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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ten of The Best in Five Months of Reading

 Catching up on my reading....




Serenity by Craig A. Hart


Serenity is the first book, in a series of crime dramas, taking place in a lovely forested setting in Michigan. The main character is Shelby Alexander who reminded me of James Garner in The Rockford Files especially when speaking to his daughter Leslie. Shelby is tough but he’s not the law. He plays hard, drinks harder and basically takes no prisoners. But he has a softer side like the time his daughter sent him a coffee maker and he wanted to read the instructions about descaling. His friend Mack is a retired Detroit cop. He doesn’t mess around either-- at least when it comes to drinking. The story takes place in ice-cold weather and the author pulls you in next to a crackling fire or into a warm bar before sending us out ice-fishing or tapping maple. In other words the descriptions, the trees, the barn, the snow, the bullets are skillfully mapped out to take us into the deepest, darkest part of Serenity’s wooded areas. “All the shooting and corruption aside it’s rather peaceful,” says Mack. It’s a place of contrasts; of heavenly beauty and unimaginable pain. Your senses will feel the cool morning air because Hart has us peeping, as if we’re outside balancing on the wooden deck of a cabin, ogling this wild, Eastwood-type character almost voyeuristically. We get into Shelby’s mind, into his heart and into his personal life through many twists and turns while reaching a satisfying ending. I enjoyed reading the book but Hart cleverly made sure there’s that small dangling detail about Sheriff Wilkes. Did he, or didn’t he, have something to do with all the drug smuggling in Serenity? Good thing he wrote those sequels.

The Last Train by Richard Alan


The Last Train took me by surprise because I don’t like books about possessed people, demons and zombies but I do like books about angels. Near the end, Alan ventures into possessed people at a mental facility, but by that time, he had me hooked. “You have been all too human,” my favorite line spoken by Soujouriah, who seemed to understand why Jake had to go after his wife when the train they were riding on for their 25th anniversary, ran off the track. To me, it seems The Last Train is a man’s romance. Is that a genre? The writer makes the point of view clear from the beginning, letting us listen to Jake’s thoughts, while taking the reader on a fascinating journey. There are battles and road trips unlike any I’ve ever read, while all throughout, there’s also an underlying warmth, heart and true desire for the lovely Bernadette.
Strangely, we just happened to cancel our own 25th Anniversary rail trip; in fact, we were supposed to leave yesterday, the day I finished reading this eBook and now I’m wondering whether my beloved husband would have gone through all the trouble Jake went through. If you like books about Heaven, filled with various types of angels, embark on The Last Train, because you’ll like it.

Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, M.D.


The author, a neurosurgeon from Massachusetts describes his life in the first few pages, building credibility and convincing the reader that this experience he had during a six-day coma, on the other side, really happened. As the book progresses I’m waiting for more specific descriptions but he gives us a general overview of what he calls an Earthworm’s Eye View, the Gateway and the Core, where time stretches in various directions and lights, shadows and butterflies have spectacular, clear definitions. Most of his tale he spends defending himself--worrying about how it would look for a doctor to say things about God--or against science. It's like he's tangled in a web of knowledge that has a stronghold on everything in his world--except for that one week he lived to write about.
My favorite part of the story is learning about his family life, his wife Holley, his sons and his sisters and how they handled the stress during those trying times. Proof of Heaven has a bold title and I’m sure that Dr. Alexander isn’t kidding when he says that “describing what it felt like is challenging in the extreme,” due to our” linear language” and our “general flattening of experiences” while we’re in our bodies. Which sounds like it means that the dimensional aspect is so awe-inspiring that there are no words to describe it. Sadly, towards the end, he decides to use his medical knowledge to ramp up the believable factor by bringing in past experiments in quantum mechanics, higher consciousness and sleep-learning. By page 159, I had lost consciousness myself. Fortunately, the next chapter and a wonderful quote from Einstein brought me back so I could hurriedly finished reading his story--a story with a deep, heartfelt message but not enough information for my inquisitive mind.

