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Author: Dr. Bob Rich
Genre: Biography
Reviewed by Kim Richards

555Anikó is the biography of the author's mother and entails her life as a Jew in Hungary during the German and Russian occupations. Yes, it's another tale of Holocaust survival but is intriguing nonetheless. History buffs will love this little e-book.

The author, Dr. Rich, does more than simply give us the facts about this period in history. He lets us into the thoughts and emotions of the people involved. He shows us how decisions and events shaped the lives of his family. One cannot read this without marveling at the strength and will to survive evident in each of these people. It is a story of sacrifice and love; of perseverance; and a wonderful example of how mankind exists best when we actively care for one another.


June 14, 2004 in Biography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Madison's Miracles

Author: Joye Ames
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

10140401Maggie Madison is a beautiful, caring young woman who runs a local children's shelter in Atlanta. Her mother died when she was only four, at which time her musician father left her in the care of her aunt and he was never heard from again. Because of her past situation, she knows exactly how important it is for youth in crisis to have someone there to lend a hand from time to time. And because she and her best friend, Delta, run the shelter between themselves, their responsibilities include not only caring for the children, but also community fundraising. In most instances, this isn't an unpleasant chore for Maggie, except when it comes to The Ogre. Adam Fuentes is a successful local businessman with a brusque attitude and tight pockets. But Maggie always seems to weasel what she needs from him. Perhaps, as Adam bitterly tells her one day, it is because of her big eyes and short skirts.

So begins Madison's Miracles. Although Maggie's vexed at his accusation, she's also flattered. And although Adam is flustered at his admission, his attraction to her is evident even as he pushes her out the door – after giving her the requested donation. Before long, Adam finds himself on Maggie's doorstep when his niece runs away. He's a single man who idolizes his father's work ethic and believes that no one should ever ask for a handout or help. His brother and sister-in-law died in an accident, and he subsequently took over as guardian for their daughter, Jordan. So when she runs away, he finds himself in the curious position of having to ask Maggie to help him find her.

What transpires is a tight, fast-paced story with plenty of pleasing plot turns both comic and dramatic. Once the immediate crisis is resolved when they find Jordan, safe and sound and hanging out at the mall, Maggie and Adam turn up the heat on each other. Although both admit terror at the prospect of a relationship, they're unable to avoid each other once Jordan maneuvers herself into moving in with Maggie.

In such close proximity of each other, despite their misgivings, the sparks fly. Joye Ames has crafted a lovely novel with interesting and funny twists along the way. The main characters heat up the page, and both have personality to spare. Though a seemingly tough- cookie, pain-in-the-ass, rude, dismissive bore at first glance, Adam soon becomes a loveable lead and you'll be rooting for him to break through Maggie's walls. For her part, Maggie is nicely layered and her generous and spunky spirit will keep you rooting for her. The secondary characters are well-developed and endearing. The back-and- forth, on-again-off-again pull of their relationship will keep you turning the page, though it happened so frequently that I did start to get annoyed with it and with Maggie when the tension would flip over into frustration and my patience would lag. However, it worked overall and kept me reading and for the most part enjoying the rest of the story, all the way to the satisfying conclusion.


June 14, 2004 in Romance | Permalink | Comments (0)

I, SpiritKin

Author: Frances Evlin
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Alan M. Brooker

557When Cage, son of Allet, was expelled from his home village of Hafton in the country of Nighland following the murder of his parents, the future appeared clouded by danger and uncertainty. He was only young and had few resources to help him prepare for a life on his own.

Cage knew he was SpiritKin and that he had certain powers, but would they be an asset at a time when the country was being ravaged by marauding bands of Militants hell-bent on driving the SpiritKin into the isolation of the Boar’s Head region and the Royalists into oblivion.

Cage knew his only hope of survival was to reach the safe SpiritKin area around Truthrun, his mother’s home region, but it was a long journey for a lone boy, made even more dangerous when he was intercepted by Earl Merrestone, a suspected Royalists, and asked to take the Earl’s two foster sons with him into the security of the Community.

Reluctantly Cage agrees to take the two young boys with him and the three youths start on the perilous journey pursued by Militants and distrusted by many of the villagers they meet along the way when they recognise Cage as a SpiritKin, a target of the Nighland ruler Welzin.

The journey develops into a test of Cage’s inner strength and doesn’t stop when they reach the Boar’s Head and are accepted into the SpiritKin Community.

