Next Up For Review

Next Up For Review
The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

January Doesn't Have To Be Bleak

At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

I Admit, I've been a bad, bad girl. I have read many books since the last time I posted a review; and not a one has made it on this blog, to my Amazon review page, or any other sort of media. I'm not proud of my lack of structure; in fact, I've been hiding my head in shame since early May, wondering if I will ever finish my fourth book's edits, send my first book into a reprint or get my second book away from my first publisher (who I've come to despise).  At first I made light of my moral failings, pretending I would soon snap back into action. It wasn't until very recently (as in yesterday) that I actually began to see the pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel that has become my life and I decided, without any more delays, to force myself back to work.
But why? What could have kept you from writing for so very long...and why, when you are finally creeping back into the world of creative writing, would you chose to do it with a book review?
The answer is simple: I chose this book, and this review, because like the Schofield family, I have a child who suffers from a major mental illness; and after  several years of  riding the roller coaster, being derailed from every path I ever foresaw, watching the best laid plans turn to ash and trying to decide who to tell and who to hide from, I finally decided I just don't care what people think. 
Scratch that. I care very much what people think--especially when it comes to my friends and loved ones. 
The misconceptions about schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are abundant and spread like fire through the Redwoods. In our society the word 'psychotic' is used interchangeably with the term 'serial killer' and after incidents like the James Holmes/Colorado tragedy...well you can see why most people who suffer from hallucinations aren't quick to come out and dispel the myth of all schizophrenics being violent. The ones who are often have been victims of long standing glitches in our mental health care laws. The ones who aren't cringe when bad news related to schizophrenia erupts, hide their heads and pretend to be typical (if they can).
But just as I'm feeling alone, doomed to hide, stigmatized and ashamed, along comes this tiny, blond pixie--just a wisp of a person--with the voice and courage so many of us lack, speaking freely about her challenges (If you haven't caught her story on Discovery Health, I'd highly encourage you to do so. It is worth your time) shouting through the megaphone held by her parents, Susan and Michael, forcing the world to hear...
Let's just say, suddenly my fears seem downright ridiculous. Jani is only ten. I have three additional decades of 'wisdom' to her one. What the heck am I hiding from? 
People fear what they don't understand. The time has come for people to understand the truth about schizophrenia. Not what is portrayed in the movies. Not what the lamestream media wants to publicize, but The Truth, all of it, even the parts that aren't pretty (not many are). 
Go on, say the word. Let it roll around on your tongue a bit before forcing it past your lips into the open air. 
Feels weird, doesn't it? Not so bad, right? Now, try to attach it to someone you love: your best friend, your sister or (God forbid) your own child. Ask yourself this: if my child were suffering, what would I want the world to know about them? How would I want them treated? How would I cope? Who could I trust? Where would we go? How would we function in this place where people shield their eyes and run?
Bet you can't even begin to guess. I'm going to go so far as to say, I bet many a reader will pick this book up, read a few chapters, form a few misguided opinions about bad parenting, set it down and thank their lucky stars that it isn't THEM who is affected--it isn't THEIR child lashing out, talking to trees (or dogs or unicorns or demons or...pick your poison here) lost in the world, relying on psychiatry to catch up to the rest of modern medicine and praying people will be kind.
But it could be you. If it could happen to Jani, the offspring of two intelligent, loving parents who doted on her and held every aspiration of sending her straight to the top to take over the world, it could happen to you. It happened to me. It happens every day, to families everywhere who feel they have to walk around stigmatized for a biochemical grenade which buried itself in their loved one's brain and blew up when they least expected it.
And that, my reading friends, is exactly why you need to read this book.
Not only is it well written, it is gritty, raw and truthful. It doesn't paint mental illness in any light other than the one that illuminated the Schofield family. And their light, no matter how much it dimmed, never went out.
Instead it became a beacon of hope.
Right now you can grab your copy of 'January First' on
Kindle: $12.99
Hardcover: about $15.00...Worth every penny. Come, read, learn and light the way.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Revisiting Aradia, Book One

