Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: Muckross Folly

By:  JJ Austgen
A Mystery/Thriller

From the Back Cover:

Reeling from the destruction of her team at the hands of her deputy, FBI agent Evelyn Morgan vows revenge against her nemesis, the assassin that planned the operation, Omar Ben Iblis. The trail leads to an old friend, well-connected and well placed in Washington's political establishment. When he refuses to help, Morgan must scramble to find the pieces to the puzzle. While investigating, she discovers a vicious new menace, more cunning and deadly than anyone she has ever faced. Trained and mentored by Ben Iblis, this new threat has already struck her family, and if Morgan doesn't act quickly, she'll be the talented protégé's next victim.

My Two Cents:

Two incredibly formidable women, on two different sides of the law.  Eve Morgan, the FBI’s “tough as nails” operative, is on the trail of her long-time nemesis, Ben Iblis.  Iblis, who has decided it is time to retire from his very lucrative career as a hired gun, mentors the up-and-coming, take-no-prisoners, Penelope Morelli.  Morgan, who is trying desperately to deal with the loss of the man she loved, and the sudden reappearance of a father whom she has not spoken to in many years, and has never been close to, follows the assassins to Ireland for the ultimate showdown. 

High suspense and drama with every page, this book has no down time at all.  I was wiped out trying to keep up with Eve, as she tracked down terror cells and assassins on a mere 4-5 hours of sleep over a two week period.  Austgen does a great job making the reader feel as if they are walking down the halls of the Hoover Building, and eavesdropping on the FBI (which, who doesn’t want to do that?!).  I was a little taken back by the stereotype of the Navy “girl in every port,” which was a bit overplayed.  This, however, did not detract from the overall story.  The cliffhanger ending left me eager for the next installment.  I am totally geared up for the Morgan v. Morelli fight club event, and intrigued by where Vogul will end up fitting into Eve’s life.  Then there is also the potential of Keller reappearing, which will make Eve’s life more difficult…

I give this            and a                                                                                

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Monster Under My Bed

Prompt: When you were little, you could swear there was a monster under your bed–but no one believed you. On the eve of your 30th birthday, you hear noises coming from under your bed once again. The monster is back and has an important message to deliver to you.

Memories from when I was ten years old flooded back like it was just yesterday…or last night, to be more precise.  My mother’s throw pillows from various areas of the house (family room couch, living room settee, her bed) had been strategically placed on my bedroom floor.  Starting at the doorway, creating a path to my double bed with the wispy pink canopy overhead, the pillows were my stepping stones across the treacherous moat that existed once the bedroom light was extinguished.  My mother and father did not believe me – that the floor disappeared and became a sea of nothingness that would swallow me whole, and they would never see me again if I fell in – so they refused to turn the light off once I was safely and securely in my bed for the night.  This meant I was forced to use the pillows…and tread carefully.

Once in the bed, the grumblings started, very low at first.  It was a warning to me; keep all things on the bed.  No feet hanging over the side, no arms or hands resting easily on the edge of the mattress.  All things must stay on the bed and away from the edges for the entire night.  So, I would curl into a ball in the middle of the mattress, cover my head, and tell the monster to go away – or at the very least – go to sleep.  But the monster would whisper the same words over and over, “guardians are not always angels,” until I fell asleep, anxiously awaiting the morning sun through my windows, and the return of my floor.

Tonight, I have different prayers that include begging the bed to stop spinning, and deals struck that will prevent me from hurling the very expensive wine, vodka, and tequila I had ingested throughout the night.  My friends had been very generous in their support of my attaining 30 years of life…too generous.  Note to self: find friends who are less generous…and go to church.

The bed felt as if it were swaying, instead of the usual alcohol-induced spin.  Something familiar returned to me, memories from my childhood drifted like a wave in my mind.  Some of them soft and flowing, some of them crashing like waves against rocks.  And somewhere, a whisper I had not heard in twenty years, filled my ears.  I strained to make out the words, disbelieving what I was actually hearing.  The truth was, I already knew the words, had spent a lifetime wondering when the monster that had resided under my childhood bed, would return.  

“Guardians are not always angels.”

I pulled the comforter around me tightly, and grasped at my pillow, covering my ears to block out the raspy voice.  My eyes were closed so tightly, my face muscles began to cramp and scream at me for release.  But the message from my youth found me, and forced me to throw my pillow across the room at it, not wanting to find out what I was sharing my most personal space with, and hoping the pillow would somehow make it go away.

The bed drifted and swayed, and there was a familiar sound that was out of place; of water lapping against the sides of a boat.  Every instinct told me to peer over the side of the bed, and confirm it was still on solid flooring.  I could not look.  I did not want the verification that what I knew to be true when I was a mere child – knew to be fact – still existed now as an adult.

