Saturday, March 31, 2012

Charlene Reviews: Star Child and 13 More Twisted Tales by Frank G. Poe, Jr.

ISBN #: 978-0741473608
Page Count: 159
Copyright: March 9, 2012
Publisher: Infinity Publishing


Overview:

Poe's stories aren't just good reads. They're thought provoking experiences. Poe's introduction, Beyond the Bright Light, as heard on radio is a must read for the curious. Discover what lies beyond and fourteen entertaining tales. Poe delivers another crop of twisted stories. Disturbing, weird and rich with dark humor, his tales examine our relationships, society, religion, and even politics with alternative histories and flat out science fiction. Hags, trolls, djinn, knights, bears, aliens, this book has everything.

Readers sit back and enjoy the wild ride. It's easy to see why reviewers compare Frank to Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe.


Charlene's Review:

Star Child is another collection of short stories I've recently read. This collection is definitely twisted, and varied. With topics such as religion, politics, and head lice, Mr. Poe leaves few topics off-limits. To say that I would not go to dinner at Mr. Poe's house is an understatement, as cannibalism is a theme he returns to. This book was just a bit too dark and macabre for me, but I did enjoy his poem, "Melancholy and the Internet Madness." I also enjoyed reading his bio, which is included in the book.

6% of his royalties will go to MS charities, which is admirable, and he has a positive, albeit "twisted" outlook on life with which, I hope, he fights MS and wins.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mandy Reviews: Zombie Exodus by Jim Dattilo



Overview:

Zombie Exodus is a survival horror interactive fiction game in which you are the protagonist.


Mandy's Review:

There isn't any book info for me to post because, well, this isn't a book per se. Zombi Exodus is provided to readers in the format of a game available online and for free for iPhone, iPad or Android mobile devices through the app store. Basically, this "book" is an electronic version of those old-time classics we all know and love so well, Choose Your Own Adventure!

When I first began to play around with Zombi Exodus, I wasn't sure how this was going to work. I mean, an electronic Choose Your Own Adventure wanna-be?! Really?!!!

You guys!!! This was so much fun! Of course, my first time out the gate I was killed by a zombie, but this app is so addictive that I'm going to go back and re-read, re-play, re-choose a new adventure! I love this idea of a CYOA book in game format that I recommend it to any and all who like to read and miss the CYOA books of times past. I can see this fast becoming the new "it" thing for book writers/lovers.

As I mentioned earlier, you can download the app from your app market or you can play online. The website for this interactive fiction game is www.zombieexodus.com

Enjoy!!!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mandy Reviews: Where Is Scales? by Celeste Little

ISBN #: 978-1468080704
Page Count: 24
Copyright: December 20, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace


Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

Scales is missing! Where could he have gone?!? Join Tommy and his friends as they look high and low ... (and in some very funny places) to find their favorite lost lizard!


Mandy's Review:

Where Is Scales? is a vibrantly-colored children's book. It explores the results of a decision made without a parent's consent to take a lizard to school. Tommy didn't use a cage, he simply let Scales travel to school in his shirt pocket.

Searching for Scales during school hours takes some quick thinking, but with the help of his two friends, Tommy is able to leave class to look for him. Do they find him? Eventually, yes, but in an unexpected place.

I think this book would great for any little boy, whether it's read to him or read on his own.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mandy Reviews - Subjected: Eye of God by G. F. Smith

ASIN #: B004MPRLME
File Size: 610 KB
Page Count: 263
Copyright: March 18, 2012
Publisher: Confluential Press


Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

Daniel Jeremy Sayer has gone through more than his share of pain, loss, and frustration. Which leads him to ask some “Big Universe” questions: Why have we been subjected to this life? What on Earth is happening? Why the big mystery? Is anyone out there even listening?

When the answers start coming, in the form of a mysterious, seemingly benign, yet oddly inane individual from another dimension—Alien, or Angel, he’s not sure which—Daniel suddenly begins to question whether he really wants to know the answers after all.

Through tragedy, loss, coincidence and consequence; through frustration, anger, courage and faith, along with a touch of humility and humor; Daniel Jeremy Sayer unexpectedly finds himself being shown the metaphysical edge of human existence, whether he wants to see it, or not.


Mandy's Review:

The book takes you from Jeremy's graduation and celebratory sky dive to some 30 to 40 years later.

At the beginning, Jeremy lives with his uncle due to his mom's death and father's absence. Together, they have a father/son-type relationship and stimulate each other mentally.

At the sky dive place, Jeremy meets a lady who goes by the name CD. They are interested in each other and form a lasting relationship.

To say this book showcases several thoughtful, philosophical discussions is an understatement. The book is inundated with them. Every character seems to have a philosophical thought about the most obscure things. I can understand showcasing a conversation or two concerning the interconnectedness of all events, persons, things, but not every time I flipped a page. The book just seemed bogged down with all of the deep conversations. It took me over two weeks to read this book because of its "heaviness."

A particularly annoying trait of all characters in this novel: the hem-hawing, pausing at awkward intervals and seemingly unsurity of what they were saying. I can understand some pauses or hem-hawing, but the repetitiveness of such an action was quite annoying. Shall I give you some examples? Alrighty then ...

Chapter 1: "Life's hard, it's ... it's just plain hard, I know. But it's got its reasons, Son. I ... I need you to believe that!"

Chapter 11: "Yeah, it means, uh ... it means that if something is needed, or ... or necessary, then ... then that kind of forces someone to search for a way to fill it ... to fill the need?"

Chapter 18: "Jeremy, hi ... hi, I didn't expect to see you out here today. You're not scheduled until ... until this weekend."

Needless to say, the book was filled with examples like those above. It was exhausting to read. I would not recommend this book ... sorry, Mr. Smith.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Charlene Reviews: Daggers and Other Tales by Phil Bowie

ASIN #: B006TK2ZLC
File Size: 392 KB
Copyright: January 3, 2012
Publisher: Proud Eagle Publishing


Overview:

From the storyteller whose work has been praised by top NY Times bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts, comes this collection of short stories about: a dangerous lady, a magical child, a love rediscovered, a threat from space, an ingenious hit man, a vicious biker gang, a mischievous voice, and ten more intriguing tales, including the author's award-winning version of the Stephen King story, "The Cat from Hell."


Charlene's Review:

Dagger is an intriguing collection of short stories that build in suspense and leave you surprised by the end. My personal favorite was Cat from Hell, a story that Stephen King actually started and was posted as a contest for readers to finish. I couldn't read it fast enough. There were only a few stories I did not care for, but overall, it was a fun book.

Mr. Bowie prefaces each story with "the story behind the story," which I enjoyed just as much. I appreciate knowing the reason for the tale, as well as his motivation. He writes in many different genres, so the reader should be able to identify with at least part of his works. He states "Ideally, a reader will finish a short story with much the same sense of satisfaction felt on completing a bestselling novel." Mr. Bowie delivers this, and much more.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kathy Reviews: Tough Care by Bernard Mooney

ISBN #: 978-1466391376
Page Count: 136
Copyright: December 20, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace


Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

As the baby boomer generation ages over the next few decades, the number of folks needing care can only increase, but recent industry and academic studies show that the ratio of younger people available to provide that care will decline. This means that future caregivers, on average, will be older, and it's also likely that they'll have infirmities of their own.