I don't often revisit a book once I've reviewed it. Come to think of it, I never revisit a book once I've read and reviewed it. Like the old saying goes, 'there's a first time for everything'. This is my first.
A long time ago, when this blog was in its infancy, I read and reviewed, Tales of Aradia, The Last Witch, Vol. One
I really liked the premise of the book. It had really great potential. But, I just could not get past some of the basic story telling issues. I ended up giving it a rather poor review, with side bar notes explaining why I felt I had to do so.
I felt bad doing so; really I did. As a writer, I'm acutely aware how much bad reviews sting. 
The author, Ms. L.A. Jones read the review and sent me a personal email asking what I thought she could/should do to improve the book. Of course, her kind insistence that I share only added to my massive guilt. One I finished blundering through my apologies about being so hard on her, I tried (with my limited, not nearly an expert experience level) to point her in the right direction.
She met with an editor, worked through some rewrites and sent it back, asking ever so kindly if I would take another peek? I agreed. Although most of her story was grammatically correct (and I'm no grammarian, so please take that with a grain of salt) it still lacked some of the vital elements the book required to flesh out the best story. Now I had the daunting task of having to break the news to Ms. Jones that I still did not think this was work worth putting out there. 
I think I said something like: right work, wrong editor.
At this point, if I were L.A. Jones, I would have told that snobby, nobody of a writer, Elsie Love to *suck it*. But, because she was determined to see her project through to its true potential, she went out and found another editor! (I love determination. Nothing makes me happier than a good underdog story).
Guess what? She gave me another crack at her book. I admit, I was hesitant. After all, what were the odds she actually found an editor who 'got it'? In spite of my reluctance, I agreed. 
I'm very glad I did. 
This last round took the Tales of Aradia and moved it from the category of a bunch of good ideas lacking continuity, proper scene set up, good conversation and flow and turned it into a winner!
So now, without further tongue wagging I would like to say to LA Jones: Congratulations! You, my dear, put in the time and effort, never giving up and it shows! Your editor, Mr. Harrison Bradlow was the perfect partner for your writing tango.
I would *highly* recommend this book, especially for lovers of YA series. You will not be disappointed!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chasing China, Kay Bratt

Rabbit, Rabbit! Ha! Beat you to it.
What the hell?
You know...'rabbit, rabbit?' The thing you say on the first of each month to bring fortune to your family and home? No? Well, now you know! Speaking of rabbits, under the Chinese zodiac, those born in the year of the rabbit are gentle, sensitive, compassionate, amiable, modest and merciful, with a strong memory.
I should be a rabbit. Sadly, I'm not. I'm a pig. Keep your snarky comments to yourself, please.
While we're on the topic of good fortune, I had the particularly  good fortune to be selected  as a reader of Kay Bratt's , 'Chasing China'. On top of that, I scored an interview. For those unfamiliar with Kay, she spent four years living in China. While there she volunteered in an orphanage. 'Chasing China' is a work of fiction, based on her experiences, thoughts, and passions.
Let's start with the interview, shall we?

Do you ever see yourself returning to China to work in another (or the same) orphanage? How did you manage to come home and not adopt? I imagine that had to be tough…

