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Review: Beautiful to the Bone by PG Lengsfelder

[ 2 ] May 27, 2016

beautiful to the bone book coverReviewed by Lauren Cannavino

Do not be intimidated by the length of PG Lengsfelder’s Beautiful to the Bone, the over 300 pages will fly as the story unravels. This shadowy tale centers on the intelligent and strange Eunis and the often terrible cast of characters that make up her life. Eunis is an albino and the book begins in her childhood with her mother essentially seeking justification from a doctor that “something is wrong with her”. Eunis is surrounded by cruelty and quickly comes to believe that not only is something “wrong” with her, but that she is also bad luck as everyone tells her, particularly her family. Her only ally for a short time is a three-legged mutt named Nemo, that gives her the love and companionship she so desperately lacks elsewhere. Eunis retreats into a life of solitude, study and calculated observation that will continue on long into her adult life. The novel, part of a trilogy, follows Eunis into her mid-thirties and creates a quiet darkness that creeps throughout the story.

Beautiful to the Bone is hard to categorize as there are themes of fantasy, magical realism, suspense, psychological drama and more. The text is not heavy as a result of these themes, but rather moves the story along in a very fluid manner, like the currents of the water that Eunis seeks refuge within. In high school she gets to hide while she performs as her school’s Beaver mascot and finally finds love and adoration, only while wearing a mask. Eunis is quietly obsessive, with beauty, with mating rituals, bodies and anatomy and more. She takes an unlikely job with a taxidermist and not only enjoys the work, she excels at it. Eunis is a hard character to read. She’s sympathetic because of the cruelty that she endures, but there is a prickling sense of foreboding that travels with her across the pages, never fully opening her up. Her investigative qualities make her exciting and her aloof demeanor makes her a fascinating, rather than polarizing figure. This seems to be exactly the plan that PG Lengsfelder intended. When Eunis meets her eventual husband Harold, it seems for a moment that she has finally discovered what happiness is, yet that too is fleeting. With the events that follow, there is a shift in the book and a shift in Eunis’ resolve. A different level of Eunis is exposed. The twists and turns that the story takes are fast-paced and well thought out, the evolution of the characters and the strong, twisted and interesting plot showcases Beautiful to the Bone as a novel that will appeal to all readers, looking to get tangled in a murky drama.

PG Lengsfelder crafts an interesting story about a woman often overlooked and while the story is not a coming of age tale, it does showcase a woman coming into her own through her own devices, with little outside assistance. Lengsfelder’s characters are strong and invoke a lot of powerful emotions, some that open up further contemplation of motives or processes. This story is one that will definitely stick with the reader after completion.

 

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.

Review copy was provided by PG Lengsfelder. 

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Review: Tara’s Halls by Tom Gallagher

[ 1 ] May 27, 2016

tara's halls book coverReviewed by Poppy Johnson

Tara’s Halls is a delightfully written memoir chronicling Tom Gallagher’s life in Ireland during the 1950s and 60s. He tells of his childhood in a large family–how the family loved, laughed, survived and sometimes barely managed. Gallagher traversed his childhood like a blind lamb and a brave bull at the same time. He lets readers into the inner circle of his life right away, revealing intimate details and showing them what it’s truly like to be Irish. The back of the book offers some regional word definitions, and there are black-and-white photos of the author and his family throughout the book.

There are 24 chapters in the book; these start rightly at the beginning of the author’s life and move easily through his upbringing. Gallagher lived on a farm, was sent to school for a time, had a first attempt at love, endured pranks and punishments from his elders, and grew up to join the FCA (Irish military), a Local Defense Force in his region. One by one, he watched his older siblings leave home for a better life, and remembered the personal and private tragedies he has had to endure throughout his life. He dreamed of going to America, and at last made good on that pledge to himself. He later lived in the United States and served with the American Armed Forces; he remains in the U.S. today.

What is most interesting about the book is that the facets of the author’s life are told through the eyes of a child. And the “voice” matures as he does through the ages (and pages). This story is absolutely charming, and the author’s perspective shines through so brightly that you feel as if you really know him, because he is the type of stand-up guy you’d want to call your friend.

