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1960s Saigon War and Culture

13 Months in Vietnam - Bill Kroger

The majority of Vietnam stories take place mid-war after the fighting has begun. Relatively few start in the early phases of the war, when soldiers were professional Army enlistees who viewed themselves differently, and whose experiences were substantially dissimilar from soldiers who followed in their footsteps. 13 Months in Vietnam reveals those early years as it follows a squadron who travels the country in 1963, before the major shooting begins.

 

The first thing to note is that because of this pre-war story, the action is quite different than the usual Vietnam-era saga. Although it is penned by an enlisted soldier who spent 13 months in Vietnam traveling from Saigon to near the North Vietnam border, and is thus based on true events, it also incorporates a sense of place, people, and social and political perspectives which are quite different from the typical in-country story line.

 

The soldiers who enter Vietnam in this story are teens on the cusp of adulthood: as such, they carouse, have ambitions and dreams about the wider world, and demonstrate a perspective that involves much more than their roles in Vietnam, which slowly unfolds as circumstances change.

 

In a way, 13 Months in Vietnam is more of a classic coming-of-age story than a tale of military experience: readers can see the protagonist and his buddies growing, learning, and changing before their eyes. Of course, Vietnam is their focal point, and there are battles and cultural conflicts; but there are also moments of comic interlude even in the heart of danger and plenty of descriptions of evolution amidst a tour of duty that grows ever more challenging to the close-knit group.

 

At first the boys respond to the action with excitement. It's almost like TV - immediate and interactive; yet seemingly distant. It takes a series of events turn the boys from a tight-knit group to a close-knit company where the reality of death sinks in, overcoming the thrill of seeing action. As they imbibe and relive experiences, there are plenty of moments of reflection and growth.

 

Are they really protecting liberties and American ideals? Or is something else happening?

 

More so than most novels about the Vietnam era, 13 Months in Vietnam offers an often-intimate, realistic perspective of how boys turn into men and the thought processes that careen from excitement to hard realizations about individual choices and their impact and life and death.

 

Readers who seek a gritty, first-person perspective that fully embraces the evolutionary growth of boys to men under battle conditions, and who want a better-rounded view of the culture and experiences of Vietnam than battle scenes alone, will find 13 Months in Vietnam more than fits the bill for a thought-provoking, extraordinary survey of responsibilities, worries, and the culture and social atmosphere of 1960s Saigon.

A 19th Century True Renaissance Woman

Portrait of Young Genius: The Mind and Art of Marie Bashkirtseff (Vernon Series on the History of Art) - Joel L Schiff

Marie Bashkirtseff was no ordinary 19th century woman. Her aristocratic Ukrainian family moved to Paris, where she was privately tutored and blossomed into a young woman who spoke many languages, played numerous musical instruments, and longed for a stage career, but turned her hand to painting. She soon began exhibiting her work at the notable annual Paris Salon, the premier venue for artists.

 

As if this weren't enough, she was also a philosopher and writer, and her journal of some 20,000 pages has been pared down here to supplement Joel L. Schiff's survey of her amazing artistic prowess in Portrait of a Young Genius: The Mind and Art of Marie Bashkirtseff.

 

With such a palette of genius to choose from as far as what to profile, it must have been a real challenge to adequately represent Marie Bashkirtseff's many abilities in the confines of a single book. How many others dream of founding an art school for women (just one limitation of her sex that she railed against) in the 1800s, for just one example?

 

One doesn't expect fierce rivalries to enter the portrait of a woman of these times, but this, too, reflects Marie's abilities, fiery personality, and determination, fueling a biography that traces more than her genius alone and placing it in historical, social, and psychological perspective.

 

Given these disparate facets, it would have been impossible to adequately represent Marie's world through standard biographical third-person exploration; which is why Schiff adopts an unusual mode of presentation: he begins with the usual biographical survey of her life, but then allows her own voice to speak in a second section which profiles a single journal excerpt (in English translation from the original French) on each left-hand page, juxtaposed with one of her art pieces on its facing page. (It should also be noted that vintage photos and illustrations pepper the rest of the survey, as well, adding visual emphasis to an outstanding woman's world.)

