Sunday, October 6, 2013

Primal Creatures (French Quarter Mystery)

By Eric Wilder

Full disclosure, I received a review copy of this book. Sadly, it languished on my TBR pile for far too long. Any avid reader knows that it is far too easy to have books pile up and pile up until even the ones that you really want to read find their way to the bottom of the pile. Well, yesterday, I demolished the pile, looking for a good Halloween type read and found this. It looked like just the ticket, and I pulled it out and jumped in. What I found was a new must read author.

Somewhat reminiscent of DePoy, a little along the lines of Koontz...what I got for my reading time was a wonderful, page turner of a story, very likable and interesting characters. The author is clearly an animal lover who incorporates pets into the story and takes good care of them. No killing off a pet just to add some gore.

In fact, there is very little gore. This is a writer who is able to tell the story and add chills without gratuitous mayhem or blood flying from every direction. He tells a chilling story that takes place on a place called Goose Island, off the coast of Louisiana. A place where the memory of Katrina adds a bit of chill of its own, when a freak hurricane threatens the area durning the investigation of a mysterious and grim death. One where the details were quickly covered up and it lands in the capable hands of PI Wyatt Thomas to investigate.

Wyatt is sent to the island which is home to a small sect of monks who are known for building hand crafted coffins. There are only a very few monks left in this sect. There is a resort on the island as well, it is run by the monks who call themselves Tracists and is a very elegant and secluded area frequented only by the very wealthy. Aside from the resort and the monks the island is home to one man, a professor who is there to study avian life, and a small village filled with. . .

I think I will leave the rest for you to find out on your own, and believe me you won't regret the time you spend reading this one. I suspect that like myself, you will immediately go looking for more by this talented author.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Light in the Ruins

by Chris Bohjalian

I received an advanced copy of The Light in the Ruins. As a long time fan of this author I was was expecting a good read and I was not disappointed. Chris Bohjalian's style is so civilized, and his writing is so compelling, that even a grisly murder can be merely presented and not overdramatized. There is instead a thread of intensity running through the story that carries you along, won't let you go. 

It's all the more compelling when you find the bits of synchronicity and so called coincidence connecting people, places and moments in time. In fact, it draws you in, and makes you a part of the story itself. You can see the events through the eyes of the Marchese and Marchesa Rosati and their family. Francesca is the mother of small children, married to the older son of the family, while her husband Marco and his younger brother Vittore served their country.The youngest of the Rosati's children Christina Rosati lived there as well, little more than a child herself. 

Moving forward in time, to ten years after the war we meet up with this family again. Their lives, like the lives of all who lived through WWII were affected, or perhaps shattered is the better term. Their family was forever changed by events that occurred in the days before the end of the war. Some were affected more deeply than others for reasons that will be obvious as you read. 

Another revelation will be the synchronicity of the stories of the Rosati's, and another family. A single member of that family, Serafina Bettini is working as the only woman detective with the police department in Florence, Italy. A position she earned through her own wartime experiences. A position at which she appears to excel. 

The core of the story would be the events that occur at the Villa Chimera, the estate that the Rosati's called home. The place that one sunny day was the destination of two soldiers, one German, one Italian. Their arrival set in motion events that would affect lives of all of those who lived and worked on the estate. Even those who were merely there by happenstance. Even Bohjalian's soft touch with a story cannot feather away the horrors of WWII and the atrocities that occurred. Nothing and no one ever should. Also we would do well to remember that not all deaths are caused by war, that not every wound is healed by time and that we are, all of us, connected in some small way to each other

The Secretary: A Journey With Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart

by Kim Ghattas

In the spirit of full disclosure I have to say that I am an ardent admirer of both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Each of them, during their time spend in office have done much for our country. Bill during his years as President of the United States, and Hillary as First Lady, Senator and then as Secretary of State to President Barack Obama have

I was sorry when Hillary decided the time had come for her to leave the office of Secretary of State to spend some time as an ordinary citizen. Although, neither of these individuals can be described as ordinary at any time.

