Category Archives: Book Reviews

Two Roads to Paradise

Two Roads to ParadiseTwo Roads to Paradise (by Gordon Jensen with Cara Highsmith) deals with a very divided America. This second offering in the Be Careful What You Wish For series continues where The Way Out left off. The world is recovering from a pandemic caused by a genetically modified corn that was originally constructed to become biofuel for a deep-space mission to Proxima b in the Alpha Centauri galaxy. But since it was quick growing, the new strain of corn was used to feed the burgeoning population as well. The downside of this new supposedly wonder food showed up a few years later with reduced live births and fewer viable male babies.

Seems the corn negatively affected the Y chromosome. So, more birth defects and infant deaths. With the return of the Alpha Centauri I, in The Way Out, after a strange 40-year absence, hopes for a cure and vaccine had been high, aided by the unaffected male crew members. But no such luck.

In Two Roads to Paradise, it’s now about three years after the events portrayed in The Way Out. Hunter Young, one of the crew members on the Alpha Centauri I, is now an official in President Margaret Marshall’s administration. He’s also a member of the K Group, a resistance group be trying to rectify the cure and also de-radicalize the country, which had grown ever more divided along red and blue lines.

A major part of Two Roads to Paradise covers a trip Hunter Young takes to meet Lydia Statham. Statham is a former major in the US Army and a leader in the resistance. Travel is tough because of tension and border patrols between the various disgruntled red and blue sections. Thus, he travels by water along part of the Great American Loop. He then crosses northern Mexico by car to get to Nevada.

Young, Latham and other resistance members attempt to steal a new cure from a group who want to only provide it to certain groups of white people. All does not go as planned with the resistance’s heist. What is to become of the K Group? Can anybody calm the frayed nerves on both sides of the country’s divided population?

Gordon Jensen is spot on with his characters. One can see Hunter Young, the man of action, twitching and wiggling a foot as he sits through another interminable DC meeting. Lydia Statham, although polite and friendly, is still very much a retired major and a good leader in the resistance. In his travels from Washington, DC, to Nevada, Young engages with well drawn characters who stand out as individuals.

Jensen covers a few current hot topics, such as pandemics and how the government handles information releases and acceptance of a new vaccine. Another topic is the tension between blue and red states. Jensen heightens the tensions. Groups of states band together into different regional zones based on the predominant ideology of each alliance. Canada and the northern part of Mexico are now called The Americas, rather than just the United States of America. Jensen’s outlook may well be very prescient.

Overall, a well-written work. One exception in an enjoyable read is a rather dull dissertation on the politics of the territorial divisions.

I received a free copy of this work from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Post – Donna Roe Daniell

Guest Post – Donna Roe Daniell

Although I will not be reviewing Ms. Daniell’s new book, I still wanted to pass on the following information.

Midlife Voyage to Transformation by Donna Roe DaniellThree Pillars of Personal Transformation Await You: Are you Ready?
by Donna Roe Daniell

How do you know when it is time to make a change in your life, to change a behavior, to switch gears and move in a healthier direction, to let go of a relationship, to notice your pain? The first pillar of finding this discomfort in your being, in your behaviors is to slow down, to do less and actually take time to notice what is happening. This step of noticing is mindfulness —paying attention to what is going on in this present moment and examining it closely. Can you stop and pay attention and allow yourself to be curious instead of judgmental, critical or self-blaming?

This brings us to the second pillar of personal transformation: Self-Compassion. Finding a way to be kind to yourself and patient and loving when you are struggling with a difficult situation, feeling a lot of pain, moving really fast to get through something, facing a shadow part of yourself rearing its ugly head is self-compassion: bringing in care to yourself when you are struggling. This also takes being willing to stop and notice what is happening, taking that first pillar of mindfulness to the next step of being kind and caring to yourself when you totally need it — instead of hoping you’ll get kindness from someone else soon. You can give it to yourself and hold yourself gently as you let your feelings arise and fall.

When you create this kind of healing container for yourself with these first two pillars: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, you are ready to utilize the third Pillar of Personal Transformation: IFS. Internal Family Systems Therapy is a healing roadmap and deep dive into yourself and all the parts of you that keep you moving through each and every day. It’s a total path to self-awareness and self-love and along the way you get to heal yourself too. It is a safe way to get an intimate connection with your feelings and your behaviors and to love yourself into a healthier place! You can learn about IFS from books and many resources, but the best way is to engage in working with an IFS Therapist or Coach who can empower you and hold you in Self-Energy and Self-Love until you can do it for yourself. You can also explore it in a safe container like my retreat.

