Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Tragedy Made Known

I was blown away by Chris Bohjalian's "The Sandcastle Girls". Prior to reading this novel I'd never heard of the Armenian genocide that took place in 1915-1916 under the Ottoman Empire.  The story is woven between 1915 Aleppo, Syria and 2012 Bronxville, New York.

In 1915 Elizabeth Endicott travels to Aleppo under the auspices of a Boston group called Friends of Armenia.  They are bringing aid to the Armenians displaced by the war.  There she meets Armen who is an Armenian engineer who has lost his family to the genocide.

The present day portion of the story surrounds Elizabeth's granddaughter, Laura, who only recently discovered that her grandparents had been witness to and part of this horrific event.  She is attempting to write their story.

Bohjalian does a tremendous job bringing this tragedy to light.  The horrors the Armenians endured at the hands of the Turks was made vivid in the retelling.  It was particularly chilling to me how the Germans, allies of the Turks, learned the most efficient ways to transport and dispose of unwanted citizens.

This is a must read for anyone that is interested in history and this time period in particular.  It is a masterful and heartbreaking story.

Politics "Not" as Usual

"Running", by Patrice Fitzgerald is not your run of the mill election story.  Catherine Young is the current Vice President of the United States and has been nominated the Democratic candidate for president in the upcoming election.  Her opposition is Jerusha Hutchins, a beauty-queen type who is married to a very prominent religious figure.

Catherine looks to be a "shoe-in" for the presidency until someone starts blackmailing her about an event in her past.  When she learns that the blackmailer is a member of her own staff the ante is upped and the hunt is on.

This is a thrilling, fast paced novel.  The characters are well-developed and believable.  Fitzgerald does a great job depicting the downward spiral and unraveling of the blackmailer.  Catherine is a strong, independent female character who would certainly get my vote.

I was hesitant when I started the novel as the election cycle had just ended and I was on politics overload.  The story was so compelling though, that I forgot about that in short order.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dead, But Not Forever

In "The Ups and Downs of Being Dead", by M. R. Cornelius, Robert Malone is dead but his "life" is really just beginning.  This successful businessman chose cryonics when he was faced with death by cancer.  Cryonics freezes the brain and sometimes the body to preserve it so that it can be reanimated at a future time, when hopefully the diseases have been cured.  The technology to reanimate also needs to be developed.

What Robert didn't realize was that his spirit would be "alive" and waiting around for all that time.  So begins his adventure - traveling the world, meeting other "temp" souls and following the lives of his family.

I really liked the concept of the story.  Cornelius took the story far into the future with a progression of developments and discoveries that totally changes the nature of our existence.  It didn't necessarily make me want to try cryonics, but is definitely imaginative.

The character of Robert, who begins the story as an uptight CEO of a successful clothing company he started, is well developed.  As Robert discovers the world as a soul that can't taste, touch or feel  it leads to his spiritual growth and development.  Suzanne, a soul who shares the journey with him, is a great counterpoint to his character.

This is a great, fun read!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

History, Romance and Suspense in One Place

"The Devil's Dime", by Bailey Bristol is a fast paced read that is at once suspenseful, historical and romantic.  The novel takes place in 1896 New York and the author brings that time period to life with her prose.

Jess Pepper has just arrived in New York City from Colorado.  He's been hired as an investigative journalist for the New York Times.  He finds his first investigative mission in a 20 year-old case file titled "The Samaritan Files".  It details 20 women who had been saved from the brink of death by a mystery man.

Addie Magee is a bright and talented young musician who is making a name for herself and her musical group, The Avalon Strings.  Jess catches a performance by the group and is instantly smitten with her. As they get to know each other Jess learns that Addie and her long lost father are entwined in the story he's investigating, along with corrupt police officials making their living on the 'devil's dime'.  As the body count begins to rise and people disappear the suspense ratchets up.

This story had great characters; from Jess and Addie to Ford (Addie's father) and Jess' young protege, Tad.  I loved Addie's character the most.  She was a strong willed, independent yet very feminine woman making her own way in the world.

I really appreciated the photos the author provided at the end of the book showing the different conveyances described in the book.  If you enjoy historical fiction of this nature you'll definitely enjoy "The Devil's Dime".

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A YA Halloween Treat

"Shadow Slayer" is Book 2 of Laura A. H. Elliott's Shadow Series and it does not disappoint.  We First met Roxie in "Thirteen on Halloween" when she astral-projected to Planet Popular.  Now she's a high school freshman just trying to fit in to the new environment of high school.

She still wants to go back to Planet Popular to discover the mystery of the map; but, it seems that all is not right on Planet Earth.  Her friends are acting strange and her "perfect ten" boyfriend, Drew, is almost to good to be true.

The shadows from Planet Popular want to be human more than anything and they are trying to take over Roxie's classmates.  It will be up to her to slay the shadow on her 14th birthday - Halloween.

I love Roxie's character.  She's matured since the last book but is still caught up in all the drama of starting high school and trying to fit in.  Elliott has made her a very believable young woman that anyone can relate to.  The mystery of what is happening to her classmates is well developed.

This is a very engaging YA series and I can't wait to find out what happens to Roxie next!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Revenge by the Numbers

"Accountable to None", by Ashley Fontaine, is a tale of corporate greed and power run amok.  Winscott & Associates is a prestigious accounting firm.  Its managing partner, Olin, is a power hungry sexual predator, who works his way through the new associates and tosses them aside.

Audra Tanner is an associate that Olin raped when he made her an equity partner.  Audra has spent the last five years plotting revenge against Olin and the other partners who looked the other way.  She did this to the exclusion of everything else, including her husband. When Olin's sneaky merger deal heads south, Audra finds an opportunity to exact her revenge at long last.

