A Book From Every State In the Union

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Reading a book set in the place you hail from can bring about a feeling of warm nostalgia as you recognise the places of your youth as you read it; it can also remind you of why you left there in the first place, and squash any ideas you may have for returning.

To round out this Thanksgiving week, here is a selection of famous books from each state.  Is your favourite among them, or is there something you think is worth reading but not listed?  If there is, please let me know as in 2014 I aim to read and review a book from each of the States (and maybe continents too), and would love some recommendations.  I hasten to add that none of the books listed here will be included in my quest.

books in set each state

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Black Friday, the Shopping Poem ~ John F. McCullagh

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The people crowd the entrances
at Malls all over town.
To seize the choicest bargain deals,
They’d gladly knock you down.
The retailers all hold their breath
as shopping gets in gear.
Will Santa fill his sleigh as hoped?
-or lay off more Reindeer?
There are plastic toys from China
colored with suspicious paint.
Whip out your last credit card
(-when you see the bills, you’ll faint.)
“The children must have Christmas! ”
No request will be denied.
Never mind your youngest child
has just turned thirty five.
Don’t forget a gift for you
Don’t you deserve the best?
Shopping is such good therapy
for the financially depressed.

John F. McCullagh

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Happy Thanksgiving

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Review: The Color of Night ~ Jack Thomas

color of nightThey’re no more than a few acres across, with streets and buildings on every side–yet Patrick Reed is inexplicably drawn to the woods behind his house. What he finds amongst those trees in the scarce light of the moon is an ancient power that is both wonderful and terrifying. He embraces this power at first… but when odd things begin to happen in Hillward, he’s the only one who can protect the little town from the darkness that lingers there. Now, while avoiding the attention of his concerned parents and maintaining a budding friendship with a special classmate, Patrick must use his new-found power to uncover the mystery of the beckoning crow before the whole town is engulfed in shadow…

3 Thumbs-UpThis is a debut novel from this Author, and provides a new and interesting twist on the usual fare produced for the YA paranormal fiction genre.

The characters are well written and developed, which makes them the kind of people the reader can easily identify with and want to stand behind through thick and thin.  Despite the slew of characters in this novel, at no time does the reader feel like there are too many to keep track of, although the sudden change from first to third person narrative at the beginning of the book may have some confused; I know it took me a few pages to get back on track when the change occurred.  There is some romance in this novel, a fact I was not aware of when reading the synopsis, but it is written in such a way that the characters involved are not being portrayed as overly ‘hot and heavy’, which I found to be a nice change from some YA budding romance scenes.  Because of the Authors treatment of the romantic portions of their novel, a trait of the main protagonist shines through where otherwise it may not have surfaced at all; that trait is one of purity, and to see what I mean by this exactly, you would have to read the book.

Set in a small town, the Author does a great job of capturing the essence of such a place and its heart too, while managing to weave in enough intrigue to keep the reader turning the pages until the end.  It is obvious from the way in which this novel is written that the Author has a definite end destination in mind for the reader, and it is apparent from the way the storyline progresses they know exactly how to lead the reader to that point.

Written in a crisp manner, with plenty to keep the reader turning the pages, I would recommend this book to all lovers of YA fiction.

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Review: Crossings (The Harry Reese Mysteries #2) ~ Robert Bruce Stewart

CrossingsPart mystery, part parody, Crossings is the second novel in the Harry Reese Mystery series. It’s the spring of 1901, a time when Brooklyn’s own corrupt political machine, Willoughby Street, is more than a match for Manhattan’s Tammany Hall. Harry is seeking a link between the apparent suicide of an insurance agent and the untimely deaths of two of his clients. To solve the case, he must visit gambling parlors, vice dens and, finally, New Jersey, while corrupt cops, opportunistic con men and often his own wife do what they can to mislead him.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is the second offering in the Harry Reese Mysteries series and, after reading and reviewing the third book in this series I decided to backtrack to the second.

Everything that made the characters so appealing and likeable in Kalorama Shakedown is here in this novel which makes this yet another enjoyable standalone read, as well as an equally well written part of a series. The characters are still portrayed as normal people, and I feel it is this trait that the Author manages to consistently instil in them that makes the reader root for them at every turn of the page. The Author gives all his characters witty dialogue, and places them in the kind of humourous situations that some readers may, in some way relate to and others wish they could be a part of.

Once again the locations are soberly descriptive and give an interesting insight to the reader of life in this era, the early 1900’s.  I would not say the people living in this time were naive, as things seemed to be more simple back then, but at times the Author verges on point the point of making these people seem a little slow, before realising their error and moving on in the novel.

A lot less hectic than the third book the series, there is still a great deal going on within its pages; travelling, fun and death.  This makes this book another good mystery with an unexpected ending.  I feel this series of books sits firmly in the cozy mystery genre, and would highly recommend it to lovers of this genre as well as those who enjoy an entertaining read.

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Review: The Keep (The Adversary Cycle #1) ~ F. Paul Wilson

The Keep“Something is murdering my men.”

Thus reads the message received from a Nazi commander stationed in a small castle high in the remote Transylvanian Alps. Invisible and silent, the enemy selects one victim per night, leaving the bloodless and mutilated corpses behind to terrify its future victims.

