Friday, July 5, 2013
This compilation of short stories and poems is eloquently written with a haunting tone that will remain with the reader long after the book is finished. Dillingham begins with the story of a young woman given to an older man by her father in exchange for land, setting the tone for this collection dealing with relationships, familial and not, each so elegantly presented the reader will not be satisfied with one reading but, rather, will want to return again and again simply to absorb the exquisite poetic cadence of her prose.
In the preface, Peters writes, “The people, places and stories presented in Dog Days and Dragonflies are, by and large, stories of my life.” This collection of short stories and poems presents a childhood in Appalachia surrounded by kin, from carefree preschool days spent with a great-grandmother with one leg to a dark day with a friend who whispers the ugly secret of child abuse. Of a young woman who tries to commit suicide to an older one who wishes nothing more than to kill her abusive husband. Of a teenager’s driving lessons with her grandfather to a mystical trip with a boyfriend to Salem, Massachusetts. From a cousin running down the ice cream truck to a young child watching her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother wrap meat. All beautifully written, many with a wistful tone, reflecting a time and place free of modern-day electronic gadgetry where families were bonded and held together through the good times and the bad.
Karen Godwell grows up ashamed of her Appalachian heritage. Karen does not know who her father is and her mother flits from one boyfriend to another, some of whom are abusive and from whom Karen tries to protect her brother and sister. After Karen’s mother abandons her children, Karen and her brother and sister are raised by their grandparents, frugal people who are hard-working and expect the same from their grandchildren. Karen leaves her past behind when she goes to college and works hard at losing her accent and reinventing herself. Years later, she holds a prestigious job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and lives a luxurious lifestyle. After her husband dies from cancer, Karen learns her brother has placed her grandmother in a nursing home and taken all her money and property. She packs up and, with her daughter, moves back to the mountains, intent on making things right. But her brother harbors a dark secret about Karen, one she has tried to forget, and now Karen must decide whether to do the right thing concerning her grandmother or risk losing everything if the secret is told. Rose Senehi is known and appreciated for incorporating environmental issues into her stories which are rich with historical and geographical detail. Karen is a woman hardened by her earlier life with a chip on her shoulder and anger issues. However, one empathizes with her feelings about her past and her conflict over protecting a brother whom she loves yet knows is mentally unbalanced and evil at heart. The characters surrounding Karen are well-developed and it is interesting that several are based on actual persons. The cultural and historical aspects of the Western North Carolina Appalachian region are intriguing and a welcome bonus to this compelling story.
This book tells the story of a day in the life of Buddy, dog of Bill Landry, well-known TV host of The Heartland Series. Buddy lives in the Great Smoky Mountains and likes to visit with hikers and his animal friends in the forest. This charming book with its colorful illustrations is sure to be a favorite among small children, including those who cannot read.
Travel agent Yvonne Suarez is thrilled to do some amateur sleuthing when she is asked by Fiona Batson, the housekeeper of a former client, to travel with her to Scotland. Fiona hopes to find out what happened to her brother Duncan, who disappeared shortly before his family moved to America in the ‘60s. Yvonne uses this excursion as a familiarization trip for her agency, touring historical attractions and checking out restaurants and hotels, while helping Fiona search for clues to her brother’s whereabouts. Yvonne begins her investigation at the wool mill where Duncan worked as he vanished shortly after collecting his last paycheck. Suspects spring up fairly quickly, from a disapproving father to a close friend to persons trying to thwart an allegation of corporate pollution. When Yvonne comes under fire, she’s sure she’s on the right track but can she find the killer before he stops her? Celtic Curse is a delightful addition to the Yvonne Suarez Travel Mystery series. Dingwall’s skillful descriptions of the beautiful Scottish countryside and its historical landmarks paint a realistic picture for the reader, as if actually visiting there. She brings back David Ludlow as Yvonne’s lover and the chemistry between the two is charming and sweet. She very adeptly reveals the complex layers of Yvonne’s past relationship with her abusive ex-husband and the thin line she must walk to ensure his relationship with his daughter is not damaged. The mystery is a good one with enough suspicious characters to keep the reader guessing throughout while being entertained with stunning imagery.
