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I'm Still Crying . . .
Reviewed for Readers' Favorite at www.ReadersFavorite.com.
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I daresay that anyone who could read A Fearful Lie, by Jean Fournier Johnson, and not walk away with tears in their eyes is missing something quintessentially . . . human. Gloria, a perfectly normal person with a perfectly normal life, husband, children and home, stops one day for a quick drink. Unfortunately, she has one too many before she heads home. Along the way, momentarily distracted, she hits and kills three-year old Joshua. She removes his body from the road, then leaves the scene, having convinced herself that her policeman husband and her daughters ought not pay for her crime. As the years then unfold, Gloria seeks forgiveness—but before she can find it, she must first face “truth.” Her journey to find both is a painful one, but one that is oh-so-worth following.
In the law, there is something we call “jury nullification.” It is the idea that juries, after having been told the law that is to be applied to the facts of a case presented them at trial, might refuse to follow that law. Sometimes this occurs because the jurors can see themselves in the same situation. In the past it was not all that uncommon to occur in situations of drinking and driving, because so many could see themselves in the same situation. They could not bring themselves to render a “guilty” verdict when they believed the same could have happened to them. I believe that has changed over the years. Even so, I imagine many will identify in some way with Gloria—I think because she is so “normal.” She makes a terrible decision that changes her life and the lives of others, for all time. What she finds at the end of her journey is . . . Well, I guess you will have to read A Fearful Lie, to find out for yourself. You will be glad that you did.
Mmmmmm . . .
Thank you, NetGalley, for allowing me to read and review this work.
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Salsas and Moles, by Deborah Schneider offers what I love most in a “cookbook.” Specifically, Schneider provides a veritable cornucopia filled with tips and tricks that will make her Salsas and Moles a “go to” resource for everything from identifying the right kind of pepper, herb, or seasoning to add to a recipe, to how best to serve the end products. Main courses are not provided—though many are recommended or suggested. Such information is precisely what this reader wants in a book like this—ideas, not strict formulas to follow.
I enjoyed the basics set out in the opening pages, the pictures of products, and the “essential techniques” Schneider describes. If you are looking for good advice as to how to create flavor and balance in your salsas and moles, and how to make the best use of them, look no further than Schneider’s Salsas and Moles. I look forward to putting her ideas into practice!
A Story to Remember
Thank you, NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this work.
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I thank Open Road for the opportunity to read and to review Survival in the Shadows, by Barbara Lovenheim. The story was one that needs to be told—that cannot be forgotten—that we must do all we can to be certain is not repeated.
Barbara Lovenheim happened along the story of Ellen and Arthur Arndt and five of their family members, and how they managed to survive the last days of WWII hidden right under the Nazis’ noses, in what the party then regarded as a “Judenfrei” Berlin. She teamed up with the family to interview each of the members at length, so as to add personal details to their harrowing story, which she intended to tell. Lovenheim then set the story forth, complete with likely dialogue. The result is a tale of a family’s love, of the heroics of those willing to help their Jewish friends and neighbors, and of the fear in which the Arndt family lived in the last dark days of Hitler’s Germany.
Of late, I’ve read quite a number of WWII/Hitler/Holocaust stories, after a number of years of taking a reprieve from them. I suppose it is fair to say that what has motivated me, is an appreciation for the realities of the world in which we live today—a world in which evil seeks, once again, to extend its thorny hand of destruction to the “civilized” world.
I particularly appreciated Lovenheim’s approach to this story, which was to tell one of triumph, rather than one of misery. Yes, there were extraordinarily difficult days the Arndts lived through—times of hunger, and of fear they would be captured and sent to a concentration camp. Yet, Lovenheim seems to have concentrated on the very things that saved this family: faith in their fellow man, hope for mankind’s better future, and their love for one another.
Deeply, Deeply Disturbing
Thank you, NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review Ravensbruck.
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I recently finished reading Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women, by Sarah Helm. I had to put it down for a couple of weeks afterward before I could gather my thoughts sufficiently well to write a review. I found this read both profoundly insightful and deeply disturbing.
I’ve read a lot of books about WWII, the Nazi regime in general, and of the concentration camps in particular. The stories Helm shares, charged with emotion, are real. I could nearly smell death as I worked my way through. I can only wonder how long that stench hung over Europe after the war ended. The sheer number of murders and of the resulting piles of bodies—or in some cases, of ashes—is mind-boggling.
WWII, like all the “great” wars of the 20th century, was an ideological one—not a religious one—witnessed by the fact that the Nazis victimized Jews, Christians, Poles, the French, “a-socials,” gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so many, many more . . . The weapons they used included those expected, as well as those I’d never read of before, namely, the mobile gas chambers.
One of the things that stood out for me with Ravenstruck, is that Helm managed to capture the personalities of some of those in charge in a way that left me shaking my head. When she shared Heinrich Himmler’s fascination with breeding chickens, or the details of his notes with his wife, he sounded so different from the beast that oversaw evil on such an unimaginable scale. When Helm set out the background of “normal” young women, turned to killer guards, I was left speechless.
