12/30/15

How To Grow An Addict



How To Grow An Addict by J.A. Wright. Berkeley:She Writes Press, 2015. 295 pages. *****

Randall Grange  has been tricked into admitting herself into a treatment center and isn't quite sure what she is doing there with the others because she only used drugs or alcohol to make herself feel okay. Randall's childhood gives new meaning to a dysfunctional family. Randall started stealing things at the age of seven and knew how to mix her father's drinks, just the way he liked them by the age of 8. In the third grade, she found out that she had a half-sister who just happened to be her teacher and in fourth grade she was shoplifting extracts and flavorings and soaking toothpicks in them   rather than chewing on her finger nails. Randall loved her Aunt Flo and Uncle Hank more than her own alcoholic father and detached mother, they were a stabilizing force in her life and loved her unconditionally. Randall's life was forever changed when Uncle Hank dies and Aunt Flo marries Reverend Bob, who seems to have a penchant for young girls, especially Randall. In therapy Randall realizes that she blames herself for her father's and Uncle Hank's deaths.  The pills and the booze help her sleep and it pisses her off that she is referred to as an alcoholic when she really preferred pills.

When I started reading this book, I thought it was a memoir rather than fiction. A riveting story of how a young girl by reasons of her circumstances and role models embraces a life of booze and pills. Seeking acceptance and love, she is willing to suppress her feelings and self-medicate. What is truly amazing about this story is the humor that carries the seriousness of the subject and in some ways, the ordinariness of the family and extended family members. The title is absolutely perfect for this story. Anyone who is a member of a large boisterous family will relate to the family gatherings and interactions. Well-written and so easy to be drawn into Randall's story and hard to put down once started.

I received an Advance Reader Copy for a review.

J.A. Wright was raised in the Pacific Northwest and moved to New Zealand in 1990. With more than thirty years in recovery from drug addiction, she's been crafting this novel for years.






12/27/15

all in her head



all in her head: a novel by Sunny Mera. Berkeley:She Writes Press, 2015. 173 pages. ****

Sunny chronicles her life from her childhood growing up in the Midwest with all of the trauma associated with a cheating father who gets banned from their church to the present day life as a loving wife who experiences postpartum depression and psychosis. Sunny is excited and scared about her life: acceptance into graduate school and finding out she is pregnant. When she experiences the psychological phenomena of orgasmic labor, Sunny enters a world in which she doesn't know reality from delusion. Is her doctor sending her messages of love and why won't he answer her? 


While this is a memoir based on Sunny's experiences, because she can't differentiate between what she experienced and reality, she chose to label it as fiction. A riveting story of mental illness, depression, fear, acceptance and love. Her immediate family supported her when her husband didn't want to hear what she had to say and they loved her unconditionally. An honest look into the world of depression and psychosis and will perhaps help other women and families who don't understand this phenomena, there was a documentary on this topic Orgasmic Birth

I received an Advance Reader Copy from BookSparks for a review.

In the "About the Author" Sunny explains "I was inspired to write the book after my diagnosis of severe mental illness and my battle with postpartum depression, psychosis, and delusional disorder." 

A Criminal Magic



A Criminal Magic: a novel by Lee Kelly. New York: Saga Press, 2016. 422 pages. ****

The 36th state ratifies the Anti-Sorcery Amendment on January 16, 1919. It's now the mid 1920s and Prohibition is in full swing in Washington, D.C.  The Roaring Twenties bring with them the lure of forbidden fruit and the temptation of escaping reality. The anti-sorcery activists have driven the magic underground and into the hands of gangsters and those controlling the profits from the sorcerer's shine. Joan Kendrick, a young independent sorcerer from Virginia, wants to make a better life for her sister and cousin so she accepts an offer to work for a crime syndicate. Alex Danfrey, with a troubled past in illegal activities, agrees to work as a Federal Prohibition Unit trainee and infiltrate the crime syndicate and gangs. Joan and Alex meet and form an instant bond. While harboring their secrets and reasons why they shouldn't be together, they confide in each other with disastrous results. 