And you can explore and develop all three of these three Pillars of Personal Transformation at my FALL RETREAT this October 28-31 and again October 26-30, 2022. Can you give yourself four days and three nights to just listen and allow these tools to manifest? Imagine what kind of shifts might bubble up and what layers might be lifted?

In addition, all three of these Pillars are also explained through the stories in my memoir: A Midlife Voyage to Transformation. When you read this book you will be able to understand more how to feel your feelings and experience them in your body. You will also be able to learn about the 5 Stages of the Midlife Voyage to Transformation. See what stage you are on in your midlife voyage right now—It will help you get so much more out of the retreat.
Are you ready? This is the moment to take action for yourself and start with purchasing my book on Amazon. Watch for my WORKBOOK/ BOOK GROUP GUIDE to A Midlife Voyage to Transformation coming out in 2022.

The Way Out

The Way OutThe Way Out by Gordon Jensen, with C. Highsmith and G. Thomas, begins in the near future, 2025. The Alpha Centauri I is the first manned spaceship to be sent to the planet Proxima b, in the Alpha Centauri galaxy, 4.24 light years. All is going well on what would have been a ten-year mission (measured in earth time) until the spaceship encounters increased energy pulling them towards what is assumed to be a black hole. Forty years later, the spaceship appears and plummets into the ocean. After a short prologue on board the spaceship, the rest of the story is told in the form of interviews conducted by a documentarian-journalist who talks with a NASA employee who communicated with the spaceship the day of its return to Earth and major crew members.

Their arrival dispels the idea that the spaceship had been lost after entering what everyone thought was a black hole. The interviews with the crew illuminate the cool, guarded reception the crew received upon being rescued from the sea after plunging to Earth. No hugs and kisses with loved ones. No ticker tape parades. Why?

Apparently, things had changed significantly between 2025 and 2065. Fewer men, more women in power, what else had changed? Global population had fallen to just over 2.5 billion people. Why? Seemingly, when eaten, the genetically modify organism (GMO) corn used as biofuel for the spaceship interacted with the male Y chromosome and rendered it inert. This became another viral pandemic. Consequently, fewer babies were born, and even fewer of them were males.

New World Order?

Think about the world with no sports teams because of insufficient males to compete. Or a world with reduced digital and electronic communications because of a war that broke out fighting over who would control the supply of the new corn prior to the recognition of its drawbacks and repercussions. Think of the decrease in population where most survivors migrate towards metropolitan areas away from the devastation caused in agricultural areas based on trying to destroy the new corn with its ominous side effects.

The near-future Earth world created by Gordon Jensen has many of the same problems as our present-day one. Scarce resources, and fights over those resources, are still all too real. Unconscionable actions deemed necessary by the government “for the greater good” are taken or suggested that affect the human rights of the spaceship crew. Pandemics still rage and vaccines are still viewed as problematic by some of the population. Conspiracy theory alarmists would have a field day with everything carried within the vaccine in Jensen’s created world.

I enjoyed this fictional world and the characters within it. However, as stated previously, the story moves forward by means of interviews with the major characters. This is an interesting concept. On the other hand, vivid action and suspense are rather subdued. Everything is relayed to the reader second-hand and is seen through limited viewpoints. However, we get to meet each important character and learn their foibles up close.

I recommend The Way Out and look forward to reading Two Roads to Paradise, the second book in Gordon Jensen’s Be Careful What You Ask For series.

I received a free copy of this book from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

The Way Out
by Gordon Jensen
with Cara Highsmith and Gordon Thomas
© 2018

Lies at Her Door

Lies at Her DoorLies at Her Door, by A. A. Abbott, seems to be a novel dealing with characters whose lives are not what they seem or had envisioned. Who, if anyone, is telling the truth? The mystery at the center seems to highlight what’s missing from the lives of Neil Slater and Lucy Freeman. And even Sebastian and Dan Freeman. Lucy wishes she was thinner and not responsible for the care of her invalid mother. Lucy feels unloved—her mother calls her a pig and fat, and otherwise derides her daughter. Jennifer and Sebastian, Lucy’s parents used to deride her for the inability to keep a pet alive for even a short while. But Lucy cooks for the household and helps dress and assist her mother since her mother contracted Parkinson’s. Why the derision of a daughter who is competent, kind, and at least nominally pretty? Is something else at work?

Why does Dan, Lucy’s brother, stay away from home? Is it just that he enjoys the superstar lifestyle since his band became popular? Or is there something more sinister? Why does he live alone with just a bodyguard?

Neil wishes his girlfriend, Gemma, would move in with him. But Gemma professes that she loves living in the country. Neil’s job as a detective keeps him in Bristol.

