Monday, May 28, 2012


mr. glamourmr. glamour by Richard Godwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw


Readers of Richard Godwin’s APOSTLE RISING who wondered how Richard could possibly follow up on that brilliant and macabre masterpiece need wonder no longer.  The question is answered resoundingly with Mr. Glamour, a tight, well-written psychological thriller written in Richard’s trademark noir / horror styling.

A novel rich in detail and innuendo, Mr. Glamour plunges the reader into the wickedness and debauchery of the ‘jet set’ and the psychoses of two worlds colliding – the watcher and the watched - where the lines between victim and instigator are not always sharply defined.  To paraphrase a song… ‘faith has been suffered and tears will be shed’.  And blood.


When a fisherman casts his line out in the water, he has to be patient… very patient sometimes… and wait for his prey to take the bait.

Writers have not such a luxury… they must reach out and grab the reader quickly… in those first few words… and sink the hook deep… keeping the reader on the line until the final line of that last chapter… until ‘~finis~’.   Otherwise, the reader loses interest and moves on to the next promising cover.

Richard Godwin knows this well, as evidenced in the opening lines of Mr. Glamour

“She has the eyes of a pit viper and the mouth of an angel.”

With that line, the ‘bait’ is taken and a few lines down, the hook is firmly set -

“Her flesh is so soft,
It will split like a peach skin,
You know the fine spray that shoots out from the fruit
On a hot summer’s day
As you run the paring knife along the contour…”

There are but a small handful of writers who can pen the warm, provocative image of a piece of ripe summer fruit… so tantalizing… and then with the deftness of a surgeon’s blade, make those words drip in silent horror, leaving one’s breath caught in the back of their throat… the scream never reaching suddenly dry lips.   As it does with another favorite author of mine… the night light burned brightly while I read Mr. Glamour.

Richard Godwin is among that handful of writers and Mr. Glamour is the ‘bait’ to catch even the most discriminating and demanding reader of noir horror fiction.

Richard’s unique blend of psychological horror and dark police procedural drama make for a taut, suspense-filled, often edge-of-the-seat, read.  Mr. Glamour is brilliantly paced, as a good mystery/thriller should be, and the sub-plots are woven seamlessly throughout… told in Richard’s wonderfully dark narrative style.

Richard challenges our perceptions of good and evil and shatters stereotypes.  In Mr. Glamour, he shows us that evil doesn’t live only in the hearts and minds of the criminal, where it is welcomed and brought to full fruition in an attempt to gain the power and control so craved… the lust for dominion over others.   Evil also hides behind the sub-conscious rationalizations of a broken mind and the lustful cravings of those pathetic ‘bags of bones’ for which too much is never enough and too far is a notion not to be considered.

Evil exists in the psychopath... a serial killer stalking London’s glamour set with an agenda so horrific that we struggle to comprehend the forces that drive a human being to such extremes, forgetting perhaps that in such a diseased mind, rationalizations and justifications take on different shades in the dark abyss of madness.   In the psychopath, madness isn’t a disease… it is the breath of life.

Speaking of breath… when the end is revealed… and the identity and purpose of the killer is known… now, that will take your breath away!  I still… weeks later… get a wonderful, slightly terrified shiver at the twist. Is the adjective ‘brilliant’ over-used?  Not in this case.  Richard has written a breathtaking novel that is truly brilliant… in plot and execution!

Evil abides in the subdued character of middle-aged housewife Gertrude Miller… a dark psychosis struggling against the distasteful reality of her existence… and through Richard’s beautiful telling; we are made witness to the progression of Gertrude’s madness.   Interwoven with the main plot, Gertrude’s life… and past… is revealed to us and it is impossible not to feel some empathy for her.  The physical pain and debasement she inflicts on herself in an effort to purge her self-imposed sins are not enough to save Gertrude though and she attempts to find a rightness and validation in what must follow… in what must be done to bring some measure of peace to a tortured soul.  Will vengeance at last quiet her demons?

