Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Captiving ~ Exceeding Expectations (Book Review

Exceeding ExpectationsExceeding Expectations by Lisa April Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exceeding Expectations Lisa April Smith

Sure, there’s the old adage about not judging a book by its cover and all that, but what about judging a book by its title? In the case of "Exceeding Expectations" by Lisa April Smith, readers certainly have just cause to judge it by the title because, after having had the privilege of reading it, I can personally attest that this book went well beyond exceeding my expectations.

Lisa April Smith, who also penned "Dangerous Lies", has woven an intriguingly rich tapestry of delightful well-developed characters into a perfectly balanced plot bursting with riveting mystery, crimes of the petty and the horrible sort, suspenseful twists, and romantic tension complete with love scenes that sizzle and pop. If you’re looking for a suspenseful romantic mystery novel that you’ll find virtually impossible to put down, even for much-needed sleep, "Exceeding Expectations" contains all the ingredients you seek and more.

Set in the varied and stunning backdrops of early 1960s Palm Beach and Manhattan high society, as well as mid-1930s to early 1940s Paris, “Exceeding Expectations” provided me with so much more than mere entertainment. I found myself transported with ease into different eras by Ms. Smith’s eloquent descriptions and witty turns of phrase. I don’t believe that I’m the only bookworm that tends to learn new things, even from fiction; therefore, I must give much-deserved recognition to Ms. Smith for her keenly descriptive insights into the culture, government, and history of Paris, France during the years just prior and flowing into the atrocities of World War II. I learned things I had not previously been aware of regarding shifts in societal attitudes in the years between WWI and WWII as well as gaining insights into the machinations of Adolf Hitler’s plans for the Nazi German hegemony of continental Europe as experienced from the perspective of the citizens of France at that time.

The characters of “Exceeding Expectations” are replete with such extraordinarily depicted personalities that, not only does the reader feel as though they know them personally, but also one ends up feeling more than a bit attached. There’s the scandalous yet likeable rapscallion, Jack Morgan, whose primary interest has always been that of ensuring the welfare and status of his two pampered daughters, Amelia and Charlie, whatever the cost—even if that means taking his own life. Then we have the tall, beautiful, overindulged yet utterly endearing Charlie, Jack’s younger daughter whom he has raised to believe in herself regardless of the leg deformity she was born with. Much to the dismay of her second stepmother, Petal, Charlie is determined to find definitive answers as to why her beloved father suddenly committed suicide, especially if those answers will, in any way, facilitate the recovery of her older sister, Amelia, from the psychological breakdown she suffered when she finally succumbed to the grief of their father’s unexpected death. Offering to assist Charlie in her quest for answers is the vivacious, handsome, flirtatious, swaggering, and charming young attorney, Raul, an assistant from the law office handling Jack’s estate whose origins happen to be from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks according to the society in which Charlie and Amelia were brought up.

This mystery delves deeper than one could begin to imagine, including crimes spanning decades and oceans. The stylishly written and intoxicating romantic tension escalates to levels that will have the reader fanning themselves while, at the same time, craving more. Complete with shocking plot twists that will quite literally make the reader gasp aloud, “Exceeding Expectations” is a definite must-read for anyone who enjoys thorough entanglement and immersion in a well-written romantic suspense novel.

Did I mention that Lisa April Smith is currently in the midst of creating the sequel to this jaw-dropping novel? Oh yes, indeed, folks. “Exceeding Expectations” ends with a shocking epilogue which is actually the prologue to “Paradise Misplaced” and all I can say without giving away any spoilers is that I absolutely cannot wait to see what comes next from the mind of the incredible, creative, intelligent, and inspiring Lisa April Smith.

In the interest of full disclosure, the author gave me a pre-launch copy of this book in exchange for my honest and thorough review of her creation.

