Saturday, December 17, 2011

Heart of Ice by Lis Wiehl and April Henry

Heart of Ice is a book in a series from The Triple Threat Club involving three women; an FBI agent, an FBI prosecutor, and a TV reporter. They are best friends and at times work together and solve the worst of crimes.

In Heart of Ice, a series of gruesome murders becomes very personal. The reader follows this suspense mystery while sharing how good friends stick together during adversity.

The strength of the authors is character development. It would be advantageous if readers followed the series from the beginning. As I started with Heart of Ice, it left me at a disadvantage. It would help the story flow easier in the beginning if I was familiar with the three main women characters and the fact this was part of a series.

I recommend Heart of Ice for readers who enjoy an easy read suspense mystery novel. It is a quick read that held my attention until the murders were solved. It concludes with an unknown conviction for the next book in the series.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ryan’s Journal, A Young Man’s Search For His Place In The World

I was visiting my son, Rich, at his home, when he handed me a book he received in the mail. It was a journal, Ryan’s Journal, written by his good friend Ryan Anderson. Ryan died in August of 2009. He was a Captain in the United States Army.

It was a bittersweet read for me. I knew Ryan for years as he and Rich were good friends as kids. Every high school band concert Rich performed in, Ryan performed in. Different instruments, same band. Ryan shared Thanksgiving with my family and visited before and after his journey to 34+ countries.

Rich shared Ryan’s journey early on by joining him in South America for about three months, from February - May 02. (May 7th to be exact, he surprised me by returning on my birthday!) Ryan writes in detail about their adventures. So this part of Ryan’s Journal was the best for me!

While reading, at times I laughed, other times I cried. Ryan wanted to accomplish so much in life, and to have it taken from him so early is just so wrong. But the book is about what Ryan did accomplish. He wanted to travel and so he did. I’m glad he took the time to write down what he learned; from meeting different people, experiencing different cultures, and understanding different religions. (Ryan went to Az. State College and studied Religion/History.)

Ryan fell in and out of love, tasted new foods, and got caught up in government politics. He was an avid reader during his journey, reading up to four books a day!

I recommend Ryan’s Journal for anyone who would like to travel to foreign countries and get a first-hand insight into daily life. So much is shared by Ryan that you will feel like you knew him in his short life. He was 34 years old when he made his last journey.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Saturday, November 19, 2011

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

From the farms of England as a working horse, to the battlefields of Germany during WWI, Joey, a Thoroughbred horse, talks in his own voice about his life as a war horse.

Horses were invaluable during the war effort. Without horses there was no way to carry guns, ammunition or water for the troops. They were used for cavalry and ambulances to carry the wounded. A war horse surviving this life was rare. But not every War Horse was lucky enough to have an owner like Albert.

Albert is a young teenager who treats Joey like a family member. Due to circumstances beyond his control, Joey’s father must sell him as a war horse to the English cavalry. This is beyond devastating to young Albert and he is determined to eventually find Joey someday. He can’t wait to enlist legally, so when he becomes 16, he lies about his age to find Joey.

Morpurgo writes this story with young adult readers as his audience. It is wartime for a war horse and he provides his readers with appropriate war scenes. Young adults will understand what every adult knows; war is hell. The historical fiction narrated by Joey himself is perfect for children.

Another side of this wonderful story for readers is the knowledge we learn about horses in general. The public may or may not know what Morpurgo brilliantly teaches us. There are many life lessons learned when the reader finishes the book; lessons relating to both people and animals.

I recommend War Horse for all ages.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Barley Hole Chronicles: From Hell to Hamburg by Harry Leslie Smith

Smith writes a true love story during wartime in Hamburg 1947. The time span is during the Great Depression and ends in Germany post war. The love story involves the author and his wife, Friede.

Smith was in Hamburg when Germany surrendered. He was a lonely teenager who had volunteered to join the RAF (Royal Air Force) in December of 1940 -1947. He extended his term(s) with the RAF without a second thought. There was nothing for Smith back in England, being he was uneducated and had no vocation. It made sense to stay put.

Smith fell in love with Friede, A German girl. This was taboo, a Brit was not supposed to have true feelings for a German. Smith describes the challenges of their courtship. Friede had deep rooted family problems; she was illegitimate and was ashamed and confused.

During their relationship, Smith kept Friede and her family alive stealing food from his base. Rations were never enough to survive. Being post war, there was nothing but poverty and hunger.

