of what everyone is like. There's also good description throughout, so the reader can easily picture all the places and events in the story.

Our main character Marigold (or Maggie as she likes to be called) is a half human and half elf child and because of this she's always felt different and is very lonely, especially after moving from Ireland to Washington State, so her workaholic dad could start his new job. The kids at her new school make fun of her and she generally doesn't fit in. Maggie is self-conscious of her pointed ears and keeps them covered with her long hair. She hates the school and takes solace in her best friend, a horse named Biscuit.

Marigold's life begins to change after she rescues a boy and is able to follow him to the kingdom of ElvenHome, which is home to the elves. It isn't long and she finds herself enrolled in ElvenAcademy. Here she makes new friends that she shares things in common with, plus she gets to sharpen her magick skills.

Maggie is full of courage as she battles the banshees and rescues her new schoolmates. She is always up to a challenge and tries to do the right thing as events unfold. The conclusion leaves you wondering what will happen next.

From 8-16-2011 Growing up in Mississippi by Bertha Davis

Insightful Memoirs about Growing up in Missippi in the Fifties and Sixties - 5 stars

This book is a memoir about growing up working on the cotton plantations in Mississippi. Not only did this family struggle because they lived in poverty, but they were also black and living in the south when African Americans were discriminated against and looked down on just because of their color.

When I read the synopsis for this book it sparked my interest because I was also raised on a cotton farm in the south in the 50's. I was interested in Bertha's story. I thought perhaps I could relate to what happened to her, not because I'm black but because we were also very poor back then and did our share of picking cotton when we weren't in school. I also knew very well what blacks were treated like in the south during that time.

Some of the things the author describes are horrible and are certainly things that no one should have to witness and certainly not a child. They are things that should have never happened, but most of the people in the south in those times were raised with a prejudiced attitude. It's very unfortunate when we just can't view everyone as human beings regardless of our differences. Today things have changed for the better, which is a good thing. It was hard enough growing up in poverty but I think it was downright dangerous to be a person of color in the 50's and even the 60's. You never knew when someone would shoot you dead for no reason at all.

As the reader we get to look inside of the plain houses this family lived in; live the turmoil in their lives, hear the tales of what they ate, which was sometimes very little. They worked hard all day everyday and lied in their beds at night listening to the rats and snakes in the walls. But they weren't without a few fun childhood moments. They would sneak out of the house when their mother was gone and take the boat out and go wading in the rivers, never once thinking of the dangers of snakes swimming in the same water. My siblings and I used to wade in the muddy ditches too when we were growing up and lie in bed listening to the rats in the walls of the sharecropper's shack we lived in until I was about 13.

I could relate to this story on several levels. There was a lot of poverty in the south with people drifting here and there to find work. I found this book to be an enlightening read and a sad story. This family was treated so badly, but its also uplifting because they stuck together through everything they had to endure and they rose above the poverty and the prejudice after the Civil rights movement. The author was able to go to college, which was a childhood dream, and graduate with a degree.

There wasn't a father figure present, but Bertha and her siblings had a strong mother who wanted the best for her four kids and she moved them around a lot to different plantations as she tried to give them the best life she could under the circumstances. This memoir also has some nice old family photos. I would recommend this book to anyone who really wants to see what life was like back then from someone who knows firsthand. The reader can get a good feel for the characters and the places by all the description in the story. I felt like I was right there with Bertha, laughing and crying along with her. The cover on this book is a collage of family photos and quite the appropriate choice.

From 8-24-2011 Tales from a Mountain City by Quynh Dao

Wow! What a story!  This is well worth reading - 5 stars

Wow! What a story! This is a true account about a family during the Vietnam War and the rise of Communism. This powerful story is told by one of the daughters of the family. The writing in this memoir is excellent and contains many bits of history as well as family stories.

When the Communists move into Vietnam this family is thrown out of their house with nowhere to go. The troops want to use their house as a base for their operations and living quarters. The family finally finds refuge with a lady that the mother of the family had done business with in the past. They stay in the attic of her house along with another family who has fled their home. Many people lost homes to the troops. You were especially in danger of being homeless if you were wealthy and had a big house. Everyone was experiencing a time of great upheaval with normal daily life abruptly changed. Books were burned in the streets and Communists broadcasts blared out though speakers erected in the towns and on the streets.

The author shows how they had to live during this turbulent time, accounting for every place they went and told if and when they could come and go. At this time a lot of brainwashing began with the children having to learn slogans at school as well as having to dig trenches and go on other assignments as needed to help the troops instead of studying regular school subjects. At a certain age everyone had to fill called the "declaration of personal background," which was basically your whole family history. The communists wanted to find all counter-revolutionaries in the country. These undesirables were then either executed or sent to prisons, or as they called it "re-education camps" until they were reformed. Many friends and relatives were sent to prison to be reprogrammed. Some fled to the woods where a lot of them perished because of disease and lack of food. Luckily most of this family escaped that fate, although as a teen the author was taken from her home in the middle of the night by the soldiers with no explanation to her parents as to why. When taken by the cadres you never knew if you would be reunited with your family or not.