Evil lurks beneath the thin veneer of respectability of law and order as well.  Richard’s keen insight into the human condition has created two flawed characters… DCI Jackson Flare and DI Mandy Steele.   Unspoken, both seek approval from the other, yet neither is willing to share anymore of them-selves than absolutely necessary.  There is a dichotomy at work here that is interesting to observe.

Richard understands all too well that good doesn’t always triumph over evil… not on its own at any rate… and it is the very flaws, both physical and psychological, of Steele and Flare that will ultimately bring a killer – or is it killers? – before the seats of justice.

The back-story of the main characters is critical to a good story, but there is a skill to doing it… not enough and the reader is left with questions that nag and distract from the story itself… or too much and the story gets lost in the character.   Richard writes his character’s back-stories with a perfect balance … woven in all the right places in the story.   The difference between telling a story and telling it well is all in the little details.   Richard’s characters may not be well-balanced, in a psychological sense I hasten to add, but they are balanced well in the narrative.   Layers and depth are important in the development of a character; something Richard does extremely well.

I’m going to say something here that some will not agree with, but a book review isn’t just reciting the plot points of the story; it is also about interpretation and effect on the reader.  A few dry, dusty words won’t make one rush down to the bookstore or log on to Amazon with that little rectangle of plastic ‘twixt clenched fingers.

Rape is about power and control… domination.  Battling with the demons of both her present and past self while trying to work the cases with Flare, there is a scene in which Mandy is forced into the unthinkable act of raping herself in an attempt to regain that power and control before she is completely lost.  This is a particularly revelatory scene, both for the reader and the character.   I realize that some will read those passages and have a different interpretation, but this is what resonated with me… this is what I think is being told.  It goes deeper than just the domination of her partner… that alone does not give Steele all that she needs.   The duality of sadism and masochism makes Detective Inspector Mandy Steele a very interesting character in this little ‘fête de l'horreur et l'obsession’.

Frustration grows for the police and public alike as it becomes increasingly apparent that there is more than one killer at work in the streets of London and its suburbs.  The police struggle to find connections between the victims, racing against the clock to stop the madness before another grisly murder is committed.   Grisly might be too mild a word for the atrocities that are wrought on innocent yet not so innocent flesh.  Trophies are taken and marks are left… the ‘trademarks’ of a truly sick, twisted mind… the mind of one of the most diabolical characters Richard has created.

Evil always leaves scars and those scars sometimes breed new evil… which leaves fresh scars and those… and so the cycle goes… evil is perpetuated.

People often do bad things as an act of vengeance or rebellion against those who wrought the scars.   The human mind has an amazing capacity for evil and those caught up in evil will use it to justify their own weaknesses and flaws.

Scars is a ‘sub theme’, if you will, behind Mr. Glamour…. beyond the mirrors and reflections of sex and excess.   Mr. Glamour is more than just a novel about a serial killer loose in the streets of London, mutilating the ‘glamour set’ and confounding the police authorities at every turn.  What is the motive in that?   Why does a person do something so egregious and horrific?  What drives them?

Mr. Glamour is about people with scars… physical scars that can drive one to inflict what was wrought on them onto others… the need for revenge.   Psychological scars that push a person to acts they would not normally contemplate were it not for the mental deficit present, exacerbated by events beyond their control… that they cannot control… thus leading them to acts of their own in an attempt to regain some semblance of control.  Emotional scars so deep-seated that they have split the psyche of the individual and the two parts become locked in conflict until the stronger half of the duality emerges and dominates the whole, following its new imperative.  And then there are those who have had devastating physical and emotional scars rendered upon them… creating a vicious, murderous psychosis.   A madman isn’t born… he is made.