Smith writes in detail about post-war survival with Friede and her family. However, it does end with wedding bells; a precedent for post-war marriages between Brits and Germans.

The Barley Hole Chronicles summarizes both of Smith’s memoirs; 1923 and Hamburg 1947. (1923 is a separate review.)

I recommend The Barley Hole Chronicles to history buffs as well as readers learning about war. A first-hand account is priceless.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Saturday, November 12, 2011

She Had No Choice by Debra Burroughs

She Had No Choice is a family drama which originates in Sonora, Mexico. The year is 1918 during the Spanish influenza epidemic. The Ramirez family has already lost four children due to the outbreak. Juanita and Emilio make the decision to give up the land and home they own in Mexico and flee to Arizona to save their family.

Once in Arizona, the family is free from the flu epidemic; however, life is far from easy. Work is hard to get for migrant farm workers and the family suffers. Juanita dies and Emilio is left with his sons and two daughters. He sends one of his daughters, Sophia, to live with his sister, Consuela, in Phoenix. He thinks she will have a better life. For six years Sophia works as a servant girl for her Tia and the abuse only ends with Tia Consuela’s death.

Sophia makes poor decisions regarding men. She ends up alone and pregnant with her first daughter, Eva. Her second relationship she is a victim of domestic abuse from Carlos, who continually beats and abuses her and her children for 25 years. She has a child almost every other year and her life is a living hell.

Eva’s life is not going as expected. She is abandoned with two children. She is determined to rise above her adversities while trying to help her mother escape abuse from Carlos.

Does Eva succeed? Does Sophia have any part in the plan? Does either woman find real love?

Burroughs writes with such intensity and you feel what each character is going through on each and every page. She states the book is inspired by a series of true stories. I feel this enhances the reader’s expectations.

The story ends in 1960 and I am hoping for a sequel! Sophia and Eva, along with their families, have come a long way since 1918. I want to follow their lives and I have no doubt all readers who enjoy She Had No Choice will agree.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Dig: Zoe and Zeus by Audrey Hart

Greek Mythology has never been more entertaining than in Audrey Hart’s novel, The Dig: Zoe and Zeus. Hart integrates values and morals for the young adult readers while taking all her readers on a journey back in time, 3,000 years to be exact. The year is 1000 BC, and the place is Crete, an island in Greece.

Zoe is a 17-year-old teenager who attends Greeley Academy, a boarding school in Connecticut. She is a loner with a laissez-faire attitude about her appearance, such as her cowlick and her smile. She doesn’t like groups and she feels like an outcast most of the time. She has trust issues, but she does have a best friend, CeeCee, who has a different way of seeing and doing things, especially when it comes to boys, but nevertheless they are best friends.

Zoe lost her parents when she was 12 years old and her Aunt Sophia and Uncle Alex look out for her. She loves them both very much. Aunt Sophia and Uncle Alex wait for Zoe to arrive in Greece for her seventh annual archaeological dig. Being the loner that she he is, Zoe is looking forward to being alone and doing what she loves best, getting down and dirty in a dig.

But this is not the archaeological dig Zoe expected. She ends up traveling through time to the year 1000 BC, where she is a goddess who possesses magical powers. She meets all the other Greek gods, goddesses, nymphs and more in the Kocaba forest. Now keep in mind, Zoe doesn’t like Greek mythology. She thinks the gods are unlikable, impulsive, and egotistical. Then she meets Zeus, who ends up . . . well; you must read the book to find out!

There are outstanding subliminal messages hidden in The Dig: Zoe and Zeus. They address friendship, trust, self-esteem, bullying, and love, just to name a few. Hart integrates academic lessons learned in school that students believe have no relevance. She introduces new vocabulary and endless metaphors to enjoy. She uses current TV shows and pop culture to keep the young reader interested.

I recommend The Dig: Zoe and Zeus for readers of all ages. Young adults will truly enjoy this adventure while secretly learning life lessons. Adults will appreciate the humor Audrey Hart sneaks in just for us, such as the reference to the Three Stooges!

I look forward to the second book in this trilogy!