As always, your comments are both welcomed and encouraged. Blessed Be.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Excelsior - Ever Upward! {Book Review}

ExcelsiorExcelsior by George H. Sirois

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the surface, it may seem that "Excelsior" by George H. Sirois is simply going to be a fun read--one of those great little sci-fi gems to be enjoyed as an escape or distraction from everyday real life. While it is definitely one of those great little gems, with the usual good versus evil to save the world themes, I must forewarn you--the undercurrents of the basic overlying theme of "Excelsior" take the reader far deeper than mere escapism. It is exciting, inspiring, intensely gripping, & even spiritual if one allows one's self to feel it in the soul rather than simply reading it. The world of "Excelsior" grabs you & just doesn't let go. I found myself glued to my Kindle, eagerly anticipating what might be just around the corner on that next page. The excitement & tension continue to ratchet up from beginning to end. To say this book had me breathless at times would be an understatement.

Through the journey of a young man approaching high school graduation named Matthew, who's a bit of a loner but is also just hitting his stride in publishing his `Excelsior' comic book series online about the trials & tribulations of the beings on the planet Denab IV, the reader is shown that we all have amazing potential within ourselves. Whether we allow ourselves to fully unlock that inherent potential rather than fearing our own success & how it may change us is in our own hands. Sometimes, in life, we need to take a leap of faith in order to reach our full potential & accomplish all that we are capable of accomplishing.

Did I mention that this fabulous sci-fi novel also has a spiritual element to it? Yes, I did. However, I'm not the type of reader who likes having a book spoiled for them by a reviewer that goes into too much detail, but I will tell you this much--not only is Excelsior the name of a splendidly beautiful sword with a gemstone in the handle that contains the life force of a deity, Excelsior is also a person(s).

Another quality that makes "Excelsior" such an exceptional read is how Mr. Sirois manages to cleverly weave bits of laugh out loud humor into the seriously intense storyline--giving the reader a moment to breathe or possibly eat some leftover peet-za.

The characters are well-developed as is the plot. I can honestly say that I'd love to see this book transformed into a movie provided it's directed by the right person who is capable of doing "Exclesior" the justice it deserves. I can easily imagine the characters, the galaxies, & all the special effects coming to life before my eyes. It would be amazing.

The fact that the main character, Matthew, is named in honor of a courageous soul in Mr. Sirois' life makes "Excelsior" all the more exciting as well as poignant. I won't lie to you. When I read the story of Matthew's real life at the end of the book, there were tears sliding down my cheeks.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Judgment of Horror & The Horror of Judgment

Whilst perusing a guest blog on my friend LizzieBeth’s site, I found myself utterly aghast at what I was reading. That, in & of itself, came as a shock to me as I generally come away from her blogs in a happy-go-lucky ‘yay I got to know another cool author’ mood. To be clear, my shock had absolutely nothing to do with LizzieBeth’s writing or with the fact that the guest blogger, Fiona Dodwell, is a published horror fiction novelist. I was taken aback by some of the judgments Ms. Dodwell says some people pass on her & probably others for simply being a horror novelist.

I just can’t fathom why people would pass such harsh &, in my opinion, strange judgment on a person for writing fiction—regardless of the genre. The things mentioned in that post regarding those who choose to write horror, though, are outright appalling & definitely blew my mind. I had no idea. To say it’s ‘unhealthy’ or there ‘must be some deep-rooted issue’ for someone to be entertained by, let alone write in, the horror genre sounds incredibly insane to me. It’s fiction—pure & simple. One either enjoys reading/writing fictional horror or doesn’t. There’s no need to pass judgments on the readers or the writers of this or any other genre.

I wonder if these same hypercritical people give a moment’s thought to the fact that there are far worse things than horror fiction novels that have come from the human imagination, been tinkered with, & materialized into reality—many of which have been around for at least a century? For instance all the medieval torture devices, the atomic bombs, or ‘miracle medicines’ that later turned out to be deadly–just to name a few. Those are all very real things derived from the human imagination. Things one cannot simply close, stop reading, or eject from the DVD player. The very notion of considering a horror novelist to be mentally ill in order to be capable of writing such things is simply deplorable & I applaud all authors of all genres, who likely take a verbal beating from one direction or another, for not allowing such ignorance to hold them back. I shudder to even imagine what those same folks would think of my parents.

