Category Archives: Book Reviews

Stockboy

Stockboy by [Duffy, Thomas]

Stockboy by Thomas Duffy is the story of Phillip, a man who is in his dead-end job. Stuck with no relationship. Stuck in his mundane life. Phillip is a good guy. He is smart. He has a degree. He has an excellent work ethic. However, he feels like he is only spinning his wheels and wasting his time on a life that is going nowhere. He feels his life ticking away while waiting for his love life to work out, his bosses to see his potential, and fulfillment to come his way.

Phillip is such a relatable character. He is sort of an “everyman” underdog. Everyone has felt unfulfilled at some point in his or her life. Readers will definitely identify with this character. He is the typical good guy who finishes last. He’s smart and capable and a great worker. He also gets passed over time and time again for promotions or wage increases at his bookstore job. When he does find a woman he loves, his life tailspins in that area as well. He can’t catch a break. As my grandfather would have said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s the same thing.” Phillip lives a “Groundhog Day” sort of life on his cyclical hamster wheel of a life.

The themes in the story fit right into our current social climate. Wages are stagnant. Growth is slow. College students owe student loans they can’t pay while working jobs below their qualifications. People can’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford insurance. When they do get insurance, they are still scared to go to the doctor for fear that the condition will be worse than they expect. People are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Opportunities for a better life are few and far between. People still manage to get up, put their torn sneakers on, and go back to the grind everyday. This is Phillip. He personifies a big chunk of the American workforce, and likely those abroad.

The writing is great. It is simple and direct without being boring. It doesn’t feel pompous or overbearing. Thomas Duffy is a good author that way. He reels you into his stories and his characters in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling he’s attempting to make up for content with flowery language. The content is there, so he doesn’t have to put on airs. I saw one or two simple typos. Beyond that, the spelling, sentence structure, etc. are great. This was an easy read. The book is easily digestible and could be knocked out in a weekend. Duffy books are always page-turners for me.

Other than a few minor errors the writing is solid, the characters are relatable and the situations they find themselves in will hit close to home for many readers. I like this writer’s style and have read his work before. He delivered again and didn’t disappoint. I’d love to read more of his work.

Pages: 200 | ASIN: B00CA517C8

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Shipwreck Island

Shipwreck Island by [McPike, James B.]

Shipwreck Island by James B. McPike is an adventure story with mystery and intrigue. Roy Berenger, an expert in salvage operations of shipwrecks, is approached by the great-great-granddaughter of one of the survivors of the wreck of the General Grant, a ship that was carrying a group of miners and the riches they’d unearthed in Australia. But the General Grant drifted off course, crashed into the cliffs on Auckland Island, and sank. Natalie Claiborne needs Berenger’s help to locate the lost ship and it’s treasure. Natalie’s ancestor, Winston Claiborne had kept a diary that described the event and the conditions the survivors endure while stranded on a bleak island, as they waited eighteen months for rescue. The diary also included a crude map of the island with an ‘X’ mark in the middle. Most of the survivors perished, and the shipwreck had never been found. There are tales of the island being cursed. Berenger’s instincts tell him from the start that he shouldn’t get involved with this particular shipwreck, but… he can’t resist the lure of adventure. Lots of treasure hunters have tried to find the ship, and many have died in the search. Can Berenger and Natalie succeed where so many others have failed?

The story begins with a prologue set in 1866 when the ship’s crew faced imminent disaster off the coast of New Zealand, which drew me into the story. People have been searching for the treasure for one hundred and fifty years since then, and I enjoyed reading the section about previous treasure hunters looking for the wreck, starting in 1868 and followed by numerous other expeditions in the intervening years. I liked the inclusion of this history, which gave additional depth to the story.

It was interesting to read about the different technologies used in underwater salvage to locate shipwrecks, but when the equipment malfunctions and a series of other strange occurrences happen on the island the search proves dangerous and deadly. Someone doesn’t want them to find General Grant’s treasure and sabotages their efforts. I felt that some of the villain’s actions were contrary to their motives. The villain wanted to use other people to locate the treasure for their own personal gain, but then tried to kill those people before they had a chance to solve the mystery of the missing ship. I would have used a bit more clarification on the characters motives to really flesh out, what I think are, intriguing characters.

There were a few issues with awkward sentence structure and repetition in this book as the same things were expressed more than once using different phrasing. This distracted from the flow of the story. And I felt that the chapter when Roy goes to dinner upon his arrival in Auckland doesn’t really add anything to the story and could have been eliminated.

I liked that the book included a map that showed the area of the different shipwrecks and their location in relation to each other. This allowed me to better visualize the setting of the story, which I found helpful. Overall, I found this to be an entertaining story that puts compelling characters in perilous situations set in exotic locations.