From whence does such evil come? How could it survive long enough to do what it did during these days? Why did those who knew about it, do nothing about it, rather than take whatever action was necessary to stop it? That “hate” could take root and grow to such levels is shocking. In this regard, Helm also shared the intellectual dishonesty, the irrationality necessary for people to create such a system, to grow it, and to fight for it to continue.
It is a shocking reality that some would repeat those times, as our daily newscasts witness. There are people today who want to wipe out those whose ideas and way of life do not match up ideologically with their own. I recall the famous Edmund Burke quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Therein came the real difficulty for me when I read Ravensbruck—I was left with a deep appreciation for how much we require strength and truth and moral clarity in leadership though, I daresay, the world is struggling to find it.
Simply Charming . . .
I received a copy in exchange for my fair and honest review.
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Lelya Atke enjoys status as an award-winning author for her debut tale, Charm: An Amazing Story of Little Black Cat,” and for good reason. Opening with the events of a typical day, Atke tells of her discovery of a little kitten, dirty, neglected, smelling of kerosene, and lost amidst the rush of cars on a freeway. Initially, she considers leaving the kitten, then reconsiders. She rescues it, brings it home and cleans it up. Shortly thereafter, she dubs the kitten—which steals her heart—“Charm.” Charm is “smart, serious, quiet and calm.” But life can throw unusual things our way, and so it did to the author and her beloved pet, Charm. When Atke finds him missing one day, she begins her hunt. To tell you what she finds would be to give away too much . . .
The real “charm” of Charm, is Atke’s love for her pet. When he goes missing, something magical happens. Did Charm live on? To answer that question might well be to give away the ending—but this much I can say for sure: Charm does indeed live on—whether simply in the pages of Atke’s story, or for real, I will leave to other readers to determine for themselves.
I received a free download of Dark Tidings on Amazon. I thank the author. This is my fair and honest review.
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If you like your fantasy to come with a healthy dose of humor, look no further than Ken Magee’s Dark Tidings. Honestly, he has a ready wit, a biting sarcastic voice that will leave you laughing out loud. In some cases it comes out in a quick description, such as by way of example: “. . . the young Tung who desperately lacked someone respectable and ethical to set his moral compass, his father being the only man in his life and he wasn’t even a good example for the devil to follow. Actually, maybe the devil could have learned a bit from him.” Other times it is displayed in the odd and catchy word pictures, such as in “an eternal split second,” or “his dreamlike memory panicked and fled into the ether.” The dialogue is intriguing: “Life’s a beach and the tide’s coming in fast.” And finally, Magee offers some humorous, yet good, advice: “When you hear hooves coming up behind you, you should think horse, not zebra.” I especially enjoyed Magee’s creative and unique spell forms—the Spell Spell, the Spell of Trouble, the I See No Spell, and so forth. Very clever indeed!
I find I am always ready to overlook the unlikely in a fantasy, as the whole idea of such a tale is to pose the impossible, and so I did from time to time with Dark Tidings, but that only added to my enjoyment of this read. Each time I picked it up again, I did so eagerly, waiting for the next bit of engaging banter and to hear more about Magee’s quirky characters. I very much look forward to the next one!
Could it Happen to You?
Reviewed for NetGalley.
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Dana Hui Lim, tells her real life story of the “Killing Fields” in Mother and the Tiger. Lim was just a small child when the Vietnam War spilled over the border into Cambodia, where she lived with her parents and siblings in the village of Kratie. Shortly thereafter, four young men burst into her family’s home, giving them mere minutes to collect their things. The soldiers sought no explanations, only obedience. Young Dana and her family joined the march from their village, watching as hospitals were emptied and people carried away their sick relatives. The soldiers’ message was clear: those too old or sick to keep up were shot and left on the roadside. They fired their weapons over the heads of the villagers to keep the crowd moving, literally marching many to their death. The soldiers, peasant youths of at most twelve to thirteen years of age, according to Lim, called themselves the “Khmer Rouge.” (Khmer was the term the Khmer people used to refer to Cambodia.) Year “zero” of the new Cambodia, had begun.
Following Lim through the tragedies of her early years may leave one to dub her a “survivor,” and so she is—but she is so much more. Believing that it is important for Cambodians to tell their story for the sake of history, so that those stories are not lost, Lim leaves no stone unturned. She finds the exercise essential, believing her tale will “serve as a warning to people of all nations and races to be wary of the danger that can occur when ideology is not subjected to reason.” Lim speaks of the death, the fear and terror, and the evil of a regime that did not value human life. “War,” she says, “is inevitable when insane leaders are permitted to take power, and then those who could make a difference choose to look the other way.” She goes on: “We were to be guided by a gentle leadership that would usher in a glorious new age, one where all would be equal and all would work for the common good.” It is a shocking truth that the deaths of untold millions in the 20th century, many in Cambodia, were attributable to just that ideology.