I’ve been reading Stephen King, Dean Koontz, & the like since I was probably ‘too young’ in some peoples’ eyes to be reading such things. The same assessment likely applies when it comes to Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, Book One), The Valley of Horses (Earth's Children, Book Two), & later the rest of the series. To these folks, I would’ve been ‘too young’ to be reading the horror of Stephen King or the Earth’s Children Series due to prehistoric religious practices & realistic sexual situations. These are just a couple of examples & I honestly don’t remember the exact age I started reading these books. Does that make my parents horrible for letting me read those types of books? In my opinion, not even a little bit. What were they going to do with a child who was capable of reading far above her age level? Make her continue to read "See Spot Run" or "Sweet Valley High"? Not that there’s anything wrong with those books—how do you think I learned to read in the first place were it not for working my way up the reading ladder? However, I’m grateful they didn’t foist what, by the time I was of that age, I would’ve considered the inane drivel of my ‘age group’ upon me by restricting my reading to only that which was recommended. To me, that would’ve been criminal. It could very well have proven detrimental to my desire to read at all in the future, actually, as I would’ve likely been bored out of my skull when it came to books at an impressionable age during which I could’ve just as easily arrived at the conclusion that all books must be boring—never to be bothered with a desire to read again unless forced. Now that thought is, indeed, a horror.

To this day, at age thirty-six & thanks to my parents’ decision not to restrict me to only certain books, I still adore reading. They loved me & cared enough about my intellectual development to simply ‘let go’ a little & allow themselves to be happy I was devouring books rather than placing undue worry over what I was reading. Better, in their eyes & in mine, that it was books I was devouring & not drugs or alcohol—not beginning to ‘party’ like many of my peers were. Reading is & always has been one of my absolute favorite activities. I can find myself so easily engrossed in the world of a well-written book of nearly any genre &, given the choice, I’d still much rather enrich my mind with a good book than attend some drunken party.

I genuinely grieve for the literature-hungry child of today whose parent(s) feels, due to potential scrutiny in a climate of societal judgment that seems to grow more harsh & puritanical by the minute, that they must restrict the reading materials of that child.

Mom & Dad, you have my deepest & most heartfelt gratitude & love for so many things, including for bestowing upon me the cherished gift of loosely held reins that allowed a burning desire to read blossom within me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I've Been Tagged! 10 Random Facts About Me

I’ve been tagged? Uh oh! Am I in trouble? What’d I do now? What the heck does that mean? Good gravy! She’s my friend & I hope I didn’t offend her somehow. Yeah. Leave it to me to have those be the first thoughts that popped into my mind. That notoriously rude ‘self-doubt monster’ rears its ugly head again, as usual. So, sledgehammer in hand in preparation to knock the monster on its silly head & apologize if I had, in fact, hurt my friend’s feelings, I marched off through the links to find out what I’d done.

Oh my goodness. It’s a game? All that angst was over a bit of blog-hopping writing kinship & fun? By the time I was finished reading what ‘Tagged from Me to You’ was all about, I was laughing so hard at myself over the silliness of my initial thoughts, the now unnecessary self-doubt monster slaying sledgehammer slipped from my grasp, landing on the virtual floor of my mind with a distinct thud. It probably would’ve served me right if it had, instead, landed on a toe as punishment for consistently allowing thoughts of fear or self-doubt play first.

Now here’s how all that got started. You see, last month while I was in the midst of desperately trying to sort through how best to drag myself out of a horrible month-long blogging slump, a lovely & quite artistic blogger/writer friend of mine, Ozlem Yikici, had been tagged by her friend for this bit o’ writing fun. Subsequently, she tagged me & two others to play along by sharing ten random facts about ourselves. Nervous as the thought makes me—I really tend to become quite skittish writing autobiographical things—Ozlem’s a genuine sweetheart & I’m grateful she thinks enough of me to want to know more about me—let alone thinking you all may want to know more about me—so I’ve decided to play. By the way, she has a terrific blog & an even more terrific heart, so you’ll want to check out her delightful little slice of the ‘blogosphere’ whenever you’re finished here.