I really liked the plot and concept of this novel.  However, I would have liked more development of Audra's character and maybe less background on the other equity partners.  Once the background of the characters was established the story was well paced with some unexpected twists.  There are a few minor editing errors; but, not enough to be a distraction.

Overall it's a good read about corporate greed, abuse of power and revenge.

This Jet Roars

Russell Blake's "Jet" is the first novel in a fast paced trilogy that will have you on the edge of your seat. Jet is an ex-Mossad operative who faked her own death to get out of the business.  She's made a new life for herself on the island of Trinidad.  Suddenly her life is disrupted by an assassination attempt that could only have been planned by professionals.

Now Jet must figure out how she was betrayed and who wants her dead.  Her search will take her across continents and unearth a plot of destruction and domination.

The character of Jet reminded me of an older Lizbeth Salander from "The Dragon Tattoo".  Blake gives Jet more emotion and depth in this first book of the trilogy than Lisbeth had in "Dragon", in my opinion.  The villains are deliciously evil.

The story is fast-paced and full of unexpected twists and turns.  It's a great thrill ride that will leave you anticipating the rest of the trilogy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Peak at the Dark Side

"Darkness Within" by Christine Dougherty is a collection of short stories of a horrifying nature.  I've previously read her novel "The Devil Stood Up" and reviewed it here.  The first three chapters of the novel are included in this collection.  Dougherty has a dark style and the stories are suspenseful and disturbing.  I'll highlight a few of my favorites.

In 'The Owners' the original owners of the planet have returned and have set child against parent in the slow methodical murder of the human race.  Edgy and disturbing.

'More to Me' is about a woman visiting her 'inner child' on the advice of her therapist.  It turns out her inner child is a brat and doesn't like her very much.

'Kings Mountain' takes three different points of view on two mysterious deaths that span decades.

One of my favorites was 'Victoria Dean - Serial Clerk' about a woman who surreptitiously destroys the career of anyone who comes into conflict with her at We Mean Business, Inc., a division of Big, Big Business, Co.  I loved the company name and how she made the careers blow up.  Disturbing in it's own way.

There are more stories and all are bound to set you thinking and give you a chill or two.  If you are a fan of dark horror stories this is for you.

Romance is Afoot

Christy Hayes' "Shoe Strings" is about Angelita Barros, a shoe designer with her own up and coming boutique in Atlanta.  Shes about to head off for a tropical vacation when she sees her estranged father lurking about.  Instead of the planned trip she ends up hiding out in a small mountain town in North Carolina.

Angelita's life rapidly becomes entwined the the town's residents.  Cal Bloodworth owns the cabin she rents.  His son Jesse takes her breath away.  Jesse's ex, Kerri Ann, oddly enough, becomes a friend.

While friendships develop her father continues to hound her about a business deal  Things do not seem to be quite on the up and up and demands become threats.  She must discover the truth behind it and also where her relationship is heading.

This is a great chic lit type of story.  I liked Angelita's character very much.  She had a take charge personality but with a softer, vulnerable side.  Jesse's character was also done well.  He initially comes off as a ladies man but then acquires more depth.

I did think the character of Kerri Ann was a little weak.  It's hard to imagine that someone once so popular would be so insecure and blind to her friend's feelings.  That's just my opinion though.

Definitely give it a read.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Coming of Age in the South

"A Death on the Wolf", by G.M. Frazier is a coming of age tale with danger and suspense thrown into the mix.  It is the story of Nelson Gody, who is sixteen in the summer of 1969.  He is living in Bells Ferry, Mississippi with his father and younger sister, Sachet.  His Aunt Charity lives in the house next door on the family land.

What begins as a routine summer for Nelson, working at the gas station and hanging out with his friend Frankie on the Wolf river, quickly changes when Aunt Charity brings 14 year old Mary Alice to stay with her for the summer.  Mary Alice is a blind orphan who normally resides at the orphanage.  Nelson is smitten the moment he lays eyes on her.

As the summer progresses and love blooms, Nelson learns that Frankie has been harboring a secret that impacts both their lives.  When a mysterious stranger arrives in town on a sleek black motorcycle danger arrives with him.

This is a wonderful story set in a time and place that is a story in itself.  Bells Ferry is still working through the civil rights movement and Hurricane Camille is on her way.  Nothing will be the same.

Frazier has created wonderful characters with many layers to them.  They are well developed and I felt I knew each of them intimately. The story is well paced and compelling.  I couldn't stop reading because I needed to know what would happen next.  The suspense builds and holds you in it's grips.  A fantastic read!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Little Prince Will Come

Kristy Brown's "Kiera's Quest: Awakenings is a great YA fairytale/fantasy novel.  It is the first in a series of Kiera's Quest novels.

Kiera is a musically gifted high school student who has always had dreams of another world where she was protected by an unknown presence.  Zakk is the Prince of Zantar and the presence in Kiera's dreams.  The Witch Queen wants to take over the kingdom of Zantar and turns Zakk into a doll and sends him to earth.

Kiera discovers Zakk, the doll, and together they must get Zakk back to Zantar before his birthday so the spell can be broken and the Witch Queen thwarted.

There were some great characters in this story.  They were fun and provided many amusing moments.  I especially liked Googe, the Witch Queen's evil henchman.  Brown painted a good picture of the world of Zantar as well.  The story was well paced and held my interest.  And the ending definitely left me ready for more.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

YA Short with a Meaningful Message

Lada Ray's short story, "Catharsis (Legend of the Lemurians) is Book 1 of the Earth Keepers Chronicles.  It is a companion/prequel to The Earth Shifter, a full length novel.  The story is about a planet on the outskirts of the Andromeda Galaxy, Catharsis, populated by extraordinarily beautiful people.  The Catharsians have rounded up any ugly people and confined them to live behind an electric fence and fend for themselves.  They call them "Uglies".  The Uglies, who prefer the name Lemurians, are a peaceful and loving people.

