A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong- Feature and Review


A young woman returns home to care for her failing father in this fine, funny, and inescapably touching debut, from an affecting and wonderfully original new literary voice.

A few days after Christmas in a small suburb outside of L.A., pairs of a man's pants hang from the trees. The pants belong to Howard Young, a prominent history professor, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Howard's wife, Annie, summons their daughter, Ruth. Freshly disengaged from her fiance and still broken up about it, feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job and arrives home to find her parents' situation worse than she'd realized. Her father is erratically lucid and her mother, a devoted and creative cook, sees the sources of memory loss in every pot and pan. But as Howard's condition intensifies, the comedy in Ruth's situation takes hold, gently transforming her grief. She throws herself into caretaking: cooking dementia-fighting meals (a feast of jellyfish!), researching supplements, anything to reignite her father's once-notable memory. And when the university finally lets Howard go, Ruth and one of her father's handsome former students take their efforts to help Howard one step too far.

Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitaminpilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one's footing in this life.



Goodbye, VitaminGoodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong is a 2017 Henry Holt publication.

Poignant and bittersweet

I wasn’t sure if I had the emotional wherewithal right now to read a novel that most assuredly would lean toward the depressing side.

But, on occasion, I simply can't resist a publishing push and with less than two hundred pages I figured I could handle whatever emotional punches were thrown my way.

Once I started reading the book, however, I found the tone to be lighter than I had anticipated, and soon found myself wrapped up in Ruth’s year long journey-

Ruth’s mother invited her to move back home after her father begins exhibiting signs of dementia. Having just broken up with her fiancé, feeling at loose ends, Ruth accepts the invitation and moves back home for a year.

Ruth’s narration is often flighty, meandering, disjointed, and disorganized, as she works through her personal heartbreak, her mother’s disappointments, and of course her father’s battle to keep his mind sharp and stay active as long as possible.

While Ruth is really hurting, she is also determined, treading into uncharted territory, discovering her parents weren’t perfect, but learning to see them in a new, more mature light, as she must now be the adult in the home. She reconnects with old friends, her brother, Linus, and comes to realize despite his foibles, she is the light of her father’s life, the apple of his eye.

"Sharing things is how things get started, and not sharing things is how they end.”

The discovery of her father’s diary which detailed conversations he had with Ruth when she was a child, was charming, often hilarious and sweet, but also a little sad. These entries were my favorite part this book and I loved the way Ruth borrowed from this idea, which showed how life really does seem to come full circle.

“I like also that having a terrible day pretty much guarantees that the next day will be much, much better.”

Life and family are messy, but through all the turmoil, mistakes, and heartbreak, I think Ruth discovered a way to give back to her father some of what he gave to her, and in the process, managed to find the beginnings of her own inner peace.

Ultimately, despite the quirky writing style, or maybe because of it, I ended up enjoying this book far more than I would have thought.

While this may have been a short, quick read, it was a touching story, overall, and I’m glad I decided to give it a chance.





Rachel Khong grew up in Southern California, and holds degrees from Yale University and the University of Florida. From 2011 to 2016, she was the managing editor then executive editor of Lucky Peach magazine. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Tin House, Joyland, American Short Fiction, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, and California Sunday. She lives in San Francisco. Goodbye, Vitamin is her first novel.

Website: rachelkhong.com
Twitter: @rachelkhong

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck- Feature and Review


Here and Gone is a gripping, wonderfully tense suspense thriller about a mother's desperate fight to recover her stolen children from corrupt authorities.

It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she's pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they're gone than she must have done something with them... 

Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.



Here and GoneHere and Gone by Haylen Beck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck is a 2017 Crown publishing group publication.

High octane-edge of your seat- suspense!!

Audra, with her two children in tow, is fleeing from her abusive husband. She’s riding through Arizona, basically in the middle of nowhere, when she’s pulled over for a minor infraction.

Before she knows it, she’s in handcuffs, and is being taken to jail, while her children are left in the care of a deputy.

Yet, when she arrives at the station, and her official questioning begins, it becomes clear her children are missing and she is being blamed for their disappearance.

