Monthly Archives: August 2019

Book Review: Dark Oceans – Modern Day Search for an Ancient Relic

Dark Oceans

Or The Geometry of Chance

By Mark Macrossan

Thrust into the world of espionage, murder and mayhem, the spectrum of characters in Dark Oceans are all linked together, albeit tenuously. The common denominator is an ancient artifact, the Isfahan Decagon. It is famed to be the only one of its kind. The Decagon has perfect tiling with a perfect golden ratio. Not only that, the Decagon is said to have an infinite non-repeating pattern that surpasses anything created today, therefore making it the Holy Grail of collectors and museums around the world. It has been missing since at least the 1800’s. It may have been in a ship wreck, but has ties to Portugal, Western Australia as well as the English.

So begins the quest to find it. Dark Oceans takes the reader around the world in the search. The race to find the Decagon includes characters on land, sea and air, doing anything within their power to be the first to grab the prize.

Among the characters that are searching for the Decagon, are thieves, murders, organized crime minions and a few in law enforcement. It is difficult to tell who is good and who is bad until the end when all is revealed to the reader. My favorite characters are Jon and Alistair. Jon is a barrister who has had a windfall of a massive amount of cash. It appeared in his account without reason. He slowly begins to spend the money, but soon finds himself to be very unlucky. Or someone is trying to kill him. He is rescued by his quirky neighbor, Alistair and his cat. But they can’t keep Jon safe if he doesn’t stop jumping into dangerous situations far out of his league.

This fast paced thriller has more twists and turns and characters coming and going than summertime crowds at an amusement park. That is if the attendees of said amusement park allowed fire arms, garrotes and objects to bludgeon anyone that hops in line in front of them. At times it was confusing due to the sheer number of characters – most of them evil – that are weaving in and out of the story.

It is the first book by Macrossan that I have read. He is a playwright, short story and poetry writer. Formerly a barrister as well as a theater producer and film extra, he has traveled the world to gather fodder for his novel. Dark Oceans is his first.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: My First Knitting Book – Great How-To Knitting Instructions

My First Knitting Book

Easy to Follow Instructions and More than 15 Projects

By: Hilegarde Deuzo

My mom taught me how to knit when I was eight years old. But not everyone has someone who can teach them, but still would like to know how to create their own knitted items. My First Knitting Book is the perfect solution.

With colorful illustrations and easy to follow instructions you will soon be casting on (getting the yarn on the needles to start) and knitting your first few rows. The instructions will also teach you how to purl. You will need to practice making each of these stitches. The “Tips” section will show you how to change colors as well as bind off (which is removing your knit item off of the needles properly).

The combinations of knit and purl stitches are used in most patterns. The seed stitch, basket weave stitch and the moss stitch are introduced. They are combinations of the basic knit and purl stitches. It is fun to see the different patterns emerge as you follow the directions for each of these.

Finally you are ready to create something for yourself or loved one. Bracelets, scarves and hat patterns are included. If you want to make something small and quick there are patterns for coin purses and mug cozies. Knit in festive colors, they’d make great gifts for those on your holiday list.

Maybe you know someone who wants to learn to knit. If so, a copy of My First Knitting Book along with some needles (size 4 to 8) and yarn (worsted in a light color – not fuzzy) would be the perfect gift.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Christmas Inspirations Coloring Book – Dash Right Out and Get Your Copy

Christmas Inspirations Coloring Book

By: Jessica Mazurkiewicz

Christmas will be here before we can blink an eye. I always like to shop early for stocking stuffers and Christmas Inspirations Coloring Book is perfect for adults and teens alike. Each of the thirty-one pages is just waiting for colored pencils, markers or crayons to make them come alive.

Unlike most adult coloring books, Christmas Inspirations is interesting without being overly intricate. The pages are festive and fun, some have more detail than others, but all will put you in the mood for the holiday season.

Perhaps you would like to dress up your home with the artwork created from this coloring book. If so, you may want to get one of the frames that hold children’s artwork and switch out the different pages depending upon your mood that day. Each page is perforated, so it will be a snap to take each one out of the book either before or after you complete it if you so choose.

From “Feliz Navidad” and “Dashing Through the Snow” to “Keep Calm and Jingle On” each page has an inspirational or humorous quote surrounded by holiday icons such as Santa, gifts and traditional decorations. My favorite page is full of Christmas sweaters – ready for you to make ugly or beautiful depending upon your mood. The quote on that page is “May Your Sweaters be Ugly and Bright”.