However, beauty is only skin deep and the world around the Catharsians starts to crumble and tear apart.  The Lemurians seem immune to the disaster.  Who will perish?  And how will anyone survive?  There's only one way to find out!

This is a great short story and intro into The Earth Keepers Chronicles.  It is very imaginative and well plotted.  Even in such a short story Lada Ray packs a powerful message.  Beauty is only skin deep and karma can be either wonderful or deadly.

The Next Big Thing

"The World Clicks", by K.M. Breaky, is a novel about the power of the internet and game changing ideas.  Lane Craig is a 30 year-old software engineer living and playing in Vancouver.  He lives a fast paced lifestyle and parties with a circle of suave, brilliant and like-minded 30 year-olds.

He has an idea for the next breakout internet phenomenon.  He enlists his circle of friends to help him bring it to fruition. There's Johhny the social butterfly who can charm anyone.  Thomas is brilliant with his own ideas and a secret - he is only half "out of the closet".  Cat is Lane's love interest and a marketing pro.

Will the idea become an internet sensation?  Will it fizzle?  Or will it get stolen along the way.  Grab a copy and find out!

The novel was written in a fast pace/rapid fire manner which was in keeping with the nature of the book.  The language was a bit on the crude side, but in keeping with what I imagine 30 something guys would probably use amongst themselves.  I just put it out there for anyone who is put off by that.

The story was fascinating to me and really made me wish I knew more about software development.  Who doesn't want to come up with the next big internet sensation??

A Change of Heart

The novel, "The Whole World Over", by Julia Glass is about Greenie, a woman who has thrown her passion into her bakery in Greenwich Village and whose marriage seems to be stagnate.  Her husband, Alan, is a couples counselor who is in the grips of a mid-life crisis/depression and doesn't communicate with her anymore.

Greenie's dear friend Walter, who owns a nearby restaurant, recommend her culinary skills to the Governor of New Mexico.  The Governor asks her to cook a trial dinner for him which results in a job offer that is too good for Greenie to refuse.  As Greenie and their son George depart for New Mexico, Alan stays behind to wrap things up with his patients.  He is angry that she has made such a huge decision with no concern for his needs.

As they go about their lives separately they make personal discoveries about themselves.  They are both seeking happiness and fulfillment in their own ways.  As 9/11 unfolds they will discover where their hearts truly belong.

Glass weaves the lives of a considerably large cast of richly drawn characters together in this charming story.  Each voice is developed in its own time as she switches emphasis and characters with each chapter.  The message of changes and how choices can ripple widely is shown through both the main and secondary characters.

This was a selection of my book club and it was one of the most engaging novels we've read in a while.  It tugged at my heart and I cared about the characters, flaws and all.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Be Consumed...

The novel "Consumption", by G. S. Johnston just may consume you.  The story is about Sara Sexton and Martin Blake, who have been friends since grade school where they bonded over the loss of their fathers.  Through the years they've shared each others joys, sorrows and secrets.

When Sara breaks up with her lover and ends her year in Greece to return home to Australia, she stops in Hong Kong to see Martin and be consoled.  Martin is a much sought after designer in Hong Kong, while Sara is now adrift with no set focus.

As the years go by she meets a new love, Andy.  Once Martin realizes she is happy he works to make her miserable and break up her relationship.  Eventually Sara must choose between the old and the new.

Johnston has really brought the characters to life.  You can understand the dilemma Sara is in and how difficult it would be to break free.  Martin is diabolical.  Loving and sympathetic on the surface and manipulative and cunning beneath it all. The setting of Hong Kong is very vivid as well.  I almost felt like I was there wandering the city.

A great read!  It will linger with you after you've finished.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Mirror, Mirror.....

In Lawrence Kelter's novel "Palindrome", Book 1 of the Palindrome Trilogy, Lexa and Axel are a sister and brother who have struggled together throughout their lives.  As the novel begins they are living in a home that was left to them by a deceased aunt and living a quiet life.  They have the ability to change their appearance from the inside out right down to the color of their eyes.  They keep the ability hidden because they know it can lead to trouble.

When Lexa is slipped a date-rape drug in a local dive bar Ax arrives in the nick of time to rescue her.  He confronts the would-be rapist in his sister's form and kills him with one swift, well-placed kick.  So begins a tangled web of revenge and deception.

The character of Lexa was more developed than Ax in this story.  Regardless, we know enough of Ax to see that they are mirror opposites of each other.  Lexa is impulsive and somewhat flighty, while Axel is very methodical and grounded.  I think we will probably learn more about Ax as the series continues.

Palindrome is definitely hard to put down.  Kelter keeps the pace brisk with a subtle tension to hold your interest.  The ending will shock you and leave you asking for book two.  I know it's on my list of TBR.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Last Chances

"The Odds", by Stewart O'Nan is a tale of the everyday citizen.  Art and Marion Fowler are a middle-aged couple heading towards collapse.  Their home is on its way to foreclosure and their marriage is on the brink.

In a desperate attempt to turn things around they liquidate their savings and head to Niagara Falls on Valentine's Day weekend for a second honeymoon and to risk it all on the roulette wheel.

Art has great hope that the ritziest suite in the hotel, the ring he's kept secret and the reminders of the first honeymoon will rekindle the flame of their marriage.  He's also convinced that his betting method will guarantee them double their money on the roulette wheel.

Marion is tired of it all and looking forward to starting fresh on her own.  She goes along with Art's plans so as not to disappoint him.

O'Nan has created very real characters and gives us an honest glimpse into the heart breaks and disappointments that can eat away at a relationship.  He also reminds us that life is a gamble and to take that last chance.

