Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book review: Defiant Heart by Marty Steere

This is my review of Defiant Heart, a book provided to me by the author Marty Steere.

Synopsis from GoodreadsTwo extraordinary characters. One unforgettable love story. In the spring of 1941, young Jon Meyer’s family dies in a tragic accident, and he is sent to live in a small Indiana town. He arrives to find himself unwanted and shunned. Mary Dahlgren is the mayor’s daughter. A pretty girl, she could have the pick of the boys in town, including Vernon King, the star of the vaunted high school basketball team. To the chagrin of her friends, though, Mary has always been more interested in books than boys. That is, until she meets Jon. But Jon and Mary are kept apart through the efforts of Mary’s father, who perceives their relationship a threat to his political aspirations, and Vernon, to whom Jon is a rival for Mary’s affections. For months Jon is subjected to a painful ostracism. Then, just when the young man’s earnestness and perseverance begin to win over many of the townsfolk, and it appears that love may conquer all, tragedy strikes. As the country is caught up in war, so too are the young lovers swept up in events beyond their control, leaving both fighting for their very lives. If, against the odds, they are to be together, each will need to find the strength, the courage and the resourcefulness that beat only in a defiant heart.

My latest read is a historical fiction novel with lots of action, suspense, and romance. I won't waste any time in labeling this book a page-turner! One of my favorite things about this book was that it gave me closure in a few of the troubling scenarios, and I got to say "You got what you deserved, you loser!" I was hugely impressed by the character development, something that is important to me, above all. I felt like I knew these people just after a few chapters! Having been a kid who was ostracized based on race and religion, that part of the story hit a soft spot. Jon became very dear to me quickly and was a tremendously lovable character. Vernon should have been named vermin! He was a loathsome, barbaric, self-absorbed piece of crap, and that was a superb piece of this story. Without that character, the whole story would have been two shades duller. One of my favorite scenes was the confrontation between the despicable coach Mr. Spitzman and nerdy-cute English teacher Ms. Tremaine when he tried to bully and threaten her to pass Vernon and another jock just so they could play in the championship game. I think the balance of lovable vs. hateful characters was perfect. 

I really enjoy when a story has various pieces that make me wonder where the story is going, then they all come together in the end. Like when Jon's random friendship with Ben Wheeler who teaches him how to box and fly a plane comes in handy later in the story. Let's just say Coach Spitzman gets just what he deserved, and Jon's talent with flying ends up saving his and other lives. Oh, and Ben is one of my favorite characters besides Jon, Mary, and Walt. I normally don't like strong female characters because they're often written to be overly stubborn and annoyingly heroic with tons of "Yea, right!" moments. Example - Bella from Twilight and Remi from Hollowland. Mary is just right. She didn't annoy me ONE time through this entire book. She was a sweet decent girl and thwarted all of Vernon's boldfaced efforts to bully her into going out with him. Thanks to him, she ends up in a coma, and Jon's life is turned inside-out after he tries to save her. He's forced to enlist in the army, and it's not surprising that he does exceptionally well. 

Spoiler Alert -- Spoiler Alert -- Spoiler Alert

I was proud of Mary for standing up to her deadbeat dad. I was disgusted by his behavior and selfishness while running for office. He put his campaign above decency and his daughter's life. He was the total opposite of a hero. I was glad he lost everything, including her when she decided to join the army to get away from him and to find Jon. She did, and the ending is very rocky. I loved how it ended, but Steere makes his reader work hard to get that ending. And that is crafty writing! I was glued to this story from very early on, mainly because it was realistic. The historic facts about the era and the war was spot on based on what I know. Even the mannerisms and personality traits of the characters suited the time frame quite well. Steere writes in a way that keeps you wondering what will happen next. Even when I wanted to pause just to run to the restroom, I read just a few paragraphs more before I dashed away, lol. Parts of this story even brought tears to my eyes, which does NOT happen often with me. Last time that happened was with The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. And, I must compliment the author's vivacious vocabulary. It's a buzz kill when writers use the same words over and over or choose words that are way too common. I learned a few new words today. Love it!  

I give his book FIVE stars!! This was a terrifically enjoyable read, and I recommend it to everyone! It comes out on April 14. For now you can check out the reviews on Goodreads. So make a note, and go look for it!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book review: The Conspiracy of Dreams by Sandra Biber Didner

I was given a copy of The Conspiracy of Dreams by the author Sandra Biber Didner for the sole purpose of writing an honest review.

