Category Archives: Three Stars
Friends of the Tsar, by Jon de Graaff, is a story about the author’s “Aristocratic Grandparent’s harrowing escape from the Russian Revolution of February 1917.” The story starts near Petrograd, Russia in 1916 with Vera and George, with George and his mother, Adelaide, saving Vera from a wolf attack. They are at the country estate of George’s father, Baron Alexander Zuckschwerdt. Adelaide and Alexander are very much aristocrats. Vera and George are not on board with the aristocratic ways of their parents. Vera, who also came from an aristocratic family, started rejecting her parents’ ways after Bloody Sunday when even children were killed during a protest.
Vera has ten sisters. Three of them come to stay with her. Monica is 16. Mary is 15. Natty is 10. Vera often gets strong premonitions when something bad is about to happen. Blue is Alexander’s friend. He is an Australian cattle breeder. He comes to stay as well. Blue saves Natty from choking. He learned how to do it on a chance visit with friends. Vera sees it as meant to be. Blue tells story after story of things that happened that seem to have a lot of coincidences. Vera does not see them as coincidences at all. He dismissed them as being luck in the past. He now thinks differently.
The family finds itself in trouble. The country is in trouble. Their money is not worth as much. The people in the country are starving. The family decides that they need to leave. Blue offers to let them stay with him in Australia. Alexander books passage for himself, George, Blue, Vera and the girls for February 27, 1917. The story goes on from there to cover how they escaped and the challenges they faced as they did.
I felt that the story could not decide on what the book was going to be. As I went from chapter to chapter, I felt like many of the chapters could have been stand-alone chapters and were not connected very well. It lacked continuity. There are different stories being told that don’t seem to reach any conclusions. At first, I thought the book was going to be a love story about Vera and George. After the first chapter or so, they seemed forgotten and the book focused on Blue’s stories. Then it would jump to near misses while trying to escape and spy stories. I found myself confused a few time. The language seemed a bit stilted and formal and did not flow like normal dialogue in places.
There is a good story in the book though it would benefit from a bit more organization. The author writes well. Some of the stories were definitely interesting. Some of the story lines had definite possibility and begged for further development as the characters were intriguing and were usually placed in exotic locations.
Pages: 126 | ASIN: B071ZQ6CG8
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Project Purple by Michael Greco is a fictional story about thirteen Americans who agree to take part in a social experience (called Project Purple), with their every action filmed and viewed live for the entertainment of the world. The thirteen people will relive an authentic colonial life of American pilgrims (in the year 1613) for four months, with the viewers as the ‘fourteenth colonist.’ The thirteen colonists must build a colony with twelve other strangers, figuring out how to work together. One of the colonists is Henrietta Dobie, known in the colony as Goatwench. But the colonists were lied to and none of them know the truth about the real purpose of the Project. When Rigor, a detective in Las Vegas, is sent a video of the horrific circumstances Goatwench is forced to endure, he’s determined to put a stop to the Project. But the organizers of the Project will stop at nothing to reach their own ends.
The premise of the book was intriguing, and the story kept my interest. I wanted to know what would happen next for the colonists–would any of them survive? It was interesting to see how human nature played out as the different characters reacted to the difficult–and then deadly–situation they found themselves in. I liked that the author told the story from the point of view of several different colonists, which gave much more insight into the individual characters.
I liked the historical aspect of the story. I enjoyed reading details about the clothing, daily tasks, and customs of American colonial life.
The sadistic actions of the people who created Project Purple were detestable; putting thirteen wholly unprepared people into that situation without their full knowledge and consent for the sole purpose of so-called entertainment for the viewing audience and to further the organization’s own agenda.
The story started out slow, with a lot of set up about the detective’s life in Las Vegas and leading into the beginning of Project Purple. The book felt a bit disjointed, jumping back and forth in time, and jumping between the detective and the colonists. It might have improved the flow of the story if the author had started out with the colonists embarking on Project Purple, and once things started to go wrong, then the detective could have been introduced when he received the first video. In the end this is an intriguing exploration of human motivations that plumbs the depths of humanity.