A Vision of the Future

"Trophy" by Paul M. Schofield is the first book in The Trophy Saga.  The year is 475 NVE (New Victorian Empire) and the technology has been developed to travel throughout space and other planets have been settled.  The New Victorian Empire began after the collapse of the Earth's environment.  The Empire is run by a super computer that is guarded by women.  The computer has restored the environment but mankind is facing extinction.

Enter Star-Commander Abigail VanDevere and Lieutenant Janet Rogerton.  They must track down the rebel Galen Bestmarke who has Louis Franelli in his grasp.  Franelli is a scientist who has developed the technology to time travel.  Time travel will be the key to stopping the extinction of mankind.  Of course Bestemarke is using the technology to travel back in time to collect "trophies".  I will let the reader discover what that entails on their own.

I loved the concept of the story.  It was very well though out and developed and kept my interest throughout.  Schofield even provides a glossary at the end that provides details about terminology and equipment in the new empire.

One of my favorite parts was the guide/pouncer mind link between the humans and cats.  Of course I am a cat lover.  Great read!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Evil Has a Handsome Face

"Zeke", by Wodke Hawkinson, is a dark and thrilling ride.  Sue is a young college student who meets Zeke at the bookstore he works in.  He's gorgeous and mysterious.  Sue can't believe her good fortune that he wants to go out with her.

It will soon turn to misfortune as Zeke begins to manipulate her and play mind games.  After a number of months of secretive dating he talks her into disappearing with him.  When her parents realize she is missing and her car is found abandoned by a cemetery they hire a detective to find her. The detective soon realizes that her life is in danger and the race is on.

This is a chilling and very disturbing read.  It is not for the faint of heart.  The character of Zeke is twisted and evil.  The writers did a fabulous job of slowly revealing his deranged personality.  Sue was very believable as a young, insecure woman entranced by the handsome stranger.  I liked that she did assert herself at times during the course of the story.

It is definitely a great read, just be forewarned that it is a dark story of sexual obsession and evil.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Swept Up in War Fever

"Garrick's Landing", by Rita Wheeler is a great period piece that takes place in Nashville, Tennessee at the beginning of World War II.  Lainey Marston is a seventeen year old woman who is poised to graduate high school and head off to college.  When her friend asks her to take her and her fiance to Corinth so they can get married at the court house she reluctantly agrees.  Her boyfriend, Brice Garrick, tags along and decides that they should get married too.  He pressures a very reluctant Lainey into the marriage because he'd recently enlisted and may not return from battle.

Lainey immediately regrets the marriage and when she returns home and tells her father, a well-respected banker, he offers to take care of it for her.  Brice, who comes from a far different background than her, refuses to accept that Lainey doesn't want to stay married.  His family feels the same.  Thus the ground work is laid for a very interesting story.

The character development was very good in the story.  I loved Oralee, the strong minded, loving maid that practically raised Lainey.  Lainey was a strong female character as well.  Even though she let Brice guilt her into marrying him, she stood up for her right to leave the marriage.  Brice, while not likeable, was very believable.

Overall it was a very entertaining read and I had a hard time putting it down.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rum-runners, Gangsters & Kidnappers

Carol Tibaldi's "Willow Pond" takes place in the world of 1930's New York.  Prohibition is in force and gangsters and rum-runners rule the underworld.  Virginia Kingsley is one of the power players in the speakeasy business.  Her niece, Laura Kingsley Austin, is recently separated from her philandering movie star husband, Philip Austin.  When their 2 year old son, Todd, goes to spend time with his father at Willow Pond it isn't long before he is kidnapped.

Phillip pays the ransom but Todd is never returned to them.  Speculation that the kidnapping was a result of Virginia's business dealings prompts Virginia to start her own investigation into the whereabouts of the little boy.  Laura and a reporter named Erich who befriends her also investigate their own leads as the police fail to get results.

The story crisscrosses the country as well as the Atlantic Ocean as they seek to bring Todd home.  You'll have to read the novel to see if they are successful.

"Willow Pond" has a great storyline and interesting characters.  I did find the timeline of events to be confusing at some points as the story switched between different characters viewpoints.  Over all it is a strong story and a great first effort.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Murder Most Unusual

In Lars Trodson's "Eagles Fly Alone" the murder victim is most unusual - a bird!  The story opens with Langley Calhoun, the sheriff of a small New England town investigating a murder reported by Antonio, an 80+ war veteran.  He'd found a strange bird on his property that had obviously met foul play.  Antonio is convinced that the owners of the landfill which borders his property is somehow too blame.

When the bird turns out to be an endangered species of eagle from another part of the world Calhoun's investigation heats up.  The town council does not want to upset the largest area employer and Calhoun faces opposition to his investigation.  Even from his own brother with whom he's had a lifelong rivalry.  He's aided in his investigation by park ranger and potential love interest, Delia.

The plot line of this story was very intriguing and took some unexpected twists.  The narrative flows and the suspense builds throughout the book.  The characters are well fleshed out and believable.  It's a great summer (or anytime) read.  I'll be looking for more from Trodson in the future.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mystery in Middle America

"Julie, Do You Love Me?" by Stephen Spencer begins with a mysterious government program being discovered by the White House, resulting in orders to shut it down immediately.  A secret FBI team is assembled and the bodies start piling up.

Enter newlyweds, Paul Mallory & Julie Preston.  Julie leaves town suddenly on unexplained family business and Mallory is left questioning her love for him.  Shortly after she leaves he gets a telephone call that she has been found seriously injured in Reese City, Indiana.  A town which doesn't happen to be on any maps. Mallory heads to Reese City to be with her.  All is not what it seems when he arrives in Reese City and they must defend their lives from multiple assailants.