In Mother and the Tiger, Lim introduces her family members, complete with all their foibles and idiosyncrasies. Take her mother, for example, who was brave enough to face down a tiger in the jungle, armed with nothing more than a burning stick of wood, so as to save her family, but who also was able to—and did—give her children away to others on more than one occasion. (Apparently, this was not unusual in Cambodia.) In the end, Lim found a new country, an education, and eventually, freedom. “For the first time in my life,” she says, “no one could tell me what to do.” After some years, she returned to her homeland where she toured a museum dedicated to educating others about the killing fields. Having surmised that the other museum visitors thought themselves “lucky that nothing like this could happen where they came from,” she leaves readers with a caution. “They are wrong, of course,” she says. They are “just lucky that a person with the right combination of charisma and madness [has] never come to power in their country.” Think of that the next time you go to exercise your right to vote. It is not a popularity contest—it is a sacred right—and it should be treated as such.
Meet the Need - Be the Change
Reviewed for NetGalley.
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There was a time, not so long ago, when stories from out of the Mideast rarely made news in the West. Those days changed, likely forever, with the 9/11 attacks. It is likely that the world did not change on that date, but the average American’s view of it certainly seemed to do so. Today we find our news full of stories from that area—stories of death and destruction, of escape, and of terrorism. Mama Maggie, by Marty Makary also comes with some of the same news, but more importantly, it provides a story of a woman sacrificing for others, even in the face of all of those tragedies.
Mama Maggie, born Maggie Gobran, is an Egyptian Coptic Christian. Having grown up in a well-to-do family, she nonetheless found her home and calling with the poor who live outside greater Cairo, in the waste from the city. Fifty thousand such residents pick up and sort the city’s trash, looking for anything that can be re-used, re-cycled, re-furbished—or all too often, simply eaten. Almost half of the children born there will die before the age of five—and all this within sight of a “modern” city.
The woman in white, Mama Maggie, seeks God in unlikely places and brings Him to the suffering “garbage people” of Cairo and elsewhere. For years, she has encouraged people around the world to help her in her cause, becoming a sort of Mother Theresa to the area and for this age. She has provided food, built schools, provided medical care, and more. Her story will challenge readers and will open their eyes to the plight of a religious minority in a part of the world increasingly under attack from ideological/religious zealots.
Notwithstanding the difficult lives I read about in Mama Maggie, I found Makary’s emphasis to mirror Mama Maggie’s own. That is, this is less a story of suffering and more one of hope, less one of the downtrodden and more one of the upwardly moving, less a tale of those in need, and more a chronicle of those, like Mama Maggie, who are meeting those needs, finding blessing in the process. Mama Maggie will lift your consciousness and leave you looking for your opportunity to meet the need.
Reviewed for NetGalley.
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It recently came to my attention, having read quite a number of Russian classics over the years, that they all seem to be “gray.” Following that thought, I discovered that ofttimes for me, mysteries or thrillers are “red,” books of encouragement are “blue,” fantasies register “orange,” and so on. However, stories of long ago Russian history and of the days of the Soviet Union are “gray.” The people seem sad, lost, hopeless, forlorn—leaving me feeling “gray.” Once Upon a Time in Russia, by Ben Mezrich, however, did not fit that mold, perhaps because its story is set in more modern times. A tale of the rise of the wealthy capitalists in Russia in the 1990s, it primarily follows Boris Berezovsky, an entrepreneur whose first business was in automobile sales. Using the new markets, and given the government’s dispensing of assets for pennies on the dollar (so as to raise ready cash), Berezovsky and a handful of others (dubbed the “oligarchs”) become immensely wealthy. (In this regard, perhaps this story is overall, “green.”) With their riches comes the power to make and to break those seeking public office, which in turn increases the oligarchs’ treasures. Over time, Berezovsky discovers the price of helping to bring one, Vladamir Putin, to power, only to find himself on the outside at a later date.
Ben Mezrich traces Berezovsky’s story, presenting along the way, mysteries of those who fled the “new” Russian, only to be found dead later, to painful Polonium poisoning, or from a simple gunshot. Told in a story form, with re-created likely dialogue, Mezrich’s Once Upon a Time in Russian moves quickly, providing insight into the lives of the powerful, the rich and the famous. The price of corruption and cronyism are made clear, as are the consequences of a powerful government not constrained by the traditions of honesty and of service to the masses, and of a media serving not the everyday man, but rather, an ideology. In this way, Once Upon a Time in Russia serves as both an historical rendition of Russia’s recent days, and as a warning to those whose first allegiance is not to openness, but to a particular political orientation.
Posted here are a number of Patricia's reviews of the works of others.
Those reviews posted here that Patricia did for Readers Favorite are identified as such. No review of less than 4-stars for any Readers' Favorite review is posted here or elsewhere.
Those works reviewed for NetGalley are identified accordingly.