Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Weird Sisters

The Weird Sisters
Eleanor Brown
Amy Einhorn Books
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Penguin Group
ISBN: 978-0-399-15722-6
336 pages
Fiction, Sisters, Terminally Ill Parents, Middle-aged Women, Domestic

“See, we love one another. We just don’t happen to like one another very much.”

Sisters . . . mine included.

The Weird Sisters is about three adult women who are sisters and return home because of their mother being diagnosed with breast cancer. At least that is what it appears. Rosalind “Rose” is home because her fiancé is studying in England and she is scared to leave the security of her job and being close to home. Bianca “Bean” is hiding from her former New York employer who fired her for embezzlement. Cordelia “Cordy” is home because she has no stability in her gypsy lifestyle and is developing a nesting instinct. The three grew up in this house with their father teaching Shakespeare at a local college and their mother staying at home to take care of the family. The daughters grew up without the advantage of having a television but with the gift of having a strong relationship with books and Shakespeare.

Surprisingly, the three daughters closely resemble each other physically, but are extremely different in personality and tend to resemble the Shakespearian characters of their names. Each one is dealing with their own personal conflicts and being unable to deal effectively in the real world with other humans.

“Instead, we were going to wrap ourselves in cloaks woven from self-pity and victimhood, refusing to admit that we might be able to help each other if we’d only open up. Instead, we’d do what we always did, the only thing we’d ever been dependably stellar at: we’d read.”

Although it is easy to identify with the sisters, the story itself was well-written but contrived. Reality does not resolve problems quite so nicely. The learned dysfunction of escaping your problems by reading instead of living and building relationships with others was evident in each of the daughters. Only by building relationships with others were they able to achieve balance within their lives.

The Weird Sisters is the debut book for Eleanor Brown who currently resides in Colorado. For a first novel, the story is good. The predictable audience for this novel is women, most likely those over thirty. I really don’t think men would enjoy this novel as it leans toward the romance genre.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the Garden of the Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts
Erik Larson
Crown Publishers
Random House
ISBN: 978-0-307-40884-6
450 pages

Being a United States’ Ambassador to Germany obviously is an honor with tremendous expectations. Can anyone imagine what it would have been like to be in this position prior to World War II just when Adolf Hitler became the leader of the Nazi party?

William E. Dodd was an unlikely choice for an ambassador appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His only qualifications were spending time in Germany twenty years previously and knowing history, but obviously not understanding it. Many wealthy and experienced politicians had turned it down so it was a surprise for a university professor to accept this. Dodd started in this position with the idea that it would allow him time to write his book, Old South. He had no realistic expectations of his situation nor how he was perceived by our politicians and the German leaders.

To begin with, Dodd decided to live within the means of his salary for all entertaining and expenditures. This would include the elaborate parties with the German leaders. Then he insisted on transporting his old Chevrolet to Germany. With the Nazi leaders either having a chauffeur or driving long flashy vehicles, this didn’t successfully maintain any dignity.

Also with him came his wife, his adult son and daughter. His son planned to continue his studies while in Germany and to learn the language. His daughter, Martha, found this to be the opportunity for adventure. She divorced her husband who was a New York banker and partied her way through the younger Nazi leadership developing a longtime relationship with the head of the Gestapo and a Soviet spy.

There were numerous challenges for Ambassador Dodd at this time, especially with Americans in Berlin. When the Nazi’s marched past, everyone was expected to salute and to show respect. Those, even Americans, who did not, were frequently beaten. The situation was even more difficult if the visitors were American and Jewish.

Erik Larson is known for writing factual books that read like fiction. He continues to succeed with In the Garden of Beasts. The other novels he has written are Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac’s Storm.

Though factual, this novel is quickly read even with the footnotes which were enriching to read along with each chapter. The information was extremely easy to understand and helped in filling history prior to the war that is usually not considered but made the Nazi movement more understandable. Also wonderfully written is the aspect of the global impact of the situations surrounding the Ambassador and his family. Written as real people, the style was easy and similar to fiction which made the events realistic to the reader. Knowing the situation and the after events, the reader realizes the danger and the impact of these decisions and situations.

To read In the Garden of the Beasts is to truly transport yourself to another time and place that few of us have and will ever experience except through the eyes of Erik Larson.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dreams of Joy

Dreams of Joy
Lisa See
Random House
May 31, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6712-3
358 pages

How would anyone feel if the woman who you always called mother is really your aunt and your aunt is really your mother? Added to that, the man who you have considered to be your father is not your father. Your real father lives in China and is a well-known artist.

