Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review: A Long Time Gone by Karen White

“We Walker women were born screaming into this world, the beginning of a lifelong quest to find what would quiet us. But whatever drove us away was never stronger than the pull of what brought us back....” 

When Vivien Walker left her home in the Mississippi Delta, she swore never to go back, as generations of the women in her family had. But in the spring, nine years to the day since she’d left, that’s exactly what happens—Vivien returns, fleeing from a broken marriage and her lost dreams for children. 

What she hopes to find is solace with “Bootsie,” her dear grandmother who raised her, a Walker woman with a knack for making everything all right. But instead she finds that her grandmother has died and that her estranged mother is drifting further away from her memories. Now Vivien is forced into the unexpected role of caretaker, challenging her personal quest to find the girl she herself once was. 

But for Vivien things change in ways she cannot imagine when a violent storm reveals the remains of a long-dead woman buried near the Walker home, not far from the cypress swamp that is soon to give up its ghosts. Vivien knows there is now only one way to rediscover herself—by uncovering the secrets of her family and breaking the cycle of loss that has haunted them for generations.

Received for review.

I wanted to like this more than I did.  I've read other books from the author and  they were quite good so I was expecting good things from this as well but I felt a bit let down.

Vivian did absolutely nothing for me.  She was not sympathetic in the least and her family's supposed genteel "poverty" did nothing to endear them to me either.  The entire group was just so self-absorbed and petty that I really could not like any of them.  The mystery of the woman buried near her home was interesting and the only thing that kept me reading a book about such disagreeable people.  

This was a decidedly depressing read and certainly not the usual light, happy summer reading, but if you're looking for something with substance and a quality story this is a very good choice.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Giveaway: The Duel for Consuelo by Claudia Long

History, love, and faith combine in a gripping novel set in early 1700's Mexico.

In this second passionate and thrilling story of the Castillo family, the daughter of a secret Jew is caught between love and the burdens of a despised and threatened religion. The Enlightenment is making slow in-roads, but Consuelo's world is still under the dark cloud of the Inquisition.

Forced to choose between protecting her ailing mother and the love of dashing Juan Carlos Castillo, Consuelo's personal dilemma reflects the conflicts of history as they unfold in 1711 Mexico.

A rich, romantic story illuminating the timeless complexities of family, faith, and love.

I have one copy to give away.

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Review: The Duel for Consuelo by Claudia Long

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History, love, and faith combine in a gripping novel set in early 1700's Mexico. 

In this second passionate and thrilling story of the Castillo family, the daughter of a secret Jew is caught between love and the burdens of a despised and threatened religion. 

The Enlightenment is making slow in-roads, but Consuelo's world is still under the dark cloud of the Inquisition. 

Forced to choose between protecting her ailing mother and the love of dashing Juan Carlos Castillo, Consuelo's personal dilemma reflects the conflicts of history as they unfold in 1711 Mexico. 

A rich, romantic story illuminating the timeless complexities of family, faith, and love.

Received for review.

The idea of historical fiction set not in Europe, but in Mexico was quite intriguing and I had to give it a try.

The setting is so unique to most historical fiction readers that it gives a fresh spin on the rather predictable story of Consuelo who, of course, has two admirers determined to win her. What also makes this different than most historical fiction is the Inquisition aspect. The book provides an intriguing look into the lives of those oppressed by the Catholic Church and the ramifications for their loved ones.

While I never did fully grow to like Consuelo or her mother, Leila, (mostly due to the fact that the story was told from different perspectives which was confusing at first) they were interesting characters and very well written.

The author did a brilliant job of drawing you into a little known world and exposing the trials and triumphs of its inhabitants.

I definitely recommend this to historical fiction fans who should thoroughly enjoy the level of detail and obvious care the author invested in the book.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Book: A Place To Call Home by G. A. Whitmore

About the book:

Every rescue dog has a tale to tell, a story uniquely their own. 

A Place to Call Home is Toby’s tale. His story takes you on a journey across the country from California to Connecticut and across the spectrum of life’s emotional and spiritual experience. 

Born on a small farm in northern California, Toby narrowly escapes the death sentence imposed upon him by his breeder. Through a series of events driven by good intentions, he finds himself in a Connecticut suburb where life with his new family soon collapses on him, and his newfound happiness is brutally destroyed. On his quest to find a place to call home, Toby encounters and endures the best and worst of humanity as he comes face to face with sorrow and joy, fear and courage, and ultimately, with the power of love.