The soldiers would come along and take the young people to do various tasks for them. The author was in a group of other girls that had to pick tea at a secret location for a month. Others taken weren't as lucky as they had to dig up land mines, etc. Living during this time was quite dangerous. Everything was very uncertain and food was terribly scarce. Many people starved to death. Families would set up stands to sell what they could, hoping to make enough money to buy rice and other necessities.

This family, along with many of the Vietnamese people, witnessed some dreadful scenes as people were executed and everyone lived in fear from day to day. Bombs, air raids and gunfire became a regular occurrence.

This is a heart wrenching story of sacrifice and a family's hope to escape the horrible atrocities they had to live with everyday. This book also contains some wonderful old family photos.

Some of the things in this book are shocking and some will make you mad because you really care about this family and what happens to them. Quynh Dao shares a couple of funny moments as well, which lightens the mood of this book. I highly recommend this behind the scenes look into the lives of real people living under Communist rule.

From 10-12-2011 No Cure for the Broken Hearted by Kenneth Rosenberg

Enjoyable Romantic Read - 4 stars

This is a somewhat predictable but enjoyable story about a childhood romance that never really died away. Nick and Katherine met one summer as teenagers while vacationing at the lake. Nick's mother let Katherine know she was beneath her son when she was invited to their big estate for tea. They had servants for everything and it was all so formal that Katherine felt very out of place. Nick got on well with her parents and yet she found his mother "scary" and it was soon after this that his mother sent Nick back to the city, so there were no more daily visits to the ice cream shop where she worked and she didn't hear from him again until years later even though they both promised to stay in contact after the summer ended.

As Katherine grew up she immersed herself in school and then in work and never left any time for relationships. She becomes a world class, highly respected architect. One day years later Nick walks back into her life and asks her to design his dream home at the lake where they met. Of course by this time Nick is quite the playboy and has travelled all over the world. Because of the family wealth there was always plenty of news about his escapades in the tabloids and newspapers. All the memories of that summer came flooding back to Katherine and at first she didn't want to get involved in designing his house, however she changes her mind after he calls her to bail him out of jail instead of calling his fiancé. The picture of her and Nick taken by the paparazzi is spread all over the front page and this causes the fiancé to burst into her office and throw a fit as she waves her huge engagement ring in the air while she's ranting at Katherine about stealing her man.

This is a good clean read in the romance department, which you can't say about all books out there. Instead of sex scenes this book delves into the minds and feelings of the characters. It's a sweet story about two people who meet again as adults. Katherine is a bit disheartened in the beginning and pretty indecisive about her feelings for Nick. At first she wanted to have nothing further to do with Nick after he never stayed in touch with her after their summer romance years before. Besides he wasn't the sort of man you could take seriously anyway - or was he?

Nick doesn't realize she still has feelings from long ago and she's a bit hurt at his disappearance from her life after he went back home after that summer at the lake. Nick is somewhat immature and has always followed the dreams of his family and isn't really the person he wants to be. He was a troubled teen and is still troubled as an adult. Will he find the courage to break away from what his family expects of him?

There are characters in this book that are easy to hate as you route for Nick and Katherine to get back together like they were as teenagers. This book moved along at a slow pace and even with the couple of typing errors it was a very enjoyable read.

From 12-29-2011 The Mountaineers Dance by Sondra Wolferman

The life of a mail order bride - 5 stars

The Russian "mail order" bride meets a lonely American bachelor. Claudia is working hard as a nurse's aid trying to make ends meet while living with her mother and sister whose husband left her with two kids to support. The five are living in a run down apt. while Claudia commutes by bus on a two hour journey to work everyday at Ambrosi Hospital a couple of towns away. Dr. Maddiwar, a new Indian doctor notices all the extra things Claudia does for the patients and the dedication she gives to her nursing. Ultimately, she falls for her boss, the Indian doctor, and moves in with him, glad to be out of the squalor she's been living in. He has a deluxe and roomy apt. near the hospital. However this romance is short lived and she ends up back at the apt. with her mom and sister because the Indian doctor's wife is coming for a visit. Once back home Claudia's sister, Marina, talks her into entering her picture and info into a Russian "mail order" bride's catalogue, which Claudia isn't too thrilled about. Marina was always the pretty one and she was just ordinary and thinks it would be a waste of time. Nevertheless, she follows Marina's advice.