Oh, believe me; I brought some of the kid’s home! But unfortunately I had to take them back, too. While working at the orphanage, it was a constant fight against the yearning to adopt. I met many children there that I carried a deep, motherly love for and could see adding to my family. (Several of those children are featured in Chasing China!) However, to adopt would have made it impossible for me to continue to do the amount of work I was doing, because I would have had to slow down to concentrate on bonding with an adopted child. In some cases that can take more time and attention than parents can imagine, so I chose to continue helping many kids rather than only one. Also, a specific little girl came into my life and her status made it impossible to adopt her. I knew that if I were to ever adopt, it would have to be her or no one. It wasn’t meant to be but we are still working on getting her status changed so that she can have a family again one day. As for the future, when my youngest daughter sets off to college in a couple of years, I see myself conquering the empty nest syndrome by involving myself in another orphanage. It probably won’t be the orphanage I wrote about in my book, but anywhere that I will be satisfied with anywhere that I can make a difference in the lives of children.
2. Your books all maintain a thread to the country you shared such intimate experiences with. Do you see yourself moving in a different direction any time soon?
All of my books share the common thread of China because that is where I discovered my passion in advocating for children, and the many memories I collected are useful to build characters and plots. At this time in my life, I can’t imagine ever not having these strong feelings to speak for children in China, but I also realize that I can do the same type of work in any country. There are children in need everywhere, even here in the states. I spent the last two years juggling my China projects while working as a CASA volunteer to give a voice to underprivileged children in my own community. This year I began working with AOW (An Orphans Wish) and am back to concentrating solely on children from China, because that is where my heart is. But who knows what the future will bring?
3. When you are writing do you crave any specific foods?
When I’m writing I don’t let things like eating and sleeping get in my way, *wink*, but I find that keeping a carton of Whoppers malted milk balls beside my computer keeps me on task. Instead of stopping for meals during crunch times, I just pop a few pieces of chocolate and I’m good to go.
4. Are you a planner, or do you write whatever comes to mind and mass edit later?
I am such a planner that I drive myself and my family crazy. Even during my downtime—let’s say dinner and a movie—on our way home I am usually going over the plan on who does what first when we walk in the door. Who is going to walk the dog? Who’s taking their shower first? What are we going to watch on television? What’s the schedule for the next morning? (I know I can be a real should see me on vacation, it takes a strait jacket to make me relax!)
When it comes to writing, I usually outline the story and write the structure, then go back and flesh it out with the good stuff. Many times I write chapters out of sequence because if my mind is on one specific scene, it refuses to wait. Usually I want to capture that fresh creativity before it slips away underneath the pressures of everyday life. My working manuscript has lines of red throughout marked with reminders like, “write about the character’s multiple personalities here,” or “insert chapter where character loses her mind here.” (Okay, I made those up, but you get the point. I make a note and keep on ‘truckin!)
With Chasing China, I wrote the ending almost immediately. I knew how I wanted it to end, and I spent weeks researching material to create the accurate details. While the research was vivid in my mind, I wrote it and then had to work out everything to get Mia there. I also tend to edit while writing, as I don’t like a messy page.
5. Do you have any projects currently in the works?
I have a project that is in the final editing stage with a release date set for late March. A Thread Unbroken, my upcoming novel, follows the story of two girls abducted to be sold as future brides to a family in a remote area of China. The girls depend on each other to get through the trauma of their kidnapping and new, harder lives as they conspire to find a way home. I was inspired to write the book after reading a story on a Chinese website about an abducted woman, who after twenty years remembered a few details that allowed her to find her first family. By that time she had embraced her new life but wanted her parents to know what had happened to her, and that she was okay. Her story brought to light the thousands of cases of stolen girls and women in China each year. Trafficking is a common travesty that highlights the diminishing numbers of women in their country. They also refer to this as an imbalanced gender ratio, attributed to the famous Chinese One Child Policy.
6. Coffee, tea, or cola?
I’ve never tasted coffee in my life and witnessing the addiction to it others have, I think I’ll stick to my one Dr. Pepper a day! (But hey—I am from the south so an occasional sweet tea with my meal is a given, Elsie!)