If that rather blank-eyed stare in the eyes of your neighbour as she sorts through the cutlery bin at the department store sounds warning bells in your head… it would probably be best to decline any invitation for afternoon tea.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Richard… Thank you very much for a thoroughly engrossing and entertaining story.  Mr. Glamour is guaranteed to stay with the reader long after that last page is turned.

And if my hand shakes a little the next time I slip into my favorite La Perla or Samantha Chang or Maison Close… well, I guess we all know who I have to thank for that, don’t we?

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Cannon Beach, Oregon
28 May 2012

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Sunday, May 27, 2012


The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn ParrThe Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr by Sandra Byrd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw


(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer.  I am also a freelance reviewer, and listed as such with Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.  What this basically means is that I am on an email list and the publisher notifies me of new releases.  If I see a book that I like, they will send me a free copy in exchange for my honest review of said book, as well as posting the review on my blogs. In other words, I choose the book that I wish to read, the opinions expressed are my own and my review is based solely on the merits of the book.  Other than a free copy of the book, I receive no compensation from the publisher or the author.  My reviews are also posted on the GoodReads website.  The following is my review of Sandra Byrd’s THE SECRET KEEPER.  Thank you – vmls)


This is the second of Sandra Byrd’s Tudor series novels and the first book of hers – among only a small handful of historical, or period, fiction novels – that I have read.  My reading tastes typically run to more contemporary writing, leaning heavily toward noir fiction.  The Secret Keeper however, has ignited a desire to read more period novels, especially of Sandra’s.  I was completely engrossed from the very first page.

Sandra writes with an authority and verve that fires the imagination; her words drawing in rich detail images of castles and estates, highborn men and women of polite society, opulence and regal deportment.  I fell immediately in love with the period language Sandra writes with.  It lends an authenticity that draws the reader into a scene and clearly delineates between classes of characters – commoners and the servants of nobility and royalty from those highborn and regal persons.  Sandra’s charismatic writing has awakened in me a thirst to read more of this period in history especially.

Sandra’s rich prose and evocative narrative style weaves a brilliant tale, creating unforgettable characters and events…eliciting a range of emotions in the reader not dissimilar at times to those in her characters.   At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I laughed… I cried… I sat upright in suspense… at times relief washed over me… as I became immersed in the story.  There was one particular scene… I shan’t leave details here, lest I spoil it for the reader… that left me shaking in quiet rage.   I had to put the book down. It was a full day before (here, Sandra would use ‘afore’) I could take it up again.

By the end of the book, I had affected, with some small success, a manner of speech similar to that in the book.  Christina, my wife, was amused to no end (we both enjoy role-play), however; one of my co-workers expressed concern that I had suffered a concussion.


Set amidst the back-drop of the tumultuous court of Henry VIII and his marriage to wife number six, Kateryn Parr, The Secret Keeper is a novel of royal intrigue, power struggles and the test of a woman’s faith and beliefs in an era when women were highly placed but valued less so.  This was a period during which heresy to the king was dealt with unequivocally… regardless of whether a person was highborn or common.   Deceit and treachery often ran rampant.  It is into this world that the protagonist, Mistress Juliana St. John, finds herself thrust.

The Secret Keeper is told from the point of view of Juliana St. John, daughter of a knight of the realm who comes to King Henry’s court as a lady-in-waiting to Her Grace, Kateryn Parr.  This shortly after a prophecy comes to Juliana… a vision of peril brought upon a highborn woman… a vision that Juliana is determined not to see come to fruition.  Mistress St. John is also a woman with a secret… a woman upon whom the burden of more secrets will soon rest.

Warned not to let the ‘sheen’ of the court overcome her, Juliana tries to remain steadfast to what she sees as her ‘mission’, her purpose for coming to the royal court… her service to Kateryn Parr and the safety of Lady Elizabeth.  Juliana is soon caught up in the intrigue though, as Her Grace has decidedly different views than those of the king on the matter of religion… views that in light of Henry VIII’s edicts, would be considered heretical as well as treasonous.  Juliana must be ever mindful of where and to whom she ‘looses her tongue’, while maintaining her allegiance to the queen.   Duplicity and betrayal appear to be de rigueur if one is to survive in the royal court; Mistress Juliana must be ever vigilant and true in the face of it.