Meanwhile, when the news picks up on the story, it sounds all too familiar to Danny Lee, who had an eerily similar experience, prompting him to head to Arizona to help search for Audra’s missing children.

The desert isolation tweaks the suspense level, where the sparse population and lack of accountability can provide opportunities for clandestine, undercover crimes, as well as crimes of opportunity.

This atmosphere sets the stage for an agonizingly taut race against time scenario that kept me nearly paralyzed with dread.

The novel is perfectly paced, with terrific characterizations, from the brave and determined Audra, to her equally heroic son, to the desperate and sociopathic bad guys.

This isn’t really a mystery, since we know right up front who the bad guys are. However, this knowledge did not dilute the intensity one iota. In fact, the bad guys had a chance to really display their diabolical wickedness, which is truly despicable.

There were one or two downers, unfortunately. I would have liked for Danny to have had a more satisfying wrap up, and I thought the ending was a little abrupt.

Other than that, this was a fast-paced, suspenseful, and enjoyable thrill ride.

One other interesting tidbit- is that Haylen Beck is the pen name of Stuart Neville. It's an open secret, but I didn't realize that until I had finished reading the book. No wonder it was so good!





Haylen Beck is the pen name of crime writer Stuart Neville.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Trouble in Dixie by Rebecca Barrett- Feature and Review


OLD MONEY AND FRESH MURDER -- Trouble, a savvy black cat with a penchant for sleuthing, has landed in the cream of Savannah society. So has a murderer and art thief.  

Julia Hampton comes from old family, old money, and old society, but her job as an art insurance investigator puts her at odds with her background--and with the killer. Julia is determined to stop him. 
U. S. Deputy Marshal Deputy Mitch Lawson knows more than he's willing to let on. One thing is clear: Julia is in danger--because of secrets he won't share.  
But have no fear, Trouble the black cat detective is on the job and while Julia and Mitch are distracted by their attraction to each other, he is about to get his man



Trouble in Dixie (Familiar Legacy Book 2)Trouble in Dixie by Rebecca Barrett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trouble in Dixie by Rebecca Barrett is a 2017 KaliOka Press publication.

Trouble is back for more adventures- or maybe I should say misadventures!

Trouble is staying with Julia Hampton in Savannah, Georgia for a spell, and soon finds a purrfect opportunity to exercise his detective skills.

Julia may be a bona fide Southern belle, accustomed to all the trappings of wealth, but she’s a smart and dedicated art insurance investigator. However, when her office is trashed, she soon finds herself embroiled in a whole lot of intrigue over some missing Russian art.

Enter US Deputy, Mitch Lawson. Mitch and Julia soon find themselves teaming up as detectives, each bringing their own expertise to help one another, even though Julia has to get a little creative in order to stay involved.

Little do they know they have a silent partner…. A certain black cat aptly named ‘Trouble.’

‘I appreciate the Lawman’s sentiment. He has been charged with keeping Julia safe, but he has failed to take into consideration that I am on the job.”

I always love southern locations, but I thought the contrast between the Savannah locale and Russian art was a unique one. It may not seem like the two go together, but interestingly enough, they do.

I also enjoy anything to do with the Romanov period, including the art and priceless artifacts, so this was a fun topic for me to read about.

I thought the chemistry between Mitch and Julia was perfect and enjoyed their sweet romance, as well as the strong secondary characters, especially, Julia’s Aunt Ethel.

The mystery is fast-paced and adventurous with plenty of intrigue and of course ‘Trouble’ has the most hilarious and tender monologues! Is it wrong that I often look forward to hearing what ‘Trouble’ has to say more than anything else? LOL!

Overall, this is another fun and romantic installment in the ‘Fear Legacy’ series.





Rebecca Barrett writes historical fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction (writing as Campbell O’Neal), children’s stories, and short stories of life in the South. An avid reader all her life and a product of “front porch” socializing, she became a story-teller at an early age.