I found myself laughing and smiling at many passages, and was not at all embarrassed as I read the book while out waiting in public places. When people stared at me for shamelessly enjoying while reading, I just held the cover up a little higher for them to properly read the title themselves.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Irish history, or to anyone who is aspiring to be a writer themselves. This author’s voice can only be described as sensational, interesting, and distinct. I only wish for this book to one day be used for a literature course. Maybe it could be titled, “Significant Irish Authors.” That is one course I’d love to teach myself.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Tom Gallagher. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom by Ensaf Haidar

[ 2 ] May 26, 2016

voice of freedom book coverReviewed by Meredith Kelly

Raif Badawai, The Voice of Freedom is a beautifully written memoir that tells the story of how the author, Ensaf Haidar, and her husband, Raif, met and came to be married, and of their subsequent struggles to preserve their family and their lives. Despite strict opposition from their families, Ensaf and Raif were determined to be together and refused to give up. After eighteen months of harassment, Ensaf’s family allowed her to sign the marriage contract.

The newlywed couple was able to settle into the traditional marriage arrangement quickly. In Saudi Arabia, men felt it was their duty to make all the decisions and to ensure the material well-being of the family. At first, Raif rarely consulted Ensaf with anything. Making new friends and reading more progressive books, Raif soon started an internet forum for Saudi liberals. As a result, he started granting Ensaf more rights as a woman and even asking for her opinion on different matters. This represented a major change in his attitude about the treatment of women–traditionally very archaic.

As the forum became more popular it came under the suspicion of the “Religious Police”, made up of clerics and ultra-conservatives. Raif’s liberal views were not favorable to the Holy State. As retaliation, the “Religious Police” tried to take the forum offline but were not successful. It was on a foreign server. They raided Raif’s office and home looking for evidence to bring a trial against him. Raif endured many hours of questions and often brutal beatings at the police station. Unfortunately, he also found out that the country moved to deny his “existence” and he lost all his rights, including his right to leave the country.

When Ensaf noticed the words “fatwa” imposed on Raif’s website, she was terrified. Fatwa is a legal opinion made by clerics that demands the death penalty. This message led Raif to insist that they must get away to another country and began an odyssey that took Ensaf and their three children to Egypt, and then Lebanon.

Soon after arriving in Beirut, Ensaf attempted to contact Raif with no success. Something was wrong. She finally got through to his lawyer and found out that Raif was in jail, held in “investigative custody” without any official charges. Raif’s father, Abu Raif, a devout Muslim, had gone public with his hatred for his son because of his lack of respect for the Islamic faith. Backed by the clerics and the ultra conservatives, Abu Raif made a public appeal on Facebook asking the king, his emirs and the Saudi government for the right to bring up Raif’s children.

Their need to escape ever more urgent, Ensaf worked with a lawyer at the UN to gain refugee status and immigrate to Canada. After a long and arduous journey, Ensaf and the children finally landed in Quebec in late 2013. With the help of Amnesty International, Raif’s case has received enormous international support. However, at the time this book was released,  Raif was still in jail in Saudi Arabia.

Voice of Freedom was an unforgettable book that I will carry with me for a long time. “Man’s inhumanity to man” is the first thought that came to mind when I finished Raif’s story. This is a must read for anyone interested in world politics and for those who believe in human rights for all.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Meredith has been an avid reader since childhood and loves to talk about books. A bit of a Luddite, she has only recently become acquainted with eReading and online book reviews. She finds exposure to such a wide audience of opinion on books fascinating.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Other Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Blog Tour: Someone Like You by Victoria Bylin

[ 1 ] May 25, 2016

someone like you book coverPlease join Victoria Bylin, author of Someone Like You, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours!

Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz

Bethany House specializes in Christian books, so it should come as no surprise that in many ways, they’re also inching toward mainstream readers. This marvelous tale is a great example of the type of books they do. It is definitely ‘Christian’ but not obnoxiously so. There are references to God or church on nearly every page, but they are seamlessly woven into the story, which is extremely well-written, in my opinion. (I love it when a book I’m reading just zips right along, not dislodging me from the story or the characters, prompting me to wonder, ‘now what did that mean?’ or just a plain old ‘huh?’) This one didn’t do that at all.

Julia Dare and Zeke Malone have a shared past, so it’s no wonder that sparks fly when they’re brought together in the present. After all, they work in compatible businesses, even if neither of them is aware of that fact when the story opens. Julia, a single Mom, is a party planner checking out a resort for a huge, new client–one she wants very much to keep. Zeke manages an older, traditional, even historic party / resort center not far from San Luis Obispo–one with major financial difficulties.

Nothing is ever as it seems, however. They are positioned to help each other, but in so doing, can they also help themselves? Julia is at the mercy of the arrogant attorney, Hunter Adams, who is her son’s dad, and is determined to make their son Max into his ‘mini-me’. Hunter will immediately go to the top of your ‘best’ enemy list, believe me. The patience that Julia expended on him will blow your mind!

Zeke is trying valiantly to keep Caliente Springs from being sold or worse, re-developed into a mall or condo cluster. The aging resort is currently owned by Ginger and George Travers, once a big-time sister / brother musical duo. George is happy owning CS, but Ginger wants out, as she considers it to be little more than a huge money-pit.

The author has done a fabulous job of creating very interesting and unusual people. These are not ‘stock’ characters by any means. There’s Ellen, Julia’s widowed Mom and Hunter’s Uncle Maury, who might be a prospective purchaser of CS, who is as different from his nephew as it’s possible to be! Chet, the head cowhand has his hands full, just wrangling the horses, but then, Ginger brings him another needy animal–the hard-headed Ladybug, who is a very belligerent goat. Several of the resort’s employees are also featured prominently.

Mix and match all of these characters and the underlying drama – will CS be allowed to continue as is? – with the wedding of Tiffany, the Travers’ orphaned god-daughter, to Derek. He’s just been offered a great job and Tiff wants to go with him as his wife. Therefore, she really wants her dream, full-blown wedding with 500 guests–all to be done in less than a month! Can Julia produce a miracle? Ingenuity goes a long ways at times, and you’ll cheer at the happier than usual ending.

Unless you’re a 100% dyed-in-the-wool atheist, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would be offended by the Christian or other references in this book. The plot and the characters, not to mention the smooth writing throughout, will easily carry you right along.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Bethany House Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Blog Tour: The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

[ 4 ] May 23, 2016

secrets of flight book coverPlease join Maggie Leffler, author of The Secrets of Flight, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours!

Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz

It is the most wonderful surprise to select a book to read because you think it’s about one particular topic, only to discover that it’s also about several other topics, all of which happen to coincide with your own particular passions. Such is the case with this book for me.

Early flight is of interest to me as I have an interest in all things mechanical. A few years ago, a girlfriend from high school (more years ago than either of us wants to admit) asked me to help her write a book about her experiences. Kay had been a pilot, which came as an interesting surprise to me, as we’d lost touch through the years. However, we did do just that, and the resulting book, Sound of Adventure, detailed the years she spent in a plane as well as other stories of her life.

Therefore, I chose The Secrets of Flight to review thinking I’d send it along to Kay when I’d finished reading it. To my surprise, when I began to read, I discovered that the book is about an early woman pilot during WWII (a bit earlier than my friend, to be sure) who in later years became the leader of a writer’s group in Pittsburgh. Mary Browning is 87 when the book opens, and there are chapters of the still-spunky modern-day Mary, mixed with the teen-aged Miriam Lichtenstein who happily followed her dream to become one of the female ‘experimental’ pilots of WWII.

The catalyst here is the modern-day teenager Elyse Strickler, who stumbles over the writer’s group through her determination to become a writer, over the objections of her family. She is half-Jewish, where Miriam was entirely so. How Miriam became Mary is only a small part of the story, which also sheds light on the attitude of Americans towards Germans, Jews, and others during the middle of the 20th Century.