Jason Jardine, one of Dan’s fellow band members, goes missing. Lucy even gets blamed for Jason’s disappearance. Then Jason’s skeleton is found in a collapsed cellar only accessible from the Freeman house. When Lucy finds her mother’s diaries while clearing off a bookshelf, she hopes to find out the truth of what happened. But Sebastian disposes of the diaries before Lucy can read them. Why?

Why is Lucy Freeman the nexus in the mystery of Jason’s death? Neil think Lucy is the murderer. Why? Does Neil even remember that Lucy babysat him once when he was four? And supposedly gave him a drug-laced brownie? Drugs meant for the members of Dr. Sweet, Dan’s band. Was Lucy even aware of the drugs in the brownies? Why does Lucy remember almost nothing from the last time she saw Jason?

Lies at Her Door is a slow, but inexorable crawl to the denouement in the search for Jason’s killer. Lucy is a well-drawn character. Her father, a professor, is fairly well drawn. Jennifer, Lucy’s mother is just a shell of a woman for the majority of the novel due to her illness. But she impacts the story, nonetheless. The plot, although a bit slow, benefits from Abbott’s tight, straight on prose. Alternating the narrative from the perspective of both Lucy and Neil provides more information than would otherwise have been possible.

This was a fairly good read.

I received a free copy of this book from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

Lies at Her Door
By A. A. Abbott
© 2022
Perfect City Press

The Beached Ones

The Beached OnesWhat would it be like if everyone thought you were dead? What if people walked by you and didn’t seem to notice you? A few people, like your ex-girlfriend, Jolene, and her new boyfriend, Brent, can see you. But Isabella, the medium, can’t. You seem solid enough to yourself. Normal functions work—you can eat, drink and wear clothes. You swear you are alive and well. But one moment you’re at the ocean helping beached whales and the next you’re lying by railroad tracks; then you’re in the Midwest. With no idea how you moved from place to place. Welcome to the dystopian world of Daniel Shepard in The Beached Ones by Colleen M. Story.

Story keeps the reader off balance by inserting flashbacks of Daniel’s earlier life in a single-parent, dysfunctional household. Daniel escapes that environment by becoming a motocross stunt rider. One of his current desires is to get to San Francisco to meet his younger brother, Tony. The other is to reclaim Jolene.

I never really became involved with the characters in this novel. They all seemed like chimeras. Daniel seemed the most solid, alive character even though he apparently died from an accident at a motocross show prior to the beginning of the novel. Ghostly as he is, Daniel is the anchor holding the lives of those within his sphere together. Daniel feels responsible for everyone who touches his world, no matter how tangentially. That includes Trisha, a teenager who he doesn’t know, who commits suicide in a parking lot while Daniel stands helplessly nearby.

Straightforward or Beached?

Are our lives as straightforward as we would like to believe? Do we absolutely know where we’re headed at any given point? Or are we pulled this way and that? Do we live a vertiginous life as Daniel does in both human and spirit form?

Are the beached whales that Daniel attempts to save at the beginning of the novel synonymous with, and representative of, those humans in his life whom he also tries to save? Hmm, read The Beached Ones and draw your own conclusions.

Colleen Story Interview

Colleen M. StoryEarlier this morning I posted a review of The Beached Ones by Colleen Story. I hope you enjoy this interview that takes us behind the scenes to look at a writer’s process and inspiration.

Colleen M. Story: The Beached Ones
Interviewed by Lauren Carr

What made you write a book about the bond between two brothers?
I grew up with three brothers—one older and two younger. I felt responsible for my younger brothers much of the time. I took care of them as we were growing up, which informed my portrayal of Daniel, who is the older brother in the story.

The bonds between siblings are unique and challenged by many factors including upbringing, parents, age, and personalities. Yet these are the longest-lasting relationships most of us will have in our lifetimes. When the character of Daniel came to me, it was always with his younger brother Tony. That relationship was there from the beginning and provided a great grounding point for the rest of the story.

Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
Inspiration comes to me from a variety of places, but often I can’t identify where when talking about a particular story. The main character will just show up in my mind first, and then over time, his or her story will start to develop in my mind.
In the case of The Beached Ones, though, I could go back and identify a couple of sources of inspiration. The first was the movie Sarah’s Key, which was based on the book of the same title by Tatiana de Rosnay. The second was an experience I had myself as a child. My adoptive father committed suicide. The experience was traumatic, but when you’re young, you don’t have the maturity to understand or deal with it.