Her current novel, Trouble in Dixie (available August 14, 2017), features that handsome, sleek, black cat detective, Trouble. This is a new series with multiple authors (The Cat Women Collective) who follow the antics of super-sleuth Trouble as he lands in first one crime scene then another. Of course, the humans help a little. These romantic mysteries are fun and light hearted and just perfect for a beach read or a rainy day.

Visit the author's website rebeccabarrett.com to enjoy some of her short stories.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan- Feature and Review

Mumbai is a city that thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.

But as Chopra is about to discover, even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending. Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy. Hired by Verma's formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world's most flamboyant movie industry. As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture. And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction...



The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood StarThe Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Kahn is a 2017 Redhook/ Mullholland Books publication.

Zany and thought provoking-

Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, find themselves embroiled in the underbelly of the Bollywood film industry when the hottest heartthrob Vikram Verma mysteriously disappears. His famous mother is desperate to locate her son, but instead of going to the police, she hires Chopra.

While Chopra is navigating his way through his investigation, Chopra’s assistant, Rangwalla is investigating a case where eunuchs housed in a slum, overseen by the Queen of Mysore, are being taken to a mansion to engage in various avenues of performance arts over the weekend, then brought back home. Something smells fishy and the Queen wants to find out what is really going on.

The title of this book and that eye-popping cover caught my attention, and so on a whim, I checked it out of the library. I did not notice, until after I had finished the book, that is was the third book in a series. Oh well- it reads fine as a stand- alone and I now have a little incentive to check out the first two books of these series.

I really enjoyed the cultural details in this novel, the vibrant descriptions of Mumbai, and the charming baby elephant, Ganesha.

But, despite the obvious cultural differences, the movie industry, whether it is Hollywood or Bollywood, is still just smoke and mirrors, exactly like you’ve always heard. But, despite being a seasoned police officer and private detective, Chopra still experiences some disillusionment as he searches for Vicky.

By stark contrast, the reader is taken to the seamier side, which is a different and very sobering reality check for the reader. Rangwalla’s case is heartbreaking and tragic, and while I loved the redemptive aspects, and the life lessons applied to Chopra’s case, this one made a larger impact on me.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel, which served as a nice escape into another culture, and the mild humor, plus, its use of terms and names I don’t see or hear every day provided me with a chance to learn new words and even prompted me to do a few Google searches and to add a Bollywood film to my Netflix queue, just out of curiosity. So, it was also a learning experience.

I also liked how the author added a moral to the story, which provided the characters a chance to develop and grow. While that may seem a tad cliché, it still worked as a cautionary tale.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give Ganesha at least an honorable mention. The elephant is an unusual pet to adopt, but he was hilarious and added much charm to the story.

The two mysteries included are not violently graphic, but there is an emotional tug from time to time. The language is mild as well, making this a novel that leans a little in the ‘cozy’ direction and is one nearly any mystery lover could get into and enjoy. So, on occasion, following one of my whims pays off!

I will definitely check out the first two books in the series, which I hope will keep me contented until the fourth book is released.








Vaseem Khan first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in the city of Mumbai, India to work as a management consultant. It was the most unusual sight he had ever encountered and served as the inspiration behind his Baby Ganesh series of light-hearted crime novels. Vaseem was born in London in 1973, went on to gain a Bachelors degree in Accounting and Finance from the London School of Economics, before spending a decade on the subcontinent helping one of India's premier hotel groups establish a chain of five-star environmentally friendly 'ecotels' around the country. He returned to the UK in 2006 and has since worked at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science. Elephants are third on his list of passions, first and second being great literature and cricket, not always in that order.

Friday, August 25, 2017

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton - Feature and Review


A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book -- a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, "Nell" sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell's death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go.



The Forgotten GardenThe Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is a 2009 Atria publication.

I only recently discovered this author, having read her latest release, “The Lake House,” and loved it. Naturally, I wanted more!

The Forgotten Garden is just the type of novel I can lose myself in. I love family secrets within a historical setting that spans generations.

The story begins with a little girl found all alone in 1913, taken in by a couple desperate for children, raising her as their own, naming her “Nell”. Once Nell learns the truth, she is shattered by the revelations, and sabotages all the plans she has for the future. Years later, she is given a chance to learn more about her true heritage, but it wasn’t until her granddaughter inherits Nell’s estate, that the truth is slowly unearthed.