Pages: 351 | ASIN: B07K7N5M2D
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The Mom and Her Autistic Daughter by Regine Dubono is a fitting title for this book. Dubono explains the life and turmoil of Desiree, an adult with autism, and her mother. Desiree’s medicines’ effects and side effects are explored. The struggle to find Desiree a long term living arrangement becomes a source of contention between Desiree, Desiree’s mother, and her caregivers. Her mother finds it difficult to find balance for herself and her daughter while playing a deck that seems stacked against them.
The author delves into Desiree’s everyday life which feels tumultuous at best. Desiree has parts of her life she enjoys such as shopping and manicures, but everything apart from that feels tense. In working in Special Education I have found in the past that this is pretty typical of autistic children. I assume that would generally carry over into adulthood as it has with Desiree. My students have had areas they excel in and become almost obsessive about their particular interests. Anything else feels boring or daunting. Any deviation from their schedule can also cause a tailspin or meltdown. These are things that readers who have not worked with people with autism may not know and may learn from the book.
I’ve also had a bit of experience in dealing with drugs and their side effects while caring for my father. Dubono explores how drugs may “fix” one issue, but cause many more. One drug may also cause further symptoms that need to be controlled, thus producing the need for more drugs. These are frustrating waters to navigate. Readers may get more of a grasp of how many pharmaceutical companies and drug-pushing doctors work in this aspect. This part of the book is especially pertinent in today’s social climate.
Dubono’s explanation of the struggles in finding Desiree a permanent and sufficient placement especially hit home for me. Many readers who have dealt with this kind of thing will be able to sympathize with the accounts she gives. It is extremely hard to find caregivers for adults. It would be exponentially harder to find care for those who are prone to have outbursts and labelled as “difficult.” Clean and suitable facilities and genuinely caring and qualified caregivers aren’t always readily available. My family knows that from experience. Anyone who has dealt with this will find her accounts relatable.
The structure of the book feels somewhat lacking and feels repetitive at times. One letter in particular that is written by the mother is repeated almost verbatim in another part of the book. I had to flip back to make sure I hadn’t lost my place. There are quite a few grammatical and spelling errors throughout the book. There are also many abbreviations that are left unexplained. There is substance in the experiences and relationship of the mother and daughter, but the book doesn’t flow as well as I would have liked it to. I think the book would benefit greatly from an editor and proofreader.
There are important lessons to be learned here. This is a story that should be told as a cautionary tale and to help parents or guardians not feel alone in this situation. Desiree’s voice should be heard, I just think the book could use some revision and restructuring.
Pages: 123 | ASIN: B07H5RCYB5
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GARDENING WITH GUNS by AJ WOOTTON is a memoir which delves into the relationship between the author’s rocky childhood and her present-day struggles. We meet Amber as she gets a great job and goes on vacation with her family. Things take a quick turn for the worse when Amber’s beloved father’s body is found–suicide. While dealing with this significant blow, Amber ponders traumas from her childhood, compares her relationships with her absent father and abusive stepfather, and parses out her many tumultuous relationships—all while wondering if her past might dictate her future, knowing that her spousal relationship is also on the rocks.
Although this is billed as a memoir, I’d say it reads more as a memoir-within-a-memoir, with the loose threads of the current day events—the death of a family member, followed by the arrangements for the funeral and resulting small family dramas—connecting the real meat of this book: the author’s deep dive into scenes from her childhood, some of which have had effects on her she has yet to realize. The prose reads like a stream of consciousness, which is sometimes an asset: it does make you feel like you are sitting inside the author’s head, listening to her own thoughts as she notices details and pulls apart her memories. The book does a good job of delving into the complexity of dark human drama—divorce, infidelity, suicide, abuse—while giving front stage to the inner motivations which drive our actions. The first few chapters feel like a cozy memoir, as the author chummily guides you through interviews and family vacations as one would a close friend. While some of her stories tend to ramble a bit, the author provides such detail in her work that it is impossible to get lost amidst the narratives. The importance of every scene included may be questionable, as it occasionally veers into redundancy; and the timelines can be confusing, as in at least one case we learn to live with a character and then, later on in the narrative, “meet” him. However, it falls together as a deeply-felt memoir; it is impossible to read this without feeling one knows the author extremely intimately. As the author weaves through her life as an abused child, an entrepreneurial tween, a self-conscious teenager and beyond, it’s clear that the heart of the story is the author’s relationships: those with her father, step-father, mother, siblings, friends, husband, and, ultimately, herself.
