Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review - Death of a Diva

Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway

By: Brigitte Goldstein
Publisher: Pierredor Books
Publication Date: September 2014
ISBN: 978-0-692-24666-5
Reviewed by: Charline Ratcliff
Date: March 26, 2015

When I was asked to review Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway by Brigitte Goldstein, I was only too happy to accept. I love thrillers and mysteries (I was an avid Nancy Drew lover as a child) as well as Historical Fiction, and here was a book that looked like it combined both genres.

Finding some time (and the nearest quiet corner), I sat down to read. And let me tell you – Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway starts out with one heck of a bang. The much loved, admired, and idolized star of both stage and screen, actress Stella Berger, has been discovered brutally murdered.

Stella Berger, the heart stoppingly beautiful not to mention amazingly talented German-Jewish immigrant, the actress who, at the end of every performance would publicly pray that her homeland and the rest of the world be delivered from the “Nazi Scourge” now lies dead – strangled to death with a violin string. The entire world is shocked by this news and the list of suspects seeking Miss Berger’s demise is growing longer by the moment.

But let me shift your attention to Misia Safran – another German-Jewish immigrant, and one who worked at the theater where Stella Berger’s lifeless body was discovered. She is the prime suspect for this grisly murder – and if she isn’t the actual perpetrator then the police are certain that she's at least an accomplice who knows much, but is telling little.

Who was the homeless derelict that she allowed into the theater without making him buy a ticket? How does Misia really expect the police to believe that her grave ‘mistake,’ the one that claimed the life of an internationally adored public figure, had been done out of kindness only; with no ulterior motive?

Not getting what they want from Misia, she is 'released' – although she has now acquired two tails. And, she has also just espied the derelict that the police are still seeking...

I don’t want to provide any further details about Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway, but I certainly appreciated the European history tour that author Brigitte Goldstein took me on. This tale was a unique blend of geography, cultures and nationalities – spun back and forth inside a time when being a Jew, or being sympathetic to their plight, carried heavy penalties; including death.
While I know that Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway is not Goldstein's debut novel – it is only the second of her books that I've read. I'm certainly looking forward to reading her others because she's a great writer. Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway features appropriately descriptive scenes and the character dialogue/interactions make sense. In whole, the story flowed well with only a couple places where the 'telling' of the tale felt sluggish – but not enough to dampen my enjoyment.

Quill says: Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway was an interesting and intriguing read. Difficult to put down once started; and featuring a nice merry-go-round of 'who done it' character possibilities.

For more information on Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway, please visit the publisher's website at:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review - Night Is The Hunter

Night Is the Hunter: A Harlan Donnally Novel

By: Steven Gore
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-202509-8
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: March 21, 2015

Steven Gore treats his audience to the latest installment of his Harlan Donnally detective series: Night is the Hunter.

In the pristine beauty of winter making way for imminent spring, Harlan Donnally and his long-time friend, Judge Ray McMullin, stand immersed in their thoughts as they unconsciously cast their lines. In the quiet waters at the base of Mount Shasta, Donnelly assesses the troubled expression on McMullin’s face. This was supposed to be a day of fishing. Unfortunately it ended with Donnally’s realization he had yet another case to investigate—a case Donnally didn’t know would be the foundation for vindicating his friend’s death penalty decision. Twenty years before McMullin decided a case that would deposit a man on death row. Now it was Donnally’s turn to expose a corruption that ran far too deep and lay beneath an unstable surface for way too long.

Israel Dominquez was on death row for a gangland murder. He professed his innocence throughout the trial and never changed his story the closer he got to making his final journey to his execution. Sadly, nobody believed him. This is to say until Judge Ray McMullin decided to question his own processes leading to the decision of death (and the twenty year gap between the decision and the imminent day of reckoning is upon him). Was McMullin too young and entrenched in making his own legacy back then? Did his personal mission of notoriety cloud his judgments and has his conscience come back and tapped the Judge on his should before it’s too late? Or perhaps, Dominquez really is guilty and the fact he was a member of the notorious Norteno gang of Northern California solidified his inevitable fate. These along with many other questions were the foundation for Donnally to don his investigative cap once more and hone his skills to get to the truth no matter the damages that would be deposited in its wake.

