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Boy With the Thorn in His Side, The..............................
roller-skating carhop to English teacher, Gladys H. Ashenfelter takes us with her on her journey through her many jobs over the
decades. Laced with humor, historical tidbits, and honesty, "20 Jobs: A Memoir" is a hard-to-put-down read. We see her mature from an insecure and inexperienced teen worker to a successful woman who has fought more than her fair
share of battles in life.
As a writer, Gladys brings such descriptiveness to not only the jobs, but the work environments, her family dynamics, and the mores and morals of the times (past and present) that we feel we are walking her path with her. Laced with self-effacing humor and nuggets of self-discovery, she shares her mistakes and failures in addition to her triumphs. There are many laugh out loud moments in her memories, and one can not help but admire her determination to better herself through formal education and the lessons learned through life experience.
"20 Jobs: A Memoir" is a fascinating and delightful read. I highly recommend it not only to the adult reader, but also to teens who are just setting foot in the job market, for it shows the truth of how that first humble low paying service job is a necessary step toward the reward of finding our true path.
“Apocalypse” is the first book of six in Devon C. Ford’s “Toy Soldiers” series. Having finished reading the first three books in this very well written, page-turning series, I am giving it my highest recommendation and five-star rating.
I usually avoid series books because I prefer an entire story in one book. That’s just me. However, I am a fan of the zombie genre, and have read some absolutely awful books that are terribly written, bring nothing new to the subject, plus have flat characters. What a delight, then, to discover Devon C. Ford’s “Toy Soldiers” series. Now… on to my review of Book One: Apocalypse.
What makes this book/series different from other books in this genre? Let’s start with the distinct and memorable characters that evolve throughout the story:
Nine-year old Peter, the product of a very troubled home, notices things at school are different one morning. Most of his classmates, who are children of soldiers at the local military base, are absent. There is also the movement of military vehicles passing the school en-masse. When he returns home, he finds his parents watching the news coverage of the unfolding mayhem in London (just north of his small farming and ranching community). When TSHTF and the exponentially multiplying walking dead branch out through the rest of England, Peter (now the sole survivor of his family and community) utilizes all he has learned from his father to make his own weapons and survive on his own. Peter is a born survivor.
Squadron Sergeant Major Dean Johnson leads a Yeomanry squadron of reservists who are pretty much on their own since no commissioned officers have made it to his base with their military. SSM Johnson is a man who rose up the ladder from working class roots. A natural leader, he is courageous, intelligent, and logical. Trapped on base with the dead approaching the fences, he takes advantage of their nearness to study their behavior and learn what attracts them, what repels them (which is next to nothing), and how to kill them.
Second Lieutenant Oliver Simpkins-Palmer is an “aristocratic, elitist, stereotypical bloody Rupert” who used his family name to carry on the military tradition of his family. Oliver has very little military experience, and it shows when he arrives at Johnson’s base.
In contrast, Oliver’s older brother, who we meet later in Book One, is a respected Captain in the Household Calvary, and a brilliant strategist.
There are variations in the behaviors and physical abilities when it comes to the zombies, who are called, “Biters” by many of the characters. Some are very agile and fast, which makes them more of a threat. To top it off, they seem to be able to think and lead the slower, more debilitated, Biters. Even some of the children who have fallen prey reveal themselves as leaders.
The writing: Author Devon C. Ford’s development of the story unfolds quickly but not at the expense of important background details. His writing style is fluid and descriptive, with a healthy dose of black humor. He gets us inside his characters’ heads thus allowing us the privilege of knowing them intimately, which makes the reader care what happens to them as they battle to exist in a world gone mad. His knowledge of military matters – the weapons, vehicles, strategies, etc. are impressive and carry the tale into a realm of believability, although we know the very idea of the dead walking and preying on the living is an impossibility. And there is one more thing that makes this story unique: the author has set the timeline in the late 1980’s, so there is a time warp of sorts here, as if this has happened in a parallel universe where the impossible can and did happen. (Chew on that one for a while.)
Therefore, if you love a good zombie story, but crave a great zombie story, read this series. FIVE big bright stars!