Pages: 186 | ASIN: B07GRFW8LT

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Rathen: Into Bramblewood Forest

Rathen: Into Bramblewood Forest (The Rathen Series Book 2) by [Smith, Grant Elliot, Stohler, Steven H.]

In the science fiction genre, many stories share similar plots. The authors, Grant Elliot Smith and Steven H. Stohler, in their co-venture, Rathen: Into Bramblewood Forest, expertly utilize concepts from great sci-fi classics. With this they create a very entertaining story that keeps readers rooting for the protagonist, Rathen, and his crew throughout their quest to vanquish evil from their world and other worlds in the galaxy.

The story begins roughly a year after the first book left off in a dark scene where Rathen and his companions—Bandark and Rulo—nervously approach a terrible foe that is capable of destroying the group with his magical ability that allows him control of many elements and also the dead. The result of this meeting then forms a core group that joins in a quest in search of a powerful book called The Book of Ziz that will allow its wielders to vanquish a terrorizing deity known as Gothoar. The story has much more depth as the characters face personal issues and other forms of conflict as the story unfolds.

One concept that makes this book a great read is the discussion of social dynamics through the interaction of fictional races. The group contains several humans, a lich, a half-orc, and people from other worlds in their fold. Therefore, the authors found a way to talk about and resolve racial conflicts. The details of the story show that some people have to live in certain neighborhoods and have to be defensive regarding their heritage. Thack, a capable warrior who is half human and orc, has apparently had a history of racial persecution because he chose to live in an area away from his home where he has found acceptance, but with the introduction of a love interest, feels defensive about his mixed heritage to seek acceptance.

Other social issues like gender disparity are discussed. Caswen—a healer—and her sister Drynwen—a protector—feel gender bias in their organization and have to fight harder to receive missions than their male counterparts. This book seeks to show that the bias others hold can often overshadow dreams and skills. The sisters get their opportunity to sharpen their skills on the road. They find their niche amongst the team allowing them to shine brighter than many of their order back home.

Rathen is able to shed new light on old tropes. Most everyone is familiar with the hero and company on a quest to save the world from destructive foe. The story adds plenty of depth through the implementation of human nature with nonhuman characters and the exploration of human tendencies like the search for redemption, acceptance, contentment, immortality, and even revenge in some cases. Smith and Stohler did a fantastic job telling a story that goes much deeper than the words on the pages; their work sticks with their readers well after the words are read.

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Pages: 282 | ASIN: B07HWNK13Z

The Emerald Cave

The Emerald Cave (Ramsey Series Book 3) by [McPike, James]

The Emerald Cave by James B. McPike is a fast novel. It’s not fast in the sense that it’s a short read. Rather, The Emerald Cave works by having prose and plotting that takes readers for a whirlwind of a story that involves action, firefights, terrorists, heists, and a dozen other elements that contribute to an engaging and incredibly engrossing novel. Being the third in its series, The Emerald Cave follows the story of Vince Ramsey, an Israeli detective searching for an arms dealer whose whereabouts are murky at best. He enlists the help of April Fulton, an expert on historical artifacts, and the two set off on an epic investigative chase that brings them from one part of the world to the another, with obstacles and betrayal meeting them each step of the way. The book is fast, and it starts off with a tense standoff initiated by terrorists of the Hezbollah organization. From there, the plot takes no chances, pushing onward with a feverish speed that helps heighten the book’s sense of urgency and impact. This is juxtaposed by appropriately placed moments of quiet that allows both the characters and the readers to ponder on events as they unfurl.

Beyond these points, The Emerald Cave shines in its effective usage of characterization. The relationship between April Fulton and Vince Ramsey highlight a realistic dynamic that allows the two to play off one another. Sequences in which the two work together in solving a puzzle or identifying various clues reveal key differences in the characters’ logical approaches and methodologies that help make each character feel individual. In certain moments, I found myself working out these puzzles with April and Vince, identifying my own thought processes and “aha!” moments in conjunction with their own. At the same time, there is a clear sense of growth these two protagonists go through as the novel moves forward and while some trends are easy to note, this sense of maturity one finds is rare in many stories today. This characterization is aided by James B. McPike’s effective prose. Sentences are generally terse and filled with the details necessary for the story. Long, drawn-out sections are rare to find and each word McPike utilizes is one that is necessary for the story being conveyed. This helps create a tense atmosphere that works incredibly well with the fast plotting designed by McPike.