In the three years I’ve been a book reviewer, I find myself often uttering the phrase: “...while I’ve yet to read any of XXX’s work, after reading XXX, I plan to go back and read...” Once again, my promise to do just that will hold true in the case of Steven Gore’s work. It is a sheer pleasure to pick up a book written by an author who clearly demonstrates he had the vision of how he would tell his story from the first paragraph on. In Night is the Hunter, Gore not only demonstrates a confident command of his pen, but displays the obvious: he had a thought and knew how he would play it out across the pages to not only engage his audience, but the end result would be a terrific detective thriller that manages to keep the reader on the edge of his seat throughout the read. If I had my druthers of what it is I like to read in a book, hands down it would be to see an intentional balance between prose and dialogue—dialogue taking the forefront more than prose. Gore portrays the ability to do so in Night is the Hunter. What makes this book even more interesting is his obvious knowledge of knowing his way around a homicide investigation. Why wouldn’t he given his credentials of “...renowned private investigator turned 'masterful' writer...”? Night is the Hunter takes real situations, current events that plague our society today and mixed together, what plays out is one, fine novel. Thanks Mr. Gore! This is a great read and I look forward to future adventures of Harlan Donnally.

Quill says: Night is the Hunter is a detective thriller that will have the reader engaged from the opening paragraph to the proverbial ‘the end.’

Book Review - Reluctantly Charmed

Reluctantly Charmed

By: Ellie O’Neill
Illustrated By: Eileen Carey
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication Date: March 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4767-5755-1
Reviewed By: Kristi Benedict
Review Date: March 25, 2015

One of the countries I have always wanted to visit is Ireland so anytime I find a book related to Irish folklore I definitely grab it up. With the book Reluctantly Charmed by Ellio O’Neill I was instantly swept up in the whimsical legends of fairies with a modern twist that made for a great and intriguing story.

When Kate McDaid comes upon her twenty-sixth birthday she has a few things she is focusing on to make better in the near future. One of those is her job where she has been hoping for a promotion, and then the other is her social life that has not been going so great up to now. However, she has a positive outlook on what is coming up next but never in a million years did she expect such an unusual invitation from a long gone relative. The invitation comes from a local attorney who requests Kate’s presence at the reading of a will of her great-great-great-grand aunt who was also named Kate McDaid. In this will Kate is told that she will inherit her ancestor’s estate if and only if she publishes a series of seven poems called “The Seven Steps.” Thinking that she could easily publish these steps on a forgotten blog page that no one will ever be interested in, Kate sees this as an opportunity to inherit something great, for an estate must include something extravagant. So, deciding to go through with publishing these steps she puts up the first poem not expecting anyone to see it or even care what it says, however she could not be more wrong.

In a matter of days Kate has a huge group of followers who are obsessed with these steps thinking that if they continue to read them they will be able to communicate with fairies. Suddenly Kate finds herself an instant but reluctant celebrity as she finds that being famous means nothing in her life is private. Now her every move is followed, her every word is listened to, and everyone is holding their breath as each of these seven steps are revealed. As she nears the final step, however, Kate may have to decide if publishing the seventh step will cause more harm than good.

From the very first page I enjoyed every bit of this story as I thought it expertly combined whimsical legends of the past with a modern setting. Using the blog on the internet as the way to publish the steps brought the story into the present as of course the internet is a huge part of everyone’s life. The changes that Kate McDaid had to make as she went through this journey made her easily relatable and each time I sat down with this book I could place myself in her shoes perfectly. This was a great book that I would recommend to anyone.

Quill says: This is a fantastic combination of a modern character and setting with an intriguing fantasy legend that will have you quickly turning pages.

Books In For Review

Check out the books that have just arrived for review!  Then stop by in a few weeks to read the reviews!

Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway by Brigitte Goldstein A veteran actress’s brutal murder at a Broadway theater in 1941 sets off a police investigation that reaches back to pre-WWI Vienna and 1920s Berlin in Brigitte Goldstein’s densely plotted noir mystery novel, Death of a Diva. In 1941 New York, the murder on Broadway of Stella Berger, famed star of screen and stage of Weimar Germany and outspoken critic of the Nazi regime which had forced her into exile, sends shock waves through the American public. The police act quickly, and the prime suspect, an emigrant street musician, is tried and put on death row. But Misia Safran, a young Jewish refugee from Germany and part-time employee at the theater who becomes inadvertently involved in the investigation, is haunted by the possibility of his innocence and a suspicion that there's more to the case than meets the eye. Determined to uncover the truth, Misia delves into Stella's background. She patches together the life of the revered actress from testimony by those who had been closest to her throughout her rise to stardom. From accounts of her humble origins in a Viennese ghetto to her rise to the pinnacle in the acting world of 1920's Berlin, to her battle with Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels, emerges the portrait of a woman of great strength of character and resolve, albeit one that conceals a vulnerable side which ultimately may have been the cause of her undoing. As Misia cuts through a bewildering thicket of lies, hidden agendas, and deceptions, she is met with intimations of a deep secret in Stella's past, evidence of which may be stored in the vault of a Swiss bank. If made public, this secret could provide the clue to the mystery, but could also destroy the star's carefully guarded public persona.  

Mom on the Road by Allyson Ochs Primack Shortly after she turned forty, Maggie Stevens took an unexpected journey that changed the course of her life. She didn't decide to visit all of the Earth's rain forests or spend months roaming through the African desert. It was not for scientific research nor was it for purposes of investigative journalism. Maggie’s journey took place in the most unlikely of places: on a bus with a bunch of actors. Think "Almost Famous," except instead of a teenage boy, it was a pre-pre-menopausal mom of three. Forced to face all of her fears on the road, Maggie must figure out how to get back the one thing she lost many years ago: herself. Inspired by the author’s own journey on the road while accompanying her son as his guardian on a Broadway tour and documented in the popular blog,  

Physical Literacy 12 Steps Pledge Ambassadorship by Steven C. McCartney Physical Literacy 12 Steps Pledge Ambassadorship is the passport that connects a path (the yellow brick road to health and fitness) for readers young and old: Or fit and unfit with 12 proven strategies according to scientific based research and national health and fitness objectives to learn how to workout smarter, stay healthier, reduce health disparities and build a healthier community globally. The rhythmic and metaphor of dance provides the vehicle in which the reader becomes engaged in the environment in which we live. Reading this educational and instructional tool can provide new understanding for young teen readers and adults by introducing 12 various topics on total health and fitness for personal best. In addition this book includes an Ambassador Certificate, Glossary, Total Fitness Chart, and Assessment Quiz. Rather than a get-fit-quick scheme, the Physical Literacy 12-Step Pledge Ambassadorship focuses on a lifetime of healthy behaviors and activities and is geared toward both the fit and the unfit. Whether children encounter the program in school physical education programs, at home, or during an extracurricular activity, they will discover something much larger than themselves. They will discover their ability to hone different aspects of their everyday lives in order to become healthy and stay healthy in both body and mind. The plan described within the Book is practical and completely attainable despite anyone’s current lifestyle. It was designed to be concrete, positive and completely inclusive with a number of goals that can be reached and celebrated over time. Individuals who take the time to implement these strategies will develop a core foundation that revolves around their overall well-being.

Road to Siran: Erin's Story by Behcet Kaya Erin Ozcomert, a beautiful, graduate student at UCLA, has always felt compelled to learn more about the little known stories of her father; stories that have been hidden from her since his death several years before. Leaving modern day Los Angeles, Erin is swept into the ancient customs and traditions of her father’s village in northeastern Turkey. What she learns there is not at all what she had expected to find. As she is enfolded into the loving arms of her Aunt Fatma Ozkoy, Erin discovers a place where tradition prevails in social ceremonies and family feuds are still kindling hatred and murder, torn by some never forgotten malice performed by past generations. Trying to integrate these discoveries, Erin is given the gift of her grandmother’s journal. Reading the handwritten treasure, her emotions are stripped raw as she uncovers her heritage and the answers to her questions. Forced to leave the village before she is ready, Erin returns to Istanbul only to discover more secrets from her father's past.  