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Sunday, October 9, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne

This is a short biography of John Ronal Reuel Tolkien. He was born in 1892. He was an English writer, poet, philologist, (lover of learning and literature) and university professor. Horne wants his readers to know Tolkien’s Christian faith impacted his writing.
Born in South Africa he and his mother moved to England after the loss of his father. The beautiful landscape of England and his mother’s Christian influence shaped his writing style. He lost his mother when he was 12 years old, but he credited his love of language to her as she taught him Latin and French. He also learned Greek and Finnish in school.
Tolkien lived through WWI and WWII spending a short amount of time in a war zone. Even though the time was short, it also influenced his writing.
Tolkien became an English professor at Leeds, where he met and befriended C.S. Lewis. Lewis complimented Tolkien on his book The Fellowship of the Ring after reading the manuscript.
In this short biography, Horne wants his readers to know that J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing not only entertains but could challenge and inspire his readers.
Tolkien died in 1973. He is best known for the classic fantasy books, The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

When I read Hemingway’s first paragraph in his story, A False Spring, I was captivated: “When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.” These words epitomized young Hemingway’s harsh life in Paris.

In his story, The End of an Avocation, there is a paragraph where Hemingway described his feelings when he stopped working on horse races: “When I stopped working on the races I was glad but it left an emptiness. By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better. I put the racing capital back into the general funds and I felt relaxed and good.” These words expressed a complicated time in young Hemingway’s life in Paris.

In the story, Hunger was a Good Discipline; Hemingway is a starving artist, literally. He shared his feelings: “I had not been worrying, I thought. I knew the stories were good and someone would publish them finally at home. When I stopped doing newspaper work I was sure the stories were going to be published. It is necessary to handle yourself better when you have to cut down on food so you will not get too much hunger-thinking. Hunger is a good discipline and you learn from it.” These words represented the reality in young Hemingway’s life in Paris.

During the tumultuous 1920’s, Hemingway struggled as a writer. In A Moveable Feast, he vividly tells his stories and describes his grueling daily routine walking the streets of Paris to settle into a café in his effort to become a successful writer. He wanted to be recognized and praised in the literary world.

Hemingway writes with his direct style about his eccentric friendships with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. These relationships and conversations are priceless. His wife and son are mentioned, but Hemingway’s purpose is to recollect his memories as a struggling writer.

The stories in A Moveable Feast are worth reflecting upon as they are thought provoking and real. I will end with the story Scott Fitzgerald where Hemingway says, “I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life.”

Hemingway began writing A Moveable Feast when he was fifty-eight years old. It was published posthumously in 1964. He committed suicide at the age of sixty-two.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Is Turn of Mind a murder mystery or a 1st person narrative of an orthopedic surgeon living with Alzheimer’s/Dementia? Alice LaPlante has combined the two for an extraordinary read inside the deteriorating mind of Dr. Jennifer White.

Dr. White is a 64 year old hand surgeon who becomes the prime suspect in her best friend, Amanda’s, murder. Reason being, four of her fingers are surgically removed from her hand.

Realizing this book is indeed a novel, I thought it was a fascinating way to enter the confused mind of a person suffering from this horrid disease. LaPlante’s use of a murder mystery for readers to experience this journey is genius.

Dr. White has two children, a son and a daughter, whose characters highlight the family dynamics brilliantly. It is another malfunctioning family, true, but LaPlante’s characterization of the family, friends, even the caretaker, make the difficult subject matter an outstanding read.

One who has a medical background may have some issues with facts, no doubt, but to the naked eye, Turn of Mind is a book of interest which leaves the reader feeling compassion for anyone suffering from Alzheimer’s/Dementia disease.

I recommend this book for mystery lovers as well as readers curious about Alzheimer’s or Dementia. My favorite books are written in first person, and I was not disappointed. For a first novel, you knocked it out of the park Alice LaPlante!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Reviewer: Bill Moyers Journal, The Conversation Continues