Synopsis from the back of the book: Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Canaanites all share an ancient dream of possessing the land that lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea which they hold sacred. In 1956, an Egyptian spy, Ishmael al Mohammed, is determined to gain information which will reclaim the infant state of Israel for the displaced Palestinian Arabs, one of whom is his mother. While on a secret espionage mission posing as an Isreali, he falls passionately in love with an Israeli woman, Rebecca Silverman. He must decide if he will betray the only person he will ever care for or be true to Islam, Egypt, and his family. A Christian, Danny O'Halloran, has always dreamed of walking th eStations of the Cross in Jerusalem, while again by the original inhabitants of the Canaan, which was remaned Palestine in her honor. Israeli politicians dream of making Israel a nuclear power while Britain and France conspire to regain the Suez Canal, which the President of Egypt nationalized. Against the backdrop of circumstances leading to the 1956 Suez War between Israel and Egypt a love story which encompasses the forbidden romance of Romeo and Juliet, Delilah's betrayal of Samson, and the treachery of Britain's MI6 double agents unfolds as Ishmael and Rebecca's story spans three millennia of history.

Oh, man, where do I start? This book was a beautifully-written fictional account of a spy who basically chose to be a spy because he didn't want to be a soldier, yet he still wanted to do something to honor his family and his country. I won't retell the synopsis you just read but rather tell you what kept me motivated in reading this book. Each chapter was written from the perspective of a different character and went back and forth between them 'til the end. I got to see the story unfold from each of their points of view, which is what made me feel connected to each of them. The way it was written, I was literally inside their heads! How often does one get to be a mind reader, right? I enjoyed that a little too much, ha! Didner did a superb job of character development, and I felt close to even the main characters' family members who didn't play a central role in the story, such as Rebecca's siblings, parents, aunts, and uncles. The two main characters are Rebecca and Ishmael. He goes by Isaac to pass himself off as an Israeli while snooping around in Ashkelon. He was trying to get close to Rebecca in order to gain sensitive military information from her family of soldiers, but he falls deeply in love with her. He ended up choosing his loyalty for the job above all. I jumped during parts of the story where he slipped up and said something very "Muslim" like, but Rebecca never catches on that he doesn't know Israeli culture like he should, probably because she's fallen into the age-old trap - love is blind.

He seduces her on the beach and moves on to his next assignment, leaving her with dreams of marrying him. She ends up pregnant, and after her sister Hannah is killed in the war, Hannah's fiance Simon marries Rebecca to save her reputation and also as an honor to his dead beloved. They have two kids of their own along with Ishmael's son. Simon could never fully treat the child the same as his own two, especially since he resembled his father and acted eerily like him in many ways. Rebecca even named him Isaac, after this fake persona she fell in love with.

I was impressed at the depth of research that had to go into this story. The details about the different cultures were intriguing, such as the prospect of arranged marriages and how easy it is to soil the family honor. I loved to hear Ishmael's thoughts as he passed harsh judgement on Israeli women and their stubborn, independent demeanor and the provocative way they dressed compared to Muslim women. His judgmental side didn't prevent him from falling in love with Rebecca, all the while scorning her people and their way of life. The random bombings, shootings, and deaths of lovable characters made for a realistic appeal to what these people experienced during this time of war and insolence, not to mention it kept me turning pages. It was both comical and despicable to watch Ishmael succumb to family pressure rather than pursue what he really wanted out of life. I felt sorry for him as well as glad he got what he seemingly deserved, a loveless marriage to Farah, whom he was arranged with since childhood and a life of regrets. He struck me as part coward, part hero, and the ending was astonishing when he runs into Rebecca 14 years later and learns he has a son.

I appreciated that the author took the time to write how she came up with the story in the Acknowledgement section. Her sister-in-law really did find out she was loved by a spy who in real life loved her from a distance for years. He took photos of her from afar and kept them with him as good luck charms. He came clean years later, and Rebecca phoned Didner with the fascinating story. I thought, "Wow! Why don't such thrilling things happen to me!"

I gave this book 5 stars. It very much earned each one with the painstaking work that was obviously put into this story. Be mindful, though, that if you do not enjoy historical references, you might not fully enjoy this and could be lost most of the time. But if the opposite is true, go read it! The Conspiracy of Dreams on Amazon.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Book review: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark

Today I read a book called 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark. I decided to take a short time out from my regular list of reviews on the to-do list and read something just for me. I've been wanting to read this book for years, honestly. While I was attending my monthly author's group at the library last week, I passed it on an end cap display and decided it was time.