As a whole, The Emerald Cave by James B. McPike is an incredible story that doesn’t let up. Events fly at neck-breaking speeds while readers becoming connected with the protagonists as everyone tries to uncover the mysteries and secrets the story presents. While the story could have used some additional quiet moments in order to allow the reader to collect themselves before continuing onward, The Emerald Cove remains an engrossing piece. The stories narrative design and effective characterization makes this story an incredible journey and an enjoyable ride.

Pages: 215 | ASIN: B07DSRKWR1

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Functional Nutrients for Brain Health

Functional Nutrients For Brain Health (Diet Planning for Brain Health Book 2) by [Kumar, Shantha]

It’s fascinating and scary thinking that the center of our bodies can contemplate its own demise. Our brains can study, research, and fear ailments like cancer and Alzheimer’s. And finding a healthy combination of these reactions might be our best chance at avoiding these terrible conditions. Dr. Shantha Kumar’s Functional Nutrients for Brain Health: A Vegetarian Perspective seeks to help readers find that balance.

Dr. Kumar undertakes a noble, yet challenging, task: helping the mind keep pace with a body that continues to live longer and longer. To do this, she applies her knowledge and experience to a full body type of medicine. In other words, the book’s advice goes beyond nutrition and includes commentary on exercise, sleep, and stress. In our current hashtag nutrition culture, where foods are elevated to savior status with little to no explanation, Dr. Kumar’s words become particularly refreshing. Take this passage for instance, “Olive oil is an Omega-9 monounsaturated fat which is a healthy option for the brain, although it is more cholesterol genetic (increasing blood cholesterol) than other unsaturated fats” (12). Rather than just uplift olive oil as a cure-all superfood, she takes the time to explain how some substances that increase brain health can simultaneously put other parts of the body under duress.

Additionally, the book provides a wealth of nutritional information that though aimed at vegetarians can apply to anyone. I particularly liked the section on fruits – which she lists hierarchically to indicate that not all fruits contribute to the same level of brain health. Just as useful was what food to avoid. I’ve heard a lot about why I shouldn’t eat artificial sweeteners or food coloring, but only now do I know it’s because they “increase free radical formation” and can “trigger generalized allergic reactions” (24).

Unfortunately, this fantastic information is buried in technical jargon. It’s not unusual to come across passages like, “the major apolipoprotein constituent of HDL-like particles in the CNS is ApoE which transports cholesterol and other lipids made by astrocytes and microglial cells to neurons” (14). Passages like the one above, as well as charts that occasionally stretch on for multiple pages, can discourage the average reader. In fact, one might think the book is intended for a professional audience were it not for the lack of sources backing up the information. Dr. Kumar is upfront about this approach. But this combination of medical terms and missing sources leaves the book in a weird middle ground: too complicated for average readers; too simple for medical experts.

Yet, discouraged readers should commit to reaching chapter four’s “Menu Planning Criteria and Strategies.” Here Dr. Kumar breaks away from the medical jargon and dives into specific dos and don’ts of brain health. This chapter transitions into recipes – which again prove more useful than the early sections of the book: even this meat loving reviewer admits that the bean salsa sounds delicious. People motivated to improve their brain health can trust they’ve found a worthwhile guide.

ASIN: B07JLNLZ79

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Addicted to Hate

Madeline Clark’s life seems like the life of a dozen different individuals. From the beginning of her troubled life, she is met head-on with one horrific circumstance after another at the hands of people she hopes and prays will be her saving graces. After finding her way out of South Africa, Maddie finds fleeting hope with David Blakely, a man she has no choice but to trust to pull her from poverty and imminent death, but cannot possibly know that his attention will be the beginning of her end and the catalyst for a lifetime of heartache and repeated loss and grief.

Maddie’s life, laid out for readers by Lucia Mann in her book, Addicted to Hate, is one of the most tragic about which I have ever read. It’s difficult to know where to begin explaining the layers Mann has revealed with her vivid and gripping descriptions of Maddie’s harrowing childhood, her abusive marriage to a vile man, and the horrific road she travels as a mother to three girls who could not care less if she lived or died. It is almost beyond comprehensible that Maddie could survive the mental and physical challenges with which she is faced from the beginning to the bitter end of her amazing and tortured life.

Mann has taken this story, based on actual events, and set Maddie forth as an unlikely heroine who overcomes insurmountable odds as she talks herself through each of her hardships including three pregnancies that, by all accounts, were miracles and curses at the same time. Maddie is the poster child of life testing us. She seems to have received each and every trial imaginable, the most tragic of which is the complete abhorrence her daughters have for her. I found myself rooting, paragraph by paragraph, for a turn of events for Maddie. I felt a visceral reaction with each mention of her daughter Mara’s blatant and evil brutalization of her mother. I wanted desperately for Maddie to see the light and make a break from her toxic children, but Maddie is better than most; she may be better than all of us.