Harmonology: An Insider's Guide to Healthy Relationships Through Music by Mr. Stephen John O'Connor A groundbreaking, practical and unique insight for transforming troubled relationships into positive ones. Whether you're single and searching for your "soul-mate," or want to heal the relationships you already have, the groundbreaking ideas in this book--and the inspiring stories of real people expressing the various interval relationships--will open you to a whole new world of possibilities. Because Harmonology is more than just a book. It's a great way of viewing your life.

Kittens Can Kill: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir by Clea Simon The dead don’t keep pets. So when animal behaviorist expert Pru Marlowe gets a call about a kitten, she doesn’t expect to find the cuddly creature playing beside the cooling body of prominent Beauville lawyer David Canaday. Heart attack? His three adult daughters angrily blame drug interactions, feline allergies—and each other. And begin to feud over their father, his considerable estate, and that cute ball of fluff. While the cause of death is pending, each sister has an axe to grind—with arguments that escalate when David’s partner reads out the will. Pru’s special sensitivity to animals, which caused her to flee the cacophony of Manhattan for the quiet Berkshires, adds further problems. The local vet is overwhelmed as the animal hospital's money runs out. There’s a needy Sheltie and some invasive squirrels, too. But the dead man’s kitten, his former partner, and his troublesome family keep drawing “wild-girl” animal psychic Pru back in. Despite the wry observations of her trusty tabby Wallis, now the wrongfully accused kitten’s guardian, and the grudging compliance of her cop lover, this may be one time when Pru can’t solve the mystery or save the kitten she wants to believe is innocent. A single witness knows the truth about that bright spring morning. How far can Pru investigate without risking her own hidden tale?

War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation by Cindy Hval America’s World War II is most often told through the stories of its great battles, when an entire generation of our young men was suddenly thrust across the oceans to represent the New World in deadly combat against the great powers of the Old. On sea, in the air, and on land our boys fought against totalitarian powers that threatened to overturn the American ideal of liberty for every individual, even civilization itself. But while often forgotten, America’s women participated too. On the home front they were more than willing to share in the hardships of wartime, and in countless cases they fairly lived and breathed with support for our troops overseas. Whether working in factories or taking care of families, rationing or volunteering, their unflagging support contributed more to our victories than has ever been told. From blind dates to whirlwind romances to long separations, War Bonds highlights stories of couples who met or married during WWII. Each of the 30 stories begins with a World War II-era song title and concludes with a look at wartime couples in their twilight, as well as when they were so hopeful and young and determined to save the world. Illustrated with photographs from the 1940's as well as current ones of each couple, War Bonds offers readers a glimpse of bygone days, as well as a poignant glimpse of our own.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The March issue of StoryMonsters Ink

The March issue of StoryMonsters Ink is now available! Visit to download the issue, subscribe & share! It's free!

March is National Reading Month! Each year at the beginning of the month, schoolchildren and their teachers hold special events to celebrate the birthday of the beloved Dr. Seuss. As far as I’m concerned, every month should be National Reading Month, and this issue of StoryMonsters Ink is chock-full of wonderful reads! Jennifer Bisignano has written a special book that children and adults will find very appetizing, Amber Nieves tells us a story about a very special bond between two unlikely friends, and Mark Watson explains how a chance encounter resulted in some very lovable characters. Check out our newest Story Monster Approved books and a great St. Patrick’s Day recipe and kids coloring page. Also, springtime has something rattling in the desert. Our super science and nature editor Conrad J. Storad tells us how the warm weather wakes up a certain slithering creature. Read all about it inside! Because as Dr. Seuss said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know, and the more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Click here to download this month's issue!

SMI cover March

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book Review - The Great Zoo of China

The Great Zoo of China

By: Matthew Reilly
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: January 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4767-4955-6
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: March 14, 2015

Matthew Reilly resurrects medieval creatures and gives them the spotlight in his latest thriller, The Great Zoo of China.