Book Reviewer: Bill Moyers Journal, The Conversation Continues

Bill Moyers Journal, The Conversation Continues

Bill Moyers was a guest on Tavis Smiley recently. It was great to visit with Bill as I miss his PBS show, Bill Moyers Journal. His last show was in April/May 2010. His book, The Conversation Continues, brought back memories.
On TV, I thoroughly enjoyed Bill’s engaging conversations about current events. He spoke with authors, poets, artists, scholars, political figures, and diverse activists, to name a few. My favorite conversations were with writers. He not only asked profound questions, but he invited his audience inside the author’s homes where we witnessed their idiosyncrasies. What fun!
When Tavis interviewed Bill on his show to promote his new book, I relived the conversations from TV. If you have never seen Bill’s show, you will enjoy this book. The written conversations will allow you to feel like you are viewing the TV show from the comfort of your living room.
The book begins with an introduction conversation with Jon Stewart. I understood completely why Bill chose Jon to introduce his book. See if you agree when you read it. Altogether, there are 47 conversations in the book. As I read them, I recalled the conversations on TV. I remembered that some made such an impression on me that I purchased the books immediately after watching the show. For example, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot wrote a book called, The Third Chapter. She talked about her book in such detail that when I purchased the book, I was very disappointed. There was nothing knew, she said it all to Bill!
Another book I purchased was John Lithgow’s, The Poets’ Corner. John was so inspiring talking to Bill about specific poems that I knew I had to own the entire book. I also purchased the CD collection of the poems. These are not John’s poems, they are a collection of poems, or as John puts it, The One-And-Only Poetry Book For The Whole Family. On the CD the poems are read by John and very special guests, some I recognized, some I did not.
I purchased Susan Jacoby’s book, The Age of American Unreason. I had to purchase this book because I needed words on a page to help me understand the words she said to Bill!
I recommend this book, Bill Moyers Journal, The Conversation Continues, to readers of all ages. There is a conversation in it for everyone. Bill Moyer is an extraordinary journalist. It’s always nice to have a picture to go with a conversation and Bill includes this feature for each of his conversations. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I was browsing the best seller books at the library when I saw this audiobook, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. The short paragraph summarizing the book looked intriguing. It was read by Carrington MacDuffie and I am so glad I checked it out.

This is the story of Ernest Hemingway told from his first wife’s point of view. Her name was Hadley Richardson. The couple met in Chicago in 1920, Hemingway was 21 and Hadley was 28. They married in 1921 and the marriage lasted for six years.

Hemingway suffered with what we call PTSD today. He also had family issues: an overbearing, judgmental mother, and a father who committed suicide. Hadley shared the same tragedy as her father also committed suicide. She was naïve and head over heels in love with Hemingway. She was his number one fan and supporter of his writing career.

Hadley sacrificed her dreams for Hemingway. They moved to Paris because Hemingway felt jealous that his peers were being recognized. They became friends with famous people, such as, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The norm for the decade was to drink all day and into the night while enjoying the Jazz Age in Paris. They kept up with their new friends by partying, but never their financial status. They lived by what we call today, pay check to pay check.

Hemingway was a womanizer. The modern woman was hard for Hemingway to resist, even though he loved Hadley and their son very much. Most men had mistresses in Paris at that time and Hemingway was no exception. Eventually this is what led to the demise of their marriage. Hadley struggled too long with her decision to end the marriage. She became a stronger woman after the divorce.

Hemingway wed three more times after his divorce from Hadley. He never really loved another woman as much as he loved Hadley. He committed suicide at the age of sixty-two.

I love Paula McLain’s writing style. She waits to expose the secrets and thoughts of Hemingway and Hadley at just the right time throughout the story. It made the book enjoyable and I especially enjoyed listening to the audiobook.

This book has sparked my interest in reading more about Hemingway. This is the ultimate compliment to Paula McLain.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fall of Giants, Book One of the Century Trilogy, by Ken Follett

Fall of Giants is a gripping story about WWI taking place between the years 1911-1925. It encompasses the hell of war on the field as well as the hell families live at home. Ken Follett introduces his readers to many different families from America, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, and Wales. The historical characters include presidents, kings and queens, earls and dukes, lords and ladies, and dukes and duchesses. Readers are able to experience the life of the famous as well as the life of the poor. We become privy to family secrets entangled in love/hate relationships.

There are many books written about WWI, so as a reviewer I don’t think it’s necessary to write about WWI facts. Having said that, readers need to remember this is a historical novel. We are at the mercy of the author as far as the accuracy of his research. Keeping this in mind we can enjoy a wonderful story with engaging characters.

At times I found myself thinking politics hasn’t changed. There was lying and cover ups during WWI and the same occurs in politics and government today. This is a well written historical novel and it makes reading and learning about WWI pleasant.

This is Ken Follett’s first book in his trilogy. WWII seems a likely second book. I look forward to following the lives of the characters from Fall of Giants as they live through yet another World War.

Book review by Mary Crocco

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Adventures of Hal

Hal by Derek Haines

It’s a mad world on Gloth as experienced through the eyes of Halbert Hoop, Hal to the reader. Hal is a well-developed character who gets himself into unusual and kooky situations. It’s great fun for the reader to share Hal’s strategies in unraveling and solving these situations.

