bookcover: 
Wild Song cover
Author: 
Jane Eagland
Publisher: 
Stoke Books
Fiction: 
Rating: 
6
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781781121825

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Anna stands on her island, the island where she has grown up, and she is surrounded by stormy seas. Beyond the sea is mainland Scotland, but she is stuck living in a crumbling castle on the island with a couple of servants, her deteriorating father who is suffering from Alzheimers (at the very least), and the father's assistant, a man Anna sees as attractive—from a child's point of view. One could argue that the antagonist in the story could be any of the characters, but—according to the place where the author ends the story—it turns out to be the sea.

Wild Song looks like a sweet romance, like a Harlequin. The sales press implies a gothic romance. The description is that of Gothic romance. See this? "Living in a creaking castle on a remote, windswept island off Scotland, Anna has never known anyone other than her father, his assistant and their two servants. She is kept away from books, pictures and other children by her father, a mathematical genius, who is slowly losing his mind. Then one wild stormy day a boy washes up on the shore, a boy who will change her whole world" Sounds like a gothic set up, right? Nope. Pay attention to the fine print that indicates that this is a book for third graders. Is this a deliberate misdirection? Is this a cover designer with a certain style that matches that type of story? Is this a press department which only serves gothic romance? Caveat emptor.

This is not a Gothic romance. Wild Song is a short story at about a third grade reading level. This fact is not hidden; it is part of the book description, but not necessarily something all book buyers will notice. We have a naive young girl living on an island and though it looks like a genre gothic, is very light on romance (in the genre sense), and it concludes just around the place that a romance might end chapter one. It is a short story appropriate for teenaged (and younger) readers. It does not have the pacing of a book. It has the pacing of a short story, and an abrupt ending consistent with a short story format. The thinking may have been to make this book more appealing to third graders by making it look like an 'older' book. The confusion is inevitable if adult readers glance at the cover and skim the blurb. Not badly done for a third grader's story, but it is what it is.

bookcover: 
Cover of Belly Fat Breakthrough
Author: 
Dr. Stephen Boutcher
Publisher: 
Gallery Books
Non-fiction_: 
Rating: 
5
ISBN/ASIN: 
9781476775500
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Dr. Stephen Boutcher's Belly Fat Breakthrough is a statistically packed book defining various kinds of fat, how and where it is placed on the human body, how this fat reflects and influences your health, and what you can do about it. There is a mind-numbing quantity of study summaries, statistics, examples and references. The theories and reasons behind everything are painstakingly researched (or maybe I should say painfully.)

After reading this, I was exhausted by the sheer quantity of specifics in chapters 1-5. There is more science here than need be (and I like science.) I don't really want to read about a scientific study to validate every other statement. Some of the study outcomes reflect country, race, age, gender, so who knows if the results can be extrapolated to the reader. Studies do not make me trust or believe a program more, because one can set up a study to prove just about anything and the sheer quantity of defense obfuscates whatever the doctor is trying to say. It makes being able to just read this book practically a painful experience. However, there are a number of tests, questionnaires, and do-it-yourself directions to dull even a Cosmo girl's pencil.

If you can get past over-researched explanations why every little thing does what it does, you will find this: Boucher emphasizes high interval training, especially interval sprinting (great advice for someone with my knees.) He waxes on about the relationship between lifestyle changes, and healthy living to affect body composition. After five chapters of going on, chapter six a provides a six week plan. I found the book dry, not very readable and with no big surprises. Diets always come down to exercising more, and eating better, right? In those contexts, Boucher is very specific about what 'more' and 'better' mean. Note that my rating is more about readability than diet performance. I don't see myself taking Boucher on as a guru. To be completely fair, the true test of this book would be in following his plan and then referring to diet success to gauge the book's success.

bookcover: 
Author: 
Frank Hopkinson
Publisher: 
Anova Books
Non-fiction_: 
Rating: 
3
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781909396517

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I read this compendium on sheds. You know In Forrest Gump, that Bubba monologue about shrimp? It's pretty much the same thing, except that the topic is sheds instead of shrimp. (I think I would prefer shrimp, since at least they can be eaten.) Apparently there are at least as many ways of building, using, and cuddling up to sheds as there are preparing and eating shrimp. I don't want to be unfair, but sheds are not my forté. Probably this book is a good gift for someone who is a backyard builder of sheds or a dweller of man-caves. But then I am reminded of my sister, whose back yard faced another yard in which someone had built a shed that had a nice porch and rocking chairs on it. She hated that shed, and sacrificed several feet across her back yard to grow shrubbery to hide what she thought of as a monstrosity. I expect her husband who could build or fix anything at the drop of a hat would love this book as much as she hated that shed. So given the potential for creating marital friction, give this carefully. I know the book has a audience of shed-lovers, but there are shed-haters out there too.

bookcover: 
The Dominant
Author: 
Tara Sue Me
Series: 
The Submissive Trilogy
Publisher: 
Penguin Group
Rating: 
7
ISBN/ASIN: 

9780451466235

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Truth is, I haven't much to say about this one. Dominant is a fairly typical D/s romance.