Cage and his two young friends become involved in a Royalist plan to reinstall the Monarchy to Nighland, a plan that also means turning the peaceful SpiritKin into a fighting force and the surprise element in the Royalist attack.

Cage learns to control his SpiritKin magic abilities and becomes an integral part of the plan.

We follow the battles that lead to the King’s triumphant return to the capital and the battle that follows when Cage discovers a plot to attack the country from the south in an overpowering seaborn assault. However as Cage has grown and matured he has learned to control his magic skills to a very high level and he is able to use these to ensure the monarchy survives.

This is a fascinating tale of courage, heroism and loyalty as the Royalists win and the King returns to his rightful place. There is action aplenty to hold your interest as the plot rapidly moves towards its conclusion.

But it is more than just an action adventure.

Woven through the story is a very strong love story as the young Gage reaches maturity, is tricked into a Royal wedding and faces serious doubts about his commitment to his new wife.

There is resentment, distrust and almost a low level of hatred for the wife who tricked him into abandoning his first love at the Community. Cage is not the first mortal to be tricked into marriage, and he will not be the last, but his is an interesting scenario because of the implications on Nighland of any matrimonial breakdown.

I followed the story with my interest equally spread between the action and the romance. At times I felt sorry for Cage, at times I felt even sorrier for Breen his wife but it was so important for the future of their country and their children that they reach a solution that would ensure the sacrifices made by the King’s supporters were not made in vain.

If you want to know if their marriage survived, or follow the action in greater detail, you will have to read the book.

I did, and I was most impressed. I would recommend it to people who enjoy a good action adventure and also to those who like to get frustrated at the manoeuvrings of star-crossed lovers.


June 14, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Salt Sorcerer of Oz

Author: Eric Shanower
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Rachel Fischer Gladson

558Unknown to many young readers today, L. Frank Baum documented the further adventures of Dorothy Gale from Kansas in the land of Oz in a series of 14 books that were popular in their day. The demand for Oz stories was such that subsequent "Royal Historians", including Baum's successor Ruth Plumly Thompson, added some more volumes to that series. Although the mass popularity of Oz has waned since the 1950s, professional and amateur authors have continued publishing all sorts of poetry and prose based on these characters.

Eric Shanower is no stranger to the land of Oz. He has written and illustrated five graphic novels with original Oz stories, illustrated several full length Oz books, and contributed artwork, poetry and prose to International Wizard of Oz Club periodicals. His graphic renditions of the most beloved Oz personalities are similar to those of John R. Neil, who illustrated most of the Oz books.

The Salt Sorcerer of Oz contains six poems and six short stories all beautifully illustrated by Shanower. The poems are most reminiscent of Thompson's rhymes and rhythms. The short stories contain various well known Oz characters—Dorothy, Glinda, the Patchwork Girl, Kabumpo and the Frogman—and introduce a few of Shanower's own creation.

A magic magnet draws Kabumpo the Elegant Elephant into a quest to end a sulphur rain in "The Salt Sorcerer of Oz". "Dorothy and the Mushroom Queen" and "The Ballon-Girl of Oz" are the only stories which feature Dorothy Gale of Kansas. "The Further Adventures of the Frogman" explores the consequences of truthfulness, not only in words but in actions. "Gugu and the Kalidahs" is a tale about the wild animals of the forest in Oz. "The Silver Jug" tells the story of Glinda's curious and headstrong handmaiden Amanda as she deals with the consequences of uncorking magic. Her travels outside the Deadly Desert which borders the land of Oz are told in a manner reminiscent of Baum.

The illustrations alone make the book a definite must for the Oz enthusiast, but the stories show that Shanower is likely to be crowned as a Royal Historian for his authorship alone. Although Shanower injects some modern day political correctness into The Salt Sorcerer, he does so tongue-in-cheek. Baum might have done the same.


June 14, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Opposite Shore

Author: Maryanne Stahl
Genre: Fiction
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

559Out for a sail aboard the family boat, the Ariel, on Memorial Day, one family's life is about to take a disastrous turn.

Rose, an aspiring painter, and William are the proud and happy parents of sixteen year old Miranda. Anna is Rose's sister and best friend, a pal to Miranda, an avid sailor herself, and close to William. They seem content.