 

While Portrait of a Young Genius will undoubtedly find a place in artists’ collections, it would be a shame to see its audience limited to artists alone. Women's history holdings, especially those strong in biographical portraits of extraordinary individuals whose stories have largely been lost over time, will find Portrait of a Young Genius a 'must have' addition, not only capturing this young woman's life, but synthesizing its meaning with a sense of her times and the limitations imposed upon women. 

 

Portrait of a Young Genius is very, very highly recommended for its multi-faceted approach and wide-ranging discussions, designed to keep readers immersed to the end and involved in the life of a woman they likely have never heard of before, but will come to intimately know and deeply admire.

A Spicy Romance About Dreams and Realities

At the Heart of the Stone - Roxanne D. Howard

London fiancée Lark Braithwaite should be dreaming of her beloved and their new life together - not some sultry Irish stranger. But in reality, her betrothed, Charles, is already controlling and less desirable than the stranger in her erotic dreams: a fact that puts the damper on her marriage ideals.

 

At the Heart of the Stone traces the evolution of her mysterious dreams and how they juxtapose with the difficult realities in her life, bringing her to a slow, simmering reality that what she's experiencing with Charles is less than she might hope for.

 

As a busy businesswoman, Lark doesn't have time to make her dreams a priority until something changes, and suddenly she's called home to Oregon to attend her father's funeral; there to meet the elusive, passionate man in those dreams, handsome stranger Niall O’Hagan, in person.

 

Though it should be mentioned that At the Heart of the Stone is filled with graphic sexual scenes, these are part of a greater plot's appeal; not the heart of the story. Forced to confront family relationships and issues of the past, evidence of long-distance infidelity, and the rising need not only for a special, different kind of lover but the kind of lasting relationship that forces her to be more open and honest overall, Lark discovers that everything is changing in her life.

 

At the Heart of the Stone employs a combination of sexual power and emotional growth to fuel its special brand of intimacy and revelation, following Lark's progression and growth not only sexually and emotionally, but as a more engaged, active participant in life.

 

Opening her heart to Niall involves more than being exceptionally candid - it requires the kind of maturity Lark never experienced with Charles, and comes with a new set of decisions. Her journey brings readers along for a heady ride into these revised possibilities, creating a story that is high-powered on more than one level.

 

Sexually erotic, emotionally compelling, and spiced with evolving passion, At the Heart of the Stone is recommended reading for anyone who likes their romance stories steamy and powerful.

Vivid Native American History for All Ages!

Native American Action Stories - Alvin R. Brown

Native American Action Stories: Exciting Events in Nine Different Tribes appears in its third revised edition and broadly defines 'events' as moving beyond military confrontations and into areas of competition, hunting, village attacks and more. It also embraces and rewrites the history of tribes across North and Central America, which makes for a satisfyingly different contrast of tribes, history, and actions. This different approach features a fine re-definition of Native actions and life challenges and is especially user-friendly for its intended adolescent audience with its larger font style and an accessible, inviting format. 

 

This author's note highlights the unique approach of these stories: "Fight-to-the-death forest ambushes by Northeastern natives in the dense forests; athletic games--similar to lacrosse--so physically demanding that natives of the Southeast referred to these contests as "Little Brother of War"; Eskimos stalking large polar bears near the frigid Arctic Circle; Aztec sacrificial combat held in the capital of their kingdom--all of these actions were experienced by certain groups in different parts of the Americas."

 

All this said, readers who expect battle scenarios may be surprised to find the depth of history presented in these stories, which includes plenty of political background and discussions of intertribal relationships and how these were affected by the arrival of the white man.

 

These nonfiction reader notes accompany each story and add to the tales of tribal encounters and experiences, making this collection of interest far beyond its intended juvenile readership. 

 

Anyone who wants a lively, well-rounded survey of Native American history will find Native American Action Stories a fine pick that doesn't sacrifice historical fact for the sake of action, but combines both in a vivid, memorable series of tales highly recommended for all ages. 