So far, I have read the first 4 in this "Toy Soldiers" series about a plague of hungry dead overtaking the British Isles and Europe. Being a fan of the genre, and having read many run-of-the-mill books on the subject, I found this series refreshing and compelling for many reasons. First, these dead, called "Screechers" by the military, are different than your standard zombie; some of the Screechers can think and reason and lead their inferior fellows to food. Second, there is a welcome depth of character in not only the many soldiers, but also in the civilians who are struggling to survive, and all these characters are constantly evolving through the challenges presented by their situations. Added to the mix are the bad guys, the power-hungry dredges of society taking advantage of the crises for their own ends. The action in the story moves at a good pace with constant suspense and many "I didn't see that coming" moments.
Book Five "Adaptation" is a fast moving and satisfying journey toward the conclusion of the series. I can't say enough for Devon C. Ford's writing talent. Love the continual growth of the characters as they struggle to survive this apocalypse. Looking forward to the final installment - Book Six.
I very highly recommend this series, and I hope you readers who love a good "zombie" will take heed and read it! You will love it.
Satisfying is the word ...as so often used by fellow reviewers of this final book in the Toy Soldiers series. Devon C. Ford has written a compelling, thrilling, and frightening saga in his Toy Soldiers series. This is a new take on "the Living Dead" genre that offers many surprises, plus characters (good and bad) that will keep you reading "just one more chapter" until your eyes beg you to take a break. This series is not predictable by any means. A note to American readers: Don't let the fact this takes place in Great Britain steer you away; people are people everywhere and, even if the setting is hard to imagine for those who are not familiar with England, Scotland, etc., the topography is still the same as most places in North America, so it is easy to visualize the small towns and giant cities and the rolling country between. Ford does a great job describing these places.
Ford's writing and grasp of characterization and psychology, his knowledge of military matters, biological warfare, and mankind's determination to survive a disaster beyond their control lends credibility to what would otherwise be another "dead cannibals walking" story. Thus, the reader is held rapt, disbelief set aside.
If this is your genre of choice for reading material (and I have read a lot in this genre), I highly recommend the Toy Soldiers series as the top selection for you. For those readers who have faithfully perused books 1 through 5 in the series, you will find book 6 ends on both a satisfying and realistic note. No spoilers here. Just get the book and see for yourself! I love the series enough to give it a permanent place of my KEEPER SHELF of books.
Once again, kudos to author Devon C. Ford for a series well done!
“His confidence expanded at me in the small hallway. I felt blasted by it, shot down. His feet were spread slightly, his legs apart, his chest puffed and ready for war. I felt my insides shriveling up as I stared at him. I felt them rolling over and dying within me. I sensed right away that he was nothing like Frank Bradley, nothing like anyone. He stood in the hallway as if he owned it. He was smiling broadly, the skin around his pale blue eyes wrinkling, and he gave off the air of a man who has never doubted anything in his entire life, not a thing. I couldn’t imagine he had ever been scared, or unsure, or embarrassed or fragile. I felt a bit like I ought to drop down onto one knee. He kept his arm around Mum, and they presented this united front to me, the enemy.”
Thus begins the war between young Danny and his mother’s boyfriend Lee. It is the whopper of all the ongoing wars in Danny’s life, the most damaging and horrific of all the thorns in this boy’s side. Yet, Lee often refers to Danny as his thorn as their ongoing battles escalate and the violence between them escalates. As one reads on, the question arises, who is the thorn in whose side?
Author Chantelle Atkins has written a terrific and terrifying story here; a dark tale of severe child abuse, the drug culture, and the seedy side of small town life. But it is not all dark, for Danny finds his refuge and respite in his chums, and there are several instances of sweet moments of intimate connection as these boys sort out their troubles together. These kids are no angels. They love a good scrapping against the local bullies, and they love to escape into booze and drugs whenever the opportunity arises. Yet, it is Danny who sinks further and further into self-medication when the love of his friends is not enough to dull his physical and psychological pain.
