Review by Crystal Otto
Welcome to Maravilla is an enjoyable read filled with suspense and humor. What I appreciated most about the book is the well written, believable, dialogue between characters. The banter kept things interesting. The character development of Jake Epstein in particular was very well done by the author, R. Douglas Clark. This science fiction tale was interwoven with reality and I found myself drawn to the history of the tiny hamlet of Maravilla wondering about the redrawing of the Rio Grande and Carson County lines. I quickly became immersed in the story and found the characters to be relatable and the storyline enjoyable.
The level of detail in Welcome to Maravilla was just right for my liking. For example: I didn’t need to know the color of the curtains in the caretaker’s cottage and instead the author gave me just the information that was necessary telling me simply how many rooms there were. I dislike when authors use so many minute details I forget the storyline and get caught up in the red polka dot curtains and antique lamps… R. Douglas Clark gave me the details and information I needed without taking away from the storyline.
This is the first book I’ve read by R. Douglas Clark and I enjoyed his writing style. I’ve also never visited Maravilla, New Mexico but after reading Welcome to Maravilla, it is very clear that this is a special place the author is knowledgeable about and cares about deeply.
Review by Crystal Otto
Banged-Up Heart is a great memoir for the non-memoir-loving reader. This story unfolds beautifully through the lovely narration. I knew the ending before listening to this audio version, but even so I enjoyed each and every word. The narration and voice clarity added even more emotion to this already emotional and inspirational story. So why would I recommend Banged-Up Heart? Why would I give it 5 stars?
Let me ask you this. Did you know Custer's Last Stand ended? Or better yet, have you ever visited Arlington Cemetery and looked at one of the really large ornate stones? Right there you have examples of knowing how something began and how something ended - but were you satisfied with that? Didn't you want to know more? After all, life isn't about the destination, it's about the journey. We all have a starting point and an ending point whether we've gotten there yet, or not...it's the circle of life. What we do with the time in the middle is what leaves it's mark on others.
Shirley Melis's Banged-Up Heart is no different. She hasn't yet reached her ending point, and I hope there will be more books between now and then, but as far as how she managed to dance through love and loss, it's truly remarkable. It's not how I would have handled things, but if it were, then there wouldn't be a story to tell. Listening to everything unfold on audible really gave the story new depth and made me feel closer to Melis. That's what's fun about listening to a memoir that reads like a novel - you get to experience things through the eyes and hearts of others. Melis's ability to forge ahead and dance is remarkable and quite admirable. Whether you've had a Joe in your life or a John - or you've experienced love once or many times, you'll want to pick up a copy of Banged-Up Heart. Even if you've never been in love, this book will help you believe in love. It's beautifully written, honest, laughable at points, well edited, and a bit unconventional, yet it's a book you'll devour and that will stick in your heart long after you've listened to the final chapter.
I was drawn in to The Beginner’s Guide to Winning an Election right from the beginning. There were a few things that pulled me in:
French’s descriptive writing made me “see” Brit as if I were watching the story unfold on the big screen.
Brit’s character was one every student can relate to – this may be a futuristic novel, but the scenarios could take place today (or 20 years ago when I was in school). I particularly related to the feelings of loss and peer pressure surrounding Brit’s very first campaign.
I was drawn to the story from the very beginning, but the fast-pace kept me engaged throughout. There were pearls of wisdom I gathered while enjoying the adventure – wisdom such as:
By Elizabeth Hansen
You Started What After 60? by Jane T Bertrand was an interesting read. I have wanted to do a little bit of mountain climbing myself, so this book was mind blowing. Jane clearly has a talent with perseverance, and it shows through this book. I would recommend it to anyone, mountain climber or not. The book shows her passion, both for nature, and for challenges. She is truly a great writer, and had me spellbound from page one. My advice to anyone looking to read this? Dive in!
By Dawn Farnsworth
About "Ashes in the Ocean: A son’s story of living through and learning from his father’s suicide"
Dawn's Book Review
I truly enjoyed reading Ashes in the Ocean by Sebastian Slovin. This is a brutally honest book although it is not written in a way that makes you feel sorry for the author. Sebastian has shared the story of his father's suicide but it is more so a story about how he used that event to become empowered instead of using it as an excuse. Sebastian has risen above this tragedy and uses his book, Ashes in the Ocean, as a platform for helping others.
Ashes in the Ocean goes deep into human behavior--this is not a book to be taken lightly (as of course suicide is not either). A child survivor of parental suicide is so much more than a child. The child is forever changed because of what they have experienced and what they will never experience. Sebastian has become a mentor and an example for others. He takes a situation that could break someone and becomes a shining beacon of hope for others with similar experiences.
So many lives are touched by suicide. I recommend this book, not necessarily for those who have survived suicide, but for any reader who is interested in learning more about those around them. Everyone has a struggle and emerging from that struggle as a stronger individual is something anyone can and should want to know more about.
Reading is the ultimate inspiration!
A Corner of Our Bookcase
“We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as
we never stop living,although death is certain.”
“As citizens, we all have an obligation to intervene and become involved -
it's the citizen who changes things.”