Early on in the story, Juliana meets and falls in love with an Irish nobleman.  However, before much can come of it, her own innocence in manners and matters of the court place her in dire jeopardy and something happens to the fair Juliana.  In the immediate aftermath, Juliana must make some difficult decisions that will change the course of her life.  This particular event highlights with a brutal clarity the inequities between men and women in 16th century England.  I should say no more on this though so as not to have to place a spoiler alert on my review.

Throughout the story, Juliana’s faith does not but momentarily waver as she is faced with choices that dramatically illustrate a strength and quiet dignity befitting one who serves a queen, remembering always that God has a plan and a purpose for her.  Even when she finds out a secret of her own lineage, one that would shake most of us to our very core, Juliana remains strong!  There are morality lessons to be learned here, for both the spiritual-minded and the secular person.

The Secret Keeper is replete with the customs and manners of Tudor England and has a well-balanced religious tone… authentic to the period.   I particularly enjoyed the scriptural ‘lessons’, if you will, throughout the book and found personal comfort in some of the passages quoted.

All of this makes for a vibrant, compelling read.

One thing that really set this story apart more than anything else, I believe, is that it is told from the point of view of one of her ladies-in-waiting instead of from Kateryn herself.  I think that adds a clarity and objectivity that telling it from Kate’s perspective would have been lacking.  We are privy to Juliana’s innermost thoughts and insight, following her on an often perilous journey.

The Secret Keeper is a splendidly detailed and thought-provoking novel… rich in history and humanity… and told with an enthusiasm and compassion for her characters that reveals the author’s passion for the period.  While it is a work of fiction – something I had to remind myself of more than once - it is also a ‘gutsy’ work.   I daresay there are some who might not entirely agree with certain aspects of the story. Sorry… I can’t say more without revealing too much.   I agree with the conclusions Sandra reached in her research… and am most appreciative at how those were evolved in the story.  I daresay Sandra just may have solved an historical mystery of some magnitude… and done it with a thorough logic and understanding of that period of history.   In a moment of fancy, one might wonder if she had perfected time travel and ventured back to one of the more fascinating periods in English history.

The Secret Keeper is a ‘must-read’ for all… not just for fans of historical fiction.   I recommend this book without reservation.

I will close with this.  The ending may not be what some expected, but it is well worth the journey to get there.

The Secret Keeper is a powerful, life-affirming story and proof that even after having written more than thirty books, Sandra Byrd is still master of her craft.

Thank you.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
27 May 2012

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Sunday, May 20, 2012


Cabaret of Dread; a Horror Compendium (Vol.1)Cabaret of Dread; a Horror Compendium by Lily Childs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have I said before that Lily’s writing is breathtaking, dark, delicious, grippingly horrific, gutsy, brilliant, compelling, driving, visceral, lusty, erotic and…oh, back ‘round to breathtaking, are we?

Horror mistress Lily Childs brings us a stunning collection of contemporary and neo-period horror, with a tantalizing dash of crime fiction, in Cabaret of Dread, Volume I – demons, murderers, ghosts, wraiths, psychopaths and piteously lost souls abound in the pages of Cabaret, bringing their horrifying agendas to fruition.

From the moment I first saw the cover art for Cabaret of Dread, I knew that I was in for a literary treat I would not soon forget.  I believe I even mentioned to Lily that I was off to the market to buy another night light in preparation for her latest masterpiece.

When one hears the word ‘cabaret’, they think of fun… joyous abandon… loosening of one’s inhibitions… glee and good cheer, right?   Life is a cabaret, as the saying goes.