With A Twist by J. A. Konrath


The problem with reading before bedtime is twofold. If the book is exciting, you might have nightmares and if you nod off before falling asleep, you may miss a plot twist in a great caper. In the past, I’ve had that problem with good thrillers which is one of the reasons I haven’t written a review for bestselling author Konrath before. I had some of his eBooks but this is the first one easy enough to finish in a single sitting. Had I any inclination to nod off, it disappeared as soon as I began turning pages. I loved the Swedish Fish addition and the cute tie-it together plot. There is just enough tantalizing information about the characters to make me want to purchase more in this series, which is clearly the author’s intent. The detective’s name is Jack. Some call her Jackie and her mother calls her Jacqueline—a simple touch but brilliant. Then there’s Herb the mustard-shirted guy—what a crack up. Still, I felt a bit rushed. I wanted to be hungry for Asian food by the end of it or at least sleepy---but instead—it was over—case closed and solved. Guess I’m used to reading longer books and my personal opinion is that the author could have elaborated on so much here to create a full-length novel. If you like super-short mysteries then here’s one you won’t want to miss.

Party to a Murder by Lorelei Bell


I enjoy reading mysteries but usually avoid anything involving blood or murder, because having a vivid imagination, they tend to keep me up at night or give me nightmares. The same goes for television shows and movies, even though I’m well aware they use ketchup or fake blood. Strangely, I have what might seem like an unhealthy aversion to vampire stories and I’m glad Bell, who usually writes about erotic bats and such, decided to change courses for this book. In fact, I really liked Party to a Murder. This mystery novel has two murders. One is a drowning and the other a stabbing. The plot weaves artistically through the Mississippi valley small town, where an amateur sleuth called Lainey decides to help Sheriff Weeks solve the horrific crimes. The characterization is excellent and there were plenty of plot twists, even a tornado, to keep me interested until the end. I could clearly imagine Lainey’s aunt and uncle and her friends, Brett, Wendy, Nadine, Lawson and A.J. Like a great mystery, every one is a possible suspect and as the story unfolds small clues help define the psychological implications inherit in who, what, where and why. And, in case you’re anything like me, it isn’t too gory. The only reason it kept me awake at night was simply because I kept reading and reading and reading to find out what happens next. If you like Agatha Christie and appreciated Nancy Drew, then you want to read Party to a Murder.

The Edge of Winter by LuAnne Rice


There’s not much to say, other than I loved everything about this book. There was however, that annoying problem of going through a lot of tissues, as tears rolled down my cheeks. Rice mingles a fascinating war story with romance, culture and ornithology. There’s a subplot involving relationships between brothers, fathers and sons and a father and his daughter, Mickey. Mickey and her friend Shaun want to change the world by saving the historical and biological significance of Refuge Beach but they are up against incredible odds, red tape and tons of emotional, family baggage. Cole Landry is a Trump sort of developer who wants to raise the U-boat that sank off the coast of Rhode Island. His Teflon-coated son Josh goes to school with Mickey. There’s trouble everywhere—especially when Josh is around. Tim, the Park Ranger has a personal interest in what goes on at Refuge Beach because of his father Joe. And Joe, well he found a way to deal with all his pain by taking care of raptors and sick birds. This metaphorically reminded me that some of us are like raptors, some of us are swans, while others are ptarmigans or prey. Some of us are free and some of us are caged—in actual cells--or jailed by struggles we create. But freedom has a price and there can be victims who become casualties, swept down below, during a raging storm at The Edge of Winter.

