Book Review: Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald

Continue reading

Book Review: Dig Two Graves by Kim Powers

Dig Two Graves
Kim Powers
Tyrus Books, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-4405-9192-1
Trade Paperback

Skip Holt’s world as she knew it ended the day her mother died in a car crash [always bringing to her mind a poem she had had to learn in school by Robert Frost].  There is much erudition here, as Skip’s father makes his living “by teaching about the past, the very long ago past.  The Classics, Greece, Rome, Latin.”   Indeed, the novel begins with a quote from Confucius:  “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  And revenge is what this book is all about.  “The classics were all about it – – getting revenge, declaring enemies, going to war.”

From the publisher:  In his 20’s, Ethan Holt won the Decathlon at the Olympics and was jokingly nicknamed “Hercules;” now, in his late 30’s, he’s returned to his ivy-covered alma mater to teach, and to raise his young daughter Skip as a single father.  After a hushed-up scandal over his Olympics win and the death of his wife in a car accident five years ago, Ethan wants nothing more than to forget his past. Skip is not only the light of Ethan’s life – – she is his life. Then, Skip is kidnapped.  A series of bizarre ransom demands start coming in that stretch Ethan’s athletic prowess to its limits, and he realizes with growing horror that they are modern versions of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, demanded in tricky, rhyming clues by someone who seems to have followed every step of Ethan’s career.  To solve the mystery and get his daughter back, Ethan teams up with a force-of-nature female detective, Aretha Mizell, who carries some secrets of her own.  As Ethan races from Labor to Labor, we enter the mysterious abandoned schoolhouse where Skip is being held captive, and we begin to hear the fantastic and strangely heartbreaking story of the kidnapper and his link to Ethan’s past. The clues begin to point not only to Ethan’s athletic career, but to his childhood, and to a family history as troubled and bizarre as those of any
of the legendary, mythic character he teaches.

The novel opens on a late Fall day in New England, the day Ethan turns 39 and receives tenure at the college where he teaches, and where Skip, now 13, has planned a party for him.  Suddenly things take a decidedly ugly [well, uglier] turn, one as to which the reader has been given a hint, with a glimpse of a stalker, “the man with a plan,” and things escalate beyond anything the reader might expect.  The writing is riveting, with one shocking turn at Chapter 31, and the identity of the kidnapper not known until Chapter 55, with the book ending on a somewhat enigmatic note 50 pages later.  A page-turner of a book, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

Book Review: Facials Can Be Fatal by Nancy J. Cohen

Facials Can Be Fatal
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #13
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3282-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

During the frenzy of the December holidays, the last thing salon owner Marla Vail needs is a dead body slathered in a green facial mask at her new day spa.The victim, Valerie Weston, had been a major donor for Friends of Old Florida, a nonprofit historic preservation society.Marla’s stylists are scheduled to work backstage at their upcoming gala fashion show, but Val’s demise might put a crimp in their plans.

Hoping to salvage her reputation, Marla determines to track down the suspects. Although Val had been well liked by most people, she may have stumbled onto secrets that others would kill to keep. What are the connections between a greedy land developer, a dress designer whose husband may have links to the Asian mob, a mortician who might be involved in the human hair trade, and members of the nonprofit group’s board of directors? Are the latter as dedicated to their cause as they’d like Marla to believe, or do they have their own self-interests at heart?

Sparks are sure to fly when this smart stylist joins forces with her sexy detective husband to solve a decades-old mystery that includes a secret journal, pirate tales, and shipwrecks along the Florida coast. With the rollercoaster excitement, you might need a trip to the day spa to relax.

When a philanthropist dies in Marla Vail’s day spa while having a facial, the police step in since it was an unattended death but early thoughts are that Val Weston had a medical condition. Marla is horribly sorry, of course, but can’t help being trepidatious when she realizes the woman’s connection with an upcoming fashion show for which Marla and her stylists are contracted to do the models’ hair.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk going on about babies as in when will Marla and Dalton have one. Why does everybody think babies must necessarily follow marriage? Isn’t a teenaged stepdaughter enough? Even Dalton is talking about it even though he knows why Marla doesn’t want a baby.

Marla’s also stressed just thinking about the upcoming gala, holiday plans, a pending lawsuit and the educator position she’s applied for but, when Dalton tells her Val was murdered, her snooping instincts come out. That predilection for finding useful information soon leads to a plethora of odd things that may or may not have anything to do with the murder…but someone clearly wanted Val dead.

