Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book Review: 'Revival' by Stephen King

✰✰✰✰½ Jamie Morton was only six years old when the shadow of the Reverend Charles Jacobs darkened his childhood. From that day forward, Jamie could never really escape the darkness. At every turn of his life, the preacher would be there.

After a heartbreaking tragedy, Charles Jacobs turned away from God. After delivering the "terrible sermon," the preacher was cast out from his flock and set out in search of answers. Meanwhile, Jamie grew up and struggled with a drug addiction. When his path finally crossed with the preacher again, he finds out that Jacobs has become a healer of sorts.

Charles Jacobs has been drawn into an obsession with what lies beyond death, and as he experiments with the healing effects of electricity, he descends into insanity. Jamie reluctantly assists as the preacher commences a final, electrifying experiment. The chilling climax will haunt Jamie for the rest of his life.

The Bottom Line: This novel is an electrifying, quick read. I was hooked from the beginning and couldn't put it down. This is a story of faith, addiction, and obsession that is both moving and horrifying at the same time. Highly recommended for fans of horror and the supernatural.

Details: Revival: A Novel by Stephen King. Paperback published by Gallery Books in 2014. 416 p. ISBN: 978-1-4767-7039-0

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2015

Here's my list of favorite short stories from another fantastic year of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. As some of you may have noticed, I have been running a little bit behind in my reading in recent months. No matter. I feel it is important to really take the time to enjoy each and every story. Therefore, without further delay, here we go:

January/February Winter Double Issue: This was one of the best issues ever. It was so difficult to chose a favorite between "The Crossing" by Brendan DuBois and "Message from the Morgue" by Doug Allyn. Additionally, this issue included the return of two of my favorite characters, Spade and Paladin, in "The Really Big Ka-Boom" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Other stories I enjoyed included: "The Banquet Left Her Cold" by John H. Dirckx, "Trip to Reno" by S. L. Franklin, "The Headless Horseman" by Eve Fisher, and "A Year Without Santa Claus?" by Barb Goffman.

March: Mystery writers just starting out will want to check out J. A. Moser's short story, "Blueprint." It's clever and concise. I, also, enjoyed reading "A Joy Forever." I always look forward to reading short stories by B. K. Stevens. Next, it's not often a story with a paranormal element is included, but this issue has one. "The Woman in Brown" by Tony Richards was just what I was looking for. Finally, Susan Oleksiw's story, "Perfect In Every Way," transported me to India. Great issue!

April: Jay Carey's short story, "We Are All Accomplices," stood out this month. It's set in the future, and the fifteen year old Eureka is an interesting character. I, also, enjoyed reading "A Crown of Thorns" by David Edgerley Gates. Finally, I was happy to see another story featuring Madame Selina and Nip in Janice Law's, "The Ghostly Fireman."

May: My two favorite stories this month were "Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson" by Robert Mangeot and "Rabbit and the Missing Daughter" by Leah Cutter.

June: "Sewing on Sunday" by William Dylan Powell was one of the stories that caught my attention this month. The others were "The PLT" by Bob Tippee and "Entwined" by Brian Tobin.

July/August Double issue: This issue includes so many great stories. My favorite was the Black Orchid Novella Award winner: "Dyed to Death" by K. G. McAbee. If you haven't read it already, check it out. Other stories I enjoyed included: "Shooting at Firemen" by Robert Lopresti, "Little Miss Somebody" by Robert S. Levinson, "A Death in the Village" by Nick Spencer, and "Tangled Webs" by Albert Ashforth.

September: "Joyride" by René Appel is an excellent story. I reread it several times, so be sure to check it out. Also, I enjoyed "Just a Old Lady" by O'Neil De Noux and "La Rouge Jolie" by Shauna Washington. The Mystery Classic, "And Already Lost..." by Charlotte Armstrong appealed to me as a former high school teacher. I'm definitely going to check out more of Armstrong's stories.

October: This issue had a variety of short stories that intrigued me. My first pick was "A Pushover Kind of Place" by Bob Tippee, followed by "The Cunning Woman" by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Also, I was very happy to see one of my favorite characters, Cyrus Auburn, return in "Solo for Shoehorn" by John H. Dirckx; please keep these stories coming. Finally, check out C. B. Forrest's story, "The Runaway Girl From Portland, Oregon."

November: This was an awesome issue. Be sure to check out "The Truth of What You've Become" by Joseph D'Agnese and "Hagiophobia" by William Burton McCormick. Elaine Viets has come up with a winning new series featuring a death investigator in "Gotta Go." Finally, I always enjoy reading stories featuring characters Madame Selina and her sidekick Nip; "The Dressmaker" by Janice Law is a fun story to read.