Joy is in this situation. She has lived her entire life in Los Angeles where her family settled after fleeing China when the Japanese invasion occurred. Her family revolves around two women. May was Joy’s real mother but discovered her artistic gift in working in the movie industry while Pearl, her real aunt, established a small café in Chinatown. Being the Pearl was more available to stay close to raise a baby, this arrangement worked better for the sisters.

With one year of college completed, Joy has just enough knowledge to be dangerous and believes strongly in the idealism of communism. While at college her true feelings become known and cause a domino effect with the F.B.I. and the man who she believed was her father committing suicide.

Between the guilt, idealism, and the intrigue of an adventure, Joy takes her college money for next year and runs to China to find her real father while she plans to become a part of the new life in China under Chairman Mao. Once she finds her father, both go to a commune where Z.G. teaches practical art to the masses and Joy discovers love for a man and for her new country.

The story alternates as a narrative from the point-of-view of Pearl and Joy. Pearl leaves Los Angeles with a goal of bringing Joy home and getting her out of China. She discovers China has greatly changed from when she left twenty years ago and struggles to find Z.G. and Joy. Joy matures into the realism of hard work in a commune with illiterate villagers, an indifferent husband, and a corrupt system during times of drought.

Dreams of Joy is a realistic view into the Mao years of the late 1950s and the early 1960s. This novel was well-researched as to the time and place and was filled with cultural oddities true to the story.

Part of me has a problem with reading a sequel. I feel cheated in that the story was not completed in the previous book. To understand Dreams of Joy and the characters, you really have to read the previous novel, Shanghai Girls. To me, it would make more sense to just publish the two books together or to make one long novel and not to leave the reader hanging in suspense.

Lisa See who lives in Los Angeles has written many novels reflecting on China, her ancestral home. These novels are Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net, The Interior, On Gold Mountain, and Dragon Bones. Her writing never fails to tell a wonderful story as I can attest to since I have read everything she has written and plan to continue to read anything she writes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Mozart Conspiracy

Scott Mariani
A Touchstone Book
Simon & Schuster
March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9336-6
340 pages

After Mozart’s death, there were many who believed the former child prodigy had been poisoned. Being drawn to the dramatic lifestyle, death by common causes such as rheumatic fever, just didn’t seem to answer the questions about his demise.

Added to this mystery were certain facts about Mozart during this time. Being a member of the Freemasons, Mozart used much of this “secret” knowledge in his newest opera, “The Magic Flute.” Could his death be revenge or an attempt to stop this production?

What if Mozart actually wrote a letter during his final hours explaining his personal beliefs about what was happening to him?

The Mozart Conspiracy is a fictional story about this final letter that Mozart wrote on his deathbed regarding the Freemasons. The letter was hidden inside the leg of a piano bench and was discovered by an elderly piano restorer. He attempted to have the letter authenticated, but was not successful. Strangely though, the letter was auctioned off for an astounding fee. Would the Freemasons now want this letter? Were their secrets revealed in the letter?

Oliver Llewellyn and Ben Hope have long been friends from their days spent in army training. Oliver’s sister, Leigh, is a world famous opera singer who almost married Ben fifteen years ago. Oliver decides to write a novel regarding the Mozart letter which was found by his father.

After Oliver dies, Leigh contacts Ben in an effort to have closure and some answers to her brother’s death. Being Ben works as a contractual mercenary soldier, he has skills and is able to find out the truth about what really happened.

What Ben didn’t plan on was that now it is obvious that someone does not want any questions about this incident? Why? Why do people want to kill Leigh and him? Does this have to do with the Mozart letter?

Scott Mariani writes in a similar style as Dan Brown and James Rollins. The story is constant running, page turning, and obviously, an action adventure. Many of his books feature his James Bond like character, Ben Hope. He has written The Alchemist’s Secret, The Doomsday Prophecy, The Heretic’s Treasure, The Shadow Project, and The Lost Relic. He also has written the Vampire Federation series beginning with Uprising and the soon to be released in the UK, The Cross. He makes his home in Wales.

The Mozart Conspiracy was a very quick read and was enjoyable. Personally, I was pleased with his realistic ending. With many of these novels being very similar, the ending set this book apart and made it more reflective and introspective.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Corinthia Falls

Corinthia Falls
Kim Hutson
Outskirts Press
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4327-7167-6
408 pages
Fiction -Christian

On a typical Sunday morning in Corinthia Falls, Oklahoma in 1981, you would find a small church with
a congregation divided. On one side are the Sitters, those who believe that worship should be
individual, quiet, and reflective, while on the other side are the Standers, those who stand most of the
service raising their hands and shouting out amen and blessings.