Ms. Atkins does a tremendous job creating and individualizing each of the many characters in this moving and compelling novel. The boys become the reader’s friends, and the antagonists become the reader’s antagonists. Her descriptions of their surroundings, the town, their homes, their hideout, are just as strong; these become characters in their own right, entities that enclose the boys within their boundaries for better or for worse. Her use of musical references of the time (the 1990’s) is like a soundtrack of Danny’s angst, for without this music inside his head, he would truly go mad.
“The Boy With the Thorn In His Side” is brilliant in so many ways. The author’s grasp of psychology believably propels this character-driven saga to its harrowing conclusion. Her talent for creating suspense keeps one turning the pages. She warms our hearts with moments of tenderness and solace that unite the reader and characters.
This is a long read that could use some trimming. There is occasional redundancy and superfluous forays into Danny’s and Lee’s thoughts. However, these minor flaws do not diminish the readability or compelling pace of the story.
A part of me wants to give this book four stars because of this, but the part of me that appreciates brilliant writing, strong characters, and a compulsively page-turning-one-more-chapter narrative strongly desires to give it five.
FIVE STARS! Get this book. You can thank me later.
Very, very good writing style makes this an easy and pleasurable read. "Due for Discard" is full of humor (some really LOL moments!), intriguing characters, and vivid atmosphere. I loved the llamas that shared the ranch with Aimee - a unique alternative to the usual cats and dogs that show up in mystery novels. The protagonist is very likeable, although I was puzzled as to why she was so curious to solve the murder of her boss's wife, since she had only just met the man when she began working for him at the beginning of the book, and really had not developed a close relationship to him. Perhaps Aimee is just one of those nosy types who loves to solve mysteries. Aside from that, I really enjoyed "Due for Discard," and look forward to author Sharon St. George's subsequent books in this series.
Another masterpiece from author Chantelle Atkins! Defined characters the reader quickly comes to care about. Elliot's family and his "collection" of friends are fascinating, and all have secrets. Add to this the mystery regarding the disappearance of Elliot's beloved uncle, and you have a real page-turner. This is a lovely, touching, and memorable novel that will stay with you long after you close the final page. I highly, HIGHLY, recommend it.
A woman who can see and converse with the dearly departed is hired by a mysterious corporation who needs her help in a most personal way. Lots of humor and strong on character development, romance, plus a mystery to solve. Very well written!
“Hermit” is an exquisitely written ethereal story about Gabriel, a man who has chosen to eschew society and live a simple life of meditation and study. His only companion is a
stray and very independent cat, Nisarga, who he calls “N” for short. Unlike Gabriel, Nisarga is fully involved with the world around him and leads a life that is a counterpoint to Gabriel’s life
of non-involvement. Early in this story, we learn the effect of Gabriel’s self-imposed isolation: “Gabriel felt less real, less involved, less a part of things in the world. He did not
feel himself to be a person, but a kind of witnessing awareness only.” And, later, in a flashback to a thrift store purchase of a coffee mug we see a description of Gabriel’s
reality: “...a mug he found sitting alone on a discount-store shelf – a ceramic version of himself...”
Yet, that is okay with Gabriel; he doesn’t see that as a negative thing. However, his quiet and predictable world is shaken just a little when the young, whimsical, Theresa, a college student on summer break, enters his life. Theirs is a May-December friendship, a joyous and eye-opening interlude for the reclusive Gabriel and searching Theresa. She is a vivacious person who is fully involved in the world around her, curious as a kitten and as friendly as a puppy. Gabriel finds her fascinating and compelling. He begins to feel long-buried emotions and yearnings, the very foundations of the not-so pretty life he had left behind.
Author Joel R. Dennstedt skillfully takes us inside the head and heart of his protagonist, within which he introduces the reader to spiritual theories and truths that make one stop and think, ponder and digest, and then exclaim, “My gosh! That is SO true!” Especially intriguing is the question presented early in the book, “Who were you before you were born?” How many of us have pondered that? And, yes, that question is answered beautifully later on, and you, the reader, will be thinking about it for years to come!
I highly recommend “Hermit,” not just for the splendid lyricism of author Dennstedt’s narrative, but also for his intimate revelations of the God-given beauty that lay deep within our souls.
And - what the heck - as an added bonus, he shows us a great new way to prepare English muffins.