Cover: A Beautiful work. Nicely done. Love it!
Story: B This book quite n interesting read. I've never been to China. I've never studied the culture, government, economic policies and atrocities. Having stated that, I felt this book did a good job covering all of the above topic s without being prejudiced. Having said that I should add there will be others who might disagree. There are many parts of this story which are difficult to imagine happening to anyone, let alone small children. It is tragic and sad.
Mia, the  star of our journey, goes 'home' to find her birth parents. She is young, naive and alone. However, she quickly finds friends to help along her path. Without any paperwork to point her in any direction, she traipses about the country.
As a mother, this terrified me. I kept waiting for someone to snatch her up and lock her away for asking too many questions.
As a friend to those who've adopted, I wondered...would this be a good book for them to read? Would they be willing to share this with their adopted children at a certain age? 
I honestly have no idea. I would recommend it. It is eye opening and heartwarming. The best message: Mia would never again need to go chasing China.  
Amazon Prime members: FREE
Everybody else: $2.99 ebook $9.35 paperback
Website: Kay Bratt, Uncensored

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Not All Dragons Breathe Fire

DRAGON LADY by Gary Alexander
In 1965 Saigon, Joe, a young draftee, becomes obsessed with a Vietnam girl named Mai, his own "Dragon Lady" from his beloved Terry and the Pirates cartoon strips that his mother still sends him. As he pursues a relationship with her, Saigon churns with intrigue and rumors--will the U.S. become more involved with the Vietnamese struggle? What's going on with a special unit that's bringing in all sorts of (for the time) high tech equipment? Will the U.S. make Vietnam the 51st state and bomb aggressors to oblivion? But for Joe, the big question is--does Mai love him or will she betray more than just his heart? Gary Alexander’s intelligent voice, filled with dry wit, and his own experiences give this story a sharp sense of truth, recounting the horror and absurdity of war. Reminiscent of books such as Catch-22, Dragon Lady serves up equal measures of outrageous humor and poignant remembrance.

Gary Alexander was one of 17,000 US soldiers in Vietnam that spring. When he left in the fall, there were 75,000 troops in-country. He is the author of several mystery novels, most notably the Buster Hightower series, and numerous mystery short stories. DRAGON LADY is his first literary novel.

This is my welcome home review. Betch'a' didn't even realize I was missing, did ya'? I didn't think so. Believe me, there are many, many, days I wonder if anyone ever reads my Blogger Blog. I've considered giving it up (many times). Truth be told: I love books. Furthermore, I love giving my opinion on things. All things. To give up the blog would be to squash out the tiny flame that keeps my soul healthy. I take breaks, but I always come back. 'Dragon Lady' in all its loveliness, is the perfect novel to bring me home again...
Cover: A
It's crisp. It's appropriate. It's intriguing. On the whole, Istoria Books, has some pretty great covers. This is no exception.
Story: A+
Yep, you read that right. This book not only gets an A, it gets a plus added on. When I started this book, I wasn't sure what to make of it. It had quite a bit of army lingo; it is based on Joe's time in 'Nam (never a topic I would have picked...yet I picked it. Go figure), as told from The Great Beyond. 
Gulp. Right off the bat, I felt I was in waaaay over my head. I read a few pages, contemplated shelving it, and took a nap. 
No, I'm not exaggerating. That's really how it happened. 
Somewhere between dozing in the rusty, old Explorer and making dinner, I decided to give it another go. There was something about the story (undefinable at the time) that kept calling me back.
Two chapters later, I couldn't put it down.
But what exactly drew me in? I'm still trying to put it all in a neat, little box. At first, it was the descriptions of the afterlife. Quite unique. Funny. Dry humor. I get it. Then, it was the 803rd's mission. What the heck was going on next door? Alien invasions? Torture? I hadn't a clue; but I *really* wanted to know...
And then there was Mai. Was she a spy? Would she fall in love with Joe and come back to the States? Would she be captured and killed? The suspense was killing me. I won't give you the answers. Where's the fun in that?
I loved this book. I know my husband will love this book as well. Sadly, I can't get it in e-pub for his nook (gasp! I know...he's a TRAITOR!). I wanted to send him overseas for his annual military training with this little gem--alas, it was not meant to be.
If you like war fiction, Vietnam stories (Gary Alexander actually did some time over there), love stories, and just plain old *good fiction*, this book is definitely for you.
But only if you have a kindle. Sorry e-pub readers. In this case, you are SOL.
That's all for now folks.
Stay tuned...March 1st I have a review and an author interview for your blog roll pleasure (will wonders never cease?) Until then...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pull That Little String & Watch It All Unravel...

