Book Reviews: All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

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Beth has done a bad, bad thing. And while she ruminates about the tragedy she brought on herself while paying the ultimate price, she goes on a journey of healing and redemption.

In Clare Fisher’s novel All the Good Things, Beth is seeing a counselor while serving a prison term. Convinced she is completely worthless, Beth’s counselor, with both compassion and wisdom, tells her to write a list of all the good things that have to her.

This is pretty difficult for Beth. In her young life, Beth has dealt with tragedy, abandonment, and heartbreak. Among these include being deserted by her mother, mental health issues, abusive relationships, one crappy job after another, and a series of dreadful foster homes.

But as she looks back on her life, Beth remembers the things. She’s very creative, she has a network of supportive friends, she’s felt the embrace of true love, and her sweet baby girl who she loves with great intensity.

Beth writes this list in a journal form that comes across like a series of letters to her daughter. And as he writes these letters she comes to terms with the lowest moments in her life, the moments that gave her life purpose, and one horrible mistake that altered her life. Now she’s asking herself is she can be forgiven and can she be redeemed?

All the Good Things kept me riveted, page after page. Beth’s story both broke my heat and uplifted my spirits.

Fisher’s debut novel is written with a great deal of clarity that fulfills all the senses. Beth is written as a fully-dimensional character, as are the tertiary characters.

Obviously I’m not going to reveal why Beth is being punished and in prison. But you just might gasp out loud when she admits her crime…like I did.

The New Me by Halle Butler

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Meet 30 year old Millie. Millie works as a temporary receptionist at an interior design firm located in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. She’s addicted to homicide forensic TV shows. Her basic hygiene and housekeeping habits are less than ideal. Her love life is non-existent. Her friend Sarah is more is more frenemy than true blue pal.

Millie is one messed up millennial. She’s pitiful, anti-social, unproductive. But she’s also bright, funny, self-aware.

In otherwords, Millie is absolutely fascinating and she’s portrayed in Halle Butler’s expertly observed and written novel The New Me.

Millie’s job is a complete bore. The phone rarely rings and when she works up a smidge of ambition she asks for additional tasks. She’d given only one, shredding documents, not exactly challenging or exciting.

Millie’s homelife is a treadmill of bingewatching TV and ignoring basic household chores. And her social life consists of mostly dealing with Sarah’s condescending attitude and all-around bitchiness.

Millie is stuck in neutral and it is implied she’s suffering from depression.

Despite all of this Millie is self aware enough to realize she has to make some positive changes in her even though they seem insurmountable. Thus, the title of this book.

A big part of The New Me consists of Millie attempting making these improvements, some that work in her favor and others are utter failures.

I kept cheering Millie on, wanting her to succeed. Sure, she’s completely pathetic but she’s also bright, funny, good-hearted, and completely relatable.

Butler is an innovative writer who has a clever way of unfurling characters and a plot that kept me riveted. I really like how she combined Millie written using first person while two of Millie’s co-workers are written in third person.

Butler is relatively new to the writing, but she’s definitely an author to watch.

We Interrupt This Blog For This Special Announcement

If you have a child in your life who adores animals and loves reading then this child is going to be over the moon over author Pop Jamison’s Skwerdlock series. Skwerdlock is a whimsical character who delights and encourages young readers. The latest book in the Skwerdlock series is Never Take a Skwerdlock to the Doctor.

“The Skwerdlock is always fun to be with, and is always curious and excited to try new things. The Skerdlock watches everything you do and then likes to try it all. Because of that, the Skwerdlock is a great friend to have around.

The Skwerdlock would never do anything to hurt anyone or to cause any problems. But sometimes, just being a Skwerdlock means that strange things can happen when a Skwerdlock is nearby. This little story is a friendly reminder of what can happen when a Skwerdlock is around.

But, mostly, the Skwerdlock is just an excuse to curl up in the recliner or sofa with your favorite early reader or listener and smile together.

And, if the illustrations seem a bit “amateurish”, that’s something Pops and the Skwerdlock have done intentionally. They both love really nice illustrations, but they also want to remind your young storytellers they don’t have to be “perfect” to create a really good story.

Just remember, ‘Never Take A Skwerdlock to the Doctor!'”

Pops Jamison’s first name is John and he’s been writing for children for nearly sixty years, much of it inspired by his daughter Tricia.

As a writer, Pop’s goals include making kids laugh, love reading and tell “just good stories.” Ultimately, Skwerdlock is a true blue friend to everyone he meets.

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Ellen Whitfield-Publicist

JKS Communications – Literary Publicity

ellen@jkscommunications.com

Retro Review: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

When I look back at the books I loved as a child I think of the books by Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the poetry of Shel Silverstein. I think of the classics and think of getting lost in a world of fairy tales, myths, legends, and folklore.

And then there is the Newberry Medal Winner The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

Even as a little girl I was a bit of a fashionista. I played dress up and adored my Barbies. I even made clothes for my paper dolls.

The Hundred Dresses is about two classmates and besties, Maddie and Peggy. Wanda Petronski is their classmate.

Wanda has a funny last name, lives in a scary place called Boggins Heights, and her family is very poor, not exactly a recipe for popularity.

Wanda also wears the same raggedy dresseveryday, which her leads her classmates to tease her, including Maddie and Peggy.

Wanda tells her classmates she has a hundred dresses at home. She has to be lying. If this is true why does she wear she wear the same dress? The girls continue to tease Wanda. They are total bullies.

Then one day Wanda isn’t in class. It turns out she won’t be back. The Petronski family are moving.

Soon after the class learns about Wanda’s hundred dresses, conveyed by her creative and artistic talents.