Meanwhile, across the ocean in America there is Freddie, a cab driver in NYC that never has fit in with the family. He lacks self esteem and keeps trying to impress his parents through his various endeavors. They are somewhat appalled when he takes the job of driving a cab, but he becomes quite a good cab driver and learns all the ins and outs of the business. After dropping off a fare he finds a catalogue about "mail order" brides. He stuffs it away to look at later and when he does he decides to write to Claudia whose picture catches his eye because she's different than the other girls and isn't all made up and blonde like so many of the available women in the magazine. Claudia's family is shocked when she gets a letter from Freddie in NY. After corresponding they decide to meet so Freddie goes to Russia on a tour sponsored by the people who put out the catalogue. Everyone in the small dilapidated village Claudia and her family live in become very excited at the thought of an American coming to visit, so in anticipation of Freddie's arrival they go all out to prepare a feast for him

Deciding he needs a wife to impress his parents, Freddie ends up taking Claudia back to America where they marry and live in a small apt in NYC. She quickly makes friends with other Russians immigrants in town and starts to fit right in to her new life while Freddie is out driving his cab. All is well and good until Freddie decides it's time to stop driving the cab, get a better job and to move closer to his parents. Of course by then he can afford the big house with the manicured gardens and swimming pool, etc., but Claudia is anything but happy. She had to leave all her new-found friends behind and there is no one to talk to in the area of big estate homes. She had grown used to the lifestyle of sitting around talking to your neighbors daily and seeing children playing in the street and the new environment was very sterile to her with not a soul around and something she can't get used to. Of course there is a big fight and she feels awful because Freddy has given her money to send home to her mom and sister all this time.

They take off in separate cars after storming out of the big, new house. You'll have to read this book to find out if Claudia and Freddie can pull their relationship together. This is an interesting, worthwhile read and is well written.

From 12-29-2011 Remix by Lexi Revellian

Surprise, chaos and romance invade an artist life - 4 stars

Caz Tallis restores rocking horses for a living.  We learn quite a bit about the horses throughout the story.  Caz isn’t used to living an intriguing life.  She’s more like the nice, hard-working girl who puts a lot of hours in for little pay, but pursues her art for the sheer joy it gives her of seeing the completed rocking horses like the day they were first made.  Many of them come to her as broken down wrecks with pieces missing from lots of wear and tear.  She enjoys the calm peacefulness of restoring the horses in her workshop and the casual friendship she has with James, her childhood friend, who she sees at least once a week.

But suddenly her world is turned upside down when she finds a supposedly dead rock star and his dog on her roof terrace.  She isn’t quite sure what to do with this scruffy but charismatic character.  As Caz finds out the real story from Ric she agrees to help him find the actual murderer of the crime that he supposedly committed three years earlier – the murder of a band mate.  The case has been closed long ago by the police who were convinced that Ric did it.

The more Caz talks to Ric the more she becomes certain he didn’t commit the crime.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous and polite and she feels herself falling for him.  She ignores the pleas of James to turn him in to the police and decides its okay for Ric to stay at her place temporarily.  Thus begins a page turning read.

Ric can be quite persuasive and although Caz is reluctant at first, she agrees to be a private eye and to question all the possible suspects for him.  Of course she’s totally out of her element here and James is crazy with worry over her safety.  In his mind it is bad enough with her letting Ric stay in her flat not really knowing if he is a murderer or not.  Her sleuthing around leads to many dangerous situations and lots of action and there are times Caz wonders why she even agreed to help in the first place and perhaps her judgement is clouded by the growing feelings she has for Ric.

As the investigations continue, they both learn that there are people who will kill to keep this secret hidden.

All the characters aren’t as lovable as Caz, Ric and James, but they are wonderful and well drawn and fit in the novel perfectly.  It’s easy to picture all these people and the nerve wracking situations they face as the story unfolds to a gripping conclusion.

This is a great book and not just for female readers.

From 12-29-2011 Banshee Fires of Revenge by Billy Young

Good Halloween Read - 4 stars

There are many misspelled words and left out words in this book, but the bones of the story are very good and it was an interesting read despite that.

The whole story centers around a haunted cottage in the woods that has sat abandoned since the 1960's when an unsolved murder took place there. But the stories of it being haunted persisted way before that. There was one girl who escaped the murders by jumping from an upstairs window. When she's found on the street the next day she claims amnesia and soon after leaves town only to return when her nephew is murdered in the same cottage thirty years later.

After the funeral she confesses to her sister she has been plagued by nightmares and knew she must come back to put an end to the banshee that lives in the cottage. At first no one believes her until the banshee decides to leave the woods after a hundred years and venture into town on some evenings.

The inspector on the case finds it hard to let it go because even though he doesn't believe in ghosts he still has a niggling feeling there is something there that they are all missing. However, his boss tells him the case is closed and so his hands are tied until the nephew is murdered.

Add to this a nosey reporter trying to make a name for herself at the local paper by coming up with the big story. She seems to turn up where the inspector is and is doing a behind-the-scenes investigation of her own by talking to the local historian and questioning the gossipy neighbors.

The book is a bit predictable in places, but still interesting enough to keep reading with new action happening throughout.

This is haunting story with a surprise conclusion that would make a good Halloween read.

From 12-29-2011 A Band of Gypsies by Enrico Antiporda

Hard to follow because of many Spanish words sprinkled throughout, but a good story - 3 stars

A group of exchange students meet up in turbulent Spain to spend seven months working there.  We get to know them as they navigate a foreign country amid all the chaos and random attacks.  However we never learn the backgrounds of the other interns even though we know they are full of enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.

