Cancelled: The Ultimate October Surprise by Michael Pinsky

cancelled

Cancelled: The Ultimate October Surprise by Michael Pinsky

It’s June before the 2016 US elections and things are a bit out of the ordinary.  Business tycoon Austin Howard is the unlikely dark-horse for the Republicans.  A former senator, Secretary of State and former First Lady Samantha Thompson is battling it out at the Democratic primaries with Senator Leland Anthony, the popular favorite.  While the public is being entertained by the mud-slinging Presidential candidate debates, General William Mendenhall, retired commander, becomes increasingly alarmed about the underlying motives for the Presidential orders that cut military spending but increase militarization of federal agencies.  The whole world is watching as the days count down to the election.

Although Cancelled: The Ultimate October Surprise by Michael Pinsky is a work of fiction, a number of characters could be easily identified as having some basis in reality.  This added to the intrigue and the what-if scenarios but also was a little confusing.  For instance, several actual episodes of the Trump/Clinton race are presented through the eyes of Austin Howard of Samantha Thompson, thereby accrediting things not known to be true as motives for the real events.  Then worldwide terrorist attacks were mentioned in the text, along with fictionalized attacks making it difficult to keep the parallel universes straight at times.  Despite this, the political story that unfolded was riveting.  Perhaps there is something to all those conspiracy theories after all.

I had more trouble following the covert military sections.  Instead of prose, most of the story was advanced through dialogue.  There were multiple characters to keep track of including retired and active duty military personnel, senators, governors, and terrorists.  Not being terribly military aware, I couldn’t say if the maneuvers were more or less authentic or boys playing soldier.

If you followed the 2016 elections as carefully as I did, I believe you would enjoy this book.  If you are following the political developments under POTUS 45 since his election, I believe you would find the book incredibly interesting.  Could the events that are depicted in this fiction book actually happen?  Only time will tell.

3 star

I could not, in all conscience, rate this book higher, however much I enjoyed it, because of the number of typographical errors and poorly worded sentences.  The dialogue was forced and repetitive in many instances.  A good editor would be able to fix these errors and add to the quality of the book.

This book was an OnlineBookClub.org Book of the Day.  Click here to see other great titles.

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The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

Illusions, pretense, secrets and lies. When a man dies at his own resurrection, escape artist Wren Lockhart, former apprentice to the great Harry Houdini, takes center stage in the investigation. Encompassing the years 1907-1927, from Washington, DC to Massachusetts, crossing the ocean to include England and France, the layers of mystery surrounding her are a puzzle for Agent Elliot Matthews to solve. What roles do magic, sleight of hand and faith play in Victor Peale’s death?

Harry Houdini and Dorothy Young on stage.

Fictional character Wren Lockhart was inspired by the real-life entertainer Dorothy Young, stage assistant to Harry Houdini.  The premise of this novel is a comment Houdini made about returning from the dead, that “it’s humanly impossible.”  After being convinced of the fraudulent nature of mediums, he spent considerable effort debunking various spiritualists of the time. (See also Houdini and the Supernatural, Houdini’s Greatest Trick: Debunking Medium Mina Crandon, Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle: a friendship split by spiritualism, Harry Houdini Investigates the Spirit World, Houdini: Magician, Spiritualist, or Skeptic?)

Houdini, the magician who debunked magic, could not bear to see the great rationalist (Arthur Conan) Doyle enchanted by ghosts and frauds. And so he did what any friend would: He set out to prove spiritualism false and rob his friend Doyle of the only comforting fiction that was keeping him sane. It was the least he could do.—John Hodgman

Following in her mentor’s footsteps, Wren uses her knowledge about performing and sleight of hand to assist the investigation into the resurrection of Victor Peale performed by self-proclaimed magician Horace Stapleton. The historical details that have been included in this novel give the reader a glimpse into the brilliant vaudeville world of the 1920s. The suspense built by brief looks into Wren’s long-buried past and the developing criminal case, as well as a blossoming romance, made the entire reading experience quite enjoyable.

A thoroughly delightful read.  Get your copy here.

5 star

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Right Proper Murder by Pearl Goodfellow

Clara Bennett isn’t much interested in attending the seance her Aunt Gwen is hosting. She likes it even less when the medium channels someone from her past. Things rapidly go downhill with a dead body, missing lady’s maid, and eight magical cats. It’s naturally quite overwhelming.

Clara is determined to get to the bottom of all this mayhem. She volunteers her services to the admirable Detective Inspector William Davenport from Scotland Yard as he attempts to unravel the mystery.

