Friday, June 26, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

Published by Crown Publishers

John Brown's body may be a-mouldering but his soul most certainly keeps marching on.
This very interesting novel gives life to two women centuries apart. Our first heroine is Sarah Brown, daughter of Capt. John Brown of abolitionist fame, set in the days surrounding and following his death by hanging in 1859. Sarah's life becomes the main focus every second chapter. Eden Anderson is in some ways Sarah's counterpart in 2014, though she may not realize it. Although the book is written with both stories at once, chapter upon chapter, one chapter Sarah and the next Eden, the story bonds smoothly. The common factors between both women is that they are both barren, both wrestle with this in their everyday lives, both have a connection to the same house in New Charlestown, Virginia.

There is something very compelling about this book. This bit of history seems to have taken on a new relevance today. Despite the hardships, I loved the book. The alternate chapters do not confuse, but meld beautifully between the two women and two centuries. Sarah is an artist and uses her talent in the Underground Railway (UGRR) painting coded maps to guide their 'guests' to the safe-houses along the route. Eden's sorrow over her lost babies drives her, until she makes a discovery about their new home that gives her a welcome boost of energy. Her husband Jack has made arrangements for a young girl next door to assist Eden and between them they bond over many things.

This is such a wonderful novel. It is so smoothly written, so much truth is worked into the story, I am amazed by the entire concept. A story of love, compassion, determination and bonding. This bit of history seems to have taken on a new relevance today. I am so glad I read it, I know I will have to keep my eyes open for more from Sarah McCoy.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Fold - A Novel by Peter Clines

Published by Crown Publishing

Mind-blowing, creative and suspenseful.
From the beginning, when a woman's husband is due to return from his 'out-of-town' meeting and he returns but has no idea who she is or why she's there, this book is about to become far more than expected.

I loved this book by Peter Clines, an author I hadn't read before, and I will certainly be reading more from him. It grabbed my attention immediately and kept my mind occupied and in suspense to the end. This sci-fi novel is pretty mind-blowing, a different take on a fairly oft-written theme with a twist, in fact several twists, a thriller with a hidden agenda and a hero who is a high school English teacher. The title "The Fold" could easily represent a number of different storylines within the story. Strictly speaking it means what Mike, the school teacher, is told it means, but following the story it seems as though the entire story folds itself in several ways.

Mike Erikson, whose real name is Leland, is not your ordinary teacher. Mike often works in the summer as an observer or advisor for a secret agency of some uncertain type. This summer is no different as he is called in by his friend Reggie to look into a highly secret project. He is told just enough to pique his curiosity. With Mike's special skills, and exceptional IQ and eidetic memory, he is often called on in unusual and secret projects. One might think of him as having Sherlock Holmes' powers of observation...and obviously he is not going to forget anything he observes.

Throughout the story, there are constant shifts in how the information filters to him. There are so many odd things that are off-limit information to him, and at the same time some unexpected information comes his way. When the whole story turns topsy-turvy and what everyone believes is going on suddenly becomes totally wrong the story twist more. Imagery in the characters is exceptional. Truly a fascinating book written with wonderful imagination and story-telling mixed with bits of physics, historical scientific research, and Star Trek type humor.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lemon Drops and Love (Cocktail Series Book 1) by Angela Stevens

Reviewed from e-book

Fast moving story by Angela Stevens of how one person can control another, to put fear in that other person, to make them obedient, to force them to do their bidding at risk of being beaten physically and mentally. This is where it all begins. This is frighteningly easy to achieve.

Turn now to an attempt to rescue, but it soon turns to stalking, still putting the fear into the victim, and a struggle between two men, or one might say between good and evil. Time constraints of shortening the time between Maya's two competitors, her abusive partner Carl and her rescuer long-time friend Jude, gives a feeling of everything with Jude is moving too fast, that healing hasn't had a chance, but his character somehow carries it off. He is quite literally the only person available to help her. With Carl's continuous stalking, rage, and determination to get what is "his" back, it is easier to understand the need to erase the fear Maya holds as carefully and quickly as Jude can.

