Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life" by Christopher Reeve

This biography starts off talking about when Christopher Reeve was thrown from his horse during an equestrian competition, breaking his neck and leaving him paralyzed. In the beginning, he wasn't certain that he wanted to live. His wife Dana promised him that if he still felt that way at the end of 2 years, that they would find a way for him to end his suffering. Fortunately, after those two years he no longer felt the same.

This book jumps back and forth, letting us see Christopher at different points in his life. Sometimes we are shown glimpses of him during his youth with his family, and in other sections we are shown segments of his recovery after his accident.

At one point he tells us a story of when he accepted a "free personality test" and how that led him to a short period of time with a group is scientologists. I enjoyed the tale, especially where explained how he realized it was little more than a means for them to collect large sums of money from people who were looking for a way to improve themselves and their lives.

Christopher tells us a number of quite inspirational stories from throughout his lifetime about both the good times and the troubled times he has lived through. We are told about how he feels that he became a better father after he was paralyzed than he was before. It caused him to truly listen to his children in order to be able to help them with their problems. It also allowed him to spend more quality time and become closer with each of them.

Before long he began to help with fundraising and spoke with politicians about supporting research for ways to help heal and repair injuries that left people paralyzed and/or otherwise in need of full time medical care. Such care costs a great deal, and those costs will often continue for far longer than most people would be able to afford. Christopher helped to raise lifetime limits that insurance companies granted to individuals.

Christopher Reeve did so much more than that as well. He truly was an inspiration to many and never gave up hoping and working towards someday being able to move and possibly even walk under his own power again. This book does not continue until the end of his life, but it does show that he was making much more improvement overall than any of his doctors had thought would ever be possible considering the severity and length of time that had passed since his injury.

If you wish to know how truly amazing he was, then you will want to read this book. I learned a great deal more than I had previously known about what he went through in his later years and how he managed to remain such a positive force despite having survived something that would have destroyed the spirit of many others.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"The Dead of Night" by Jean Rabe

This book starts off shortly after recently elected Sheriff Piper Blackwell has passed the sheriff's exam, thus earning the right to keep her job. She has gone to the park to meet with an elderly gentleman who is often considered by many to be prone to conspiracy theories. Not too many of the locals seem to take his complaints too seriously.

Mark "the Shark" Thresher explains to her that he has been robbed, his bank account drained of a lifetime of savings. He may or may not be a bit on the crazy side, but Piper promises to find out who took his money and to get it back for him. It is quite late and raining very hard when he leaves the park, asking Piper to wait a bit to make certain that he isn’t being followed. As she is leaving, she slips in the mud and trips over some bones that were uncovered by the rainstorm.

The bones appear to be that of a child, seemingly murdered and buried in the park a very long time ago. Who did they belong to? And why doesn’t there seem to be an open case for a missing child from around that time? A case that old will be more difficult than usual to solve, yet that is just what she intends to do.

These are two very difficult cases for Piper and the others in the sheriff’s office to solve. Add to that the fact that they are still short-staffed and need to hire several people to fill in the gaps, stop someone who is repeatedly destroying neighborhood mailboxes, and of course deal with the usual drunk drivers and other problems that arise in any small town and you can imagine how busy everyone in the sheriff’s department is. Piper has been learning a great deal in the few months she has been sheriff, and while growing more confident in her position she still feels her lack of experience quite strongly.

Piper’s father has been declared cancer free, and she wonders if he is considering running for Sheriff once it is again time for an election. She feels that if he does, he would likely regain the office quite easily. He has the experience she lacks and is still recognized as having been a great sheriff. If he did become the sheriff she could then rejoin the military, but does she really want to? She may not have expected to win the election originally, but now that she has been in the office for a while, she is coming to enjoy the job and starting to earn the respect of those she works with.

Then Piper starts to feel like someone is following her. She starts receiving emailed threats coming from her own account telling her to leave the case alone if she values her life. Her car has a brick thrown at it and obscenities painted on the sides. Someone clearly doesn’t want her trying to solve one of the cases that she is working on.

