Book Reviews: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat and Courage and Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson

Untwine
Edwidge Danticat
Scholastic Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-42303-8
Hardcover

Preamble be damned, Untwine begins in the present and with purpose. Mum and Dad aren’t getting along. Identical teen-aged twin girls are tight, but right now, each is feeling a bit out of sorts. Everyone in the family car, each in a funk. And they are running late. Suddenly–another vehicle slams into them. The tightly knit family is shattered; metaphorically and then, quite literally.

Realistic fiction with a fresh focus features a situation that anyone can relate to. Rather than opening with an obligatory, typical-teen-turning-point type of event, it’s a regular day and a random accident. With all the ripple effects. Giselle relays events to the reader, moving both backward and forward, but in a fluid kind of way—painting the picture piece by piece.

Ms. Danticat’s story struck me as unique in a couple of ways. First, I felt a solid sense of loss for someone I’ve never known. Not sadness, sympathy or empathy; but an actual aching emptiness, and all for a character the author doesn’t even introduce. Second, subtle nuances–almost behind-the-scenes actions, that demonstrate strength and support of extended family I found to be both impressive and inspiring.

Mum and Dad, each with a sibling, immigrated from Haiti to the U.S. and they made their home in Miami. The accident brings the twins’ maternal aunt, as well as their father’s brother, to the hospital and straight to Giselle’s bedside. When Giselle is released from the hospital, she has rigid, ridiculous rules to follow, but they are for real. If she wants her brain to heal, that means no screens whatsoever, no reading, and no writing. Everyone else has their own injuries, so grand-parents come from Haiti to help out.

A sad story, with subtle silver linings, is simply the best.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

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Courage & Defiance:
Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark
Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-59220-8
Hardcover

In April of 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and the quiet, common thread running through the Danish people was plucked. If ever there was a more resilient, resolved and remarkably sympathetic collection of human beings, they are unknown to me. Ms. Hopkinson honestly portrays the dangers of dismal, every-day-life under occupation as well as the cruelty and despair of concentration camps, simultaneously displaying the intuitive empathy and bravery of the Danes.

What strikes me the most is that each person has an individual ‘line he will cross’ while still doing his level best to resist, if not fight, against the gruesome German goals. That is, until learning of Hitler’s plan to round up and relocate Danish Jews to concentration camps. The unspoken, unanimous decision to prevent this was almost palpable as plans for moving Jewish Danes to Sweden were formed.

I do not have the ability to aptly convey the reasons that I will be highly recommending this non-fiction nugget, so I’ll just leave you with this: reading Courage and Defiance reminds me of the quote that Mr. Rogers would share from his childhood. When he would see scary things in the news, his mother advised, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

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Book Review: I Laughed When I Wrote It by Alan Zoldan

I Laughed When I Wrote It
518 Of My Funniest Tweets
Alan Zoldan
SynergEbooks, April 2018
ISBN: 978-0-744-32379-5
Trade Paperback

If ever there was a more important time to read this book by Alan Zoldan, I don’t know, nor can I imagine, when it was/could be!

I can only speak for myself of course, but if I ever needed the laughs that this book provides, it is now!  At a time when reading the morning newspapers, or watching the news on tv, was more depressing than it is now, I can’t imagine when that time was!  Mr. Zoldan has, in providing us with “518 of [his] Funniest Tweets,” given us just the break from today’s reality that we [although again I can only speak for myself] need desperately!  The author wrote the book after 7 years and 895 tweets, and his selection is excellent!

