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1 Sep
2016
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Book Review: “Dakota: Or What’s a Heaven For” by Brenda K. Marshall

Dakota, by Brenda K. MarshallReviewed by Bev Scott

This complex historic epic brings together politicians, the Northern Pacific Railroad, land-hungry men, European immigrants, especially Kristen and her family from Norway, with the main protagonist Frances Bingham in the Dakota Territory of the late nineteenth century. Frances is married to Percy, an educated but lazy man addicted to his flask of brandy. They live in Mr. John Bingham’s house (Percy’s father), with his disabled sister Anna, who Frances admires and longs for unconventional intimacy. Kristen, who becomes the housekeeper, offers her naive observations directly to the reader which reveal many hidden truths of the story. Frances manipulates the members of the household to achieve her own desires only to find in the end that she is rejected, turned away and without any means of support. The story describes the political and economic intrigue and greed which drives the personal and social lives of the Bingham family while crushing many poor immigrant farmers.

The characters are finely drawn by Marshall, leaving the reader with a sense of personal knowledge of not only their behavior but also their motivations, emotions, and secret longings. The descriptions of the landscape provide a photographic image of the Dakota Territory at the time. The tales of manipulation and the exercise of power by the political and economic elite offer a fascinating historic context despite the sometimes boring descriptions.

I found this book to be engaging and engrossing. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and is willing to learn from the complex historic context of the story.

Author: Brenda K. Marshall

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6 Jul
2016
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Book Review: “Bodie” by Anne Sweazy-Kulju

Book review: Bodie, by Anne Sweazy-Kulju

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The story of Bodie, an abandoned mining town in the California desert, knits together the violent and mysterious events of 1879 and two Oregon sisters in 1993. The sisters, who share the same vivid dream set in Bodie, seek professional guidance from an academic therapist-hypnotist to understand their dream. This meeting triggers a series of events: clandestine meetings in Washington, DC, murder, and the suspense-filled tracking of the sisters by a hired killer in the abandoned town of Bodie. Interwoven in the story of the sisters is the psychic or intuitive ability of one of the sisters and her daughter.

The descriptions are vivid with convincing characters and active dialogue. Bodie is an engrossing story which moves at a good pace. The historical background of Bodie is well researched and provides intriguing twists to the story. However, I found it somewhat confusing to switch back and forth in chapters with different characters, settings and times. The author’s approach to the story does seem to require this chapter switching. Perhaps it would be helpful to readers like me who get confused if the chapter headings (which give dates and location) more clearly and boldly announced the new context.

Despite these issues, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The complexities of the plot provide an absorbing read.

A complimentary copy of the book Bodie was provided to me by the author with no obligations.

Author website: Anne Sweazy-Kulju.

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8 Jun
2016
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Book Review: “The Girl from Krakow” by Alex Rosenberg

The Girl From Krakow: Book Review

Reviewed by Bev Scott

This is a story of passion, maternal instincts and subterfuge during World War II in Poland. Rita, a young Jewish woman searching for a more exciting life is studying law in Krakow when she meets Urs in his last year of medical school. Despite her initial resistance, she marries him but finds his stiff and routine approach to sex unsatisfying to her. She meets and launches what later becomes a passionate affair with Dr. Tadeusz, the second main protagonist, who is deceptive with a tendency to delude and fabricate stories to meet his own needs. When Rita’s husband discovers their weekly trysts under the guise of infertility treatments, he attempts suicide. The affair is ended and Rita reconciles with Urs to maintain appearances. When she discovers she is indeed pregnant, he is relieved as he counts back and realizes the child is his.

Germany has put an end to Poland, controlling the east while the Soviets have marched into the west. Urs now working for a Soviet government clinic is soon ordered to leave for conscription in the Soviet army. Rita and her young son are left behind. She rents out a room to Eric, a young man she finds interesting and attractive . A work permit at a factory allows him connections to help get Rita’s son sent with a Polish resistance courier to deliver her son to her parents. Unfortunately, when she learns that the courier is arrested by the Nazis, it is doubtful her son was delivered to her parents. But she never gives up believing that he somehow survives. Eric’s connection allows her to obtain false identity papers and escape to Warsaw to begin looking for her son. With German looks, ability to speak flawless German as well as Polish and her daring courage, she takes many chances in her search for him. Meanwhile, we learn that the disingenuous Dr. Romero with his Spanish disguise is hiding out in Moscow, taking risks of his own.