I was delighted with the opportunity to read about the days that Hillary Clinton spent traveling in the world in service to her country through the eyes of one of those who were part of the team of journalists who accompanied her, Kim Gjattas. Gjattas was raised in Beirut, the civil war there, was part of her daily life. This gave her a unique perspective during her time as the BBC's State Department correspondent. Her credentials include reporting on her own country's affairs for both American and British newspapers. Then as the BBC's Radio and television correspondent since 2008 . She draws a compelling picture of those days and nights traveling the world in the company of one of the most powerful American women ever to serve her country.
We begin this journey with Gjattas on the very first day of Hillary's term as Secretary of State. It seemed as if from those first moments of taking office, Hillary and her team were a whirlwind of traveling the globe and meeting with not only the powerful leaders of countries, but often their families and ordinary women everywhere. Part of her own agenda was that women be recognized across the globe for the important and influential roles they played, whether they were in government or were raising families.

Clinton had the advantage of being a well-known figure throughout the world, after her time as First Lady to President Bill Clinton. She was far from reticent even in those days and was certainly a working First Lady, with her own office and staff. This however, was a whole new situation. As Secretary of State of the most powerful nation in the world. She not only had to step into an unfamiliar job and learn it from the inside out quickly, she had to forge a working relationship with a man who was once her opponent in the race for president. But if any two people could do that, it was Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They became quite a team over the four years that they worked together.

The effects of WikiLeaks is covered, and the effect it had on Hillary's relationships with leaders across the world. As I watched the news on WikiLeaks, and listened to the news, I was unaware of just how much fallout had occurred that would affect the office held by Hillary Clinton. This informative book helps us to understand that in order to repair some of the damage done, a talented negotiator was needed and Hillary was up to the task.

In fact, this book gives us a look at diplomacy at one of the highest levels, as performed by a powerful woman in our own time. I have a feeling that we haven't seen the last of Clinton. She has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in American politics and policy.

This book was a fascinating and easy read. The author takes us along with her as she spends several years covering a major political figure. This is far from being a dull recounting of the events of the time Clinton spent as Secretary of State. In fact, it was hard to put down. I recommend it, and would call it a 4.5 star read


                                                                by Danielle Trussoni

I thought Angelology by Danielle Trussoni was wonderful! The minute I reached the last page, I was impatient for the next book. I can tell you that it was well worth the long wait for book II in the series, Angelopolis . According to her own tweets, the author went to a convent to do some research on writing about a nun as a character. She left there instead, with the idea of writing a book about angels. I can tell you that I am glad she did. This series is rare in its sophisticated and well researched subject matter.

The first book, Angelology introduced us to Evangeline, who is the fascinating main character of that we we meet again, ten years later when Angelopolis opens. We last saw her spreading her wings and leaping...into the future. A future that begins in The First Circle. Near to the Eiffel Tower we find a broken body of an angel, lying in a puddle of blue blood,and two gifted Angelologists. Bruno and Verlaine have been searching for years for Evangeline. Verlaine carries within him the secret love he feels for her. While looking down on the body before him, he realizes that he is surrounded not only by humans but many of the various types of angels. The Mara, the Gusian, Rahab, Anakin, and more. So many, and all standing in the open. He looks at the identification his partner is showing him with the face of Evangeline. The angel he seeks, the woman he loves. This Identification had been taken from the dead angel.

This second book re-tells the story of the tortured Romanov family, with twists we have never imagined. Rasputin, could he be more than we ever imagined him to be? And the question of the Faberge eggs, and their possible connection to angels is brought up and investigated. We are taken from the heights of beauty, perfection and love to the very depths of humankind and the earth itself. We are introduced to miracles and moments of inconceivable evil. We meet members of Evangeline's family, and find friends and enemies that she was unaware of. And this book, like the first has a dramatic ending. As with book one, we are left hanging. As with all good books, we are left wanting more. The ending leaves us breathless and feeling the not just the loss of a story finished, but the anticipation of what is to come. Trussoni has a gift for leaving us with a good ending. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good thriller, a mystery, a bit of religious spice and controversy and most of all to anyone who enjoys a good compelling read.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley

                                                                  by Neal Thompson

        I freely admit that when I requested A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley by Neal Thompson from Vine, I had no idea what an interesting read it would be. I, like so many others have been aware of the Believe or Not phrase for much of my life. In fact, it has been some time since I've heard it, or given any thought to the man who created it. What I think of first when thinking of Ripley are the museums and the magazine like television show that aired so long ago. I never gave any thought to the man behind it, just to the curiosities displayed.