I guess the only way I can back this up, and illustrate the author’s sense of humor, is to give you a few examples. The sections are headed Laughing at Myself, Cultural Quips, Random Observation, One Liners, and Rated “R” for Raunchy, which starts off with a line from Woody Allen:  “Don’t knock masturbation.  It’s sex with someone you love.”  Some of the other things included in this section:  “My wife and I were happy for 22 years – and then we met;”  “I really don’t believe in meaningless sex.  I mean, at the very least, it means that you’ve had sex;” “Just once I’d like to relapse at a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting;” …Protected sex is way too expensive.  Not everyone can afford a bodyguard you know;” . . .  “I never got into Twitter for the fame, money,or sex – which, as things are turning out, is just as well.”   Among the one-liners:  “After all is said and done, there is usually much more said than done . . . The results of my friend’s IQ test were negative . . . My wife keeps complaining I never listen to her . . . or something like that . . . If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong . . . Change is inevitable – – except from a vending machine .. . The last thing I want to do is hurt you.  But it’s still on my list . . . I think someone stopped the payment on my reality check . . .  Is there another word for synonym?”  I’ll stop the quotes now, because I’m sure you’ve already decided to go out and buy the book – good thinking!

As per the notes that the publisher has included at the end of the book, headed “About the Author,” the latter “believes that this is the book America needs at this time.”  Truer words were never written!  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Cozy Food edited by Nancy Lynn Jarvis—and a Giveaway!

Cozy Food
Edited by Nancy Lynn Jarvis
Good Read Publishers, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-9835891-7-4
Trade Paperback

Cozy Food is a collection of favorite recipes from 128 (!) cozy mystery authors along with a section giving information about the authors and their books (as of 2014). The recipes are as varied and interesting as the authors and, while I’m not heavy-duty into cooking, I did try a few of them and they turned out to be as good as they sounded. Besides all the dishes for me and my family, I think I might try the pet food recipes for my kitties and granddog and grandkitty. This is a great way to find some new authors and some new food.

Mel’s Texas BBQ Mop Sauce by Sparkle Abbey is high on my list to try and I actually have every ingredient on hand except celery which I wouldn’t put in anyway 😉

Chickapoo’s Peanut Butter Treats from Marian Allen is one of the easiest recipes in the book and is OMG good.

Suzanne Young offers a quick Edna’s Easy Herb Spread with enough herb options to keep me taste-testing for a long time—because somebody has to do it, you know—and it’s equally good as a potato chip dip.

There are so many scrumptious recipes in this cookbook, they’ll keep you busy for a long, long time but never fear; if you find yourself just wanting to kick back with a delicious libation at the end of the day, you can hoist Sandra Balzo’s Murder on the Orient Espresso Martini while you check out some of the authors that are new to your list of must-reads.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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To enter the drawing for my very, very
gently used copy of Cozy Food, just
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Thursday
evening, May 3rd, and the drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 2

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

All the Little Liars
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #9
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09003-4
Hardcover

Charlaine Harris has to work really hard to make me not like any of her books and this one is no exception. Aurora Teagarden is her fluffiest series and I was SO excited when she brought it back with this book, 13 years after the last one.

Roe is a librarian—now married and pregnant—in a small town in Georgia and, as librarians are wont to do, falls over dead bodies on a regular basis. This time, a bunch of kids have gone missing and her teenaged brother is somehow involved. I enjoyed this story even though I thought it was just a little weak but I chalk it up to the difficulties of rebooting a series and fully expect the upcoming Sleep Like a Baby to be back on top.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Gizelle’s Bucket List
My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt
Simon & Schuster, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-2365-8
Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017
Narrated by Lauren Fern Watt
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

I both read and listened to this one and was glad I did because the audio edition added a strong connection between me and the author. This is a true story and, as you can guess from the title, it’s all about this wonderful dog’s last days. Get out a box of tissues because you’re going to need them. Yes, it’s terribly sad but also joyful and uplifting as Lauren helps Gizelle do the things she loves best and those Lauren is sure she’ll enjoy before it’s too late. The love and devotion between Lauren and Gizelle are as real as it gets and I appreciate the time I spent with them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Smugglers & Scones
Moorehaven Mysteries, Book 1
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-940215-87-7
Trade Paperback