This book had so many twists and turns that it kept me guessing the entire way through (usually incorrectly). I very definitely recommend reading this one. My only complaint is that the next book in the series is still being written by the author, meaning that I’ll need to wait quite some time before I can buy a copy to read. I’m looking forward to that release date, even though I realize that it will be some time yet as this book was only just recently released.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Dead of Winter" by Jean Rabe

Today I read the first of the Piper Blackwell mysteries. I want to start this review off by stating up front that I consider the author a friend, though she does not know that I am reviewing her book here today. As with all my previous reviews, I bought my own copy of the book from Amazon. This was not a solicited review.

The book starts on Piper's first day as Sheriff. Her father had been the previous sheriff but was forced to retire due to a cancer diagnosis, and a number of people suspect that she won the election based solely on her father's name.

The man she beat out for the position is currently her deputy sheriff. He doesn't believe she can do the job and is waiting for her to fail the sheriff's exam in a few months. Once that happens, he will step into the position that he feels should rightly have been his all along. While Piper has never worked in a sheriff's office before, she has spent the last 4 years in the military as an MP and been awarded a number of medals during her time serving in Iraq. Had her father not been diagnosed with cancer, she would likely have remained in the military rather than returning home to help him through his cancer treatments.

Piper hadn't actually expected to win the election, and on her first day she is called to the site of a murder. Her deputy doesn't make any attempt to disguise his opinion that she has no place even trying to be the sheriff. He and a number of others in the department feel that she is too inexperienced for the position and are resentful that a girl who is at most half their age is now their boss.

Despite all of their obvious resentment and attempts to show her up, Piper is determined to stop what quickly turns from just the one murder into an obvious serial killer in a small town that has never before had to deal with something so sinister.

Unfortunately, most of the others working in the department seem to be determined to solve the murders on their own, thus proving how unfit she is for the position. It is very difficult to accomplish anything when it seems that everyone else is working against you and doesn't want you around. Piper needs to prove to everyone (including herself) that she can do the job and deserves to be the town’s sheriff.

I absolutely loved reading this book. It sucked me in and I only set it aside to sleep at night. (I finished reading it in only 2 days.) The plot was clearly well thought out and well researched. I did run across a couple of typos, but they in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the story. I very definitely recommend reading this one. If the second book is even half as good, I'm in for a real treat once I start reading that one!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"Incubation" by Laura DiSilverio

Today’s book, “Incubation,” was a post-apocalyptic young adult novel told from the point of view of a young woman being raised in a government facility. Most of the Earth’s population has died off after several waves of a deadly flu pandemic have passed through society. Now most children are raised in an inkubation dome where they are educated, grow crops, and train for future occupations. They are referred to as “apprentice citizens” until they come of age and have either served as soldiers for 6 years or volunteered as a surrogate to help repopulate the planet.

Everly has a promising future as a biochemist and is working on a way to reduce the number of locusts that endanger the planet by eating the limited crops that are able to be grown. The locust swarms have thus far proven resistant to everything scientists have tried, but Everly has some theories and ideas that she is working on that seem promising.

One day she discovers that her closest friend, Halla, is planning on running away as she has been hiding the fact that she is pregnant. The father of her baby was another resident of the cube who had been sent to work as a soldier before learning that she was pregnant. Halla plans on running away because she realizes that her baby will be taken from her and given to another family to raise. There are not enough babies currently being born and far too many people who desperately want children.

Halla does not have a permit to have a child, and with the father having just started his 6 years of military service, her only hope of keeping her child is to run away. She knows this will make her a wanted fugitive with her only hope being to find the resistance, having them help her assume a new identity, and relocating to a distant province. She believes that her baby’s father will want to run away with her to raise their child together, but first she must escape and find her way to Atlanta before her pregnancy is discovered.

Everly, Halla, and their friend Wyck flee from Inkubator 9 together in the middle of the night after having gathered what limited supplies they can to help them survive the long and very dangerous journey. Along they way they discover how unprepared they really are for life outside of the Cube, but they are determined to continue on and find their way to Atlanta in order to help Halla reunite with Louden before their child is born.