About the author:

Ms. Whitmore’s passion for writing and her love of dogs come together in her series The Rescue Dog Tales. The first book in the series, A Place to Call Home, was inspired by Toby, an abused dog she adopted from the Connecticut Humane Society. Ms. Whitmore currently lives in Connecticut with her two rescue dogs, Kadee and Zeus. You may contact Ms. Whitmore at or visit her website at

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Review: To Live Forever by Andra Watkins

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Explorer Meriwether Lewis has been stuck in Nowhere since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em.

Top Ten Reasons You Should Read To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis

1. You aren't really certain what happens after we die.
2. You worry that you will be forgotten when you are gone.
3. You are the father of a daughter...or the daughter of a father.
4. You thought Hwy. 61 was the only famous road in Mississippi.
5. You figured Lewis and Clark just fell off into the Pacific Ocean when they made it to the west coast.
6. You did not realize there was a worse American traitor than Benedict Arnold.
7. You thought that the Natchez Trace was a precursor to the Etch-a-Sketch.
8. You liked Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird and always wondered what happened to Elvis Presley's twin brother.
9. You believe in magic.
10. You want to play a part in discovering a new great American novel.

Received for review.

Sadly, this was a book that had a description that was better than the reality.  I wanted to like, I really did, but it just didn't do anything for me.

I'd known before reading this book that the circumstances surrounding Merriweather Lewis's death were mysterious so I was prepared for that bit.  What I wasn't prepared for was the rest of the story where he has to help a little girl run away from her mother and make it to her father a long distance away while trying to avoid an evil man who is chasing them.  There was just no point to it.  Yes, it all finally came together near the end but the 250 or so pages in the middle were just a giant waste of time.

The novel, while suffering from a bizarre plot, was rather well written.  I liked Merry's portions better than Emmaline's but they were both representative of each character.  I wasn't fond of how often the perspective changed though.  It really interrupted the flow of the story and by the time I got used to the latest narrator it had switched again.

So, while this sounded promising it was just a mixed up, pointless read and I really cannot recommend it.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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Review: Still Foolin' 'Em by Billy Crystal

Nominated for a 2014 Grammy in the Spoken Word category! 

Hilarious and heartfelt observations on aging from one of America's favorite comedians, now that he's 65, and a look back at a remarkable career. 

Billy Crystal is 65, and he's not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old, from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. In humorous chapters like "Buying the Plot" and "Nodding Off," Crystal not only catalogues his physical gripes, but offers a road map to his 77 million fellow baby boomers who are arriving at this milestone age with him. He also looks back at the most powerful and memorable moments of his long and storied life, from entertaining his relatives as a kid in Long Beach, Long Island, and his years doing stand-up in the Village, up through his legendary stint at Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, and his long run as host of the Academy Awards. Listeners get a front-row seat to his one-day career with the New York Yankees (he was the first player to ever "test positive for Maalox"), his love affair with Sophia Loren, and his enduring friendships with several of his idols, including Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali. He lends a light touch to more serious topics like religion ("the aging friends I know have turned to the Holy Trinity: Advil, bourbon, and Prozac"); grandparenting; and, of course, dentistry. As wise and poignant as they are funny, Crystal's reflections are an unforgettable look at an extraordinary life well lived. 

Still Foolin' 'Em includes a portion recorded in front of a live studio audience.

Received for review.

I love Billy Crystal and his movies.  He just seems like a really cool guy.  So I was excited to learn that he had released a memoir.  I was even more excited to learn that he was the one performing the audiobook edition.  

The book was very interesting.  I was a bit saddened to learn that he did not enjoy his time as Jody on Soap since I really liked him as the character.  Now I can't watch the show again without it being slightly tainted by the knowledge that he really didn't want to be playing Jody.

I'd known the author was a baseball fan but I didn't realize how much of a fan he was until I read about him playing for the Yankees for his birthday.  That really brought tears to my eyes hearing him tell the story!

Overall, this was an incredible journey through a fascinating man's life.  It definitely changed the way that I view the author and his movies.  And I now have an almost overwhelming urge to go watch When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers again now that I know their backstories.

The audiobook edition is made infinitely better by Billy actually performing his own material.  He doesn't just read it - he performs it.  It's a wonderful change from the normally quite dry memoirs.  Billy's charm comes through in every sentence and you can't help smiling, laughing, and crying along with him.