The Chinese government has carefully guarded their secret for forty years, afterall, it takes time to perfect the re-evolution of dragons. Soon they will release the proof of their existence to the world. In the final stages of doing just that, the final step has arrived. With the arrival of New York Times reporters along with expert on reptiles, Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron (currently a writer for National Geographic), China is finally standing in the wings of recognition as the creator of the most incredible zoo in the world.

Gathered in the theatre for a brief presentation before the tour, CJ and the rest of the esteemed visitors are about to witness the protected forty year secret of the Chinese government. Assured by their Chinese hosts the shock and awe of the American visitors will barely be contained once they have the opportunity to witness the beasts, dragons, which they are assured are perfectly safe and nothing can possibly go wrong. Perhaps arrogance clouded the Chinese naiveté or maybe they hadn’t calculated precisely enough the power of the beasts they were about to unleash for the world to see...

Matthew Reilly is every kid’s dream come true when it comes to taking the impossible and putting it to reality in a book. Not since the emergence of Jurassic Park has there been a story that could top such a premise. This is to say until Reilly decides to replace those dinosaurs with the real “Knights of the Roundtable”: dragons! At no time does this story drag with too much scientific explanation or ad nauseum dialogue. Rather, Reilly grabs his audience, spends the first couple of chapters outlining the scientific credibility and the balance of the book rips through page upon page of high action adventure. Reilly portrays epic battle beast upon beast and the blood, gut and gore that is worthy of survival of the fittest only to draw the reader back to a “…meanwhile, on the other side of the park…” moment. There are no twenty minute long, scientific words which is brilliant! Rather, Reilly cuts to the chase with crisp sentences linked together one upon the next to blast a power shot of a paragraph into the reader’s face. Mr. Reilly has earned the title of “International Bestselling Author” and with books like The Great Zoo of China, there is no question his throne and title shall remain intact. Well done, Mr. Reilly! This was a roller coaster of a read and I look forward to the next ride.

Quill says: The next time you visit a zoo, take a moment to consider: “Are we observing the animal...or is the animal observing us?”

Book Review - Nonna Tell Me a Story: Lydia’s Egg-citing Farm Adventure

Nonna Tell Me a Story: Lidia’s Egg-citing Farm Adventure

By: Lidia Bastianich
Illustrated by: Renée Graef
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Publication Date: February 2015
ISBN: 978-0762451265
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: March 14, 2015

What fun! It’s a sleepover party at Nonni Lidia’s house! All the grandchildren have come and the night gets off to a great start as they tell stories in the living room. One story scares Julia and Lorenzo teases her, saying, "Don’t be such a chicken!" Well, gosh, that sure gets Nonni going – telling the kids all about chickens and eggs and all the amazing things they provide.

Nonni begins by talking about her childhood, how she grew up on a farm, and helped take care of the family’s chickens. She tells her grandchildren about the chickens’ personalities and how they provided food for the whole family. Story time soon comes to an end and it’s off to bed for the children.

The next morning Nonni makes an egg-celent frittata for everybody and gets Miles to help prepare the meal. Realizing the children don’t know much about chickens (no, they really don’t start life at the grocery store), it’s time for a trip to a real farm. Soon the gang is headed off to “Hobbs Family Organic Poultry Farm” to learn all about chickens and eggs.

Author Lidia Bastianich is an accomplished author, with numerous cookbooks to her credit. She also enjoys sharing her love of cooking with children through her ‘Noona Tell Me a Story’ series. In this third book in the series, children will learn where some of their food comes from, enjoy a nice story, and get to try their hand at cooking. The author has included several savory recipes in the back of the book, with notations on what children can do to help prepare each meal. The soft, lovely illustrations by Renée Graef add that perfect ‘cozy feel’ that reminds readers of enjoying mealtime with their favorite grandmother. While the text may be a bit long for younger readers (ages 4 and lower), older children who love to cook will find the book delightful.

Quill says: A fun story that teaches children where their food comes from and will encourage them to give cooking a try.