Later in life, that event came up again. I started thinking about it more, and I had a few dreams about it. I didn’t purposely write about it, but I can see echoes of that experience showing up in some facets of The Beached Ones.

What advice would you give budding writers?
One of the most common pieces of advice I share with writers is to focus on the work. It’s very easy to get caught up in the trappings of the writing life—getting published, having readers/fans, and chasing that golden ticket to writing fame. We all have those dreams, but if you’re called to write, it’s likely for another reason. (Your soul doesn’t care if you become famous, in other words.)

No matter if you become the next bestseller or never publish a single story, if you focus on writing as a daily (or almost daily) practice, you will notice positive changes in your life. I guarantee it. Writing is magical that way.

If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be?
If I could put myself as a character in the book, it would probably be Gus. He is a preacher at a cowboy church, and he just lives his life as he sees fit. He doesn’t worry about what anyone else thinks. He spends time in the beautiful mountains of Montana, and he likes to ride his four-wheeler around. Yet he’s kind and caring and offers a lot of support to Daniel (my main character) and his little brother Tony.

How long have you been writing?
I started writing seriously in the mid-1990s. I got my first official writing job in 1997. I went freelance in 2003, and have been a professional freelance writer ever since. Meanwhile, I continued to write fiction and penned several novels, many of which never saw the light of day. I received my first traditional novel publishing contract in 2013, I think! Since then I’ve published five more books and plan to keep going.

Anne Beall Interview

Cinderella Didn't Live Happily Ever AfterGuest Interview: Anne Beall, author of Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After

Why did you write a book about fairy tales?
I’ve always loved fairy tales and after a particularly bad day, I turned to them for comfort. As I read, I noticed some patterns, so I decided to analyze them systematically. I conducted statistical analyses and found that female characters were often weak, passive and terribly victimized, whereas males were brave, intelligent, and powerful. And powerful men were mostly good, whereas powerful women were often evil. Females married royalty largely because of their appearance whereas males married royalty when they showed tremendous feats of bravery or intelligence. I was surprised how many hidden messages about gender, power, agency and good versus evil.

Are you suggesting that children shouldn’t like Cinderella or other popular fairy tales?
No, not at all. These are good stories. I just caution people to think about what else they may communicate besides the basic plot. I don’t think we want to suggest to little girls that they should just wait for Prince Charming to save them from a difficult situation. That seems like a big message to give that could lead to a lot of disappointment.
I am definitely not against children reading fairy tales. In fact, I encourage people of all ages to read fairy tales because there are so many great ones. In some of them, the female character goes to battle, saves her handsome prince, and rescues family members. There are quite a few fabulous female heroines who are strong and inspirational.

Do you have another profession besides writing?
Yes! I’m a researcher and I own a research company that does market research for Fortune 500 companies. We do everything from surveys and focus-groups to complex statistical modeling. We do studies to help companies understand their customers better and to provide better products and services to them. It’s a wonderful profession and I work with very smart people.

Do you write anything other than non-fiction?
I’m writing a middle-grade fairy tale about a heroine who ends up battling an evil wizard. She is a lowly servant in a castle and believes she’s an orphan. A fairy comes to her and tells her she has a family, but they’ve been cursed. She must solve riddles and find enchanted items to lift this curse and be reunited with her family. Although she has some special gifts, she lacks confidence in her abilities and doesn’t think she can do it. And she only has 15 days, or the curse will be permanent!

What is your advice to anyone who thinks they have a book within them?

I believe everyone has an important story to tell. My best advice is to sit down and write it. You can get help in editing and crafting your story once you’ve written it. But for now, just sit down and get it out. I believe that there is a reason you want to write it and the world needs to read it. Don’t let a lack of confidence get in your way. Just write! That’s the best advice I have. If there is something that’s nagging at you, there is probably a reason.

Thank you so much.
-Anne Beall

Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After

Cinderella Didn't Live Happily Ever AfterDo humans, especially women, internalize the subliminal messages found in most fairy tales? Anne E. Beall, Ph.D., thinks so. Males are also fed covert messages. According to Beall, in Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After, women bring beauty and men bring intelligence, status and wealth to most situations within fairy tales. “The other message [for women] is that passivity is fine and facing abuse without any response will eventually be rewarded…. Just hang in long enough and magical things will happen.” (p. 11-12)

Beall and her team analyzed 169 of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales. Males in these tales tend to be active, powerful and wealthy. Women often tend to be beautiful and passive. Those women who exhibit power and agency within the tales are usually characterized as ugly, evil witches or stepmothers. One of the few exceptions, according to Beall, is Gretel in the Hansel and Gretel tale. Gretel defeats the witch by pushing her into a hot oven.