In Tough Care, Bernard Mooney discusses his feelings, reveals his experiences, and shares the difficult thoughts that entered his mind while caring for his beloved wife as she died slowly and painfully before his eyes. Telling the story of the last four of the thirty-nine years he spent with Celia served as a personal catharsis, and he hopes such an honest memoir will help other baby boomers that might one day face, or have already endured, similar circumstances.

Although two situations are rarely the same, Celia's illnesses were related to diabetes, hypertension, stroke, dementia, and depression, which are conditions common to most of us. Being the primary caregiver is a serious mental, emotional, and physical challenge, but readers will learn that perseverance is the key. Sensitive, tender, and deeply compelling, this book expresses how helping to provide a peaceful, loving, and respectful departure from this life is the best gift a spouse can give to fulfill his or her original wedding vows.


Kathy's Review:

Part memoir and part reference guide, Tough Care explores the emotional and physical difficulty of caring at home for a spouse with a terminal illness. Mooney's highly personal book (which includes family photos) about his wife's dying days, and those that followed her passing, is a testament to the love that transcends our time here on earth. I think anyone who is faced with this situation would certainly take comfort in this book, and perhaps learn how to handle situations they might not be sure how to deal with on their own. It's also a validation that as a caregiver, you have feelings too, although they are often sacrificed in the constant care and supervision that your loved one needs.

In the back of the book, there are several helpful references for surviving spouses, including a Mourner's Bill of Rights, and as Mooney's wife served in the military, there's information on obtaining burial in Arlington National Cemetery, as well as some historical info about the Women's Army Corps.

This book didn't have any maudlin undertones to it. When I sat down to read it, I thought maybe I would need to prepare myself emotionally, but I found that it was quite easy to get through. It is as much about his wife's life and their love as it is about her illness. I think he discussed her life and death very tastefully and respectfully.

I hope to not have to need a book like this for many, many years to come, but I think this book could bring comfort to someone going through something similar. It would be a good source to have if you don't know where to turn.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

BintoM Giveaway: Winner's Choice!



Hi everyone!!! Once again I have decided to let the winner choose their book/movie combo prize. Here are the rules:
  • This month's giveaway is open to U.S. residents only
  • The book/movie combo must include a movie that is based upon the book chosen. (I will be verifying!)
  • On April 8th, I will randomly select a winner and will contact them via email
  • Winner will have 48 hours to respond. If winner does not respond within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen
With that mentioned, the entry form is below. Good luck and feel free to spread the word!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Editing Is Your Friend by Literary R&R Reviewer: Kathy



So, you want to publish a book? Congratulations! Writing is a rewarding process, and publishing a book is a feat that few achieve. With the proliferation of self-publishing sites, it has certainly become easier for anyone to inexpensively become a published author, but it has also opened the floodgates for poorly-edited works to find their way into the hands of unsuspecting readers.

I cannot stress how important editing is. Unedited books seem sloppy and amateurish. You may have the best story idea in the world, but if it's crafted poorly, it's not going to be reviewed well, and it's not going to impress your reader base. It reflects poorly on you, as well. If you can't be bothered to edit your work, why should I be bothered to read your work? If you don't have a good grasp on the craft of writing, then you have no business presenting yourself as a writer.

Here are some "Editing 101" tips I put together for those trying to get published, or thinking of going the self-publishing route:

1. Spellcheck does not equal editing.

Just because you have a word processor with spellcheck doesn't make you a writer. Spellcheck might catch all your typos, but it's not going to catch those correctly-spelled words that are used in the entirely wrong way. "I am going so the store" is spelled right, but that "so" will slip through the cracks every time.

2. Invest in a style guide.

A style guide can be a valuable resource for you if you sometimes get "your" and "you're" mixed up. It's basically a rule book for the English language. Every writer worth his or her salt should have at least one resource like this. Suggested guides are The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, found on Amazon.com for 10 bucks; The Chicago Style Manual is a little more expensive, about $40 on Amazon, but is a larger manual that is widely used. Journalists tend to use the Associated Press stylebook, which is a middle-of-the-road priced style guide.

3. Hire someone to proofread.

Before you seek out avenues to publish, have another person read your manuscript with a critical eye. Even if you've read your manuscript yourself, have someone else read it. We tend to overlook mistakes in our own work because we're so close to it. Another person can read with a set of fresh eyes, and question things that you wouldn't consider.

Who should you ask to edit your work? Not your mom, not your wife, not a friend (unless any of these people edits for a living and you trust them to give you a totally honest opinion). Find a college student, look on Craigslist, LinkedIn or Goodreads, and you'll find hordes of people willing to edit manuscripts for not that much money. I'm suggesting you hire a stranger because your mom isn't going to tell you your book sucks. She might point out some typos and suggest some wording changes, but if you are about to try and publish a stinker, your friends and family are probably going to sugarcoat their opinions so they don't hurt your feelings. Ask your editor to be harsh. Better to get the criticism out now than when book bloggers get their hands on it and publish harsh reviews of your work on the Internet for all to see!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mandy Reviews: Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott

ISBN #: 978-1612182681
Page Count: 132
Copyright: February 28, 2012
Publisher: AmazonEncore


Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

When Dmitri, an eleven-year-old bird-watcher and math whiz, loses his mother to breast cancer, he is taken in by Mrs. Martin, an elderly white woman. Unaccustomed to the company of kids his own age, D struggles at school and feels like an outcast until a series of unexpected events changes the course of his life.

First, D is asked to tutor the school's basketball star, Hakeem, who will get benched unless his grades improve. Against the odds, the two boys soon realize they have something in common: they are both taunted by kids in school, and they both have a crush on Nyla, a beautiful but fierce eighth-grade girl. Then Nyla adopts D and invites him to join her entourage of "freaks." Finally, D discovers an injured bird and brings it home from the park.

D is stunned when the strange bird speaks to him and reveals that she is really a guiding spirit that has been held hostage by ghost soldiers who died in Brooklyn at the start of the American Revolution. As Nuru's chosen host, D must carry her from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, but the ghost soldiers won't surrender their prize without a fight.

With the help of Hakeem and Nyla, D battles the Nether Beings who lurk underground, feeding off centuries of rage and pain. But it takes an unexpected ally to help the trio reach the ship that will deliver the innocent souls of the dead back to Nuru's realm.

An urban fantasy infused with contemporary issues and historical facts, Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott will keep teen readers gripped until the very end.


Mandy's Review:

Let's start with the positives ...

First, I love the cover; the coloring and title font draws the reader to it with it's slightly creepy aura. It and the description are what made me agree to review this book.

The concept of the book is sound and could be expanded into a full-length novel. Since the description states it's geared for teen readers, the length it is now is sufficient.

Now for the negatives ...

My biggest problem I have with this book is the use of the 'N' word ... we all know what that is, so I do not need to type it out. Although I detest this word used in any media, I can understand its use in certain books ... like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (review below).