An Intriguing New Medical Perspective for Type 2 Diabetics

Diabetes: The Real Cause and The Right Cure - John M Poothullil MD

Diabetes: The Real Cause and The Right Cure: 8 Steps to Reverse Your Diabetes in 8 Weeks states its main case right on the cover, clarifying the approach Dr. Poothullil takes in a book that maintains that diabetes is a curable condition: "Type 2 diabetes is not due to insulin resistance; it’s your diet. See how you can stop taking medication or injecting insulin." 

 

This perspective is especially intriguing for Type 2 diabetics because it focuses on a very different medical explanation for the cause and reversal of high blood sugar and diabetes than other diabetes books offer. It also places more control over the condition in the hands of readers who could change their lifestyle choices in order to eliminate the disease. The book is not for Type 1 diabetics, where the pancreas is actually damaged; but Type 2s will find it packed with specifics that contrast old theories about diabetes with the author's new perspective on its causes and why certain medicines only appear to work if insulin resistance isn't really the cause of the Type 2 diabetic's problem. The chapters make a strong case for eliminating grains from one's diet and taking better control of one’s eating choices. The 8 steps offer a relatively easy-to-implement program most will find easy to follow. 

 

Aware that such a simple program promoting a 'cure' could be seriously questioned, Dr. Poothullil addresses initial concerns right from the beginning ("If you think that diabetes is your destiny because one or both of your parents had it, you will learn that what you have inherited is only a potential. If you think Type 2 diabetes cannot be “cured,” this book will show a completely different picture."), advocating a self-help program that requires only a willingness to self-assess in order to prove successful: "To avoid Type 2 diabetes, your goal must be to take back control of your body and rediscover or reconnect with your authentic weight. You know when your weight is right for you because your brain knows when your fat cells are not full and your blood is not full of fatty acids and glucose." 

 

The book is a no-brainer must-read for any Type 2 diabetic who truly wants to change, and who is open to consider a new scientific equation for understanding their diabetes along with different approaches to not just control it, but eliminate it from one's life. All that's required is a willingness to change lifestyle choices. 

 

The Price of Peace

Price Of Eden: Aquarius Rising Book 3 (Volume 3) - Brian Burt

Price of Eden represents the final book in the Aquarius Rising trilogy; and because it's the culmination of events and tensions raised in prior volumes, it's recommended for followers of Brian Burt's series who will appreciate the smooth continuation of a story that revolves around a civil war that erupts in an underground kingdom after a series of carefully crafted plagues are let loose.

 

Ocypode, an Aquarian Atavism, has successfully foiled a deadly plot; but he's ultimately charged with bringing together two very different factions in a race against time and political alliances, and his perceived destiny as a mythic peacemaker may be an impossible role for him to accept.

 

Familiarity with the prior books in the series will lend to an appreciation of Ocypode's agony and conflicts as he strives to achieve the impossible in an underwater realm which may be the last enclave of a much-changed world.

 

From restless spirits with psychic harpoons to terrorism's barbaric but effective choices, high-stakes encounters between Humans and Aquarians, Guardian friends who watch over Ocypode and prevent him from making stupid mistakes, and the slaughter of innocent humans through competing bioweapons, Price of Eden provides a fast-paced romp through a world that holds different, competing options for survival, and considers both the sacrifices of war and the impossible circumstances of continued existence.

 

As moral and ethical questions about friendships and associations permeate a greater story of this war's impact on all involved, Price of Eden evolves beyond bloodlust and outrage to walk a delicate line between a survival story and a political sci-fi thriller. Descriptions of advanced technology used for warfare (nanomechs and viral mutagens) and the price to be paid for choices that result in dubious 'win' situations for only some contribute to a story line charged not just with action, but with thought-provoking dilemmas.

 

Fans of his prior books will appreciate the unexpected directions Brian Burt takes as he ultimately considers the real nature and definition of 'Eden' and the price all will pay to forge new paths towards peace. 

 

A Feisty Female in Trouble!

Pop-Out Girl - Irene Woodbury

Pop-Out Girl will appeal to fans of women's fiction who look for stories of feisty females in difficult situations and provides the realistic story of a couple challenged when an ex-boyfriend leaves prison and begins stalking them. Jealousy and its dangerous course is one of the primary themes of the story as Jen and Colton face a dangerous convict who still has the idea that Jen is his girlfriend, despite obvious indicators otherwise - and who has no intention of letting her go.