Amuse yourself and/or someone you love by picking up Christmas Inspirations Coloring Book before the holiday rush.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Christmas Color by Number – Brings Out the Artist in You

Christmas Color by Number

By: George Toufexis

Say Merry Christmas with this beautiful color by number adult coloring book. Each of the forty-six designs are best done with color pencils of your choosing due to the small spaces that might be difficult to color with markers or crayons. But if you want to use a different media than pencils, each page is blank on the back as well as perforated so no other images will be rendered useless due to bleeding of such things as markers.

Be sure to read the intro page that also included tips and techniques. Of course you know how to color, but the hints on shading, letting colors “bleed” together and directional pencil strokes will come on handy.

Twenty-four colors are used in each of the color by number pages. There are thumbnails of the completed pictures on the inside of the front and back covers. Additionally, there is a list of the colors used and their corresponding numbers. But don’t feel you have to use the numbers. This is your picture and if you want to make a purple dog or an orange Christmas tree – go for it. Personally, I like color by number. My method is coloring all of the small areas first. I also do all one color, then the next color, etc. until the finished picture emerges. Maybe you think I’m crazy and you prefer to do a section at a time. However you enjoy these pages is totally up to you.

My favorite page is the puppy sleeping under the Christmas tree. More than one of our dogs and certainly our cat declared the tree skirt “theirs” for the holiday season. Be sure to pick up Christmas Color By Number before the snow flies so that you can create your holiday masterpiece before Christmas. And pick up a few for friends and relatives – it is an affordable, fun and creative way to welcome in the holiday season.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Cuddly Crochet Critters – Make Your Kids an Adorable Animal

Cuddly Crochet Critters

26 Animal Patterns

By: Megan Kreiner

Kids love stuffed animals of all types and Cuddly Crochet Critters will help you make soft, huggable toys they will cherish. Using basic crochet stitches, which are demonstrated with color pictures along with written instructions, you can bring these cute critters to life.

Be sure to read all of the “how-to” sections. The author gives excellent instructions about the assembly & embroidery stitches, general assembly tips and the materials needed.

Each pattern begins with the yarns and notions needed as well as the finished size of the critter. Following that are the step-by-step crochet instructions. The critters are done in pieces, and then stitched together (thus the importance of reading the how-to sections). You can either use plastic safety eyes (for older children only), satin stitch eyes or crochet eyes. I prefer satin stitch eyes, because you can add expression to the faces with your stitches and there is no choking hazard.

All of the animals are a basic chubby tube shaped. It works out well for most of them. Penny Pig, Danny Dog and Henry Hippo are my absolute favorites. But the shape does not lend itself to some of the animals, making them cute, but not easily identifiable for the animals they represent. For example, Ella Elephant has a tiny trunk with tusks that are the same length. And Maxwell Monkey looks more like a sloth. Don’t get me wrong, they are still cute stuffed animals, but just the wrong shape to create the animals they are supposed to be. The body shape works best for the whale, cow, beaver and other animals with round bodies.

Overall, these cuddly critters are adorable and the kids in your life would love to snuggle with them. Because there are twenty-six patterns, there is something for everyone. You may have to make a barnyard or zoo full because animals have to have friends! They would also be the perfect, easy to make baby shower gift.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Cilka’s Journey – Story of Survival Against All Odds

Cilka’s Journey

By Heather Morris

What would you do if your saviors became your captors? At nineteen that is what happened to Cecilia Kline. The young girl was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau aboard one of the infamous death trains. Sixteen at the time, she found a way to survive the camp. But when that the Soviets liberated those that survived, they claimed Cecilia, known to her friends as Cilka, was an enemy of the state. Therefore, instead of freedom, Cilka is going from one imprisonment to another – Vorkuta, a Soviet Gulag. Also known as the White Hell, it was located in the Arctic Circle.

She is confused and angry. Only doing what she had to for survival, she is now condemned for the life she was forcibly thrust into by the Nazis. Once again, convicted without a trial she will pay for the perceived crimes of spying, prostitution and working with the enemy. She is sentenced to 15 years hard labor for merely trying to survive the atrocities of the Nazis. Many things in her life are shattered, but not her soul. She is a survivor.

In a place where prisoners rarely survived the extreme cold and backbreaking work, Cilka is befriended by Yelena, one of the doctors working for the Soviets. However, she is different from most of the other doctors. Instead of being assigned to the Gulag because of misconduct or some other offense, she is there because she chose to be there to help those that needed help in the brutal conditions. Yelena soon discovered that Cilka was smart and learned quickly. So began Cilka’s nursing career, which also gave her the knowledge and ability to help her fellow prisoners. Her life was still a living hell, but she found a way to survive.