Here's the synopsis from the back of the book: You are invited aboard the spacecraft Discovery on a voyage to the outer edge of the solar system. A crystal monolith left on the moon by an alien intelligence is the only clue to guide this probe of an ultimate mystery of the universe. Outside the craft is the black abyss of the unknown. Within are two increasingly frightened navigators, three frozen hibernauts, and a talkative computer named Hal, whose conversation and behavior becomes increasingly bizarre. There is no predicting what awaits you. And there is no turning back as you move toward a climax as startling as reality and as real as tomorrow.

I freakin' LOVE science-fiction. There's no doubt about that. I had heard so much hype about this book being the greatest sci-fi story of all time, and I know it was made into a movie. Once I borrowed it from the library, I couldn't wait to tear into it! I didn't get to until the past two days, but patience is a virtue, right?

I enjoyed it ... BUT ...

It's one of those stories that keeps you going and going and going with very intriguing implications where you are reading full speed ahead waiting for that major thing you're expecting ... and then, not enough to quench the thirst. It started off in time of the ape-men, before language and the slightest hint of technology. A monolith (big slab of unidentified rock in a perfect rectangular formation) just appears near their cave. They howl at it, dance around it, try to eat it, and then realize it's nothing of worth to them. They're not even intelligent enough to question what it's doing there. It gives off some kind of vibes that possess them into doing weird things that they normally wouldn't do. After that, they aren't the same and actually use what was now in their mind to make tools and weaponry, as if the alien rock helped them in a sense.

Then it goes to another era where people are working and living on the moon. A scientist, Dr. Floydd is summoned to the site where a crew found a similar monolith buried deep under the moon's surface, which freaks everyone out because it's the first ever evidence of alien intelligence. It was dated to be 3 million years old. Soon after they dug it up, it gave off a strong signal that radiated all the way to Saturn. Basically, this part of the book ended, and next thing I know, I'm with another crew that's headed to Jupiter and Saturn!

I was starting to like Dr. Floydd, but that was his only part (aside from a brief dialogue toward the end of the book). Then a crew it headed to Jupiter, then to Saturn to check out the track of this alien signal, but no one told them it was a one-way trip. The computer named Hal who is the operator of the ship (kind of like the car in Night Rider), but it develops deviance and ends up causing the death of one of the two main crewmen. Three others are in a state of frozen hibernation.

*Spoiler Alert*

This is one spot where I was disappointed. The book make a big deal about these three hibernauts, and I was so excited to get to the part where they'd wake up  years later to fulfill their part in the mission. But guess what, Hal causes them to die with his tomfoolery too! Ugh. The only one left alive is Dave Bowman. He overtakes Hal, finds out he's actually on a suicide mission, but plays it out gallantly and gets to his destination on Saturn.

When he gets there, he sees another monolith, and as he's reporting this back to Earth while detached from the ship in a pod (trying to get a closer look), he gets sucked into it and whirled through a maze of time and space and lots of cool graphic descriptions of nebulae, suns and lights. This is where I was kind of thinking "huh?" He ends up landing safely in place resembling an apartment on Earth, yet he was light years away from the Milky Way galaxy. All the fiery chaos and intergalactic violence didn't even touch him as he floating through in his pod. He walks around apartment, finds food and clothes, even TV, then takes a nap. After this he becomes a newborn, rises up somewhere, looks at Earth and is a "Star Child" seemingly reborn as a superior being. The end.

OK. I'm sorry but as much as I love sci-fi, I just couldn't get super excited about this book. It had amazing potential to be thrilling, but it was so s-l-o-w moving. The end was one of those mind-benders that left you with your mouth open in utter confusion. I hate those kinds of endings! JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED! And you never learn who or what created that Earth-like dwelling for him, or what the hell this monolith thing was or who exactly made it. There was no alien contact, just constant crashing of high hopes.

What I did enjoy about this book was that it was written by someone who knew his stuff! His intelligence came through full scale in his writing. He was very descriptive of the technical details, but it was very lacking, to me, in the human side of things. I didn't notice much character development or dialogue. The evil computer Hal had the best dialogue in the book! I didn't enjoy the book, but it frustrated me too many times. And I found myself having to go back and reread whole sections just to grasp enough understanding to move forward. Never a good sign to me. Oh, and I found the movie online and attempted to watch it. It literally made me sleep. It was super slow, more so than the book, and half the movie was just graphics and noises. The ending of the movie was worse than the book.