Dominant Nathaniel West is the rich Dom, and Abigail King is on a path to becoming his sub. She's a newbie, which he doesn't like. He prefers experience, but is willing to make the sacrifice because he was gaga over Abigail before she conveniently applied to be his sub. Yes, applied. West has a matchmaker who gets these potential subs for him. I doubt the agent is listed in the yellow pages, but didn't examine that part too closely.

The story is written by Tara Sue Me, who is a woman; and the point of view character is Nathaniel West. I find myself getting off track in the book, wondering if she's got the internal mechanics of his head correct. Is this the thinking of a Dom, or an idealized Dom that the author is imagining. Since I have never fathomed what goes on in a dominant man's head in certain circumstances (beatings? whippings?), this becomes a story-breaker for me.

The story falls into the same category as Fifty Shades of Gray, which has a substantial audience. For those who want it, there is a lot of very explicit sex. There is also a whole lot of inexplicable wishy washy from the Dom, for whom the concept of developing a real relationship with his sub is an obstacle and something he can't quite understand. I take this whole overthinking of the plot with a grain of salt, because the publisher is mainstream, and probably required the Dom to be softened up to be relatable to mainstream values. This is a series, so there is more of this where this book came from, if D/s is your cuppa tea.

bookcover: 
Dark Spell cover
Author: 
Gill Arbuthnott
Publisher: 
Floris Books
Fiction: 
SpeculativeFiction: 
Rating: 
9
ISBN/ASIN: 
9780863159565
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Review: 

In spite of growing up with a high school English teacher with a passion for Poe, let me say first of all that although I am not a horror fan, I do have a few movies that I like on the basis of an affinity for a particular actor or two, (Michael J Fox in The Frighteners, the entire cast of Practical Magic.) I am not predisposed to enjoy horror fantasy, but for some reason, magical families and witchcraft stories are the exception. Blame it on the chemistry between Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York. I felt the same g-rated sweet chemistry between young protagonist Callie Hall and her good friend Josh in Dark Spell by Gill Arbuthnott.

Callie Hall is a young witch. It's not so much that she's coming out of the closet, as it is that she had no clue she was in a closet. Unaware of her growing magical powers, she has a Carrie moment in response to some school bullying. She soon discovers from her grandmother and her cute little coven of old lady witches that like her grandmother, she is indeed a witch. The witch gene apparently is a recessive one, and skipped her mother, a fact which leads to some issues. Callie's long distance friendship with Joshua (from Edinburgh) has some issues, and the tunnel under the ruins of St Andrews' Castle really has some issues.

I was drawn in by many things in this book. The familial relationships, the problems between Callie and her mother, and the closeness between Callie and her grandmother. The sweet tolerance of Callie's oblivious father and not-so-oblivious grandfather. The chemistry of the family rings so true that it brings extra credence to the magic. I enjoyed this book so much that after I listened to it play aloud on my rickety old keyboard Kindle, I had to take it aside and read it in person with my own eyes to see if it was as engrossing as I thought. (It is.) The story is well engineered, and works not only on the superficial level, but on more than one level. I am not surprised that it has won awards.

I found myself enchanted by Dark Spell. I enjoyed not only the characters, but also the sense of place the author delivers of the mix of old and new in contemporary Scotland. Gill Arbuthnott conjures a stunning mix of teen angst and magic mixed with just enough danger to scoot you to the edge of your seat. Big thumbs up on this one!

My name is Elizabeth Black and I have been writing erotica and romance since 2007. My first published story was an erotic retelling of Cinderella. It was about what happened to Cinderella after her Happily Ever After wedding. Suffice to say, things were not happy in paradise. Scarlet Magazine in the U. K published the story. From there, I went on to publish several novels and novellas and numerous short stories. I also write horror and dark fiction with the pen name E. A. Black. So far, I've published only short stories. I'm working on a mystery novel right now.

bookcover: 
 The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors and History book cover
Author: 
Ana Sofia Pelaez
Publisher: 
St. Martin's Press
Non-fiction_: 
Rating: 
8
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781250036087

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For as long as there have been families, one of the routes to developing culture and heritage has been through the family kitchen, which in this day of nuclear families, the internet, and the latest eating fads, is loosing continuity. This familial and historical aspect of cooking permeates every page of The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors and History. This is not a book merely of recipes, but a love-letter to Cuban cooking. The author, Ana Sofia Pelaez, clearly cherishes her subject, as does Ellen Silverman's camera. There is background from the author, and a sense of history of the recipes and culture. Now I want to visit Miami and seek out Cuban restaurants, and maybe even find my way to Cuba to stay in a casa particular (a private home with rooms for guests) and check out the family restaurants called paladares.