The well-researched historical context of this book offers the opportunity for an engaging story about the personal pain and emotional challenges brought by the brutality of the Nazi invasion of Poland. However, some aspects of the book are confusing or distracting such as the story flipping between the setting for two main protagonists Rita and Dr. Romero. I was also troubled by a lack of character development for Dr. Romero and I questioned the believability of Rita’s character especially her risky sexual behavior. Despite these concerns, I enjoyed the book and found the story engrossing.

Author:  Alex Rosenberg

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10 May
2016
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Book Review: “Behind Palace Walls” by Erin Chase

Behind Palace Walls by Erin Chase

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Sheshamun, the adopted daughter of peasants, unexpectedly finds herself recommended to the Pharaoh’s harem. Finding life in the harem unlike her dream of living a royal life, and forbidden to see her parents, she escapes from the palace. Of course she is found and brought back to be sentenced by the Pharaoh to a slave camp, escaping a death sentence with the intervention of the Royal Wife. This experience provides the opportunity for Sheshamun to mature, gain confidence in herself and find support from the friends she makes. Sheshamun’s story kept me engaged as the author provides mystery, suspense and romance through the historical lens of ancient Egypt.

I have long enjoyed fiction about ancient Egypt and this was no exception. In contrast to other authors, Erin Chase provides us a glimpse not only into the luxuries of royal living but we also see the humble life of peasants and the spare existence of those condemned to the slave camp. It is a long book, however. I would encourage the author to reduce the length, as well as more closely follow advice offered by C.J. Lakin in her blog “Live, Write, Thrive”. Reduce the narrative description which is not necessary to move the story forward.

Author website: Erin Chase

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11 Apr
2016
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Book Review: “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline

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Reviewed by Bev Scott

Two young girls both long for family and acceptance.  Yet their young experiences are separated by almost eighty years.  Vivian, a young abandoned Irish immigrant is sent on the train to the uncertainty of the rural mid-west in hopes of finding a loving home.  Much later in her life, while living on the Maine coast in a quiet peaceful existence, Molly comes to help Vivian sort through her possessions and keepsakes.  Molly is seventeen and living in foster homes.  An outsider as a Penobscot Indian, she reluctantly agrees to help Vivian in order to stay out of juvenile hall.  Molly discovers that she and Vivian have more in common than she imagined.

The story is told by the author moving back and forth between present-day Maine and the depression years in Minnesota.  The engaging story describes a seldom acknowledged treatment in U.S. history of abandoned and orphaned children.

Author website: http://Christinabakerkline.com/

 

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7 Mar
2016
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Book Review: “Online Marketing for Busy Authors” by Fauzia Burke

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Book Review - Online Marketing

 

This small book is packed with tips, advice, suggestions and literal steps to plan and implement a marketing plan for authors who know little or even hate marketing.  Fauzia Burke takes your hand and guides you step by step.  She begins with your dreams, helps you establish your priorities, tells you how to implement and closes with the importance of on-going sales monitoring of your published book.  She gives helpful tips and advice to implement an online marketing plan including a website, mailing list, blog and social media.  Her recommendations hold for first-time self-published authors as well as the experienced or traditionally published.

Ms. Burke has devoted her career to marketing authors and supports her advice by including stories of her coaching and support for authors.  She writes with a clear direct style that encourages me to sit down and follow her advice step by step.

I recommend this book for all of us who are authors resisting and reluctant to market ourselves and our books.  Burke provides an easy to guide to help us overcome our foot-dragging.  I am motivated get started creating the marketing plan for my book.

Author Website: http://www.fauziaburke.com/online-marketing-for-busy-authors/

Reviewed by:  Bev Scott, March 7, 2016

 

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30 Sep
2015
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Book Review: “The Mind of an American Revolutionary” by Jon Foyt

The Mind of an American RevolutionaryReviewed by Bev Scott

Jon Foyt has written a well-researched and engaging book about the American revolutionary, Robert Morris.  We follow Robert’s life from his youth in Liverpool without a father or mother to his success in ocean commerce and trade connecting the New World to the rest of the world.  He became a trusted leader and influential citizen of Philadelphia during the American Revolution helping to finance the Revolution itself.