Hal’s adventures arriving and living on Gloth are unpredictable and fun to read. The characters he meets are as unique as the menu items he consumed in order to survive. Hal’s quest to return to Erde, better known as Earth is driven by . . .

There is no way I will spoil the story, the unpredictability is the best part of the book!
I recommend Hal for readers who enjoy whacky characters and crazy places. It’s an enjoyable story and once again, Derek Haines strength in developing his characters is terrific.

Book review by Mary Crocco

Monday, May 9, 2011

Johann Sebastian Bach by Rick Marschall

Bach was born on March 21, 1685 in Germany, born into the Lutheran faith. As a church musician, Bach did not preach about music, his music preached about Christ. He had a personal relationship, not a professional duty, with Christ.

Bach began composing music at the early age of ten. His lifelong studies of the Bible and of Lutheran doctrine were the backbone of his performances. Church music was everywhere, and Bach’s performances were welcomed in churches other than his Lutheran church. His secular works were performed at salons, public houses, gardens, and concert halls. He believed music was easy to understand and hard to explain.

Bach could be funny ‘through’ music, but he was always serious ‘about’ music. His guide was always Martin Luther. He felt it a privilege to serve God by composing music, teaching music, conducting choirs, and arranging worship services. At the time, music played a major role in making the life of everyday people bearable, pleasant, and joyful, and Bach played an important part of that role. He survived many challenges because he adhered to Scripture, while others may have also benefited from doing the same.

Bach was a strong proponent of women singing. This was during a time when women were considered second-class citizens who did not share men’s rights.

Other composers sought out Bach to discuss music and hear him play. When public taste changed, the baroque style of music was felt in churches, concert halls, and opera theaters. Historians have said the closing of the Baroque period was the year Bach died, being the end of an era. The year was 1750, the place still in Germany. He was blind the last four months. In his final days he composed a great fugue based on the letters of his name - B-A-C-H. It was not ‘about’ God but ‘to’ God.

Bach suffered great loss in his life. He fathered twenty children, eleven sadly died. His first wife, Maria, died in 1720. His family was serious; however, they were capable of silliness, sarcasm, and nonsense.

I recommend this book by Rick Marschall to readers of all ages. It educates the reader beyond the usual facts, in this case, music knowledge. He portrayed Bach as a well-rounded musician whose life evolved around Christ. The Appendix and Notes are appreciated and necessary for the musically challenged reader.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Final Summit by Andy Andrews

David Ponder has been chosen to lead The Final Summit for three reasons; he is the only Traveler currently alive, he has been judged to be effective in using wisdom he gathered as a Traveler, and he is the only Traveler to represent the common man. And so the story begins . . .

David has lost his way and forgot all he learned when he was a Traveler in time. The archangel, Gabriel, is God’s servant, and is told to have David rediscover the path he has abandoned. It isn’t only David who lost his way; however, all of humanity needs redirection.

Previous Time Travelers; Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, King David, and Joan of Arc, just to name a few, add to the discussion and help David answer this question: What does humanity need to do, individually and collectively, to restore itself to the pathway toward successful civilization?

The discussion leading to the answer is absolute genius in writing. It is impossible to put the book down until the problem is solved. Andy Andrews integrates the perfect amount of humor to keep his readers entertained. For example: Abraham Lincoln is reminiscing a time when he had dinner at the table where the discussion was held. He tells everyone the table was handmade, saying, “Of course, you know, the Boss’s Son is a carpenter.”

I recommend The Final Summit for readers of all ages. It was enjoyable and inspirational. A bonus is the historical figures dialogue where history comes alive.

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Book Review by Mary Crocco

Sunday, April 3, 2011

1923: A Memoir by Harry Leslie Smith

1923: A Memoir by Harry Leslie Smith

The author, Harry Smith, describes his birth as coming into the world with no fanfare, no glad-handing in February 1923. He was born into poverty, abuse, and alcoholism during the Great Depression in England. The matriarch in the family, Lillian, had abandoned Harry’s father, Albert, to put food on the table. She fled numerous places called home, and accepted another man only to feed her kids. Lillian was hardly the loving mother; however, Harry did love her as he did his father. But not for Harry’s sister, Mary, he never would have survived. She provided the emotional and physical stability for Harry even though she was only three years older.