Pages: 386 | ASIN: B07KT98NQR
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With a collection of singular point of view narratives the author, Mayne Leitzer, offers his first complete book of poetry; 103 Simple Poems From One Simple Person. The book is sectioned into chapters outlining the types of poems that follow, what those writings mean to the author, and how they came to be. The title is indicative of the style of writing, not the writer, as the poetry is fairly simple; using straight forward thoughts and uncomplicated prose to reflect on life’s complications. The story arc is more of a summation of personal perspective and reflection than a journey forward or illustration of action.
In penning “103 Simple Poems” Mayne Leitzer offers up self reflection, self deprecation, a heavy dollop of fundamentalist religious dogma, and more than a little bit of sadness and remorse, with a glimmer of joy and hope.
Many of his poems are jargon one could find on a motivational poster or greeting card, but that is not at all bad. Life can get messy and sometimes people need soft, plushy words to find comfort and solace. The reader will find many situations that they can relate to; lost love, death, pursuing success, loneliness, finding your destiny, conflict of conviction, etc.
However, there are many poems that can be divisive. Sex before marriage, gun control, abortion, prayer in school, Heaven and Hell, those types of things. The thoughts Leitzer lays out are organic in nature and not derived of a need to be quoted for inspirational prose or to start a deep conversation, but rather, just as he states; a need to express his soul at different stages in life.
Some poems showcase the more complex layers of his humanity that struggle to shine under the dominance of a narrow vision. The Promised Land poem is thoughtful and embraceable. Not a Bad Day and One Moonlit Night lets out his optimistic side which he admits is not in his nature. Leitzer is honest about his mistakes and his struggle with alcoholism. His love poems are truly good; especially Seasons, A Smile and Rock A-bye.
There are a few grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors, which are distracting as is his zealous religious fervor, but his writings let the reader feel his authenticity and the last few poems wrap up nicely to summarize his goal and wishes for success.
This book uses simple and fluid style to expand peoples emotional depths but seemed content to keep its voice generalized. The individual writings have value no matter your religious leanings. At the end the reader will come away with some reflections of their own and maybe, quote a few lines for their own stages of life.
Pages: 124 | ISBN: 1425979149
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Adventures of the Cabin Kids follows a group of children, known as the Cabin Kids, through various adventures they experience during their time at 88 Mountain View Cir. They are the fun childish adventures kids often have when left to roam the woods. They meet wildlife, explore the woods, and have to deal with a trio of bullies called the Field Boys that try to chase them off their mountain. By coming together as a team the Cabin Kids are able to beat the Field Boys at their own game. All the while they have to make sure they are back home for supper.
Any grade school child would enjoy this book. From beginning to end it’s filled with the kinds of ‘adventures’ experienced when exploring the woods. They are minor things, like helping a deer and following train tracks to see where they lead, but the book presents these in such a way that each holds it’s own unique interest to the Cabin Kids.
The Cabin Kids are supportive, helpful, and kind to one another. These are exactly the kinds of family and friends you want with you as a kid. The kids are cute, in their mannerisms, and in how they utterly support one another. The illustrations certainly help sell this point. Each illustration in the book looks as if it was drawn by the kids themselves and fits the story perfectly. I wish that there were more illustrations that showcased more of the memorable moments in the story.
The ideas presented are simple and easy to understand for any child. While the motives are sometimes vague, the emotions and actions of the children are something that sets this story apart from many other stories of this genre. Honest and kind to the core. When the Field Boys show up, you can tell they are definitely trouble and the challenges that ensue are sure to cause reflection of playground games in any child.
Adventures of the Cabin Kids showcases the complete support and friendship kids can have toward one another. Foregoing any challenges or drama within the group and instead focusing on the intrigue and wonder of the forest and what could be waiting just down the next trail.