And, novel it is. Author Mark McLaughlin courageously went out on a limb with this one with an unusual cast of characters seldom represented in mainstream horror fiction. This is quite different. “HUMAN DOLL” delves into the culture of Drag Queens and plastic surgery. The characters are likable people who have embraced show business as their profession. Author McLaughlin provides us a succinct back story on each character that gives us a glimpse into their past struggles and current endeavors. The majority of the characters have had (or continue to have) plastic surgery to maintain their diva personas, although one in particular has made it his life’s quest to appear absolutely doll-like perfect.
Yet, not all are drag queens; one is a woman with an out-of-this-world imagination and intelligence who makes her living creating unusual art forms for the very wealthy. Her work is very popular among the gay and avant-garde crowd. She is a mysterious, almost ethereal being that, although warm and friendly to her small circle of friends and fans, exudes a cerebral-like coldness through her art. She is like the mad scientist always manifesting the next fantastic thing that represents her view of life.
There is an underlying lightness in McLaughlin’s narrative and his portrayal of the personalities and the way they view their lives and their livelihoods, and even their surgeries that they consider a necessity in their professions. The lightness is so pervasive it actually becomes a tad disturbing as the story unfolds with a killer on the loose. Added to this is the sense the narrative was rushed, rushed in the same way the characters plow forward in their evolution to become masters of their destinies. At first, I as a reader was put off by this. I wanted more depth of character, a deeper glimpse into their hearts and souls. I wanted the author to explore their reactions to the fact someone was murdering their peers, but there was very little of that. Instead, the characters impressed me as having a c’est la vie attitude toward the whole thing, as if being murdered was nothing unusual in their community of friends and acquaintances. After a while I came to the conclusion this was the author’s way of showing this is how the characters protected themselves from the emotional distress that comes with the expectation of tragedy around every corner, as if they believe their lifestyle and simply accepting and being who they are is enough to invite that tragic end.
“Human Doll: A Novel” will appeal to readers who enjoy a mystery that is a brisk read. The more astute reader will read between the lines and discover the subtleties in the characters and in the disturbing conclusion.
Author Taylor Saville has
created a memorable and complex saga in JAGGED MIND that will haunt you
long after you read the final page. I will not go into the plot here as another reviewer has already done so, and the book description tells us what we're in for the moment we open the first
page. Ms. Saville aptly sweeps us along on Harper's journey through a twisted and nightmarish path of psychological torment as his life begins to spiral out of control. Harper is a product of
savage physical and emotional abuse. Although musically gifted, intelligent and creative, able to bring his crowd of fans to a frenzy, he lives a life of emptiness and unrelenting frustration.
Controlled by his internal demons, he brutalizes himself both physically and mentally in response to his perceived personal failures and increasing rage.
What absolutely "wowed" me about this novel is the complete understanding of severe PTSD author Taylor Saville demonstrates as she takes us into Harper's tortured soul and thoughts. And it is not only Harper; she has created a cast of supporting characters that are each as well-defined as her protagonist, and just as memorable.
The musical backdrop of the story is a character in itself - a character manifested by the angst of a simmering demographic of lost and angry youth, rebellious, violent, self-pitying, self-serving, and abhorrent.
The quality of Taylor Saville's writing is impressive throughout, despite some redundancy in her forays into her characters' thoughts. She is a genuine talent that undoubtedly will attain success as a novelist.
"Jagged Mind" is one hell of a ride. I highly recommend it to readers who like compelling, nail-biting, mouth-dropping suspense seasoned with a pinch of humor, a teaspoon of gore, and a whole lot of heart.
Clayton-Goldner has written a riveting story about the strained relationship between a troubled woman and her seriously ill father in "Missing Pieces." How well do we really know our parents
and what has happened in their lives to make them the people we think we know? How do we come to terms with the damage done when a parent is too dysfunctional and traumatized to raise us in a
healthy family structure? Clayton-Goldner aptly answers these questions as she reveals one man's memories of family tragedy, abandonment, sudden life-altering disaster, and a love so tender and
eternal it rises above it all. And through his revelations, his daughter comes to regard him with new understanding, appreciation, and admiration. Yet, through all of this she discovers her own
shortcomings and questions whether she has handed the same legacy down to her children, who are now adults.