Moorehaven is a bed and breakfast in Oregon that caters to crime fiction writers—what a great setting for murder and mayhem, right? Pippa Winterbourne, manager, gets pulled into the investigation when a local is killed and a boat mysteriously crashes on the rocks, leaving her to house an intriguing injured man who just might be guilty of murder. This is a delightful tale full of the history of coastal Oregon and a beautiful setting and featuring some very appealing folks. The setup with the B&B is unusual in that a trust is actually in charge so this is not the typical scenario in which the innkeeper has to scrimp and save to keep things going. That frees Pippa to do some sleuthing on her own while she rides herd on her crochety great-uncle and the current group of author guests. This is a clever, charming series debut and I’m looking forward to the next one, Burglars & Blintzes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Still Life
A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery #1
Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Blackstone Audio, August 2006
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

When murder is done in a small town in the Quebec province, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate. Most of the villagers think it must have been a hunting accident but Gamache is quite sure something else is going on.

I’m hanging my head in shame, I think, because I’m apparently at odds with the mystery reading world. I’d always avoided this series ( now up to #13) for no particular reason other than I have a bit of distrust when everybody raves about the first book, then the second, the third… But, I finally started feeling kind of silly about it and bit the bullet and, well, I’m kind of underwhelmed. The narrator was quite good (I understand fans were devastated when he passed away a few years ago, after recording the tenth book) and the story was good but I just didn’t connect with it. Still, a gazillion readers can’t all be wrong so I’m going to try the second book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Introvert
Michael Paul Michaud
Black Opal Books, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-626945-47-0
Trade Paperback

He’s a vacuum salesman, a quiet individual, kind of a loner but only because solitude is usually easier. He’s Everyman. He also has moments of inner rage so intense he imagines the other person “red and open” but he’s perfectly normal. Right? Well, there was that incident a couple of years ago…

{{Shudder }}

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

 

Book Review: A Good Place to Hide by Peter Grose

A Good Place to Hide
Peter Grose
Pegasus Books, May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-68177-124-3
Trade Paperback

The period between 1939 and 1944 in Europe was not smooth and elegant. Relative calm settled over France as the Vichy Government moved to solidify itself and accommodate German occupation in the Northern Zone. As author Peter Grose notes, the central figures were Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Winston Churchill. War was the order of the day and as competing armies surged across the land, residents of a small, almost unnoticed group of farm villages found themselves responsible for a large humanitarian effort.

It didn’t seem to matter that for a thousand years the Huguenots had been persecuted for their religious and social beliefs. They were prepared to hide Jewish refugees at the drop of a trigger. And because of Haute-Loire’s proximity to Switzerland, they became a conduit for protection and saving of thousands of Jewish refugees from all over Europe, hiding them and moving them on to safety in neutral Switzerland.

The book is at times mesmerizing with it’s incredible tales of seventeen-year-old Piton, a guide who made the perilous journey perhaps a hundred times, to Virginia Hall, an American woman who asserted herself into the fabric of Resistance command and directed dozens of parachute drops, movement of large amounts of cash, rescue of prisoners and destruction of key transportation links to disrupt German military operations.

The book is over-long in some details and in places needs trimming to increase its impact. But it is a strong inspiring tale of man’s humanity toward man and a detailing of some clever and scary maneuvers by those same humans. It was hard to put down and is a grand testament to the women and men of Haute-Loire villages who refused to bow to the fascist German fist, who saved almost a generation of Jews.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry

Adnan’s Story
The Search for Truth and Justice After “Serial”
Rabia Chaudry
St. Martin’s Press, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-08710-2
Hardcover

I am so glad that I read this book, but at the same time, I almost long for my ignorance.  It is easier to be unaware of how disturbingly incompetent and unconcerned the very people paid to “serve and protect” behaved.  The outrage really sets in when it becomes glaringly obvious that the plethora of mistakes made was not unique in the police work, but poured into the trial.