Pages: 24 | ASIN: B07965DQJ9
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Whatever He Wants: The Pleasures and Perils of Power By Joan Conning Afman is a contemporary story set in West Palm Beach, Florida. The books starts with Mel Martinelli and Sam Abrams, two unethical businessmen, looking for an up-and-coming politician to groom for state senate. They want a man they can control, who will serve their own interests. They decide that David Shepherd, a young, handsome lawyer is the ideal candidate. David insists that he will not be a party to anything illegal, and with their insincere assurance that they would never ask him to do anything like that, he agrees to their proposal to fund his campaign. Mel goes so far in his machinations as to encourage a romantic relationship between his daughter, Michelle, and David, which eventually leads to marriage. Will David’s ambitions cause him to act contrary to his beliefs? Or will he stand firm against others’ attempts to compromise his determination to do what is right?
Michelle Martinelli is a controversial character that had me shaking my head at the beginning of the story. She was entitled and snobbish, with no ambition and was supported by her rich father. She was a character perfectly created to be hated. She was drawn to a man based on his looks alone, without any thought for what kind of person he was. What I really enjoy about the characters in this book is how they evolve over time. Michelle starts to develop some redeeming qualities as time passes, although still unlikable, I was impressed with how well developed here character was.
While the books started with me loathing Michelle, I had the opposite feeling of David Shepherd. He seemed to be an ethical man who refused to comprise his principles for others. But as the story progressed, he abandons his scruples and becomes corrupted by power. This slow decline into the very worst sort of politician reveals how someone can change, and the contrast is stark and revealing–accepting bribes, having an adulterous affair, fathering a child with a woman who was not his wife, contemplating and condoning murder to further his own ends.
I enjoyed the author’s writing style, it flowed easily and was frank and to the point with only a few editing issues. The story was well paced but there were a few sections where I would have enjoyed a little bit more information before the story moved on. The story follows the development of the characters over the course of more than twenty years so there were points where there are large time jumps leaving me with a few questions in an otherwise well written story.
This is a fascinating story that examines how people change over time. This is a character driven story that I highly recommend to anyone who likes stories that put humanity to the test.
Pages: 190 | ASIN: B0793QKWYF
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Why are we here? Where did we come from? Is there a bigger picture than the existence that we know? Is human life purposeful? Humans have contemplated the answer to these questions, and others that are similar, for much of our history. Here, author Francis O’Neill makes his own attempts to provide answers through a mixture of science, religion, the supernatural, and some ancient mythology. O’Neill’s theories lead to a definitive “yes, we are here for a reason”, but the journey to his conclusion is more interesting than the resolution itself.
In Love’s Story of Why We Are Here, O’Neill explores one of humanity’s most philosophical conundrums from a wide variety of angles. By his own admission, the theories that are proposed are speculative, and therefore untestable. For that reason, much of what he provides as answers can’t be considered true science. Many might argue that there is no science involved at all since much of the book focuses on the idea of a living Earth (not terribly far-fetched) and the importance of extraterrestrial life in human evolution. Despite the very unusual ideas that are discussed, O’Neill’s theories are presented in a well researched and organized manner, often including quotes from well known scientists in a plethora of fields. The professionalism of his work protects the subject matter from ridicule. The excessive use of commas throughout the book seems to imply a casual, conversational tone but instead creates long and circuitous sentences which often hide O’Neill’s intended meaning. I had to read many sentences multiple times, which interrupted the flow of the text and made it difficult to comprehend some of the concepts.
The theme of this book is simple- existence, purpose, and an explanation for both. Curiosity is a basic human trait that propels us forward and O’Neill uses that interest in the unknown to explore these ideas from a fresh standpoint. While some of what he discusses is not exactly new, he creates a fresh combination out of multiple theories that have been proposed in the past. It is also interesting that he uses both science and religion to support his theories, since those two schools of thought are typically contradictory.
There were parts that laid out simple rules for happiness and self-care, which everyone could stand to be reminded of. There was also a quick lesson on quantum theory that is thorough yet simplified, and incredibly interesting. Ultimately though, much of the book had a very new age and enigmatic feel. While this would be appealing to readers that are already interested in such subjects, it would likely make very few converts out of those that are not.