In Cabaret of Dread, Volume I, the first tome of Lily’s vast collection of penned horror and urban fantasy, the word cabaret in the title is a bit of a misnomer as the only joyous abandon in these pages is that of the lustful and horrifyingly visceral cravings and desires of beings, some considerably less than human, lost in their wanton frenzies.

Lily’s vibrant, violent and oft ‘dripping’ narrative style fires the imagination, taking one to those dark places where her characters dwell and satisfy their hungers, surrendering to their dark ‘masters’, be they another being entirely or just another facet of an already tortured soul clawing and clutching for a peace that eludes.

Every piece in this collection is brilliantly done… a rich tapestry of words that conjure dark and bloody, melancholy (sometimes poignant), horrific images and a maelstrom of emotions… and in my case, leave one scrambling for the night light.  I intend no slight toward any of these exquisitely crafted slices of horror in remarking here on only a handful of the tales that seem to flow effortlessly from Lily’s pen.

Right from the very first, our senses are alit with the bloodily gruesome and visceral imagery presented in “Dressing-Up Box”.  The ballerina here bears no resemblance at all to my pink and grey tutu-ed adolescence… or that of my pre-pubescent classmates from my days of ballet.  I wonder what Madame would say to this?

“If I take my eye out and put it in a pickle jar whilst I mould a pair of sockets, I’ll only be able to see at an angle.”

Now, there is a tasty little morsel, isn’t it? Ooohh…. Gave me a right little shiver!

And, as Lily says… “The dance begins.”

“Cold September Call” leaves a chill… and one wondering what could possibly have transpired to warrant such a fate for a young girl.

In “Smiling Cyrus” there’s a line that tears at my heart –

“’Cyrus isn’t coming back.’  She’s practiced the line until it no longer shakes in her mouth.”

From “Hidden Beast”, this little ‘gem’ put me off the evening’s meal; Tina’s usually wonderful Liver and Portobello in red wine reduction –

“Drawing the lobe to his lips Mifkin began to chew, tasting the blood before it cooled and congealed.”

“Carpaccio” is both funny and horrifying in its murderous matter-of-factness. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale!

“In Adoration” will leave the squeamish running from the room…. “ha-ha… soft basta…”  Oops!  I have to be careful here…. Amazon doesn’t like sweary words.

I must say that “In Adoration” is one of my favorites.  I probably should not take such rapacious delight in the demonic seduction of the holy and [self] righteous (it’s okay, though... I confessed when I next went to church), but hey… it’s fiction!

Right, Lily?  Right….?  Lily……?

Besides, with lines like this, how can one not enjoy the tale –?

“Orgasm plays between her legs in satisfaction at being such a good Samaritan.”

“Staring At The Pink” - this one was especially chilling... sleep was a long time coming after reading Lily’s tale of the clash between corporeal and spirit world and what happens when a person’s spirit breaks upon the death of the corporeal being; the ‘dark half’ biding its time, then returning with a sinister need… a soul that is not hers to own.

There is a line - "Pink Nana dies, for the second time, in the safety of my arms."

Well, I may have let my imagination get the best of me… as I said; sleep would not come for a long time.

“The Infanta Triptych” is the closing tale in this collection… and the crown jewel out of these forty-three dark and wickedly delicious tales.  Vampire horror at its very best!

At times shockingly raw, to the point of catching one’s heart in their throat… often melancholy… Lily’s prose is filled with a power and determination that truly will leave one breathless… that is, if they have a beating heart inside their chest.

Not for the faint of heart… there is nothing mundane, mediocre, ordinary or trifling… Cabaret of Dread more than delivers on the promise the name Lily Childs brings to aficionados of horror and dark urban fantasy.  Whether it is one of the delicious little slices of flash fiction or a mini-novelette piece, Lily’s writing will leave your senses both shaken and stirred!

I had only one complaint whilst reading Cabaret of Dread… but my complaint is directed at the weather, not Lily.  The weather gods did not see fit to bring me a little thunder and lightning… Cabaret is a book that begs to be on a dark and stormy night!