Kate Morton’s prose is mesmerizing, hypnotizing, and riveting. I enjoyed seeing the mystery unfold due to Cassandra’s persistence, and with the help of those just as eager to help her obtain answers her grandmother never had the chance to.

In some ways the tale is a sordid one, controversial even, with people making choices that affect generations of people. Some were selfish, some were selfless, and the results were often mixed. There are actually three stories here, woven together, carefully constructed to keep the reader in almost unbearable suspense, until all the shocking secrets of the forgotten garden are at last revealed, finally releasing the pain and heartbreak visited on so many, and opening up a new portal for peace and understanding.

While many areas of this story are depressing, and it could be argued that it’s a tragedy, it is also a kind a love story, and ends on such an uplifting note, I felt a huge sense of peace. I loved Eliza’s fairy tales and the way they paralleled real events, in the story. I could help but feel for Eliza, but admired her, too, however, I was often perplexed by Nell’s choices, but Cassandra is a gem and I think she will make sure the legacy of her true heritage is given the honor and respect it deserves.





Kate Morton is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author. She has sold more than 10 million books in 38 countries. The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog), The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours and The Secret Keeper are all global bestsellers. Kate's fifth novel, The Lake House, has just been published.

Kate grew up in the mountains of southeast Queensland and lives with her husband and young sons in Brisbane. She has degrees in dramatic art and English literature, specialising in 19th century tragedy and contemporary gothic novels.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Road to Jonestown- Jim Jones and the People's Temple by Jeff Guinn- Feature and Review


By the New York Times bestselling author of Manson, the comprehensive, authoritative, and tragic story of preacher Jim Jones, who was responsible for the Jonestown Massacre—the largest murder-suicide in American history.

In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California. He became involved in electoral politics, and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader.

In this riveting narrative, Jeff Guinn examines Jones’s life, from his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing to the fraught decision to move almost a thousand of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Guinn provides stunning new details of the events leading to the fatal day in November, 1978 when more than nine hundred people died—including almost three hundred infants and children—after being ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink.

Guinn examined thousands of pages of FBI files on the case, including material released during the course of his research. He traveled to Jones’s Indiana hometown, where he spoke to people never previously interviewed, and uncovered fresh information from Jonestown survivors. He even visited the Jonestown site with the same pilot who flew there the day that Congressman Leo Ryan was murdered on Jones’s orders. The Road to Jonestownis the definitive book about Jim Jones and the events that led to the tragedy at Jonestown.



The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples TempleThe Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the People’s Temple by Jeff Guinn is a 2017 Simon & Schuster publication.

Thoroughly chilling…

While I was only in my early teens in 1978, I still recall the news footage of the “Jonestown Massacre”. I understood on some level what had happened, but I couldn’t fully digest it. I tried not to watch the news reports and steered clear of conversations about it because it made me extremely uncomfortable. It was too much for me to cope with, and in all honesty, I still can’t wrap my head around it.

Part of me wanted to read this book, in hopes of garnering some understanding of how something like this happened. But, another part of me didn’t want to relive that horrible piece of history where over nine hundred people lost their lives.

But, the outstanding reviews convinced me to read it and while I still find these events quite upsetting, I am glad I read the book.

To say this was a comprehensive account of Jim Jones’ life is an understatement of epic proportions. This book is an exacting, well researched, serious and non-biased, look at one of the most monstrous cult leaders of all time.

We all know how this will end. The question is- How did it begin?

I won’t make this into a book report, if I can help it, but I did want to touch on some of the impressions I was left with.

One of the weirdest things about all this, is that it didn’t start out as being all that different from many fundamentalist church doctrines or beliefs. Jim’s wife was zealously religious and the couple did present themselves as believing in God and practiced the core Christian values most of us are familiar with. It is easy to see how Jim ingratiated himself into the ministry profession, and why he experienced praise for his genuine service and help to those in need. He was particularly sensitive to the black community and freely welcomed them and worshipped alongside them in a time when such actions raised eyebrows.