Maddie’s intellect is her own saving grace. Her abilities are put to use in the most fascinating ways, and even that amazing opportunity cannot completely pull her from her spiral. Mann is a master at having her readers draw hopeful conclusions before letting them down abruptly.

The overall subject matter of Mann’s work is enhanced by the tone in which she writes. While maintaining a third person point of view, she manages nicely to incorporate a hint of second person questioning while drawing the reader further into Maddie’s overpowering drama.

Mann has given audience to an amazing tale of endurance and determination. In addition to the heartbreaking events of Maddie’s life, Mann shows readers the embodiment of true and unwavering unconditional love. Nowhere else can readers find a more poignant tale of loss, betrayal, and incredible triumph.

Pages: 254 | ASIN: B07K4TXQC7

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Tilly and Torg – New Kids At School

Tilly and Torg - New Kids At School by [Crawley, Connie Goyette]

Tilly and Torg New Kids at School is a wonderful children story about two monsters that are intrigued by a yellow school bus out their window and decide to find out where it’s taking all the children. They soon find out that the bus is going to a place called school. Tilly and Torg meet many nice people at school learn all about the things that go on there.

This is a wonderful children’s story to read to any child that is starting school and worried, or interested in, what happens there. As Tilly and Torg go through a full day of school they, like many kindergarteners, find themselves surprised and confused at some of the things that go on, but all the while they are open minded and ask questions. The art in this book is cute and filled with hidden gems, like the book Tilly and Torg carry around “Monster Rule Book For Living With Humans”, that beg for a second read through. The books is suitable for new readers or for parents to read to children as the art will keep the kids plenty busy as parents read them the story.

Although the art was cute and fitting, I thought the text could have been bigger or bold, which would have helped it stand out more when the text was on top of the images. This story offers so many opportunities for parents to discuss the different aspects of school with their kids. I didn’t realize that going to school comes with its own lingo; like ‘lost and found’ or ‘time for the bell’, and this book helps explain what these terms mean. At the end of the book is a little quiz that helps with reading comprehension and there is also a vocabulary list that is helpful for kids to review.

With beautiful art, cute monsters, and an easy to understand story, I think this book is a must read for any child that is about to start school.

Pages: 24 | ASIN: B07H52WP2V

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18 Cranes: Kaifeng Chronicles, Book One

18 Cranes: Kaifeng Chronicles, Book One by [Campbell, Robert]

For most of his life, Bing has prepared ceaselessly to take the civil servant examinations, with little time for anything beyond the collections of texts that dictate political matters. Passing the exams would be the first step in following his father’s path, and also determine nearly everything else about his future. Finally, the day to begin them has arrived, and Bing faces the grueling challenges before him with understandable anxiety, but also a necessary determination. Outside of the exam compound, however, his focus is frequently drawn to a mysterious dream that recurs almost nightly, as well as a glimpse into history from his beloved grandfather.

In 18 Cranes by Robert Campbell, we’re introduced to Bing, his loved ones, and some of the traditions of village life in 17th century China. With an engaging narrative and colorful descriptions of Bing’s world, 18 Cranes does an excellent job of holding the reader’s attention, even while discussing a subject as mundane as civil servant exams. Despite a lack of any real action, the story never seems stagnant. Of course, there’s more going on than just rigorous testing. Bing is also suddenly plagued by a recurring dream, the meaning of which eludes him. The reader learns a lot about Bing and his relationships with his loved ones over the course of several expertly crafted conversations that examine each part of the dream, which always ends with 18 red-crested cranes ascending into the sky. The number 18 in particular holds special intrigue and multiple explanations are suggested for its meaning. To further the feeling of mystery, toward the end of the story, Grandfather Ai begins to tell Bing about the origins of their family. The short oral history is enough to stoke Bing’s stifled imagination. Restricted by his strict studies, Bing has never had the opportunity to read many legends or works of fiction and his curiosity, although kept under control, nonetheless exists. Grandfather Ai’s revelations also provide an interesting twist for the reader.

The uncertainty of the future is an overarching theme throughout the book and is explored through both tangible avenues, like Bing’s performance in the exams, as well as in deciphering the symbolism of his dream. There is also a considerable emphasis placed on Bing’s age, with repeated mentions that he could be one of the youngest people to ever pass the exams on the first try. Because of this, it reads a good bit like a coming of age story.