'Unraveling Anne', Laurel Saville
Book Description: “After all, this is my mother we’re talking about. As her daughter, I belonged to her; as my mother, she also belongs to me. I don’t have her anymore, but I still have her story.”

In 1950s Los Angeles, Anne Ford was the epitome of the California golden girl, a former beauty queen and model-turned-fashion designer whose success and charm were legendary. So how is it possible that such a woman could die in squalor, an alcoholic street person brutally murdered in a burnt-out West Hollywood building?

In searching for answers to the heartbreaking trajectory of her mother’s life, writer Laurel Saville plumbed the depths of Anne’s troubled past and her own eccentric childhood to untangle the truth of an exceptional, yet tragic, existence. What she discovered was a woman who was beautiful, well-educated, and talented—yet tormented by internal demons and no match for the hedonistic culture of Southern California in the 1960s and 70s.

With unflinching honesty and stirring compassion, Saville struggles to reconcile the two faces her mother presented the world: the glamour-girl-about-town the public saw and the unpredictable, bitter alcoholic her children knew. Most importantly, Saville explores how what we bring forward from previous generations can shape our own lives, and how compassion and love for a difficult parent can be a person’s bridge to a better life. 

Cover B-
I know the cover of this book was most likely produced with only hardcover/paperback readers in mind. It's a bit dark for e-readers (other than the i-pad or nook color). The overall effect is good, quite ominous in fact. I like it. I just would have like a slightly lighter background. It would have made it easier to scrutinize all the dirty details.

Story A
If you were a child of alcoholic parents, you really need to read this book. If you are the grown child of a mentally unstable parent, you really need to read this book. If you like to look inside others rough experiences and thank God that you never had to live through such events...yep, you guessed it, you will love this book.  
Laurel Saville does an excellent job taking the reader to haunted corners of living with an unstable parent, sparing the reader nothing. She gives you the raw, gritty truth. Not one to seek out sympathy, she makes it clear her life has been a journey, filled with complexities that some want to compartmentalize: alcoholic, artist, narcissist, drug addict, slut...
All of the former are used to describe her mother, yet none fit as an all inclusive label. 
Anne Ford, a young woman with a promising art/fashion design career slides down into the canyon, losing her grip on sanity, and still maintaining her creativity and spark that drew so many to her. But can her daughter Laurel forgive her sins as a mother, reconcile the many pieces that make up Anne, and become a whole person in her own right? It sounds like fiction, but I promise you, it's not. It is the journey of Laurel Saville, as she unravels the mysteries of her mother Anne. I give her tons of credit. it could not be easy to move past the hurts inflicted on her as a young girl.
It is a heavy read.
It is an excellent read.
I highly recommend it.
Right now you can pick up your copy of, 'Unraveling Anne' on for under $8.00,unless you are an 'Amazon Prime' member, in which case it is FREE.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Starlight, Starbright, First Star I See Tonight...

'Scotland by Starlight', Nancy Volkers
Cassie Wrentham is on her way to Scotland again... but this time it's not vacation. She's moving in with Ralph Macnair, the charismatic Scotsman who stole her heart. But Cassie wouldn't be Cassie without doubts. Will she find a job in a tight U.K. economy? Would marrying Ralph now be only for convenience's sake? Will she fit in, make friends, make a life there? Or will it all fall apart?
Bursting with a lively cast of characters, all with their own stories and challenges, Scotland By Starlight follows Cassie and Ralph from the new beginnings of their intense relationship to a conclusion like no other. 

Cover: A
For some unknown reason I like this cover better than the cover of book one: 'A Scottish Ferry Tale'. It just comes across a bit cleaner, more crisp. The color scheme is quite nice and of course, paper quality is above average. If you are a book person (as opposed to an eReader person) this book is a solid handful. The overall quality won't disappoint.