I probably will read the other of the Odyssey books but not in a hurry. I gave it 3 stars.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book review: Libby's Liberation by U.C. Husband

Today, I'll review a book called Libby's Liberation by U.C. Husband. I was given the book by the author for review purposes.

Synopsis from AmazonMeet Elizabeth Stanton, my wife’s best friend. Haughty and snooty and how-to-do, she’s the very definition of a rich snob: delightfully misanthropic, wickedly xenophobic and extraordinarily blinkered to the workings of the world in general. She must surely the last woman on earth you’d expect to star in her own exhibitive thread on an internet-based amateur photographic forum – and yet, when she one day very kindly offered to flash me her tits, I put the possibility of a wider exhibition to her and was no less than stunned by the results … ‘Libby’s Liberation’ details a journey of self-discovery, reveling in the empowerment and artistry available to a woman prepared to put herself on show for the celebration and worship of the anonymous masses of the world. As Tom, the narrator, shares and appreciates Libby’s journey into exhibitionism and erotica, he finds himself more and more in conflict with two duelling desires: a fervent wish to remain faithful to his much-loved wife, and a burning want to see just how far Libby is prepared to go … Can Tom and Libby keep their hands off each other? What’s a little nudity between friends? When it comes to loyalty, how far can the definition be stretched, how far may they stray in the grey realm between black-and-white, fidelity and betrayal?

I must admit, this was the first erotica novel I've ever read (unless you semi-count that Danielle Steele novel I read when I was 16 that freaked me out in a good way with all the caressing and groping). So I delved into it with nothing but freakish expectations. I know, I know. Typical. I enjoyed it for many reasons. It was fast paced and is only 25,000 words. I'm a lover of novellas, in case my blog name didn't give that away yet. The characters were well defined to where you could love them or hate them. Married Tom the writer is on an erotic website flirting it up with his wife's best friend who he encouraged to join it and post nude pics of herself. It was his "noble" way of helping her boost her dwindling self-esteem. It worked, and he became hooked on seeing her pics as much as she was hooked on reading the erotic stories he posted there as well.

These two crossed so many lines it was disgustingly sweet. I kept putting myself in the wife's position, and I kept expecting her to walk in on him gaping Libby's photos! This was erotica with a dose of suspense. The story took twists and turns until Tom and Libby ended up close to pouncing on each other but no cigar. They still crossed the line, in my opinion, but that's what made the story. I give him 5 stars because it had all the right ingredients: it made my heart jump, it was well thought out, well written, and I enjoyed the touch of Aussie in the words. A fun story! Check it out by clicking this sentence.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Autism vs. Neesha: Glass half full

Hello, lovely people! Haven't seen you in more than two weeks, but here I am again to serve you some word soup. Autism has been rockin' my boat lately, so my writing is lacking. That little blue pill called Abilify was working like a charm, but now we're back to episodes. As my overly positive other half would say, "At least the episodes aren't half as bad as before, and he's not smashing up the house." Me, the cynical optimist says, "This is true, but today's smile could become tomorrow's terror. Life is full of surprises, which aren't always parties." And, as my smartass, so-much-like-me first born would say, "Mom, do you realize that Abilify sounds like a spell from Harry Potter! Stupify! Abilify!" Funny thing is, I actually thought that when I first saw the commercial, long before it was our family's saving grace. To give my baby some credit, though, he is doing better. As an autism parent who likes to live in a place called Realityville, I know better than to send my hopes up on a rocket.

On the "write" side of things, I was supposed to complete my autism book by March 1 (a self-set deadline). Sadly, that didn't happen. I just cannot seem to get "in the zone" after meltdowns. I experience immediate brain-drain and have to find a flat surface to collapse my stressed and exhausted old bones, be it the floor or my bed, whichever one I fall asleep on first. Good news - I didn't finish it, but I did make it to the 75 percent mark of the book writing. I have to interview a few professionals in some different fields that I think could be of use to autism caregivers, and that will polish it off. Hint: interior design is one. So, at least I KNOW what I'm lacking and that it's all I need to complete the writing of my second book! 

I have about eight books in my queue waiting for reviews, which means I have a ton of reading to catch up on. That doesn't stress me out because I HEART BOOKS! I can never have enough books to read. =D I've also been flooded with story ideas. No time to write all those stories, but I do keep a notebook handy to record all this brilliance in hopes I can be a full-time scribe for even a DAY soon enough. I feel accomplished having written a blog post this evening, so do comment, and let me know your thoughts and what you've been up to lately. 

'Til next time (which hopefully won't be too long)!