To me, this kid never had a chance.  There is not one moment where I thought that someone in the judicial and/or legal system truly considered Adnan–the person.  Not one time was he treated as “innocent until proven guilty”.  To say that the circus that replaced his trial was riddled with errors, illegal manipulation along with flat-out suppression of pertinent information, would be remarkably generous.

If, like me, you know Adnan’s story from the “Serial” (and/or subsequent) podcast(s), you know this.  And maybe, like me, you are still consumed with a sickening, gut-wrenching wonder as to how so much could go so horribly wrong—unquestionably, indisputably wrong—without any repercussions or efforts to acknowledge, own and correct the mistakes, then perhaps you already have this in your To-Read stack.  Basically—if you’ve been at all touched by this tragic but all too true tale—I whole-heartedly believe you will be grateful for Ms. Chaudry’s work.  The author says it best: the story “Serial told” “…was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth, or the whole story” and if ever there was a whole story—with its entire truth—that begged to be told, it is Adnan’s.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

Book Review: Whiskers and Bear by Giacomo Giammatteo

Whiskers & Bear
Life on the Farm, Book 1
Giacomo Giammatteo
Inferno Publishing Company, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-940313-38-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

This is the true story of Bear and Whiskers, two dogs who came to our sanctuary. For 10 years they lived a life like no other, roaming free and living off what they caught in the hundred acres of woods surrounding us. And they ruled the streets of the neighborhood, daring any dog—or human—to intrude upon their territory.   People complained. Some people even thought the dogs should be put to sleep. What these people didn’t realize is that we were the ones encroaching on Bear’s territory. This was his street and his neighborhood. And he had recruited Whiskers to help him rule it.   

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Go ahead, grab that box of tissues ’cause you’re gonna need ’em before you finish this book. Heck, before you finish the first chapter, but you’re also gonna laugh and smile and feel generally pretty darned good about people like Giacomo and his wife, Mikki, as well as their wonderful 4-footed companions.

Animal stories are nearly impossible to dislike unless they’re full of abuse and other bad stuff but I knew before I signed on that this would not be that type at all. What lifts this book above many others of its ilk is the relationship these two dogs have with each other, their loyalty to and love for each other, and their dedication to protecting their humanfolk without actually living with them. This aloofness, for lack of a much better word, is different from what we normally see; after all, dogs are either usually very attached to humans or they run in semi-wild packs. Neither is the case with Bear and his pal, Whiskers—they care for and protect their humans and all the other sanctuary animals but they do it on their own terms. And I fell madly in love 😉

Whiskers and Bear have a unique, charming, totally heartwarming story and I urge you to buy this little book. It isn’t big, won’t take you more than an hour or two to read, but you’ll be so glad you did and you’ll help the sanctuary, too 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from Whiskers & Bear

Another Grave

I climbed up onto the tractor, a Kubota 4630, with a six-foot bucket on the front. It was a powerful machine, and we’d put it through the hoops more than a few times. What I mean is that my wife Mikki and I had dug a lot of graves.

I tied an old cloth diaper around my forehead and draped the end of it over the top of my bald head. There wasn’t much better than a cotton cloth for keeping sweat out of your eyes, or the sun from burning your head. I turned the key and revved the engine. After letting it idle a moment, I lifted the bucket and drove toward the south side of the property where Mikki was waiting for me. She’d already gotten a few blankets and a clean sheet. For this one, she’d brought a pillow, too.

I reached up and wiped my eyes. I was getting damn tired of burying things.

An old white pickup crept down the gravel driveway, coming to a stop near the fence.

A neighbor leaned out and hollered. “What’s goin’ on?”

I wished he’d have kept going.

“Nothin’,” I said, but not loud enough for him to hear.

The door opened, and he stepped out and walked over to the fence, using his right hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he peered over the top rail.

“What are you doin’?”

I could see there was no getting away from it. I muttered my answer a few times so my voice wouldn’t crack when I yelled.

“Diggin’ a grave,” I hollered back.

“A grave? Which one died?”