This was a very absorbing look at what might happen in a society that faces possible extinction and the steps they feel are necessary to prevent it. My only complaint is that it ends on a cliffhanger and I don’t yet have a copy of the sequel. So If I want to know if Everly and her friends can escape from the dangers they encounter and what happens next (and I definitely do), I’ll need to track down the next book in the series. Hopefully it will be as enjoyable to read as this book has been.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Puss in Boots" by Shari L. Tapscott

This wasn’t a bad book. It was well written and edited, however it didn’t really have any sort of “wow factor” that you usually expect to find in fairy-tale retellings. The only real twist in the story was that Puss did not get his boots until very late in the book. Outside of that, this was a very straightforward retelling of the Puss in Boots story.

The book starts off with Suzette & her brothers at the reading of their aunt’s will. Her eldest brother gets the mill, her middle brother the donkey, and Suzette gets the cat. She is given a small amount of money that is supposed to be used to purchase boots for the cat. In an act of defiance, Suzette uses the money to purchase new boots for herself instead. Shortly thereafter, she discovers that Puss can speak and after apologizing for not buying him his boots, the tale follows the usual progression of the Puss in Boots story, minus his boots.

I was enjoying this story, despite it not really having any surprises, until I read a comment about the donkey being a “Valiant Steed.” It was really the only reference to the donkey in the story, and was clearly a reference to the Shrek animated movie. That right there made me very nearly put the book down and move on to something else instead. It just had no place in this tale, and it never came up again. Had the author found more of a way to weave the reference in so that it fit better, it would not have bothered me as much as it did. I did, however, continue on and finish reading the rest of the book.

Overall, it was an okay story. There were no surprises and nothing unexpected. I had really been hoping for more though, some sort of unexpected plot twist that never appeared. In other words, I’m afraid this book left me feeling a bit disappointed. Others may enjoy it, but I was really left wanting something more.

Friday, September 15, 2017

" Touched by Time" by Zoe Matthews & Jade Jensen

This book was a little unusual for a mail-order bride novel. The main character, Kathleen, works as an ER trauma nurse in the year 2005. While she loves working as a nurse, she hates where she works. Her supervisor treats her very poorly, and it has been becoming increasingly clear to Kathleen that the woman dislikes her and wants her to quit.

Kathleen shares an apartment with her best friend Nicky, who is the closest thing Kathleen has to family. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was young, and with no other living relatives, Kathleen was left to be raised in the foster care system. Nicky's family was the third one that she was placed with, and they raised her until she graduated from high school.

One day Kathleen noticed an ad in a Denver newspaper looking for mail-order brides. Thinking it had to be some sort of a joke, she wrote to the address listed and asked for more information. Before long Kathleen finds herself exchanging letters (by way of the woman running the business) with a man named Patrick. As they get to know each other through their letters, Kathleen decides that she would like to meet him. There is just one rather large obstacle.... he lives on a ranch some distance outside of Denver in the year 1892. She lives in Denver in the year 2005.

This book was a quick but very enjoyable read. It was interesting to see whether or not a woman from 2005 can learn to live happily in 1892. There have been so many changes in the years between the two time periods, can two people from those very different time periods truly fall in love and live happily in the past without any of the modern conveniences that one of them is accustomed to using on a daily basis?

And then there is the problem that Kathleen has seemingly vanished with almost no explanation. Her roommate in 2005 suspects that the woman behind the mail-order bride business has done something terrible to Kathleen. After all, what other possible explanation could there be for Kathleen to leave with virtually no explanation, leaving everything, including her cellphone, behind?

I enjoyed this book. It was a little different from the other mail-order bride books that I have read, though it did possess all the expected aspects of that type of story. It even left a hook at the end leading into the next book in the series. Given that I enjoyed this one, I will likely look for the next one and read that one as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"The Immortals" by Jordanna Max Brodsky

I don't often read mysteries, but found the description of this one irresistible. Greek Gods live in New York among the mortals. Over the centuries, they have been slowly losing their powers as people stopped believing in and worshiping them. Without worshippers, they have begun to grow old and are beginning to die. Many have taken jobs as they pretend to be human, utilizing what remains of their abilities and powers as best they can.