When an elite SS extermination squad is dispatched to solve the problem, the men find something that’s both powerful and terrifying. Panicked, the Nazis bring in a local expert on folklore–who just happens to be Jewish–to shed some light on the mysterious happenings. And unbeknownst to anyone, there is another visitor on his way–a man who awoke from a nightmare and immediately set out to meet his destiny.

The battle has begun: On one side, the ultimate evil created by man, and on the other…the unthinkable, unstoppable, unknowing terror that man has inevitably awakened.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is an unusual book for three reasons; it is the first book in The Adversary Cycle, which is also part of a bigger series of books by this Author called The Secret History of the World, it is also a very good standalone read if you don’t want to find yourself tied to yet another collection.

As much I loved this book I did feel that so much more could have been done with the character development of, what I feel were the three major players in this book.  However, having said that, it could easily be argued that there are no main protagonists in this read at all as there are so many characters that are woven into this novels pages, and they are written in such a manner that they interact with each other flawlessly.  From a standalone read viewpoint this lack of development may mar some readers enjoyment of the book and leave it lacking in their opinion, but for me I didn’t mind at all and it made me wonder if, as part of not one but two series, if these characters would be revisited and explained a little more in-depth.  I wanted to know more about the mysterious red-haired man, and why the female protagonist dressed the way she did, but I didn’t find it in the pages of this instalment.  The ‘evil’ in the novel is well written, both the seen and unseen coming off the page and hitting the reader right between the eyes, and at times making it even harder to put this book down.

Despite the lack of character development, this is really a gripping and page turning read.  The Author skilfully depicts the location filling each page with menace and dread to the point where the reader begins to feel a chill in the bones.  It is not the usual run of the mill horror/supernatural story, and the only thing that sparkles in this book is the reflection of the sun off the river.  As the storyline progresses the Author makes the reader feel as if they know the kind of evil that the characters are dealing with, even throwing in some references to bygone images of the vampire; but are we really reading about a vampire, or is it just an impression the reader is given because it is easier for them to visualise this kind of creature?

My real complaint about this book was that midway through all the gore and violence, the Author suddenly decided to throw into the mix an unnecessary, in my opinion, sexual liaison between two of the characters.  Although it didn’t take anything away from the book, it certainly didn’t add any new dimension or understanding to it either, and it made me feel as if the Author had reached some kind of block, and needed something to squeeze into this space until their creative juices started flowing again.  The relationship could have been expressed in a lot more subtle and tension ladened way, given the circumstances and time the novel was set in, with no real need to resort to the easy out of ‘let’s throw them between the sheets’.  I really enjoyed the thought-provoking pages when the ‘cross’ is discussed as it made me think more about the power we let objects have over us, and I do enjoy books that make me think.

If you are looking for sparkly vampires, fluffy werewolves and a neat and tidy stake through the heart ending to make you feel good, this novel is not for you at all.  However if you enjoy reading something that makes you think outside the box, and will keep you captivated well beyond bedtime, pick this up and give it a read.  I would highly recommend this novel to lovers of the non-fluffy horror and supernatural genre, and I will most definitely be reading more by this Author.

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Holiday Week Announcement

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As we roll towards the annual turkey feast, I would just like to let you know that there will only be a couple of book reviews this week.  Like the rest of you I will be spending time enjoying the company of Family and all that entails.  I’m also going to take time this week to start prepping the donations for the Veterans Home, which I will be delivering on December 20th; anyone who wants to donate print copies of books still has time, just head over to the Big Heart Project page for details.

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Horse Sense ~ Debra G. Meyer

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“She’s strong,” the cowboy offered,
With a twinkle in his eye.
“I’ll wager she’s got bottom,
With no quit and lots of try.”

I glanced in the direction
That his nod bid me to go.
“Purty head, a real nice neck,
She looks fine enough to show.”

“I betcha she ain’t cold-backed,
Like some others I have knowed.
She’s fit and not too fleshy.”
Words of praise pert nearly flowed.

I gaped in pure confusion,
At a hammer-headed mare.
She’d been around the range some,
You could plainly see the wear.

Her pig eyes stared out blankly,
Her old cowhocks nearly kissed,
The faults I seen was endless,
They’s too numerous to list.

The cowboy had horse savvy.
His pronouncements took as law,
But the crazy he was talkin’
Worked my brain ‘til it was raw.

A fever might a took’im
Or his eyes was gettin’ dim.
I’s scramblin’ for the answer,
When I stopped and looked at him.

No squintin’ nor a’quakin’
So I knew I had to ask.
“Pard,” I queried cautiously,
“Ya been emptyin’ yer flask?”

His gaze was straight and level,
As he looked me in the eye.
“Nope,” was all he said to me,
But his count’nance added “why?”

I spluttered and I stammered,
Tried in vain to find my voice.
I didn’t want to tell him,
But there clearly weren’t no choice.

“Well,” I started nervously,
Tryin’ hard not to affront.
“That hoss ain’t naught but crowbait!”
Hadn’t meant to be so blunt.