When the book is set in the era of segregation, racial inequality or the time of slavery, I can understand the author's use of the 'N' word. I don't like it, but I understand it. However, when a book is set in present-day and the book is intended for teens, the use of the 'N' word pisses me off. It was used twice in this book and I thought it unnecessary. There were other ways the author could have expressed the character's dislike towards D.

Other negatives ... I would've loved to have had a little more background of the ship found at Ground Zero in the book and not in the author's preface (not everybody reads the preface). I also would've loved to hear more about the history of the African Burial Ground.

The dynamics between D, Nyla and Hakeem seemed to happen a little too quickly and didn't feel natural. I'm sure it happened quickly due to the length of the book, but I've read other short books where the relationships felt more natural.

I really don't know what else to say. I was looking forward to enjoying this book, but that didn't happen for me. I'm not going to recommend this book to anyone ... and, yes, it is simply due to the use of a derogatory term that I prefer not to see in teen reads.

2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor



I chose Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor as one of my 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge books. This book is also #66 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.

I chose this book because of its controversy. It is one of the books I've wanted to read for awhile and just never got around to.

Book Info:

ISBN #: 07678300295
Page Count: 210
Copyright: March 1978
Publisher: Bantam Books

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

This is a story of physical survival, but more important, it is a story of the survival of the human spirit. This is Cassie's story - Cassie Logan, a girl raised by a family determined not to surrender their independence or their humanity simply because they are black. Cassie has grown up protected, strong, and so far, unaware that any white person could consider her inferior - or force her to be untrue to herself. It takes the events of one turbulent year to turn her safe world upside down.

Mandy's Review:

I must say that Mildred D. Taylor knows how to make a story come to life. I felt like I got to know the Logan family ... and I liked them.

The story is set in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi so there's still hangings, race separations, white people thinking they're the better and superior race, etc. When I first began to read the book, I wondered where the story was going; wondered what the point of the book was going to be.

What I understood it to be was a brief glimpse in the difficult lives of a "colored" family living in Mississippi. The book was designed to allow the reader to see the other side of the story. Yes, the book is fiction, but it could easily have been a real family set in any part of the South during that time period. My heart went out to them.

Cassie got on my nerves. The girl was 12 and was still naive about how "things" were. Then she'd pop off at the mouth to white folks because she couldn't control her anger. Now, I'm not saying she wasn't right, because she was. She got on my nerves because she didn't realize the danger she was putting herself and her family in. I wanted to snatch her up myself and tell her to sit her ass down somewhere and hush!

Stacy was the oldest of the four Logan children. I liked him because he wasn't old enough to be a man physically, but mentally he was mature enough to try and act like one when his mama needed him. Their father worked in Louisiana most of the year with the railroad, so Stacy was the man of the house a lot of the time.

Christoper-John was the third child. He was almost forgettable as a character. I think Mildred could've almost left him out.

Little Man was the youngest of the four Logan children and could not stand to get dirty ... makes me wonder a little about him. Again, another character that wasn't necessarily needed to get the story told, but having him and Christopher-John in the story did help some of the dialogue along.

I am a huge advocate for Civil Rights and racial equality, so this book resonated within me very strongly. It was well-written, relatable, believable and, based upon the time it was first published, a novel that angered many people with its words. I loved it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kathy Reviews: Romancing Olive by Holly Bush

ASIN #: B0068RPKZ4
File Size: 456 KB
Copyright: November 1, 2011
Publisher: BookBaby


Book Summary:
(Taken from Goodreads)

In 1891, spinster librarian, Olive Wilkins, is shocked to learn of her brother's violent death at a saloon gaming table and her sister-in-law's subsequent murder, traveling far from her staid life to rescue her niece and nephew, now orphans. She arrives to find the circumstances of her brother's life deplorable and her long held beliefs of family and tradition, shaken.

Accustomed to the sophistication of Philadelphia, Olive arrives in Spencer, Ohio, a rough and tumble world she is not familiar with, facing two traumatized children. Her niece and nephew, Mary and John, have been living with a neighboring farmer, widower Jacob Butler, the father of three young children of his own and a man still in pain from the recent loss of his wife.

Real danger threatens Olive and Mary and John while Jacob and his own brood battle the day-to-day struggles for survival. Will Olive and Jacob find the strength to fight their battles alone or together? Will love conquer the bitterness of loss and broken dreams?


Kathy's Review:

If you've read any of my reviews, you probably know that I am not kind to authors who misuse the English language. Particular pet peeves of mine are mixing "your" and "you're," "its" and "it's." This author committed both of these crimes on multiple occasions.

However, that is truly the only thing I have to say negative about Romancing Olive. OK, one more thing. I don't really care for the title. The story is about so much more than just the romance part. Oh, and the fact that Olive says "fiddle dee dee" that bugged me. Now I'm done. All good things to say from here on in.

Set in Spencer, Ohio in the year 1891, this is a touching story about children who have lost both their parents in a brutal fashion, and are left traumatized and in the hands of their neighbor, a poor, widowed farmer who has children of his own to raise, and has lost his wife when she gave birth to a special needs child. Enter Olive, an oft-described spinster of thirty-five (yikes, I'm thirty-six! You can be a spinster at my age???), the aunt to the two orphaned children, who comes to take them back to her home in Philadelphia. After seeing the condition and well-being of the children, Olive stays at the insistence of Jacob Butler, in his house, which is scandalous for this time period, especially for a proper woman like Olive.

As she becomes attached to the children, and struggles with her feelings toward Jacob, Olive goes through a transformation. She decides to let go of the confines of her past lifestyle and live life to the fullest. This means letting her hair down (literally), taking a turn on the dance floor, and giving in to her romantic feelings about Jacob. Her spinster BFF, Theda, comes to town to visit and is shocked by her friend's metamorphosis. While she sees how much happier Olive is, Theda can't break free of her own lifestyle, and returns to Philadelphia.

This is a sweet story that I fully enjoyed reading. It shows that there are bonds that go beyond blood, and traditional notions of family. That even among the bleakest of conditions, children are resilient and can overcome so much with the love and support of an adult. And that even if you have completely given up on love, love might just come and find you.


To visit the author's website, you can click here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mandy Reviews - Predators of Darkness: Aftermath (Book One of the Darkness Series) by Leonard D. Hilley II

ISBN #: 978-1463631772
Page Count: 326
Copyright: June 21, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

The desolate streets of downtown Pittsburgh in 2073 are a reminder of the missile attack that forever changed the lives of the surviving scientists and students hidden in the fallout shelter of Helmsby's Genetic Research Center. Believing themselves to be the only survivors, they station themselves inside the center until food supplies near depletion. Thinking the fallout has lessened, they emerge three years later to discover strange creatures patrolling the streets in search of human flesh and blood. The creatures possess the ability to shift their genomes and alter their appearances by realigning their genetic sequences. Daniel Hutchinson soon discovers mysteries more frightening than the shifters. The tip of Pittsburgh has been fenced off. Low-flying helicopters observe the streets. He ponders the question: Were the shifters released as simply part of a military experiment with humans being their prey?

Mandy's Review:

Everyone's worst nightmare has come true: a nuclear attack is taking place and they must run for cover to the nearest fallout shelter. Many did not survive the attack. Those that did were changed forever.