This divided congregation is united in one thing and that is their dislike for disturbances. So when a
boy is painted red, wearing antlers, accompanied by a red goat and claiming to be the devil, appears in
the church as a joke, this small town is upset about this devilish disturbance. Added to this is the
spiking of watermelon a few weeks later during a church picnic.

Paul, Colonel Pavlos Lincoln Armstrong, is an evangelist who travels to churches and communities
that need interventions to help their living of a Christian lifestyle, appears at the church dressed
completely in black with a creature that seems to be part bear/part dog. He settles into this community
with Silas, his dog, and the two begin to make an impact on many lives.

Timothy Oaks, better known as Timber, is the lead character in Corinthia Falls. You meet him as a
teenager approaching his senior year of high school along with his friends. Through his eyes, this story
is told.

Unfortunately, many books are grouped into the genre of being Christian literature and because of that,
are not read by the general public. Many of these are considered to be in the same category as a
romance novel and have a predictable storyline and conclusion. Even though Corinthia Falls is a
Christian book, the writing is outstanding and the story is memorable.

Corinthia Falls is storytelling at its best. The story should be entitled Timber instead of Corinthia Falls as
that is the center of the novel. For the last one third of the novel, Corinthia Falls is not the focus of the
story, Timber is. Even with this wandering, the story is wonderful and should be read by church goers
as well as those who should be church goers. It provides insight into the direction needed for our
churches and communities.

Kim Hutson, along with his wife, Rhonda work with the United Methodist Church in Eastern Oklahoma.
If this book is a reflection of his work, this must be a blessed area.

Read Corinthia Falls to experience a great story. Even though there is Christianity in the story, it fits as
part of the story, not as an addition. Corinthia Falls is a memorable reading experience for everyone.


Jo Ann Bender
Copyright 2010
Eloquent Books
Strategic Book Group
Paperback $ 16.95
ISBN 978-1-60911-450-3
354 pages

The Nazi government firmly believed in their supremacy as part of the Aryan race. The future of this belief depended on many healthy children resembling their ideals. Children who looked Aryan were often integrated, basically kidnapped, into their orphanages to insure genetic diversity for the superior race.

Antoinette Gauthier lives in France during the summer of 1941 when the Germans begin to inhabit their small town. The new rule wants the people to turn in those neighbors, families, and friends who might be of a Jewish background. The town chooses to be loyal to their longtime friends. When the local commander is frustrated by this loyalty, he orders the town residents to turn in their pets to the Nazis. Why? The former mayor and a volunteer helper assist in collecting these animals for what seems to be a demoralizing lesson for the residents and certain death for the animals. When an elderly couple refuses to give up their pet, they are publically and cruelly killed.

Being the mayor’s daughter, Antoinette finds that her home is now inhabited by the S.S. forcing her to live in the attic with her father. Fortunately, she is a wonderful cook and attracts the attention of Major Hurst. Hurst knows what he needs for promotion and has plans for his future such as marrying soon to the correct type of wife. Unfortunately, his fiancé only wants one child. Being that S.S. officers are promoted by having large families, he plans to adopt many children into his family.

Major Hurst is charmed by Antoinette. He arranges for several outings also with a friend of hers and another officer. When Antoinette finds herself pregnant, Major Hurst arranges for her to leave the town and move to Germany for a program known as Lebensborn. His intent is to eventually adopt this child into his family which will insure his promotion and the future of the Aryan race. The story deals with Antoinette and her life at Lebensborn.

The author Jo Ann Bender grew up in the area of Wisconsin and Iowa and now lives in the state of Washington while running a bed and breakfast called the Lazy Bee.

Lebensborn is spellbinding. The intensity of Antoinette’s character is realistic and masterfully written. This historical aspect was accurate and enhancing of events that are not often mentioned with the Nazi movement. This is a page turner and my one regret was that the book ended. I would definitely place Lebensborn as one of the best novels I have read this past year.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dead Forever Resonance

Author: William Campbell
Copyright 2011
Glyd-Evans Press
Paperback $ 15.95
ISBN 978-0-9717960-9-6
318 pages

Have you ever had dreams so vivid that they so real that you can’t separate reality from the dream? Have you ever felt déjà vu when you meet someone but inside you feel certain that you know them?

Damien knows that his conscientiousness has lived before in other bodies. However, he is having difficulty separating his many memories from his ability to sometimes see into the future with events presently happening in his daily life. Confused?

This series of DEAD FOREVER all center with the concept of moving one’s conscientiousness from body to body over time. Usually, most people are given a drug so that they forget their previous lives. A small rebellious group fights to keep their memories throughout the years. This story revolves around these characters.