Charlie Keefe’s career as an artist is going nowhere until he starts painting his Jack Russell terrier, Pete. Then Charlie becomes known as “The Picasso of Pooch Portraits” and his work is in demand as are he and Pete. When Pete unexpectedly dies while Charlie is overseas, Charlie is devastated and has a hard time coping with his guilt at not being there when Pete died. A rescue worker suggests that fostering a dog may help him move past his grief and Charlie finally agrees to a Cavalier King Charles named Brownie. Brownie’s laid-back personality is totally opposite to Pete’s demanding one and Charlie soon discovers he wants to adopt this sweet girl. Into his life comes the ghost of Pete, who does not make life for Charlie easy. No one else can see Pete, whose sarcastic comments and attempts to sabotage Charlie’s and Brownie’s relationship frustrate Charlie, intrude upon his budding romance with the rescue worker and cause others to think Charlie just might be losing it. Russ Ryan does a wonderful job portraying the emotional impact losing a dog can have on its human as well as the love and companionship these special animals bring to our lives. The back-and-forth exchanges between Charlie and the ghost dog Pete are humorous and will bring lots of chuckles. The read is fast and sweet and fun and not one easily forgotten. Worth noting: Ryan is donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of the book to the Muttville Senior Dog Rescue.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Gracie Hollaman follows the instructions of voices in her head telling her to paint Jesus on three walls of her house, then leaves her wedding ring in the middle of her bed, gets in her car and drives away, leaving behind her husband and daughter to wonder what has become of her. After Gracie crashes her car in a small Southern town, she is taken in by Mama Toot, an elderly black woman, and her widowed daughter-in-law who accept her taciturn behavior and need to paint Jesus on rusty automobile parts. Gracie’s husband Ed, convinced she has left him, slowly begins to rebuild his life, unveiling a love for cooking which opens doors for him to a different kind of life. When Mama Toot discovers who Gracie’s family is, Gracie refuses to return to them and claims the voices in her head tell her her circle is closing and she needs to be the ex-wife. Although Gracie is placed under psychiatric care, she insists on listening to the voices while exhibiting an artistic talent that is being professionally noticed. Like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pool of water, Gracie’s impact on those around her is profound as each finds their own circle closing and another world opening to them. Arnoult joins the likes of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee in penning a poignant story of family dynamics, faith, heartache, love and salvation revolving around a woman suffering from schizophrenia. Arnoult’s beautifully written poetic prose invites re-reading and savoring of certain passages. She slowly peels away personas of her characters, revealing depths they are not initially aware of, while taking her reader on a journey of love and forgiveness, faith and healing.
When artist/children’s book author Nell Whitby slams her bike into the perpetrator trying to steal New Orleans Detective Alex Baker’s truck, she sets off a chain of events that leads to danger for both of them. Nell is a misplaced librarian who moved from Wyoming to New Orleans after her parents’ death and works for her best friend’s catering company while trying to get her writing career off the ground. Unaware she is related to two families of a mafia trifecta active in New Orleans for years, Nell is the last person to speak to her mobster grandfather before he is killed. Her life as she knows it comes crashing down around her when she learns this and that her parents were the offspring of two of the mafia families. Alex, trying his best to protect a woman he likes more than he wants to, begins to wonder what his father, a retired cop, and his former partner are hiding from him. As Alex and Nell dodge bullets and thugs trying to kidnap Nell, the chemistry between them jumps into high gear and it’s all Alex can do to keep himself and Nell alive. This author’s writing style is unique: a strong dose of noir balanced with humor and witty dialogue. The plot moves at a fast pace as does the chemistry between Alex and Nell. The characters are well-developed and likeable, the relationship between Alex and his 12 siblings fun, and the New Orleans ambiance conveyed so realistically the reader will feel as if they have been plopped down right in the middle of the Big Easy.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
CSI wannabe Jemma Chase is back for another thrilling adventure in the latest addition to the Appalachian Adventure Mystery series. Jemma's hosting a meeting of the local photography club when newspaper photographer Scott Barker convulses and dies. Jemma calls her boyfriend, Detective Tucker with the Watauga County Sheriff's Department, to the scene. Knowing Jemma's propensity to engage in amateur sleuthing, Tucker warns her to quell any desire to help investigate. Jemma's life is pretty busy as trail-leader, photographer and carpenter for her parents' dude ranch, yet she keeps her ears open for any information she can pass on to Tucker. Once poisoning is confirmed, Tucker and his partner begin to focus on the members of the photography group and it seems everyone has a secret that could possibly lead to murder if revealed. When a past love steps back into Tucker's life, he tries not to let this distract him from his case or his feelings for Jemma. Maggie Bishop excels at pulling her reader into the moment with vivid, colorful descriptions of locale and fauna. Jemma Chase is an appealing character, a strong young woman who matures more with each book. Her life as trail-leader for the dude ranch is an intriguing concept and Bishop's description of daily activities at the ranch is interesting and fun. With great skill, Bishop delivers subtle clues as to the murderer, providing her readers with a challenging mystery.