By Cathy Hansen
-About The Book-
Coated with a life of lies and deceit, Burtrum Lee Conner is sick to her stomach. Dozens of times throughout her life the feeling of not being who she is has tormented her. But she kept it to herself, believing that maybe it’s just a chemical imbalance of some kind considering she is one of the first artificially-inseminated babies of the nineteen sixties. Now, there’s more though, something much deeper, much more maniacal than she could have ever imagined. She’s not the first test tube baby at all, but the first….
Burtrum Lee Conner, born into a world of scientific mystery, discovers that the life she’s been leading for the past forty years, is the wrong one. Her parent’s Jed and Jane Conner, stealing her as an infant, brought Lee up as their own. Even her devoted grandmother, Clair Conner, kept this secret close to her chest until they were found out. And now, Lee Conner’s biological mother, Katie Lee, wants her back, but not before the diabolical Dr. Stone has his say.
-About Mary Maurice-
After attending Western Michigan University for two party filled years, I decided to leave academia and explore the real world to learn what life is truly about. For fifteen years I’ve traveled the country working in restaurants, writing and doing readings wherever I was welcome.
While living in Minneapolis during my twenties, I was fortunate enough to be tutored by Dr. Jonis Agee, who was at the time head of the creative writing department at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul. Her lessons were imprinted in me for all of these years, and have influenced my writing ever since.
My adventures landed me in San Diego, Chicago, San Francisco, and Oregon, finally leading me tos the Land of Enchantment where I’ve resided since 1994. Living in Santa Fe, and the beauty and isolation that surrounds me, has inspire my creative muse in ways that no other place has. While still working in the hospitality industry, my passion for the craft of writing has never been stronger. And I know with each sentence I write, and every paragraph I compose, my ultimate goal is to find the perfect word.
Keep on bookin!
You can visit Mary at marymaurice.com
-Cathy's Book Review-
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read Burtrum Lee, by Mary Maurice. The book is a tale of identity crisis and mystery, with a bit of greed and conspiracy thrown in for good measure. The twists and turns of this book, as well as shifts between 1960 and 2004 kept me at the edge of my seat and unable to put the book down. It is a fast read and held my interest throughout, as I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, or what the rest of the family secrets were.
Having lived her whole life questioning who she was and feeling that something just wasn’t quite right, Burtrum Lee suddenly finds herself the focus of attention of a peculiar and potentially dangerous stranger, raising many questions about her birth that her parents and grandmother seem unwilling to answer. Frustrated by her family’s secretive behavior, Burtrum enlists her new friend Megan to assist her in finding out all she can about her past. The truth winds up being far more complex than Burtrum Lee ever could have imagined.
-About Cathy Hansen-
Cathy Hansen is a wife, mom, teacher, independent
beauty consultant, and small business owner. She and her husband operate SeedsNBeans, a local nature store, in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.
Guest Post by Santa Fe author, Michael French
There may be a thousand and one books on how to write a novel, filled with sound observations, but when it comes to creating and developing characters, many emphasize the mechanical over the intuitive. Over decades, here’s what I’ve painstakingly learned about making your characters authentic, original and memorable.
1. Most writers begin the writing process by working on plot. While plot is obviously important, I also like to know everything possible about my main characters, even if I never use many of their details in the novels. Whether you take voluminous notes about them, or talk out loud to them (and they talk back to you), it’s rarely enough. You need to imagine what they would do off the page, i.e., if they had to attend your Uncle George’s July fourth barbecue, or somehow landed in another novel altogether. Make them your best friends or worst enemies. Whether they come from your imagination or real life (or a combination thereof), you should be inside your characters a few hours every day—before you write a single word. Think of method acting. Characters aren’t simply pawns in a plot—they transcend it. They are what you remember long after the plot is often forgotten.
2. Great characters, to enhance their arc, should have a fourth or fifth gear that seems to come out of nowhere. For example, villains can turn into heroes with an act of kindness that we would never have anticipated, yet when we read the novel closely, we realize that the seed of kindness was planted by the writer from the beginning. Similarly, characters we start off admiring suddenly disappoint us when they hurt someone they love. If they don’t realize what they’ve done, figuring out the “why” makes them even more interesting. Well-conceived characters can help with plot troubles, too, if the writer wakes one morning and isn’t sure where his or her story is going (happens to most of us). Instead of robbing a bank, for example, your destitute character decides to give away his last fifty dollars to a stranger. The wife who has been cheated on, instead of taking revenge on her husband, is filled with insights about her father. A deeply-felt, richly-imagined character is your writing buddy, your co-conspirator, and their importance to the final product can’t be overstated.
3. It’s great to surprise a reader with the unexpected, helping give a twist to the plot and the character, but whatever transpires, it must have credibility. Unless she’s a prodigy, a twelve year old girl is not going to solve the murder of her parents that happened ten years earlier. A surgeon who graduated from Harvard is not likely to leave a sponge behind in his patient’s abdomen. If you go for low probability events, or extreme twists, you have to back them up with plausible explanations. The “willing suspension of disbelief” only goes so far. Once a reader becomes skeptical that the writer doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, it’s tough to win them back.
