Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rowena and the Dark Lord (Land's End Book 2) by Melodie Campbell

Published by Imajin Books

 This is the second in the Land's End series. In the first we learned that Rowena, or Row as she is usually referred to, discovered a portal in her classroom when two men in medieval clothing suddenly appeared through the wall of her classroom, witnessed by both Row and her grad student Kendra. So begins this extraordinary adventure of magic and time travel, because the next time, Rowena is whisked through the wall into a medieval world of lusty men. A witch's curse years before caused no baby girls to be born henceforth. Obviously, with no women in their country, this young, hearty female immediately gets the attention of every male in Land's End. But it turns out that Rowena's mother was originally from Land's End and is in fact, a princess, and she had escaped through a portal, married and gave birth to Rowena. A fact that Rowena never knew.

Now with child, and living in Scottsdale, Arizona with Kendra and two medieval knights she pulled through the time portal, all is not well in paradise. Her partner Thane from Land's End is getting restless. As new King of Sargon, he blames himself for abandoning his troops, he feels a sense of separation from himself, a man out of time. But Kendra has a  plan to interest Thane and Richard. A medieval festival has come to town. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? They can join the revelers wearing their own armor and the girls their dresses from Land's End, but can they pull it off? Their men don't even speak English, a fortune teller has given Rowena a special charm, one she has seen before in Land's End and there is magic in the air, sensed by Row. This second book is more magical and possibly even more unique than the first, and that is really saying something! Melodie writes full out imagination, action and humour. I love her method of story-telling.

A new portal opens as Rowena and Kendra are walking down the street. A confused Gareth steps out and takes Rowena back through this portal, leaving the rest behind. But what's this? Gareth is not in Land's End! Rowena is alone and the portal has closed. She has also torn another dress, a very common occurrence in the life of Row. Fortunately, when Thane, Richard and Kendra finally manage to appear, Row will soon meet Kendra's friend, the wizard Val, who is an expert tailor among other magical things and will hopefully be able to keep Rowena dressed!

There is much more magic in this second book as Rowena begins to learn what she is capable of. Her mother had been a witch and, so it appears, is Rowena, though as yet she has a lot to learn. Studying a book of spells, she inadvertently conjures up a complete Roman army in mid-battle. Not only that, but they are from another time again. There is so much new and different in this second book, a shorter read but full from cover to cover. A lot is explained, a lot is unexplained, and I look forward to the next installment! How will she return the Romans? How will she rescue Gareth from the in-between, or can she? How can she avoid the pull of Cedric's magic? Will her unborn baby be safe in this world? So many questions. Melodie Campbell will have her hands full in writing Book 3, but she is definitely up to the job. Such wonderful creativity, humour, and magic has gone into this series, and historically she has obviously done a great deal of research.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Last Goodbye by Alfred M. Albers

Published by Infinity Publishing

Mystery, history, deceit and magic; wonderful blend of suspense 
 Alfred M. Albers has a unique talent when he tells a story; he puts the reader into the book by detailing so clearly it is as though you are watching a movie...or actually going along with his characters. Where it may seem to some readers that the detail is, well, detailed, I think most will agree it puts a different perspective on everything from history to mystery. The author keeps us grounded in the story in a way I haven't often seen.

While we see nearly everything going on in the background it does connect us with the main story. Perhaps it is related to the attention to detail a magician must have, and the story after all is featuring John Michaels, world-renowned magician as the main character, and his wife, Stella. This is the fourth book in the John Michaels series. This particular magician works with the police in solving not just a probable crime committed on a fellow magician, but similarly in a series of murders that appear to be mob-related. In the first instance, was the death an accident or a murder? In the second instance, were any of the deaths related to the first?

With sleight of pen, the author misdirects the reader as easily as a magician misdirects an audience. Who is killing off local magicians and why? What has started this series of murders? How did it begin? Was it professional jealousy, gambling wars, infighting? There are mysteries and murders galore. Lies and deceit to go with them. The action builds throughout, with twists and turns that take the breath away and pull us along with them. History, mystery, misdirection, magic, lies and secrets, I was not happy to have to put the book down occasionally to attend to my household chores. I wanted to read from start to finish in one go. I love the John Michaels series.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Return of the Bones: Inspired by a True Story - Native American Historical by Belinda Vasquez Garcia

Reviewed from e-book

"In 1915, 2,067 skeletons were stolen from the ghost pueblo of Pecos and transported to Harvard University for medical research...." quote from Belinda Vasquez Garcia's preface About Return of the Bones.