The nice thing about this series—one of the nice things, that is—is that Dalton, Marla’s police detective husband, actually values her input in his investigations. It’s always a pleasure to see familiar folks in Marla’s life and a cast of characters was most welcome in keeping track of potential suspects. I’ve stuck with this series since the beginning and enjoyed this installment as much as any of them. I wonder what Marla and her crew will be up to next time 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

!!!Hurling Thunderbolts!!!

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

In the age of email and Twitter, the exclamation point has become the emblem of the times.  Americans are junkies, studding them breathlessly behind even the most mundane utterances.  It’s a molehill!  OMG!!!

Referred to variously as screamers, gaspers, slammers, or bangs, exclamation points add drama, enthusiasm, and excitement.  They indicate strong emotion – fear, anger, joy, surprise –anything intended to show high intensity at high volume.  But in these hectic days when news travels around the world at warp speed and we’re all feeling a bit hyper, periods make personal communication seem boring, unfriendly even.  In certain social exchanges, the ! has become obligatory.  The Onion satirized the phenomenon this way:  “In a diabolical omission of the utmost cruelty, stone-hearted ice witch Leslie Schiller sent her friend a callous thank-you email devoid of even a single exclamation point.”

Jeb Bush thought he had captured the zeitgeist when he adopted “Jeb!” for his campaign slogan.  Unfortunately, one ! wasn’t enough.  Compared to President Trump, Jeb is a piker, !-wise.  The Donald hurls them like thunderbolts, punctuating almost every tweet with several.  He uses them to celebrate (“The world was gloomy before I won!”); to praise (“GREAT review of my speech!”); and to berate those who get under his skin (“Enemy of the people!”).

As you might expect, authors hold strong opinions about when and how often thunderbolts should be hurled.  F. Scott Fitzgerald said an exclamation mark was like laughing at your own joke.  The British novelist Miles Kingston regards them as the equivalent of a man holding up a cue card reading “laughter” to a studio audience.  One of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing warns writers to keep their gaspers under control.  “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”  However as it turns out, he failed to follow his own advice.  A recent book by Ben Blatt, Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing, reveals that Leonard resorted to the bang 1,651 times over the course of his 3.4 million word career, more than 16 times as many as he advised.  Of course a lot of surprising and exciting stuff happened in his books, but by his own rule, he should have had no more than 102 bangs.

Unlike Leonard, Tom Wolfe loves the slammer.  He believes that people think in dots, dashes, and exclamation points, and only when they sit down to compose a calmly reflective essay do they end their sentences with periods.  According to Mr. Blatt’s tally, Wolfe averages 929 slammers per 100,000 words.  That’s not as many as James Joyce (1,105 per 100,000), but it runs counter to the recommendation of most grammarians.

Notwithstanding Jeb, Donald, Elmore, Tom, and James – and forgetting for a moment the stone-hearted ice witch Leslie Schiller – punctuation studies show that the vast majority of screamers are perpetrated by women.  Wouldn’t you just know?  Those of us who were born with wombs are, alas, by etymological and linguistic bias, the “hysterical” gender.  I was pleased to note that the screaming habit does not pertain to all female authors.  By Mr. Blatt’s count, Jane Austen peppered her six novels with a judicious 449 yips per 100,000 words.  The even more restrained Toni Morrison employed a scant 111 per 100,000 words in ten full-length novels.

One reason for the proliferation of the exclamation mark today may be the fact that there’s a handy key for it.  Prior to the 1970s, if you wanted to produce a ! on your manual typewriter, you had to type a period, then backspace and type an apostrophe.  Imagine how much energy it would take to type a whole row of them!!!!!!

Some writers regard this infestation of exclamation points as a blight on the English language, a copout by writers who don’t take the trouble to construct sentences that convey emotion through a careful choice of words.  On the other hand, there have been occasions when one little ! spoke volumes.  There’s an anecdote about Victor Hugo, who was traveling away from London following the publication of Les Miserables.  Telegrams were expensive back then, but he was worried and anxious to know if anyone was buying his new book.  He screwed up his courage and cabled his publisher a terse and tentative “?”.

The publisher replied with an equally terse and enthusiastic “!”.

The book was selling like hotcakes.  That’s the kind of bang every writer dreams of.

Book Reviews: Whenever I’m With You by Lydia Sharp and Keep Me In Mind by Jaime Reed

Whenever I’m With You
Lydia Sharp
Scholastic Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-04749-3
Hardcover

Gabi’s natural grace is fascinating.  Poise, pragmatic manner and confidence rarely coexist in mere human beings; but this 17-year-old possesses all three.  Of course, she doesn’t realize that.  Her Alaskan acquaintances see only the novelty of a “rich Latina from L.A.”  and they don’t even have as much information ‘about’ her as the tabloids do.