Damien/Adam is looking for the love of his life, Christina. Unfortunately, he finds her quickly as Carmen who is married to an unethical narcotics police detective. Carmen’s father just happens to be engaged to Damien’s mother. With attempting to figure out his reality as well as keeping one step ahead of the police is not always easy.

In AWAKENING the strength was the action adventure while the characters bonded with each other. The relationships were important. Added to that in APOTHEOSIS was humor with Physuro and Stu. Unfortunately, RESONANCE was confusion for Damien/Adam. The relationships were not as strong, the action/adventure was not the center, but Damien’s confusion about separating dreams from reality greatly slowed down the pacing. This particular novel seemed to lack the personal voice of the characters in the writing that was so evident in the first two of this series.

These books need to be read in order to understand the story. This is not a trilogy where you would understand the third book at all without knowledge of the first two. Also, the first two books were readable for teens. RESONANCE has an explicit sexual scene which I would only recommend for adults.

William Campbell started his professional career in Los Angeles as a paste-up artist, to a press operator, lithographic cameraman and film stripper. He continues to work in the press/technology fields specializing in the conversion to e-books and programming premedia management systems.

I found the storyline in Resonance not as strong as the other two. Perhaps my expectation was too high after reading the first two in the trilogy. At times, Resonance felt reminiscent of the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day with events being repeated with slight variations. This left the main character and the reader questioning what really happened.

This is an insightful trilogy for adult science fiction/fantasy lovers. The Dead Forever trilogy is an action packed adventure with many unusual and interesting insights.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Great Catch: Lake Manawa Summers

A Great Catch: Lake Manawa Summers
Lorna Seilstad
Baker Publishing Group
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3446-6
384 pages
Christian –Romance - Historical

In 1901, being a single female and being twenty-two years old, meant that older aunts and a caring
grandmother might start being concerned about spinsterhood as a future. Emily Graham is living with
their concern while personally she is more passionate about being the president of the Council Bluffs
Equal Suffrage Club to allow women the right to vote.

Her family is spending the summer in a cabin at Lake Manawa and enjoying the area of this growing
resort. Her longtime friends, Lily Hart and Marguerite Andrews, who were featured in the previous
novel Making Waves, also are spending time at the lake while being with their small children and

A Great Catch is the second installment in the Lake Manawa Series this time featuring Emily Graham.
This story revolves more about the baseball experiences at the part as well as the touring women’s
league and the women’s suffrage movement.

Similar to the first novel, the female lead is clumsy and is rescued by the male protagonist. In that
regard, the romance is fairly predictable.

What is stronger though is Lorna Seilstad sense of history of the local area. She is excellent in
incorporating the past into readable stories. With using Carrie Chapman Catt, Amelia Bloomer, and the
suffrage movement, she masterfully weaves the romance around the history even including the fashion
of the time period.

Also notable is Ms. Seilstad’s usage of Christianity into the character’s everyday lives and not just relying
on God for your personal wishes. This is very natural and important for the characters to understand
as well as the readers.

Why should anyone read this novel? The strength of the history and the religious thoughts are superbly
demonstrated in A Great Catch.

This is one book that you don’t want to miss. You might want to even catch it. (OK, that was a pathetic

Heart of Deception

Author: M. L. Malcolm
Paperback version entitled Deceptive Intentions, 2008, A Good Read Publishing
Paperback by Harper, Copyright 2011
$ 13.99
ISBN 978-0-06-196219-6
344 pages

Heart of Deception finishes the story that was started in the family saga, Heart of Lies. This book would not work as a standalone novel as much of the character development was in the previous novel. This is a continuation of the story.

This story deals more with Maddy Hoffman, the daughter of Leo and Martha. With Martha’s death, Maddy still feels guilty since her mother died when going to buy her a doll just when the department store in Shanghai was bombed by the Japanese. Amelia has gladly allowed Katherine’s Irish Catholic family to raise Maddy and she has moved to California. Leo is living in Europe, Africa, and Asia as a spy for hire and is estranged from his daughter.

Heart of Deception is about Maddy when her aunt, Martha’s sister wants to take over as her guardian. Leo also feels guilt for the separation from his daughter and is also attempting to rebuild this relationship. Maddy is resentful because of the separation and not completely trusting anyone after life with Amelia.

M. L. Malcolm lives as a recovering attorney even though she is a graduate of Harvard Law School. She has already won recognition in the Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Competition and the silver medal from ForeWord magazine for the Historical Fiction Book of the Year. She currently lives in Washington D.C.