Because the characters are based upon actual people, their stories impact the readers deeply. The places are real, and bring the readers into the camps. Death and demoralization breaks the characters by chipping away at them physically and mentally until they are mere shadows of themselves. With the help of the author, they will live on in the thoughts and minds of each person that reads this powerful story.

This novel is based on the real life of Cecilia Klein. Copious research has been done by the author to bring her story to life. Ms. Morris personalizes the horrors of the concentration camps as well as the Gulag. It is understood that no one can fully comprehend what happened to millions during the Holocaust, but books like Cilka’s Journey help us remember and warn us to never allow such atrocities to happen again.

Cilka’s Journey is the second book I’ve read by Heather Morris. The first was The Tattooist of Auschwitz. The books can be read in either order. Since Cilka’s Journey is not released until October 1, 2019, you may want to reserve your copy now and then read The Tattooist of Auschwitz first as it is available now.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Bookish First in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Fake – Mystery Ripped From Today’s Headlines

Fake

By John DeDakis

White House Correspondent Lark Chadwick has seen more than her fair share of dead bodies. But when Rose Gannon, the First Lady of the United States drops dead during an interview with Lark, it is beyond horrific. It was just bad luck that Lark was present at the time of Mrs. Gannon’s collapse, but she didn’t have to snap a picture of the President trying to revive his wife to no avail. Once the picture hit the papers, Lark’s life became more complicated than even she could have imagined.

Soon she again finds herself on the front pages, this time not as a reporter, but as the subject of a national controversy. She is accused of having an affair with President Gannon. Becoming a victim of the fake news stories her former colleagues post in the papers and on social media about her, losing her job in the story’s aftermath. Lark is determined to find out who leaked personal information which became the basis of the fake news story.

Much like the headlines of today, the stories bring strong feelings about Lark from friends, strangers and colleagues. Many feel as if they know the story and Lark without getting the facts. Becoming the judge, jury and jailer, some of the general public hates Lark without ever meeting her. Will someone take matters into their own hands?

Lark’s story could be taken from today’s headlines. She is merely doing her job to the best of her ability. Getting caught up in the court of public opinion to the point of being in danger is the last thing she imagined for her life.

DeDakis brilliantly combines the current trend of the general population’s personal feelings about public figures as well as the personal side from the accused point of view. The real consequences to the lies that have been published change lives.

The characters in Fake are brought to life in the realistic setting DeDakis creates. From the insider look into the lives of the White House press contingency to the appointments with a grief counselor, the characters are interesting and quickly become real to the reader. He touches on many hot topics in addition to the fake news thread that runs throughout. Sex abuse, the ethical decisions journalists make and the personal effects half-truths have on the characters are all brought to the reader to think about long after the last pages are read.

I love a book that is current and relevant in addition to telling an interesting story. Fake makes the reader think about the nightly news in a different, more personal way. The mystery of who leaked personal information was an additional layer of interest. Hopefully we will see more of Lark Chadwick in the future.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Toxic Octopus – Interestingly Informative Novel Wrapped in Fun

Toxic Octopus

By Lisa Haneberg

Xena Cali is a private investigator. She also owns Paradise Lost Spy Shop on Galveston Island.  Conveniently, she employs Sparky and Dora, the other members of her team. When a member of a local privately funded non-profit organization BARL is murdered Xena and her team are called in after the police determine Fred, a male octopus killed Dr. Jane Moore. Ari, the manager of the cephalopod lab, is sure Fred is not guilty and Xena agrees with him, especially after meeting Fred.

So begins the bizarre investigation including spy cams, Segway Personal Transporters and more danger than Xena could imagine when she agreed to take the case. Soon there is an additional murder that is linked to the case. She will have to use every trick in the book and several of the items she sells in her Spy Shop to catch the real killer and keep herself from being the third victim.

Toxic Octopus is an interestingly informative novel wrapped in fun. I learned more about octopuses than I could have imagined. Yes, the plural of octopus is really octopuses. I also found out that sadly, after mating, the male octopus dies and after laying her eggs the female octopus dies. I also learned all about freerunning, which is also called parkour. Xena practices this art of efficient movement adding ninja like fun to some very dangerous situations.

The plot moves along quickly, building tension until the killer is revealed. One of vehicles carrying the book is the characters’ quick wit and humor. Haneberg made me laugh out loud more than once, especially when Xena gives everyone she meets a different reason for the fashion choice she wears to a gala. There are times when Xena talks directly to the reader, much like the characters in the TV series Scrubs, and it absolutely works.