Harry discovered a library where books offered him much solace in his chaotic life. He read and dreamed of escaping the place he called home. He took a bicycle ride to York and after observing a beautiful medieval cathedral he experienced an epiphany; he would someday escape from King Cross, Halifax, and Yorkshire. There was another world out there and Harry would find it.

Harry did see more of the world, but not always in a good way. He joined the Royal Air Force during WWII. He experienced the horrors of war that every man and woman in the service should never have to experience.

Harry tells his stories of home and war like a good novel. He describes his family and war buddies as if we were family and kin.

There are many books written about WWII and The Great Depression, however written in a memoir creates a different read. If not for the true to life language of Harry’s experiences, this story could be on school book shelves for students studying history.

I am hoping for a sequel as the ending leaves the reader intrigued. Glad you survived, Harry, to write this memoir. Hope to read more about you and Elfriede.

Book review by Mary Crocco

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dead Men by Derek Haines

The Hell of Divorce

This is a story about the hell of divorce from the point of view of three men. They are angry, bitter, depressed, and lonely. They have lost their jobs, homes, and their children. Any money they eventually earn goes to child-support. They feel the Family Court favors women and they try to beat the system. These men did not exactly grow up in nurturing homes, which definitely adds to their outlooks on life.

Within a few months, divorce turned three men into confused and bored women haters. David and Tony’s wives discarded them, both had cheated on them. Steve felt his wife measured him by his salary, which he increased with petty criminal activities.

David, an innovative salesman; Tony, a hard working owner of a transport company; and Steve, a well-qualified and dependable accountant, are reduced to feeling useless and worthless to their families and society in general. They end up twisting their skills using illegal activities.

The story begins in their birth city of Perth, Australia. The men move to Sydney, Australia where they all meet by chance, calling themselves The Three Musketeers. This is where the story develops. The reader experiences the trials and tribulations these men experience during and after their divorces. We listen to the ramblings of broken men who can’t be seen as weak. They don’t know how to talk about their emotions and/or feelings in a healthy way. We watch how they do handle life, which isn’t very pretty.

Readers will have different opinions regarding how the story ends for Tony and Steve. David’s ending, where he meets his match, will have readers hoping for the best for him.

The book is dark as the story is rough. Derek Haines strength is developing his characters, and he does an extraordinary job describing three distasteful men who deal with their circumstances in the only way they knew how. While doing so, he does offer his readers a different perspective in the difficult matter of the hell of divorce.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck

A summer job like no other!

Kelsey, a young woman looking for a summer job, lands one in a local circus in Oregon. She takes care of a beautiful white Bengal tiger named Dhiren. Kelsey is unaware of the true mystery of this white tiger as she develops a caring relationship with him.

After two weeks caring for Dhiren, the owner of the circus announces that Dhiren was bought and will be set free in a tiger preserve in India. Kelsey is overcome with mixed emotions. She wants the tiger to be free, but knows she will miss him terribly.

Mr. Kadam, the man who bought Dhiren, realizes how much Kelsey loves his tiger, and how Dhiren responds to Kelsey, and asks her to take the trip to India with him to assure a good trip for Dhiren. Both Mr. Kadam and Dhiren have hidden motives unbeknown to Kelsey.

This is where Kelsey’s summer job becomes like no other! She finds out the true mystery of Ren, the beautiful white Bengal tiger, who she innocently took care of back home in the circus.

The story doesn’t miss a beat involving readers to experience the deep culture of India, along with its magical legends and mythology. The adventures take place as Kelsey and Ren try to survive the creatures of India’s jungles. At the same time, the readers share the budding romance between Kelsey and Ren as Kelsey tries to break the Tiger’s Curse. It’s impossible to stop reading until we find out if Kelsey and Ren becomes a couple and if the Tiger’s Curse gets broken.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Cowboy's Touch, by Denise Hunter

Chicago city girl meets Montana Big Sky cowboy. Abigail is a workaholic expose writer who decides to expose Wade, the handsome cowboy, in an effort to save her mother’s magazine in Chicago. Circumstances get in the way and the article is never printed for the public.

It’s the circumstances that draw the reader to enjoy this western style romance. There is a spiritual message about redemption and forgiveness. The characters wrestle with these emotions and it’s their decisions that compel the reader to reflect on our own decisions.