The Witch of Portabello by Paul Coelho



As someone who returned to my church and faith after years of soul-searching, I felt strong enough in my personal beliefs to wade through this story about a controversial subject. I love books that take you on a journey, out from the armchair and out of your comfort zone. The Witch of Portobello does exactly that with a unique format of various characters narrating each chapter, creating a sort of soulful alchemy focused on the main character. Unlike the literal excursion in The Alchemist, this is the spiritual path of Athena, and perhaps the author’s own message about non-conformity. As in, there are basically those who obey and those who don’t; a somewhat black and white message illustrated from each of the character’s different perspectives. If you know anything about the 60’s you’ll know it was a time to question authority, a notion gaining in popularity again. Back then, it was revolution or peace and lots of physical love. This book takes place in the 90’s and Coelho explores different types of love, such as that of a mother’s hug, a man’s kiss, Athena holding the hand of her child and the expression of love through silence and dance.
Perhaps this fascinating novel is best summarized with this line spoken by Athena: “When hatred makes a person grow, it’s transformed into one of the many ways of loving.” And that-- in a nutshell-- is precisely what this book is about—taking a forgotten gypsy orphan and showing her through teachers and experience about real love, and how it is always part of our lives. But how, you ask? What is the recipe and how does Athena turn hatred into love? You’ll have to read The Witch of Portobello to find out.

Frozen Time by Peter and Pattimari Cacciolfi


What a great story! 
I kept turning the pages faster and faster because I had to know what happens to Timmy, the son of a renowned archaeologist. One day, Timmy is moving some of the excavated items and finds an amulet that magically stops movement and time. The story begins in Africa and soon crosses the Atlantic to New York City where Timmy quickly learns that freezing time is a lucrative way to make money. He has a plethora of strange ideas to help him cash in on what at first feels like luck but later feels like hell. He travels to Vegas and enters a poker tournament, robs banks, convenience stores and hooks up with the darkest, shadiest drug dealers in the state. His friend Sara visits and wants to know what happened to the nice guy she used to know back in Africa.

Back home, his dad is in an induced coma and the stress in Timmy’s life is mounting.
I’ve given away too much already. It’s an amazing roller-coaster ride that will leave you breathless. Will Timmy move back to Africa? Will the mysterious amulet have other powers? Are Sara and Timmy finished forever or will love prevail? You’ll have to read Frozen Time and find out.

Twisted Tales From the Desert by Mari Collier


Bestselling author, Mari Collier writes amazing science fiction sagas taking place in the old west. These are contemporary stories with unique characters and desert landscapes. Her detailed, descriptive writing is well researched, showing an authentic command of language and a deep grasp about subjects most of us have only heard about, such as ham radio frequencies, shifting harmonics and cruise control. Unusual topics, only the most talented writer can make interesting. In fact, all her Twisted Tales from the Desert are mesmerizing and most will leave you breathless if not shocked. To spin a thrilling tale on a few pages complete with a suspenseful plot in each story is brilliant and in this case, truly twisted.

Whether it’s a story called Forgotten Gods about Native American folklore that had me searching on the floor for the bottom of my jaw, or simply a story about a wife wishing her husband Phil would someday return, in The Kiss, there’s a lot to love in this fascinating collection. In Ghost Town Remodel, Kim wants to refurbish a haunted bordello, in Conversations with the Unknown, Kevin is spending entirely too much time working on a broken radio while his wife Darla keeps nagging that he should stop so they can start a family. The hairs on the back of your neck will rise as Collier pulls you into A Victim of Murder which, along with many of these stories could be made into television movies or full-length novels. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d choose Rest in Peace which is a happier ghost story with a satisfying ending. The combination of ghosts, science fiction and “sweet spring desert air,” makes for some seriously great reading and since these are short stories, you can read one and put the book down until you have time to read another.