Whether you're already a fan of his films and want to know more about the man, or just want to follow along on a truly fascinating journey this is an excellent book.  I definitely recommend it.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: What Are You Waiting For? by Kristen Moeller, M.S.

Stop Waiting. Start Living. 

Are you waiting for your "real" life to kick in? Are you always busy making other plans while constantly striving to improve yourself? 

Through candid stories and insightful lessons, writer and self-proclaimed "self-help junkie" Kristen Moeller helps us explore the pervasive human tendency to wait as life goes by and to look outside ourselves for answers. As Wayne Gretzky once said, "You will always miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." 

Kristen Moeller's mission in life is to inspire you to get on the path, move forward and take the shot. Everything you need for happiness and fulfillment is right inside of you.

Received for review.

The back cover made this sound like a good book but I was seriously disappointed.

This self-proclaimed "self-help junkie" didn't provide the reader with any new information at all.  She just offered up the same tired self-help suggestions that every other author does, while sprinkling in some personal stories of how "tough" it is to be so successful.

I really felt no connection to this rather shallow and unlikeable author.  Her stories were not inspiring in the least.  

There was some well worn advice she repeated that was thought provoking but it certainly wasn't life changing.

Overall this was a decent book but if you've read any self-improvement books then you'll most likely not find much new in this.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Author Q&A: John J. Berger Author of Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis

John J. Berger, author of the book Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis, stopped by for a Q&A.

What is the message of Climate Peril?

Climate Peril shows how grave the climate crisis is—the tremendous price that we’ve already paid and are going to pay in terms of human and environmental health and socioeconomic well being, and how pervasive the increasingly adverse climate impacts are across many different ecosystems and natural resources.

The present is already deeply alarming: the oceans are rising at an accelerating rate and acidifying; ice is melting in Greenland and the rest of the Arctic and in Antarctica. Extreme weather and fires are on the upsurge. The Amazon and other tropical rain forests are beginning to dry out.  Frozen permafrost holding 1.9 trillion tons of carbon is beginning to melt in the Arctic. Millions of people have already been sickened or died from the effects of the rapid climate change we’ve had so far.  But the future is even more menacing.  If current emissions trends continue, we are heading straight toward temperatures in 2100 that haven’t been seen on this planet in 5 million years. We cannot allow Earth’s temperature to rise to levels that only prevailed long before humans even existed.

Even the so-called safe temperature increase of 2° C would be hotter than at any time in the past 800,000 years. That will drive the Earth’s climate past various tipping points that could trigger irreversible climate feedbacks.  We don’t yet know enough about the exact temperatures at which these triggers will fire and deliver uncontrollable additional warming.

Absent that knowledge, we are currently conducting a totally unprecedented and reckless experiment with the Earth’s climate.  Climate Peril shows what we’ve already done to the Earth and makes clear that we are heading rapidly towards a climate catastrophe.  One of the most important take-aways from the book is that the 2° C safe warming threshold we often hear about is really not an absolute guarantee of safety, and that we really don’t have much time left to change course in energy and environmental policy, given how vast the changes required of us are.

In the book that follows Climate Peril, a book titled Climate Solutions, I outline the policies that I believe are necessary to address the climate problem as effectively as possible by weaving together energy and transportation with agricultural and forestry programs that, taken together, will arrest the growth of emissions and begin to reduce the burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  The primary goal of the book is to show how we can combine protection of the climate with economic policies that bring full employment and a just, sustainable economy.

What can you say about the role of science writing and journalism in the movement to restore and protect the Earth. What can writers do that adds to the work of the ecologists and other scientists?

I believe that science writers, like translators, are vital to communicating complicated ideas of science into language the public can understand.  This creates a larger bloc of people who really understand climate issues and the choices that have to made about them.  Science writers understand the methods and language of science and ideally are able to convey it more simply and clearly in ways that are more interesting to people without specialized backgrounds.

One way they do this is to humanize the issue by writing stories in which scientists are protagonists portrayed as characters overcoming obstacles in a saga of discovery. Science writers also sometimes focus on the human implications of research, for example the child cured of asthma by a new medicine or a wetland restored by the ecologist or hydrologist who understands how nature operates and therefore can write a prescription for repairing it.