The year is 2073. Location: Pittsburgh.

Even though this book was futuristically set, the people and technology felt familiar and now. The shifters were new, but they derived from cloning which not many people think about anymore ... at least nobody I know.

After surviving three years in a fallout shelter, Dan has become the noticeable leader of the ragtag bunch of survivors. His best friend, Lucas, is his second-in-command, so to speak. The only reason they left the fallout shelter was because food was running out. Lucas and Dan are the two main guys to venture out into Pittsburgh in search of canned food, bottled water and other necessities they can come across. They have to be careful while out due to the permanent fog and shifters.

The shifters in this book are animalistic in nature, but were human at one time. Once they become shifters, the thirst for blood, killing and revenge are almost insatiable. Killing a shifter is dang near impossible since they can regenerate any damage done to their muscle, organs and flesh. The only thing that seems to stop them is decapitation.

Basically this book was a war between humans and shifters. The military aspect was thrown in due to them having created the process for cloning humans and turning them into shifters ... which they sold to foreign countries. There was a small romantic element thrown in, but I think the author may have done that to draw the women readers into the story. It didn't seem out-of-place, though. It fit in well with the rest of the story.

I must say that I had a difficult time believing a big group of people could survive three years inside of a fallout shelter without venturing outside of it. That is a lot of food and water to have stored in order to keep everyone alive. Also, and this is just how my brain works, where'd they go to the bathroom? I can just imagine the stink in that place after being cooped up for three years ... phew!!!

This is definitely a futuristic sci-fi-type novel that I think would appeal more to the male readers than the female readers. Other than some slight editing issues, this book had a strong plot with realistic characters. Job well done, Mr. Hilley.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kathy Reviews: The Garden by M. Everett Baylor

ISBN #: 978-1937600181
Page Count: 250
Copyright: November 22, 2011
Publisher: Mill City Press, Inc.


Book Summary:
(Taken from author's email)

The Garden takes readers for a thrilling ride exploring the mind of a twisted soul; the soul of Kelvin Kettle. Set in , this book tells the story of a serial killer and his murderous rampage through this sleepy country town.

Kelvin Kettle is a man obsessed with revenge. He returns to the sleepy small town of his youth to plant his garden in the place where his soul first became twisted. He blends in with the locals, earns their trust then murders them one by one. Unknown to Kelvin is the arrival of his twin brother Sebastian who comes to town to warn the residents of his brother's intentions. Sebastian has one thing on his mind; stopping Kelvin from taking innocent lives. The cat and mouse game is played to the fullest.

The garden lay silent. The harvest was complete. But the devil knows no happiness, only pain. Death comes with a smile, a dozen roses, and hungry for a meal. It's time to harvest the next flower for his garden. His first flower has been alone for quite a while. She'll finally have some company - and the town of will never be the same again.


Kathy's Review:

The Garden is a gruesome tale about Kelvin Kettle, a serial killer who stalks women, murders them, and then defiles their corpse before "harvesting" them in a desolate lake. He does this as an act of revenge against abusive foster parents who took his innocence as a young boy. Be prepared for some horrifying descriptions of the abuse. Yeah, it's no wonder he's a screwed up killer who hates women, especially those with red hair. But I didn't get the whole "harvest" thing - putting someone at the bottom of the river sounds like "planting" to me, not "harvesting." And it really has nothing to do with the abusive situations he was in, so it's not even symbolic or anything. Maybe that's just me. Maybe I was looking for something that wasn't meant to be there.

The story seems pretty unbelievable - his first victim in town is his girlfriend and he's NOT a suspect? Did the cops do their due diligence and dig up ANY background on him? But my biggest problem with this story is that EVERYONE talks to themselves for NO good reason. The book is told in third person perspective, and travels from character to character. In the midst of describing what a character is up to, the character himself or herself will pipe in and say something. "Very strange," said Kathy the Reviewer.

What? Who was that? Who are they talking to? *looks around*

Now, I'm not saying people don't talk to themselves. I do, quite often. But I think in this case, it was just sloppy storytelling. When characters yell out things like "Small towns rock!" to themselves, it just rings untrue.

Finally, the ending really bugged me, in that, it didn't end. There's a "To Be Continued" that lends itself to a second book. Really?!?! You're about ten pages from wrapping this whole thing up. The cops are on to Kelvin, and a team of townspeople-turned-vigilantes (one of them is named JayJay but don't get me started on how lame I think this name is - remember JayJay the Jet Plane, parents???) is also on their way to obliterate his serial killer ass. How could this POSSIBLY go on for another book? "Just finish this one and call it a day!" said Kathy the Reviewer.

Here is another case where editing could be this author's best friend. Great premise, it just needs to be cleaned up, all the random outbursts from the characters need to be silenced and repurposed, and this doesn't need to be dragged on for another book. Harvest this thing! (Minus all the icky corpse stuff)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mandy Reviews: The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge by Christine Nolfi

ASIN #: B007IO78QK
File Size: 510 KB
Format: Kindle Edition


Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

A savage rape on hallowed ground. Secrets buried for decades by the town's most influential family.

Now Ourania D'Andre will learn the Great Oak's secrets as construction begins at the Fagan mansion. She can't afford to turn down a job that promises to stir up the long-buried guilt - and the passion - she shares with powerful Troy Fagan.

She's already juggling the most important job of her career with her new responsibilities as a foster mother for young Walt and Emma Korchek. And there's a hard, older man on the construction crew with eyes void of emotion - cold and killing. The secrets of his brutal past will pose a grave threat to the children in her care. Will she find the courage to face him?


Mandy's Review:

Ourania is a female electrician trying to make it in a man's world. She's never been married and has no children. Her heart belongs to the man who took her virginity beneath the Great Oak. Thanks to her mom's work with Job & Family Services, Ourania is a certified foster parent for emergency cases her mother comes across.

Physically and emotionally abused, Walt and Emma are scared of their father, but also struggle with their love for him. Emma has endured the extra pain of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Although she fears him, she knows better than to disobey or the punishment will be worse than it would've been.

When Walt and Emma come home with Ourania, it is a major adjustment for the three of them. Over time, though, they flow naturally like a real family. Now if they could just eliminate the threat of Buck Korchek, Walt and Emma's father...

Troy is the general contractor over the new wing being built at the Fagan mansion. His sister, Diana, has overridden his decision and hired Ourania as the electrical sub-contractor. Troy is not happy about this decision due to the memories of his murdered brother that Ourania's presence stirs up.

Can all be forgiven and business proceed as normal? Will being a foster mother interfere with Ourania's commitment to her job at the Fagan mansion ... a job she needs to keep her company in the black financially?

The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge will grip you by your heartstrings and pull you along on an emotional roller coaster; sadness and fear over Walt and Emma's situation, wonderment at the mystery behind old hidden letters and a wistfulness over the strengthening romance between Ourania and Troy. This is a story where the reader will undoubtedly root for the underdogs (Walt and Emma).

There were some editing issues. Despite them, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy stories that end happily based on the strength of the story-telling.