Story B++ 
All right, Love, let's get to it then, shall we?  As some of you might remember, I read 'A Scottish Ferry Tale'. I even reviewed it. If you are a sleuth at heart, you can sort through my old posts and find it. No need to really, as I will sum up my feelings of book one, but you can always go see for yourself if it suits you. 
Book one didn't impress me much. It wasn't *bad* (as in I couldn't finish it, it suffered murderous character flaws, massive editing errors); it just wasn't *good* (as in it didn't grab me & hold my attention). It was okay. Not earth shattering. Not keep you up at night wondering. I think I gave it a C.
Enough about book one. It is water under the reading bridge. Book two...
Oh book two, how changed my mind!  How did I love thee? Let me count the ways...Honestly, I felt as if it were written by a different author! The writing seemed to flow far better. The story, the characters, the conflicts--all of it--just worked better. Until the very end (and I mean the very end, literally) the story was a nice, well rounded love story. Boy and girl have worked out most of their major issues. Boy and girl begin a life together with their wedding listed as #1 on the 'to do list'. Girl still has some minor insecurities. Boy still suffers an occasional bout of the jealous green meanies....but all in all, everything is just swell.
But is it happily ever after? One would think that. And in a way, one would be right. But don't get too comfy under your Tartan plaid blanket. Don't skip through those nagging little details; because if you do you will find yourself wondering who smacked the air out of your lungs and fed you a big bowl full of haggis...
That's all I'm going to say.
Kudos to you, Ms. Nancy Volkers. You went back for a second round and vastly improved upon everything. 
If you enjoy a good love story that tugs at the old heart strings, stop by and grab your copy of 'Scotland by Starlight'. Right now you can get a print copy for $8.99 or a kindle copy for $0.99. Far cheaper than a trip overseas, and a magical transport in it's own right, I highly recommend it.
That's all for now. Stay tuned for my review of, 'Unraveling Anne', Laurel Saville. Until then...

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Me!

The end of 2011 has officially been kicked to the curb. Can't say I'm sorry to see it go. Not that it was all bad, mind you. There were ups in there, just too many downs to add it to my top ten of 'best years'. 
The end of 2011 found me in a reading rut, stuck midway through "Vanity Fair" with no end in sight. Right around Turkey Day, I made the decision to STOP (as in stop pressuring myself to rush through the book in order to get out my next review). Luckily, I only review for pleasure, so I can make those kinds of executive decisions. Had I been reviewing for other sites--which I have mulled over, quite seriously--I would have been screwed. 
Hooray for being a slacker reviewer!
So, here I sit in the earliest days of 2012, "Vanity Fair" finished, "Scotland by Starlight" half completed, and ready to review again with full Gusto. Let's get to it shall we?

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackery
This book is set to be my last dip into the 1800's for a bit. I read some Austen, some Tolstoy, and Anna Katherine Green--all deliciously good and timeless. I was excited beyond all get out when I picked up "Vanity Fair" and was hooked from page one.
I must admit here the beginning threw me a bit. The language was just a shade more 'Old English'  & it took a chapter or two to find my reading groove; although it is nowhere near as thick & muddlesome as "Wuthering Heights", which I nearly chucked in the garbage on occasion.
I loved the sarcasm Mr. WMT used throughout the book. It was subtle perfection. 
I loved Rebecca. I HATED Rebecca. I loathed Amelia. I placed Amelia on the highest pedestal I could find. I felt this way about all the characters *except* George Osbourne the First. I just plain loathed him. He was a good for nothing cretin. Weak, vain, selfish, without redemption.
I was mad at Amelia for not allowing Major Dobbin into her heart & I was terrified he was gone for good....
I give this book a B++. It would have been an A, except I honestly think there were large amounts (ie. the entire scene where Rebecca is  the star of charades) of the story that could have been cut. Loved it!
As always, you can download "Vanity Fair" for your kindle @ for FREE. 
Up next...
"Scotland by Starlight" by Nancy Volkers.
Until then, learn to love yourself by loathing others in a good book.