Also, some stories depict characters as purely good or evil. For example, Beall points out that Snow White is portrayed as pure goodness while her stepmother is totally evil. Who, in reality, would admit to being entirely good or evil? We all have goodness and evil within us to a greater or lesser extent. And goodness usually triumphs over evil. Beall “identified a clear demonstration of a good person overcoming an evil one in 106 stories…. In general,…stories where evil characters prevail are rare.” (p. 46)

Who Brings Home Cinderella?

In those tales where goodness triumphs, the person who conquers evil is predominantly male. What does this mean for young girls in society? And must boys always be the strong person in every situation?

In Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After, Beall delivers her analyses of the various aspects of fairy tales in a straightforward, understandable language. Her erudite articulation lends itself to agreement with her opinions whether or not anyone identifies as feminist. Well done.

I received a free copy of Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After from iReadBookTours in exchange for an honest review.

Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After: The Hidden Messages in Fairy Tales
by Anne E. Beall, PhD
© 2018
Beall Research, Inc.

Shadow of Murder

Shadow of MurderWhen and where does it take a village to solve a murder? In Lauren Carr‘s Shadow of Murder. That’s where. What happened to Konnor Langston? Why did she suddenly disappear while helping Larry Donahue clean out his deceased father’s house?

Beware. There are lots and lots of characters in this lengthy tome. This is really an affair involving a good chunk of the village of Spencer, including the mayor, Gnarly (a German shepherd). And the villagers all know one another, and most are somehow related to each other.

I enjoyed the characterization. Although there was a multitude of characters, many “on stage” together, most of the characters had their own personality. But I chafed when I had to keep referring to the Cast of Characters list at the beginning of the novel to keep everyone straight and remind myself of who was who, as most are related to each other in some way, as previously mentioned. This slowed down my reading of the novel to a large extent and took away from the enjoyment of the story. In fact, the interactions between certain groups of characters detracted from the sense of mystery. At times, this seems like a novel about the village characters, especially during the first 25 percent of the novel.

Another minor irritation was the food fight scene at the Spencer Inn. It reminded me too much of Keystone Kops slapstick-style comedy. But once the story got rolling it became more engrossing.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Shadow of Murder. I look forward to reading more from Lauren Carr.

Lauren Carr

Lauren CarrI’ve just discovered Lauren Carr, a prolific author of cozy mysteries as well as other genres. In the near future, I’ll be reading and reviewing a few of Carr’s mysteries.

Gnarly is a character that appears in a few of the books in Carr’s Mac Faraday series.

Enjoy this preview of what’s ahead.

Ten Things You May Not Know about Gnarly
by Lauren Carr

Gnarly is a canine genius. In It’s Murder, My Son, Mac has Gnarly evaluated by a dog expert who determines that the German shepherd has reasoning and planning capability, which is why he doesn’t always listen to humans.

Gnarly is a kleptomaniac. When he gets bored, he plans and executes heists—just to see if he can get away with it.

Gnarly is a West Virginian. He was born at Beck’s Kennels in Inwood, West Virginia. His parents still live there.

Gnarly is lactose intolerant. Mac Faraday only recently made this discovery.

Gnarly was not in the first or even second draft of It’s Murder, My Son. While Mac Faraday had a dog, it was not become an actual character until a much later draft.

Gnarly has a squirrel friend named Otis. Occasionally, he and Gnarly will have spats. In Old Loves Die Hard, Otis threw acorns at Gnarly, hitting David’s police cruiser.

Gnarly was inspired by Lauren’s son’s Australian shepherd, which was given to him by a woman during halftime at a football game. Her big sales pitch: “You can keep him. He’s free!” The next day, the free puppy chewed through a $65 power cord.

There is a real Gnarly. After the success of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, Lauren got a real German shepherd and named him Gnarly, after his fictional counterpart. He was kind enough to model for the fictional Gnarly’s campaign posters.

The real Gnarly can open doors—even doors with round doorknobs like his fictional counterpart. For this reason, Lauren has to lock the door when she wants Gnarly to stay outside. He hasn’t conquered picking locks yet; but give him time. Most of Gnarly’s misbehaviors are based on real-life incidents involving Lauren’s dogs or dog stories supplied to her by fans.

While the fictional Gnarly is un-neutered, the real life Gnarly is. A friend of Lauren’s wanted to breed Gnarly with her purebred German shepherd, but before the “wedding” could take place, Gnarly developed an unhealthy obsession with a footstool. For the sake of her sanity, Lauren decided to get Gnarly altered. Luckily, Lauren’s friend understood.