In that sense, science writers can highlight good work that can then serve as a model for others to follow. The science journalist can also synthesize and correlate important field observations and bring new scientific and investigative findings to light, as Rachel Carson did with the harmful effects of DDT. Cynics would have us believe that bringing truth to light and expecting change is na├»ve, but dispelling lies and inaccurate information was essential for controlling pesticides and tobacco and thereby protecting public health. It is equally or more important for science writers to dispel the lies and misinformation that are now so current about climate change so that public officials and leaders have accurate information on which to base climate policy. The information itself is not sufficient to bring sound policies—hard political organizing is necessary—but honest information is a necessary prerequisite.

What would you say to those concerned about the scalability of renewable energy technologies to people who say it can help on a small scale but won’t replace oil or coal anytime soon given our standard of living in the West.

If you look at the magnitude of the renewable energy resources and their declining costs and versatility and increasing adoption rates along with the still-extensive opportunities for increased energy efficiency, you can’t help but see that renewables have the capacity to meet very large energy demands indeed. Our wind resources alone are far greater than our electrical demand. There are huge untapped solar resources in the southwestern deserts of the U.S. and northern Mexico and on rooftops throughout much of the nation.  We also have important geothermal and biomass resources and new technology is emerging to harness wave energy. Hydroelectricity has been an important resource for generations. The main obstacle to the wider use of renewables is political rather than technological. I explain my views on renewables in some detail in previous books like, Charging Ahead: The Business of Renewable Energy and What It Means for America (University of California Press) and in Beating the Heat: How and Why We Must Combat Global Warming (Berkeley Hills Books) and in “Renewable Energy Sources as a Response to Climate Change” a chapter I wrote for Climate Change Policy (Island Press), a volume edited by the late Stephen H. Schneider and others.

What are some of the best ways ordinary people can get involved in helping our environment and transforming our energy systems? I know you’ve talked about that in Restoring the Earth (Knopf, Doubleday Dell).  What would you say people and policymakers should do that would be practical and have an impact? By the way, we’re an international magazine and plenty of our readers are non-Western (India, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, parts of Africa, etc.) Would you have different thoughts and suggestions for them? I know the condition of the planet affects everyone!

As you noted, whole books have been written on these questions. The answers vary a great deal depending on the nature of the problem, location, and the conditions surrounding it.  I’ll mention a few general principles first and then some more specific ideas.

First let me address the policy question.  Many constructive steps can be taken.  We need to phase out all public subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries and impose a carbon tax on fossil fuels. This will make fossil fuel use progressively less competitive and will provide revenue that can be used to build a renewable energy economy. The burning of fossil fuels is the main problem, and the use of nuclear power is not a cost-effective way of replacing them. We need to give producers of nonpolluting power generous long-term energy production tax credits to make clean energy even more profitable to producers and to help them in securing long-term financing. The use of coal power without carbon sequestration has to be phased out as quickly as possible and renewable energy R&D needs to be scaled up. The destruction of forests and wetlands needs to be stopped globally and policies need to be implemented in agriculture to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions.

In the U.S. we need a comprehensive national energy plan aimed at nothing less than a total transformation of our national energy system.  It needs to include a steadily increasing national renewable energy requirement, the electrification of the transportation system, more and better energy storage technologies, and modernization of our electric transmission system and its reorientation to enable our remote renewable energy resources to provide their abundant power to major urban markets.  Furthermore, it needs to be designed in the context of a domestic full employment and economic revitalization plan aimed at creating a sustainable and more equitable society, so that ordinary people will both benefit from, and vigorously support the plan.  Calls for such a program initially have to come from below, from organized but ordinary working people.. Pressure will work its way gradually upward from this base to put powerful pressure on those in power at the top.

In terms of personal action, each person has different gifts and passions. We each need to do something that makes best use of our talents and determination not to stand by while the Earth and the climate are abused.  I don’t live in Eastern Europe or in a developing nation in Asia or the Southern Hemisphere so I’m not sure I’m in a position to advise people in those societies.

These are some general thoughts mainly for the U.S., although some may apply elsewhere. Fundamentally, protecting the climate is a large and complex issue.  Trying to work alone can be overwhelming, so work with others. Find organizations whose concerns you share and volunteer with them or support them in any way you can.  On a personal level, we can all try to avoid wasting energy and resources, and we can be conscientious when we shop or invest so we support companies that are trying to behave in environmentally and socially responsible ways, for example by observing Fair Trade practices and using renewable energy. We can also read widely and educate ourselves about climate problems, share our knowledge with others, and become involved in the political process.