 

As violent encounters escalate and drag innocents into Zane's quest to regain his position in Jen's life, Jen faces difficult decisions that test her resolve, her future, and her inclination to view the world through the eyes of an optimistic romantic. 

 

Jen's career, also shelved, was serving as a 'pop-out girl': one who emerges from giant cakes to then sing, dance, and provide a stripper show for special events. This theme - of emergence, daring, and putting on a display - pops up through the story, which foregoes a slow build-up in favor of a vivid kidnapping scene and just keeps escalating from there.

 

Jen's perspective isn't the only focus to this story: Jen's mother Brandi, who is a cocktail waitress, faces the fact that her first love from long ago, Jen's father, has also inadvertently become part of Zane's dangerous spree, and her involvement and perspective are also developed as one of the strong threads connecting family and love.

From how Jen squeezed a romance with Colton into her busy career as a pop-up girl to the terrors of being stalked by a relentless ex with murderous intentions on his mind, Pop-Out Girl excels in interconnected subplots and in capturing a winning background filled with the glitz and glamour of its Vegas setting.

 

There were a few lapses in punctuation, for example, a period left off the end of a sentence ending with quotation marks. But these instances do not detract from the overall plot.

 

Women who look for realistic, powerful stories of love and survival, jealousy and confrontation, and change will find Pop-Out Girl a winning leisure choice that probes troubled relationships, alienation, and the long and rocky path to home.

New Facts About The Iconic 'Sweater Girl'!

Lana Turner: Hearts and Diamonds Take All (Blood Moon's Babylon Series) - Darwin Porter, Danforth Prince

Lana Turner: Hearts and Diamonds Take All belongs on the shelves of any collection strong in movie star biographies in general and Hollywood evolution in particular, and represents no lightweight production, appearing on the 20th anniversary of Lana Turner's death to provide a weighty survey packed with new information about her life.

 

One would think that just about everything to be known about The Sweater Girl would have already appeared in print, but it should be noted that Lana Turner: Hearts and Diamonds Take All offers many new revelations not just about Turner, but about the movie industry in the aftermath of World War II.

 

From Lana's introduction of a new brand of covert sexuality in women's movies to her scandalous romances among the stars, her extreme promiscuity, her search for love, and her notorious flings - even her involvement in murder - are all probed in a revealing account of glamour and movie industry relationships that bring Turner and her times to life.

 

Some of the greatest scandals in Hollywood history are intricately detailed on these pages, making this much more than another survey of her life and times, and a 'must have' pick for any collection strong in Hollywood history in general, gossip and scandals and the real stories behind them, and Lana Turner's tumultuous career, in particular.

A Thriller/Fantasy's Futuristic Challenge

Elthea's Realm (The Story of Elthea's Realm) (Volume 1) - John Murzycki

Elthea’s Realm is part thriller, part fantasy, and part futuristic sci-fi. Its plot revolves around five former college student friends whose almost-forgotten assignment for a course called The Utopia Project becomes of sudden interest for a force's deadly purposes.

 

Brought together after eight years, the members of the former utopia team have drifted into different careers and lives, but the force of perplexing text messages demands attention ("You have been warned once Philip Matherson. We will tolerate no further delay. Give us all information on the Utopia Project.").

 

While the story's opening salvo would seem to define it as a thriller, the events that follow rapidly move it into the realm of a fantasy as civilization is threatened, a benevolent force transports the friends to the enchanting world of Elthea's Realm, and they discover the devil in paradise in the form of Bots which they are tasked with confronting in order to save both Earth and their new home.


The desire to create a better society which evolves from the influence of Earth's circumstances, hard lessons learned when the young team first developed their vision of a utopian world, and issues ranging from the nature of evolution and being human to the benefits of failure all coalesce into a story that provides a haunting reflection on the challenges of perfection and the benefits of adversity.

