Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Would you read more? A First Chapter/First Paragraph Tuesday Intro

My fellow book blogger at Bibliophile By the Sea hosts "First Chapter/First Paragraph Tuesday Intros" where she shares the first paragraph sometimes two from a book she is reading or thinking about reading soon. I've decided to join in with this opening excerpt from a book that the author sent me.  Tell me what you think... would you read on, or not?

 A Love & Beyond by Dan Sofer
Amazon Digital Services, Inc./Dan Sofer, March 5, 2015

Chapter 1

     On Tuesday, Dave Schwarz hit thirty and his best friend narrowly escaped a violent death.
     The two events were probably unrelated, but both jolted Dave the way a sudden air pocket reminds nervous passengers that they’re soaring above the clouds in a pressurized metal tube.
    Realization number one: Welcome to the Middle East. Strangely, Dave never thought of his new home as the Middle East. Brutal attacks like the heavy blow to the back of the head that had nearly claimed his friend should not have surprised him.
    Realization number two: I’m thirty years old and still single. In short, my life is over.
    Dave shook the morbid thought from his head. This was no time for navel gazing. He perched on the edge of a bed in room 419C of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center. A plastic curtain divided the room into quarters and reeked of disinfectant and tragedy. Drops of indolent Jerusalem rain slid down the dark windowpane.
    Ben’s bulky form lay in the hospital bed, his eyes closed, a white bandage over his otherwise bald head, like an injured rugby fullback; the mind of an academic in the body of an East End bouncer.
    According to the ward nurse, the ICU doctors had transferred Ben early Wednesday morning. He was in no mortal danger, but had his mind survived the trauma?
    Dave cleared his throat. He whispered Ben’s name for the tenth time in two minutes. Behind the curtain, a ventilator wheezed. A telephone rang down the hall and the nurse with the squeaky shoe continued her rounds.
    Dave reached into the plastic bag from Steimatzky and placed a book on the nightstand. The Jewish War by Josephus. He had purchased the Penguin paperback at the hospital gift store on the ground floor. Ben’s existing copy, a hefty side-by-side English translation of the original Greek, was thick with dog ears and split at the seams.
    A bouquet of gerberas sat on the windowsill. Ben’s wife had sent the flowers but it wasn’t her flowing cursive that graced the message inside the card. The uneven block letters looked to Dave like a cryptic text copied by a blind scribe.
    Yvette had called Dave at work half an hour ago. Would he stop by, make sure Ben was in one piece?
    Dave plucked a yellow flower from the bouquet and dismembered it slowly.
    If Dave lay in hospital, who would send him flowers? If he died, what would his lonely life have achieved?
    “Looks bad. Doesn’t it?” said Ben, his eyes still shut.
    Dave almost swallowed his tongue. “No, not at all.” He tossed the naked flower stem into the waste bin to join its petals. “I was thinking about myself.”
    “Oh,” Ben said, as though that explained everything.
    How long had Ben been conscious?
    Dave searched the poky room for a cheerful thought.
    “No shortage of Jewish doctors here.” His laugh was lame even to his own ears.
    “Muhammad,” Ben said.
    The hairs on the back of Dave’s neck stiffened. He had heard anecdotes of near-death experiences but he had not expected the bright light at the end of the tunnel to be the founder of Islam.


So, what do you think? Would you read on?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Marshmallow Mayhem Blitz

Marshmallow Mayhem cover

Buy it now on Amazon for 99 Pennies…or

read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited.


In this sequel to BANANA BAMBOOZLE, all Cassidy Dunne wants is a road trip to bond with her niece and some gooey campfire s’mores. What she gets is an extra serving of mayhem — marijuana brownies, creepy locals, an ardent admirer, a precocious canine cohort, and a dead body.

Driving an RV from California to Colorado in winter poses plenty of challenges, some of which can be solved, at least temporarily, by her secret stash of candy. But nothing can sugarcoat the clues pointing to her involvement in the murder.

Excerpts from Marshmallow Mayhem —

One of the characters in Marshmallow Mayhem is Soso, the dog. Here’s her photo and a bit from her POV.
One of the characters in Marshmallow
Mayhem is Soso, the dog. Here’s her
photo and a bit from her POV.
I wagged my tail three times. It was the perfect amount to acknowledge kindness, whether a soft word, a lower-tier treat like broccoli, or, in this case, an obvious statement of fact. I didn’t mind. I understood the limitations of humans.