If you are a fan of Christopher Moore, you will love Toxic Octopus. Haneberg’s style is fun and informative – perfectly balanced with a solid plot and intriguing whodunit. This is the first book in the Spy Shop Mystery Series. The second book, Dead Pelican is available now. I cannot wait to read it.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Tin Badges – Fast Paced Page Turner

Tin Badges

By Lorenzo Carcaterra

New York City detectives Tank Rizzo and Pearl Monroe carried a gold badge up until the fateful day when both of them lost their jobs. But Pearl lost so much more. Now both of them hold a tin badge, one that has few privileges of their former life, but it does open some doors. The duo works cold cases that the NYPD doesn’t have time to investigate thanks to the Chief of Police that has a soft spot for both of them.

When the case involving a couple of young women, who are beaten and sexually abused is tossed their way, it is so cold they might need gloves to hold it. No one has worked it for a while because the ladies are most likely hookers and no one really seems to care. Tank and Pearl dig into the case with the help of their brilliant, yet ragtag group. They discover the assault is just the tip of the iceberg. One that is full of drugs, murders and gangs that the two with tin badges are determined to bring to justice.

As if Tank doesn’t have enough on his plate, the brother that he hasn’t spoken with in years dies in an icy car accident along with his wife. This leaves his now orphaned teenage nephew, Chris, living with him in his NY brownstone. Chris is smart, mad at the world and crushed that his parents are gone; leaving him with the only family he has but doesn’t know. Tank loved his brother and willingly takes in Chris. Now he has to keep his nephew safe while working the case, which isn’t going to be easy. Chris is a crime buff and wants to be part of the team that takes the bad guys down and the good news/bad news is he is an expert at finding information that Tank and his team needs.

This fasted paced novel has page-turning action and is filled with the passion the characters have for their jobs, families and friends. Tank is the perfect leading man in the group of brilliant but ragtag crime solvers. His connections to the NYPD and old mobsters create a cast that entertains readers from the first page to the last. His love of NY City is evident as the story unfolds and the secret he holds close to his heart kept me guessing throughout the story.

Carcaterra is a Native New Yorker. A writer for over twenty years, he is a NY Times number one bestselling author. The prolific author has written several books, one of which, Sleepers, was adapted as a film in 1996 of the same name. I can’t wait to read some of his other books. Hopefully there will be a sequel to Tin Badges or better yet, a series with these interesting, complex characters. If you are a fan of Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme or Patterson’s Alex Cross, you will love Tin Badges.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea

Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea

By Edwin Colin

with Deb Silva

As an eight-year-old, Edwin Colin, the author of this book, knew Shorty. It was 1953 when Colin’s father wars hired to be a full-time foreman at Corriganville, a Movie Ranch in nearby Simi Valley. Corriganville was owned by the famous stunt rider, Crash Corrigan, who was also and friend of Shorty Shea. So begins Colin’s fascination with the man who will be killed by Charles Manson and his followers right before the infamous  Tate and LaBianca murders.

Charles “Shorty” Shea was many things in his life. He was a horse wrangler, stuntman, husband, a U. S. Military Veteran and a victim of Charles Manson and his Family. Shorty wanted to be an actor in Westerns, but he seemed to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the time he made enough connections in the business, Westerns were not getting the funding to be produced as audiences no longer flocked to them.

He spent his last years working on the Spahn Ranch. He took care of the livestock, did some Wild West shows for dwindling crowds and had the unfortunate fate of meeting Charles Manson. Manson and his Family basically moved into Spahn Ranch and took it over. The owner, George Spahn was getting older and was nearly blind by the time Manson and his followers descended upon his property. For whatever reason, he let them stay.

Some say that Shorty’s death was a direct result of not ignoring Charles Manson. Not one to ever back down from confrontation, he did not like Manson and everyone knew it. Sadly, his stubbornness was most likely the reason Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan murdered him in cold blood on August 26, 1969.

Colin weaves a sordid insider look at the murder of Shorty Shea and subsequent deaths of Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas. With Deb Silva, the duo uncovered death certificates, autopsy results and firsthand accounts of the horrific crimes committed by the Manson Family. The small facts that surrounded the Spahn Ranch and those that lived there are fascinating to me. There are connections to famous actors, TV shows and events that most have heard of, but from a different, closer perspective. For example, one of men that participated in Shea’s death is now out of prison and another one is up for parole this year – but has dementia.

Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea is an entertaining work of non-fiction. The book is fascinating, but at times disjointed. There was a bit of repetition, as the author seemed to give the facts ahead of the timeline, then repeated with more detail later. Overall, it was an interesting insider look into the lives of the Manson Family as well as Shorty Shea and all of the people they encountered during this brief period of history.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery (https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/charles-manson-and-the-killing-of-shorty-shea-edwin-colin) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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