Brandy Alexander has a new job as puff piece reporter for a local television station in Philadelphia. Brandy replaced a popular reporter who was fired for being too hefty and none of her coworkers likes her because of this with the exception of anchorperson Tamra Rhineholt who befriends Brandy. But their friendship is short-lived when Tamra is found dead, apparently of a suicide. Brandy thinks there's more to it than that and is intent on proving her friend didn't kill herself, which places her own life in danger. To the rescue are the two sexy guys in her life, ex-boyfriend and cop Robert DiCarlo and new friend and bad-boy Nicholas Santiago. It's bad enough someone's trying to kill her but to make matters worse, Brandy's mother and father return to Philadelphia to attend the bar mitzvah of Brandy's brother and Brandy's still dealing with nightmares from her last life-threatening escapade. Shelly Fredman's Brandy Alexander No Such Thing As series offers readers humor, suspense, romance, and mystery, all delivered with great panache. Brandy is an endearing character, a somewhat klutzy woman who finds herself torn between her feelings for two men, one from the past, the other in the present and hopefully future. Her attempts at amateur sleuthing always get her in trouble but Brandy manages with each installment to land on her feet, ready to take on the world.
Dietrich Kohl, who calls himself Diet Cola, thinks he has the winning ticket for the lottery, but he's scheduled to go into the pen for the next little while so breaks into the home of Brody and Carrick Durgin and hides the winning ticket in a vase on their mantle. The vase is actually an urn containing the ashes of the partner and friend of their son Mack Durgin, a retired cop who has relocated to Arizona. The Durgins send the urn to Mack, who carries it with him while he decides what to do with the ashes and along the way meets up with Calliope Vrattos, who's on her way to California, trying to escape an overzealous Elvis impersonator whose jaw she broke. When Diet Cola gets out of prison, he breaks into the Durgins' home only to learn the urn is now in Arizona. During the bus ride to Arizona, Diet Cola hooks up with Frosty and Ace, two dim-witted shoplifters who know Mack and are just dumb enough to think they can get in on whatever Diet Cola's after. Once there, they pair up with the Elvis impersonator stalking Calliope who has planted a GPS on her car. Into the fray steps Zippy, a druggie with a shaved head toting a zipper tattoo, who thinks Mack's having an affair with his girlfriend. And one can't forget Poindexter, the javelina, who's been set free in the desert and misses eating brussel sprouts and TV time with his owner yet manages to lumber his way into the lottery ticket caper. Bob Sanchez provides his reader with one hilarious romp, rapidly firing scenes so over the top and humorous, the reader is constantly smiling or laughing. Sanchez even offers the javelina's point of view on occasion, raising the comedic bar even more. Think Elmore Leonard meets Carl Hiaasen, which makes for a fun, enjoyable read.