I really enjoyed the character of Mallory and rooted for him the whole way through.  The writing is witty and well paced with an ending that will surprise you.  I do think that more hints of what was going on in Reese City and why Mallory & Julie were in trouble would have been helpful.  That being said, the ending did tie it all together and explain it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Fish Tale

Mark Fiorito's "Kiss of the Marlin" is a magical tale of self discovery.  Casey Doran and his friend Lenny are on a deep sea fishing tip in Baja when Casey has a close encounter with a magical marlin.  Their interaction saves them both.

When Casey and Lenny return to San Diego things begin to change for Casey who up until the trip had been very rigid in his standards and stuck in a very big life rut.  Magical things begin to occur that open him up to new experiences and new people.  By opening himself up and seeing where the enchantment will take him he changes his life.

This was a great story with something for everyone.  Fiorito's writing is very witty and the characters are well developed.  The story flowed and it was a quick read because of the pacing.  It's definitely worth your time and money. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inside Afghanistan

"Farishta" by Patricia McArdle, a recent winner of the 2012 San Diego Book Awards for published general fiction, is an intriguing look at a diplomat's life inside Afghanistan.  It is the story of Angela Morgan, a U.S. diplomat, who witnesses the death of her husband in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

After his death she flees back to the United States and sticks to desk assignment to protect herself.  With no high-priority postings her career is coming to a dead end until she is assigned to the mission in Afghanistan.  She is scared to death to take the assignment; but knows it is the end of her career if she doesn't.

When she arrives in Afghanistan she is met with hostility by the Afghan males and her own all male team.  As she continues to come up against bureaucratic roadblocks to helping the Afghan people rebuild she begins to sneak out of the compound in a burka and help the people in her own way.  She works to improve their living conditions and quality of life.

I really liked the characters in this novel and felt that they were very well developed.  The emotions and conflicts were very real.  The story was well paced and kept me reading to find out what would happen next.  A great read!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Occupied by Survival

Tina Boscha's "River in the Sea" is a compelling story of the final months of the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.  The story focuses on Leen, a 15 year old girl, and her family's struggles during a time when the men and boys are forced to hide in the fields and barns to avoid being captured by the Germans.

Leen must pass by the German camp on the outskirts of town each day as she travels between home and work and back again.  One fateful day a guard dog runs in front of her truck and she kills it.  After they force her to bury the dog she is allowed to go home.  Her family fears repercussions and her father and brother, Isaac, go into hiding.  Eventually the rather is rounded up and the women are left to fend for themselves.

As the months go by and the food supplies dwindle the mother loses hope and becomes despondent.  It is up to Leen to see that the family survives until the Allied forces can reach their town.

This was a fascinating read about an aspect of the war (the occupation of the Netherlands) that I haven't read about in other books. It's definitely worth a read!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

Guest post by Debbie LaChusa

I’ve learned the pursuit of happiness can be just as much of a detractor from true happiness as too much focus on money and success. According to the dictionary, “pursuit” means an effort to secure or attain. That means we don’t currently possess the object of our pursuit. In the case of happiness, pursuit implies that we believe we have to achieve or obtain something to be happy. But the truth is, we don’t.

I realized that during my quest for success I was considerably more focused on doing all the things I believed would make me happy than I was on just being happy. As a result, I often sacrificed current happiness for the hope of future happiness. The problem with that is, often, what we believe will make us happy, doesn’t. It’s simply the way our minds, memories, and imaginations work.

Additionally, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, many of us lose our ability to find happiness in life’s simple pleasures. Granted, life is more complicated for adults. We have responsibilities such as jobs, bills, and children. But, far too often, we let these responsibilities squelch our innate happiness. We begin to believe that happiness, or the lack of it, is based on what we do or what we have. We recognize that we experience joy when we get a promotion, a new car, or a new client, and we begin attributing happiness to these things.

Often, without realizing it, we begin comparing ourselves to others.

They seem happy and have things we don’t—therefore, we assume if only we had what they have, we’d be happy too. We become so wrapped up in what we don’t have or don’t like about our lives that we begin believing we can’t be happy until we get that promotion, new car, or new client. Unfortunately, accomplishments, material possessions, and money can make us happy, but that happiness usually doesn’t last.

If you’ve gotten caught up in the materialistic pursuit of happiness, how do you get back on track?

How do you start simply being happy? First, you realize the past is the past and you can’t change it. There is no sense beating yourself up over decisions you cannot undue. Instead, make a decision to begin living your life differently from this point on and start taking steps to right your ship. You can continue to have a vision for the future, set goals, and pursue dreams, just make sure you’re enjoying the pursuit.

In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt writes about the fleeting nature of happiness derived from achieving goals. He refers to a concept he calls “the progress principle,” which suggests we gain more pleasure from the pursuit of our goals than the actual achievement of them. According to Haidt, when we constantly dream about how happy we’ll be when we achieve a goal, once we finally do succeed, the euphoria is very often fleeting. Because of this, we strive to recreate that euphoria by immediately setting a new goal. Therefore, if we want to be happy and not just chasing fleeting spurts of happiness, our focus should be on enjoying the journey to our goals.

If you’re a goal setter, ask yourself if you are pursuing your goals for the happiness you expect to feel when you achieve them or if the pursuit itself brings you happiness. If the pursuit doesn’t make you happy, reconsider how important the goals are. Ask yourself why you are pursuing them. If your goals are not about happiness but are important to you, pursue them if you choose. The key is to be aware of what you’re doing and why.

Adapted from Breaking the Spell: The Truth about Money, Success, and the Pursuit of Happiness by Debbie LaChusa.