Jaime Aragon flees the violence of Manila only to enter another country where violence is run rampant.  The picturesque city he imagined to be arriving in is anything but – full of pollution and crumbling tattered buildings, but he grows to like the place that is made even more pleasant by his new-found friends.

He must learn Spanish quickly before he takes up his new job in two weeks time.  This is all prearranged for him before he arrives in Bilbao as well as his assigned apartment space that accommodates different interns from across the globe every year.  He manages to learn enough of the language to get him by until he learns more and he ends up excelling in his new job.

The small town called Bilbao that he lives in temporarily is in the Spanish Basque country where everywhere there are acts of terrorism going on.  This book contains lots of action while also describing local events and characters in detail.  For instance, there may be an ambush at a marketplace full of party goers celebrating some event.  You never know when and where disaster may strike.

Two of the people in the group, Allison and Jaime, fall in love but are afraid to let go because they both have a terrifying past where people they love have met demise. Tragedy seems to follow this couple around.

This novel is well written and intriguing with all the festivals, bombings, love and lust between the interns, etc.  The book is full of captivating stories and is a fast moving tale that will keep you reading to see what happens to all the people involved. The cover is colorful and is a good match for the story being told.

Be prepared for lots of excitement and adventures as our group of interns gets into all sorts of predicaments.  I think perhaps it would have been nice to know about the other intern’s backgrounds, but we do get to see the background of Jaime and Allison as the story goes on and thus know why they have a slow moving relationship.

There were many Spanish words and phrases used in this book, but it was all translated so non-Spanish speaking readers could follow the story with no problem.

This is a novel of romance written from the male perspective.  Jaime is smitten with Allison but too shy to tell her so.  He finds her mysterious and beautiful and she captivates him, but she always seems to be out on dates with different Spaniards he meets.  When he finally makes his move, the story is written around them as they yearn to uncover each other’s backgrounds.

From 6-23-2012 Dove Season by Johnny Shaw

A very enjoyable book - 4 stars

A son, Jimmy, returns home to Holtville, near the Mexican border, to help his ailing father who is dying from cancer. Big Jack has kept his illness to himself until he knew time was growing short, so he called his son because he had a last request. Jimmy feels the need to do the right thing and return home to see how he can help his father. He also wants to set things right between the two of them while there is still time.

Now Jimmy is the kind of character that doesn't seem to fit in anywhere he goes. Perhaps he doesn't want to face adulthood because he doesn't really have a life going on in his new home and he can't really get it together in Holtville either, which is just a small dusty, desert town with no hope of any type of advancement in life.

Shortly after Jimmy arrives, he finds out his father's last wish is to find the prostitute Yolanda, who may be somewhere in Mexico. He wants to spend some time with her before he dies. Jimmy reunites with his old best friend, Bobby, who assists him in fulfilling his dad's last wish. This entails a trip into Mexico where they run into all sorts of trouble, such as fist fights, getting drunk and dealing with some dark and dangerous characters. Bobby does his best to keep Jimmy out of trouble even though Jimmy pretty much left his friends and everything behind when he left twelve years earlier.

Eventually, Jimmy falls in with his old girlfriend and there is some question as to whether he will make the decision to stay in Holtville or not.

I was hooked on this gripping read from the first page, but it does contain a lot of violence and action packed scenes as well as a bit of humor, which softens this story of what it's actually like to live on the California/Mexico border today and to deal with losing people you love. There are many troubles and at times Jimmy finds himself in the middle of things.

The characters of Jimmy, his father Big Jack, his best friend Bobby, and the prostitute Yolanda are well done as are the relationships between these characters. They seem real and believable.

The desert descriptions in this story are also very well done and place you right there. I used to live in southern California and have been in the desert there and I live in the desert now, although in a different state. I could easily relate to all the dusty, desolate conditions and the jack rabbits, etc.

I enjoyed this book a lot even though the last part of it wasn't as good as the first three quarters of the book and could easily have been a different story. The tone was totally different and not what I expected, but I can see how the author wanted to tie in all the trouble south of the border.

I would definitely read something else by this talented author.

From 7-22-2012 Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

What an interesting quirky story - 4 stars

What an interesting story! The characters in this book are definitely quirky and extraordinary.

Luce lives alone in a large old lodge in the hills of North Carolina on the other side of the river from the small town, deciding to stay on after the owners die because "why not? Who else will look after the place?" She is a reclusive woman and everything there suits her just fine until her twin niece and nephew arrives, which really upsets the apple cart of her ordinary and independent life.

After her sister is murdered by her husband, Luce becomes guardian of her children. She is anything but thrilled about this arrangement, but tries to make the best of it because the children have no where else to go.

The children refuse to talk and always get into some sort of trouble, such as setting fire to things and killing chickens. Luce does her best to control them but it is very difficult, if not impossible, yet she refuses to believe they may be retarded and thinks they are very smart and just traumatized from the whole situation of their mother being murdered.