18 Cranes is subtitled “Kaifeng Chronicles Book One”, in reference to the village that Bing’s maternal ancestors came from. I’d be excited to read the rest of the series and follow Bing further through the avenues of his life. The abundance of detailed descriptions make it easy to picture the aspects of Bing’s village life, from the shores of West Lake to the flowers in the gardens. This book is an interesting and well written story that moves at a good pace.

Pages: 123 | ASIN: B07C8LC32H

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What Anyone Can Do

Life gets in the way–this is something we have all experienced. The people with whom we choose to surround ourselves, the chances we opt to take, and the goals we set for ourselves set the tone for our success and, in many cases, our failures. One of the most effective methods for being successful is recognizing that you don’t have to go it alone. From learning with others to staving off those who ooze negativity, realizing that we are not expected to find our niche alone is the key to reaching goals of all types–not just goals related to business and career.

Leo Bottary, author of What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself with the Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity, and Personal Growth, sets forth some tidbits of advice regarding reaching goals and the realizations he has made along his journey. Interwoven with his own brief, high-interest anecdotes are words of wisdom from those he admires and from whom he has gleaned the most effective advice.

One of the most striking aspects of Bottary’s work is the stress he places on finding individuals who provide the appropriate amount of support but, at the same time, push us to reach our potential. Bottary effectively points out that the time in which we are currently living is an integral part of our ability to reach our potential. We essentially have everything we need at our fingertips, and our access to experts and the opinions and advice from others with similar interests and goals is ever-increasing. Bottary brings to light many points I had not considered as I am considering a career change myself and face my own negativity heading forward.

As an elementary teacher, I am stunned at the revelation Bottary makes regarding the time in which people tend to lose that feeling of invincibility. He points out that we are born believing we have no limits, but life tends to change that rather quickly. Specifically, he shares that by the age my own students are in third grade, they begin to second guess the fact that they can be anything they want and have what they desire. That was an eye-opening passage worth a second and third read to this teacher and mother.

Page after page, Bottary hits on one relevant topic after another related to the plans we make during our lives. I especially appreciated Bottary’s words on the changes we make related to career and business. My teenagers are about to graduate and set out on their own. Bottary emphasizes that the feelings my son is having about making a career choice and the pressure he feels to be sure about it now are validated by Bottary. I am more confident, after reading, in talking to him about the way in which we tend to change our minds about school and career paths.

What begins with the feel of a business-oriented self-help book turns quickly into an excellent source of inspiration for all readers.

Pages: 186 | ASIN: B07GRD9YPT

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The Dragon Shifters at Southgate

Right from the very beginning the book has an air of suspense. The plot unfolded easily and the characters were easy to understand and like. All of this led me to flipping pages quickly. We are immediately introduced to Talwyn Sevi and her mother and sister running through the woods. The author expertly narrates how the three had been running away, passing through the woods and even hiding. I had no idea what they were running from but my anticipation was high, and I wanted to know more.

The story got juicier when I got to know Talwyn’s age. She was over three hundred years old, and all she was having were memories. The other interesting thing was that the events in her dream-memory had happened when she was just 8 years old. That was such a long time to remember some things. I loved that during their time, her people could live for over eight hundred years. I tried imagining how life was for them, and how they viewed life seeing that one could live for centuries. The other exciting thing was that Talwyn’s people didn’t experience adolescence until they were twenty-five or thirty years old. Thinking about it, it made sense because a thirty-year-old could not be described as a full adult considering how long they lived. This is reminiscent, for me, of the depth of lore found in well developed series like Dungeon’s and Dragons, or The Lord of the Rings series.

I enjoyed Talwyn character, she was not only loving but also cared for the people around her. I loved her sense of humor and how she was able to bring moments of levity into dark situations. Her whole personality was lovely. I, however, didn’t understand why she kept questioning her clear memory. As much as some of the things she remembered were unpleasant, I would not have minded having a memory as good as hers. Overall, Talwyn was my favorite character. Anwyl was another character I admired (I know, it sounds like every character is my favorite). Being the greatest metallurgist the seers had ever seen was an achievement. Anwyl was the only being Talwyn had who had been allowed access to the mountain. I love that he was useful, as most fantasy novels give someone a job with no real use; he mined rare metal and made whatever the dragonkin needed. I really loved the traits in the characters. That the shifters could shift between human and animal form at will was eccentric, but amusing regardless.

The Dragon Shifters At Southgate: Seers Book II is a creative piece of literature with an action-packed plot and well developed characters in a world with a rich backstory. This book has an enthralling story line that constantly hints at something larger. The author’s writing style is simple, making it easily accessible by anyone, and her way of narrating the story naturally capture’s the reader’s interest.

 

www.SherryLeclerc.com

 

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