Kai is not like that, but he isn’t living the typical teen-age life either.  When Gabi and her father moved in next door, Kai’s father had been gone for almost a year.  His departure turned Kai and his twin brother, Hunter, from full-time high-school students to home-schooled home-makers.  The boys cared for their younger siblings, their mother worked double shifts.

When Kai slips away to search for his father, he doesn’t tell anyone.  He’s been alone in the Alaskan wilderness, following his father’s footsteps for a couple of days when Gabi and Hunter figure out where he’s gone.  The two immediately realize the dire need to reach him ahead of an upcoming storm.  Even an experienced, outdoors-loving-Alaskan could not be prepared for this.

The dangerous expedition is but part of the plot.  Each twin has a secret and when secrets are shared it is as if someone pulled the missing piece of the almost-completed-jigsaw puzzle from a pocket and asks, “Were you looking for this?”  Fiercely frustrating; a remarkable relief.  Each person that participates in this quest has a solid strength inside.  The individual discovery and use is a pretty great thing to witness.

Aside: I have a particular fondness for the West-Virginian transplant.  Vicki easily embodied traits I recognize in the people from my home state; she amused and delighted me.   Special thanks to Ms. Sharp for that.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keep Me In Mind
Jaime Reed
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-88381-8
Hardcover

The adage ‘opposites attract’ brings no comfort to Ellia as she tries to picture herself in a relationship with the “tearstained boy hovering over (her) bed…declaring his undying love and devotion”.  She’s come out of a coma with no recollection whatsoever of the accident that caused it or the preceding two years.  Her parents, along with some friends are familiar, if not fully known; but the oddly earnest Liam is a stranger.

Liam is a runner. An addict, actually; his entire personality changes if ever he is deprived of his daily run.  An excellent student, he works diligently for his grades and he writes ridiculously well.  Ellia firmly believes that humans should run in emergency situations only and nothing about school holds her attention, aside from the opportunity to people-watch in order to ponder and provide fashion critiques, solicited or not.

Logically, these two people do not belong together, but emotionally Liam is so confident and persuasive that Ellia is compelled to seriously consider the plausibility.  Understandably the most important thing in Liam’s world, this is really just a piece of the wicked jig-saw puzzle that is now Ellia’s life.  Her first priority is to figure out who she is and why; based on what she’s heard so far, she’s not particularly proud of the person she was.

I absolutely adore the way this author captures and conveys the sheer magnitude of emotions that teens experience.  More accurately, I admire the authenticity of her characters.  The surprisingly witty banter exchanges are straight from the hallways of any high-school and exist alongside the lyrical and somewhat haunting soliloquies throughout. I was immediately intrigued, then immersed and invested.  There were enough questions to be answered that the story-line slid smoothly along, keeping me engaged from the first page to the very last word.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

Waiting On Wednesday (64)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Book Review: Regeneration by Stacey Berg

Regeneration
An Echo Hunter 367 Novel #2
Stacey Berg
Harper Voyager Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-246614-3
Ebook
Mass Market Paperback coming in April 2017

From the publisher—

The Church has stood for hundreds of years, preserving the sole surviving city in a desert wasteland. When Echo Hunter 367 is sent out past the Church’s farthest outposts, she’s sure it’s a suicide mission. But just when she’s about to give up hope, she finds the impossible – another thriving community, lush and green, with a counsel of leaders who take her in.

Wary of this new society, with ways so different from the only life she’s ever known, Echo is determined to complete her mission and bring hope back to the Church. She’s unsure who she can trust, and must be strong and not be seduced by their clean, fresh water, and plentiful energy sources. If she plays her cards right, she may even still have a chance to save the woman she loves.

Regeneration is one of those books that leave me in the dust a bit because there is so much going on and so many characters to keep straight. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean I struggled some but, all in all, I liked it for the most part. I will say I think I should have read the first book, Dissension, before tackling this one.

When we first see Echo, she is on the point of death but rescue comes just in time and she wakes in a strange place surrounded by people she doesn’t know. This is initially the most important facet of the story, the need to try to adapt to and work with strangers, people whose lives have been so different.

The other core aspect of Echo’s tale is the need to make choices or, indeed, to NOT make choices. At nearly every turn, Echo is faced with options and they are rarely simple; some, in fact, can lead to major upheavals in her life and in the world she lives in. She’s not the only one facing these dilemmas, though. As two societies learn they are not alone, they must either agree to disagree, if you will, or find ways to coexist and Echo is right at the center of what will be a turning point for these people who have survived the end of civilization as we know it.