However, when Rose goes home early, leaving William and Anna to close up the boat for the evening, she gets life-altering news. A painting of hers has been accepted in an upcoming gallery showing – her first big break. Flushed with excitement, she races back to the boat to share her exciting news. There, she finds her husband and her sister kissing. Immediately, everyone's world explodes. Betrayed and angry, Rose throws William out, cuts Anna from her life, and moves with her daughter for the rest of the summer to Shelter Island.

Stahl's writing is evocative and vivid. She brings Shelter Island to sparkling life while delving deeply into all four of these richly complex characters. This could be simple, it could devolve into melodrama. But instead Stahl mines this material in an honest and realistic way. Everyone has their flaws, and as they each struggle with their decisions and actions, the summer unwinds with rising tension and uncertainty. These relationships and people are so well rendered, along with the setting, that the reader is sucked into their world and understands, and often sympathizes, with their current situation.

Stahl apparently got the spark of inspiration for this book from Shakespeare's The Tempest. But this isn't a re-write. And though the jumping point for the plot is a betrayal, these characters sing with life, hopes, and frustrations. They are unique voices, though wholly understandable. And Stahl illuminates this world, unafraid to peek into the darker corners, all the way through to the satisfying conclusion.


June 14, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (1)

I Think I Hear Sleigh Bells

Author: Virginia C. Foley
Genre: Fiction
Reviewed by Jozette Aaron

560Ethan McBride was deserted by his mother as a baby. His father, very indifferent to his son except to meet his needs for survival, set him up in his own house in Lincoln Park, including a full compliment of staff. Ethan was two years old!

He was raised by Stella, his housekeeper, who loved him as if he were her own. Many a day she would catch him pining for the mother who promised to return for Christmas. He sat with his gift in hand, waiting for her to return...a gift that went un-opened for twenty-two years.

Ethan grew up not trusting anyone to love him. He lived his life very privately, not letting anyone close enough to see the hurt there. Tragedy would strike at the hands of Vienna, a deranged acquaintance of his; someone who thought she loved Ethan and set out to make him love her in return.

When Grace Dukane entered his life, Ethan was thrown into an emotional quagmire of old hurts, hatred, despair and longing and was being pulled down to a place he thought he would be unable to emerge from.

Ms. Foley has written a very powerful, emotional story of a tangled web woven from deceit and how it touched the lives of everyone whether innocent or guilty.

A good read...highly recommended!


June 14, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Time To Mourn

Author: Tim Wohlforth
Genre: Crime Fiction
Reviewed by Dale Stoyer

561Tim Wohlforth’s first P.I. novel is a good balance between action and investigation. Although his P.I. protagonist laments the sometimes sedentary nature of investigative work in this monologue:

Somehow sitting in front of a computer seemed like just the desk job I thought I could avoid by being a private eye. Yet, I found I was spending more time these days in front of a computer screen than wearing down the gum on my shoes.

He doesn’t get much time for relaxation in his novel length debut. Jim Wolf is Wohlforth’s Oakland based P.I. and the main character in several of his published short stories. He lives with a 7ft Burmese Python named Monty on a 37ft sloop called the Sea Wolf anchored at the bottom of Broadway, and he works out of Big Emma’s a few blocks away.

Big Emma’s is a Victorian bar on Jack London Square run by Jim Wolf’s ex-lover, Lori Mazzetti, and her brother Joe. Jim’s office is the back booth under the picture of the bar’s namesake and it is here that he meets his client in No Time To Mourn.

Susan Henry is a drunken redhead who is so pale he describes her as appearing “as if an artist had begun to colorize her just before she walked out of a frame in a 40’s noir movie.” It turns out Susan never drank before her husband was killed right before her eyes, and now she believes someone is following her. She describes him as a red-faced thug driving a red car and is pretty sure he followed her to the bar. She is positive it is the man who shot her husband.

Jim goes to check and has his first run-in with the killer they begin to call Red. He has a few more encounters with Red before the end of the case, but it only takes one meeting to turn his client into one more hardboiled femme fatality. He laments her death, noting:

Time warp. She had stepped out of another era. Not equipped to handle our times. Destroyed by forces she could not comprehend. Forces I had to identify. One more victim of evil. I knew why I was a private eye.

It’s not smooth sailing for our man Jim though, as he has to contend with the good cop/bad cop duo of Nina Peterson and Richard “Ollie” Oliphant, his client’s stepchildren, lesbian bikers and possibly even the mob, including the troublesome Red. Wolf bends some rules unraveling the tangles of inheritance, family and secrets buried in the past. He’s comfortable with his ethics, and explains them succinctly:

I deeply believed in the right to privacy. I didn’t think the IRS, the FBI, and ATF, or the cops had the right to snoop on anyone. Keep Big Government out of our living rooms, bedrooms, trash and business files. So why did I earn my living digging out other people’s secrets? I was a hypocrite.