However, he quickly shucked off any semblance of being a true believer and began working the tent revival circuit, faked healings, and performed 'miracles' including raising people from the dead. But, there was an audience for that sort of thing, especially in that era of time, and he was hardly the only one out there working that particular con.

But, religion and doing good deeds were not the cult’s only draw. I was amazed at how political it was. Jones was an ardent socialist, and I think many people joined his ‘church’ because these ideals, without embracing any ‘religious’ worship of God.

This book took me on stunning and harrowing journey, step by horrifying step, as he morphed into an actual cult leader and managed to mesmerize his followers into doing anything he wanted them to.

I won’t go into the details because I want you to see for yourself how vile, narcissistic, cruel, contradictory, and sick he really was. It is an incredible profile of a man who conned, swayed, manipulated, lied, and corrupted so many people, yet managed to amass wealth, while rubbing elbows with celebrities, and politicians, who often praised him for his good deeds!!

As the book progresses, we see how as his psychosis deepened, and as his power increased so did his ego, and his darker tendencies completely took over, fueled by his paranoia need for control and by his use of drugs. So, the closer I came to the climactic events in “Jonestown”, I began to dread having to read it in such graphic details.

The phrase, ‘ don’t drink the Koolaid’ (it wasn’t really the trademarked “Koolaid”, but ‘Flavor-aid- a cheaper, generic brand), is a familiar one, used to insult anyone exhibiting a certain level of gullibility, and became a common pop culture saying.

"The Jonestown deaths quickly became renowned not as grandly defiant revolutionary gesture, but that ultimate example of human gullibility”

Cults didn’t go away after the Jonestown massacre. There were still headline grabbing standoffs and more mass suicides, although nothing that ever came close to topping Jonestown. But, it SEEMED that maybe with a more enlightened, educated, progressive majority in America, these charismatic charlatans may have finally lost their appeal or ability to lure mass followings, as we began to hear less and less about religious cults.

"Demagogues recruit by uniting a disenchanted element against an enemy, then promising to use religion or politics or a combination of the two to bring about rightful change.”

While I swore to myself I would not go here, I could not help but notice parallels between Jim Jones’ personality traits, such as his inability to delegate or share or his penchant to lash out, deflect, punish, seek restitution, and refuse any hint of apology or compromise, but still managed to lure in folks, knowing just what they needed and wanted to hear, thus securing an almost unshakable loyalty, are traits that are noticeably prevalent in other prominent ‘leaders’ who have come into power. The resemblance was so eerily uncanny at times I still get chills down my spine thinking about it.

‘The less he was recognized and appreciated by the outside world, the grander he proclaimed himself to the followers remaining to him.’

One of the most gruesome pictures included in this book is a photo depicting many of the deceased lying face down in what looked like a grass hut pavilion with a sign hanging on the wall, directly above Jones’ personal chair, that stated:

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Even though I did remember the events that took place in Guyana in 1978, I never sought to learn more about Jim Jones than was necessary. So, most of what was detailed here I was largely unaware of. I have to tell you, it’s pretty shocking. Jim Jones is one of the strangest people I’ve ever read about! He was crazy, but smart, did kind and compassionate things for people in need, was incredible charismatic, but could turn on someone in an instant, meting out horrific punishments, both physical and psychological. He could switch from mean to incredibly nice in an instant. He was delusional, believing himself to be God, and expected unquestionable loyalty from his followers, and he usually got it. But it started to unravel and disillusionment did start to set in, with some questioning his decisions or outright refusing to obey. Yet, as we all know, many remained enthralled right up to the bitter end.

I can’t praise the author enough for the clear, concise layout used here. The book is organized, well -constructed, is presented chronologically, and reads like a true crime novel in many ways. I was riveted, glued to the pages, still unable to grapple with the reality of Jones’ life and the path he ultimately took to Guyana.

There may always be a part of my heart and mind that can’t accept that over 900 people drank cyanide laced punch at his behest, including children. This book, though, left me with no place to hide, forcing me to accept these events as a gruesome, hideous, and incredibly tragic part of America’s history.