And the whisper grew louder, more adamant, “Guardians are not always angels.”

The scream that came from my lips, surprised and shocked my ears, “What do you want?”

There was a period of nothingness, as if time stood still as the monster under the bed pondered my question.

“I want you to become what you were destined to be, a guardian.  Your life thus far has been training for this very moment; when you leave what you have known, what you believe is life, and become the guardian you were born to be.”

“What?” I think the question was more for myself than the beast that had returned to haunt me.  Surely, I thought, surely this is just the mixing of alcohol and Thai food.  This cannot be real.

One claw, then another, came up over the side of the bed, clinging to it, digging its long pointed nails into the mattress.  I hastily scooted to the far side of the bed, careful not to get too close to the edge.  “Do not be afraid of the form you see now.  It will look different to you when you fulfill your destiny.  You must open your eyes, and see.  See that what you have always believed to be a dis-jointed life has been a strategic plan designed to mold you into what you are truly meant to be.”

A dis-jointed life…that was an understatement.  My parents had admonished me from the time I was a teenager until, well – last week – about my choices in life.  The constant balking at changing from one sport to another in high school, never playing the same one twice; a new area of interest or study at college; career changes that were so varied that one had nothing to do with the other.  I had always convinced myself it was because I learned the ins-and-outs of the sport, study, or job to the extent that it just became boring, and I would find something new to challenge me.

The large head slowly rose into view, as the body lifted itself onto the edge of the bed to sit.  Both of us, this monster and I, were tentative as we peered at each other.  “What is it you want from me?” I asked again, my voice lower but stern and clipped.

“I want you to take all the knowledge and experience and training you have had in this life, and step into the unknown.  I want you to see that the nothingness that surrounds you is not something to fear, but the portal to where you need to be.”

“You want me to go in there?” I asked, pointing over the side of the bed. “No way.”

“When you were a child, it was right and proper for you to be afraid of it.  It was not your time to enter the void.  You are grown now.  You have reached the prescribed age for this life, and now is the time to move past it, and take your place among the other guardians.  It is safe for you to allow the darkness to take you.  Soon, you will see light, and I will be there to guide you; albeit, in another form.”

“How will I know it is you?”

“You will know.  I have been with you always, guiding you, protecting you.  We are connected.”

“This is crazy,” I muttered.  But something inside me, a burning that pulled me to the darkness, was also telling me that, crazy as this was, it was truly my calling.  I could feel the answers to all my questions beckoning me from the deep channel around my bed.

“So, all I have to do is step off the bed?  And I will be gone forever?” I asked, glancing at the wild beast perched on my bed.

“Yes, simply allow your legs to dangle over the side, and you will be taken to the light.”

I peered over the side, wary and uncertain, until a wave splashed upon me, cleansing me, calming me.  Slowly, deliberately, I rolled off the bed and allowed myself to fall into the abyss.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Silver Lining

Bad news always follows good news.  Right?  The pessimist in me is standing and applauding; the optimist has her arms folded tightly across her chest, pouting.  

I mean, consider this: waking in the morning to a fresh pot of coffee…definitely good news.  No creamer…very bad news.

So, I got bad news this week (beyond the creamer issue).  It is not worth going into the details (go elsewhere, spies), but it had the sort of dagger in the heart and twist effect.  

Then a strange thing happened – it was followed by good news.  WTH, you say?  I know, right.  Now it was not like the ‘heavens opened, a beam of light hit me, and all was well with the world’ good news, but good news all the same.  I stopped, stood completely still.  Surely the world was coming to an end, or the car would have a flat, or there would be no creamer.  Nope (and stop calling me Shirley).

Nothing happened.  Nothing.  I had received good news on the heels of bad news, and then…the cycle just stopped.  

That led me to ask myself; what if I have had it all wrong?  What if good news ALWAYS follows bad news?  What if I have had it backwards this whole time, and the universe sort of bitch slapped me so I would finally recognize this fact?

I mean, I woke up to coffee but no creamer.  But then, I went to Starbucks and had a lovely conversation with a lady that brightened my entire day (and I found out that strawberries were on sale at Safeway – bonus good news!).

Perhaps, I have been looking at this all wrong.  What if I shift events in my life, change the timing of how I view these events, and allow the good news to overshadow the bad?  Could it really be that simple?  Was I actually creating my own dark world, where the clouds would overtake the sun and block it from my view?  Looking at the clouds now, it seems pretty clear that the sun still shines around the edges in a silvery-gold lining, and the clouds are getting wispy.  

