Monday, October 28, 2013

The Goddaughter's Revenge by Melodie Campbell

Published by Orca Rapid Reads

A Rapid Reads book, lots of personality, humour, zany characters and a fun read, short and compact. The action and dialogue is so reminiscent of an old Black and White madcap movie set in modern day I knew immediately I would enjoy it. The characters are all written with their individual IDs intact and ready to go.

Melodie Campbell has an ability to take a storyline by the roots and shake it up with often hilarious results. This the second book I have read by this author, both from different series. Still, the author's innate ability to create fantastic stories is the foundation of both series.

Here we have Gina Gallow, the goddaughter of a Mob Boss and owner of her own jewelry store. Though she doesn't want to be part of 'The Family' business, she is not beyond eliciting help when she needs it, even enlisting her fiance in her capers. Who else would be burglarizing to steal fake gems to replace with the real thing? And what about the Lone Rearranger? Who but Melodie Campbell would pull off this zany story of family characters with their crazy personalities? Which comes first, loyalty to family or loyalty to the job? Loved this romp; Melodie, I will happily follow wherever your books will take me!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures - a Novel by Emma Straub

Published by Riverhead Books

From a summer playhouse theatre on a Wisconsin farm to an award-winning star, this novel is an intoxicating blend of the siren's song of the stage and the dreams of a little girl. Encompassing the life of Elsa Emerson over a period of close to fifty years beginning in 1929, this piece is less to do with star-struck wannabees and drug-addled has-beens but more to do with love of family and love of acting as Elsa becomes Laura Lamont. Several tragedies play out that propel Laura to become what she has always dreamed of, an actress. She marries one of the young actors performing at the summer theatre her father directs, and runs away to Hollywood with him. But she is always haunted with the memory of her sister Hildy, a sister whose dream Laura often feels she is living.

Laura's depth of soul is what brings her to fame as she portrays her characters. The title of the book I felt refers to the very descriptive telling of the story...a story told in word pictures. An upsetting incident with her family when she wins the Oscar leaves Laura/Elsa split, grieving and feeling a sense of betrayal to her family, especially to the memory of her dead sister. Laura is not quite the usual film star. Family means every bit as much to her as her career. She loves her children, her husband and her Wisconsin family but her mother comes just short of disowning her. Laura owes a large percentage of her successful career to her second husband, the director of her movies, but this is a good, honest and loving relationship, no shoddy affair, and Irving treats Laura's two girls as his own. When Laura bears him a son, the family is complete.

Emma Straub has plumbed the depths of Hollywood, TV and stage scenarios. From black and white to full color and 3-D, this is the 'Golden Age of Hollywood.' She explores how the innards of Hollywood work, how the directors achieve the best they can out of their actors, and how the actors immerse themselves into their characters. There is glamour in the book, but more, there is true life with all its ups and downs, the good, the bad, the true actors and the ones on the fringes of acceptance. It is certainly not all joy and lightness, especially for Laura and Irving, because of his delicate health. This book is a roller-coaster of personalities, despair, deep emotions of all kinds. This character-driven story is probably a truer view of the world of acting and movies than most, because it gets right into the heart of that world.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pelican Bay by Jesse Giles Christiansen

Published by Imajin Books
Review from e-book

Is he alive or is he dead? That is the question...
Well-written, suspenseful, hauntingly surreal and atmospheric twisting between paranormal and magical, this book took me by surprise. I really enjoyed the camaraderie between Captain Shelby and the young Ethan Hodges. But is he responsible for the death of Ethan's parents? The young man spends most of his time on the beach with his friend Morgan Olinsworth, so naturally he notices the strange rocks that have suddenly appeared out in the water. Very strange rocks; too well-shaped, too quickly making an appearance and too spooky, bringing goosebumps and shuddering at their odd arrival. What are these mysterious creations? Ethan is determined to snorkel down with Morgan to have a look. Some things are best left alone.