Though released in 1944, The Hundred Dresses is very important book. Bullying still exists and people deemed as different are still demonized.

But on a positive note, The Hundred Dresses is an inspirational tale of how art and creative expression can be an act of healing and human connection.

I loved this book as a child, truly appreciate it as an adult. Estes’s writing is warm and heartfelt. And Louis Slobodkin’s impressionistic illustrations are lovely.

The Hundred Dresses is a tale that endures.

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Book Review: Man Mission-Four Men, Fifteen Years, One Epic Journey by Eytan Uliel

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“The pick-up truck hurtles down a dirt road in rural New Zealand. In the back it’s just me, four loaded guns, and some kilo of drugs. I’m going to die, I think. And not for the first time today.”

Well, that’s one way to grab my attention. It’s also the opening of the book Man Mission-Four Men, Fifteen Years, One Epic Journey-a bloke version of Eat, Pray, Love, but also a complete anti-thesis.

Written by seasoned traveler and writer Eytan Uliel, Man Mission is an exotic stew with hearty heapings of fiction, travel guide and possible memoir. And it’s also an eye-opener for anyone whose idea of roughing it is no room service and believes a week of adventure is a vacation at the local water park.

Man Mission is about four young men, still in college and about to start life in the “real world.” Because of their friendship and their love of travel, these four mates will get together to travel to one country per year and will deal with the good, bad, and ugly as only they can (or think they can). They continue to do this even as they embark on careers, marriage and family life. All four friends find challenge in both the humdrum of domesticity and the excitement of their “Man  Mission.”

Man Mission is divided into three parts, simply called part one, part two, and part three; and it packs it up at the end with an epilogue called Home.

Some of the countries these mates traverse include Vietnam, Thailand, Fiji, South Africa, Iceland, Spain, Peru, and the good, old US of A. Included with the Man Mission is their manifesto, which includes such gems like going beyond one’s limits and no luxuries allowed.

A certain pink bracelet also is part of the Man Mission, a dude’s version of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

Over the course of 15 years these mates straddle a high wire of challenges of their vacations with the challenges of careers and domesticity (and like I mentioned, often the last two seem more challenging than the actual adventures).

The travels are definitely crazy and audacious. And the dialogue among the men is very rich and detailed, filled with both macho bluster and candid vulnerability. It certainly gave me a look into the male mind. Men, are both simple and complex (in other words, human).

If I have one quibble when it comes to Man Mission, I do wish Uliel would have painted the women in Man Mission with a more colorful brush. To me, they came across with all the depth as a shot of tequila when I would have preferred a full margarita (FYI-raspberry margaritas are my fave).

But at the end, Man Mission is a fast-paced, comical, and riveting book. I think it would make one heck of a movie. Hugh Jackman, call your agent!

 

 

Book Review: The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

Every once in a while I really need to escape to the fun and fluff of what might be called chick lit.. But sadly, a majority of these books leave me less than sated. The plots are wafer thin and characters are one dimensional.

So thank the twinkly stars above for Teri Wilson’s gem of a novel The Accidental Beauty Queen.

Charlotte Gorman is a bookish lass who adores her job as a elementary school librarian. Her identical twin sister, Ginny, is a stunning beauty and Instagram star.

As The Accidental Beauty Queen begins, Ginny is hell bent on winning the Miss American Treasure pageant. However, her hopes are nearly dashed when she has an allergic reaction and her looks are severely compromised. She convinces Charlotte to go as her replacement, which Charlotte begrudgingly agrees to do even though it compromises her sense of right and wrong. In The Accidental Beauty Queen the Gorman sisters travel a twist and turn journey that opens both their minds and their hearts about the very different worlds they live in.

The premise interested me and thank goodness the novel did not  disappoint. Both Charlotte and Ginny, along with the stable of supporting characters, are multi-dimensional and Gorman girls convey the complexities of sisterhood in a way that is very relatable. They are more than they seem.

Speaking of sisterhood, the contestants are not bimbos or bitches, but funny, bright, accomplished and fully supportive of each other.

And then there is a certain mystery gentleman, Gray, who enters Charlotte’s life. Is he a Prince Charming who will sweep Charlotte off her platform stilletoed feet or a callow playboy who will break her heart into a million little shards? Like I mentioned, I really adored The Accidental Beauty Queen. Wilson can actually write and she keeps you guessing as a reader. She doesn’t rely on tired old clichés that lazy writers often do. She has a clever way with dialogue that is contemporary but wouldn’t seem out of place in a 1930s’ screwball motion picture.

The plot is funny and vibrant, but at times heartbreaking and profound. And her sexscenes are actually sexy, not sleazy.

In other words, Wilson writes chick lit for those who aren’t into chick lit. I can’t recommend The Accidental Beauty Queen enough.

 

Book Report

Here is a quick book report on Daniel Torday’s novel Boomer1.

IMG_20181211_205509This novel explores the battle between boomers and millennials from the perspective of three people, Mark Brumfeld, his mother Julia, and Mark’s ex Cassie. In the beginning Mark has it all-a great career in media, a stellar education (he’s getting his PhD), a place in a bluegrass band, and Cassie. And then Mark loses it all and moves back in with his parents. Bitter, Mark dons a disguise, calls himself Boomer1 and uploads videos to YouTube solely blaming baby boomers for his lot in life. His videos go viral setting off a revolution and Cassie’s attention. Meanwhile Julia is dealing with her own issues.

Boomer1 seemed so promising, but Torday’s writing is pretentious and moves at a snail’s pace. Mark and Cassie are unlikable. And Julia is just meh.

Grade D