The eight black cats are Gloom, the token female, and her brothers, Onyx, Eclipse, Shade, Midnight, Fraidy, Carbon, and Jet. They are known collectively as Infiniti and are the immortal familiars attached to Hattie Jenkins’ family on the Coven Isles on the planet Earth. The egg-transportation device carries them to Thera, an alternate universe that resembles 18 century England, where they land right next to a dead body.

Apparently talking cats are none too odd an occurrence in this alternate world. Of course, the felines are held for questioning since it is obvious that the dead girl was murdered. After they are cleared, they have young Clara taking selfies with a tablet discovered inside the egg ship as they travel by carriage around town following up leads.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the 18th-century mystery, I’m not so sure how I felt about the cats. Even though they all had different “accents” and Jet was a cat-nip tweaker, I couldn’t really distinguish between them. If there must be magical, talking, time-traveling felines, then one would have been more than enough.

Then there were the ‘s instead of plurals instances. Even though there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the book clarifying that this book is written in Brit-speak, I’m fairly certain that apostrophe s is used when it is identifying a possession and never to indicate more than one even in the UK (i.e the universe’s demise vs. multiple universes).

Talking cats aside, Clara makes an excellent amateur sleuth. There seem to be some romantic inclinations between her and the good detective, who suffered some sort of accident in the past and may have a glass eye, or perhaps not. It wasn’t clear to me.

If you are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary with a classical who-done-it theme, then A Right Proper Murder by Pearl Goodfellow is the book for you.

You can read my review at Reedsy Discovery here.

Solar Storm, Solar Winter, and Solar Dawn by Rob Lopez

This post-apocalyptic series follows the Nolan family and small band of friends as they attempt to survive the aftermath of a Carrington force solar storm.

Sergeant Rick Nolan and his crew are part of a black-ops operation in Syria. Lauren Nolan, a former military interpreter, has just begun a new job requiring frequent traveling. Josh, a moody teenager, and Lizzy, a serious 6-year-old, have been left in the care of Lauren’s parents in North Carolina. And then the solar storm knocks out the power grid around the world.

Solar Storm chronicles Rick and Lauren’s struggles to return to their children and the children’s struggles to keep body and soul together as society collapses around their ears.

Solar Winter picks up with the onset of an extremely frigid winter. The Nolans and their rag-tag band of survivors hunker down in what used to be a golf clubhouse to wait it out. New factions arise and not all of them have the best of intentions. Boss rounds up and enslaves men and women alike. Packy is a bit of a pyromaniac and self-proclaimed trader. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, the nuclear power plant goes into meltdown and the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse, in the guise of Rick’s former nemesis Major Connors and his cronies, arrive on the Nolans’ doorstep.

Solar Dawn begins with the Nolan clan fleeing west. They encounter other pockets of civilization and other raiders. Rick attempts to unify the small groups to fight against the hooligans. Meanwhile, Major Connors and his crew have been busy setting up a new government, one Rick does not want to be a part of. Lauren is taken captive and the militia of the Carolinas overseen by Connors declares all-out war on Seargent Rick Nolan.

Solar Revolution, the next book in the series will be released sometime in 2019. I can’t wait until this book is out!

I enjoy apocalyptical dystopian stories and this series has been my favorite so far. Practical issues that are so often left out in other stories were integral parts of this saga. For instance, what’s a woman to do when she has her period? She can’t run out to the store anymore and pick up tampons. The stores have all been looted. Then birth control. Without modern medical interventions, people will be breeding like rabbits even if the environment is no longer feasible for infants.

There was also the fallacy of those prepper bunkhouses. It was a piece of cake for raiders to poison the air supply and take all those long-hoarded supplies for themselves. I also thought it realistic that those that had knowledge of the best survival skills, the elderly, were also the first to go. Physically they were no longer able to survive the difficult circumstances that the lack of electricity brought about. Of course, that meant that the younger survivors, who never had to make do with shortages in the land of abundance (the U.S.), found it more complicated to create a life off-grid.

Of the three, I was least satisfied with Solar Dawn. The story turned from practicalities to war maneuvers as civilization was reduced to roving hoards of delinquents. Of course, they haven’t turned to cannibalism yet which seems a given in many apocalypse books I’ve read. So perhaps there’s hope that the world will find a way to begin again in Solar Revolution.

Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison by Mary Ellen Sanger

blackbirds

I read Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison by Mary Ellen Sanger last year and was profoundly moved by it. I thought I’d reread it again this year and had the same reaction. The author was able to capture Mexico as I see her, all her hardship, corruption, and exquisite beauty. I would be remiss not to share this story with you.

mexicans

Mary Ellen left behind the corporate jungle to read in the shade of the steps of a pyramid in Mexico. She began her new life in tourism but eventually found her way to a sheltered patio in Oaxaca as a caretaker to an elderly widower.

Until, one night she was bustled from her residence to the Ixcotel State Prison, one of the most overcrowded and unhygienic facilities in Oaxaca. There she was held for 33 days on fabricated charges. However, her story is just the prelude to the stories of the women she met inside.

Concha, arrested for armed robbery, who found love at last inside the stone walls. Berta, whose husband had tended sorghum interspersed with marijuana for a wealthy landowner. Susa, heroin addict earning drug money with a shoeshine service for visitors. Natalia, arrested so that the wife of her lover could take her child. Ana, human rights lawyer jailed because of her work on behalf of rural farmers. Citlali, a curandera who spoke only Chinantec and her infant daughter Xochitl. Lucia and her infant son Sebastian, whose 5-year-old daughter was in a group home allowed to visit once a month. Soraya, imprisoned for refusing the advances of the mayor. Flor, dying of a tumor from the bullet in the back of her head.

over mexico

Mary Ellen was not the same women upon her release and neither will you be after you read these haunting stories from the women at Ixcotel State Prison.

Read more about Mary Ellen Sanger here.

Echoes from the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants By Judy King

Recognize yourself in he and she Who are not like you and me..jpg
echoes from the wall

This quote by Carlos Fuentes epitomizes Echoes from the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants by Judy King. With so much division being fostered these days by politicians with private agendas, it’s hard to see the similarities we all share. Judy King does an excellent job both sharing stories of Mexican migrants and the recent U.S. policy change that are affecting them.

In Echoes from the Wall, you’ll meet Varo, Moises, Ramon, Arturo, Roberto, Jose, and Ken who are sometimes documented, sometimes not migrant workers. Then there are special circumstances:

  • Erica, a promising, bright young scholar accepted at Yale who is unable to get a student visa.
  • Rafael, married to a U.S. citizen and father of 2 U.S. citizens, who is unable to obtain residency.
  • Leo, a wounded veteran, deported from the country he lived in since he was 3 years old.
  • Lalo, whose house is filled to overflowing with his brother’s wives and children.

You’ll also see the facts about remittances sent to Mexico, border facial recognition policies, Legal Permanent Residence, the effects of the Border Wall on wildlife, the high cost of crossing the desert into the U.S. and the illegality of providing food, water, and medical treatment to migrants, the damage to children separated from their parents, the truth about healthcare and taxes for migrants,  whether migrants are more apt to be criminals than U.S. born citizens, who is financing the mega-detention centers, and how the Bracero work program began the immigration cycle from Mexico to the U.S.

Additionally, you’ll read about the importance of family to the Mexican people, Saint Toribio, the patron saint of travelers, La Virgen de Guadalupe and her iconic presence on both sides of the borders.

Echoes from the Wall ends with a list of both fiction and non-fiction books for further reading about Mexican migrants and the immigration situation as it stands in the U.S.

This well-researched book poignantly tells the story of those who otherwise might not be heard. Tony Burton, Arturo Garcia, and Richard Rhoda contributed to clarifying once and for all who stands to gain by the propagation of an immigrant crisis in the United States.

You can read more about Judy King here.

Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins

real artists

Everyone is familiar with the idea of the starving artist, but have you heard of the thriving artist?  Using the life story of Michelangelo Buonarotti as inspiration, you know, that guy who painted the Sistine Chapel, Jeff Goins debunks that starving artist myth and presents a new paradigm in which would-be starving artists become thriving artists.  

Although Michelangelo is the primary artist featured in this book, countless other artists, both past and present are included.  The author has compiled these fascinating rags to riches stories through research and interviews with artists and entrepreneurs. Each story supports the claim that in order to be a successful artist, one need not starve.

Before you can create great art,you first have to create yourself.--Jeff Goins

Now that doesn’t mean every creative soul should quit his or her day job just yet.  There are a few hurdles you’ll have to vault. The conflicting beliefs of the starving artists and the thriving artist are nicely outlined in 12 chapters. Some of these beliefs might be surprising.  Did you know that the thriving artist steals his or her ideas from others?  Would you believe that it is essential to cultivate a patron in order to succeed?  Are you aware that you should receive monetary recompense and esteem for your creative endeavors?