I'm not sure what genre this story falls under, maybe a fantasy historical fiction. Instead of banning alcohol, magic is prohibited. All the elements of the crime underworld are historically portrayed in its ruthlessness and violence. Human life comes second to big profits and power. Joan and Alex are each drawn into this underworld for their own reasons and find the humanity in each other. While I had an initial difficulty getting into the story and plot (could have been my tiredness or the craziness of the season, it's Christmas week) once I understood what was going on, I was captivated and enjoyed the inventiveness of the author. Definitely worth a read. 

I received an Advanced Reviewer Copy from BookSparks for a review.

Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn't until she began studying fir the California bar exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York. She lives with her husband and son in Milburn, New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @leeykelly and on her website at http://www.newwritecity.com.

12/26/15

Christmas Quilt



ISPY quilt for a younger member of the family, 143 (there is one duplicate, missed in the layout) squares of different objects on fabric. I received 5 inch squares from another Group and made two charity quilts with enough left over to start this one.  While at the Sewing by the Sea Retreat in October, the ladies joined into the fun and donated additional squares. I added black and white corners to relieve the "busyness' of the overall quilt. A backing of cars and trucks with a black and white checked binding, quilt is complete!

12/15/15

The Word Game



The Word Game: a novel by Steena Holmes. Seattle:Lake Union, 2015. 215 pages ****


There comes a time in every mother's life when she is faced with the choice of letting a child attend an event outside of her sight and control. Alyson Wood, based on her life experiences, agonizes over letting her daughter Lyla attend a sleepover at her cousin's house. With her Aunt and Uncle as chaperones, Lyla should be safe and be able to enjoy herself. When Lyla confides to her mother and admits to being uncomfortable by some of the actions of the other girls and especially her friend Keera, Alyson feels compelled to share the information with her sister and her mother, not realizing the impact to her family and the community. Is Alyson overreacting or are the girls lying about what was said? 

Holmes tackles a sensitive subject and handles it well. I was immediately drawn into the story and wasn't initially clear as to who the bad guy is and whether there is going to be a surprise twist to the plot. What could have been an innocuous story about different parenting methods instead becomes a compelling story about secrets, deniability and family dynamics. Not an easy story to tell and to read, but once started, impossible to put down. 


I received a Reader's Copy from BookSparks and NetGalley for a review.

With a passion for story-telling, Steena Holmes took her dream of being a full-time writer and made it a reality, writing her first novel while working as a receptionist. She has written five books and won the National Indie Excellence Book Award in 2012 for her bestselling novel Finding Emma. Holmes currently lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her husband, three daughters, and two dogs. When she's not traveling, she is either dreaming of a new adventure or writing about it.

12/12/15

The Black Velvet Coat



The Black Velvet Coat by Jill G. Hall. Berkeley: She Writes Press, 2015. 338 pages. *****

Anne McFarland, a struggling twenty-eight-year-old artist keeps hoping for a big break and longs for a one-woman show or at least to sell enough of her art to pay the bills. Spying a black velvet Dior coat in the window of Rescued Relics Thrift Shop, she can't resist trying it on and discovers to her delight a rhinestone snowflake pin on the rounded collar and a a brass key in the pocket. Buying it on impulse Anne is drawn into a fifty year old mystery about the coat's original owner, heiress Sylvia Van Dam. Sylvia's story provides the inspiration for Anne's best work and the path to a gallery show. Their two worlds intersect in a way that neither woman could have predicted and provides an unexpected twist to their lives.  

I really enjoyed this book. Told in the alternating voices of Sylvia and Anne, both strong women, their stories intrigued me and held my attention. Sylvia's haunting tale is the perfect muse for Anne's art and style which leads to her success as an artist and quest to find love. I was sorry to see the story end and it's always a good book when it leaves me wanting more. This is a first novel for Hall and I am predicting, it won't be her last. 

I received an Advance Reader Copy from BookSparks for a review. 