I’m almost afraid to ask Lily what she has in store for us in Volume II… not that her answer would keep me away.  This girl does like to scare herself!

And now I must go and replace the lamp in my night light… it is flickering rather alarmingly.

I raise my glass to you, Lily… Saude!

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Silverdale, Washington
Cannon Beach, Oregon
19 May 2012

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Letting GoLetting Go by Victoria Watson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Reviewer's note - I posted my review over on Amazon US and Amazon UK some weeks back, but neglected to post here.

 LETTING GO is a collection of short fiction that I recommend without reservation.  I would also mention that I received no compensation for this review... it is based solely on the merits of the book.   Thank you. vmls)

Someone once said that “fear and regret are the cruelest prison… a prison of our own construct… one we put ourselves in.”

Regret is just that… a cruel prison… one we build from our own shattered dreams and lost hopes, where ‘why’ is replaced with an endless litany of ‘should haves’ and ‘wished I’d done the other’ and ‘if only’.  But, life doesn’t always give one a second chance, as we find out in Letting Go… a collection of short stories from Victoria Watson.

Victoria Watson is an impressive writer… a great talent who uses her keen insight and observations of the human condition to draw with words… sad, dark, sometimes horrific, and heart-breakingly poignant pictures of humanity… troubled souls lost in despair… their hopes and dreams washed away in the rain of their own tears.

Victoria brings a depth to her characters and a level of emotion… completely un-contrived and so real that the reader feels almost as if they were in the same room, that they were reliving the very experience on the pages before them… which, in the words of another writer I admire, rivals that of Anita Shreve.

In Letting Go, Victoria writes with a strong voice and uses a stunning descriptive narrative style that draws the reader in from word one and carries them through, completely captivated and totally absorbed in her tale.  More than once, I had to pause while reading her stories and catch my breath… this is some serious writing here, people… wow!  And, more than once I had to set aside the book… a bit over-whelmed at the emotional response Victoria’s writing brought out in me.

Not to take anything away from the other stories, but there were a couple that really stood out to me… touched something…

"Bye, Bye Baby" is a heart-wrenching story of loss… one I wished I’d skipped when I was through (this is a testament to your writing, Victoria; it is by no means a critique)… written with such raw emotion, the reader can’t put down even if they wanted to.  Tina and I are ‘working on’ our first child and I should probably leave stories like this alone.  Make no mistake though… "Bye, Bye Baby" may just well be the best written of all eight stories.

In "I Should Have Seen It Coming", Victoria tells a remarkable tale of deceit and what happens when fate ‘deals the cards’… the just rewards received only a part of the regret visited upon a woman who dared to tempt powers she had no comprehension of.  In spite of the protagonist’s deceit, the reader finds empathy for her… due in large part to the strong voice in Victoria’s writing.

"Inside" is a reflective, metaphorical tale where the reader is drawn into the emotional past of the protagonist and lulled into a sense of nostalgia… until past regrets catch up and life’s tragedy is unveiled before us.

I highly recommend Letting Go.  This is truly a ‘must-read’ collection of stories of the human condition.  The ‘twists’ in each tale are perfectly executed.

Each and every story is wonderfully written… evocative and a reminder to the reader not to judge others too severely, but to stop and reflect back on our own lives at how easily things might have turned out different.  A life could turn on something as innocuous and innocent as not looking in the back seat before stepping in one’s car.

And remember… one can’t rebuild a life if they spend their days kicking through the rubble of regrets.

Thank you, Victoria, for a truly memorable collection of prose.  These stories will stay with me long after I have read them.  That is a good mark of how well-written a story is and the caliber of the writer.

In closing, I wish you much success in all your endeavors.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Portland, Oregon
Silverdale, Washington
5 May 2012

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Mozart's Sister (Ladies of History, #1)Mozart's Sister by Nancy Moser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The question is asked...