At any point in your story, you are free to reimagine the narrative you are living. You can becom.jpg

There were some truly inspirational sections in Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins. When I had finished reading, I felt encouraged and hopeful while at the same time realizing how very far I have yet to go to become one of those thriving artists. Fortunately, just like Michelangelo, I’m as stubborn as a donkey, so perhaps one day I’ll get there.

four star

Read more about the book here.  Pick up your own copy here.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Spellbound Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series

Paranormal cozy mysteries? I know, who’d have thought. I’ve got news for you, I loved each and every book in the 10-book series. Now that doesn’t happen too often.

Here’s the plot:

Emma Hart is on her way to visit one of her clients and happens upon what she believes to be an impending suicide. Jumping out of her lime green Volvo, lovingly christened Sigmund, she rushes out to save the man on the cliff. Not having taken the time to engage the parking brake, Emma is in danger of being run over or drowning in the lake until the would-be-suicide flies down and snatches her from harm’s way. That’s right, flies. It turns out he’s an angel, well a fallen angel, who had come to his favorite cliff to mope.

Inadvertently, Daniel, the angel, has flown Emma into the borders of Spellbound, a paranormal town under a curse. Much to her surprise, Emma has some paranormal blood in her as well, and now is trapped with the other residents.

She’s made the town’s public defender since her entrance coincided with the unfortunate demise of the previous lawyer, a Scottish vampire named Gareth. She’s also given Gareth’s house where she is surprised to find some sort of mongrel cat and the ghost of the former owner.

Since she hadn’t had any previous magical training, she is enrolled in the remedial witch classes at the ASS Academy. Her burgeoning powers and sporadic criminal cases keep her busy.

She falls in love with Daniel, the fallen angel, but the course of true love never did run smooth. She makes just as many friends as enemies and discovers her mysterious past is intricately tied to the current predicament that the town is in.

Emma is funny and sweet. Her interactions with other paranormals often made me chuckle. I can’t say that the series is entirely original since the storyline and characters are borrowed from other famous works.

For instance, Emma’s familiar is not a cat but a cantankerous owl name Sedgewick, reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hedwig. The coven head and headmistress of ASS Academy is very much Professor McGonagall with a ridiculous antler headdress. The vampires and werewolves were typecast like any other paranormal world. On the other hand, there were some new characters including harpies ever looking for a man to sink their claws into, gorgons who keep their snakey hair under wraps, the Gray sisters that share a single eye and tooth, Valkyrie law enforcement and a minotaur who is the town’s arquitect.

If you are looking for some light paranormal reading, then I highly recommend Annabel Chase’s Spellbound series. You’ll want to get them all so that you can follow the story from beginning until….well the beginning. You’ll just have to read them to see what I mean.


Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide by Bill W.

The Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide was written in order to provide a non-religious framework to treat addiction. The religious context provided by the 12 steps in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program can be off-putting to those that aren’t as religiously inclined including agnostics and atheists.

In the spirit of AA, the author has elected to remain anonymous, providing just his first name,  but was candid with his own struggle with addiction. His story is no more or less than any other alcoholics spiraling descent to rock bottom.

As a biology professor, the author does an excellent job of explaining the nature of addiction and brain development. He thoroughly describes the parts of the brain affected by chemical dependence as well as how concepts like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is altered as a result.

Comparing the developmental stages of a maturing adult to the phases of addiction and recovery, the author demonstrates the parallels and juxtapositions of an addict’s evolutionary cycle.

In the second section, the author walks the reader through how he adapted the twelve steps from a religious base to developmental stages a recovering addict goes through. Having experience as both recovering addict and sponsor, he breaks down the actionable parts into manageable tidbits using his secular base as a guide.

In the end, as a recovering addict, the author came to the conclusion that although he did not experience a Spiritual Awakening as outlined in step 12 of the traditional AA program, he grew up in a sense and began taking responsibility for his actions as an adult would.

I found Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide to be a useful and informative book. I believe it would be of interest to both recovering addicts and their family members. The explanation of how an addict is moving through the stages of normal development backward was a confirmation of what I’ve seen in my own experiences with addiction.

The diagrams of the brain are simple and instructional. The visualization of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was also helpful during the discussion of that aspect of addiction. The breakdown of the benchmarks and characteristics of early childhood, young adult and mature adult was revealing as were the phases of addiction and recovery.
The recommendations that the author provides for completing each step are also instructive.

Whether you are an addict looking to work on your recovery or family or friends endeavoring to be supportive, you will find Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide an educational read.

You can read my review at Reedsy Discovery here.