Jill G. Hall facilitates creativity groups for artists of all types and curates exhibitions at Inspirations Gallery, NTC at Liberty Station. Her poems have been published in A Year in Ink, Wild Women, Wild Voices, City Works Press, Serving House Journal and The Avocet. She resides in San Diego with her husband, Jerry, and beagle-bassett, Lucy. Learn more at Jill G. Hall.


The Last Dreamer



The Last Dreamer: a novel by Barbara Solomon Josselsohn. Seattle:Lake Union, 2015. 259 pages. ****

In this debut novel, Iliana Page has it all, but after 15 years, she is questioning her suburban housewife life. She loves her husband and children, is active in her community, has supportive friends and always thought she would return to her journalism career. Has life passed her by, is she "old school" and her main purpose now is to support her husband in his quest to get a promotion? Iliana revisits an old crush when she looks up the heartthrob star of an old TV show on the Internet and discovers that he lives in New York. Is this the break that will get her byline back, TV star becomes successful businessman of a textile company? Through miscommunication and luck, Iliana scores an interview and discovers that he is as attractive and charming as she hoped. Iliana has to decide whether to risk her safe life in the suburbs or to follow her dreams.

Who hasn't Googled old boyfriends or been curious about people from the past? I found the story to be believable and understandable. Some woman who have a career that they love and give up to be a stay at home Mom probably expect to return to that career at some point. I know I did and was fortunate enough to be able to do so, I was really cheering Iliana on in pursuing her lead story. An enjoyable, entertaining read.

I received an Advance Reader's Copy from BookSparks for a review.

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a magazine writer specializing in articles and essays about home and family. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Consumers Digest, Parents, American Baby, was well as on numerous websites. She and her husband live in Westchester County, New York, and have three children and a lovable shih-poo. The Last Dreamer is her first novel.



12/6/15

All The Ghosts Dance Free



All The Ghosts Dance Free by Terry Cameron Baldwin. Berkeley:She Writes Press, 2015.  307 pages ***


Baldwin shares her experience of growing up in the 60s in Southern California. Raised in a home of privilege, her beautiful self-indulgent parents provide the necessities but are hands-off parents emotionally. She and her sister are left to fend for themselves and when their parents divorce have to adjust to a shared household with their father. Married at eighteen in a fairy tale wedding that she described as being "on automatic, following momentum I'd put into motion." She and her husband begin a drug fueled vagabond lifestyle that eventually ends in divorce. Baldwin becomes a single parent raising her son, Yohosame,  in the midst of the historical events of the 60s and her drama infused family. 

This memoir has it all...divorce, drugs, suicide, alcoholism, religion, sibling rivalry, country club lifestyle, hippie wanderlust, idealism of the 60s, etc. Baldwin paints a detailed picture of her surroundings and the historical context of those events which will appeal to those who romanticize the 60s lifestyle. It was an interesting read, but seemed disjointed to me at times. I had to reread passages to understand the context and that took away (for me) from the overall story. Having grown up in the 60s myself in a complete opposite lifestyle, I applaud her memory and attention to detail. A worthwhile read especially for those enamored of the 60s or memoirs. 

I received an Advanced Reader Copy from BookSparks to review.

Terry Cameron Baldwin is originally from California, where she received a BA in psychology and a BFA in painting and printmaking from Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe. She has worked as a stained glass artisan, painter, printmaker, jeweler, and calligrapher. She has lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico since 2006. She is active on Facebook, and her website is: www.terrycameronbaldwin.com.

12/4/15

The Island of Worthy Boys


The Island of Worthy Boys by Connie Hertzberg Mayo. Berkeley:She Writes Press, 2015. 364 pages. *****


Charles Wheeler and Aidan Sullivan, an unlikely duo, are trying to survive living on the streets of Boston in the late 1880s. Charles has been living on his own for the last two years since his mother died and Aidan's mother has a difficult time staying sober enough to take care of him and his sister. Aidan begs Charles to teach him the art of rolling drunks in order to get more money. One night their joint venture goes awry and a man is stabbed. Fearing arrest Charles enlists the help of a prostitute to escape the city. Before they know it, the two boys are on a boat, pretending to be brothers, heading for the Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys. A warm bed, cooked meals, classes and structured activities...all the boys have to do is follow the rules, can they start over and begin a new life or is a return to the life on the streets their fate?