Luce walks everywhere she goes, to the small village for the few needs she has and to the neighbors, an old woman who makes potions and homemade remedies. Luce is quite a fascinating character and at times it almost seems as if she is living her life on auto-pilot and walking around in a daze or trance, but then the children will do something deplorable and she must act and try to talk some sense into them.

The scheming brother-in-law eventually returns thinking that Luce has the money her sister hid from him.

I loved all the description in this book and the unforgettable characters, although at times it moved so slow I thought it would be hard to read another page, but then it would take off again. Otherwise, the writing meanders all over with flowing descriptive sentences and Luce's quirky character traits and daily rituals. When thinking about it, it does make you wonder if oddness just doesn't run in the family genes.

Despite the slowness of this overall story, I enjoyed the descriptions very much and those put you right in the story with the characters and the beautiful scenery of the hills.

A definite dislike is no quotation marks at all. This was hard to figure out at first. I've never seen another book written this way. Please use quotation marks next time because it would be much easier to read. I would give it three stars for that, but the story was very interesting and memorable so I'm giving it four.

From 10-3-2012 The Traitor's Daughter by Paula Brandon

 Confusing - 2 stars

I was anxious to get this book after reading the synopsis, but once it arrived, I found it very hard to get into. It took me more than two months to finish it and I love to read. I had to lay it down, then go back later, and try to start in again. It was hard to keep everything straight because this book is all over the place, not what I expected.

One thing making the book difficult to grasp is a robot and reptilian creatures along with people riding horses and swinging swords. It didn't really mesh with my thinking about historical novels, which is what I expected this to be.

The robot introduced in the beginning really turned me off. As far as I can tell, it's a clone of some sort. This clone thinks it's smarter than the man who invented it. Introduced later, the Sishmindri are some reptilian servants. What is the purpose of these elements in a historical novel? To me, this doesn't fit in and is too futuristic and more like a science fiction book, taking away from the story.

Now, maybe there is a reason for these elements that the author will bring to light in the sequel to this book. It surprised me that the heroine of the story, Jianna, doesn't have magical powers that could have gotten her out of some of the situations she encounters. This girl is constantly beat up during the story and threatened with rape, the first beating comes when she is on her way to meet her betrothed. Along the way, Onartino kidnaps Jianna and kills her entourage. Onartino is a real bad boy who is supposedly seeking revenge because Jianna's father murdered his father. His intent is to torture her repeatedly.

At one point, Jianna manages to escape, but captured by the healer, Falaste Rione, and returned to Onartino's keeping because Rione is his ally and he doesn't believe the horrible things she tells him. Later on, Jianna helps Rione with his healing of the wounded soldiers, not knowing they are there because of her father.

Jianna, brought up as a sheltered and spoiled girl, thinks her father is a wonderful man. He hides all his shady dealings from her and is really a manipulative traitor with only his best interest in mind. Of course, the reader and many people in the book know otherwise, except Jianna.

The story jumps back and forth from Jianna's predicament to her father, Aureste, who has his own troubles with the political struggles to find his daughter while keeping his own position as a lord ruled by conquerors. He intends never to show his real self to his daughter as he hangs on to the kingdom, no matter what it takes. The powerful people are bickering among themselves while the world falls apart around them.

To add to all this, there is this magical power "the source" that is supposedly to blame for all this turmoil and the world is changing with the possibility of this power releasing a plague to destroy everyone. Yet, no one is much concerned with this at this point; perhaps the next book will cover this issue.

Another issue I had with reading this is the long, tedious sentences and archaic English language. There is a lot of back-story and setting up encompasses most of this first book. Only the last bit did I feel like I was getting down to the story.

To sum it up, I hate to give a bad review, and this novel did have some well-drawn characters, but overall it is hard to follow and a bit depressing. I'm sure some readers would enjoy the bloody crimes, revenge, and intrigue. It isn't all bad but moves way too slow without enough coherent action to keep me turning the pages. I know how hard it is to write a book and how many hours go into it, so I'm sorry to say it, but I will not read the sequel and can only give it two stars.

From 11-28-2012 The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn

Captivating Fast-paced Thriller - 5 stars

This book had me captivated from the start. I was intrigued the moment Andrew Morrison found himself driving down the street toward his new home. It is a new beginning for Andrew, away from his alcoholic, agoraphobic mother. I felt the same hope he does for a new life that he will share with an old friend who'd invited him to room with him.

The neighborhood looks as if it holds the answers to all of Andy's dreams, not ever having had a normal childhood. The manicured lawns, neatly trimmed shrubs, and white picket fences are only things he's seen on TV as a child.

He is a bit disappointed to find his new home, with Mickey, will be in the only run down home in the neighborhood, but he puts these thoughts aside. Always looking on the bright side of things, Andy's spirits lift at the prospect of a new life on his own.

Once inside this true bachelor pad, he goes about scrubbing up the scum and buying furniture for his room from the thrift store.