The narrative is oftentimes poetic in its intimate portrayal of time and place. The characters, even the minor ones, are very well developed and jump off the pages as real people. The story moves at a perfect pace, unfolding gracefully as secrets are revealed.
"Missing Pieces" deeply touches the heart. You as the reader will find yourself looking back upon your own childhood and wondering how well you truly know the two people who created you and how their lives have affected yours. Perhaps, you may even find healing in its pages. Get this book; you'll be glad you did!
"War usually begins small... Inside us. In communities like these. A microcosm right here at Pennycott..."
THE PRISONER OF CARCOSA by Mark McLaughlin and Michael Sheehan, Jr. is a collection of supernatural and sci-fi short stories. This anthology consists of six tales, some written by both authors together, and some written solely by Mark McLaughlin. The subject matter of each story is truly bizarre (as promised on the book cover), and will delight fans of this genre. What I found refreshing was the quality of the writing that is so good it makes reading a pleasure. Every reader will find their own favorite in this collection. My favorite is McLaughlin’s “Diabolical Entities And How To Deal With Them,” that is at its core a spotlight on our own personal demons that encourage self-destructive and self-defeating behavior. It reminds me very much of C.S. Lewis’s, “The Screwtape Letters,” a cautionary illustration of Satan’s methods of deterring us off the right path. The accompanying offerings in this anthology vary from science fiction to horror, and each is a gem. Altogether, these short stories by Mark McLaughlin and Michael Sheehan, Jr., deliver. Do I recommend THE PRISONER OF CARCOSA? You bet I do! FIVE STARS!!!
This murder mystery is full of twists and turns, and keeps the reader guessing until the very end.
There is strong character development throughout; even the minor characters are memorable, and this is due to author Susan Clayton-Goldner’s subtle use of speech patterns and phrasing in dialogue, descriptiveness of each character’s unconscious mannerisms, habits, etc. It is so refreshing to come to know and remember each character through this style of introduction.
All carry their own burden of angst, which gives the reader little clues about not only the obvious suspects, but also those we would not suspect. However, (and this is my opinion only), the two main characters, Matt Garrison and Detective Winston “Wind” Radhouser, come off as over-burdened by their personal demons. Winston, in particular, buries his grief in overwork; which made me question how he could possibly continue his job as a homicide detective, given the nature of such work. Yet, it all succeeds in the unfolding story, for their demons give them insight into the intimate flaws and strengths of the people in their orbit.
Another great thing about this novel is the description of police procedures throughout the story. Fascinating stuff! Ms. Goldner’s research should be cited as an example of thorough research, for this knowledge she shares with us in the action of the story enhances belief.
“Redemption Lake” will keep you reading into the wee hours – it’s that good! I recommend it to all fans of a page-turning mystery.
This is a disturbing yet touching story about Bobby, a physically abused boy, and the events of one summer that changed the course of his life. Written mostly in Bobby's narrative voice, it is hard to put down.
Author Ronnie L. Richards, himself a survivor of childhood abuse, has utilized his pain and the damage in its wake to craft this unforgettable tale. Yet, don't think this is a happily-ever-after account. It is full of raw honesty, intimately-drawn characters, and ironic humor. His description of the little Oklahoma town and the isolated farmhouse that is home to Bobby and his parents perfectly sets the atmosphere of arid, unrelenting, hopelessness. The parents are reflections of that isolation and hopelessness - the father a raging alcoholic, and the long-suffering mother barely keeping her sanity through all the beatings. Yet, Bobby and his mother are truly the strong ones in this situation, their steadfast love for each other their impetus to persevere, even if it means sacrifice.
I highly recommend "Shadow Comfort."
Author Leta McCurry’s “A Shadow
Life” is one of the most absorbing novels I have read.
In a nutshell, it is the story of Laney Belle Hawkins and how she came to change her identity in order to save her life.