Denise Hunter describes her main characters, Abigail, Wade, and his daughter Maddy, with amazing detail. The reader feels part of the family from beginning to end. At times we experience ambiguous feelings as they struggle with their decisions.

I recommend A Cowboy’s Touch to readers of all ages, definitely for the young adult ladies. Wade’s daughter, Maddy, is a spunky character the young reader will thoroughly enjoy. It’s a nice way to spend an evening, and a bonus if you like cowboys!

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Book review by Mary Crocco

Friday, March 11, 2011

Louis, by Derek Haines

Derek Haines describes his friend, Louis, as an enigma. He reflects how Louis was someone who taught him how to imagine. Haines engages his readers to travel alongside Louis to all parts of the world. At the end of the trip, we all wish we were friends of Louis.

Teremum was born in Cairo. As a young boy, his almost non-existent family contributed to a perfect resume for being a spy in the British Secret Service. As a spy, Louis led a secret life where he used both his Egyptian and English heritage to his advantage. He used different names to match his secret identities. He was a compassionate man who completed his missions with integrity. As a spy, he had to kill and also be a target. We feel his triumphs and his pain as we travel with Louis.

Louis is a historical fiction, and the author shares his secret life during both World Wars. Readers feel the emotions, the ups and downs, that Louis experiences. One of my favorite phrases in the book is . . . his mind started to wander the corridors of his life again. Derek Haines’s words sum up how Louis felt after suffering a severe stroke. Throughout the book, Derek once again makes us feel his characters true to life.

The ending was abrupt. I selfishly wanted the last chapter expounded. Without spoiling the ending, I am thinking, maybe a sequel Derek?

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fighting the Devil,by Jeannie Walker

Misplaced Efforts

After reading this true mystery murder, I realize Jeannie Walker is a much better person than I am or ever will be. This is the story of a woman who was abused physically and emotionally by her husband, yet when he dies, she takes on the burden of solving her ex-husbands death. It is believed he was murdered, poisoned over time, by his new wife and his book keeper.

I don’t understand her reasoning. Yes, she has two children by this man, but the things he did to her, including the fact that she had to give up custody of her son and daughter when they were young, just doesn’t equal her efforts in my mind. I also don’t buy into the fact he was going to change after many, many years of being a bastard.

The story takes place in Texas. After years of living low, Jeannie makes her husband’s dreams come true (in the midst of abuse) and they become wealthy. Actually he alone enjoys the wealth because he throws Jeannie out. He only remarries to have a domestic slave.

The gist of the book is about Jeannie’s efforts trying to prove his wife and book keeper poisoned him to death. The book keeper does do time in prison, but the wife never gets charged to this day.
If anything, the book should leave the reader extremely angry with the justice system.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Jeannie Walker. But it’s because of the abuse she endured by her ex-husband, not because she is still involved in getting justice served. I will never understand why she took this burden upon herself right from the beginning. However, today, her children are no longer young and could resume this painful burden, and Jeannie be there for support, but it always was and is just misplaced efforts on her part. The man, as her husband, wasn’t worth it. As Jeannie describes him as a father, she shows he wasn’t much to be proud of either. At this time, if an investigation is imminent, it makes more sense for the children to be at the helm.

Book review by Mary Crocco

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Bug Collection, Hermie & Friends, 3 Complete DVDs.

A great way for young children to learn about prayer, good behavior, and getting along with others. These three DVDs are set up using an outstanding lesson plan as a model. Max Lucado introduces and closes the stories with his young audience in mind. His tone and mannerism is perfect in delivery. He never condescends to children.

The voice of God was the only injustice done to children. Young minds may look for the voice when asking for God’s help.

The stories include smidgens of adult humor, which serve as pleasant extras for the adult who will undoubtedly watch the DVDs more than once.

There are many bonuses following the DVD stories themselves, such as; sing-a-longs, quizzes, and a before bedtime story.
There is an added bonus choice; to use the DVD on TV and/or a computer.

The voice talents chosen for the cute characters are outstanding. Children and adults of all ages will enjoy these three DVDs with lifelong lessons to learn and relearn.

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Book Review by Mary Crocco

Milo Moon, by Derek Haines

Derek Haines book, Milo Moon, is a story that has a ring of familiarity. It touches on the sci-fi with a hint of political suspense. The author’s strength is the fun he has creating his characters. Any reader will enjoy the adventures of Milo and Mary, which is the compelling reason to finish the book.