"Is the recognition she (Nannerl Mozart) so longs for the truest measure of her gifts?"

This is a question that I believe we all need to ask of ourselves... is fleeting fame or our name in the footnotes of history the truest measure of what God has given us?

Extremely well-written, Mozart's Sister is more than a story of a sibling living in the shadow of her very talented brother... it is a sharp glimpse into a world where a woman's choices - regardless of her talents and abilities - are extremely limited, and her hope for dreams realized is slim, if not non-existent.

It is also a story of faith and believing that God has a plan and a purpose for each of us and His wisdom and and love and our faith will guide us to that purpose, where we will ultimately find our true 'life' and purpose... our fulfillment... our true gift.

I am looking forward to reading more from this very talented writer.  I suspect that were I able to travel back in time, I would find that Nancy Moser has captured perfectly the 'atmosphere' and circumstances of the period.

The back cover of the book has the comment that "Nancy Moser unveils one of history's hidden heroines."  I could not agree more!

Thank you,

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Cannon Beach, Oregon
15 May 2012

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Thursday, May 3, 2012


Diary of a Menopausal WomanDiary of a Menopausal Woman by Cheryl Reid, Toby Williams, Lizzi Easyburn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(REVIEWERS NOTE - Men... if you have a sense of humour, you will LOVE this book!  Don't let the title put you off... this truly is a 'must-read'!  Thank you.  vmls)

If ever there was a book that deserved five stars... this one is it!

Menopause… something we women all have to look forward to, right?  Okay, maybe ‘look forward to’ isn’t the right phrase… how about ‘stark terror’?  I mean, I’ve heard stories… I’ve seen the films in school… I’ve seen Aunt Sophie!  Granted I have a few years to go, but still…

After reading Cheryl Reid’s DIARY OF A MENOPAUSAL WOMAN, I am minding less the sound of that clock ticking down to my inevitable passing into that phase of womanhood.

With a sharp wit and keen sense of humour, Cheryl chronicles nine months in the life of… a survivor.  Yes, I think that is a very apt description.  Cheryl is a survivor.  We all must be to make it in this crazy world, right?  You bet your pretty lace knickers I’m right!

Cheryl does an amazing job with DIARY OF A MENOPAUSAL WOMAN… turning adversity into fortune… casting a humourous eye on those everyday things that can sometimes have one running screaming from a room… sometimes in search of a bottle of Stolichnaya – or, is that just me?

Cheryl’s dissertation on the trials and tribulations of everyday living reminds us that, I’m paraphrasing Cheryl here… “While life can sometimes feel like ‘garbage’, if one can laugh when they really feel like crying, life isn’t that bad and we can be rich in ways that money can’t buy.”  It’s all about finding that silver lining… holding your chin up when you’d as soon pull the pillow over your head and stay in bed.

From dealing with the mystery of bottled water for irons… to puppy-kissing and the pitfalls of finding proper homes for Ruby’s offspring… to solving those oft-occurring financial dilemmas that can tax an already stretched-to-the-limit budget… to searching for an answer as to who is behind the chocolate conspiracy… to a devoted son who seems to be fighting his own battle in getting a card and poem to his mother before Mum’s Day is only a distant memory…  Cheryl’s spirit and indomitable sense of humour will lift you up and show you that, with the proper frame of mind… you to can take the cares and woes of the world and just say… “Buzz off, world… you’re not trodding over me!”

I am trying really hard not to put any spoilers in here because I want everyone to experience Cheryl’s wit, humour and brilliant story-telling first hand… to be taken off guard, as I was… so that when laughter bubbles up from deep inside them it is with a joy at finding something brand new that brightens their day and brings a smile to their lips!

DIARY OF A MENOPAUSAL WOMAN is brilliantly done… rich with humour and a certain pragmatism that Cheryl turns ‘round into something positive.  But DIARY… also has a bit of suspense.

