Like him, but not so much the book

JustKeepMoving_bkcvr

Keep Moving by Dick Van Dyke (and Todd Gold)

Summary:  Beloved Hollywood icon Dick Van Dyke will celebrate his 90th birthday in December 2015. He’s an established legend, having starred in Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. And yet he’s still keeping himself busy, entertaining America on television, movies, the stage, and social media. Everyone wonders, “How does he do it?” For the first time, Van Dyke will share his secrets and tips on old age: Just keep moving.

In a fun and folksy way of addressing readers, Keep Moving will serve as an instruction book on how to embrace old age with a positive attitude. The chapters are filled with exclusive personal anecdotes that explore various themes on aging: how to adapt to the physical and social changes, deal with loss of friends and loved ones, stay current, fall in love again, and “keep moving” every day like there’s no tomorrow.

Recommendation: Mixed feelings (in Amazon stars, maybe 2 stars)

Review:  It’s true that the narrative is fun and folksy, and I could hear Mr. Van Dyke’s voice throughout. I also enjoyed the snippets of biography that were included, such as how he and his current wife met and dated, and the relationship between him and his brother, Jerry.

However, the instructional part was less than useful to those who aren’t as well off as the celebrity author. This also made it difficult for me to relate to him and his ‘advice.’ For instance, his instruction to get up every day and have a sing-along with your spouse while enjoying birds and sunshine on the patio are a lovely idea. But it’s not something that most people can relate to, because most people (even elderly people) get up before the sun so that they can spend their mornings fighting traffic to get to a job that they may or may not enjoy.

I don’t begrudge Mr. Van Dyke his more than adequate retirement funds, he worked hard for them. However, most of us don’t (and didn’t) get paid millions; also, many of us got hit pretty hard when the stock and housing market collapsed. That means that many of us are struggling while just hoping we don’t get laid off because we’ve reached a certain age.

So, while I appreciated his happy attitude, I found the information rather Pollyannaish. I really wished that his ‘advice’ applied more to those of us living in a ‘normal world’ rather than his more rarefied and exclusive group of the rich and the elderly.

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Not Quite Up to the Hype

MeetClaraMeet Clara Andrews by Lacey London

Summary: Meet Clara Andrews… Your new best friend!

With a love of cocktails and wine, a fantastic job in the fashion industry and the world’s greatest best friends, Clara Andrews thought she had it all.

That is until a chance meeting introduces her to Oliver, a devastatingly handsome American designer. Trying to keep the focus on her work, Clara finds her heart stolen by lavish restaurants and luxury hotels.

As things get flirty, Clara reminds herself that inter-office relationships are against the rules, so when a sudden recollection of a work’s night out leads her to a gorgeous barman, she decides to see where it goes.

Clara soon finds out that dating two men isn’t as easy as it seems…

Will she be able to play the field without getting played herself?

Join Clara, as she finds herself landing in and out of trouble, re-affirming friendships, discovering truths and uncovering secrets.

Recommendation: Yes and No (maybe 2.5 stars by Amazon standards)

Review: While the first to-thirds of the book was a typical romantic farce, the last third (the ending) felt tacked on and flat. It was if the author wasn’t sure how to fix the corner she had written herself into, so she simply wrote a happy ending and forced it into the book. It didn’t fit the circumstances nor did it fit the personality of the male protagonist she had created, but that didn’t seem to matter. At least now the book had the requisite ‘happy ending’ that romance stories are supposed to have.

The other reason I can’t give it a higher ranking is the repetitive and glaring grammatical error that occurred throughout the book. The error was so jarring that it quite literally pushed me out of the story. If it had happened once, I might have thought it was just a mistake by the editor; but, the same error occurred repeatedly, which led me to think that the book hadn’t been edited at all. (Note: I have subsequently discovered that what most ‘normal’ people perceive as a glaring grammatical error, is considered all right in some less affluent neighborhoods of London. And while I might then consider that the author was trying to add some quirkiness and flavor to her main character, my perception of the main character as a university graduate made it difficult to accept that the character would use such awkward and poorly constructed speech idioms.)

As romances go, it’s a cute bit of fluff as long as you’re willing to overlook the lack of a successful ending and some huge grammar gaffs. However, I much prefer a Cathie Linz, Amanda Quick, or Janet Evanovich book when wanting a bit of romance, comedy, and charm.

 

 

Interesting and Informative

intolandofsnowsInto the Land of Snows by Ellis Nelson

Summary: A troubled, sixteen-year-old Blake travels to Base Camp on Mt. Everest to spend time with his physician father. When a deadly avalanche occurs, his dad is forced to rethink things, so sends Blake off the mountain.