Selene DiSilva, for example, is currently a private investigator who helps women in need. She is a Protector of the Innocent who was once the goddess known as Artemis. It has been a very long time since she has used that name, but she is still a huntress. When her dog Hippolyta discovers the body of a woman dressed as a virgin priestess of the gods, she knows that she can't just leave this one for the police to solve.

The murdered woman was a professor working on a book about ancient Greek mysteries/religious rituals. Soon her ex-boyfriend, Theo, becomes the main suspect in her murder as he was one of the few around who could speak as well as read Ancient Greek. He also knew a great deal about the various religious rituals associated with the Greek Gods.

Knowing the police believe he is guilty but are unable to prove it, and realizing that there will be more murders to come as the ritual being followed lasts 10 days and requires sacrificial killings on each day, Theo finds himself working with Selene to help find the real murderer. Neither completely trusts each other, but they both need the help that only the other seems able to provide.

I was really fascinated by the appearances of the various gods hiding among the mortals and the aspects of their myths that they still retained. Some were able to remain younger and more powerful than others due to "worshippers" that didn't always realize were providing any sort of prayers for the ancient gods. Apollo, for example, as the god of thieves and music was still "worshipped" by the fans of his current persona... a rock singer in a well known band. In this persona he receives a great deal of worship and energy. So while the gods were all losing their powers, some were able to hold on longer than others.

It soon becomes clear to Selene that the ritual sacrifices were making her stronger and restoring some of the abilities she thought lost to her long ago. But who could be responsible? And why were they helping her and not all of the gods? And most importantly, can Selene & Theo find and stop the murderer responsible before he or she completes all of the rituals and becomes too powerful to stop?

This book includes a number of the ancient Greek Gods and their myths interwoven into the modern world in such a fascinating way that you could almost imagine it as truly possible. It was very well written, well edited, and it completely enthralled me. The story was so well crafted that it often surprised me with unexpected twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.

I absolutely loved this book and will be keeping my eyes out for the sequel. It was well worth the time I spent reading it. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys mysteries and/or tales of the Greek Gods. The author did an amazing job describing what they might be like if they were to exist in the modern world.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"Sacrificed: The Last Oracle" by Emily Wibberley

This book starts with the youngest daughter of the Oracle seeking to try and find a way to help her sister avoid becoming a Vessel for the Oracle. According to the Oracle, it is a sacred duty that each of her daughters must enter into when they turn 16. Clio, the youngest daughter, is currently 15 and her sister has just turned 16. Clio returns home to find her sister already gone and is very upset that she wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye. She believes that the Oracle doesn’t actually have any powers, but that it’s all just a hoax designed to keep her mother in power.

The powers of the Oracle are passed down the maternal line by the Deities. When a new Oracle comes to power, her hair turns white and the Deities begin to send her visions to guide her. Clio believes her mother fakes having the visions that she uses as a means of controlling her worshipers. She even refers to her mother’s believers as a cult. Each of her sisters changed once they became a Vessel, seeming to become cold and distant. They will only tell Clio that she will understand once she turns 16 and becomes a Vessel of the Oracle too. Feeling trapped by a future that she has no desire to be a part of, Clio runs away, hiding for the night in the upper branches of a tree she used to climb with the Prince when they were young.

While sleeping in the tree, she has her first vision. Clio “Sees” her mother and 3 of her 4 sisters being murdered by the King’s trusted advisor. Her 4th sister is sent as a sacrifice to a neighboring city that had murdered their Oracle. In the place of an Oracle, they now have a priest who rips out the hearts of living sacrifices atop a pyramid.

Needing to save her sister, Clio disguises her now white hair by covering it in mud and hides herself among a group of slave girls being sent to serve as temple slaves for the Emperor. Unfortunately, once the slave train arrives at it’s destination, the girls who were sent to serve in the temple learn that they will be sacrificed by the priest to gain the Deities’ favor for the Emperor’s armies. Also, the day they arrive and before she has a chance to stop it, Clio sees her sister’s still beating heart torn out by the priest just before she and the other slave girls are locked away in cells to await their turn to be sacrificed.