The prose and dialogue are simple which makes for an easy read. There are a few occurrences which automatically categorize the book for adults. Without these scenes Milo Moon could have been enjoyed by young adults, obviously, not the author’s choice for this story.

I recommend Milo Moon for the sci-fi audience. I could see a fan wondering what Milo and Mary would look like on the big screen.

Book review by Mary Crocco

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February The Fifth, by Derek Haines

February The Fifth, by Derek Haines

February The Fifth, is the first book I have read by Derek Haines. It was an easy read with slight touches of science fiction and comedy throughout. There was no shortage of characters, some of whom the reader would most definitely relate to thereby making the book more enjoyable.

I think young adults would be the target audience for Derek’s book. The learning curve for the characters unexpected responsibility and out of this world (literally) adventures would be enjoyed most by middle-school age children. I can picture the variety of favorite characters and the childrens' reasoning for their choices as a productive writing project. The book is rich with description for both characters and places that would undoubtedly spark children to improve their writing skills. What a great compliment to an author!

As an adult and aspiring writer, I was greatly impressed with the ending. Derek’s words in his last paragraph, his last two sentences, could not have been written more perfectly to end this entertaining story.

The most loyal of loyal readers.

The Very End

Book review by Mary Crocco

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Long Way Home, by Bill Barich

Long Way Home, by Bill Barich

A quick and easy read

Long Way Home, by Bill Barich, left me wondering if the book would be more entertaining if written at a different time in history. The idea for his cross-country journey was sparked when Barich unexpectedly came across the book, Travels in Ireland. He decided to return to the U.S. and chronicle his journey while talking with Americans about the state of the country, much like John Steinbeck’s, Travels with Charley.

Barich is critical of some small town Americans. He seems to take too much pleasure in writing about the shortfalls of those he interviewed. On the other hand, he does highlight other Americans and shares their positive stories and views, also taking pleasure in his research.

I thought there would be more thought provoking stories in the book. I find it difficult to review because there was not much substance to it. When I finished reading it, I have nothing to think about it. I find that undesirable.

I would recommend the book for a quick read if you had no other book available. It is an okay read, but not very stimulating.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On Hallowed Ground, by Robert M. Poole

Every page an inspiration

On Hallowed Ground, by Robert M. Poole, bestows upon readers deep emotions and realizations that will be ingrained forever. Poole begins with informing readers of the history of Arlington National Cemetery: Robert E. Lee owned Arlington, Virginia’s plantation during the Civil War. Even if one is versed in this era of history, something new is learned in every chapter. For example: the year Taps became official, appearing in the U.S. Army Infantry Drill Regulations in 1891.

Not all the history of Arlington makes us proud. Poole tells many stories from the Civil War to present day. The reader needs to keep in mind the time frame to empathize with decisions made. Poole is thorough and the facts complete the reader’s prior knowledge.

Poole states there are more than 300,000 bodies buried at Arlington. Millions of visitors have experienced the ceremonies conducted on the grounds over time. Even if one has not personally lost a loved one in a war, the visit is emotionally draining. Pondering over those who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms, while standing on the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, is what Poole describes with such inspirational storytelling expertise.

I recommend this book for every American. I think young adults would benefit from a parent reading it to them. I feel obligated to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. I did not feel as strongly about making this trip before reading On Hallowed Ground. Robert. M. Poole has heightened my awareness to experience this in my lifetime with hopes Arlington will never run out of space.

Book review by Mary Crocco

The Power Based Life, by Mike Flynt

Run of the Mill

The Power Based Life, by Mike Flynt, is a self-help book with a spiritual twist. Flynt writes to an audience who would appreciate sport analogies to realize one’s real life goals and dreams. He is a strength training coach and writes about twelve ‘power based’ strategies to strengthen one’s body, mind, and spirit using a fitness guide. He incorporates Biblical verses to reinforce his strategies.

The book seems to be of most value as a first self-help book for someone needing guidance physically, mentally, and spiritually. As for the avid reader, it does not contain any new information or ‘a-ha’ moments. For example, most know to ‘play to one’s strengths, strive for a positive attitude, and change one’s adversities to work for us vs. against us.’ The book just adds a Biblical verse to these ‘power bases’ for the reader.

I would recommend this book to a younger audience who may not have read self-help books before and who enjoys sport analogies. It certainly is not a bad book, just another run of the mill book for realizing one’s life goals and dreams.

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Book Review by Mary Crocco