Young Ellen Brodsky feels as if she's always been at odds with her mother, who makes it clear she regrets having children. Ellen's father, a distant, cold man who works long hours, expects the children to be in bed when he comes home, offering Ellen no counterbalance to what she perceives as a loveless existence. Into her life steps Ellen's grandmother, who died before Ellen was born, to become Ellen's confidante and role model. As Ellen grows up, her dysfunctional family fractures and Ellen is forced to act more mature than she is as she struggles to take care of others with only her grandmother to console her and offer advice. When things seem to be improving, a tragedy occurs, and only then is a secret about her dead grandmother revealed to Ellen. Lissa Brown offers an intriguing look into the dynamics of a dysfunctional family circa the 1950s, told through the eyes of a young girl struggling to understand the reasons behind her parents' actions. Baby boomers most especially will identify with this book due to the author's skillful portrayal of the time and culture. Brown shows a great aptitude for describing scenes so realistic the reader will feel as if s/he has stepped back in time and become part of the story. The characters are well-developed and the story one that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.
Xmucane leads a time-travel expedition of 16 from Omeyocan to Earth, each landing at different places and different times, the last arriving 6000 solar years after the first. Their goal: to gain the healing properties of Earth's natural environment in an effort to save the population of Omeyocan from extinction due to a genetic flaw that prevents future breeding of males. As time draws near for the expedition to end, Xmucane, aided by her Great Serpent, leaves her original destination and travels to present-day Machu Picchu in the year 2011 to save Earth at the end of the Mayan Calendar in December, 2012. When Philadelphia science writer Keihla Benton joins an archeological team at Machu Picchu, she quickly learns her past is not what she thought and that if Earth and the civilization of Omeyocan are to be saved, she must join with her birth mother Xmucane to help defeat the Lord of Darkness and reestablish ties with her sister. T.W. Fendley has certainly written an interesting, suspenseful book. Genred historical fantasy, Zero Time could be classified as one heck of a sci-fi involving time travel and aliens, all tying in with the Mesoamerican culture and the end of the Mayan calendar. Although the names of characters are at first a bit difficult to read, with practice, the reader quickly overcomes this and is rewarded with an imaginative, compelling, smartly written read.
UT professor Donald MacIntyre is reported missing when he doesn't return home from an off-trail hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ranger Hector Jones puts together a search-and-rescue team and finds MacIntyre's body at the bottom of the Jumpoff, a cliff known to off-trail hikers. Since MacIntyre was an experienced, well-respected off-trail hiker and the nature of his injuries indicate foul play, Sevier County Sheriff's Detective Sally Connolly begins an investigation aided by Hector. They learn MacIntyre told his wife he thought he was being followed but the one person who had conflict with MacIntyre has an alibi for the date of his death. They focus on MacIntyre's wife, who was in the process of divorcing MacIntyre and is suspected of illegal activities, but she has no motive. Interviews with MacIntyre's friends begin to point to a murderer whose motive is senseless and deranged. Jenny Bennett brings her expertise as an off-trail hiker to Murder at the Jumpoff, weaving a galvanizing mystery into an environment that is tough and dangerous. Hikers will enjoy reading her vivid descriptions of different trails and locales within the Great Smoky Mountains and mystery readers will certainly enjoy a challenging and suspenseful plot. Sally Connolly is the ultimate investigator, tough, down-to-earth and likeable. Bennett skillfully introduces characters whose live intersect, at times superficially, yet eventually are revealed to be linked to the murder by one person.
There's trouble in the neighborhood of the Grapevine Detective Agency. A woman is murdered minutes after leaving a mysterious envelope with the owner of a local bar, a nearby wig shop is broken into and vandalized, and a black car constantly cruises the neighborhood. Neighbor Helen Tattaglia asks the detective agency to follow her husband, son of the head of a crime organization, but Elvin Suggs, Di Redding, and their friend Cobra, a former Marine sniper, are a bit suspicious of her real reason for hiring them. When the owner of the bar and Helen are subsequently murdered, Detective Reggie Combs calls on his friends at the detective agency to help look into the murders. Their investigation leads them back to the Tattaglia family and a doctor of ill-repute performing mysterious experiments. This latest installment of the `Nam Noir series is as thrilling as ever. Applewhite's unique writing style - think hard-boiled meets cozy - is intriguing and makes for an enjoyable read. The diverse personas of Elvin, Di and Cobra are a good combination and enhance the fast-moving plot. Readers will be challenged as they try to solve this not-so-easy-to-figure-out whodunit.