Clio must hide who she is or risk being immediately killed should they discover that she is the last Oracle. She has had no training as she wasn’t expected to become a Vessel for another year. The Visions sent by the Deities come without any control on her part, often happening at times when she has other things worrying her. Clearly, she is supposed to find a way to keep what she sees from coming to pass, but she has no idea how to make that happen as she is currently locked in a cell awaiting her turn as a sacrifice.

There were a lot of twists and turns in this book. Some of them I suspected would happen, but many of them came as a bit of a surprise. The main character may have started out as little more than a whiney teenager, but she grew and developed into so much more during the course of the book. As usual, I have only given you the smallest part of the story that was told.

There is so much more going on here that you really should read it for yourself. It was well written, well edited, and while it didn’t end at a cliffhanger, it was clear enough that there is still much more of the story to be told. It left me wanting to continue on and find out what will happen to Clio next. I will be looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"The Maid's Tale: Life Below Stairs as it Really Was" by Rose Plummer with Tom Quinn

This was a well written book, though anyone who is not familiar with older British slang might find some of the language a bit confusing. The author was a woman who was born in the poorer end of London to a large family. She attended school when she was younger, though she left school at the age of 12 to enter into service. Having come from a large family, this was a common practice in poorer homes as it took some of the financial burden off of parents who didn’t earn enough to always keep themselves fed, let alone all of their children.

Though her childhood may have been difficult by today’s standards, Rose considered it a happy one. She loved her parents and siblings, and while food may not have been extremely plentiful, they always managed to get by well enough.

At the age of 12, Rose began work in one of the smaller houses as a “maid of all work.” In other words, she worked hard and did whatever job needed to be done; be it scrubbing the front steps, helping cook with preparing meals, washing dishes, washing laundry, and anything else that needed doing. It was very hard work with extremely long hours every day.

Rose often spent her limited free time walking in the park where she met and became friends with a girl named Mary. The two often spent their half-days off together walking in the park as it was what most young people in service did with their rare free time. After some time working for this family, Mary convinced Rose that she should visit a placement service and seek a better position. Before long Rose was working in a larger household as the 2nd housemaid. Her duties were slightly more specific, but still just as numerous. The pay was also better, even if the hours required were just as long.

There was a strict hierarchy among servants, almost as if they were mirroring the status among the nobility. They didn’t overstep their authority among the other servants in the household, just as they were also very careful about not looking their employers directly in the eye and didn’t question orders given to them. Talking back even once could immediately get a person fired.

There were strict household curfews, and being out past them even on their day off was not allowed. Getting caught walking about regularly with a person of the opposite sex, if lucky earned them a warning that if seen walking with that person in the park again would cost them their position. If they weren’t lucky or their behavior was seen as less than appropriate, they could be immediately fired. Getting pregnant was something that would immediately cost their job, and getting married meant they had to stop working as a servant in the household as well.

That wasn’t to say that maids or other servants never had fun. Besides walking in the park or visiting a tea shop, there were dancing parlors and in the winter they could also go ice skating on their evening off. Rose often went dancing with her friend Mary. They might not have had steady boyfriends to dance with, but there were always a variety of people at the dance parlors looking for someone to dance with.

As time passed it became clear that there were fewer young people entering into service, so finding better positions with better pay steadily became easier. The years described by the author in this book took place mainly in the years between WWI and WWII, though she does go on to describe a bit all the way into the 1960s and 1970s. Having gotten married at a point before then, Rose was not working as a maid the entire time. Learning about her life and reading her descriptions of the many changes occurring during this time period was fascinating. I enjoyed reading her tale and will definitely have to look for and read some of the other books describing the lives of other types of household servants back then.

Firefax by A. M. Vergara

During the Revolutionary War, there are rumors of a city of gold that is hidden on an island whose location is known only to the Firefax fam...