With the appearance of Captain Shelby, a grizzled old man of the sea who lives on a fishing boat as grizzled as he, a warning is given that some things should be left alone and never questioned. Captain Shelby has been a fixture for as long as any resident remembers and always old. His background, as far as can be discovered when Morgan the librarian does some digging, takes his line back to Norwegian roots transplanted to Newfoundland, but this doesn't solve the riddle, it increases it because the names are the same and there is no other history. The stories surrounding the Captain tear at the psyche. Is he responsible for the many odd storms, storms that can even bury a village or uncover a long-buried one? Or is this Atlantic coast village itself jinxed? So many questions, yet some will be answered. Where most citizens of Pelican Bay are fearful of Captain Shelby, Ethan feels connected to him, in fact he the feelings he has for the ancient Captain are those one would feel for a kindly grandfather.

Jesse Giles Christiansen has written this book constantly questioning the connection between Captain Shelby and the sea, almost one and the same. I'm sure Jesse must be an architect, because he has built this story in a well-planned manner with many levels of curiosity and suspense with a bit of horror thrown in for added structural support. Yet the connection between the Captain and Ethan is almost magical. There are so many different nuances to the story, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am thrilled to learn this is the first in a planned series, and I will be first in line when the second installment is out, I can't wait.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hazardous Unions: Two Tales of a Civil War Christmas by Alison Bruce and Kat Flannery

Published by Imajin Books
Reviewed from e-book 

Personalizing the American Civil War
Two authors, two stories, two sisters; twins who, after the death of their father, must work as domestic help on different plantations. Money is needed for their mother and sick brother. Alison Bruce and Kat Flannery have personalized the Civil war with these diverse yet integrated stories. Two tales of how life goes on, albeit changed in nature by the war. This book provides an insight into how the people caught in the middle lived extraordinary lives, often far removed from what they have known before.

Well-written with definitive research, I really enjoyed the two stories told from the sisters' points of view. Although they are far from home and working in two different locations and two different types of domesticity, they try to keep in touch by letter, an almost insurmountable undertaking with soldiers from both north and south disrupting travel routes. Their stories show how love can be found anywhere at anytime, even in times of chaos.

Both stories are very different, and show entirely different ways of life and the threat to their existence. I think the authors have a winner here, great characterizations and fascinating insights. A war story that is more about the people and family dynamics than fighting, though the tension is still felt. An unusual telling, but brilliant.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Published by The Red Herrings Press
Reviewed in e-book format
Told in three parts: Part 1 1958 Cuba, Part 2 1989-1992 Angola and Part 3 Present Day Chicago. Three generations of a wealthy Sicilian/Cuban family through the strife and poverty of Cuba during the rule of Batiste, the revolution by Che and Fidel, followed by rule under Fidel Castro.

The daughter of a Mafia boss, Francesca/Frankie is determined to live her life on her own terms. She is about to be sent to America 'for her safety.' What choice does she have but to flee her home? To the background of rebel fighting, SanterĂ­a and Cuban fire in her blood, she has found the love of her life. On her father's orders, she is torn from the arms of her lover, probably the only man who can or will keep her safe, and she is devastated as she is shipped off to America. From this point the story veers to life after Fidel. An aside to this is sending Cuban troops to Angola, and we are thrown into the life of Luis, Frankie's lover. As one of the Cubans sent to Angola, a new thread is added by way of mining a newly coveted mineral. A map is the key to all that follows.

This book is not only an insight into the Mafia families and their connections to both Soviet and American 'providers' while Cubans starve. It is also a clear and defining history of the country over the past 50-plus years. A well-written, no-holds-barred history which is still happening. What is interesting to me is that often the very thing the Cubans have learned by assimilation to dislike and distrust about 'America,' is at the same time found in Cuba.

This excellent book cuts no corners, but at the same time has a fascinating tale to tell. The reader can not help but become a part of this family, and get a feeling of Cuba itself. Rooting for some, fearing for some, in awe of the acceptance of their plight and their resilience of spirit. Tension builds throughout the book. Superstitious as many Cubans may be, what reason should we have to be non-accepting of their grasp at whatever they feel they can trust? Little enough.

This Canadian reader immersed herself in the book with deep feelings of anger and sorrow, yet with happiness in the love that some found. Libby Hellman has caught my attention and taken me away to a different world...actually more like three different worlds, and I thank her for that. She made me feel the book, a myriad of feelings and touched my soul. I felt the music, saw the poverty, as well as the beauty. Highly recommend.