December: In the final issue of a fantastic year of short stories, three stories stood out: "Lake People" by Theresa E. Lehr, "Industrial Gray" by Catherine Dilts, and "Larry's Story" by David Braly.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book Review: 'Surviving Survival' by Laurence Gonzales

✰✰✰✰½ Congratulations on being a survivor! But now what? How do you cope with life after you have survived? What separates those who move forward from those who have sunk into depression? Laurence Gonzales, the author of Deep Survival, takes a look at these questions and more in this book. Each chapter focuses on a different survivor's story and way of coping. Indeed, each story was specifically chosen to illustrate the key traits of surviving in the aftermath of trauma. By taking a look at these very different examples of trauma, Gonzales illustrates coping mechanisms that anyone can use to embrace life. Additionally, the book concludes with a chapter dedicated to The Rules of Life; which are twelve strategies to help the reader navigate a life after trauma.

The Bottom Line: When deciding to write this book Gonzales decided not to focus on his own story. Instead he included the survival stories of many others ranging from shark attack to cancer to being trapped alive. No matter what you have experienced in your life, chances are you can find a story to identify with your situation. Readers will be inspired to move forward, by taking a look at how others have overcome trauma.

Additionally, the author takes a look at the science and research behind survival and resiliency. Although many of the concepts in this book are of an academic nature, the book is very readable and the writing is engaging. This powerful read is very highly recommended for anyone who has survived a natural disaster, fought cancer, seen combat, or is just looking for inspiration. Note for sensitive readers: Many of these stories of survival are graphic and sometimes disturbing.

Details: Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience by Laurence Gonzales. Hardcover published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2012. 272 p. ISBN: 978-0-393-08318-7

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2015

For many years I have kept a list of my favorite stories featured in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. 2015 was a stellar year for short stories. Short stories appeal to me because they can carry you away to a different time and place almost instantly. This is especially great when you spend a lot of time waiting for appointments like at the doctor's office. Anyway, without further ado, here is my list of favorites for 2015:

January: The Department of First Stories is one of my favorite features of EQMM. I really enjoyed this month's pick, "Chung Ling Soo's Greatest Trick" by Russell W. Johnson. I hope to read more of his stories in the future. I also enjoyed "God is Good" by Dennis McFadden, "Christmas Eve at the Exit" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and "Born Mean" by Ruth Moose.

February: My favorite story this month was "Leap of Faith" by Brendan DuBois. The characters and setting reminded me of growing up in a small town. I also enjoyed reading "The Man with the Twisted Lip" by Terence Faherty and "Our Little Secret" by Barbara Nadel.

March/April Double issue: My favorite short story this month was "Chin Yong-Yun Meets a Ghost" by S. J. Rozan. This story was clever and just plain fun to read. Additionally, I enjoyed David Dean's spooky treat, "Her Terrible Beauty." Other stories that were fun to read included: "No Remorse" by Paula Daly, "The Black Spot" by Loren D. Estleman, "Twilight Ladies" by Meg Opperman, and "Like It Never Happened" by Jill D. Block.

May: In this issue, I enjoyed Margaret Maron's excellent short story, "We On the Train!" Other stories I liked included: "Commission" by Art Taylor, "Cakes and Ale" by John S. Barker, and "A Loneliness to the Thought" by Michael Caleb Tasker.

June: They saved the best story for last in this issue of EQMM. "The Last Cut" by Sarah Weinman was short, but left a lasting impression on me. Other stories I enjoyed included: "No Cabs After Midnight" by William Hallstead, "Her Final Shot" by Brendan DuBois, and James Warner's clever story, "The Postmen."

July: "The Walking Path" by David Dean gave me chills. No more walking in the woods alone for this girl! I also enjoyed reading "The Kashmir Enigma" by Joan Richter and D. B. Toth's first story, "The Bracelets."

August: Stories I enjoyed this month included: "Mr. Kill-Me" by David Dean, "The Water Was Rising" by Sharon Hunt, and Jane Pendjiky's first story, "Splash." My favorite story was the Passport to Crime selection, "The Executive Who Lost His Mind" by Soji Shimada (translated by David Karashima & adapted by John Pugmire).

September/October Double issue: I couldn't make up my mind, so I have two favorite stories this month: "Happy Valley" by David Dean and "The Chair" by Nancy Pickard. You don't want to miss these two. Other stories that were fun to read included: "Why Alice Jumped" by Dandi Daley Mackall, "Wedding Day" by Bill Pronzini, and "Shooting Stars" by Richard Helms. I also enjoyed the Passport to Crime feature, "The Last Run" by Michael Berg (translated by Josh Pachter), and Elle Wild's first story, "Playing Dead."