About Debbie LaChusa

Despite becoming a vice president in her thirties, building three successful businesses in her forties, becoming a millionaire, speaking internationally, and sharing the stage with celebrity teachers from The Secret, Debbie LaChusa never felt satisfied. After spending seven years and $200,000 constantly trying to achieve more, she realized she had become spellbound. She looked around and saw she wasn’t alone, prompting her to embark on a yearlong investigative journey to understand why, so she could heal herself and help others. Breaking The Spell is the result of that journey. You can learn more about the book and read the first chapter for free at

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Time of Change

"The Gap Year" by Sarah Bird tells the story of the changes that take place between a mother and daughter as the daughter reaches adulthood.  It is a heartwarming read.

Cam raised her daughter, Aubrey, as a single mother after her husband, Martin, abandoned them to join a Hollywood cult.  Aubrey is in her senior year of high school and has always achieved straight A's.  Cam has great hopes for her college career.  Somehow during her senior year they grow apart.

Aubrey begins dating a wrong-side of the tracks, football jock with no future aspirations and hides it from her mother.  She also hides that she has begun chatting with her father via Facebook.  When she announces she no longer wants to go to college anymore and is ready for her real life to begin, it is almost more than Cam can bear.

The story goes back and forth between the present and the prior year when everything started to change.  It is told from both Cam's and Aubrey's viewpoints which helps with understanding their different motivations.  It is both funny and sad and definitely worth the read.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Complicated Love Triangle

Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot" was my pick for this month's book club.  I'd read Middlesex a few years back and loved it, so I was really looking forward to this novel.  I was a little bit disappointed, although I really enjoyed the book.  It just wasn't on the same level as Middlesex.

The story revolves around Madeleine, Mitchell and Leonard, three college students at Brown in the early 80's and details a year in their lives.  Madeleine is a romantic studying literature.  Mitchell is searching for meaning by studying and immersing himself in the world religions.  Leonard is a brilliant scientist with manic depressive tendencies. 

Mitchell loves Madeleine but she is in love with Leonard.  Leonard, meanwhile, is going somewhat quietly crazy.  As they graduate from college and head off into the world, they are each seeking direction and fulfillment in their own way.

As with Eugenides' other novels, the characters are well realized and believable.  He makes you care about what happens to them and where they will end up.  It's a great novel and I highly recommend it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Plot Thickens!

I just finished "Committed" by John W. Mefford and I have to say it was a treat.  The story is fast paced and keeps you guessing.  Just when you think you know where it is going a new layer of mystery is added to the plot.

Michael Doyle is a mid-level manager at a company that has just been bought by a larger corporation and he fears he and his co-workers will be outsourced to India.  Then he finds a body behind the dumpster at work and things go downhill from there. 

He discovers that he knows the young female victim and is compelled to find out who is responsible for her death.  A co-worker is arrested for the crime and Michael does not believe he could be a murderer and becomes more determined to uncover the truth.  As the cast of villains grow and corporate greed and hidden agendas are revealed the stakes get higher for Michael and his girlfriend, Marisa.

This is a great first novel.  The characters are well-developed and believable.  The numerous twists in the plot are all woven together and none are left hanging.  I'll be looking forward to book 2!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Battle for Britannia

"The Serpent and the Slave" is the first novel in Scott Hunter's The Chronicles of Britannia series and I found it quite engaging.  I haven't really read much about this period of time, but Scott made it come to life for me.

The story is set in 367 AD when the Roman Empire is struggling to repel the Irish invaders in the northern provinces of Britannia.  The main character, Marius, is a member of the Corinium council who is transporting an Alamanni slave/gladiator to the emperor.  Traveling with them is a priest named Barnabas and the slave's sister Freia.

They are attacked by a band of Irish and barely escape with their lives.  The Irish capture Freia and take her away. The group then sets out to get her back.

When they reach the Irish stronghold they learn that the forces are led by a rogue Roman who was responsible for the death of Marius' parents.

The story moved along rapidly and kept my interest.  I liked the characters and that there was some humor sprinkled throughout the story.

Friday, March 23, 2012

High Flying Thriller!

The legal thriller "Irreparable Harm", by Melissa F. Miller begins with an airliner crashing into the side of a mountain for no apparent reason.  All aboard are killed. 

Sasha McCandless is a lawyer on track to soon make partner in her large law firm.  The airline company is a client of the firm and the team scrambles to prepare for the inevitable law suits resulting from the accident.  Until she discovers it wasn't an accident. 

A company has developed an application that can take over control of a plane's on board computer remotely and cause it to crash.  They are seeking to sell it to the highest bidder but need to demonstrate it's effectiveness first.

As Sasha delves into the mystery surrounding the crash the bodies begin to start piling up around her.  After the HR executive at the company inadvertently sends her top secret information the company sends some hired thugs after her to get the information back and do away with her.

She is joined in her investigation by a TSA internal investigator who is also seeking answers regarding the crash.  Together they try to stop the next plane from crashing and have justice served.

I really enjoyed the storyline and the characters.  The core characters were well developed.  I especially enjoyed Sasha because she was such a strong, physically capable and intelligent female lead.  She was able to take care of herself.  I also loved the two thugs because they were just plain funny.

The novel did have quite a bit more action then courtroom scenes in it but it worked for me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Race for the Relic!

Russell Blake’s newest release, “The Voynich Cipher” is an exciting, fast paced thrill ride.  The novel opens with the theft of an ancient relic from a medieval church in rural England and races on from there.  The relic contains part of a medieval parchment, the Voynich Manuscript that has defeated cryptographers for centuries.

Dr. Steven Cross, an amateur cryptologist, has written software that enables him to break ancient codes much more quickly.  When the relic disappears and another cryptologist is found dead with Cross’s name in his possession he is contacted by the man’s daughter, Natalie.  They team up to decipher the code and discover the secret hidden in the code.