The sidewalk cleared and I padded to the motorcycle, still smelling of gasoline, leather, and Bea. I circled it, carefully stepping off the curb to avoid the slushy gutter, ending my circuit on the sidewalk near the back tire. I sat, contemplating it from all angles.

I checked the activity in the bank, lowering my head to avoid the glare of the glass door. Nobody in sight. I stood and lifted my leg the way Major taught me. I hadn’t squatted in a while so I had a pretty full reservoir. I let loose a stream of pee that soaked the wheel and left a puddle on the sidewalk. Two shakes of my hind leg finished the job.

Not ladylike, I know, and people always laughed when I lifted my leg, but a bitch gotta do what a bitch gotta do.

They lit a fire and organized camp chairs around it, hauling out as many blankets as they could find. Bundling, layering, and the campfire kept them cozy. Three times Frankie asked if the fire was ready for s’mores yet, and three times Cassidy shook her head. Too smoky, not hot enough, too hot. Finally she pronounced it just right. She showed Frankie how to get the graham crackers and chocolate bars ready.

“How much chocolate do I use?” Frankie asked.

Cassidy frowned. “I don’t understand the question.” She pointed. “Don’t you see how the candy bar, when broken thusly, is exactly the same size as the graham cracker square?”

“Ah. It seemed too big.”

“What planet are you from?” Cassidy narrowed her eyes. “Anyway … get it all ready before you toast your marshmallow. Timing is everything.” Cassidy passed out the ancient wire coat hangers bent into skewers. “Be careful with those. They’re family heirlooms. Probably my inheritance.”

Cassidy studied the finger she used to poke the dead body. It seemed detached from her hand, like it belonged to someone else. She rubbed it vigorously on her pants. She hobbled backwards across Bea’s office, away from the blood, away from reality, stopping only when her back met the wall. Cassidy had seen enough horror movies to know dead bodies weren’t always dead. Even ones with a gaping head wound.

She slid, wincing, to the floor. Her heart threatened to pound out of her chest. Her lungs refused to inflate.

Oh my God, that woman’s dead! What do I do, what do I do, what do I do? The question ran like a broken record playing at full volume. Surely someone would hear and come help, take care of this, take care of Bea, take care of her. Or the murderer would. Cassidy remembered the person in the red parka leaving the office.

Banana Bamboozle coverThat hysterical woman screaming is not helping the situation. She realized it was her and clamped a hand over her mouth. Whoever killed Bea couldn’t be too far away. And maybe knew she was here. Maybe watched her right now.

Did you miss Banana Bamboozle?

Grab it now for FREE on Amazon.


After imbibing in one too many Banana Bamboozles at a backyard party, Cassidy Dunne is flabbergasted to recognize one of the partygoers as her teenage niece. When she points out the girl to her longtime best friend, Dan Diehl, he revokes her bar privileges, reminding her that one, she’s blotto, and two, the niece in question died in a tragic house fire as an infant fourteen years earlier.

Nevertheless, Cassidy becomes obsessed with confirming the girl’s identity, regardless of possible disastrous consequences.

Dan has been involved in thirty years of Cassidy’s bad ideas, but gets sidetracked by an accusation against him with the potential to destroy both his business and his reputation. Cassidy must handle this one alone.

Well, almost alone. Every problem in her life is accompanied — and medicated — by her secret stash of candy. Run-ins with an old high school nemesis. Booty calls with her ex-husband. Her first date in Justin Bieber’s lifetime. Shapeware. All tamed with a candy bar. Or three.

But all the chocolate in the world can’t help her figure out this puzzle. If she’s not prudent, she could ruin several lives.

And Cassidy isn’t prudent.

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Meet Becky Clark:

Becky Clark is the seventh of eight kids, which explains both her insatiable need for attention and her atrocious table manners. She likes to read funny books so it felt natural to write them too. She surrounds herself with quirky people and pets who end up as characters in her books. Her stout-hearted dog keeps her safe from menacing squirrels, leaves, and deer, but not plastic bags. Those things are terrifying.

Becky Clark's newest novels are fun reads for adults, BANANA BAMBOOZLE, and its sequel MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM, written with Ted Hardwick.