The least we can do is exercise our right to vote, a right people fought and died for.  Yet almost half the American electorate doesn’t even bother to vote in presidential elections.  Far fewer vote in off-year elections. Less than 56% of those eligible voted in the 2012 presidential context.  People under 30 were even less engaged—about half of them didn’t vote.  My suggestion is, don’t fail to vote!  And during campaigns, support candidates who are working for climate protection, safe energy, economic justice, and truly representative democracy. When elections are over, demand meaningful action on climate change from your political representatives.  Let these powerful people know what your concerns are and that you will absolutely not support them—and will discourage others from voting for them—if they fail to stand up for climate protection, the environment, and the public good.  Don’t accept “no” for an answer.  Recruit others to join you in political action and organizing.  Support new candidates who understand the problems and what needs to be done.  Use people power to create a groundswell of political pressure for change.

Change comes from the bottom up. We may not have the financial support of wealthy corporations or major donors, but millions of people do care about the Earth and the climate. We need to find and connect with them to build a politically powerful base for change. Don’t forget to also commend leaders when they do the right thing. They also very much need encouragement and support.

I believe there is still reason for hope, but that we are perilously close to irreversible climate change that will trigger uncontrollable global warming.  We don’t know precisely how close we are—no one has a year and a date—but scientists at the prestigious Hadley Research in the UK have said that if we continue on our present course, it could happen as early as the middle of this century.  That’s less than 40 years from now and probably within your lifetime.

In terms of the rapidly rising carbon content of the atmosphere and the rising global average temperature, we are clearly close to the point at which, for example, we finish melting the Arctic sea ice, destroy the Amazon rain forest, release more carbon from permafrost, and possibly oxidize the massive Indonesian peatlands, putting so much carbon into the air that the strength of the ensuing positive feedbacks overwhelms anything we could conceivably do to counteract these powerful natural forces. The hour is very late to begin making the dauntingly vast and pervasive changes in energy production and use, along with the far-reaching land use changes required to rapidly and definitively set global emissions on a downward trajectory. The work that needs to be done is so enormous in scope and scale that the prospect is absolutely sobering, but I believe it is still conceivable to accomplish.

On the daunting side, population is still growing toward 9 billion; global energy demand is climbing; global oil and gas exploration and development is booming—including production of highly polluting tar sands and oil shales and oil and gas drilling in fragile frontier locations. Trillions of dollars have been committed worldwide to the fossil fuel energy and transportation enterprise. The quicker we change over to clean energy systems, the more of that infrastructure will have to be retired before it wears out. The large corporations holding those assets will resist that with everything they’ve got and will mobilize their lobbyists and pull all the financial strings that large campaign contributors hold to control Congressional representatives.  (It’s important to note, however, that some fossil fuel plants are old and have already been fully amortized.  Their outputs can readily and economically be replaced without much controversy by renewable facilities and by greater investment in energy efficiency.)

Meanwhile, construction of the needed renewable energy facilities and new transportation technologies is not going to be a walk in the park.  Expanding the electric grid involves jurisdictional issues and building new renewable energy facilities requires time-consuming environmental studies, permits, and battles over rights of way.  Better and less costly energy storage facilities are needed to compensate for the intermittency of some renewable technologies.  Better batteries are needed for electric vehicles.  Then people will take time to adapt to new vehicles and modes of transport. Less expensive biofuels with fewer environmental impacts need to be mass produced.  Forests, wetlands, and prairies that naturally sequester carbon in soils need to be protected, enhanced, and restored; global agricultural practices need to be improved to reduce their emissions.  A lot needs to happen very, very quickly.

On the encouraging side, the nation and the world have the natural resources, the scientific knowledge, the collective economic might, and the energy technologies to deal with the extraordinary global crisis we face.  When faced with epochal threats like Pearl Harbor and World War Two, the U.S. pulled together and rose to the occasion.  Once political leaders really fully grasp that we are in the midst of a global emergency with everything ultimately at stake and no time to waste, then they will finally get that we must slash carbon emissions and create a worldwide renewable energy economy. From that point, the shift will begin to accelerate and—if climate change has not by that time begun to undermine our economy—the creation of the new energy economy will revitalize the global economy. Then as new jobs materialize and emissions fall, the process will inspire new hope for a sustainable future.

To accomplish this, our greatest challenge is develop the political will as a nation and as a family of nations to take the bold and far-reaching actions that are absolutely necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect the climate, human life, and the environment that sustains us.