So here goes. Ten random facts you may not already know about me.
  1. I still believe in unicorns, dragons, & the like. Why? Because I feel that if one loses the belief in the possibility of magic, any shred of innocence one had left will be forever lost.
  2. I’m no connoisseur of art by any stretch of the imagination—just not enough field trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts as a kid, I suppose. However, my favorite artists are—in no particular order—Luis Royo, Olivia De Berardinis, Sue Dawe, Auguste Rodin, Julie Bell & Boris Vallejo.
  3. When I was in first grade, I longed to be a paleontologist when I grew up & had firmly decided that I would reconstruct the fossilized skeletons I discovered in Mom & Dad’s basement which naturally would require them to allow me to cut a hole through the upper levels of the house & the roof. They played along like the amazing parents they are & let me believe they’d be allowing me to carve up the family home when I grew up & achieved this dream. To this day, I still find dinosaurs fascinating—I actually got misty-eyed in the opening scenes of Jurassic Park, my favorite fossilized creature is a trilobite, & I yearn to one day own a piece of amber jewelry that actually contains a visible insect—an insect that very well may have seen my beloved dinosaurs.
  4. My favorite color is electric blue—more specifically airport runway light blue as beautifully depicted in this photo by Stan Drennan of 29k Productions.
  5. My favorite books of all time are The Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. I read “Clan of the Cave Bear” & “Valley of Horses” at such a young age that my significant other, once he’d finished reading the series, says he can see a substantial amount of Ayla, the main character throughout the series, in my personality. I’ll take that as a huge compliment, thank you very much. ;-)
  6. I think goats are positively adorable & have a small collection of goat items—figurines, stuffed animals, & such. I decided they were cute when I was around 15 years old & saw a little herd of baby goats—okay, I know they’re called ‘kids’, but there’s a difference here to me—bouncing, romping, & playing all over a huge pile of hay as though it were a trampoline up north by the cabin our family owned while I was growing up.
  7. I have no human children of my own, but I’m relatively content with our wonderful family of ‘CritterKids’—most of whom were rescued from some type of situation in which they were unwanted, neglected, abandoned, stray, or abused. To me, they are my children. I realize there are those who think that’s insane—so be it. When it comes right down to it, though, they are really no different than human children—in fact, they’ll depend on me as their ‘Mom’ for everything throughout their lives & they’re much less ‘portable’, whereas most human children eventually grow up & become self-reliant. Just a little food for thought for those out there who would criticize people who view their pets as their kids/family.
  8. After having been a complete ‘serial killer’ of any unfortunate plant related to the orchid family—my favorite flower—for several years, I finally figured out how to successfully keep orchids alive & thriving. I can even get them to bloom again. I relish the fact that I even got one of them—a gorgeous dendrobium, the color such a deep burgundy velvet that it appears nearly black from some angles—to bloom again that the nursery that sold it to me said would never happen without a professional type tropical greenhouse.
  9. While I’m relatively sure it’s against the ‘rules’ & I probably shouldn’t have done so, about seven years ago I was completely mystified & awe-struck when one of the manatees at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium put its nose up over the edge of the glass enclosure while I was standing there thoroughly enraptured by them—almost as though it was just as curious about me as I was about it—that I stretched up on my tip-toes & petted its bristly whiskered snout. The human-animal connection I felt in my soul in that brief moment is virtually indescribable. Recalling the phenomenally spiritual emotion of moments such as this one still mists up my eyes to this very day.
  10. Walking barefoot on the beaches of or swimming in any of the Great Lakes—although my 2 favorites are Lake Superior & Lake Michigan—is pure therapy from the Great Spirit & Mother Nature to me. Squishing my toes as deep as I can into the cool, pleasantly heavy wet sand as the waves swirl around my ankles & calves while feeling the breeze caress my face makes me feel so spiritually connected to the entire splendor that is this planet we call home.
There you have them. Ten random facts about me. With so many wonderful friendships I’ve made so far in my blogging adventures, I have to say that choosing who I’d tag was difficult. So even if you weren’t tagged but would like to play (it actually helps with writer’s block, truth be told), feel free & be sure to let me know because I’d absolutely love to learn more about all of you.