My inner optimist is placing a sparkly crown on my head and beaming with pride.  The pessimist is glaring at me from the corner.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: The Faded Cottage

By: Diann Shaddox

From the Back Cover:

When a love letter written by a teenage boy becomes lost after a summer filled with passion, it brings about an incredible love story of two people being reunited after thirty years. What if you were able to relive your life, if only for two weeks, and rediscover you teenage love? Would you? Quaid Witherspoon is a man turning fifty, a man with success and money, a world acclaimed artist, but a simple feat of holding a paintbrush turns Quaid’s life upside down when fate steps in. Essential Tremors have taken over his body. The calming waters off the coast of South Carolina call Quaid home to a small, faded cottage, one with a leaning front porch and worn paint so similar to him, flawed. And to the same beach where he began painting as a young boy, the place he met his one true love, and the place he let her go. Sandy, Quaid’s lost love from the past, learns Quaid’s wondering about her, just as she’s wondering about him. Their love is still alive and when they reconnect, it’s easy to let the years they’d been apart fade away. But, sadly, fate has another twist.

My Two Cents:

After years of being apart, through a series of parental persuasion and separation tactics, and other mis-communications and misunderstandings, Quaid and Sandy reunite in the same small coastal town where their love first blossomed.  The premise behind this story is very touching and lovely.  Each has their own issues to deal with; Quaid with his career-ending ET, and Sandy a serious heart problem.  In the end love wins out, even though the couple is once again forced to deal with a significantly shortened forever.

This is a very easy read, if you are looking for a quick romance fix.  I was, however, really distracted by the simplistic writing style, as well as misuse of proper grammar and word-usage.  I also felt the story was overly rushed where it could have been slowed down just a bit.  After years of being apart, and the claim that they had so many questions of why things had happened the way they did, it seemed as if the characters never had a substantive  discussion of their feelings.  It was a question, answer, then a “Well, let’s not dwell, and just move on,” without any further investigation.  I feel the author missed an opportunity to delve into things and slow them down, and perhaps renew love on an adult level - and not just base it on a past love affair.  

Additionally, I found it really hard to believe that the discovery of Sandy’s heart condition did not rate a little higher scrutiny.  It was revealed during the proposal, yet Quaid asked maybe two or three questions, huffed and puffed, and then moved on to, “well, are you going to marry me or not?”  If the love of my life had just revealed potentially life-altering circumstances, I think I would have had a longer conversation about it.  Again, I think the author could have developed the characters more, shown them in a more realistic light, and uncovered a deeper love between them.

It was just a little too simplistic for my tastes.  I figured out exactly what was going to happen very early on in the book.  Since it was a quick read, it did not take long to find out I was correct, which was a disappointing.  I think this story has great potential, and perhaps even a twist ending, if given a little more thought.

It was obvious that the author understood the debilitating effects of ET, and did an outstanding job bringing the disorder into the forefront of discussion.  I was able to sympathize with Quaid’s feelings as his life changed due to the condition, through Ms. Shaddux's in-depth knowledge and discussions throughout the book.

I give it   and a 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Special Addition Book Review: The Hard Bounce

by: Todd Robinson

From the Back Cover:

Boo Malone lost everything when he was sent to St. Gabriel’s Home for Boys. There, he picked up a few key survival skills; a wee bit of an anger management problem; and his best friend for life, Junior. Now adults, Boo and Junior have a combined weight of 470 pounds (mostly Boo’s), about ten grand in tattoos (mostly Junior’s), and a talent for wise-cracking banter. Together, they provide security for the Cellar, a Boston nightclub where the bartending Audrey doles out hugs and scoldings for her favorite misfits, and the night porter, Luke, expects them to watch their language. At last Boo has found a family.

But when Boo and Junior are hired to find Cassandra, a well-to-do runaway slumming among the authority-shy street kids, Boo sees in the girl his own long-lost younger sister. And as the case deepens with evidence that Cassie is being sexually exploited, Boo’s blind desire for justice begins to push his surrogate family’s loyalty to the breaking point. Cassie’s life depends on Boo’s determination to see the case through, but that same determination just might finally drive him and Junior apart. What’s looking like an easy payday is turning into a hard bounce—for everyone.

My Two Cents:

So, I cried through the entire book; some were tears for the pain Boo and Junior had suffered throughout their childhood, or for Cassandra and her life on the run, as well as her return to her father.  Most of the tears, however, were from laughing.  The dialogue between Boo and Junior had me cracking up; I had to put the book down a couple of times to get myself under control.  

This is a very well-written book.  All of the characters came to life, were believable and real, with very little sugar-coating.  Every single character in this book has flaws, serious flaws.  It not only blurred the line between “good guys” and “bad guys,” the line was snuffed out like the still burning butt of one of Boo’s cigarettes.