Mandy Reviews: Frags by Thomas K. Carpenter

ISBN #: 978-1467974615
Page Count: 334
Copyright: December 15, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace


Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

When the Frags escape to the Freelands, they find freedom has its own challenges. Without the familiar rules of LifeGame, Gabby and the Frags stumble from one dangerous Freeland to the next, while conflict in the group threatens to split them up. As the trail to Zaela becomes confused by the looming war, Gabby must reinvent herself or never see her best friend again.


Mandy's Review:

At the end of the first book, Gamers, Gabby finds out her best friend Zaela lost the Final Raid and is now being shipped off ... but Gabby doesn't know where. As she's running to get into a FunCar, the Frags send a FunCar to intercept her. She gets in and is quickly followed by Mouse, another LifeGamer. Once they're in the FunCar and it's on its way, Gabby finds out the Frags are bringing her and Mouse to where the Frags are and not to rescue Zaela.

Now begins Frags ...

When it begins, Gabby and Mouse are in the middle of a plan to steal a hovercraft. They barely escape and make it back to the other Frags. They have decided to leave the GSA, the controllers over people's life systems, and be free. While this is a desire of all the Frags, it is also a dangerous desire and one that could cost them everything.

An action-packed novel, Frags continues the story of Gabby and Mouse along with Michael, Celia, Drogan and Milton. They fight their way through several of the Freelands in order to find out where Zaela and the other Losers have been taken.

Will they succeed in finding out where the Losers are? Will Gabby stay with the Frags? Which member of the Frags is dying and why?

Frags is an engaging and thrilling sequel to Gamers. This series is definitely worthy of shelf space in your homes.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Charlene Reviews: Ida Mae Tutweiler and the Traveling Tea Party by Ginnie Siena Bivona

ISBN #: 978-1928704157
Page Count: 144
Copyright: April 2000
Publisher: Authorlink


Description:
(Taken from Amazon)

The book opens with Ida Mae Tutweiler preparing for a tea-time visit with her lifelong best friend Jane Tetly. Jane and Ida Mae are an unlikely pair; Jane is a glamorous actress in a day-time soap opera, much married, and naturally adventurous. Ida Mae is reserved and steady, a successful businesswoman. She owns a charming Victorian tearoom called Ladyfingers, in the town she was born in. She has never left Walton Falls, Ohio, nor does she care to. She is content to let Jane be her window on the world. And Jane needs Ida Mae's steadfast love, her anchor in a whirlwind life. Jane is rhinestones and red chiffon and Ida Mae is a simple well-worn navy blue suit.

Woven through the pages is the story of Ida Mae's life, her failed first marriage to her high-school boyfriend, the tragic death of her beloved Mum shortly before the birth of her adored daughter Kate, and the somewhat less than gracious support of her haughty Aunt Germaine. There is a passionate love affair that ends badly when her lover refuses to file for divorce from his separated wife. And there is the satisfying and hilarious ending of her Cousin Bernadette's abusive marriage. But throughout it all there is her beloved Jane, flashing in and out of Walton Falls "like a comet, trailing stars and small planets in her wake."

Jane arrives in a whirl of expensive gifts and the two women settle down for tea. But the visit is not what Ida Mae expects, because Jane tells her that she has breast cancer that has progressed beyond help and she is going away to die. Ida Mae is stunned, and desperate ... how can she live without her Jane?

How Ida Mae deals with this terrible news, and the wonderful events she creates for her dearest friend before she must leave is the warp of this story, woven in and out with the threads of their past taken from the pages of Ida Mae's diary. Written for today's woman the book celebrates the relationship between best friends, mothers and daughters, men and women, and the struggle to find hope in a time of loss. It's the tender story of two beautiful women, discovering what their lives were all about, before they must say a final goodbye. And because it's about the comfort to be found in a nice hot cup of tea, the book includes a small collection of delicious tea-time recipes.


Charlene's Review:

Ida Mae Tutweiler and the Traveling Tea Party is a beautiful, engaging story about true love. This love is the kind that only true friends can share, or understand. Life-long best friends, Ida Mae and Jane have weathered every storm that life has brought them, mostly with a cup of Earl Grey and their best china. Jane arrives for tea time one day with horrible news; she has an incurable breast cancer and has chosen to go away to die. The story flows, effortlessly, from present to past, as we grasp what this friendship means to Ida Mae, and how she chooses to deal with the loss of her best friend.

This novel was made into a Hallmark Movie in 2009, (Bound by a Secret) and I am saddened to say, I haven't seen it. I can only imagine how poignant this story was on screen. It echoes all the feelings I had when I lost my father to cancer, and that which many face at the loss of their loved ones.

My favorite paragraph summed up the biggest lesson I learned watching my father's struggle:

I think the best part of growing older is how much easier life becomes. The events, needs, and demands we perceive as vital to our survival in early years take on far less urgency. Most of them, if not achieved, really don't matter all that much anymore. Many of them are completely forgotten. What begins to matter a great deal is who you love and who loves you.

I recommend anyone who needs a reminder of this, to pick up this book. An absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful tribute to friendship.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Blog Tour - Guest Post by Mark Saunders, Author of Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak

Welcome to Literary R&R's stop on Mark Saunders' Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak virtual book blog tour. Below you will find book info, author bio and a guest post provided by Mr. Saunders. I hope you enjoy!


Book Info/Buy Links:

ISBN #: 978-0984141289
Page Count: 298
Copyright: November 2011
Publisher: Fuze Publishing, LLC
Price: $14.95 (Paperback); $9.95 (eBook)



Book Summary:

Ay, chihuahua! Ay, caramba! Oy vey!

In early December 2005, Mark Saunders and his wife, along with their dog and cat, packed up their 21st century jalopy, a black Audi Quattro with a luggage carrier on top, and left Portland, Oregon, for San Miguel de Allende, three thousand miles away in the middle of Mexico, where they knew no one and could barely speak the language.

Things fell apart almost from the beginning. The house they rented was as cold as a restaurant's freezer. Their furniture took longer than expected to arrive. They couldn't even get copies of their house keys made. They unintentionally filled their house with smoke and just as unintentionally knocked out the power to their entire neighborhood. In other words, they were clueless. This is their story.



Author's Bio:

An award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and cartoonist, Mark Saunders tried standup comedy to get over shyness and failed spectacularly at it - the standup part, not the shyness. He once owned a Yugo and still can't remember why. Nearly 30 of his plays have been staged, from California to New York - with several stops in-between - and two plays have been published.

With three scripts optioned, his screenplays, all comedies, have attracted awards but seem to be allergic to money. Back in his drawing days, more than 500 of his cartoons appeared nationally in publications as diverse as Writer's Digest, The Twilight Zone Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post.

As a freelancer, he also wrote gags for the popular comic strip "Frank and Ernest," as well as jokes for professional comedians, including Jay Leno. Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is his first book.


Guest Post:

My wife, Arlene, and I were the last people we ever expected to drop out, sell their belongings, and move to the middle of Mexico, especially since we didn't know anyone south of the border, couldn't speak Spanish, and were, by that time, in our late 50s, an age when most people are more prudent in their decision-making.