This book took me by surprise. I felt like under the circumstances of life with Carl the abusive control freak, there is too much emphasis on sex with Jude. My own opinion. The fact that Jude and Maya have been holding off on each other for years, each unaware of how the other feels, also having supportive friends, the counselors, and the police, this would no doubt have some effect on how quickly they would come together as a couple. Otherwise I thought the book was very good and I couldn't stop reading until the end of the epilogue, which I think demonstrates that the book definitely grabbed my attention.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Stubby the War Dog - The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum

Published by National Geographic Kids

I'm very impressed not only with this book but with its back-story as well, how the author came to believe the story of Stubby and to write it. The fascinating true story of a man and a stray dog who became a war hero in WWI. This book is well-written, historical, non-fiction and a good way for kids to learn about WWI in a unique way. Ann Bausum, on hearing the story at first didn't think it could be true, but soon learned there was incredible evidence to back up this great story.

A young man at the time, J. Robert Conroy discovered a stray dog had decided that they belonged together. The dog was a possible Boston terrier cross with a stub of a tail so he became known as Stubby. They became inseparable and when WWI loomed on the horizon Conroy enlisted but Stubby apparently considered himself enlisted too, even to the point of learning how to salute by standing on his hind legs and raising his paw to his face. On parade, he learned the "eyes right" command as well.

Once Conroy was shipped overseas, Stubby went, too. He was assigned to be the Yankee Division's mascot. There were actually several animal mascots and workers in the war, but Stubby became an active member. Ann Bausum delved into a lot of military and WWI history to write this wonderful book. It is written especially for kids and they will enjoy it, I'm sure. It is a story about a very special bond, the book is almost entirely the heroic deeds of this dog and not the bloody side of the war.

Stubby was able to warn the troops about chemicals coming, snipers sneaking up on them in their trenches, rescued injured soldiers, could tell the difference between the enemy and his own soon enough to warn them. He even captured an enemy soldier himself. He was injured in the line of duty, but fortunately survived at the hands of the medics. Stubby was a genuine decorated hero, met three presidents, and definitely has a place in history. I highly recommend this book, it is timely this close to 100 years ago, and is suitable for all ages.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Shadow Song by Lorina Stephens

Published by Five Rivers

Haunting and beautiful, I couldn't put this book down. Partly historical, partly supernatural yet grounded, and always in tune with nature. This is a child's journey to adulthood through very different lifestyles. Beginning in pre-Victorian England, only child to moderately wealthy parents, Danielle sees her world crumble as her uncle, the older son who had inherited from his parents, proceeds to bankrupt his younger brother, Danielle's father. As a result, it isn't long before the family is reduced to living on the streets. The deaths of her parents through starvation, disease and depression leave her an orphan and she is sent to live with her only living relative, the uncle who caused their demise.

Arriving in Upper Canada, she is amazed at so much living nature...tall forests everywhere, the world feels alive. But she fears her uncle, and apparently rightly so, as kind people are worried for her welfare and do their best to protect her on the long journey she must take before reaching her uncle's hovel. Based upon a true tragedy that occurred in the village of Hornings Mills, Ontario, Canada, what follows is a terrifying escape and run for her life. Her uncle is so ruthless he will hunt her down forever.

Meeting Shadow Song, an Ojibwa shaman, the story becomes beautiful amidst the horror she will soon face. She has a self-appointed protector in Shadow Song, and he is always watching out for her. I loved this wonderful lyrical story. It will linger with me for a long time. Lorina Stephens is a mesmerizing writer, combining historical settings with mystical story-telling. No matter the horrors that may appear in the story, there is beauty as well. This is a coming-of-age story and an adventure story unveiling itself exquisitely. I am now definitely a fan of Lorina Stephens.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

GM's Legendary Show and Concept Cars MOTORAMA by David W. Temple

Published by CarTech

What a great decade the 1950s was for fabulous and fantastic automobiles! Not just the decade itself, but for the many futuristic cars, '...legendary show and concept cars'. Every year we would look forward to seeing what the new ideas would be, what we might expect in the future. Little did we know then that the future would bring little boxy cars that you might have to plug into your electricity! I have so many memories of those wonderful dream cars of the future. Who would have guessed a Cadillac would someday be almost half the size and even come in something like a station wagon, called an SUV.