There were some places where there were odd exchanges with the reader, as if the narrator was addressed the reader personally.  My only analogy is when a character in a movie turns to the camera and addresses the viewer.  Either I failed to notice it throughout the entirety of the book, or it only occurred at the beginning; but whatever the case, it was very minor and did not detract from the story, or the overall flow. 

By the end of the book, I wanted to know more about what happened to Boo and Junior, which is always the mark of a great story.  I look forward to reading more from Mr. Robinson, and give this

    and a 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review: TRUE

by: Erin McCarthy

This book will be available on May 7, 2013.

From the Back of the Book:

When Rory Macintosh’s roommates find out that their studious and shy friend has never been with a guy, they decide that, as an act of kindness they’ll help her lose her virginity by hiring confident, tattooed bad boy Tyler Mann to do the job…unbeknownst to Rory.

Tyler knows he’s not good enough for Rory. She’s smart, doctor smart, while he’s barely scraping by at his EMT program, hoping to pull his younger brothers out of the hell their druggy mother has left them in. But he can’t resist taking up her roommates on an opportunity to get to know her better. There’s something about her honesty that keeps him coming back when he knows he shouldn’t…

Torn between common sense and desire, the two find themselves caught up in a passionate relationship. But when Tyler’s broken family threatens to destroy his future, and hers, Rory will need to decide whether to cut her ties to his risky world or follow her heart, no matter what the cost…

My Two Cents:

Smart, nerdy Rory falls for understated-intelligent, bad boy Tyler.  Who does not love this story line?  Just about all girls, at some point in their lives, want the sexy bad boy to take notice of her, and woo her (among other things).  If you want to relive your young adulthood – with a happy ending to it – read this book.

McCarthy makes the disparate lives of Rory and Tyler, along with the other prominent sub-characters, come to life on the pages.  I half expected the typical “good girl fixes bad boy and makes him good” plot; but was happily mistaken.  McCarthy provided both characters with flaws, and made it possible for them to not only ‘fix’ each other, but also learn to live and love within the flaws that cannot be fixed.  The break-up ripped my heart out (yes, I had tears).  The sub-plot of the brothers also greatly enhanced the story, and I fell in love with “U” and Easton.  McCarthy developed the characters so completely, including the sub-characters, it is easy to become totally invested in all of them.  An easy, weekend read.

I give it     and a 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Lion Triumphant

The Lion Triumphant

From the Back Cover:

Played out against the seething rivalry between Inquisition-torn Spain and Elizabethan England, The Lion Triumphant traces the linked fates of strong-willed Catherine Farland and Captain Jake Pennlyon 
Called “The Lion,” Captain Jake Pennlyon is a fearsome and virile plunderer who takes what he wants, and his sights are set on Catherine Farland. Blackmailed into wedlock and haunted by memories of the gentle boy she was forbidden to wed, Cat vows to escape. Fate intervenes when she’s taken prisoner aboard a Spanish galleon . . . unaware that she’s a pawn in one man’s long-awaited revenge. Beginning as Elizabeth takes the throne of England, and spanning the years until the legendary defeat of the Spanish Armada, The Lion Triumphant follows Cat’s journey from the thrill of a first passion to the ferocity of a mother’s love. Despite the twists of history, her fortunes—and her heart—will remain tied to one seductive buccaneer. 

My Two Cents Worth:

This is the second book in Philippa Carr’s series, The Daughters of England

This is a beautifully written historical romantic thriller.  It challenged me in more ways than one, but kept me turning the page, struck not only by the violence of the Spanish Inquisition and the reversion to Protestant rule under the reign of Queen Elizabeth in England; but also main character, Catherine’s, life during this period.  It is a gripping novel that delves into the barbarism of people who murder, rape, and seek revenge under the guise of religious doctrine and superiority.  Following Cat through her tumultuous life, finding love, losing love, and not appreciating love until it was taken from her, was a difficult process at times.  It seemed that no one person could go through the trials and tribulations of life, and continue to fight while remaining sane.  

The most disturbing part personally was the total dislike of the two “leading men” in Cat’s life; Don Felipe and Jake.  I hated them both.  Then I loved them both, which was unsettling.  Both men were so dissimilar in their mannerisms, upbringing, and religious beliefs; yet, they mirrored each other in their quests for revenge, and ability to justify their evil, immoral actions through misguided reasoning.  Both were excessively arrogant, and believed they alone made the rules and decisions in their lives, and dictated events around them to achieve their desires.  They also both loved a woman who fought back vehemently; and despite her hatred of the men, she grew to admire and love those parts of each of them that were redeeming and worthy.

Ms. Carr’s knowledge of the violent history of this period creates a feeling of almost two novels in one, providing an amazing setting to explore the strength of women during a time when women had no authority and very little worth past producing heirs.  An exciting tale that had me glued to the page, and eager to read the next book in the series. 

 I give it     and a