Previously, adventure, if not danger, in our lives was limited to riding the city bus after dark or ordering the chef's surprise at a new, untested restaurant.

But move we did.

Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is a humorous memoir about our first two years in Mexico. In my fish out of water story, we didn't get car-jacked, kidnapped, mistakenly shot at, or ripped off by a shady contractor hoping to live in Panama on our life savings. But we did have plenty of mishaps, made some embarrassing mistakes, got in and out of trouble, and learned a thing or two about life, Mexico, and each other.

So, what was it like?

We discovered we were living in a cash-based society where nobody ever had change. In a culture where manana did not always mean tomorrow but could mean anything from later to not now to fat chance you'll ever see me again. In a country where the most common unit of measurement was not the kilo or the kilometer, as guidebooks would have you believe, but something known as mas o menos, simply translated as "more or less." And in a city where you can't swing an artist without hitting a writer, and if the writer ducks, you're bound to hit a jazz musician.

In short, we loved it.

The people were kinder. The pace was gentler. We felt like images on a postcard of San Miguel, surrounded daily as we were by streets made of cobblestones, brightly-colored houses, colonial-era churches, open-air street markets, and stoic burros laden with firewood. Enthusiastic street bands marched through town blissfully out of tune. Doctors made house calls; pharmacies delivered to our door. And the sun appeared in all its glory, rarely blemished by clouds.

After living among them for two years, Mexico's true strength, I believe, is its people, especially the close-knit families who, when it comes to promoting family values, actually do walk the talk. If the average Mexican family had as much money as it has heart, such families would be among the richest on Earth.

We dropped out of our fast-paced, high-tech, worker-bee, big-store, big-city lives and moved to a small, dusty city in the central highlands of Mexico. We took the advice of Henry James and lived "the life we had always imagined." More precisely, we lived the life we had never imagined.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kathy Reviews: Only the Strongest Survive by Ian Fox

ASIN #: B006AO1QKS
File Size: 522 KB
Format: Kindle Edition


Book Summary:
(Taken from Goodreads)

The novel opens with a hair-tingling scene, as two men kidnap Emely Donnovan, one of the wealthiest women in America. She finds herself locked in the basement of a remote house in the middle of a forest, watched over by one of her captors who makes her buy and sell stocks for him so he can get rich. Her challenge to survive becomes even more complicated when Emely's captor falls in love with her.


Kathy's Review:

This is the second book by Mr. Fox that I have read for review. The first, Promise Me Eternity, I was lukewarm about. I have to say, Only the Strongest Survive kept me much more engaged than the prior work I read. There is plenty of action right from the beginning, and the pace stays constant throughout the story.

Emely Donnovan is a ruthless businesswoman, there's no doubt about that. So at times, it's hard to like her. At the beginning, you think, what a bitch. And then she is kidnapped by Ronald and John Langdon, two brothers whose company she bought out from under their feet, and it's hard not to feel sorry for her.

John Langdon is, at first, a despicable character who brutally rapes and then buries Emely alive. Overcome by guilt, he rushes back to the scene and saves her, but keeps her prisoner in an isolated home that once belonged to his parents. He keeps her locked in the basement, secret even from Ronald. As his past is revealed and as he develops genuine feelings for Emely, it's hard not to feel bad for the guy. And that stirs emotions in me, as a reader, because feeling sympathy for a kidnapper and a rapist goes against my moral code. Then, Emely begins to develop romantic feelings as well, and it's tough as a reader to feel anything but uncomfortable with their romance.

I think conceptually this is an interesting story. I wish Emely's character had been more likable. She could have still been a CEO but maybe not portrayed as uncaring as she was in the beginning - especially after learning that her mother died at childbirth and she was raised by nuns. Yes, it sets her up as a survivor (hence the title of the book), but as a protagonist it's not someone that most readers can relate to.

There's areas in the book involving some of Emely's colleagues/employees at the Donnovan Corporation, such as Blake Crouse the attorney who also has a romantic past with Emely. At first I suspected he had somehow been involved in the kidnapping, but his character is not that developed other than appearing here and there in the story. Also, his rival Alexandria Regan. It seems that she is power-hungry but nothing ever happens in that respect.

This is definitely a book that I would recommend, and I think the author has some skill in both writing and story development. However, I will put some caveats out there: there are some rather descriptive rape scenes and sexual scenes that might make some uncomfortable. I would be interested to see what other people think of Emely's character and the feelings she develops for her captor.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Charlene Reviews: The Summer Set by Jay Province

ISBN #: 978-1467925112
Page Count: 310
Copyright: December 18, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace


Description:
(Taken from Amazon)

In the summer of 1956 two teenagers rescue a drowning woman from the Susquehanna's turbulent waters, and their predictable lives suddenly veer towards a deadly detour. Shadowy men in black cars start tracking their every movement. A tall foreboding man clutching a snake-headed staff and chain-smoking through a hole in his throat seeks their names.

Fourteen year-old catcher Peter 'Chumbucket' Miller and his best friend pitcher Mike DeSorcier begin the summer on a mission to capture the World Series championship of their youth baseball league. Spying on a league meeting from a sweltering attic perch they uncover a group of extra-dimensional beings infiltrating the league. During their breathless escape, the boys discover two things: they are in mountains of trouble and they need help. Assistance (and more trouble) arrives in the form of two daring and mystifying girls - the unusual Karen Croft and the beautiful Jo Munro. Together, the teens must solve the mystery of the Noqumiut before a fateful August lunar eclipse.

Bizarre and comical events trail the foursome's investigation: Santa and his merry elf magically appear in June running for their lives from a town hall fire; a teen girl flies her Cessna from the scene of a refinery explosion; and a dead body is left as a present on a leather couch - carefully wrapped in a mink coat and holding a red gift bow.

Unlikely sources aid their efforts. These include an Eskimo shaman, a magic stone carving of a lively seal, a ferociously loyal dog, and an opponent from Roswell, New Mexico whose talents (and origins) may literally be out of this world.

The Summer Set is a humorous, intense, action-packed story about friends, enemies and the pursuit of winning it all. The novel is for all story lovers ages twelve and up.


Charlene's Review:

The Summer Set is a delightful read about a group of friends taking on forces much bigger than they are. With the backdrop of the 50's, the setting is a simpler time, devoted to baseball, friends and community. When you add in the supernatural, things really pick up.

A chance encounter with an FBI agent leaves 'Chumbucket' and Mike with top-secret papers and other-worldly pursuers that want to take over their bodies. Banding together, their group of friends takes on the Noqumiut and saves their town.

I especially liked all the references of the era. The burger joint where the kids hang out, the slang and the hairstyles all add to the reality of the story. The suspense keeps you reading along and the ending leaves you happily anticipating the characters' futures.

It, somewhat, reminded me of a Scooby Doo adventure. Bumbling villains, clumsy, well-meaning kids and even a faithful dog, all fighting for good over evil. Lots of fun here and room for a sequel. Sci-fi loving pre-teens would especially enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mandy Reviews: Gamers by Thomas K. Carpenter

ISBN #: 978-1461174714
Page Count: 324
Copyright: June 13, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace


Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

Two points for brushing your teeth. Ten points for keeping your room tidy. Seventy-two points for the Bioeconomic Game Design pop quiz on the ride to school in your personal FunCar. Another thirty for making every hurdle in gym class. Life is a game, unless you're not the one winning. When Gabby DeCorte, top student and reality-hacker extraordinaire, learns the truth about LifeGame, she must choose between winning and what she believes in.