Jim Wolf is not a cookie-cutter caricature of a hard-boiled private eye, and comes off as human and fallible. The supporting cast is well realized and engaging and the action drives the plot without taking it over. An interesting mystery that doesn’t fall victim to cutesy twists, but entertains while it makes you think.

Tim Wohlforth has published non-fiction as well as crime fiction and his detective short fiction has appeared in leading magazines, anthologies and online. He participates in the occasional short story panel at mystery conventions and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, The Private Eye Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Short Mystery Fiction Society, and the National Writers Union.


June 13, 2004 in Crime Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Cabinet of Curiosities

Author: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Kim Richards

562Over a hundred years ago thirty-six young people were murdered in New York City. They died during a time when Cabinets of Curiosities were a popular form of entertainment. Did these displays of fossils, pickled fetuses and scientific curiosities have any connection with their gruesome and precise murders? The answer is yes.

Their remains are found today, sparking an investigation into who killed them and why a local construction company working on the site refused to halt their work for more than just a few hours. Then suddenly the murders begin happening again.

The Cabinet of Curiosities is a hard-to-put down murder mystery involving The New York Museum of Natural History whose patrons then and now are connected to these deaths. It's an engrossing tale of investigation, terror, a touch of magic and the secret of Immortality: an intriguing twist on the things men do in the name of science.


June 13, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kennywood (Images of America)

Author: David P. Hahner, Jr.
Genre: Nonfiction
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ross

563In his book from Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, David P. Hahner, Jr. decidedly nails his objective of giving Pittsburghers (and Pittsburgers) a collection of fond memories to share. Kennywood is a fitting tribute to the long-beloved and world-renowned amusement park that has remained in the hearts of Pittsburghers and amusement park enthusiasts alike for generations.

The photographs show the constantly changing façade of the park, and illustrate that even with the facelifts, the changing attractions, and the changing outside world, Kennywood amusement park has stood the test of time. Hahner's family attachments to the park are seen in the multiple photographs attributed to their collections, and this long-standing family relationship, beyond his own involvement in the American Coaster Enthusiasts club, makes this author an ideal nostalgic historian for the park. This is particularly fitting because Kennywood has been a family business in the Pittsburgh area from its beginnings.

Hahner clearly states that his intention is to merely remind his readers of good times had within the park, and that goal is definitely achieved. Admittedly, many of the older photographs in the book are of times before many alive today can remember, but that history is presented in small easily digested bits that can be re- told to younger generations. This thumbnail history places a visit to Kennywood in a completely new perspective, especially as one passes the buildings that have stood from nearly the beginning, like The Old Mill, or as one walks on the pavement in Lost Kennywood gazing at the Pittsburg Plunge, realizing that there had once been a 350 feet by 180 feet pool on that very spot.

Kennywood should be read cover to cover, to get a full understanding of Hahner's presentation. That is not a drawback, as it is definitely a page-turner, in the sense that the pictures and captions tend to draw the reader forward. The small tidbits of information offered in each chapter are like favorite candies, and taking one in is not enough; there is a desire to know more after each chapter closes. For the Kennywood park enthusiast, Pittsburgher, traditional amusement park enthusiast, or child at heart, this is definitely a must-have book.


June 13, 2004 in Nonfiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Most Improbable Life

Author: Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Rachel Fischer Gladson

564Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs is a multi-lingual Chicana poet, essayist and author who teaches at Seattle University. Her collection of poems explores issues unique to her life. Recurring themes in this book include ethnic identity, family relationships and affairs of the heart. Mostly in English, with some French and Spanish, the poems vary in tone and subject matter. "A Most Improbable Life" and "My son thinks we are cows" offer a glimpse into the world of the Latina, her view of low parental expectations and of the Chicano farm worker's life. "The 12th Commandment by a Mexican Woman" infuses humor into the otherwise serious book: "When people see me, / they always think of food.../ I say, / ‘Please don't eat me I am not a taco.'"

As many poems deal with the life of an educated immigrant, this book has special appeal to ethnic and international audiences. Muhs provides an unconventional view of America from the inside out. Although the tone of the collection is uneven, some images linger in the memory like a fine wine.


June 13, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)