Set in the 1930’s through 1960’s, McCurry powerfully addresses the injustices and powerlessness of many American women during this transitional time period of the Twentieth Century. She does this particularly through the uneducated, unskilled, chronically ill widow Mattie Hawkins, and the marginally educated, sex-obsessed beauty, Ruby Jo Cassity. While Mattie settles for a brutal man only to keep a roof over her head and that of her daughter Laney, Ruby Jo uses her sexuality as a steppingstone toward her dream of escaping her isolated rural existence for a career as a Hollywood actress. In contrast, Mattie’s daughter, Laney Belle Hawkins begins her climb out of the abyss through the efforts of a kindly retired schoolteacher, but is haunted by a demon from her past.
“A Shadow Life” is a character-driven novel that would have been stronger if the author had interwoven the stories of the characters into the central plot of her protagonist, Laney Belle Hawkins. McCurry's decision to introduce the three main characters in individual stories (separated as "Parts") created a disjointed feel. Despite that, her intimate portrayal of A Shadow Life's characters compels one to keep reading. Author Leta McCurry brings the reader inside the heads of her characters and presents their experiences through their eyes and thought processes, especially in her most defined character, Ruby Jo Cassity. (Ruby is an absolute hoot!)
Regardless of the structural issue, Leta McCurry proves herself as a talented writer with a gift for immersing the reader into time and place by her almost poetic descriptiveness. I commend Leta McCurry for this profound work.
I was very impressed with this book! The author is an excellent writer. His style kept the story moving along, and the way he gradually introduced his characters through the story made it easy to remember who was who and how they were connected. The character development was strong, which made me care about them - even the bad guys. This book kept me turning the pages well after midnight. I highly recommend SQUALL by this talented author, Sean Costello.
"The Tree of Rebels" is an absolute page-turner that kept me reading well beyond my bedtime. As a matter of fact, Chantelle Atkins's brilliant writing, characters, and compelling story line had me doing the "one more chapter" thing into many sunrises. I will not go into describing the plot here, since other reviewers have already done that. This is a very satisfying read with distinct characters who propel the story forward. I am giving this book (the first in a series) my highest recommendation.
Terry Kerr has written a different take on the standard ghost story in "An Unquiet Past," the story of a writer with a very unsettling past who is sought out by a long-dead woman wrongly executed for murder. Kerr's writing is polished, his characters distinct and believable, and the story he weaves is both horrific and heart wrenching. This is a novel for adults, as the story involves subject matter that is definitely not for children. If you like your horror with a good dose of mystery and sordidness, this is the book for you. My compliments to author Terry Kerr for a job well done!
Beautifully written, distinct characters, and historically accurate. I found it difficult to stop reading when I had to. The author captures the slowly evolving elimination of the Jewish population through the eyes of both Jews and non-Jews; she also portrays the Nazis' attempts to brainwash Amsterdam's non-Jews into accepting and even supporting Hitler's Great Solution. I found the pacing of the story just-right, and feel she started the story in the right place which was shortly after the Nazis occupied Holland. As we know, it was downhill for the Dutch from that point on until the Allies landed. Get this book, even if you're not into Historical Fiction; the characters and their stories will have you hooked through to the end. "A View Across the Rooftops" is a new addition to my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION List.
Savor This One!
The first offering in this collection introduces us to Becky, the doll that talks. As a matter of fact, she is the co-narrator of her tragic story, and we hear from her again later in this anthology. (Which is why I recommend more than one reading of this book!) "When Dolls Talk" is a work of tremendous artistry and psychological insight that must be read at a slow pace - savored and contemplated, even - in order to get the underlying meaning of each story. I will not go into the details of each piece here, for to do that would spoil the surprises awaiting the reader. Let's just say this collection is guaranteed to satisfy the fan of really intelligent and well-written horror. And yet, there is more here than your typical horror stories. Case in point is the surprisingly touching "The Old Place," which is my personal favorite. Kudos to author Joel Dennstedt, who should be sought after by every mainstream publishing house in this country. I highly recommend this work, not only for its literary brilliance, but also for its amazing depth.
Wow! Great story! An inside view of mental illness written by an expert in the Field. I highly recommend this heartbreaking novel about a daughter searching for the truth about her mother.