 

In most fantasies, there are clear focuses on magic and processes that are counterpoints to reality. The result is that too many fantasy stories that involve magic or other worlds are disengaged from reality, which often translates into flat characters and one-dimensional, action-based plots.

 

The joy of Elthea’s Realm lies in its ability to combine both fantasy and thriller elements, using real-world Earth situations to bring social, psychological and political elements into a setting replete with magic and challenge.

 

What defines utopia? What happens when the instruments of humanity become its potential overlords?

 

Elthea’s Realm is an inviting recommendation for cross-genre fans who enjoy fantasy stories imbibed with thrilling action and heartfelt inspection. The plot is engaging and fast-paced, but the inclusion of a bigger picture translates to a thought-provoking read which lingers in the mind long after the story's final revelations about technology and humanity's interconnected futures.

 

Building A Child's Imagination!

Imagination Bigger Together - Casey Rislov, Stephen Adams

Imagination Bigger Together receives colorful, large-size drawings by Stephen Adams as it explores the limitless possibilities of a fertile imagination in a way young kids can easily understand.

 

Four animal friends get together to play a pirate game and discover that the sum of their collective imaginations far surpasses what any of them could accomplish alone.

 

As the four imagine the adventures they experience on the 'high seas' and the exciting places they will visit far beyond their wildest dreams, young picture book readers and their read-aloud parents will enjoy a fun survey that begins with a world cruise and leads to a rock hunt for hidden gems, exploring a secret garden, mud puddle romping, and more.

 

The emphasis on backyard play and how it can be enhanced by an active imagination makes for an engaging story that blends real-world observations and encounters with a spice of imaginative process encouraging kids to foster and accept their own playful fantasies. A backyard map offers visual emphasis about each of these adventures, which are created with a combination of a child's imaginative ideas and toys. Each point on the map holds a new spot for adventure, whether it be digging for treasure, taking a hot-air balloon ride, or encountering strange critters.

 

Parents will find this a fun way of reviewing various kinds of imaginative applications for daily life encounters, while kids will appreciate the bright, large drawings of animal friends who pair a lively and fun prance through the world with a healthy dose of creative thinking.

An Action-Packed Young Adult Fantasy

The Waterfall Traveler: Book 1 - S.J. Lem, Aaron S. Kaiserman

Book One of this young adult fantasy introduces its tale with a map showing an island off the shore of a land mass which includes such intriguing images as a castle at Sea Dragon's Point and a mountain range called Funeral Mountains. This provides a visual sense of the landscape and adds an element of intrigue right from the start. Enhancing the sense of adventure is a prologue that features a goddess, her brother Death, and her sister Fate, who together weave a new world. 

 

But this sense of magic and intrigue received an immediate, satisfying twist when protagonist Ri awakens to a dilemma which also forges a solid sense of place in just a few sentences.

 

Ri's adoptive father Samuel is ill. He suffers from incurable hallucinations, and she has to watch his every move while solidly rejecting the notion that he can't be healed. But she's stymied in her goal of helping him until she meets two strangers in the forest who have their own agendas, and faces a choice that could either cure Samuel or imprison her in another realm. 

 

The Waterfall Traveler combines an epic quest with a caring girl's coming of age and offers much to young adult fantasy readers. Perhaps its greatest strength lies in its ability to craft a tale with very realistic goals and concerns as Ri faces dangerous plots and counters many plans with her own.

 

It's always pleasing to see determination, grit, and personal struggle cementing an action-packed story, and The Waterfall Traveler provides these elements and more, never neglecting personal psychology in favor of adventure. Ri is continually challenged and meets these dangers head-on; but always with very real fears behind her bravado, and this is just one element that lends authenticity to the action.

 

As her relationships and choices drive the story, young adult (and many an adult) readers will find Ri's determination and rationales powerful driving forces to the story line, which lends it a flavor that makes it thoroughly engrossing and hard to put down. 

 

Can't wait for Book Two!

A Legendary Staff, Intrigue, and Power Plays!