My fervent hope is that history never repeats itself.

5 stars





Jeff Guinn is a former award-winning investigative journalist and the bestselling author of numerous books, including Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral and How It Changed the West, and Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson. Guinn lives in Fort Worth, Texas.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

LOLA by Melissa Scrivner Love - Feature and Review


The Crenshaw Six are a small but up-and-coming gang in South Central LA who have recently been drawn into an escalating war between rival drug cartels. To outsiders, the Crenshaw Six appear to be led by a man named Garcia . . . but what no one has figured out is that the gang's real leader (and secret weapon) is Garcia's girlfriend, a brilliant young woman named Lola. 

Lola has mastered playing the role of submissive girlfriend, and in the man's world she inhabits she is consistently underestimated. But in truth she is much, much smarter--and in many ways tougher and more ruthless--than any of the men around her, and as the gang is increasingly sucked into a world of high-stakes betrayal and brutal violence, her skills and leadership become their only hope of survival. 

An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman who combines the genius and ferocity of Lisbeth Salander with the ruthless ambition of Walter White. Lola marksthe debut of a hugely exciting new thriller writer, and of a singular, magnificent character unlike anyone else in fiction.



LolaLola by Melissa Scrivner Love
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love is a 2017 Crown Publishing Group publication.

Wow, this book is the definition of gritty crime drama!

Okay, I admit it- I live a pretty sheltered life. As a Texas gal living in a small town, it’s very hard for me to imagine life in South Central or gang warfare.

But, this novel puts me down right into the midst of a turbulent and intense gang war, while giving me a little peek inside the mind of gang members, and the lifestyle that most of us find shocking, but they are immune to. On a daily basis, hour by hour, it seems, they face all manner of obstacles that threaten their safety, quality of life, and well being. The future is never guaranteed, and making through each day alive is a major accomplishment.

Lola allows people to draw the obvious conclusion that the leader of the ‘Crenshaw Six’ is her lover, a man named Garcia. She plays the gang leader’s girlfriend role, knowing her place, baking cookies and keeping herself manicured.

But, in truth, Lola is the leader of the Crenshaw Six, which is how, after a drug intercept/double-cross is planned, she finds her life hanging in the balance- more so than usual.

In part, this is an intense crime story- an action laced, tautly suspenseful, race against time, as Lola scrambles to recover from their bungled caper and return the heroin and find that elusive 2 million dollars in cash. She has to take her lumps for the screw up and has only a week to get the job done or she's toast.

In the meantime, she takes in a young girl named Lucy, she is trying to keep safe from her junkie mother. Lucy's life is reminiscent of her own and Lola has a soft spot for her.

But, for me, the most absorbing part of the book is how the author delves into Lola’s psyche, examining the mindset of a hardened gang leader, while also giving the reader a glimpse of Lola’s horrific background, her softer side, her insecurities, doubts, and of course, her fears.

This book pulls no punches, with the requisite gun violence, buckets of blood, and language that will make your ears burn. But, in truth, that is pretty standard stuff in modern crime novels. However, this book goes well beyond that, by exposing a horrific display of misogyny, sexual assault, pedophiles, and graphic descriptions of drug use, which really is difficult material to digest no matter how jaded you are.

Lola makes for an interesting character study, and is a woman you would not want to cross under any circumstances. Saying she’s tough is an understatement. But, what struck me, was how smart she could be, how she reasoned and thought things through, even when her instinct was to lash out, and she makes a pretty good amateur investigator. It's just too bad she still seemed caught in an vicious cycle when all those brains and savvy could have served her well in different circumstances.

Besides, Lola, Lucy’s role is the most compelling and the impact she has on Lola, who wants desperately to keep this child from becoming like her, if that is possible. Her presence is perhaps more important than it is being credited with.

The remaining cast of characters are window dressing in some ways, playing out a pre-scripted part,making them predictable, and one-dimensional, but they do carry out their roles admirably, all the same.

In my opinion, Lola is the main focus on this journey and it’s her progress that remains in the forefront and is where the author would like to keep our attention.