The secret of the Voynich Manuscript has devastating implications for the Catholic Church and Steven and Natalie quickly become targets in a struggle between the church and ruthless villains that will exploit the secret.  The search takes them all on a race across Europe and beyond.

This is another solid hit by Blake.  The pacing is tight and the characters are well developed.  The storyline is compelling and keeps you reading right up to the shocking end!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Fresh Look at Trading Places!

The newly released "Transfer Student", Laura A. H. Elliott, puts a whole new spin on the Freaky Friday/Trading Places theme.  Rhoe and Ashley are two teenagers from totally different planets.  When they both wish upon a star for things to change the starjumping machine that Rhoe built allows them to switch places.

Rhoe is a teenage boy on planet Retha and a self proclaimed 'quark' (or nerd in earth-speak).  Ashley is the popularity queen of Beverly Hills High School.  They are both shocked when they discover that they are inhabiting the body of someone of the opposite sex.  As they struggle to learn the ways of their new planets, family and friends they uncover what is really important.

"Transfer Student" is an engaging young adult read that adults can enjoy as well.  Laura richly described planet Retha and it comes alive for the reader.  The characters are well developed and very relate-able.  The novel is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Delicious Romp

"Our Eyes Met Over Cantaloupe" by Anne McAneny was great fun to read.  The cast of characters were quirky, endearing and well developed.  It was laugh out loud funny at times and enjoyable from beginning to end.

Millie Morris is a crime reporter for a local paper with aspirations of heading to Washington and the big leagues.  When not reporting she helps out her mother, Grace, at her cupcake shop called The Secret Lives of Cupcakes and with her newspaper/website devoted to reconnecting people who had a chance encounter.

Much to Millie's dismay the shop's largest cupcake order is for a wedding between her ex, Sam, and the real estate lawyer he ditched her for.  While Millie tries to deal with the situation with grace and dignity her ex seems to be having second thoughts.

With a supporting cast of wacky Pauline, her mother's partner, Josh, the baker pining after his own close encounter and Laura, the evil lawyer these friends will keep you turning the pages.  A very entertaining read!

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Biography in Miniature...

"The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb" by Melanie Benjamin was a recent pick of my book club.  I will confess to not realizing that Mrs. Tom Thumb was a real person so I was quite surprised when I started the book and discovered that it was a fictional account of the life of the real Lavinia Warren a.k.a Mrs. Tom Thumb.

Lavinia was born a normal size baby but stopped growing as a toddler.  She developed normally other than height so became a perfectly proportional woman who was only two feet tall.  After excelling at school she becomes a teacher but yearns to see the world.  When she is offered the opportunity of performing as part of a riverboat show she leaps at the chance.

The riverboat captain turned out to be less than scrupulous and after she escapes his clutches she places herself in the notice of the famous P. T. Barnum.  She joins his American Museum and soon travels the world as part of his exhibition.

The story was fascinating and entertaining.  It is interesting to get the perspective of someone whose viewpoint is only two feet above the ground.  Benjamin filled the novel with historical references and rich detail.  It offers a glimpse of what the world was like in the mid nineteenth century.  Definitely and interesting read.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Redemption at Sea

The novel "In Search of a Soul", by Dannie C. Hill is a beautiful story about the redemptive powers of love.  The prose is poetic, rich with detail and paints a vivid portrait of life at sea.

Douglas is an ex Navy Seal dealing with blocked memories from a violent death he was responsible for in the middle-east.  He spends his days sailing around the world in search of an escape from his past.

He finds a young girl adrift at sea and rescues her.  As he slowly nurses her back to health both he and the girl let their natural defenses down and begin to share their stories.  She helps him deal with the hidden memories and get past them. When she is suddenly taken from him he is forced to fight his demons and take action to get her back.

This is a compelling story that will touch your heart.  For this non-sailor, some of the sailing lingo was a bit hard to understand, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Thriller with a Twist

                             Black Antler by Mark De Binder is a thriller with a supernatural twist.  It is the sequel to Serial Terror which I have not read.  Starting with the sequel was not a problem as there was enough information provided to determine the relationships and prior events.

Chase Benton has established a team of talented people to track down and eliminate serial killers.  Among the team members are psychics and shamans who take the story to another plane.
This time the team is up against a serial killer who is targeting one of the oldest families in New England.  They quickly discover that it is the result of a curse placed on the family over 200 years ago and that the killer is not of this world.  Black Antler is a spirit and a shape shifter.
Together they combine their skills to track Black Antler down and fight him on multiple levels so that they can break the curse and send him back to the spirit underworld.
I enjoyed this novel and it's unique spin on the serial killer theme.  Some of the relationship development amongst the team members seemed a bit superfluous and didn't really add to the story.  Overall it's worth the read.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

An Emotional Tribute to a Remarkable Friend

Russell Blake's "An Angel with Fur" tells the story of Lobo who was adopted by him when he was a mere 5 weeks old, from an animal shelter in Mexico.  Lobo had amazing spirit and instantly charmed everyone he met.  For Russell it was love at first sight and only grew from there. He shares Lobo's journey through life and the remarkable odds he overcame with a spirit and joy that never wavered.

The biography demonstrates just want kind of an impact on our lives the unconditional love and faithful companionship our furry friends can have.  We are all richer for sharing our lives with them.

This is by far the best pet story/biography I've ever read.  It was heart wrenching and triumphant both.  I feel grateful to have been able to experience Lobo's spirit through Blake's words.  Anyone who has ever loved a pet will be able to relate to this story.

Chilling Shorts!

"Little Shivers" by Gregory Blair is a collection of terrifying short stories sure to get your heart rate accelerating rapidly.  These six short stories all have something spooky and unexpected to chill you with.