Exodus '95 - Kfir Luzzatto

Claire Williams is a young graphic designer in New York City whose kindness to a dying neighbor leads him to reward her with a long-kept secret: the whereabouts of Moses' legendary lost staff. But is his secret really safe with her? She harbors a secret of her own that might not make her the best choice for keeping his, and even though she has assistance for what turns out to be an international journey of discovery, this secret may eventually betray everything.

 

But, why is Claire privy to this information? Jack makes her legacy - and his choices - quite clear. And, her own actions and reactions are equally clear.

 

Exodus '95 is an edgy thriller that spices its espionage and international romp with a sexual flavor that draws readers in to Claire's lifestyle and choices.

 

An ingenious machine, a complicated set of surprises involving the KGB, and ruthless enemies and high stakes are all faced by Claire, who maintains a feisty conviction that the staff will lead her out of her drab life much as Moses used it to lead his followers to freedom. But in any journey, there are costs, and these penalties are outlined in an adventure story packed with intrigue, twists, and turns.

 

One of the twists (without giving away the plot) is that Jack is not what he seems, and is using Claire and taking advantage of her trust. Another twist involves Claire's strange hold over Dan.

 

As relationships and plots evolve, Exodus '95 challenges the reader with many powerful, thought-provoking moments that take the story of a legendary staff and its powers and accelerate it to new levels of intrigue and interpersonal connections. Thriller readers who enjoy the spicy edge of

sex and romance will find this an intriguing story of mistakes, dire consequences, and change.

A Parable of Spirituality and Hope

Light on the Mountain - Dr. Stewart Bitkoff

Light on the Mountain will appeal to readers of spiritual fiction and spirituality, those who enjoy philosophical parables, and new age audiences; especially those confronting a new era of despair and hopelessness. It offers a message for each of these readers in the form of the fictional prophecy of an Ancient One who has been sleeping for 1,000 years, and whose awakening will lead the city people out of oppression and pain to confront their demons and solve their problems.

 

This is the basic message of a newly-awakened Ancient One who uses the lives of disparate individuals to chronicle how this kind of awakening spirit moves differently in and for each of them.

 

From the beginning, Light on the Mountain's atmosphere is ethereal and winding. There's a sense of uplifting energy and upward movement to the characters as they explore what this awakening means to them, and there's also a survey of God's will, questions and answers and the forms they take, their impact, and a message of hope that streams from the Ancient One to mankind as a whole.

 

The generalities of this light and its bringer lend an 'everyman' feel of universality to the story that considers the different effects of transformation on a disparate group of individuals. How soldiers and messengers react differently to these admonitions and insights, for one example, is gently crafted into a story that holds much meaning for any spiritual thinker who could take virtually any religious history in the world and compare it to the enlightening force described in Light on the Mountain.

 

The difference lies in its presentation: where other spiritual disciplines might detail a singular path to enlightenment, Light on the Mountain contains a wider-ranging approach that includes the perspective of the light-bringer as well as those affected by it.

 

Of additional note is the political impact of this spiritual force on the kingdom, and the issues of control and authority it raises.

 

The prerequisite to thoroughly appreciating this tale is a desire to question life's greater meaning. Readers with such an interest will find Light on the Mountain may look like a light read, with its fable format and 99 pages, but contains a powerful message that's particularly meaningful in these times.

 

It's a parable of hope and an affirmation of the power of Light in the face of personal, political, and social darkness, and its ability to both enlighten and entertain makes for a winning combination that considers possible paths to a better world.

 

A Journey from Corporate to Cuba

Cubicle to Cuba: Desk Job to Dream Job - Heidi Siefkas

Heidi Siefkas isn't the first author to leave a corporate job for a life of writing and adventure; but she's one of the few who found this path heading to Cuba: a land exotic, forbidden, and in many ways not too far from her own familiar world. And while her adventures begin with and always seem to return to Cuba, they embrace a lifestyle that takes her on world travels which are also narrated here. 

 

Cubicle to Cuba: Desk Job to Dream Job follows Heidi Siefkas through Cuba after she makes a life-changing decision that catapults her from a safe, secure, albeit demanding cubicle job to an uncertain, vivid life as a world-traveling writer, and it "...will teach you about Cuba, but it will also inspire you to think out of the cubicle, travel more, and embark on your own Life 2.0." 