Pages: 163 | ASIN: B07FDG9FSL
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Life happens. We all know this and generally don’t have to be reminded of this truth. Along with the rigors of work, family, and relationships come changes in metabolism and eating habits. Women seem to bear the brunt of these changes with weight gain following the transition into marriage and motherhood. Make no mistake about it, women are well aware of the changes their bodies undergo, and they are hyper aware of the impact their weight gain has on relationships and their overall health. Whether women work to lose weight or not, they don’t need reminding that their bodies are changing in ways they may not necessarily like.
Carl Turner’s Gain Weight…Lose Your Mate examines the tendency of women to gain weight and focus less on maintaining the size they were upon entering the relationship with their mate or spouse. Turner spends a significant amount of time examining men’s awe regarding their girlfriends’ and wives’ seeming unwillingness to lose weight following childbirth. Though I understand some of the reasoning Turner sets forth, he focuses rather relentlessly on the desire men have to see their wives lose the baby weight.
Another aspect of Turner’s writing lies in the fact that he relates men’s feelings to the physical appearance of their wives and girlfriends. According to the author, there is a certain level of happiness most men feel as a direct result of their wives’ physical appearance, and that level of happiness is negatively impacted by their choices not to pursue exercise and healthier eating habits.
Peppered throughout Turner’s book are scenarios and examples of couples coping with the woman’s weight gain. Turner presents these situations in order to better illustrate his point but succeeds only in making men look more and self-centered. In once such scenario, Turner introduces a brief scene in which one man tells his wife that he will leave his wife alone with their children if she keeps her weight as is and doesn’t find a way to drop the extra weight she gained after having the two children. Sharing this story would have been effective had Turner used it to explain the selfishness behind the man’s comments. However, Turner goes on to explain that men don’t care what their mates eat as long as their weight/appearance is not negatively affected in their opinions.
Turner does include research-based measures and manages to warn readers of the consequences of obesity and the ensuing health conditions which result from overeating and failing to exercise regularly.
Turner’s writing style is straightforward and polished. Overall, I am mortified by the tone taken by the author and feel the writing lacks solid advice to rectify an issue rather than pointing out that there is a problem. His point of view is well crafted and easily understood.
Pages: 140 | ASIN: B079K5D4FY
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Beloved Mother by Laura Hunter is a saga that follows the lives of several members of the Parsons, a poor coal-mining family. The story begins in Covington, Virginia in 1923 when thirteen-year-old Mona Parsons is taken away to Carolina by Jackson Slocomb. He abuses her, and she’s rescued by a Native American man named Walks in Tall Corn. He takes her in and raises her son, Briar, as his own. Ten years later, Tall Corn is injured in a farming accident and his wound becomes infected. He dies and Mona (River of Two Tears) returns to Covington, but her father doesn’t welcome her. She and her son end up in a coal mining town, Breakline Mining Camp. Mona’s younger sister, Anna, runs away with Clint, and they end up in in the coal mining town, too. But although Two Tears and Anna interact and live in close proximity to each other for many years, they never realized that the other is their sister. Told from a number of different points of view, this book spans generations and decades, even going back in time to earlier generations.
I enjoyed the author’s writing style, and her vivid descriptions drew me into the story. I liked the bits of history that the author added throughout the book. The story touched on a number of different time periods, from the great depression and World War II to the mid 1800’s.
I enjoyed the Native American aspect of the book–the Great Spirit, Sister Sun and Brother Moon, and the Cherokee medicine woman (called a Beloved Mother). It added an interesting element to the story that I would have loved to read more of. The characters lives were hard, as they struggled to scrape by, but I felt that most were selfish, thinking of their own wants and needs, in desires to get ahead. There is a lot of colorful, and questionable relationships, from adulterous affairs to a twenty-six-year-old man married to a thirteen-year-old girl, and an older man with romantic feelings for his young half-sister–though he was unaware of their connection. This made it hard for me to relate to, although I certainly appreciated, the characters.
Overall, this is an emotional story that pulls at your heart. I would have enjoyed a more uplifting theme, if not a few moments. There were a number of deaths, and very few characters were still alive by the end of the story, but I suppose… such is life.
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