Now accompanied by a Sherpa guide, and in possession of a mysterious camera, Blake undertakes a journey which will challenge everything he believes. The magic of his experience in the Himalayas, will forever change him.

Recommendation: Yes

Review:  The first thing that intrigued me about the book was the title, “Into the Land of Snows.” I found out later that the title is actually another name for Tibet, Nepal, and the surrounding Himalayan area. What a clever idea by the author to use it as the title of her book, then.

Throughout the novel, the Sherpa guide (Ang) consistently tries to engage and educate Blake (the teenage protagonist) in the ways of life. However, Blake, being a self-absorbed, typical U.S. teenager, is hardly interested. That is, until they end up in several harrowing situations that require him to pay attention so that he can learn and understand how to overcome the challenges.

During their trek through the mountains, Blake and Ang debate philosophy (primarily Buddhism), encounter differences in social mores, and work through several ethical and moral issues.

Having never been to the Himalayas or met a Sherpa, I found the descriptions and societal insights fascinating and educational. However, the conversations on philosophy seemed stilted and unnatural. Overlooking that unnaturalness, though, I did find the snippets of information gleaned from the book helpful and intriguing. Intriguing enough to get me to check out several books on Buddhism from the library.

Will this book appeal to young adults? I can’t really say. But as an adult, I found it quite interesting and very informative.

[To learn more about the author; or to purchase the book]

Ascending Spiral Book Review

AsccendingspiralimageAscending Spiral by Bob Rich

Summary: Dr. Pip Lipkin has lived for 12,000 years, incarnated many times as man, woman, and even as species beyond our world and senses. But he’s here for a reason: to pay restitution for an ancient crime by working to save humanity from certain destruction. “Ascending Spiral” is a book that will take the reader to many different places and times, showing, ultimately, that our differences and divisions, even at their most devastating, are less important than our similarities.

Recommendation: Yes

Review: “Ascending Spiral” by Bob Rich is the book “Cloud Atlas” aspired to be but, unfortunately, never was.

“Ascending Spiral” takes you on a journey through the past and present of Dr. Pip Lipkin, a psychologist and counselor. In so doing, it gives you a view of the experiences and ways in which each of us develop and grow through our different lifetimes on Earth.

In each life we interact with many of the same souls repeatedly as we learn what the expression “an eye for an eye” really means. Throughout the book, Pip experiences love, hate, war, depression, incarceration, and slavery, all while searching for that one moment when enlightenment sparks an awareness in his soul. Each moment of awareness brings his soul more light and a greater ability in making love-filled choices instead of fear-based ones.

Once I stepped beyond the prologue and into the actual story, I was hooked. The characters were vibrant and as alive as you and me. With every choice made, and every battle fought, I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what would happen next.

Even if you don’t believe in reincarnation or past lives, you can enjoy this book by simply looking at it as an historical adventure novel. I found that the historical accuracy combined with the great pacing made for an entertaining read. The only time the pacing bogged down (for me) was toward the end when the story popped back into (almost) current time. What I mean by that is, we joined with Pip as young adult in university. However, soon after we jumped back to Pip as a child. I became a little confused with the story here, because of the age hopping, but once we got back to Pip as a young man, the story smoothed out again.

Overall, this is an excellent adventure for those who just want a good story; an extremely thought-provoking book for those contemplating the bigger question of “why are we here;” or a wonderful book for those wishing to explore the idea of past lives and reincarnation.

“War and Peace” is a Better Choice

GirlWithNoNameThe Girl with No Name by Diney Costeloe

Summary:   Thirteen-year-old Lisa has escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport. She arrives in London unable to speak a word of English, her few belongings crammed into a small suitcase. Among them is one precious photograph of the family she has left behind.

Lonely and homesick, Lisa is adopted by a childless couple. But when the Blitz blows her new home apart, she wakes up in hospital with no memory of who she is or where she came from. The authorities give her a new name and dispatch her to a children’s home.

With the war raging around her, what will become of Lisa now?

Recommendation: No

Review: I love history and I adore reading good, well-written stories about history; however, this book was neither good, nor well-written. While at the online bookstore, I read the prologue and was fooled into thinking the whole book would be as well done. It wasn’t. Not only were the characters one-dimensional and poorly developed, the author couldn’t even maintain a character’s point of view for longer than a minute. It changed at random moments; sometimes mid-paragraph, and, several times, even mid-sentence.

While the premise was promising, the writing failed to fulfill that promise. I tried to push myself to keep reading, but it was difficult when there was no connection to the characters, and, thereby, no connection to the story.

I finally gave up at page 50. That the author actually wrote another 430 pages astounds me. But what astounds me more, is that people actually persevered and read the entire thing. I say, save your time and effort for something much more pleasurable…”War and Peace” would be an easier read.