I loved this story, part fiction, part fantasy, but based on truth. It's all about the bones of ancestors, the gradual loss of tribes and nations of North America's indigenous people and the repatriation of the bones. In this mystical and arduous journey an elderly shaman and his granddaughter, last of their once large tribe, are on a quest for the bones of their ancestors. Travelling physically in an old truck, and paranormally via a dreamcatcher, this story is spellbinding.

Belinda Vasquez Garcia has a way of bringing reality to the past and present through images received by the granddaughter, a modern girl who is on this journey of discovery and recovery. Past and present are interwoven in such a way that I truly felt this in my own soul, legend becomes reality as Hollow-Woman begins to open her soul to the past. I found the book memorable and heartwarming as the connection between grandfather and granddaughter, ancient and modern, past and present grew. The author has done a wonderful job of working with history and keeping the truth while writing with a passion for the magical and spiritual feel through the centuries of the indigenous people.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dead Man Floating by Debra Purdy Kong

Published by Imajin Books
Reviewed from e-book
This novella is an interesting change from the usual heroes. An average working man and his on-site buddy work together to solve a murder. Evan Dunstan, a campus security guard is finishing an ordinary night shift when he unexpectedly comes across what he thinks is a bag of garbage floating down the river. So begins an intriguing mystery, first in series, that works up a frenzy of fear and regret in Evan's mind. If this is a murder scene will he be suspected? What will happen to him if it goes unreported? After all, it's the end of his shift and he should be leaving, the next guard arriving.

Evan is a new character, one that I think Debra Purdy Kong will have a lot of fun with in this series. I love the ability she has to select the most unusual heroes in her books and this one is no different. He wants to be a police detective, but at the moment this is just a dream. Now he is trying to make amends by solving the case of an unlikeable man in a bag. His overly anxious side-kick adds to both the humour and the fear of the situation. As a novella, this is a fairly quick read, but jam-packed with excitement, twists and turns, fun, desperation and so many thoughts running through Evan's head. I really enjoyed it and look forward to Evan's future escapades.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Incidental Spy - a Novella by Libby Fischer Hellman

 Reviewed from ebook

This novella starts at the beginning of the end, with nothing given away; then it quickly reverts to the beginning...a unique method that really pulls the reader into the book. The story takes place in a time I can remember and as such I can honestly say that Libby Fischer Hellman has absolutely captured the feelings and fears of that time of world war, as well as delving into the pressure cooker of the beginnings of the atomic bomb. Nuclear physics was at its highest priority, and Lena, a German Jew living in America, has already suffered the probable loss of her family to the concentration camps, and has just lost her husband, father of her young son. After this loss, and to support her son and herself, she finds herself back in the Physics Dept. of the university where she had worked prior to her son's birth, busily occupied with the humdrum portion, the paperwork. Now she works with famous scientists and government workers, albeit as a secretary. Everything in her life seems to have begun to return to some type of normal...or has it?

At this point, tension in the story takes a full swing into terror and brings the reader with it.Yet, though the tension builds, it all seems plausible. Once again, a time in my memory is revived when the world lived in fear, especially North America. What can one do in the situation Lena finds herself? The story is a classic good versus evil, but where and how will Lena be able to reconcile her thoughts, her shame and the trap she has set herself? This book pulsates with a life of its own, believable, memorable and deadly. The author has an amazing way with words and is exceptional at toying with our minds if we set to wondering "What would we do in Lena's situation?" I read this one straight through at one sitting, with the story still reverberating in my mind.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Human Element (The Element Trilogy Book 1) by Donna Galanti

Published by Imajin Books
Reviewed from Kindle version

I don't know how to describe this book. It was horror, love, loneliness, connectivity; it will toy with your emotions. It kept me in its grip from beginning to end. I wanted more; I felt this book; I wanted everything to be alright yet not; I wanted to know what would become of humanity and inhumanity. Lucky for me, this was book one of a trilogy. Strangely, for whatever odd reason, as I read the wind began to whip around our house, the trees bent half over, thunder rolled and lightning flashed. I am not blaming the book (nor the weather), but it almost made me wonder about these odd elements at this particular time. Of course it wasn't the book, it couldn't be, but what an additional background to what I was reading.

I was held in a death-grip wondering what would come next every step of the way. Just when the worst would be happening, good would appear from what would seem to be nowhere. I was in awe of how Donna Galanti could maneuver my mind in so many ways with her words. She has an amazing array of feelings that she works to a frenzy then calms. I have never read a book that was so alive, so twisted and yet so vulnerable. It is the ultimate in a personal war of good and evil. It is a possibility of whatever, whoever may reside on a dying planet. This is a book I will clearly not forget, because I will have to read the next and the next.