Ms. Maxwell & Son by Norma Beishir



Are you looking for a something pleasurable to read that won’t bog you down with literary details but still has a great plot? While it’s nice to read about snow glistening like a broken mirror or the leafy green fingers of English ivy wrapping around a fence post, those cumbersome particulars take our attention away from the subject, like a sneaky magician perfecting his sleight of hand, often making us fall asleep. (For example, do we really care about Mr. Darcy’s shirt being wet or even white? Austen distracted us but we kept reading because we wanted to see love!) Admit it--we want to find out what’s going to happen--especially in a romance! Most books by Norma Beishir are thrillers that weave around the world, pulling
readers into serious adventures but Ms. Maxwell and Son stays comfortably in Connecticut with an entertaining and intriguing plot. Of course, you’ll immediately fall in love with redheaded Katie and her neighbor Jack Spangler who lives with his cockatoo Sam. Katie’s in a pickle and the phone lines aren’t working. In desperation, she turns to Jack who happens to be a composer. He writes music all night long and says he’s about as ‘domestic as French wine’. Not only does this author capture the reader’s attention but she also makes us laugh aloud while pulling on our heartstrings. There’s nothing boring here to sideline or distract us... which makes for enjoyable reading and a great story that will never let you yawn!


What about you? Have you read any great books lately? 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Lady Behind Gourmet Jail Food

Yesterday, as fortune would have it, I attended a meeting of The Friends of the Murrieta Library, where author Louise Mathews spoke about her career and promoted her book titled: Jailhouse Cuisine(From the Right Side of the Bars). I’ve listened to many presentations by interesting authors but this one seemed to be truly unique. First of all, the writer held the attention of everyone for over an hour of speaking, with amazing stories of her career as Chief of Food and Nutrition Services for the
Sheriff's Department in charge of food service management for enormous Prison systems. Feeding over 8000 souls a day had to be a tough job and thankfully, Louise Mathews wrote a book about it.




When interviewing for the top spot, she told them not to hire her if they wanted good food. Challenge accepted, she went to work changing things from old and outdated ways to new and improved ways such as the cook/chill system and no strip searches outside of the kitchen. Inmates benefited from her “laws,” her humor and her family recipes. Her 42 years of experience earning her a Doctorate of Food Service and many awards.








   "I would not recommend going to jail in many of our states 
as some places are better than others if you find yourself incarcerated."
--From Jailhouse Cuisine by Louise Mathews

 The audience at the library was doubling over in laughter when she talked about her lunch that scurried away in the South or the cake that moved. In her book, she even explains why pie seemed to have "magical wings." Overall, I learned so many interesting things that I had to share this information with anyone interested in the truth behind prison food. I found out what Pruno is, and even the unsavory methods male prisoners use to make it. Her broccoli soup recipe, in the book, points out that it's best to use white pepper instead of black pepper because inmates don't trust black flakes in a white soup, something that sounds helpful for anyone raising teenagers. I even picked up a tip about how to use leftover potato chips but I don’t want to give her secrets away. Find out more by clicking here. Her book is chock full of hearty, well-tested recipes and fascinating stories assembled by a hard working and phenomenally brave woman that I had the special honor to meet.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Happy Mother's Day Thank You Poem


To All the Moms
by Eve Gaal


To all the moms who kissed away tears,
listened to our fears,
taught us how to sing.
To moms who baked pies,
told us white lies--
about how cute we were in bell bottoms.
To moms who scurried off to work,
putting up with jerks,
who talked down to proud women.
To moms who tried to curl our hair.
Braiding or trimming as we sat restless in the chair,
working on her patience.
To moms who tried to make us eat,
our veggies and some meat,
while we made faces and ducked under the table.
To moms who scolded us when we were bad
but reminded us not to be sad,
because if they could do all of this—

then someday--maybe 
so could we. 
To those devoted moms who wait for calls,
from deserts or hallowed halls,
while their child marches to a bugle. 
And....
To moms who planted special seeds,
by having books around for us to read,
prompting gardens of creativity,
filled with mindful blossoms and wildly grateful hearts.  


(I hope every mother has a wonderful day including mothers of fur babies and dads who had to step up to the plate and be mothers too, not to mention us empty nesters and stepmoms who wait for happy calls.May all of us remember our own mother with love, this Mother's Day.)