“A greenhorn ought not question,
The fine wisdom I bestow.”
The cowboy was a’smilin’,
Talkin’ soft and kinda slow.

His grin kept gettin’ bigger,
Till it lit the whole corral.
“Ne’er said it were the mare, son.
I was talkin’ ’bout the gal.”

A purty senorita,
Led that nag on out the gate.
He watched as she departed,
“Looky there, she’s trackin’ straight.”

Debra G. Meyer

Review: The Dark Road ~ Ma Jian, Flora Drew (Translator)

The Dark RoadMeili, a young peasant woman born in the remote heart of China, is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate for a son to carry on his illustrious family line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant again without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter escape to the Yangtze River and begin a fugitive life.

For years they drift south through the poisoned waterways and ruined landscapes of China, picking up work as they go along, scavenging for necessities and flying from police detection. As Meili’s body continues to be invaded by her husband and assaulted by the state, she fights to regain control of her fate and that of her unborn child.

4 Thumbs-UpI read this book on the recommendation of a reader of my blog posts, and was glad I took the time to do so.  If you are expecting a Chinese version of Alan Burgess’s The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, you will be sorely disappointed.  There is no fairy tale happy ending, this book is grim and full of atrocities almost as soon as you start reading; it lives up to its title very well.

This is the first book I have read that was translated from Chinese and, although it made me squirm in places, it is incredibly well written and well translated.  During the opening chapters I had to take time to read carefully to make sure I wasn’t missing any nuances that the translator had wanted to include, and this worked well to the point that in no time I was reading through the pages with ease.  The Author has written and developed some truly believable characters within this books covers, characters that can be both embraced and reviled by the reader. However, be under no illusion that, unless you have walked a mile in these characters shoes, that you will be able to relate to them in any way; I haven’t, I wouldn’t want to experience what they do, and I couldn’t relate to them because of the situation they are in and the events that happen to them, I didn’t feel that this inability to connect with characters hurt my enjoyment of this novel in any way at all.

It is not light entertainment by any means, and contains graphic descriptions of the events that take place within its pages; one such being an abortion performed at eight months (just recalling this passage makes me shudder anew).  The Author brings to the surface all that is wrong with the One Child Policy practiced in China, and makes the policy all the more disturbing as they skilfully convey to the reader that there is nothing they can do about this.

This book is chilling, infuriating at times and almost unbearable to continue reading at others as it chronicles the inhumanity of the above mentioned policy, and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid detection of their violation of this rule; most of all this is an incredible book with a wonderfully presented storyline written in a manner that will make you think about it long after you have closed the book for the last time.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to expand their reading sphere, providing they are not overly squeamish.

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Review: Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America ~ Jane Allen Petrick

Hidden in plain sightNorman Rockwell’s America was not all white. As early as 1936, Rockwell was portraying people of color with empathy and a dignity often denied them at the time. And he created these portraits from live models.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America unfolds, for the first time, the stories of the Asian, African, and Native Americans who modeled for Norman Rockwell. These people of color, though often hidden in plain sight, are present throughout Rockwell’s more than 4000 illustrations. People like the John Lane family, Navajos poignantly depicted in the virtually unknown Norman Rockwell painting, “Glen Canyon Dam.” People like Isaac Crawford, a ten-year old African-American Boy Scout who helped Norman Rockwell finally integrate the Boy Scout calendar.

In this engrossing and often humorous narrative, Jane Allen Petrick explores what motivated Norman Rockwell to slip people of color “into the picture” in the first place. And in so doing, she persuasively documents the famous illustrator’s deep commitment to and pointed portrayals of ethnic tolerance, portrayals that up to now have been, as Norman Rockwell biographer Laura Claridge so clearly put it, “bizarrely neglected”.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America is an eye opener for everyone who loves Norman Rockwell, everyone who hates Norman Rockwell and for all those people in between who never thought much about Norman Rockwell because they believed Norman Rockwell never thought much about them. This book will expand the way you think about Norman Rockwell. And it will deepen the way you think about Norman Rockwell’s America.

4 Thumbs-UpWhether you love the work of Norman Rockwell, hate it or just haven’t given it that much thought, after all it pervades most of American life in one way or another, this book is well worth your time to read to gain a new perspective on his work, or allow you to look at it with fresh eyes.

In this short 125 page book, the Author illustrates how the Artist used his talents to give a voice to his feelings about the happenings of the time.  Through thoroughly engaging and captivating stories the Author lets the reader into the mind of Mr. Rockwell and experience his feelings about those in society who are ‘hidden in plain sight’.  This book features a section of those people, those of colour, who he used as models for his work which in turn served to give his illustrations a depth and also a social awareness that many have failed to notice.  In compiling this book the Author provides the reader with a greater understanding of America, as seen through the brush strokes of an artist who snubbed his nose at convention and included people in his artwork that were largely overlooked by society as a whole.  My only issue about this book was that there were not more illustrations to support the stories contained within its pages; I suspect this may be more due to copyright issues than intentional omission

I highly recommend it for readers of any age that are interested in the arts or art history and lovers of Norman Rockwell’s work. Reading this certainly gave me a new appreciation for the work of Norman Rockwell.

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