Although Odd Thomas claims to be only a fry cook, he possesses a special gift: he can see dead people. However, they are unable to communicate with him verbally which makes it hard for Odd to understand why they seek him out. In this latest installment of the Odd Thomas series, Odd and the enigmatic Annamaria have been invited to stay in a stone tower at Roseland, an estate built in the early '20s by a wealthy man named Constantine Cloy. There, Odd encounters a spectral young woman in white with blood on her chest riding a black stallion who manages to communicate to Odd that she wants him to save her son. As Odd explores the grounds of the estate, he encounters strange time shifts and other-worldly creatures. The small staff is elusive and secretive and some do not make much of an effort to hide their hostile feelings toward Odd. Odd eventually locates the imprisoned youngster in the mansion and promises to help him escape but this proves to be a dangerous undertaking. And what Odd discovers and witnesses as he seeks to free the boy prove to be suspenseful and horrendous. A very pregnant Annamaria as well as the German shepherd ghost dog Boo play tertiary roles at best in this book. As always, Annamaria enchants those she meets and speaks in riddles. Odd isn't really sure why he is with her but knows there is a reason not yet revealed to him. Adding a chilling context to the read is the statement Odd makes that his stories will not be published until after his death. Koontz excels at portraying evil characters and does not disappoint with this outing. Of interest is his introduction of Nikola Tesla into the character pool and the way in which he weaves the plot around Tesla's futuristic inventions. There's plenty of nail-biting suspense and horrific creatures and characters, ensuring another exciting read from the master of storytelling.
Time traveler Ashe, along with Lurch, a nanite who lives in her head, lands on a dying planet where she meets up with sexy Vidor Shan. Ashe has met Shan before in another time line although he doesn't remember her. With her time tracker suit broken and bereft of the technology upon which she depends, Ashe joins forces with Shan and his men as they search for Shan's lost brother while trying to escape aliens tracking Shan. Time's running out and Ashe needs to get off this planet but Shan is proving a major distraction even though he's off limits. This last installment of the Project Enterprise series proves as good as the ones before it, with a kick-ass heroine going up against an alpha male in a strange, alien world. Lurch is an intriguing addition to the cast of characters and the exchanges between the nanite and Ashe are amusing and fun to read. The witty dialogue and sizzling chemistry between Ashe and Shan make this fast-paced plot even more enjoyable. There's plenty of action-adventure, suspense and mystery on top of one heck of a romance all woven into a sci-fi all readers will enjoy, no matter which genre they prefer. Jones couldn't have ended her series with anything better than Kicking Ashe and this reviewer is disappointed to see the series end.
Author David Hunter is not only known for his well-written mysteries but also for the adroit humor he weaves into his nonfiction works. In "From Here to Absurdity: Pink Flamingos, Vibrators and Other Comical Events", he explores the absurd, from the history of vibrators to the rise of the ribbon people to the influx of the pink flamingo and a whole plethora of subjects in between. Fans will be pleased that Hunter shares stories from his days as a police officer, much coveted by his readers, as well as a peek into his personal life. What better read than one that offers a bit of the absurd wrapped around history, presented in a fun, humorous style.
Psychologist Abigael Gallant, left blind by her husband's bullet after he killed their daughter and subsequently himself, has worked hard to get her life back on track. Abigael makes an effort to live as normal a life as possible and is becoming well-respected as a psychologist who specializes in treating the newly disabled. When Detective Luke McCallister steps into her office, Abigael hopes to help him deal with his recent deafness while trying to ignore the chemistry between the two of them. Luke, who is adept at lip reading, ignores Abby's admonitions against a romantic relationship while refusing to acknowledge his condition will permanently affect his job and lifestyle. When Abigael is threatened and subsequently attacked then kidnapped, Luke steps into the role of cop and is determined to protect her but more times than not finds his deafness a problem in keeping the woman he loves alive. Luke realizes he must find a way to deal with his handicap while using the instincts and skills that made him a good cop. Although this sort of mystery has been done before (i.e., threatened woman, heroic cop), Polly Iyer adds a unique flavor by pairing a blind woman and deaf man and making it work. The plot moves at a quick pace and Abigael and Luke are likeable characters. Iyer relays the world of the blind and the deaf in a realistic way, allowing their frustrations with their inabilities to shine through while showing their world can be very close to normal.