There is strength in all of us, we don't always use it, but it is there when we need it. Laura Armstrong has strength and compassion of a very special kind, in fact she is a very special girl. Horrific things have happened in her life, but she is a survivor. Ben Fieldstone has also lived through horrific events, but has come out in need of help, he doesn't feel strength or love. They are connected but neither knows how. Bereaved as children, they've never met. But they are connected, perhaps by the man in black who always seems to be there to calm a crisis. If you want to be thrilled, terrified, enthralled, I know you will enjoy this book.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Inside the O'Briens - a Novel by Lisa Genova

Published by Gallery Books

A story that will break your heart, yet steadfast in hope and acceptance.  A shocking read, though only because of the lack of awareness of the disease.
The O'Brien family in Boston, two years after the Boston Marathon bombing. Joe O'Brien knows what death looks like, he has seen it with friends and foe, he is one of the Boston Police, as his father and grandfather were before him. But now he is about to see what life looks like, in the most unexpected way from a personal perspective. The father of upcoming adult children, he of course speculates on the futures they will have.

Joe barely remembers his mother. She was ill when he was still a child, hearing rumors about her, "Drank herself to death" was most prevalent. But he wasn't sure. What he remembered most in his visits was that she was not much more than a skeleton, tied into a chair and force-fed. But lurking in that shell was a love for her boy, and a woman with a death sentence pre-ordained.

The O'Brien family in Boston, two years after the Boston Marathon bombing. Joe O'Brien knows what death looks like, he has seen it with friends and foe, he is one of the Boston Police, as his father and grandfather were before him. But now he is about to see what life looks like, in the most unexpected way from a personal perspective. The father of upcoming adult children, he of course speculates on the futures they will have.

Joe barely remembers his mother. She was ill when he was still a child, hearing rumors about her, "Drank herself to death" was most prevalent. But he wasn't sure. What he remembered most in his visits was that she was not much more than a skeleton, tied into a chair and force-fed. But lurking in that shell was a love for her boy, and a woman with a death sentence pre-ordained.

What is inside the O'Briens? Subtle at first, Joe doesn't even notice random quirks. Not until his body starts doing things that he doesn't intend to do, such as go left and promptly goes right. Not much favored upon by the hierarchy of the Police Dept. He can't keep still, his feet and eyes are constantly moving, but he is still unaware. Soon his limbs take on a life of their own, swinging out suddenly, occasionally accidentally hitting someone. When things like this happen fierce uncontrollable anger overtakes him; he is unable to relate to these events, especially the terrifying anger. Eventually Rosie, his wife, is finally able to get him to a neurologist somewhat for movement disorders. He fears a "brain" doctor. The diagnosis return is slow and his mind begins to drift to his mother dying in the hospital.

Genetic testing comes back with the ill-fated genetic mutation everyone was afraid to contemplate...Huntington's Disease (HD). This is a nightmare that will not go away. Ever. Do his adult children already have it coded into their genes? Remembering his mother, he now realizes that she lived and died with it. There is no treatment, no cure. It doesn't present itself until around the childbearing age of your children. Exactly according to the plan that Joe did not set for himself. His oldest son is married and desperately trying for a baby; They just announced that they were finally pregnant. His oldest daughter is a ballerina with a good company, the second daughter is in the early throes of love, and ready to embrace the world. His youngest son is showing signs already of juvenile HD which will put him dying much younger than usual. There is no long life with HD.

Yes, this book gives probably the best look at how one family handled the worst, and what worse was still to come. Lisa Genova certainly is aware and tells her story with great passion, research, vulnerability, yet hope for a future, distant or not. We never know what we are capable of in our lives. Will we become stronger, fight the big pharmaceuticals for not giving time and money toward research on these types of orphan, rare, or hidden diseases? Or will we just give up (as unfortunately many do when they learn their fate). This book talks of 4 generations of a perfectly healthy family until suddenly the hidden monster surfaced leaving at least 3 of Joe's adult children, and the possibility that 1 of his grandchildren will be tested positive when he is old enough to be tested. Novel or not, this is a comprehensive look at the real disease.

A personal postscript to Lisa Genova: One reason I'm personally impacted with this book...We had a friend once. People seeing her walk the streets of town all had the same idea: Drunk. She was a lovely lady and enjoyed what she could. Gone for several years now, we still think of her strong will to live to the best of her ability. Thank you so much Lisa, for this heartfelt book, but even more to show with strength of character we can choose to live with, as close to our own outcome as is medically possible. Your writing is consistently inspiring and bringing some much-needed awareness to a disease unknown to so many and so little understood.

Disclaimer: I am grateful to the publishers at Simon & Schuster for allowing me a copy of this very well-written book in exchange for an honest review; maybe it will help people to understand that there are diseases that actually have NO cure. With modern miracles happening so much faster than before, we might not even realize such a thing is a reality.