Mandy's Review:

Gamers is a novel set in the distant future, but with enough relatability that the reader gets to know this new Earth and the people that inhabit it. Life on this future Earth is a game, LifeGame that is. People earn points for doing chores, going to the Library Museum, learning new subjects ... just about everything you do in normal life. The points are combined with a person's TPS (thoughts per second) to generate a LifeScore. The higher a person's LifeScore, the higher in ranks that person elevates and the better their chances for entering into University (what I'm assuming is this new Earth's version of college).

Learning is presented in the forms of games. Playing games is no longer for fun and the thought that games were once utilized for fun is an outlandish thought for the students in this new Earth. Games are even played while going from one location to another inside of a FunCar.

FunCars are automated once the course is set. They are programmed to be silent while driving so as not to disrupt any persons playing games. Oh, and FunCars only fit two people. I'm curious as to why this is, but it was not discussed.

Before leaving high school, all students must participate in a Final Raid. This is the ultimate gaming experience utilizing the knowledge they've acquired over the years. Students must work in randomly-selected teams of five. There are only two results to the Final Raid: You win the game and earn enough LifeScore points to go to University or you die (in the game only) and are subjected to an unknown fate with no hope of going to University.

Gabby is one of the best hackers of the LifeGame system and she uses that to her advantage. If she doesn't clean her room or make her bed, she knows she can "adjust" the system to get her score back up to where it needs to be. Her TPS levels are insanely high and attract the attention of some people in high places ... it also attracts the attention of a group known as the Frags.

The Frags are a renegade group of intelligent and/or talented people who are trying to defeat the people behind the LifeGame system. A member of the Frags, Michael, comes in contact with Gabby to solicit her help. They know what happens to the people who don't make it into the University, but they want to confirm their knowledge with additional information ... Information Gabby can acquire. Will she decide to help them and risk her LifeScore? Or will she participate in Final Raid, forget about the Frags and go to University as her parents wish?

It's hard for me to tell you if this book is more fantasy or sci-fi. I think it can be categorized as either. Gamers is a great start to a new series and one I would recommend to all those that enjoy a young adult fantasy/sci-fi novel.

Mandy Reviews - Hammer of the Sun: Chapter One by George Soriano

ASIN #: B0051OEJIO
File Size: 76 KB
Format: Kindle Edition


Summary:
(Provided by author)

Kalen and Madison have a unique relationship.

Madison is a powerful, some say evil, being from Earth's ancient past. He has been reincarnated into the form of a teen-aged girl.

Kalen is her present day guardian, charged with the responsibility of guiding her to the side of good. She doesn't believe that Madison can ever be trusted or turned away from her evil past.

But as they battle increasingly stronger supernatural threats, Kalen sees that Madison may be Earth's last hope against a looming apocalypse.

Hammer of the Sun: Chapter One is the first chapter of an episodic novel that chronicles the trials of a reluctant hero on her march to redemption.


Mandy's Review:

This is the first episodic novel that I've read or reviewed. The concept intrigues me as it teases the reader into wondering what will happen in subsequent chapters. It also brought to mind a 30-minute television program: the chapter can stand on its own, but it is also building to something greater.

So far we know Madison's powers have been transferred to Kalen. It doesn't say, but I believe this happened when Madison was reincarnated. She (He) wants them back, but Kalen is afraid to let her have them. Until Kalen relinquishes Madison's powers, Madison is playing nice to trick Kalen into believing Madison has converted to the good side.

Kalen's not fooled ... She doesn't trust Madison, but they have to work together as part of a team killing vampires. Simon is part of Kalen and Madison's team, but I cannot tell if the three are part of a renegade team or part of something greater.

An interesting start, Hammer of the Sun: Chapter One has the potential to become a great urban, sci-fi fantasy read.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Charlene Reviews: Coming Out Can Be Murder by Renee James




Overview:
(Taken from book)

Bobbi Logan's life and career begin to spiral downward when she comes out as a transgendered woman. But the gutsy hairdresser is determined to live her "new" life authentically, even as she is drawn into the investigation of her brutally murdered friend.

The Chicago police have all but said they're not interested in the death of a "tranny" and the media has failed to report it. As she follows a trail of evidence through the shadowy underground of the Windy City, Bobbi is led to John Strand, a seductive powerbroker. Coming face-to-face with the number-one suspect can only lead to one thing ... murder. But who will it be?


Charlene's Review:

Coming Out is a murder-mystery page-turner. I will admit, as a Conservative Christian, this is not a topic I read a lot of. Being that this novel is based around a transgender woman, I cautiously accepted it for review. I am pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it immensely, and humbly admit that I learned a few things along the way. I read it straight through and found myself cheering Bobbi on, especially at the end, as she completely embraces her identity.

This is a story that is a fictional tale of murder, but it is also a look into the lives of those living the transgender lifestyle, with all the prejudice and obstacles involved. I have never been one to judge, at least not overtly, but this really opened my eyes to how society secretly views those we don't understand. My favorite quote from the book is, "Hate is destructive." This is the very premise of the book and is explained in painful detail.

James writes with an honest, no-apologies style that grips you. Whether you have prejudices or not, the characters are engaging and believable, with true human emotion. A beautiful sincerity shines through the words and makes you indentify with the struggles and horror Bobbi, and her friends, feel at being seen as less-than. The murder really plays a backseat to the identity struggles and, ultimately, to the ability of the human spirit to prevail. Eye opening and haunting, long after the last page. 5 out of 5 stars!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kathy Reviews - The Four Elements: The Fallen Knights by Stephen Gawn

ASIN #: B005F5TBGY
File Size: 393 KB
Format: Kindle Edition


Book Summary:
(Taken from Smashwords)

When sixteen-year-old Michael McCloud accepted an apprenticeship to learn about his abilities, controlling the four elements, he thought it would be a snap. But when he is almost killed, things seemed to be not as easy as he thought. To make matters worse the killer demands he give up a powerful object that might be a key to a lost treasure of King Arthur. The only problem is he doesn't have it ...

Will Michael McCloud unfold the mystery behind who is trying to murder him or will his bullheaded attitude and impulsive behavior lead him into the hands of his enemy?


Kathy's Review:

Michael McCloud is a teenager (above, it says sixteen, but in the course of reading, it said he was fifteen - I'll get to this problem in a minute) who has just discovered he has elemental powers, which runs in his family. He then must learn to use his powers at Embury, one of many specialized schools, and keep track of a watch somehow connected to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that was given to him by his grandfather, that someone seems intent on stealing from him.