As it turns out LeRoy Robert Ripley, who changed his name in order to please an employer early in his career, had a very difficult start. His family was poor and worked hard to keep body and soul together. Both is mother and father doing the best they could to keep their children clothed and fed. Ripley was an unusual looking individual as well, as it turns out. This of course led to him being teased mercilessly as a child and youth. Having an unfortunate stutter did not help matters. His talent, his passion and his escape was art. Despite the help of a sympathetic teacher, who allowed him to do do drawings instead of papers and read aloud reports, Ripley left high school without finishing. He went in search of work, or more precisely adventure that would put some money in his pocket. 

He tried to follow his dream with mixed success. Even though his passion was his art, he was untrained. This resulted in him being able to secure only low paying positions and in fact having his employers lose interest after a short time. Finally, at one point in his early years he did seek out some art training which allowed him to improve and to do what he set out to do, draw cartoons more successfully. 

He made his way to New York and there began his climb to not only success but celebrity, as he became more and more successful in his carrer, if not his personal life. 
The first cartoon to carry the Beieve It Or Not title appeared in 1919. This became his trademark phrase.After finding that he had become a successful cartoonist, and then something of a story teller, he was offered the chance to travel around the world and report back on what he saw. He found that his talent went beyond presenting the ludicrous, but describing the beautiful and the tragic and particularly the gruesome and the freakish. 

It is a little known fact that through many years he had a silent partner by the name of Norbert Pearlroth. Pearlroth was a good looking and inteligent man from the Austrian section of Galicia. He sported a nearly photographic memory and once invested in an encyclopedia called the Library of Entertainment and Knowledge. From these books and Pearlroth's memory came many of the unusual facts and stories used in Ripley's cartoons, and later his books. 

This was a quick and interesting read, which gave a good long look at the man behind the mysterious and bizarre, and all things entertaining that we are told To Believe It or Not!


by Colum McCann

If there is a key player in this story, TransAtlantic: A Novel by Colum McCann, it is Lily Duggin. Lily is thread, the spirit, that runs through each story. Lily and the women of her own family bind these stories together. Lily, whose life began by scrabbling to survive being born to parents who didn't have the capacity or ability to love and cherish. Perhaps they were too damaged by their own struggles? But their failures contributed to Lily's strength and her will to survive.

This novel seems at first to be a series of short stores, with little or no connection. It opens with the story of two survivors of WWI who build and repurpose a plane, one that at one time dropped bombs, took lives and then flew back into the night. They had both experienced life as prisoners. They not acquainted until the thunder of the war had dimmed to a small rumble in the background of their lives. The met, and together claimed for themselves, a mission. To fly a plane non-stop across the Atlantic ocean. They found a way to attempt to make this dream trip a possibility.

What could be more hopeless than to be a slave? Frederick Douglass first escaped hopelessness, and then he escaped slavery. He started a family and became an author, an abolitionist, and a great speaker. He was hosted in 1845 by Richard Webb, with whom he traveled through Ireland to speak of his life, and recognized the similarity of the plight of the poor in that country. A plight characterized by a lack of hope. This was also the beginning of the time known as The Great Famine. Douglass carried the weight of his experiences of that time as he traveled. Ireland suffered the famine, and The Troubles, years of seeking freedom South from North. It seemed that for them this would never be possible.

George Mitchell, a former American Senator had an interest Ireland finding its freedom, its peace. It is1998 and we find him devoting days of his life away from his young family.He is on a mission to stop the killing. To seeing to it that each family will have its full complement of members sitting down to supper each night. No more tears. No more senseless death. Hopelessness again rears its ugly head, but it is pushed back, refused. Mitchell is a man who is determined to see this job done. Protestants and Catholics brought together at last, a dream or a real possibility?