His first view of the neighbors next-door, Mr. and Mrs. Ward, bring back memories of the Cleavers in "Leave it to Beaver" he'd seen on TV. They epitomized the perfect American family with the perfect house and perfect yard. They never dressed casually, not even for yard work. He couldn't take his eyes off the fairy tale house.

As time goes on, Harlow and Red Ward become his friends, much to the angst of Mickey, who knows the real story and wants to protect his younger friend, as he's done most of his life. However, Andy will heed none of his warnings about the Wards, who also have a few choice things to say about Mickey, all for leaving doubts about his life-long friend in Andrew's mind.

Mickey and Andy eat a lot of fast food, so it isn't hard for Harlow to get Andrew's attention with her cooking. Later, Harlow makes a play to seduce the young Andrew, who looks upon her as a mother figure, the kind he wishes he had. Her behavior stuns him and he pulls away, but ultimately forgives her, being a very lonely boy.

By the middle of the book, the story is in full swing leaving the reader with lots of questions. What's behind the locked door in Mickey's house, why does Mickey disappear at times and sleep well into the afternoon when he's home, are the Ward's as nice as Andrew thinks they are? Something dark brews beneath the surface.

Andrew, having the good heart he has, also feels guilty about leaving his mother alone while he has the good life. He finds himself torn between staying and going back home, but it's hard to turn down the home-cooked meals and the perfect life of the Wards. Besides, Harlow is a lovely lady to look at, always done up perfectly and looking much younger than her age.

There is intrigue at every turn as this mystery begins to unfold, leaving Andrew with some suspicions of his own, although he pushes them aside, and reasons with himself that his thoughts are not valid. Eventually, Andy begins to realize that sometimes things are not as they appear to be. As enticing as it looks, perhaps life isn't any greener on the other side of the fence.

There is a lot of mystery in this well written tale about very twisted characters. It is gory and tense in places, so not for the squeamish reader, but if you love suspense, you'll love this book. The end is satisfying and heartwarming.

From 1-9-2013 The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie

This one is for all you cat lovers out there - 5 stars

I haven't read a book this delightful in a long time. It hooked me after the first couple of pages. Of course, I'm a cat person, big time, so I guess that's expected. The story unfolds through the eyes of the Dalai Lama's cat, a Himalayan kitten he rescues at a street market. This cat he names HHC (his Holiness's Cat).

The Dalai Lama meets with lots of people, some of them famous, which at first we try to figure out who they are since there is only a hint here and there. The cat is privy to all these private meetings where His Holiness hands out advice and enlightenment. It is a delight to see the cat trying to figure out how she can apply all this information to her "cat" life. She thinks about her own issues, which happen to be much the same as the people who are coming to see the Dalai Lama.

There is advice all the way through this book on how to live a happy life. Bits of these ideas are intermingled throughout as well as bits and pieces of Buddhism principles. All this is seen through the eyes of the cat's daily life and are easy to understand and relate to, regardless if you are a cat lover or not. All along the way the cat, HHC, has some revelations as well, as to how she can live her life in a better way, such as enjoying her new cat friend instead of sulking around hiding for three days, just because she's in a strange place.

This author knows well how cats behave, capturing it perfectly, so I am willing to bet he has had some experience of his own with the precious felines, as well as with Buddhists principles.

Those of you who have never had a cat may think this is a stretch of the imagination and that no animal really thinks about human issues. However, it is feasible and written well, and as a cat owner, I can tell you the little rascals know more than you give them credit for concerning life.

This is not a "preachy" book either, so it wouldn't be offensive to anyone regardless of religious preference, or lack thereof. The underlying theme is mindfulness and forgiveness, which we can all benefit from and put into play in our daily lives.

I hardily recommend this book.

From 3-6-2013 The Help by Kathryn Stockett

WOW!  What a book! 5 stars

This book is one of the best I’ve read in a long time.  I knew right from the start that I was going to be sad when I came to the end.  The characters are wonderful, although there is a couple I’d like to knock on the head.  This is writing at its best.  I can picture everyone in the book, from the black maids talking in the kitchen, or the privileged white ladies at their benefits.

This book is about diversity and segregation in the south in the 1960’s, particularly Mississippi.  The reader gets a look into the daily lives of the colored ladies who keep house and raise the kids for the white people.  Although this is a serious story and there are some awful moments in this book, there is enough humor to keep the reader chuckling throughout.  It was definitely hard to put this book down each night and go to bed.

I grew up in the South during this time, and can relate to all the issues in the book.  The dialogue is wonderful and the author accurately portrays the food and the weather, bringing back many memories for me.

I was interested in the lives of all the maids in the book and the awful conditions they had to endure in that time of great civil unrest.  The maids are desperate as they tolerate abuse from the white ladies they work for, who ultimately hold their fate in their hands.  I wanted to cry when I see them wrongly accused for stealing, and then fired because if it.  There are times when false rumors are spread too, making it impossible for the maid to find other work.

Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are the main characters in this book.  I loved each of these unique women, who had enough guts to stand up and try to change the terrible conditions that existed in those days.