If I can get up on my soapbox for a minute: I cannot stress how important it is to edit your work. Have someone else (who knows what they are doing) read your work before you publish. Just because you have a good story, doesn't make you a good writer. This book had many, many mistakes, the most egregious being the use of "then" instead of "than" used wrong multiple times. Or describing an odor as "fowl." (I gave myself a chuckle when I read that a cat's breath had a "fowl" odor - I guess he just ate a bird! HA! I crack myself up sometimes). The city where the school was located was misspelled once that I noticed, characters' names are misspelled, and at times I felt like I just wanted to buy this author a bag of commas and tell him to use them liberally. There are more that the author repeatedly got wrong, that are inexcusable errors in my mind. It made me think the writer was young, needs some remedial English courses, or is just extremely sloppy.

However, there are some good storytelling elements in here, so most of the time I was able to take off my Grammar Goddess outfit and enjoy the tale.

It's a deeply-imagined world with magic spilling out of every corner. Trees reveal secret tunnels. Leaves carry important messages to their recipients, then disintegrate. Dangerous creatures abound and the students must learn how to navigate this perilous landscape without getting killed.

It's hard to write about teenagers learning about their magical powers without being compared to Harry Potter. The Four Elements definitely felt like a Potter wannabe in many areas. The school being located somewhere off the grid, similar to Hogwarts. At Michael McCloud's school there is a sport called agility that is an integral part of the culture (Quidditch, anyone?). There are mythical creatures that only exist in this realm. Non-elementals don't see them. Sound familiar?

Ultimately, I think this book tried to do too much and lost focus. The King Arthur stuff should have been more prominent, since this was at the heart of the plot. But it got lost in all of the magic animal attacks and whatnot. Sometimes I even forgot about the King Arthur piece to the story because there would be chapters that went by without mentioning it.

To summarize, because I've rambled on long enough, The Four Elements needs some punctuation, some focus, and then perhaps I would recommend it to the young adult audience for whom it is meant.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Blog Tour - Mandy Reviews: Abby Finds Her Calling by Naomi King

Welcome to Literary R&R's stop on Naomi King's Abby Finds Her Calling book blog tour, hosted by Pump Up Your Book. Below you will find a book summary and Mandy's review ... Enjoy!


ISBN #: 978-0451235732
Page Count: 320
Copyright: February 28, 2012
Publisher: NAL Trade


Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

The Lambright family's eldest daughter, Abby, runs her own sewing shop. There, she mends the town's clothes and their torn relationships. But the town maidel has sworn off any suitors of her own because of her unrequited love for James Graber, who is about to marry her younger sister, Zanna ...

On the wedding day, Zanna is nowhere to be found, breaking James' heart. Zanna has brought shame to her family, but there's more in store for them when they discover how far she has fallen. Long-buried secrets come to light, and they test the bonds of the Cedar Creek community. Abby is at the center of it all, trying to maintain everyone's happiness. But will she ever find her own?


Mandy's Review:

Once again, the draw of the Amish lifestyle has influenced my decision in participating with this book blog tour. I absolutely love the idea of a simpler way of life where the community is there for each other. I read Abby Finds Her Calling in one sitting. From the jilted groom to Harley's appearance, this book kept me captivated.

When Zanna is introduced, she is a selfish, immature girl running away from every conflict that arises. She's not mature enough to deal with difficult situations. That soon changes, though, when she's forced to face facts and deal with the consequences of her actions.

And, like most difficult situations, others are affected by Zanna's situation. James, the jilted groom, must deal with the embarrassment his former bride-to-be has caused for him. Eventually, with Abby's perspective and God's guidance, James is able to forgive Zanna and treat her as a friend.

With a masterful integration of strong Amish characters, Abby Finds Her Calling is an intimate look at the Amish way of dealing with difficulties within their Order. Ms. King is adept at telling her stories in a way that causes a multitude of emotions to rise up within the reader, which I love. Who wants to read a story that doesn't make them feel anything? My only negative comment would be that the title needs to be changed. It seems, to me, that Abby found her calling awhile ago and it was actually Zanna who finds her calling in this story.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Charlene Reviews: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

ISBN #: 978-0805094947
Page Count: 320
Copyright: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.


Description:
(Taken from Amazon)

In Grace McCleen's harrowing, powerful debut, she introduces an unforgettable heroine in ten-year-old Judith McPherson, a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith. Persecuted at school for her beliefs and struggling with her distant, devout father at home, young Judith finds solace and connection in a model in miniature of the Promised Land that she has constructed in her room from collected discarded scraps - the Land of Decoration. Where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility and divinity in even the strangest traces left behind.

As ominous forces disrupt the peace in her and Father's modest lives - a strike threatens her father's factory job, and the taunting at school slips into dangerous territory - Judith makes a miracle in the Land of Decoration that solidifies her blossoming convictions. She is God's chosen instrument. But the heady consequences of her newfound power are difficult to control and may threaten the very foundations of her world.


Charlene's Review:

Our central character, Judith, is a lonely girl living with her widowed father, and raised in his very strict religious faith. In school, she struggles to fit in, and becomes the target of a bully. To help cope, Judith makes a world from found objects that she calls the Land of Decoration, the place her father's religion says they will reside after Armageddon. In this world, she lives out the life she would like to have. After praying for a miracle, Judith appears to make one happen, just by rearranging this make-believe world. Then, following the voice of God, Judith starts to manipulate the world around her.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. It is a bit slow in places, and relies heavily on the religious theme, which is, on occasion, exhaustingly verbose. On the other hand, the relationship between Judith and her father was engrossing, as they struggle to cope together and, eventually, bridge the gap. The whole premise of this book was interesting and the details of Judith's personal world, gripping. In the end, though, I was left with more questions than a feeling of finality.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Charlene Reviews: This Mobius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese

ISBN #: 978-1604947236
Page Count: 186
Copyright: February 15, 2012
Publisher: Wheatmark


Overview:
(Taken from back cover)

In this impressive and varied collection of creative essays, Mathias B. Freese jousts with American culture. A mixture of the author's reminiscences, insights, observations, and criticism, This Mobius Strips of Ifs examines the use and misuse of psychotherapy, childhood trauma, complicated family relationships, his frustration as a teacher, and the enduring value of tenaciously writing through it all.

Freese scathingly describes the conditioning society imposes upon artists and awakened souls. Whether writing about the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti, poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, or film giants such as Orson Welles and Buster Keaton, the author skewers where he can and applauds those who refuse to compromise and conform. The profound visceral truths in this book will speak to anyone who endeavors to be completely alive and aware.


Charlene's Review:

When I received this book for review, my immediate thought was "what is a Mobius strip?" I googled it, and, well, it really didn't help. Fortunately, Freese explains it as "essentially a ribbon with a twist. A ... model used as a metaphor by physicists to describe why we ... are unable to perceive other dimensions outside of the single boundary of time." Freese uses it as a metaphor for possibilities outside our perception. He then, through numerous stories, shows us these possibilities.

At once thought-provoking, and at times, overwhelming, he takes us into situations and sees them in fresh ways. Freese shows us that we are a product of our environment, and that we must break free of them in order to grow, as well as to face life head-on. I didn't prescribe to every belief in his writings, but it was definitely worthy of thoughtful reading. This is a collection of stories that cannot be devoured quickly, and may need to be returned to over time to truly appreciate.
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