Historical fiction at its best, Mayo transports us to Boston to the sights, sounds and smells of that time. While the story is fiction, the Boston Farm School did exist and the Superintendent, his wife and child were real people. Mayo brings them alive and gives them depth which enriches the story. While the Boston Farm School existed as an anamoly of the times, the reality of the hardships experienced by Charles and Aidan and their instinct for survival held me until the end. One of the things I loved about the story was the fact that Mayo wrapped it up beautifully. The measure of a good book is one that leaves me wanting more and sorry when it ends. 

I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley and BookSparks for a review.

Connie Hertzberg Mayo finally felt old enough in her forties that she thought she had something to say in a novel. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two children, two cats and her heirloom-tomato garden.

12/2/15

Random Acts of Kindness (RAK)

Update...so, what did I learn from my 23 days of Acts of Kindness?...I realized that being kind is easy and some days I had to create opportunities. Most people responded positively and some people seemed to be surprised that someone was being nice to them. I would like to keep it going in 2016 and expand it into a project/commitment. No ideas yet, but I would like to tie it into my "word" for the year. Stay tuned...

I love the stories posted on Facebook from the book, Humans of New York Stories. They captivate me and leave me wanting more. I saw a posting from Coffee Cups and Crayons on "Kindness is the Best Way to Countdown to Christmas" with a challenge to practice kindness every day during the month of December. Megan Sheakoski is so serious about this activity that she has posted a sample calendar of suggested activities and a blank calendar to post your own acts of kindness.  This idea resonated with me so I challenged my FB friends to do at least one Random Act of Kindness each day and to post their good deed to inspire the rest of us. I am fully committed to be kinder and reach out to others during the days leading up to Christmas. Last week when I was standing in line with an overflowing grocery cart at Giant, I motioned for the gentleman behind me with two or three items to go ahead of me. He was very wary, but appreciative. It bothers me when people respond suspiciously to kindness as if it is an aberration to them. I encountered this phenomenon when I worked in a high school, students wanted to know why if I offered to make up their monetary shortfall in the cafeteria line. I even had a student refuse and give up the food before she would allow me to pay. (Yes, she had issues, but it bothers me years later.)

So in an effort to spread some holiday cheer...I am going to list what my Random Acts of Kindness are each day and if there is any reactions to my kindness. 


So in an effort to spread some holiday cheer...I am going to list what my Random Acts of Kindness are each day and if there is any reactions to my kindness. 

I soon realized that I needed some guidelines so this activity does not consume my time and thoughts. I started a list of possibilities so if I can't find opportunities, I can create some. 
Here are my

Guidelines:


1. The RAK must be a new activity; something I wouldn't usually do in the course of my day. Except the grocery store, I always try to be kind there because everyone always seems so stressed.


2. The activity should be outside my comfort zone. Yes, I am that person who doesn't make eye contact and looks the other way when confronted with people holding signs. I read a life changing commentary (I wish I could find the article, I did find this one) about giving or not giving is not the issue, but do make eye contact and treat the person with respect and kindness.

3. The RAK should not always involve money.


4. I will document each RAK on FB and here on my Blog. This is a tad self-centered and way out of my comfort zone. There is so much violence and hatred in the news and reporting on social media, that I need the "good" and hope that others will accept the challenge and share too.

DECEMBER


23. Shae and I went to see "Alvin and the Chipmunks" (that alone should qualify) the woman who sat next to us had a 4yr old and she fretted that her little girl would be loud and disruptive to us. I reassured her that it would be fine and not to move. The little girl was a delight and danced to the music. It was so much fun!

22. I picked up all of the Disney Princess cups that a woman knocked over in the Dollar Store, then we both laughed when she knocked them over again. God must have decided I needed to do some bending exercises. I was first in line at the checkout and let the next 4 people behind me go ahead of me. Everyone was in good spirits ad wished each other a Merry Christmas.