This is not an action-packed story of the intrigues and horrors of the Revolutionary War.   Foyt takes a different path than many authors in emphasizing the thoughts, opinions and feelings of the protagonist. Hence, the book is an exploration of the developing mind of Robert Morris as he achieves success, articulates the rationale for the Revolution and struggles with temptations which will increase his wealth or meet his sexual desires.

Early in the book, the author introduces a Major Lowenstein a Hessian Mercenary and doctor sent by his German Landgraf Prince to learn about what goes on in the mind of Revolutionaries.  Through conversations and interviews with Major Lowenstein, we learn about the dreams, beliefs and values of Robert Morris.  Morris articulates his dreams of freedom from the laws of the English Crown which he believes will bring expansive future economic opportunities.  Another character, a barmaid named Betsy, is also used in similar fashion to unearth the thoughts and opinions of Morris.  Although Morris was considered a member of the elite society, he remembered his own origins as an uneducated youth from Liverpool.  He knew that many of the subjects in the Colonies were intelligent and curious yet unable to read and write.  As he engages in conversation with Betsy, the barmaid, he treats her with respect and answers her questions and shares his views of the growing movement for freedom from the King.

Morris’s quick financial mind and his trustworthy reputation enable him to build a prosperous commercial ocean trading business and to marry into the upper class of Philadelphian society.  However, his expanding dreams for the new Republic and his belief in his own ability become contaminated with his own arrogance and greed, leading to his downfall.

Foyt opens the book by introducing us to an established and confident Robert Morris, and brings both Betsy and Major Lowenstein into the scene.  The author’s effort to provide the context for the relationship among these characters and to use them to explore the mind of Robert Morris results in a slower and less engaging start than the book deserves.  The pace picks up when we learn about Robert’s early life and the challenges he encounters when he arrives in the Colonies.  Because of the approach taken by the author to explore the mind of the American Revolutionary, the character of Robert Morris is well developed and engaging.  I was lost in the extensive description of the waterfront seen by the young Robert on his arrival to the New World, but Foyt brings in historical detail and “real” characters from our Revolutionary history which add depth and interest as the story unfolds.

I recommend this book if you love American history and you are intrigued by the development of the thinking, philosophy, and beliefs that led to the Revolution and to our Founding documents and the principles of democracy.

Author website: www.jonfoyt.com

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17 Sep
2015
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Book Review: “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain

pariswifeReviewed by Bev Scott

The Paris Wife provides an intimate perspective of the famous writer Ernest Hemingway from the personal experience of his first wife, Hadley. The book explores the developing success of Hemingway as a writer intertwined with their relationships with each other and with their famous friends in Paris. Experiencing their marriage from Hadley’s first person voice offers an intimate view of what their relationship might have been. At times the pace of the book moves a little slowly especially in the beginning but as the characters develop, their famous friends enter the scene and Hemingway achieves recognition as a writer the story becomes more engaging. The author brings us into the passionate and emotionally charged bond between Ernest and Hadley as well as the liaisons and friendships that threaten it.

Author website:  www.paulamclain.com

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10 May
2015
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Book Review: “The Stolen Girl” by Zia Wesley

The Stolen GirlReviewed by Bev Scott

An intriguing story that begins in Martinique as Aimee Dubuq du Rivery snuck off with her cousin Rose to hear their fortune told by an African Obeah predicting they will both be Queens. The author masterfully weaves this prediction into the story of Amiee who tries without success to enter Parisian society to find a husband and decides to become a nun. Sailing home before she enters the convent, she is abducted by pirates and is ultimately sold into the harem of the Sultan of Turkey. The character of Aimee is well developed as the reader experiences both her fears and her joys. In the first part of this totally engaging story, Aimee is conflicted by her actions which are violations of the rules of her Catholic faith but she ultimately adopts with utmost pleasure the culture and expectations of the Ottoman Sultan and Empire. The story moves at a lively pace and kept me enthralled to the end. The author provides excellent historical detail in the descriptions of Martinique, Paris and life in the Ottoman Sultan’s palace.