Common themes, war, hopelessness, strength and selflessness resonate through this story. The women of Lily's family appear again and again, as we flow back and forth through the years. More common threads. A quote that stayed with me from this story is :"There is always room for at least two truths". Perhaps one of these truths is that we are all connected through time, through family and through our experiences

Simon's Cat in Kitten Chaos

                                                                   by Simon Tofield

                     Simon's Cat in Kitten Chaos is a fun and funny addition to the library of anyone who loves cats. In fact, it is a great addition for anyone who likes to laugh. I have been a fan of Simon's Cat since I first came across Cat Man Do, a hilarious line drawing video, years ago. In fact, that may still be my favorite video of all. Or maybe it's TV Dinner? No, it is impossible to choose a favorite Simon's Cat video.

I have a cat. Well, I have some cats, and so maybe I am more inclined than a non cat person to laugh at the antics that Simon's Cat, and now the Kitten get up to. They are particularly funny when you have seen your own cats pulling the same stunts, and getting into similar situations. Cat lovers know that brining a new kitten into the family is not an easy task, most of the time. There is always a period of time when the first cat is very suspicious of the new kitten, and appalled by its uncivilized behavior. Forgetting, of course their own days of curtain climbing and furniture shredding. 

Simon Tofield is unsurpassed in bringing these behaviors to light, and presenting them in the most humoress way possible. I will keep this book on the shelf with my keeprs, the books that I know I will read and enjoy again and again. As laugh out loud funny as the video versions of Simon's Cat can be, this hilarious book version is a must have for cat lovers everywhere.

Louder Than Words

by Laurie Plissner

Louder Than Words by Laurie Plissner is an interestng and fast paced read. To call Sasha, the main character in this story a sassy young girl would seem somewhat unusual, considering that she is unable to speak. We begin the story when she turns thirteen, and wakes in a hospital with her Aunt Charlotte at her side. Sasha has no idea where she is or why, because as hard as she tries, she can't remember why she is in the hospital. Her main concern in those first moments are for her family. She senses something has happened, but can't remember what. To find her mother's sister at her bedside instead of her mother is somehow not right. Sasha wants answers, and she wants them fast. This is when she finds that she is unable to speak. She opens her mouth to question Charlotte and nothing comes out. The inability to speak is a shock to Charlotte as well, and as she hurries to find paper and pencils for Sasha, a doctor comes in and things begin to happen in a hurry. There is no time for Charlotte to explain to her niece what has happened. Sasha doesn't know that she is the only survivor of a car crash that took the lives of both of her parents and her slightly older sister. No idea, until one of the doctors investigating her muteness inadvertently lets it slip. 

The news is almost unbearable. But there is no way to turn back the clock and make the accident not happen.The only choice is to move forward. Since she suffered no apparent physical injuries, and there was no physical injury to her throat, vocal chords or larynx, Sasha's inability to speak at all was diagnosed as Hysterical Mutism. This disorder is most commonly found in children and adolescents after a traumatic event. In some cases, like Sasha's, the young person is unable to speak at all. In other cases, it is possible for the affected person to speak to specific and well trusted person within their circle of friends or family. Sasha learns to communicate with a voice synthesizing device, which she calls her Hawkie Talkie, as it is the same sort of device that the famous physicist Stephen Hawking uses. 

Charlotte and her husband Stuart welcome Sasha into their family, they love and cherish her and do everything in their power to help her to find her voice again. According to all the experts, it is simply a matter of getting past the traumatic moment in whatever way it is possible to do so. But for Sasha, with no real memories of the accident, and not feeling the need to seek those memories, four years pass with no success. She is a studious and mostly quiet girl with a best friend called Jules, who has stood strong by her side from the days they were toddlers, through the accident and beyond. Sasha does have a difficult side, and this emerges through inappropriate behavior in school which often lands her in the midst of what you might call a bad crowd, as she is often sittin in detention. Unfortunately, it is there that she comes to the attention of some unruly jocks who learn her after school routine. Despite her school time behaviors, Sasha's favorite place to spend her time out of school is the library. One day she is joined in her little corner of the library by a good looking boy, and that moment has a momentous affect on the next part of her life

Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man

by Brian McGrory

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I do not, I absolutely do not read books about animals. Am I an animal hater? Far From it. I love animals. Pretty much all animals are on my favorites list. Currently there are four cats and a dog in my home. My fur kids are aways rescues. I adore them all. I have had other dogs, other cats, a few rabbits, and the poor chameleon and ill fated mouse. I have been known to dress down folks I see mistreating animals or allowing them to be in harms way. I have badgered neighbors until they finally learned that keeping their pets indoors was much better for the cats, and kept the safe, and healthier for longer. 