Ambitious Skeeter wants to become a writer, much to her mother’s disgust.  Her mother wants to see her married and taking her place in white society when she comes home from college.  Skeeter befriends the maids, kind-hearted Aibilene and sassy Minny, who gradually begin to trust her, after she has planted the idea of a book project to shed light on the working conditions for maids in Mississippi.  More maids jump onboard the book project, as black people are beaten and killed in their town.  They all take a risk and that risk comes with a price.

Hilly, the white Queen Bee you love to hate adds fuel to the fire by constantly spreading her message that colored folks carry diseases.  She questions their hygiene, although she allows her own maid in the kitchen to cook all the food, take care of the kids, and clean the house.  Hilly goes on a toilet campaign to make sure every white household in Jackson has a toilet for the colored help.  This crusade only spurs Skeeter and the maids on to tell their story, hoping the book will be published and that they will remain anonymous, so as not to bring anymore ill will down on themselves.  At the same time, they are hoping that conditions will change and people will look deeper than the color of someone’s skin.

Not all the white people treated the maids badly, although most did.  We see how strange it was growing up in the south in those days when Minny goes to work for Celia Foote, the “white trash,” who allows her to sit at the table, drink coffee, and eat with her.  They really begin to care for each other when Minny sees she is different from the many employers she’s had in the past.

There was never a dull moment.  I really LOVED this book and want to read it again.  I checked this copy out of the library, but I will now buy my own copy.  What a great debut novel.  I hope Kathryn Stockett writes a sequel.

From 3-24-2013 The Help (Movie)

Good but not as good as the book

From 4-24-2013 Costa Rica by Lonely Planet 

Everything you need to know - 5 stars

This is an excellent resource book, if you plan to travel to Costa Rica.  In addition, it is small enough to take along for easy reference, measuring 5” by 7 ¾” by 3/4”.  The authors have separated the book into sections of the country, making it easy to find what you’re looking for.  Each section has detailed maps of each major town in that section, along with information on many places to stay, whether your preference is a hotel or hostel.  There is also mention of numerous places to eat, along with activities to get involved in, such as tours, festivals, golf, horseback riding, kayaking, etc.  There is so much detail in this book that it makes it easy to take a do-it-yourself sightseeing tour.

This guide even lays out how to get around, if you haven’t rented a car.  It gives ferry and bus service schedules in areas that provide them, giving the price, times of service, and approximately how long it takes to get to your destination.

The authors have covered everything from one end of the country to the other and important places of interest are marked on easy to follow colored maps.

Each section provides info on the towns in the area, as well as any activities in that town.  There is also a list of lodging and eating-places.  The traveler can make arrangements easily after they are tired of looking at everything the country has to offer.

As a bonus, in the beginning of each section of the country, there is a brief history, details on climate, and the best time to visit, along with a list of parks.

In the back of the book, there is a more detailed history of the country, as well as tips on living there and basic Spanish you may need to know in order to speak with the locals.

The book has many beautiful colored pictures of the gorgeous scenery and animals you might see on your adventure.  I can’t think of anything that isn’t covered.  Even the cover features a colorful tree frog that makes you anticipate booking this trip.

From 8-28-2013 Homecoming Ranch by Julie London

Review Coming soon

From 10-23-2013 Far Out by Rev Audie Derryberry

Well written space book with christian angle - 4 stars

The reason I downloaded this book and read it is two-fold.  I follow a blog that listed this book as a free download, so I decided to read it because I enjoy this author’s blog posts.  In addition, this is a new author and this is his first book so he deserves a chance.  It’s a short and easy read.

In my opinion, this book would probably be of most interest to people who like science fiction, space travel, and the study of Christianity.  The book is centered on a family living in the southern California desert.  The father, James, is a retired astronaut, but is very interested in space, our origins and where we’re going.  After his retirement, he builds his own time travel machine in a laboratory he constructs at home.

After everything is ready, he travels back in time and then forward in time to see what will happen to Earth.  According to our main character, James, everything will end more-or-less in 2018, which is 70 years after the last generation born when Israel became a nation in 1948.  The story is based on Bible scripture and the author’s interpretation of that scripture.

This book is well written, but isn’t the type of literature I usually read.  However, if you’re into Bible scriptures and space books you’ll enjoy this.  It would be a fun way to get your Christian message across to younger readers.  The author says he wrote it to provoke thought and offers the scripture the book is based on free of charge through email at the back of the book.

From 11-27-2013 Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

Too many characters but interesting story - 4 stars

Fina Ludlow, the main character, is a PI in a family of men.  First off, this girl is certainly not a role model for anyone.  She’s a junk-food addict.  How can you survive that way and have a body to-die-for?  The condo she got from her grandmother is a pigsty and she lives there rent-free.  This isn’t realistic in today’s society.

Fina is tough, as you can imagine a PI should be, and like any male counterpart, she drinks and cusses and isn’t afraid to kick-ass if necessary to get the information she wants.  However, this girl usually seeks out men that she’s slept with, or ones she wants to sleep with to get answers to her questions.