Tag! You’re it! I’ve tagged Mary Ann Peden-Coviello because she is an incredible writer, is extremely interesting, & I’m so happy that the Twitterverse blessed me with such a wonderful friend. She’s probably going to kick my hiney for tagging her, too. ;-) Next up is LizzieBeth because not only has her upbeat & supportive personality helped me regain a more positive outlook on things, but because her blog is simply awesome. As though she weren’t interesting enough already with her compelling short stories that leave one craving more & her cheering on of others, she has excellent guest bloggers on her site regularly & I’ve ‘met’ some really neat authors on there. I’m so glad to be blessed by her friendship. Last, but certainly not least, we have Donna K. Fitch who has quickly become another wonderful friend & introduced me to her very intriguing friend, Aisling. Donna’s blog posts are insightful & honest, just as she is. She & Aisling also somehow totally understand my ‘squirrels’ & have had me in stitches this past week laughing about them rather than cursing them which is definitely a blissful change of pace.

Please visit the blogs of all those I’ve tagged as they’re all really excellent people & don’t forget to visit Ozlem who tagged me first. Trust me. You won’t be sorry you ‘met’ any of these fabulous individuals.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated. Blessed Be. ~ Cari ~

Monday, October 10, 2011

Life Lessons From a Fiction Novel? Absolutely! Cari's Book Review of "Among Women" by J.M. Cornwell

Among WomenAmong Women by J.M. Cornwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh Yes You Can Learn From A Fiction Novel ~ I Just Did

Among Women J.M. Cornwell

I have to say it's been quite some time since I've been so personally pulled into a book that I literally felt as though I was experiencing every emotion, touch, sound, sight, taste, & smell as I did while reading this book. Naturally, those emotions & sensations were not always pleasant. However, the ability of Ms. Cornwell's writing causing me to truly feel what the characters were feeling was definitely a pleasant surprise.

I did not, in any sense of the word, simply 'read' this book. I walked with Pearl on her journey--through the harrowing angst of uncertainty, the unexpected joys, the formation of friendships & adversaries alike, & ultimately through Pearl's self-discovery. Pearl is simultaneously none of us & all of us. As I was, you will be stunned to discover that, more often than not, you can relate to Pearl on some level--most likely multiple levels. For instance, like Pearl, I generally have a tendency to find difficulty in truly bonding or getting along with & understanding other women. That's merely one example--I don't want to spoil the book--of Ms. Cornwell weaving the reader into the story.

Too often, we go about living our everyday 'normal' lives, comforting ourselves in the cozy blanket of a misguidedly reassuring "that will never happen to me" mentality whenever we hear of the goings-on of a sometimes corrupt justice system. Worse yet, we all too often find ourselves judging those who have been 'in the system' without ever actually knowing that person or their real story. Pearl teaches us that, at any given moment, our cozy blanket of 'normalcy' could be ripped away from us in the stroboscopic flash of blue & red lights coupled with the ratcheting sound of cold handcuffs digging brutally into our wrists for reasons that, even after being subjected to various forms of abject humiliation & terror, we may never even know. Like Pearl, we could just as easily become lost in the system--nothing more than another number in a vast sea of numbers--another human being to be judged by those who don't even have the faintest clue of who we truly are.

There are valuable life lessons to be gained through reading this book with both an open heart & an open mind. One learns that behind every statistic, there is a story--a heartfelt tale that may force you to judge less harshly than you otherwise might have had you simply stumbled across someone's prison record on the internet or on the news. One may ascertain that not only can you survive being thrust into what would seem to be the most dire of circumstances, but may also unearth a rare opportunity for the ultimate success of self-discovery--an opportunity you may never have known existed were it not for having been forced into such an adverse situation. One may never have known that such strength or talent existed within yourself, let alone have had the courage derived from absolute necessity to act upon it.

This is an excellent book which I wholeheartedly recommend with complete confidence that you will enjoy it as much as I did. I am eagerly anticipating the sequel.

I read this book on my Kindle. It is also available in other formats. The paperback & Kindle versions are available on Amazon: Among Women Other eBook formats are available at Smashwords: Among Women

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I'd like to personally thank Mary Ann Peden-Coviello for her constant posts on Facebook strongly urging people to read this book & for introducing me to Jackie, who graciously & unexpectedly slipped this book into my email inbox through Amazon. Both of these women have been such a help to my growth in writing by nudging me in the right direction when it seems that I'm needing it &, more importantly, by their friendship. I'm blessed to have both of these great women in my life thanks to the great big world of social media.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated. Blessed Be. ~ Cari ~