Personally, I was thrilled to receive this wonderful book of memories to review. The real creativity came with the entry of Harley J. Earl into the fold. Of course it took a somewhat creative mind to realize the perfect person to hire as Styling Engineer. The GM President in 1927 who takes that honor was Alfred P. Sloan. His forward thinking was a masterful piece of history. Early models were created first in clay. It was a good choice of medium at a time when photos were only in black and white, and just did not have what it takes to present a concept idea. In the 1930's another excellent addition was made to their concept group, William L. Mitchell. These great innovative artists gave us beauty in transportation.

Perhaps it took the 1933 'Century of Progress' Worlds Fair to get the show on the road as they say, where a Cadillac V-16 was shown, 'the Aerodynamic Coupe'. In 1937 the first acknowledged concept car, the Buick Y-Job was shown. Through the years many of the concept cars had names like Project X, Project XP-8, XP-300, a GM LeSabre featured two containers, one for gas and one for alcohol. Body designs were incredible and indelible to memory. Longer hoods, bigger fins, no fins, longer trunks, it seemed that nothing was impossible. Fantastic new radiator grills, wraparound windows, even the 12 Futurliner buses.

It wasn't until WWII interrupted that concepts changed. Everything was harder to get in the way of materials. Show cars were more like sales floor models, but as the '50s rolled on, the cars began to stretch longer and fancier again. Along came the Corvette, hardtops, fins, Pontiac Parisienne, Oldsmobile Starfire, 1953 Buick Wildcat and more. Each year a new GM Motorama in all it's awe and glory. This book takes us all the way up to the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone, and more.

This is a wonderful collection of photos, loads of information through many generations of GM. This table-top book by David Temple is an absolute classic of a bunch of classics. I highly recommend this book to all show car and concept car aficionados, car show buffs, and anyone who just likes to stroll down memory lane sometimes. (Personally, I got lost when they stopped using specific hood ornaments. I used to love trying to guess what car was driving toward us by the hood ornaments.) For once I'm glad to be as old as I am...I remember them well.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Dead Medium by Peter John

Published by Createspace

Most definitely not your average ghost story

What do a group of elderly women, a multitude of ghosts from different generations, a dead cat, and a college student have in common? Don't let a cantankerous old woman fool you. Peter John has come up with a genuinely different story and really hit it on target. We all know about mediums contacting the dead, but what if it's the other way around? This book has humor, relationships and a bit of terror thrown in the mix. What is it that haunts the dead? Where do they go from there? The characters have it covered one way or another, including Mr. Kibbles, May's dead cat, bringing a fascinating twist to the end. I scarcely put the book down once begun.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Published by Simon & Schuster

Comprehensive story of living with early onset Alzheimer's
I thought this book dealt with early onset Alzheimer's very well. It also demonstrated that it is a disease that has nothing to do with intelligence, using the brain, memory prior to onset. Some of the most brilliant and active people in the world can suddenly start to 'forget' things or become unsure. Unfortunately, early onset appears to move along more rapidly than people who show signs of it later in life.

Alzheimer's patients are adept at hiding their symptoms, and the book shows how they work around their 'forgetfulness'. Alice is a brilliant middle-aged professor. She begins to notice that she feels unsure of herself at times, notices things missing from where she would normally keep them, and just generally feel overwhelmed. As time goes on she finds ways to cope with what she is forgetting by making notes, writing on her arms, trying to ignore the inevitable. Even at that it takes a long time before the family finally gives in to the reality of her situation. When she is unable to remember a speech, or is overcome with confusion or lost, she must accept her reality.

I found the book to be a valuable insight into how Alzheimer's might work, although it isn't always consistent in its timing, symptoms and outward appearance. The fact that early memory is often intact makes it difficult to notice or reconcile. Lisa Genova has presented a book both helpful and personal. I would recommend it to anyone who is trying to understand another person's confusion, memory hiccups, sometimes irrational behaviour, especially if the patient is still quite young. Well written.