Heart of Deception was previously published from A Good Read Publishing in 2008 under the name Deceptive Intentions.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this conclusion. Personally, when I read Heart of Lies I felt cheated since it was obvious that a sequel was planned. It was simple to reacquaint myself with the characters and to follow their lives. I would like to have had author notes at the conclusion of this novel to state how much of this was fiction and how much of this was based on the author’s family history.

The strength of this novel and the first is the realistic aspect of living through WWII and after in many different parts of the world. M. L. Malcolm is masterful in writing about a time period and specific places. This family saga is well-written and engrossing. I would strongly recommend that you purchase both books together since this book is a continuation of the first one.

Keep watching for any future book my M.L. Malcolm. They will definitely worth reading.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Palm Trees on the Hudson

Palm Trees on the Hudson
Elliot Tiber
Square One Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-7570-0351-6
192 pages
Biography-New York-Gay Men –Interior Decorators

Once in a while you come upon a book that you probably would not have chosen to read, but you read
it. You have no expectations because you have no clue what to expect.

When the book is amazingly well-written, enthralling, and enjoyable, then you are uneasy, but in a
positive way. You have found one of those gems in a myriad of gray rocks.

Elliot Tiber grew up with the name Eliyahu Teichberg of Jewish immigrants parents with his mother
being from Russia and his father from Austria. His parents met in Brooklyn at a community social event
where Yiddish was the common language. As a child growing up in this area in the 1930s, this only son
with many sisters was expected to work daily in the family business for no pay. His mother controlled
all the money in the family and she alone decided how or if it was going to be spent.

Elliot’s mother thrived in being demanding and domineering. His father would never question her or
upset the ruling of their household.

Elliot’s one luxury was going to the movies with his mother and younger sister. The theaters at the time
were giving away dishes and naturally his mother saw this as an investment opportunity. The children
could receive the dishes and then she could resell them in her store. Elli saw this theater time as the
one time that someone understood him, especially Judy Garland when she sang.

When Elliot’s mother demanded the he become a rabbi, everyone went along with the idea except Elli
who did not enjoy his Yiddish studies and much preferred to paint murals on his living room walls. As
you can imagine, his mother did not react positively to this artistic venture until the neighbors wanted
Elli to paint murals for their houses. His mother kept the money that he earned.

Because of this, Elliot eventually changed his name and worked various jobs while not living at home in
an effort to build upon his artistic talent and independence from his mother. This is his story of
becoming a well-known New York City interior designer and the problems with his sexual preference.

To reemphasize this, the actual book is hot pink with the binding in lavender.

The story is well-written with a true voice of the author coming through. You can visualize every event
as it actually happens.

A True Story of the Mob, Judy Garland, and Interior Decorating is the prequel to Elliot Tiber’s bestseller
Taking Woodstock. Even though I have not read this book, I was hypnotized by the writing style. This
is truly masterful writing.

My plan now is to read Taking Woodstock and anything else that Elliot Tiber ever writes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Making Waves

Lake Manawa Summers: Making Waves
Lorna Seilstad
Baker Publishing Group
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3445-9
368 pages
Christian –Romance - Historical

How many people have been conflicted between doing what their mother wants for them or following
their inner voice? That is the problem Marguerite Westing is troubled with daily.

Marguerite’s mother wants her to marry well, even if it isn’t for love. However, Marguerite really
dislikes Roger Gordon, her fiancé. He is boring, does not love her, and simply wants her to be a wife
because of her family status and her beauty. True, she would never have to worry about money, but is
that worth a lifetime with him?

What Marguerite did not plan on was to meet Trip Andrews, the son of a sailboat maker. Somehow
though, she finds herself strangely attracted to this man, a laborer and not someone from her social

Added to this, Marguerite discovers that her father has a secret. When she follows him during the night
to a building built on a county line, she discovers why this is an advantage to those in this establishment.

When you have to choose between what is right for your family and it is opposing what is right for you,
how do you make the decision?

The historical aspect of Making Waves was well written and documented with real events. The story of
Lake Manawa in Council Bluffs, Iowa is unusual and definitely deserves to be the setting of many novels.
Another wonderful perspective was the use of the hog farm building which the author moved from its
real location. The history of this building is unique and the illegal activities with the inhabitants moving
from one side to the other to avoid the law enforcement from that particular county, was perfect for
this novel.

The strength of this novel was the Christian aspect in allowing God into their personal lives and their
choices. Particularly noticeable was the characters need to lean on God in times of trial and

The weakness in my opinion, was the predictable romance. Fortunately, the story was rich in events,
missteps, and conflicts, that even though predictable, Making Waves was an enjoyable read.

Lorna Seilstad is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and Making Waves is her first
novel. She is masterful at using the history from her home in Iowa and turning that into an enthralling

I definitely look forward to the next book in this series.