Englishwoman Michelle Hallman owns a mysterious consulting firm which she inherited from her uncle, a former British intelligence agent. Michelle has no close friends or relatives and prefers not to be in a relationship due to her work which can be dangerous. When she's called to the French Riviera on business, she meets psychiatrist Daniel Reiner and is immediately attracted to him but a bit wary of the attention he shows her. Back in the States, Michelle is hired by a woman to investigate the circumstances behind the sudden disappearance and alleged death of her husband, a CIA agent. Michelle refers this woman to Daniel when she realizes she is suffering from depression and Daniel is instantly back in Michelle's life, tagging along and insisting on chasing clues with her. Michelle's investigation leads them to the CIA, National Security Agency and KGB, where they learn nothing is as it seems and danger lurks around every corner. Seewald pens a tight plot filled with intrigue, mystery, suspense and romance. The chemistry between Michelle and Daniel is nicely delivered and the banter between them engaging. The mystery is one readers will be challenged to solve and the fast-paced plot will keep them vested in the story. Comment Comment | Permalink
Nick and Amy Dunne live the good life in New York City, both with careers they love and lots of money to spend. But when the recession hits and they lose their jobs, they’re at a loss as to what to do. Nick decides they should move back to his hometown in order to take care of his mother, dying of cancer, and his father who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Nick quickly fits into this completely diverse lifestyle but Amy has a hard time adapting. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy mysteriously disappears. At first the police treat it as a missing person but when evidence of a massive blood spill in the kitchen turns up, they begin to suspect murder and their eyes turn toward Nick, who has been acting suspicious since the beginning. This book is told in two sections, each one with alternating points of view of Nick and Amy. Gillian does a good job slowly revealing facts and providing nicely delivered twists while peeling away the layers of the personas of Nick and Amy, These two are not likeable characters although this does not take away from the read but rather enhances it. The ending may bother some readers although others may see it as the ultimate twist to the story.
Jake, owner of Jake of All Trades, is content with his life. He finds enjoyment and satisfaction helping people through his job and is engaged to Angelina, the perfect woman in every aspect. When Jake is called to the apartment of Zoe, a well-known and wealthy artist, to stop her toilet from overflowing, Jake is a bit put off by Zoe, who seems a bit eccentric. Thanks to Zoe’s dog FuFu, Jake trips and hits his head on the toilet and passes out. While waiting for the paramedics to come, he and Zoe find themselves bonding and quickly become friends. Over the following months, the two keep in touch by phone and Jake begins to wonder if his perfect life is not so perfect after all while self-isolating Zoe tries to find ways to deny her attraction to Jake. Morgan Mandel has put together a charming romance with two completely opposite characters. Jake and Zoe are very likeable and the reader roots for their relationship to develop, even though Jake is engaged to someone else. An added bonus is Zoe’s Chinese Crested dog FuFu. A nice addition to the story is the way Jake and Zoe encourage each other to live up to their full potential. All in all, this novella is a fast, entertaining read that will hold the reader’s attention throughout.
Mackie Sue Beanblossom and Daisy Marie Hazelhurst, best friends since birth, have shared trials and tribulations together through the years. But nothing has prepared them for menopause and all the horrific accoutrements that accompany it. Mackie Sue, a principal, has a demanding job that keeps her busy most hours of the day. Daisy Marie, a cosmetologist, owns her own business but deals with the stress of pleasing her clientele. Both find themselves facing challenges in their marriages, one of which becomes stronger while the other faces loss and hardship. Through it all, their friendship remains steadfast and true and their commitment to one another unwavering. Susan Whitfield has penned a humorous tale of the menopausal effects on women and their ways of dealing with it while trying to live as normal a life as possible. The friendship between Mackie Sue and Daisy Marie is endearing and their antics provide for lots of laughs. But this is not limited to a comedic book. There’s also action, suspense, romance, a bit of a mystery and a touch of sadness. Consider Slightly Cracked one of those books that begs to be read in one sitting, one the reader will not want to put aside even after they are finished.