Visit BeckyClarkBooks.com for all kinds of silliness. While you're there, be sure to subscribe to her "So Seldom It's Shameful" newsletter. It's the only place to hear about new releases, to win fabulous prizes, and to find out when books go free. (As you might have gleaned, she won't inundate your inbox, either.) http://beckyclarkbooks.com/mailing

Because writing takes for-freakin-ever, she gets instant gratification by designing funny t-shirts, mugs, aprons, pet clothing, and other stuff you desperately need. Check out her designs at http://www.zazzle.com/LazySquirrelDesigns

In addition to writing, she has spent time helping parents get their kids to love to read. She's adapted her workshop into an eBook full of games and ideas to turn your reluctant reader into a Reading Maniac. If you know anyone with a preschooler just learning to read or a child who doesn't like to read, check out "Reading Maniac" and see if you think it might help them.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Positron? Not Positive.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Which would you choose if you had the choice between staying unemployed and homeless, and cutting yourself off from the rest of society but with job security and a home to live in? What if having a home meant you had no real freedom? On the other hand, what if having your freedom meant poverty and constantly running away from rapists, thieves or worse.

Atwood's latest novel puts all of these questions to her readers, through her protagonists Charmaine and Stan. These two have had enough of living in their car and constant fear for both their lives and their welfare. That's why they sign up for the experimental town of Consilience and its Positron project. At first, it seems like a dream come true, except for having to live every other month in the Positron prison, but even that isn't too bad. However, first boredom and then oppression start to edge out the glow of security.

What Atwood has done here is build a society that is socialist enough to provide for all its participants, without the advantages of a real democracy. Such a system is ripe for corruption by those at the top, coupled with growing dissatisfaction on the parts of the general population. This type of dystopia isn't anything new, and in fact, we can see it in many novels such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm." Of course, books of this kind are barely veiled allegories warning the world about communism. However, I don't think was Atwood's intention with this novel. Rather, I believe Atwood was trying to point out how the greed of the "1%" is turning the economy into such a disaster that they're going to have to come up with some sort of solution to the crime and poverty. What Atwood proposes is a version of the commune (or a kibbutz, if you will), that has many good attributes, coupled with a totalitarian form of rule and a life-sentence for all the inmates… um… citizens.

If all of this sounds bleak and dismal, I can assure you that this is not the case with Atwood's novel here. In fact, the downright laughable elements to the story, not only keep the characters human, but also stop the book from seeming too despairingly heavy. For example, all of the carefully selected, piped-in entertainment (music, television, movies) comes from the clean-living (and highly censored) world of middle-class America's 1950s era. There's also the scheme that involves realistic looking, full-sized, anatomically correct sex robots and dressing up as Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, together with an ingenious mind altering experiment that goes terribly wrong, with hysterically funny results.

These things combined make for a unique type of novel, which is precisely what Atwood strives for - reality based, speculative fiction, set in the not-too-distant future, with all the mistakes, and the many lessons we can learn from them. Atwood reminds us that humans are fallible, and their faults can be both harmlessly silly as well as seriously dangerous. The problems come when something innocuous turns perilous, and Atwood seems to believe that greed is a major trigger for that happening. Combine this with prose that is faultlessly infectious, characters we can easily identify with and a plot that is utterly gripping, and you've got yourself a sure-fired five out of five star book! 

You can buy "The Heart Goes Last" by Margaret Atwood, published by Doubleday Books, Nan A. Talese, release date September 29, 2015, from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or from an IndieBound store near you.  I would like to thank the publishers for giving me an ARC of this book via NetGalley.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Becoming Nora

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

Everyone loved Maurice Webster. While she was married to him, Nora lived quietly in his shadow. Then he fell ill, and as his death approached, Nora was totally devoted, practically ignoring her sons and daughters in order to care for him. Now that he's gone, Nora has become something of a tragic celebrity. More importantly, now Nora has to find a new normal for both herself and her children.

This is one of those gently moving novels where some critics might say, "Nothing happens." To tell the truth, there isn't a whole lot of action here, but that doesn't really matter. What Tóibín has done here is give us a beautifully formed character driven story that helps us watch one woman as she learns to cope with her new reality. In her sons, we see the death of their father affected them. As for her daughters - now grown and no longer living at home - we witness how they react to the changes in their mother. Most importantly, we watch Nora pull herself back to life and getting on with living without the man she loved.

Everything here is very subtle. From Nora's getting a job with the company she worked for before she was married and had children, to her learning about music and singing, and discovering an interest in something she didn't know she enjoyed. While all of this slowly unfolds, Tóibín makes us realize that Maurice did not have anything to do with Nora's being so unassuming, nor that she was unhappy with her life before he became sick. Instead, we get the feeling that Nora liked being on the sidelines. Forced into center stage, however, Nora realizes that there is, and always was, more to her than meets the eye. Despite some bumps and troubles along the way, including the social, economic and political problems of Ireland in the 1960s, Nora seems mostly up to the task. Even when she stumbles, she does it with grace. Because of all this, together with Tóibín's tranquil writing style, Nora comes across as one of the most empathetic characters I've ever read.