2 Thumbs Up for “11.22.63”

11.22.6311.22.63 by Stephen King

Summary: Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald.

Recommendation: Yes (in fact, if I could, I would give this book a dozen stars)

Review: Not since “Bag of Bones” have I enjoyed a Stephen King novel as much as I have this one. In fact, I would say that this one may just tie with “Bag of Bones” as my top favorite book.

Touted as an alternate history/time travel novel (which is a genre I love), for me this book was more about the characters that peopled it. Stephen King’s understanding of human nature is obvious in the way his characters slip into your mind and your life. When I had to break from reading the book, I still thought about the characters; wondering what they might be doing at that moment, as if they were living human beings instead of just fictional characters.

If you’re looking for constant thrills and adventure that keep you on edge until the end of the book, this is not the book for you. While it has thrilling and edgier moments, it also has a lot of pathos, romance, and relationship building. This is a book about people caught up in situations that they want to capture, change, examine, or build. It isn’t a book about car chases, shoot outs, or winning the race; although, there are enough chases, spying, secrets, and edge-of-your-seat moments to keep you enthralled.

Overall, though, this is a book about people. To me, the core of the book was about the characters and the travails that forged their humanity. It is the Stephen King writing that I fell in love with way back at the beginning of his career. This is the magic that that I’ve always admired him for—the magic of writing real-life characters that are at times more real than the people we interact with on a daily basis.

If I could, I would give Mr. King a huge hug to thank him for giving us another of his marvelously peopled, and lovingly executed books. The ending may be bittersweet, but the book contains enough life lessons and thought-provoking insights to keep someone like me rereading it for years to come.

A Review of “Accidental Ashes”

xoe2Accidental Ashes: or that time I found out I was a demon, and all my friends were vampires and werewolves by Sara Roethle

Summary: Last year Xoe’s life was turned upside-down. Things haven’t improved much. With the lives of her friends at risk, Xoe forgets to worry about another life…her own. With the reappearance of a face from her very distant past, and a random string of abductions to deal with, Xoe has to fight to keep things together. Even if ‘together’ is a far cry, ahem…howl, from the norm.

Recommendation: Yes

Review: This second book was even better than the first Xoe book. In fact, it was so good as to appear effortless (the markings of a truly wonderful story teller). The characters interacted seamlessly and I felt quite at home with them. It was like visiting with family that I hadn’t seen in a while.

Nuances of the author’s world popped up here and there, sprinkled throughout the story like confetti at a party. With each occurrence, I found myself nodding and thinking, “Of course, that’s the way [this] world works…” Her world is nearly as rich and complete as Harry Potter’s or Rachel Morgan’s (The Hollows series by Kim Harrison), and her characters were, also.

In fact, if there is anything I have to nitpick about in her book it was the way in which she handled the interplay between Xoe and her mom. In this book, Xoe needs to cope with a lot of new and (to her) surprising information about herself and her friends. She is then confronted with her long-missing father and the truth as to who he is and why he left. Xoe handles it all surprisingly well, but her mother does not. While this is understandable—after all, in real life, people handle things in various ways and with varying degrees of competency—the part I object to is Xoe offering her mother some pain medication that Xoe was given when, at the end of the first book, she broke her arm. Instead of admonishing her daughter for sharing prescription meds with others, mom says, “…sure, why not…” and takes the meds.

I find this wrong on so many levels, but two of them stand out the most. First off, what authors write does influence others. So many people read a book wherein someone admits to doing a particular action or believing in some concept, and the reader thinks, “…well, if this person does it, then it must be okay that I do, too…” The reader doesn’t always make the distinction between life and fictional characters. The fact that the author has the protagonist doing this, thinking this, or saying this, makes the reader think that it’s okay.

The second reason I found it “wrong” is that it is a weak mechanism for getting a character out of a situation that the author isn’t sure how to cope with (I know, I’ve done it, too, and I’ve taken the criticism for it). I get it, that some people don’t handle stress, confrontations, or large amounts of negative information well. But Xoe’s mom didn’t seem to be the type to avoid life by hiding behind pills, booze, or sleep. In fact, in book 1, Xoe’s mom seemed almost as much of a real go-getter as Xoe. So, for mom to suddenly seek escape from life in pills and sleep seemed a bit like the author seeking escape from having to deal with this secondary character.

However, since mom isn’t a major character, I was willing to let it go…mostly. I still worry about young adults seeing the sharing of meds as something that’s all right, though, since mom not only condoned it, but participated in it.

So, except for that one minor point, this was definitely a 4-star book. And I truly believe that C. Roethle will be the next Kim Harrison…just for a slightly younger set of readers.