21. I wrote two thank you emails to publishers thanking them for the advanced reader copies I receive  and the clever ways the books are promoted Now I just have to read the books and write the reviews!

20. Wrote an email to thank an author for the many hours of enjoyment that she provides for her readers. She also sends me advanced copies of her books to review, which have never disappointed. Blessings...

19. Visiting a dear friend puts life in perspective...miss her every day, Maria Fiore McNamee.



18. My Random Act of Kindness is to myself today. I went out to breakfast with friends. I spent the rest of the day wrapping, sorting and just enjoying my alone time. Life happens and sometimes quiet is good!

17. Shae mentioned her class doesn't have any more glue pens and her teacher really likes them. I think I have her covered...placed quarters on and around the candy/gum machines at the mall.



16. I held the door at Panera, let someone go ahead of me in line at Macy's, forwarded an email to my quilting peeps about a fabric sale.

15. I gave away many candy canes... to the Security Guard at Macy's who opened the door for me, to the young man collecting money for toys for kids (yep, gave him some money too), hung them on car door handles and to the sweet lady emptying the mail from the mailbox at the Post Office. She patiently waited for me to pull up and hand her my mail. 



14. A thank you note to a special someone, plus I get to use this cool stationary. 


13. RACK throughout the day...super kind and patient when the cashier could not figure out how to do a return. Shae and I decided to pray for the same person at bedtime to do well on his finals this week.

12. I had an extra 20% off coupon that expired tomorrow at Target, so when shopping I found a woman who had an overflowing cart and three children and gave her the coupon in honor of Alicia. The woman couldn't believe it and was most grateful!

11. Candy canes on cars in the parking lot! (card template from the Countdown to Christmas ) 




10. Delivered food to the Lord's Pantry in Downingtown.

9. Contributed to the Calico Cutters Quilt Guild's collection for the Domestic Violence Center.



8. A friend has asked for cards for her wife. The Birthday gal is a warm-hearted behind the scenes kind of person who makes a new friend in every person she meets. She has an infectious smile and gives great hugs!

7. Food for the Food Bank...Yes, I know the Capt'n Crunch's Christmas Crunch isn't very nutritious, but I believe that it will make a child very happy! There is another bag of "real" food.





6. I started decorating the tree and unpacking the Christmas decorations and was reminded once again how fleeting life is and how grateful I am to all of the people who have contributed to my Christmas memories. I wrote a note on Facebook with a picture of a Santa that Donna Griswold made many years ago and thanked her. She wrote back that she had forgotten that she made those, I love seeing it every Christmas. There was a decoration from Karen Mapes and Maria McNamee, both gone, but not forgotten.

5. I went to Bath and Body Works, crazy busy place, candles were on sale. Within a few minutes I decided there wasn't anything I needed badly enough to stand in that line. I exited the store and held the door for the woman behind me and then decided to stay at the door and hold it for people entering and exiting. I stood there for a few minutes and said "Happy Holiday!" to everyone. It was great fun...I may have a future as a Greeter.

4. Delivered a poinsettia to a friend at work. She cried, I cried. She's the type of person who never asks for anything for herself; she coordinates our sewing mtgs., makes us goodies for our Shop Hops, forwards cute items for us to make and cheers us all on! It must have been kismet because she had been having a really bad time and I made her day which made me happy too!








3. Donating Clothes to Amvets. 






2. I was driving on a busy highway this morning where three lanes are trying to merge into two lanes and construction was also occurring on the right. I noticed a car coming very fast on the right side of me with the driver on his cell phone and I had to decide...let him in or stay the course. I decided to slow down and let him in. It really annoys me when people try to get ahead of the traffic and then merge in, so I probably wasn't as kind as I should be when I was calling him names silently. (very loud sigh) This is not going to be as easy as I thought, not exactly sunshine and roses!

1. Donated to One Brick Philly I donated in memory of my Uncle Jim, James Patrick McCabe. He was one of the kindest people I know. My daughter volunteers her time with this organization, so it seemed a good fit for the first day.

#RandomActofKindness