She works for her father’s law firm, which also employs her brothers as lawyers.  This story has an excessive amount of characters in it.  The author introduces them in the first part of the book.  It was very hard for me to read the first fifty or sixty pages and keep all these people straight.  After that, the story finally settled down a bit and I was able to follow it better.  I think the author would benefit by having a character list in the front of the book that the reader can refer to when necessary.

Ms. Ludlow constantly complains about her family, her mother in particular, and it’s hard for her to get any answers out of her dad or brothers, for her murder investigation, because she’s female and they don’t want to share any of their secrets with her.

If you can get past all this, this is an interesting story, even of it is a bit predictable.

From 12-4-2013 The Last Whisper in the Dark by Tom Piccirilli

Full of details and quirky characters - 5 stars

I had never heard of this author but the title of the book intrigued me.  What I found inside was a page-turner and a great story, whether you like crime fiction or not.  This is one crazy family, but that makes them real.  I like to read about dysfunctional, quirky people and this book has them.  Even though they are professional thieves with their own agendas, they stick together as a family against outsiders.  They tend to put aside their personal beliefs on morality and virtue to stand up for kin.  Who doesn’t think that’s great?

These characters commit crimes because they find it thrilling to do so.  That adrenalin rush is more important than the money, which is hid everywhere in the house.  Another crazy thing here is that all of the family is named after dogs breeds, which is definitely unusual.

In the story, there are many surprises and twists.  The youngest son, Terry, short for Terrier, is trying to distance himself from his past life of crime, but he is pulled in anyway because he’s trying to save a girl from a botched bank robbery, plus deal with a relationship problem of his own, and the rest of the family’s issues.

I enjoyed this book and it makes me want to read the first book about these people.

From 12-29-2013 Assassin's Game by Gov Dan Walker

Out of control political corruption - 5 stars

I didn’t really know what to expect when I received a copy of this book from the author, who I’ve known for several years.  But I’m a mystery fan and this book didn’t disappoint me.  It is full of intrigue with one twist after another to keep the reader turning the pages to see what will happen next.

The story starts out with the gory murder of a prostitute.  Soon we discover that organized crime is under almost everything that goes on in the political world.  The mob has politicians and respectable executives in their pocket.  They see their plans realized by working through these people that the average citizen wouldn’t expect.  The mafia orchestrates the demise of certain leaders and sees that the replacements of their choice fill the vacancies.

In this fast-paced novel, you’ll find plenty of deception from murders, kidnapping, drug deals, prostitution, and gambling.

Some of the resolutions are alarming, but then we are reading about the mob, so what would you expect from shady characters like this?  They thrive on fraud and are callous individuals you wouldn’t ever want to meet in real life.  Money is more important than respectability.

The unwholesome characters are well drawn and believable, almost too believable.  The thing with this book is that the author had a front row seat to the underbelly of Chicago politics when he was governor of the state of Illinois.  With this distinctive background, there is no one else that could write this story.

I recommend this book to those who like a good mystery, and to those who want a glimpse into the darker side of corrupt politics.  In some of the circumstances, this could be what is going on in the political world today.  Now that’s a scary thought.

From 3-5-2014 Finding Sagrado by Roger Carrier

So good the characters will stay with you - 5 stars

Finding Sagrado is a coming of age story, but unlike any other you’ve read.  The author, Roger Carrier, does a great job with this book and uses a theme I haven’t seen in another story.  This alone should be an incentive to pick this book up and read it.

The characters are believable in this well-written story about a teenage boy who goes on the hunt for a town he reads about in a novel in English class.  His father died in Vietnam and now his mother is seeing another man and wants to marry him.  This gives Shane even more of an incentive to search for his town where he thinks life is perfect.

He plans his strategy over the next few weeks, thinking of brilliant ways to throw his family off the track when they discover he’s run away from home.  This planning entails a roundabout way to reach Sagrado, which he thinks is somewhere in New Mexico.

When the big day finally arrives, Shane takes some money his father hid in the basement and starts his journey.  However, he finds traveling the way he’s planned causes him some pitfalls and run-ins with some dangerous elements.  Besides these setbacks he didn’t plan for, he meets some colorful people in his search.  These kind strangers are happy to help him, showing that all people aren’t bad characters.

Once he arrives in what he believes to be Sagrado from his favorite novel, Shane attempts to make it so through the other people he meets there, sometimes stretching the truth just a little.  We see this whole story unfold through Shane’s eyes, bringing back issues all teenagers face growing up.  The reader can empathize with Shane’s trials as he tries to become an adult and find his place in society.  While chasing his dream, Shane remains aware of how his actions may affect the family and friends he left behind.

Roger Carrier brings the New Mexico desert to life with his colorful description of the landscape and the characters and situations that help to shape Shane’s life.  Sometimes you can help the people you meet as much as they can help you.

This enjoyable book will linger with you long after you’ve closed the cover.  Highly recommended.


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