In 'Kitty' things are not quite what they seem to be and will make you wonder what really goes on behind your neighbors' closed doors.  While 'It Isn't Real' demonstrates that you should never dismiss anything without some thoughtful consideration.

'Ghostwriter' gives a well respected author the opportunity to change a fledgling author's convictions and in 'The Last Room' we learn sometimes it is best to trust your gut and keep away from spooky motels.

'Knitting' serves up revenge in a remarkable fashion and 'Something in the Air' will make you think twice about that middle of the night trip to the bathroom.

All the stories quickly build suspense and creep factor.  They will make you look for a brighter corner of the room to read them in.  Or perhaps a hand to hold.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

History Comes Alive

I will admit to being somewhat hesitant about the book "Freedom's Sword", by J.R. Tomlin.  I enjoy historical fiction but 13th century Scotland is a little further back than I usually venture.  Tomlin's prose and characters made it a pleasure trip.

The story begins with newly knighted Andrew de Moray in battle against the English invaders led by King Edward.  In a surreptitious rout the Scottish are defeated and Andrew is taken prisoner.

Andrew spends approximately a year locked up in a pitch black dungeon before he is able to escape.  He makes his way back to Scotland to take back his family's castle and vows to take up the fight to take back Scotland for the Scots.  He gathers together his fellow Scotsmen and trains them to be an army.  He is joined in his fight by William Wallace and Robert the Bruce among others.

The novel is engrossing and rich with detail.  Tomlin makes these historic figures approachable and lifelike in a way that makes you root for them and understand their motivation. It was certainly eye opening for me and will inspire me to learn more about the Scottish fight for independence.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Intrigue Ripped From the Headlines

"The Watchman of Ephraim" - Book 1 of the Cris De Niro series by Gerard de Marigny is a timely thriller that will keep you thinking long after the last page.

Cris De Niro lost his wife, Lisa, on 9/11 in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, even as he raced up the tower stairs to rescue her.  Devastated and left to raise his two young sons alone, he moves to Las Vegas for a fresh start.  A billionaire hedge fund operator he invests his money in starting a civilian counter-terrorism agency to ensure that another 9/11 will never happen.  He staffs the agency with an elite team of specialists and the latest technology.

No sooner is it up and running then the money behind the "Ground Zero Mosque" is discovered to be connected to an Iranian businessman and a Mexican drug cartel.  They will soon discover that the mosque is just a cover for a much larger, far more sinister plot.
This is an action packed thrill ride bursting with international intrigue and tension.  I really liked the relevance of the plot line to today's world view and current events.  This one is definitely hard to put down.  I'm looking forward to meeting Cris again in Book 2!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Drugs, Money and Mayhem in Mexico

"Isla Lacra" is the first novel in John Boyd's new Denver Noles series.  It is a thriller about the international drug trade and the cartels that run it.  It is fast paced and full of action and intrigue.

Denver Noles is a retired Navy SEAL who is living in the Florida Keys on Isla Lacra (Scar Island) which his Uncle Harry had left him in his will.  He is quite content running his bar and minding his own business until one of his employees comes to him for help.

Maria is an immigrant from Mexico whose daughter, Mariana, has been kidnapped by the largest drug cartel in Mexico. Her son Raul has also disappeared.  A drug shipment that Raul was supposed to collect has gone missing and the cartel is holding his sister, Mariana, prisoner until Raul comes forth and tells them where the drugs are.

Denver gathers his former SEAL team mates together to find Mariana and Raul and bring them home safely.  Little do they know they are in the midst of two powerful cartels jockeying for supremacy.  The battle will take them along the gulf coast of Mexico and into the Caribbean.

The story moves at a breakneck pace and keeps you turning pages to find out what will happen next.  The characters are well developed and Denver is a great hero.  He is noble, kindhearted and humorous. I will be looking forward to more of his adventures.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Spine Chilling Collection

Martin Pond's short story collection, "Dark Steps", will give you chills up and down your spine and keep you in suspense.  Not only are they well paced with a build up of suspense but they also twist in the end to something you weren't expecting.

From a young man who is waiting in a barren white room of the future for an unknown test in Waiting Room, to a young boy who can't understand why there are no Christmas presents for him under the tree in A Bit Christmassy you will be intrigued.  A deathbed revelation disturbs in The Inheritance.  Unexplained voices in Dream Feed. That's just a sampling of the dark treats in this collection.

It is a great read for anyone who enjoys a suspenseful thought provoking tale.

An Inspiring Memoir

"Bad Luck Cadet", by Susie Ivy, takes us on Susie's journey through the police academy.  At age 44 Suzie is recovering from a broken hip, overweight and coming to grips with her now empty nest.  She sees an advertisement in a window for the police academy and decides it just might be the change she is looking for.

The story describes just what torture cadets endure to come out the other side as police officers.  You'll laugh at some of it, cringe at some and (I swear) feel the pain along with her in other parts.  What will be the most compelling is her steely determination to see it through and graduate.

She is supported by her husband and two daughters, but, ridiculed by her son.  Susie's classmates will rise to the challenge and admire her willingness to succeed.

It's a great story that demonstrates that it is never too late to change course and that if you have the determination you can be whoever you want to be.  A great read!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Boyhood in the Deep South

This short story gives us a glimpse into ten year old Rex Fordham's life.  He's spending the afternoon at his grandma's being watched over by his Aunt Maggie.  When an offhand remark by Aunt Maggie triggers a recent memory of something he'd seen outside the house, Rex mentions it to his aunt with unexpected circumstances.

Rex quickly learns that sometimes it's best to keep one's secrets close to you as well as those you might know about others.

How I come to Know is an engaging story with a language that evokes the time and place of 1950's deep south.  The writing is rich with detail and vivid characters. Definitely worth the read.