Which one? That’s what it had come to for most of the neighbors and relatives and friends. Which one died. As if it didn’t matter. As if having forty-five animals made it easier to deal with when one of them died.

He came in through the side gate and headed in my direction. He walked slowly, which gave me time to compose myself. It’s never easy to bury a friend, but this one…this one was special.

Mikki walked over to me. “He’s just trying to help.”

I nodded.

I don’t need his help, I thought, but the fact of the matter was I could probably use it.

It hadn’t rained in weeks, and the damn Texas ground was as hard as concrete. Even if the tractor did cut through, it could only go so deep; we’d have hand work to do at the bottom.

Our neighbor was about twenty feet away. He took off his hat and swiped at his forehead. It was a scorcher today and had been for a month or so.

“Who was it?” he asked.

I couldn’t say, but I managed to gesture toward Mikki. She lifted the corner of the blanket so he could see.

“Oh shit!” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks,” I said.

He unbuttoned his shirt and grabbed a shovel I had leaning against a small oak tree. “Might as well get this done.”

I nodded again. He was right, of course, but I was in no hurry to put another friend in the ground. I cranked the engine up a little higher, shoved the tractor into low gear, and positioned the bucket for the first scoop of dirt. The bucket hit the ground with a metallic thud. It didn’t do much more than break the surface.

“Whew!” the neighbor said. “Going to be a long day.”

“That’s for sure.”

“How long have they been with you?” he asked.

They. I thought about what he said. I would have laughed if not for the circumstances. Everyone referred to the two of them as one. They or them. Bear and Whiskers. Whiskers and Bear. It was a cold day in July if anyone mentioned one without the other.

I handed him my bottle of water; he looked thirsty.

“They’ve been with us a long time. A damn long time.”

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Excerpt from Whiskers and Bear by Giacomo Giammatteo. Copyright © 2017 by Giacomo Giammatteo. Reproduced with permission from Giacomo Giammatteo. All rights reserved.

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A PLEA FOR HELP

Out of all the books I’ve written (almost thirty), this one is closest to my heart. For twenty-four years, my wife and I have run an animal sanctuary, providing homes for dogs, cats, pigs, horses, and even a wild boar. I don’t know how many animals we’ve had through the years in total, but at one time, we had as many as fifty-five.

I don’t often ask for help, but this is important. We have run this sanctuary for twenty-four years using our own money—no donations to speak of. The feed bill alone was more than a thousand dollars per month. And there are plenty of other bills, vets, fencing, shelter, medical supplies, and more.

In early 2015, I had two heart attacks followed by two strokes. The result was that it left me disabled. Now it is difficult to continue paying for everything.

I wrote this book in the hopes that it would sell enough to help with the funds, as all sales go to the animals. And I mean that—every penny goes to help support them—nothing for anyone else.

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About the Author

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. He also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

When Giacomo isn’t writing, he’s helping his wife take care of the animals on their sanctuary. At last count they had 45 animals—11 dogs, a horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs.

Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar, who takes walks with Giacomo every day and happens to also be his best buddy.

Visit Giacomo: Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Follow the tour:

4/01 Author Of The Month @ CMash Reads
4/08 Author Of The Month @ CMash Reads
4/15 Author Of The Month @ CMash Reads
4/22 Author Of The Month @ CMash Reads
4/28 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
4/29 Author Of The Month @ CMash Reads
5/01 Review @ Mochas, Mysteries and Meows
5/02 Guest post @ Mochas, Mysteries and Meows
5/03 Showcase @ Socrates Review Blog
5/05 Showcse @ Books, Dreams, Life
5/06 Review @ Buried Under Books
5/07 Guest post @ Loris Reading Corner
5/08 Interview @ BooksChatter
5/09 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
5/10 Showcase @ Bookalicious Traveladdict
5/11 Review @ BookLove
5/12 Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
5/13 Review @ Lauras Interests
5/14 @ I am not a bookworm!

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