The crime drama is very heavy, but the story is also a poignant tale of deliverance. Although Lola has a toneless aura about her at times, and must keep her tenderness locked away, I still found myself rooting for her, caring about her, and worrying on her behalf.

It took me a little while to get through this one. The subject matter is very disturbing, and the mood is often depressing, with a notable weariness to it, as though everyone involved is tired, worn out by life, but will not stop fighting for survival. But, it’s that very spirit that helps them to prevail time and again, and hopefully, eventually, they will triumph, once and for all.





MELISSA SCRIVNER LOVE was born to a police officer father and a court stenographer mother. After earning a master's degree in English Literature from New York University, Melissa moved to Los Angeles, where she has lived for over a decade. During that time, she has written for several television shows, among them Life, CSI: Miami, and Person of Interest. She and her husband, a comedy writer and Los Angeles native, welcomed their daughter in 2014. Lola is her first novel.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die by Garrett M. Graff- Feature and Review


A fresh window on American history: The eye-opening truth about the government’s secret plans to survive a catastrophic attack on US soil—even if the rest of us die—a roadmap that spans from the dawn of the nuclear age to today.

Every day in Washington, DC, the blue-and-gold 1st Helicopter Squadron, codenamed “MUSSEL,” flies over the Potomac River. As obvious as the Presidential motorcade, most people assume the squadron is a travel perk for VIPs. They’re only half right: while the helicopters do provide transport, the unit exists to evacuate high-ranking officials in the event of a terrorist or nuclear attack on the capital. In the event of an attack, select officials would be whisked by helicopters to a ring of secret bunkers around Washington, even as ordinary citizens were left to fend for themselves.

For sixty years, the US government has been developing secret Doomsday plans to protect itself, and the multibillion-dollar Continuity of Government (COG) program takes numerous forms—from its plans to evacuate the Liberty Bell from Philadelphia to the plans to launch nuclear missiles from a Boeing-747 jet flying high over Nebraska. In Raven Rock, Garrett M. Graff sheds light on the inner workings of the 650-acre compound (called Raven Rock) just miles from Camp David, as well as dozens of other bunkers the government built its top leaders during the Cold War, from the White House lawn to Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado to Palm Beach, Florida, and the secret plans that would have kicked in after a Cold War nuclear attack to round up foreigners and dissidents and nationalize industries. Equal parts a presidential, military, and cultural history, Raven Rock tracks the evolution of the government plan and the threats of global war from the dawn of the nuclear era through the War on Terror.



Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us DieRaven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die by Garrett M. Graff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die by Garrett M. Graff is a 2017 Simon & Schuster publication.

This is a very interesting accounting of how the United States began, during the cold war era, to take intense precautions against the possibility of a nuclear war, that would preserve the presidency, even in the wake of massive destruction.

The measures were put in place, not to save any one president, in particular, from death, but to preserve the country’s government, so that the line of power would continue.

However, it would appear, that in times of clear danger, some leaders have refused to be sent to bunkers, instead choosing to stay in the Oval office. Still, precautions are in place, and are carried out, for example, during an inauguration, or in the event of an attack, like 9/11.

This all came about, after the atom bomb was dropped and our leaders saw the damage that a nuclear attack would inflict, in one felled swoop, so to speak, and the fear that generated during the cold war.

From there the United States became nearly obsessed with saving those in power, with a distinct pecking order, even choosing which historical documents and monuments to save, and it was interesting which ones they gave top priority.

The author takes us back to the beginnings of this cold war mindset and walks us through the history and various presidencies, through near misses, to technological pros and cons, showing where we are lacking in that area, all the way up to our present -day preparing for an Armageddon type attack and its fallout.

What would our government really be like post- nuclear attack? Certainly, it would not resemble anything like what it is right now. Yet, we the people, apparently have no say in how these events would unfold.

Although, it should come as no shock, even to the most naïve person, that the government has a plan in place, and it’s not really a big secret that there are bunkers, where leaders are to be sent if an attack of that magnitude occurred. But, it is rather surprising how they plan to utilize those plans for their own survival, how they chose what to keep and what to risk, or who, for that matter. Believe it or not, immediate family might not get to enjoy total safety.