I have not tried all of the 100+ recipes; but I am in the process of making a dent in them. In my head which has no Spanish in it, their exotic names feel like some kind of magical incantation: Rabo encenido, batidos, quimbombó. I feel a little like I have a secret eye into the Cuban kitchen, knowing (now) that Cuban cooks are fiercely protective of their cooking secrets. Translating the food from the page to the plate feels like an adventure for me. Sadly, however, since I am not really familiar with Cuban cuisine, I have no way of knowing if my efforts (delicious as they have proven to be, even with my low carbing them), I really don't know if they hit or miss the traditional mark. I have not been intrusive with my changes. Instead of putting the picadillo filling into a ball of potato, I used peppers instead. I have to tell you, the recipe was delicious, and though the flavoring (a combination of olives, onions, garlic, cumin, pepper and cinnamon!) was like nothing I have ever had before, it felt familiar.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves Cuban food and culture, or to anyone who wants to expand their tastebuds. Let me draw the circle a little bigger. The truth is that if you have a mouth, you'll appreciate this book.

bookcover: 
Victoria Donda Bookcover
Author: 
Victoria Donda
Publisher: 
Penguin Random House
Non-fiction_: 
Rating: 
2
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I was seduced to read this book by the premise. Not that it is like a fictional premise-it is Victoria Donda's life. Because of her politics, Victoria's mother "disappeared" and Victoria was taken from her, and given to another family. Victoria lived for years believing she was part of that family, then discovered the truth. When I heard what the book was about, I knew it would be a dramatic and interesting story. The premise and the promise of the story did not live up to its potential. The story was badly organized, and badly presented. There is only a small portion of the book that is actually about how Victoria lived, and how she discovered the truth. It is presented awkwardly, sporadically, and keeps going back and forth in a way that is sure to lose anyone's interest (I am sad to say.) The timeline is disorganized. I plodded through and wished with every page that there was not so much more of it still left to read. Sad to say, the best part of the book is probably the family pictures.

However interesting My Name is Victoria: The Extraordinary Story of One Woman's Struggle to Reclaim her True Identity should have been, I was far from swept away by the middle-school writing. The truth is that I cannot know if the book was badly written in its original language, or if the miserable English version (which is what I read) was bad and badly translated. I had to force myself to get through it, partially because of the book's 'style' and partially because it was so political. There were problems with presentation, and pacing, and frankly, the story just went on and on, not unlike this review. (I should have just stopped with 'poorly written.) If I were a student of Argentinian politics, I might have had more incentive to give the book a fair chance. Or maybe not.

I do have respect and sympathy for Victoria Donda, and I feel a certain pride in how she managed to take charge of her life in spite of her true family and life being stolen from her. Growing up the victim of a brutal regime must have been no picnic. I just wish the book had managed to tell her story in a better way.

bookcover: 
Since You've Been Gone book cover
Author: 
Mary Jennifer Payne
Publisher: 
Dundurn
Fiction: 
Rating: 
6
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781459728196

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Edie and her mother Sydney practically live out of suitcases. They move frequently. We don't find out immediately that the reason why they move is that for the last five years, they have been hiding from Edie's abusive father. Soon after the book begins, Edie has to leave behind her pet cat as they abandon Toronto for London. Edie has to adjust to her new life in a new school in a new country, but before she finds her footing in London, her mother Sydney disappears from her night job. Edie steals some cash from school and sets out with her new friend Jermaine to try to find her mother.

Since You've Been Gone is a tough story to read, a sad tale of survival. It is not a long novella and the content is unsettling mostly because it deals with hard truths like surviving physical and verbal abuse and bullying. The content is bleak enough that it would be a tough subject no matter the approach.

I do believe a lot of readers have been spoon-fed sweet romance novels, and are not predisposed to be understanding of a point of view character who is sympathetic, but not particularly likable. I felt empathy for Edie, even though she is drawn with a harsh crayon. The bully character Precious is anything but, but she seems to be an accurate character, and the blooming friendship between Edie and Jermaine feels realistic, if accelerated. Much of the story rings true. Although much of the story lies below the surface and I think it might stand up to analysis because Edie's decision-making processes reflect the nature of the issues she's faced, I feel the author could have added a few more scenes at certain points. I did read in one sitting, and recommend for young adult readers.

bookcover: 
All That Glitters bookcover
Author: 
Michael Murphy
Series: 
A Jake and Laura Mystery
Publisher: 
Random House
Action-Adventure: 
Rating: 
7
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I like to read series sequentially, but though I am new to the Jake and Laura noir mystery series, I had no trouble figuring everything out. All that Glitters is a first person mystery in the voice of novelist and former Pinkerton Jake Donovan, whose diction is flavored like something out of 1933 Golden Era Hollywood movie. Donavon writes formula books about Blackie Doyle, and his long time girlfriend Laura is a Broadway actress just branching into talkies.

Jake and Laura travel from New York to Hollywood for Laura's part in The Midnight Wedding, a movie. The Carville Studio head pushes Jake into rewriting his troubled son's screenplay, and when the screenwriter is found dead, it is up to Jake to clear his name.

Michael Murphy does a credible job in making this era come to life. The characters are drawn to fit the time and include a various mix of stars, mobsters, (Leo Cartwright, Slick Ray Gambino), andAnnabelle (the LA cop). And of course, there's Donavon's redoubtable editor Mildred keeping him on track. Definitely a fun read.

The chemistry and banter is true to a style we recognize from the Thin Man series. The presentation of thirties Hollywood is light and brisk and a little effervescent.

Pages