 

Unlike many workers, Siefkas didn't leave because her job was changing for the worse. She left because she felt 'stuck' in the choices she'd made, even though she was in a managerial position at a new start-up. The overall structure of her life was frustrating, so when an unexpected call from a friend offered the chance to travel to Cuba in a new capacity as a tour guide, she decided to take the plunge into the unknown and accept far different working conditions than the set roles and cubicle world politics that were stifling her. 

 

Cubicle to Cuba chronicles this process of change, but what really sets it apart from a travelogue or the usual "I left my job for freedom" approach is the author's attention to detailing the daily experiences of Cuban travel and life; especially when she outlines the spirit of Cuba's peoples.

 

With passages such as these, Cubicle to Cuba deftly reveals the heart of the country and its peoples, juxtaposing cultural observations with travel tips and experiences revolving around bathrooms, water, safety, and more. After setting its foundations in Cuba, Siefkas visits and contrasts other places using a precise "you are there" feel and specific insights that allow for clear comparisons of Cuba's differences to, say, Hawaii.

 

Cubicle to Cuba is a lively journey that is highly recommended for general readers and, especially, for two audiences: those who want experiential accounts of Cuba, and corporate workers who dream of taking the leap into a different kind of lifestyle. 

Mystery, Wildlife Rights, and Coming of Age in Florida!

Gasparilla's Gold - Sandra Markle

Twelve-year-old Gus has been sent to live with his aunt on a Florida wildlife refuge after the family suffers from the loss of his older brother, but it's just one more change in a life filled with new things: an absent brother, the sale of their Manhattan home, and his father's relocation to Seattle.

 

But some things don't change: his fears about the unfamiliar and unpredictable world and the memories of his brother, which can arise from even innocuous life events like being caught in the rain.

 

Middle grade readers follow Gus as he encounters the unfamiliar at every step: bats, coyotes, a spunky girl named Fiona, and an aunt who reveres the wildlife she lives amongst.

 

About halfway through the book, Gus begins to realize where he really belongs - just as he's on the cusp of leaving. Add a mystery revolving around wild animals, rancher rights, the plight of the vanishing Florida panther to the saga of a boy beginning to realize his place in the world and you have a story line filled with courage and confrontation.  Sandra Markle weaves a compelling story that holds many different attractions, promising to interest high/low readers who enjoy mysteries and animal tales couched in the attraction of powerful personalities.

 

A Very Different Kind of Rapunzel Tale

In a Gilded Cage - Mia Kerick

Fairy tale retellings usually add a twist into the story - sometimes major; sometimes minor - but Mia Kerick's approach is darker and more striking than usual as she takes the Rapunzel story and adds a notably tragic element which embraces everything from a child's sale (a strange kind of "win-win" situation which gives his needy parents both money and a better life for their son) to the evolution of a strange relationship that can only be changed by a handyman's intervention.

 

The vision of Rapunzel as being a young man in need of rescue is indeed quite a different perspective, and as the story line evolves, readers will come to realize that a change in gender isn't the only difference between this Rapunzel and its classic predecessor.

 

From insights on dysfunctional family relationships and the experience of being a victim in a gilded cage (which also holds its benefits) to the efforts of an outsider to change the destiny and entrapped position of the alluring, damaged Lucci Grimley, In a Gilded Cage requires of its readers a flexibility and liberal outlook. Those without such attributes who unsuspectingly pick up the novel might find its tenants challenging and possibly offensive; but Mia Kerick's intention isn't to shock or disgust; but to provide a powerful story that winds family relationships, interpersonal connections, and the concept of a gilded cage's allure and dangers into a compellingly different vision of the Rapunzel mythos.

 

If you never leave your mansion-cave, what could you possibly need or desire outside of it? As an evolving friendship brings with it deeper questions, both characters move out of their self-imposed gilded cages and into uncharted territories.

 

Readers who pick up In a Gilded Cage expecting another predictable retelling of a fairy tale will be amazed - and delighted - by how far this author stretches the original story line's concepts in a dark social and psychological challenge to the innocence of the original Rapunzel story of seduction and love.