4. Most writers are more comfortable delineating one sex (or gender) over another, which often dictates their main characters and the genre a writer chooses. You can still be a male and write fantasy romances, or a female skilled at describing war scenes, but whatever your strength, play to it. Very few writers do everything well. The best write about what they know, and their characters evoke passion, empathy or curiosity in a reader.
5. Building a character arc should be done over the span of the novel. Just like it’s a writing sin to have an information plot dump in the first chapter of your book, likewise your characters shouldn’t reveal themselves right away. One aspect at a time—brought out by action rather than exposition—keeps the reader engaged.
6. Try to have one of your characters do or say something in the course of the narrative that’s totally original…something that’s never been done in another movie or film. This is not easy to achieve, but if you have an imagination, have some fun with it. You’ll go down a lot of dead ends, but if you’re lucky, you’ll end up on a mountain peak. Remember that the event has to be plausible, but originality is usually memorable. No matter how many crime stories we read, for example, the great ones take our thoughts and emotions to unexplored places. It’s what readers talk about in reviews and blogs.
7. All good writing, whether its plot, theme or characters, involves a high degree of problem solving. You start your novel after doing the prep work described above, yet as the words march across the page, something feels a little off. You can’t put your finger on it. What have you forgotten or overlooked? Where is the spontaneity and energy? The pieces fit beautifully when your first imagined them, but suddenly they’re like reading a foreign language. Take a break. Do something else with your life that week, or work on a different part or aspect of the novel. Ultimately, the biggest problem, when you finally solve it, can becomes your best writing.
My Latest Novels
By Crystal Otto
-ABOUT THE BOOK -
-ABOUT ERIC TRANT-
-CRYSTAL'S BOOK REVIEW-
Eric Trant does with words what Rembrandt did with paints. I have never been to the depths of hell or within the walls of a sulfur mine, and yet I physically experienced with Alberto and Paolo were experiencing because of Trant’s imagery and mastery of words. My heart rate quickened and I felt anxious. As an example, how can readers read this passage without being moved as if experiencing it themselves?
He held his breath and fought the pulsing in his temples as the climb
became something external to him, a thing imagined in the pitch and his faraway
palms, his faraway feet and the melting of his flesh
in the belching, stagnant atmosphere.
Alberto and Paolo’s father was a man I instantly disliked. Within the first few pages, I felt the hair the back of my neck prickle every time he was mentioned. Each character plays an integral part in the plot of this thriller and each was depicted expertly by Trant.
Risen is a quick read and is well-paced. I was drawn in from cover to cover and couldn’t wait to turn each page to find out what would happen next. Definitely a book I would recommend (whether the reader is generally drawn to historical supernatural fiction or not). I have read previous works by this author and this book did not disappoint. I look forward to future books by this author.
-ABOUT CRYSTAL OTTO-
-FOLLOW THE REST OF THE BOOK TOUR-
REVIEW OF THE DIGITAL RABBIT HOLE
The Digital Rabbit Hole by Larry Kilham discusses the digital technological world and our attraction to everything about it, especially the smartphone. He talks about how it is in our human nature to incline towards convenience and ease for instant gratification, but at what cost? He discusses ways to inspire creativity and how to recapture the days prior to the digital age.
I am part of a generation who grew up watching the digital age come about; I have witnessed some of the pros and cons of living in a digital society which the author addresses in his book. Some of the cons of digital technology he lists in the book are the Millennials performing below average in key employment skills, the rise of narcissistic attitudes, and social awkwardness.
As an instructor, I have witnessed the younger generation having issues holding a conversation, they seem to have shorter attention spans and difficulty retaining new information. I do not know if the root cause of this is technology, but it may play a role in the issues mentioned. I mention this because in the same chart that shows U.S. ranking low in literacy and high in smartphone use, it also shows Australia and Sweden ranking high in literacy and high in smartphone usage. Is it something else in the U.S. that is failing when it comes to the education of younger generations?
The book is an interesting read and will stimulate many debates and lively conversations concerning the use of technology in our everyday lives. For the most part, I believe the digital world isn’t going away anytime soon. We need more books like this to get us thinking about how to find solutions to new problems that have risen with the advancement in digital technology.
ABOUT THE DIGITAL RABBIT HOLE
Will digital media sweep us into a new era of prosperity?
What new advances in entertainment, culture, education, and knowledge can we expect?
Will we get stuck in Cyberland only to be saved by digital detox?
The Digital Rabbit Hole reveals that we are becoming captive in the digital universe. The portals are smartphones and the world is the Internet. We immerse ourselves in social media; we learn through packaged feel-good information; and we will leave the hard work to robots and AI. The book details digital media and discusses smartphone addiction problems. It proposes solutions to stimulate creativity and education and to recapture our humanity.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Tangalene Dudt served in the Army for eight years and now works as a contractor for the US government.
She lives in beautiful Arizona with her wonderful husband and loves to read, garden, hike, and run ultra-marathons.
Each year Tange resolves to read 100 books.
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