There were a couple of times when I wasn’t rocking in my chair with laughter, tears [of joy] running down my cheeks, or passengers on the morning train casting looks at the dark-haired girl who couldn’t stop laughing.

In those moments I was on the edge of my seat, anxious with worry, as Cheryl battled her addiction… with chocolate!  But then… Cheryl would offer such rationalizations – and they make perfect sense to me – as to why, in certain situations, chocolate has no calories, that I was soon literally falling out of my chair with laughter.

Repeat after me, sweetie…

“Hi.  I’m Cheryl.  I am a chocoholic."

(chorus of voices…)  “Hi, Cheryl!”

Thank you.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Silverdale, Washington
Portland, Oregon
30 April 2012

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King's Bishop Takes King's Rook's PawnKing's Bishop Takes King's Rook's Pawn by J.F. Juzwik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Joyce Juzwik’s writing ever since she introduced me to the online writing community over at Flash Fiction Friday.  Her writing flows very well… it is both clean and nuanced… and she brings depth and a sharp realism to her characters; something that is missing from the characters in some books I have read.  ‘Homo erectus’ is a flawed creature… why should the characters we write and read about be less so?

Joyce’s first novel – King’s Bishop Takes King’s Rooks’ Pawn – takes us inside the mind of a serial killer and the police detective determined to bring a psychopath to justice.  She draws the protagonist- Detective Charlie Dunne – with a caring and compassion that adds great depth to the character… giving him real strength… and real flaws.

Charlie has a keen sense of justice… he also has a troubled past… a past that threatens his latest case.  A serial killer has ‘come to roost’ in the quiet small town Charlie has moved to in the hopes of starting his life over.  The killer has deliberately… but wait, I don’t want to spoil anything here.  You’ll have to read for yourself.

Charlie quickly finds himself battling both the ticking clock of a serial killer’s ‘timetable’ as well as contending with the small-mindedness of a small town city council intent on not letting the ‘good name’ of their fair city become soiled with the publicity of a madman on the loose by bringing in help for Detective Dunne, who struggles with woefully inadequate resources with which to catch the killer.  On top of all of that, Charlie is still battling his own personal demons.

What makes this story all the more intriguing is that Joyce tells it from the differing perspectives of the major characters as well as the victims… allowing us glimpses inside the minds of these people… seeing and feeling their needs, wants, desires… including the sick, twisted fantasies of the killer – a rare glimpse into the pathology of a madman.

There are no red herrings in this story, but Joyce does make the reader work for the story… feeding bits and pieces at a time and making the reader think… to draw their own inferences from the facts presented.  I don’t care much for stories that hand the reader everything on a plate… like the author doesn’t think we are smart enough to figure stuff out.  Joyce does not do that.

King’s Bishop is a well-plotted read with just enough sub-plot to keep the story interesting but not so much that the reader becomes lost.  And as the reader will soon see, this sub-plot is integral to the story.  It hasn’t been ‘thrown in’ simply to add pages to the book.

Joyce’s narrative style moves the reader along at a good pace, building the suspense with each chapter… each new revelation… and as the body count climbs, the reader becomes completely caught up in the story… emotions roller-coastering along with the story… until the very end.  An end I confess I had not quite expected and thus was very pleased with.   It ended the way a good thriller should end.

King’s Bishop is noir… a crime drama… it doesn’t have a happy ending, nor should it.  Life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns… bad things happen to good people and sometimes, fighting the good fight doesn’t save you in the end.  Lives are changed… some shattered beyond repair or redemption.

The final scene, as much of Joyce’s writing does, took my breath away with its shocking, brutal finality.  Joyce is a writer who clearly knows her craft and her audience.  I would recommend King’s Bishop Takes King’s Rook’s Pawn to anyone who loves good suspense.

Thank you.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Silverdale, Washington
3 May 2012

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