But, really, for the most part this is a historical and political accounting of how the cold war affected our mentality, which led to, instead of less nuclear power, an over -abundance of nuclear warheads, how it shaped our culture, and how that cloud still hangs over us in the way our government respond to threats.

This is an eye- opening book, interesting and informative, very detailed and well-researched. It can be a dry reading at times, though, and it did take me a little while to read this one.

I don’t know if our government, if it did have to respond to such a catastrophic event really could pull off their ‘doomsday’ strategy. There are just too many unknowns to be sure, but it would most likely depend on who was in charge at the time and how they chose to respond. I just hope we never have to find out.

At the end of the day, though, I suppose if I want to survive a nuclear attack, I better start looking into bomb shelters, because the government intends to cover themselves, and maybe certain corporations, but from there it’s every man for themselves...






Garrett M. Graff, a distinguished magazine journalist and historian, has spent more than a dozen years covering politics, technology, and national security. He’s written for publications from WIRED to Bloomberg BusinessWeek to the New York Times, and served as the editor of two of Washington’s most prestigious magazines, Washingtonian and POLITICO Magazine, which he helped lead to its first National Magazine Award, the industry’s highest honor. 

Graff is the author of multiple books, including "The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House," which examined the role of technology in the 2008 presidential race, and "The Threat Matrix: The FBI At War," which traces the history of the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts. His next book, "Raven Rock," about the government’s Cold War Doomsday plans, will be published in May 2017, and he's currently on an oral history of September 11th, based on his POLITICO Magazine article, "We're The Only Plane in the Sky."

His online career began with his time as Governor Howard Dean’s first webmaster, and in 2005, he was the first blogger accredited to cover a White House press briefing. Today, he serves as the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s cybersecurity and technology program.

Friday, August 18, 2017

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Burial Rites by Hannah Kent- Feature and Review


A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. 

Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. 

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard. 

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?




Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a 2013 Little, Brown and Company publication.

This story is mind-boggling and perhaps a little overwhelming at times.

As the blurb states, this story is inspired by true events that took place in Iceland in 1829-30.

Agnes, is convicted of murdering two people, one of whom was her lover, then sentenced to be executed by beheading.

She is sent to live out the remainder of her days on an isolated farm with a family forced to take her in because of a lack of prisons, and who are mortified, and even terrified, of having her under their roof.

Also, in tow is a young priest, Toti, who Agnes chose, specifically, to be her spiritual guide as she faces her imminent death.

This book came to my attention recently, and although I knew it would end badly, the book has achieved so many accolades, I decided to give it a try anyway.

I’m so glad I did. The author did an incredible job of fictionalizing Agnes’ story, capturing the bleak and barren Icelandic terrain and atmosphere, while aptly describing the stark living conditions, and superstitions of the day.

I thought I had emotionally prepared myself for what was to come, but I wasn’t expecting such an amazing story, which humanizes Agnes, and allows the full story to emerge, while Agnes works on the farm and eventually carves a niche for herself with the family who so reluctantly took her in.

Toti is also a terrific character, so open minded with Agnes, who listened to her with a sympathetic ear, not all together convinced of her guilt.

In the end, despite the lack of reprieve for Agnes, she’s able to hold her head up, to feel supported, comforted, and is at least spiritually exonerated by her priest and by others who surrounded her in those final harrowing days.

So, all my emotional preparedness was for naught. I ended up swallowing a huge lump in my throat, and felt nearly gutted by the time I turned the final page.

This book is obviously well researched and is exceptionally well written. Although the story is very sad, and the atmosphere is often heavy and depressing, the ending is still touching and uplifting in its way. Although, I do enjoy historical fiction, this is not the type of book I typically chose, but I am glad I stumbled across it and gave it a chance.

This is a riveting novel historical fiction fans will not want to miss.





Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. As a teenager she travelled to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange, where she first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir.

Hannah is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award.

Burial Rites is her first novel.