Author website: www.ziawesleynovelist.com/books.html

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16 Nov
2014
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Book Review: “Energize Your Retirement” by Christine Sparacino

Energize Your RetirementReviewed by Bev Scott

Christine Sparacino has provided an invaluable resource for the multitudes of boomers who are entering their retirement years.  The literature and the research on happy, satisfying and productive senior years endorse the importance of active engagement in a passionate pursuit for a longer and healthier life. In Energize Your Retirement, Sparacino has collected stories of passionate pursuits generously augmented with the detailed information and resources to help readers determine if a pursuit is right for them.   Anyone thinking about “what will I do when I retire?” should read this book.

Sparacino has grouped her interviews into five sections which organize the book :  Animals and Nature, Arts and Letters, Civic and Social Participation, Mechanics and Technology and Physical Activity and Sports.  Animals and Nature include chapters on Astronomy, Bird Watching, Habitat Restoration, Mushroom Hunting, Service Dog Training and Beekeeping.  In the chapter on “Beekeeper,” Sparacino offers fascinating information such as the history of bringing honeybees to the American colonies as early as 1622.  Practical information also guides the potential beekeeper from zoning regulations, to how much time and money is involved.  The beekeeper himself describes how he got started and what rewards he gains from this passionate pursuit.  At the end of every chapter is an extensive list of resources to assist the  interested retiree explore the pursuit.

In the Arts and Letters section, the author introduces a magician who learned magic to liven up his office presentations and carried his passion into retirement.  The magician also shares information about how to learn magic, organizations to join and what makes a good magician.  Sparacino shares interesting background information about the relationship of magic and psychology.  Each chapter also includes a Fascinating Facts list about the chapter’s topic.  Did you know that that Harry Houdini could pick up pins with eyelashes and thread a needle with his toes?  Other chapters in this section include Calligraphy, Crossword Puzzles, Arts Usher, Fiction Writer and Stone Sculptor.

I knew the term “ombudsman” was Swedish defined as “one who cares for another, a citizen representative or advocate”.  But, I didn’t know that the Swedish Parliament established the first independent ombudsman in 1809.  You will find many such interesting tidbits in each of the chapters in the book.  The Ombudsman chapter introduces a volunteer who is an ombudsman for elder care.  Even if you are not interested in volunteering in this pursuit, you can learn a very helpful approach to figuring out what you want to do next after leaving your job or career.  This volunteer ombudsman describes the training and certification she is required to take, what she does during a visit and how she works as an advocate with both sides of an issue.  Believing that little things can make a big difference, this volunteer feels rewarded when she listens and feels trusted by both the elder and his or her family.  Other chapters in this section on Civic and Social Participation include Disaster-Response worker, Medicare Counselor, National Park Volunteer, Nonprofit Board Director and Youth Mentor.

Space and tools are required to be a wood turner, one of the pursuits described in the section called Mechanics and Technology.  A life-long interest led this retiree to prepare space on his property for woodworking, but he was really hooked after taking a class on woodturning before he actually retired.  This chapter describes the basic tools needed, organizations to join and how to actually make a wooden bowl.   The resources section lists websites, videos and classes to help the potential wood turner get started.  If you are not interested in wood turning but would like to pursue something else a bit unusual or even common, you can read about Blogging, Home Brewing Beer,  Operating a Ham Radio, Motorcycling, or RV Traveling.

The last section, Physical Activity and Sports offers stories from a Backpacker, Dancer, Softball Player, Target Shooter and a Triathlete.  The Target Shooter will keep all of us from making stereotypical assumptions.  A self-proclaimed workaholic and a vice president from a Fortune 100 company who retired at fifty five and with her husband took up target shooting.  She is now certified as a pistol and rifle instructor.  Sparacino gives us some interesting historical background of shooting competition in the US and in the Olympic Games.  The story provides a breadth of information about this hobby from expenses, to clothes and equipment and training required.  The story teller wants to let readers know that “target shooting is not about politics” but that it is a fun sport and an individual choice.

As the founder and creator of the positive aging program, “The 3rd Act”, I recommend this book as a “must have” resource for any boomers thinking about retirement.  Even if your interests are not covered in this book, you will undoubtedly learn about approaches, resources and  rewards that will help you in choosing your passionate pursuit in retirement.

I received this book from the author in an exchange for an honest review.

Author website: www.christinesparacino.com

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