The teen-aged Miriam (she’s 16 in 1938) is so entranced with the notion of becoming a pilot, she can barely think of anything else. Her parents insist that she get an education. Along with her regular classes at the University of Pittsburgh, there are also classes for aspiring pilots, known as the Civilian Pilot Training Program sponsored by the U.S. Government. One woman may be part of each ten-person class, and because of her self-discipline and intelligence, she is selected to be part of the second such group.

Her persistence pays off and she gets her license, only to discover that women will no longer be allowed to participate in the program. It’ll be three more years before she’ll finally get her chance to fly. The famed aviatrix Jackie Cochran, with the help of General Hap Arnold, is being established in Texas, and by hook or by crook, Miriam is determined to be part of that group.

She quickly establishes herself as part of the group of six women in the small squad, and learns even more technical aspects to go along with her instinctual understanding of the planes. One of her teachers realizes that she is Jewish, but the closest Jewish Temple is 40 miles away in Abilene. It’s part of the military code that she should have access to her religion, and he offers to take her there, as he knows one of the families who settled there.

In Abilene, when Miriam meets Solomon Rubinowicz, it’s very nearly love at first sight, but their pathway is full of obstacles. Sol wants to be a doctor, but is consistently refused admission to any of the schools in New York because he is Jewish, and the quota for such students is abysmally small. He finds a work-around by changing his name to Thomas Browning and buying false papers, thus finally winning a place. Now he can ask Miriam to marry him.

However, because of the war news, the death of her father, and the illness of her sister, Miriam cannot abandon her heritage and her family to become Mary, his wife. In May, 1945, her sister Sarah dies of TB, almost simultaneous to the discovery of a wonder drug (streptomycin) that might be a cure for the dreaded disease. Somehow, Solomon discovers this and visits Pittsburgh on the last night of Shiva to propose to Miriam once again. But this time, he gives her an envelope with a train ticket to NY, instructions to find his apartment, and a key to the front door.

Now, 40 years later, Miriam/Mary is 87, living alone in Pittsburgh when the girl Elyse enters her life. There is something about the girl that calls to the older woman, leading up to a most amazing dénouement.

The Secrets of Flight will stay with you for a while with all its layers of life that unfold as you read. There was an incredible amount of prejudice afoot in our country during the 30s and 40s, especially regarding women and those of ethnic origins. (My father came here from Germany in 1929, and we were forced to move during WWII from the home he’d built  for us, as our neighbors were convinced that he was somehow an agent for the Nazis.)

The author is a gifted story-teller, and she writes with wit and humor and grace while paying homage – and attention – to the historical details of the period in which she sets her engrossing tale.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: Orchard by Jack H. Bailey

[ 4 ] May 23, 2016

orchard jack h. bailey book coverI have 2 copies of Orchard by Jack H. Bailey to give away! Open to U.S. residents only

About the book

This much is true. It’s 1899. Harry Orchard is a member of the fire-breathing Western Federation of Miners. While other members labor underground to harvest the riches of the earth, Orchard is paid to kill men who are a problem for the union. He’s an interesting killer, well-liked by his peers and by the ladies.

After years of cat-and-mouse pursuit by legendary Pinkerton, Charles Siringo, when he’s arrested in 1906 for the murder of Idaho’s former Governor, Frank Steunenberg, he’s killed nineteen men in Idaho and Colorado. Even today, in the silver mining towns of northern Idaho, his name is spoken in whispers by those familiar with his deeds.

About the author

Jack H. Bailey, author of Orchard, descended from gold miners and grew up in and around the locales frequented by Harry Orchard. It was while living in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho that his fascination with Orchard began. Jack joined the navy at seventeen and served in WWII aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington until she was sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea. He graduated from USC with a BA in English and spent sixteen years in aerospace during which time he wrote two critically praised novels, The Number Two Man and The Icarus Complex. Jack wrote prolifically until his death in 2010. Most notably, Jack was an annual participant in the prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and was one of only a handful of writers to have advanced in the competition seven times. Follow his author page on Facebook.

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