We don’t have time any more to lament the situation or make excuses for inaction.  Everyone can do something.  We need all hands on deck.  Be determined. Fight the good fight.  Do something, no matter how insignificant you may think it is. Chances are you have more power and influence than you think. Millions of other people are out there who already silently agree with you. They will stand up if you do.  Use your power.  Amazing and tremendous things have been done and will be done by committed individuals.

About the book:

In an easily accessible work of enormous scope and depth, John J. Berger vividly evokes the looming hazards of a warmer world. Based on the latest climate science, Climate Peril reveals that the impacts of climate change on our health, economy, and environment are far worse--and more imminent--than many realize. The book identifies the obstacles to climate protection and shows why steep and unprecedented--yet affordable--cuts in greenhouse gases are needed now to avert a global climate catastrophe. Climate Peril portrays the radically altered world we will create in 2100 A.D. if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced and documents the rapid and unnatural climate change already taking place. The book explores all major consequences of climate change, especially its astonishing impacts on the economy, human health, other species, and the oceans. Among other awesome risks, Climate Peril describes the billions of tons of carbon lurking in ocean seabeds and thawing permafrost and the global danger of crossing an invisible threshold beyond which catastrophic climate changes become inevitable. While its conclusions are alarming, Climate Peril is above all a realistic and authoritative book that you can use to better understand how climate change may affect you and your family. Climate Peril is the second of a three book series. Volume 1, Climate Myths, focused on the political campaign waged against climate science, and volume 3, Climate Solutions (forthcoming), shows how to create a climate-safe world by radically transforming global energy, transportation, and land use practices.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets 

When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets. 

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places. 

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time. 

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

Received for review.

While I'm not normally into fiction set in the South this had an interesting premise that  promised to be quite entertaining.

As I got deeper into the book I found myself disliking the characters more and more.  Izzy and Dollbaby were whiny and annoying while Queenie was a bully.  The only interesting character was Fannie who, of course, was mentally ill.

This was also incredibly difficult to read since Queenie and Izzy and every other black character simply refused to speak real English.  It was seriously as bad as listening to Scarlett's maid in Gone With the Wind and her constant exclamations of "Lawdy, Miss Scarlett!".  The complete lack of any sort of grammar was distracting enough to detract from any tiny bit of enjoyment I had while reading.

The story itself was interesting and, I suppose, thought provoking for those who are still fighting the Civil War.  Granted, it was set in the 1960s so the characters were quite stereotyped, but I just wasn't impressed, especially since the author constantly harped on the whole "white people are rich and unstable while black people are poor but actually better morally" theme.

Overall the story was interesting but the characters just ruined it for me.  However, if you're a fan of Southern fiction with a similar theme, such as The Help, then you will probably enjoy this as well.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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Guest Post: David Rountree author of Demon Street

David Rountree, author of the book Demon Street, stopped by to share with us a piece he wrote.

About the book:

A summoning gone awry leads to problems for Penelope, who is driven from her home by phantom parties, a dancing stove, and a wave of demonic force that tosses her around like a ragdoll

Looking for help, she turns to her friend Robbie Lunt, who brings her to David Rountree, a Lakota shaman. Robbie and David embark on a whirlwind journey of learning, racing against time, visiting sites of spiritual power, and acquiring artifacts and allies in their quest to exorcise the evil before it can seriously injure someone--or worse.

David and Robbie's mission to banish the demon culminates in an astonishing psychic battle on Halloween night.

Demon Street, USA is a forewarning to those who would explore the paranormal. Evil exists--but it can be battled and won!

About the author:

David Rountree, AES, has been researching the paranormal since 1976.

He is the executive director of SPIRIT LAB, a scientific research organization based in Hackettstown, New Jersey, where he lives.

He has become a fixture in the paranormal world as the authority on the technology of ghost hunting with his book Paranormal Technology.

As a balance to his scientific side, David is also a shaman who practices wolf medicine.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Book: Death By Probability by Urno Barthel

About the book:

A prim and pristine research lab isn’t the type of place where murders are supposed to happen – but it may just be the place where the brutal crime is solved. When Evan Olsson finds his mentor’s bloody body sprawled on the floor of a top-secret computer research lab, the sanctity of this cloistered, clandestine world is shattered. Who would, or could, do such a thing – and why? Evan enlists the help of a reluctant FBI partner and every computer science and nanotechnology tool in his arsenal to unravel the mystery. But Evan’s quest leads him to uncover a potentially catastrophic hacker plot that threatens the U.S. and Canadian electrical power network and the millions relying on it. Death by Probability is a genre-bending tour de force that weaves in technology and fringe science, friendship and romance, computer intelligence and human frailty for a riveting read that builds to a fast-paced climax. Crafted by physicist-turned-author Urno Barthel, the book is a delight for those who enjoy technology and science fiction, as well as mystery buffs who revel in plausible stories and fully formed characters that pull them seamlessly into another, thrilling realm.