As glowing as all this sounds, I have to say that I felt something was missing with this book. While it is obvious that Tóibín adores his Nora, maybe he cared for her a little bit too much. This could be the reason why I felt some restraint in his portrait of her, as if he didn't want everyone to know absolutely everything about her. Of course, mystery being the spice of life, holding some things back allows the reader to use their imagination, and come to their own conclusions about certain aspects of Nora. However, I think there's a fine line between mystery and being overly reticent, which I think Tóibín overstepped just a tiny bit. Because of this, there were times when no matter how much I liked Nora, she seemed a touch too cold for my taste. On the other hand, a gut-wrenching emotional outburst would have been terribly out of character.

Despite this, I still enjoyed reading this book very much. Let's face it; I'm staunch anglophile, with a particular love of Ireland. That means practically any work set there is going to get my attention. Of course, a poorly written work will turn me off immediately, and in that, Tóibín certainly didn't disappoint even one iota. His writing is as beautiful as the country itself. I also loved watching Nora gradually grow into the person she probably always was, and realizing that along the way, she was learning to appreciate herself and even trust her judgment. For all of this I have to take off half a star in my rating because of the slightly reserved feeling Tóibín gives us, but I can still warmly recommend this novel. 

"Nora Webster" by Colm Tóibín is available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (Inc., Canada and Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Monsters Within

The Determined Heart by Antoinette May

The bulk of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's fame came from her novel "Frankenstein." However, she was also married to Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the daughter of two well-known writers, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. This novel examines the life of this woman who, in the early 1800s, wrote a penultimate horror novel, and was arguably one of the first writers of science fiction.

The timeline of this story starts with Mary as a young girl, just before her father re-married. This happened several years after her mother died in childbirth. From there, May takes us through Mary's youth and young adulthood, until not long after the deaths of Shelley and, subsequently, Lord Byron. Of course, this also covers her writing and publishing of "Frankenstein," and follows her life until just after the time when she sees a staged version of her own work.

May succeeds in avoiding almost all of the pitfalls of historical fiction. She only includes essential information about era, and focuses on politics and events that are truly relevant to Mary Shelley along with those that affect the other personalities included in her story. In this way, we get the right balance between Mary herself, mixed with some lesser-known details of her life. Furthermore, May does her best not to insert hints regarding Mary Shelley's posterity and forthcoming fame, with the exception of her prologue and one tiny line at the end of the book. May's carefully treading this path allows the readers to learn more about Mary Shelley, while giving us insights into motivations for her actions, and the various relationships that shaped her life. Obviously, May did quite a bit of research here, since there are excerpts of letters and diaries peppered throughout the story.

With this basis, May was able to concentrate on the drama and with it, develop the fictional aspects that enhance the truth. May's writing style also compliments this, using appropriate language and phrasing, which she gently tempers to keep it from sounding archaic or fake. With this, the era came through perfectly and naturally, without ever distracting the reader with overly flowery language. This also allows the reader to better identify with the characters, and thereby empathize with them. Believe me, there is a whole lot to feel for these people, not the least of which were the many, many premature deaths of loved ones (particularly young children and babies) along the way. With all this going on, it is no wonder that Mary Shelley had a dark side, which she conjured up in her writing, only to create the most famous monster of all time.

With all this going for it, the question is, why am I not raving about this book? Despite the excellent writing and perfect balance between fact and fiction, there was something just felt a little distant to me. What I mean by this is, that as much as readers will enjoy this story and feel for (as well as get angry at) the personalities that surrounded this incredible woman, I got the feeling that somewhere May held back somewhat. It could be that May (or her editors) felt she needed to keep the emotions in tow so that it didn't become melodramatic, but I think she (or they) stopped just a little short, as it needed a bit more passion to help make the comprehensive facts feel a touch more human. This doesn't mean that this book feels cold; it just means that I would have preferred a bit more warmth. Even so, I really loved learning about Mary Shelley through this fictional account, and overall, I did enjoy this book. However, I can't give it more than four out of five stars, but with that solid rating, I can still recommend it. 

"The Determined Heart" by Antoinette May, from Lake Union Publishing, release date September 29, 2015 is available for pre-order from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Alibris  or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for a fair review via NetGalley.

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