My reading friends know to warn me off of books that might upset me, when there are animals involved. I accept their kind advice and pass by books about cats in libraries or dogs on journeys and so forth. Dangerous ground, that. Where there are animals, there are people who lose animals to their inevitable death. I can't endure their pain, it reminds me too much of my own. Anyone who has had animals has felt that pain. The loss of a friend who loves you unconditionally and with complete abandon is pretty hard to ignore. Impossible in fact. 

So why did I choose to read this book? Buddy, the rambunctious and sometimes obnoxious rooster seemed safe. I thought it would be okay. Also, I didn't ay attention. I saw that it was about a man, his journey to becoming a a family man and of course the family that brought him to that point in his life. I somehow missed the perfectly and completely obvious comment in the book description that Harry, a wonderful, loving, cheerful and loyal dog dies in this book. This is not a spoiler.. go ahead and read the book description. There it is for all to see. All except me. So be warned. 

Brian sounds like a good man, a kind man and one who just wants to do the right thing, and to do it while having a happy life. Of course, he doesn't know how to make his life happy any more than the rest of us, but Harry helps him to find his way. It isn't unusual for a dog to make us happy. It's fairly common really. But Harry doesn't work alone. There are various animals, various people and many little bumps along the road. But in the end Brian learns something from Buddy. And what he learns is just possibly one of the secrets of the universe. So, go ahead and read it, don't be afraid. This is a story that will make you cry. This is also a story that will make you smile, hold your breath and sigh with relief. It's well worth the cry.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

by Kristine Barnett

When I received an an advance copy of The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius, I expected it to be a read like other similar books of parents and children who have found a way to conquer the limitations that autism sometimes places on children who have received the diagnosis. I have read many of these books, and all of them have been inspiring, interesting and have been passed on to others who might have an interest in the topic.

This book is more. If it were in my power to put it into the hands of every person on the planet, I would do so. Parents, children, teachers, neighbors, friends of families who have received this daunting news need to know about this boy, and his family. His mother was gently told to take away his alphabet cards, because they were really worried about him learning to simply tie his shoes, or even to speak. Sadly, I have seen families who received similar news and believed it.

Even more sadly I have seen educators buy into the myth that children with autism are the autism, and often unteachable. I have even seen teachers expect a child with autism to "get over" their individual sensitivities and "get used" to teaching methods that would put many typical children into a tailspin. Bright flickering lights, loud voices in a classroom, and the expectation that all children learn in the same way. This is not true for any child, typical or one with a diagnosis. We are individuals, and we have individual ways of learning. This small detail eludes far too many experts and educators. In this way, we are often failing our children.

One extraordinary woman, from an extraordinary family was able to look at her own small boy, and know in her heart, her soul and in every way possible that the so called experts were wrong. She pulled her son from the special need classroom to which he had been assigned. The one with the teacher who had a sympathetic smile. And she changed his world. Furthermore, she changed the world for many, many other children who faced similar obstacles to those faced by her little boy.

Kristine is just a mom, a mom with passion and love and great expectations. She her husband and family don't have a lot of money, and they didn't even have a lot of help, particularly in the beginning. But they did have passion, and they believed in their son, their family and in each other. Kristine also had instincts, good ones, and enough faith in herself to follow them. And she made miracles happen.

Not every Child is a Jacob Barnett. He has an IQ that is higher than that of Albert Einstein. So not every child with a diagnosis will reach the same heights as Jake. But Kristine has the unique ability, the empathy to find the passion in others. The spark that will set them on their own pat to success. Their own success. She also has the wisdom to know that love and family, time and play are vital to these, and to every family.

Read this book.