About the author:

Urno Barthel is the pen name of Art Chester, a physicist turned technology manager turned writer. His characters are based on real scientists whose quiet lives are disrupted by terror and murder. Art invites you to his website, which offers commentary about science in our lives, and fiction about scientists: After many years in Malibu, California, Art now spends his time in Michigan, New York state and Hawaii.

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Review: The Bone Seeker by M.J. McGrath

The intrepid Edie Kiglatuk discovers one of her female students dead in a toxic lake in her third arctic mystery 

In the third novel in this highly praised mystery series that will appeal to fans of The Killing, Top of the Lake, and The Bridge, Edie Kiglatuk works as a summer school teacher in the Canadian arctic. When one of her female students is found dead in nearby Lake Turngaluk, Edie enlists the help of Sergeant Derek Palliser to pursue the case, promising the girl’s Inuit family that they will uncover the truth. Meanwhile, lawyer Sonia Gutierrez investigates the toxicity of the lake and suspects that there might be a larger conspiracy involved. As the three clamber over rocky terrain under twenty-four-hour daylight they start to unearth secrets long frozen over—risking their own lives in the process. With stunning prose, M. J. McGrath delivers another thrill ride through a hauntingly beautiful landscape.

Received for review.

I have to say that I knew virtually nothing about life in the Canadian Arctic before I read this and it really opened my eyes to what a cruel, hard life it is, even in modern times.  

There were quite a few unfamiliar words, including many place names, which slowed down my reading rather significantly at first but I quickly became accustomed to them and they were no longer an issue after the first few chapters.

The mystery was interesting, as were the characters.  I can't say that I truly connected with any of the characters but they had a feel to them that I really liked.  They, and the story, actually reminded me quite a bit of the show The Killing (the U.S. version).  It just had that inexplicable feel to it that was oddly soothing for a book of this type.

This is the third of a series so it's best if you start at the beginning but this is an excellent stand alone novel as well.  You may miss a few things if you haven't read the first two books but there's nothing critical that takes away from the plot.

I definitely highly recommend this to mystery fans looking for something different.  The unique setting and characters make for a very interesting read which you are sure to enjoy.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Book: A Beacon of Its Forms: A Manifesto Drawn from the Deeds of Bob Marshall

About the book:

Depending on one's definition of a political form, this book is either utopia or manifesto. The literary critic, Fredric Jameson, has described utopian thinkers as tinkers in a workshop of the imagination. As such, this book delves into the fantasy that new and different political and social and cultural and economic forms can be experienced and lived. This book provides a vision that unites environmentalism with some form of leftist economics and politics: an eco-socialist or eco-collectivist vision of the future. But it draws from the past, most specifically from the life and works of a U.S. Forest Service manager named Bob Marshall. Marshall had been employed by the U.S. government in the 1920s and 1930s, where besides engaging in wilderness advocacy, he worked for the advancement of civil rights and the legitimacy of labor unions. This protean commitment of content determines the hybrid form of this book. It is both poetry and prose, a prosimetrum that seeks to combine fancy and reality.

About the author:

Leonard Gigliobianco has been writing poetry for three decades. A book of poetry, "Your Words" has been published by Outskirts Press.

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Review: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You 

American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted Stateside she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story. 

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever. 

One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

Received for review.

I've become quite the Jojo Moyes fan lately and was excited to discover that her latest book was out.  She writes absolutely perfect beach reads and this was no different.

This was such a fun book since it was written from the perspectives of all the characters in turn.  It was so unique and entertaining to read what each character was thinking and really get inside their head as the story progressed.

The whole idea of a road trip with a woman, her two eccentric kids, their dog, and an annoying rich dude was just so awesome to begin with and their adventures were so upbeat and funny.  I could seriously see this as a movie, it was that rich and entertaining, probably starring Adam Sandler.

This sweet, funny, thoroughly enjoyable read was absolutely perfect for summer and I definitely highly, highly recommend it.  This is truly a must for every bag bound for the beach this summer.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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