November: The story that I keep thinking about in this issue is Carolyn Hart's "What Goes Around." It was clever and fun to read. I also enjoyed "The Orchid Grower" by Katia Lief and "The Lake Tenant" by Brendan DuBois.

December: There were so many fantastic short stories in this issue it is difficult to pick a favorite. However, "Snap" by Bill Pronzini stood out because it featured the viewpoints of several different characters. Other stories I enjoyed included "The Siege" by Hilary Davidson, "Mr. Gladstone's Floorboard" by Judith Cutler, and "Rizzo's Good Cop" by Lou Manfredo. I also enjoyed the Passport to Crime feature, "The Spider" by Koga Saburo (translated by Ho-Ling Wong and adapted by John Pugmire.)

Now for my pick for the 2015 EQMM Readers Award: "We On the Train!" by Margaret Maron. My next choice is "The Walking Path" by David Dean. With so many fantastic stories, it was a difficult decision. I highly recommend that everyone read both of these stories and many of the others featured in this article. With any of the EQMM issues, there's always something that will appeal to everyone.

Welcome to 2016! Happy New Year!

It's that time of year once again. A time when we take a moment to look back upon our accomplishments of the previous year and look forward to what the shiny, New Year has to offer. For many of us, making New Year's resolutions is as easy as 1-2-3! However, keeping these resolutions can be a mighty challenge. Fortunately, that is where your local library can come in handy. Whether you have resolved to learn a new language, stay healthy, polish your career skills, or learn how to save money, chances are the library has a book ready for you to check out.

Looking to travel to new lands in 2016? Well, start planning your journey with a quick trip to the library. Besides travel guides that cover almost any destination under the sun, many libraries offer software to help you learn a new foreign language so you can converse with the locals.

Additionally, you can attend free programs or check out DVDs to help you meet your New Year's goals. So what are you waiting for? Start 2016 with a trip to the library, and you will be one step closer to accomplishing your New Year's resolutions. There is no time like the present to learn something new. I hope 2016 is a year to remember. Happy New Year everyone!

Note: The free clip art on this post was available here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Book Review: 'Seven Dead Pirates' by Linda Bailey

✰✰✰½ Lewis Dearborn is a shy young boy. Like many kids, he dreads going to school. When his family inherits a rundown seaside mansion, all his mother can do is make quick plans to sell it. Lewis, on the other hand, is in for the adventure of a lifetime. When Lewis quickly claims the tower room for his bedroom, he learns that it comes complete with ghosts. And not just one or two ghosts, but seven in all!

Seven pirate ghosts can be a little bit overwhelming until you get used to them. While Lewis' days are filled with school bullies and not being able to speak up for himself, Lewis' nights are filled with ghostly parties and fun. It isn't long before the pirate ghosts ask Lewis for help; they wish to return to the Maria Louisa, their long-lost ship. With the help of a peculiar classmate, Abriella, Lewis embarks on a mission to help the pirates out. Will he be able to find the courage to complete the task, or will he chicken out? Only time will tell, but Lewis better hurry up before another group of rowdy ghost pirates take up residence on the Maria Louisa.

The Bottom Line: This ghost story for middle grade readers is an adventurous tale of friendship and acceptance. Author Linda Bailey teaches us that it's perfectly okay to be different. Despite the slow beginning, the tale steadily picks up speed and finishes with an adventurous splash.

Details: Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey. Hardcover published by Tundra Books in 2015. 304 p. ISBN: 9781770498150 NOTE: I received a free advance reading copy from Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book Review: 'Survival Lessons' by Alice Hoffman

✰✰✰✰✰ When confronted with a time of crisis, it's easy to forget the beauty in the world. Fifteen years after a bout of cancer, author Alice Hoffman wrote this book to remind herself of the beauty of life. By doing so, she also reminds readers that although we may not have chosen our situation, we do indeed have choices in how we face it. Hoffman reminds us that without sorrow, there would be no joy. Without heartache, there would be no love.

Survival Lessons is like having a conversation with a trusted best friend. Hoffman's life observations will help those who have experienced trauma to move forward and reclaim their lives. You will see yourself and those around you differently after reading this book.

The Bottom Line: This book includes twenty short chapters that present the reader with choices one can make to move forward in life. Sprinkled with photographs and inspirational quotes, Hoffman even includes a knitting pattern and a recipe or two. This book is small and can easily be read in one sitting, which is great when you are recuperating from an illness and don't have too much energy. Hoffman's words are gentle and honest; her writing will leave your spirit feeling refreshed. Highly recommended for anyone who has survived a crisis whether physical or emotional.

Details: Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman. Hardcover published by Algonquin Books in 2013. 96 p. ISBN: 978-1-61620-314-6