Including a love story that nearly consumes Echo, Regeneration is an intense look at human nature when faced with the unknown and I felt compelled to turn the pages to find out what would happen next. I was certainly not prepared for the ending but I think it was almost pre-ordained and was, indeed, fitting.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

************

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

************

An Excerpt from Regeneration

Echo Hunter 367 studied the dying woman in the desert with grudging admiration. The woman had walked long past what might reasonably be expected, if that lurching stagger could be called a walk. When she couldn’t walk any more she had crawled, and after that she had dragged herself along, fingers clawing through sand until they clutched some purchase, body scraping over rocks and debris, heedless of the damage. Now and then she made a noise, a purely animal grunt of effort or pain, but she forced herself onward, all the way until the end.

I smell the water.

Desperate as the woman was, she had still been cautious. Though an incalculable distance from any familiar place, she still recognized danger: the wind-borne sand that scoured exposed skin clean to the bone, the predators that stalked patiently in the shadows for prey too weak to flee. The cliff edge that a careless girl could slip over, body suspended in space for the briefest moment before her hands tore through the thornbush, then the long hard fall.

Echo jerked back from that imagined edge. It was her last purposeful movement.  From some great height, she watched herself collapse in the sand. One grasping hand, nails torn, knuckles bloody, landed only a few meters from the spring’s cool water, but she never knew it. For a little while her body twitched in irregular spasms, then those too stilled. Only her lips moved, cracking into a bloody smile. “Lia,” she whispered. “Lia.” Then she fell into the dark.

For a long time there was no sound except water trickling in a death rattle over stones.

Then the high whine of engines scattered the circling predators. Pain returned first, of course. Every inch of skin burned, blistered by sun or rubbed raw by the sand that had worked its way inside the desert-proof clothing. Her muscles ached from too long an effort with no fuel and insufficient water, and her head pounded without mercy. Even the movement of air in and out of her lungs hurt, as if she had inhaled fire. But that pain meant she was breathing, and if she was breathing she still had to fight. With enormous effort she dragged open her eyes, only to meet a blinding brightness. She made a sound, and tasted hot salt as her lips cracked open again. “Shhh,” a soft voice said. “Shhh.” Something cool, smelling of resin and water, settled over her eyes, shielding them from the glare. A cloth dabbed at her mouth, then a finger smoothed ointment over her lips, softening them so they wouldn’t split further when she was finally able to speak. Lia, she thought, letting herself rest in that gentle strength until the pain subsided into manageable inputs. Then she began to take stock.

She lay on something soft, not the rock that had made her bed for so many weeks, although her abused flesh still ached at every pressure point. The air felt cool but still, unlike the probing desert wind, and it carried, beyond the herbal tang, a scent rich and round, unlike the silica sharpness of sand she’d grown so accustomed to. Filtered through the cloth over her eyes, the light seemed diffuse, too dim for the sun. Indoors, then, and not a temporary shelter, but a place with thick walls, and a bed, and someone with sufficient resources to retrieve a dying woman from the desert, and a reason to do so. But what that reason might be eluded her. The Church would never rescue a failure.

Unless the Saint commanded it.

She mustered all her strength and dragged the cloth from her eyes. She blinked away grit until the blurred oval hovering above her took on distinct features, the soft line of the cheek, the gently curving lips. Lia, she thought again, and in her weakness tears washed the vision away. She wiped her eyes with a trembling hand.

And stared into the face of an utter stranger.

************

About the Author

Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons.

Visit Stacey Berg on her Website, Goodreads Page, and on Twitter!

************

Follow the tour:

3/13 Guest post @ Writers and Authors
3/13 Showcase @ Sapphyrias Book Reviews
3/14 Interview/Showcase @ CMash Reads
3/15 Showcase @ The Ordinary Housewife Book Blog
3/16 Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
3/17 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
3/17 Showcase @ Tome Tender
3/18 Interview @ BooksChatter
3/18 Review @ Rockin Book Reviews
3/19 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
3/20 Showcase @ Deal Sharing Aunt
3/20 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
3/21 Showcase @ The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
3/22 Review @ Buried Under Books
3/23 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
3/25 Review @ Collected Works
3/26 Showcase @ Writers and Authors
3/28 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
3/29 Guest post @ Books Direct
3/29 Review @ Wall-to-wall books
3/30 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
3/31 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
4/01 Review/showcase @ Kara the Redhead

************