“The Emancipation of Veronica McAllister” by Shawn Inmon

Genre:  FantasyThe Emancipation of Veronica
Publisher:   CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Pub.  May 2018

This is the fifth book in the Middle Falls Time Travel Series.  Still, it is a standalone read.  This reviewer didn’t know that the novel was part of a series until after finishing the book.  The story begins in 2018 when the protagonist, 80-year-old Veronica, is on her deathbed.  She is ready to die.   As she breathes her last breath she is anxious to learn the answers to the question we all wonder about—what happens after death?  Is there a heaven?  Is there a hell?  Or will it be an eternity of nothingness?  Once dead, Veronica opens her eyes, to see that she is back in 1958 and is a teenager again, wearing a poodle skirt and apparently babysitting.  The author does a good job with her complete confusion and excitement at seeing her old friends and parents again.  “Oh, Daddy, you’re so young and handsome,” she says.  Often you may think of the comedy-drama film, Peggy Sue Got Married.

But the story theme isn’t really about time travel.  The author is asking the question, What If you could live your life over and over again until you got it right?  What would you do differently not to duplicate your mistakes made in each life?   Not an original thought but an interesting one, especially when you imagine yourself in such a situation. Where the story begins to become a bit tiresome is after Veronica’s second or third life. Each time she dies, she wakes up as a teenager at the same babysitting job.  Until she finally learns her own personal meaning of self-actualization, she and the reader are stuck in a purgatory-like, Groundhog Day existence.  If the author would have stayed with keeping his protagonist to a one do-over life, while adding in anything new to the theme, this may have been an interesting tale regarding the nature of changing oneself kept light with humor.  Instead, it can read as a bit preachy—neither marriage nor money guarantees happiness— time-loop redemption tale.  The novel is too cliché to encourage this reviewer to read the first four in the series.   This may not be the case for other readers who enjoy when characters get to stop the clock and start over again.  You will have to read the book yourself to decide.

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I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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ELEVEN well-known books that were inspired by dreams

Fictionophile

Introduction by Brigid Ludwig

Did you know that Stephen King dreamed the entire plot of ‘Misery’ on a plane?

If you’ve ever been unable to put a great book down, you know how easy it is to get lost in a story. The interesting characters, the fascinating plot points, and enthralling description can keep you turning page after page. Authors work very hard to craft compelling stories that their readers will not only enjoy, but love. For many this takes years of hard work and planning. It may even mean hundreds of rejections, thousands of edits and loads of re-writing. For a lucky few, however, they don’t have to work so hard at all.

Authors of famous books like Frankenstein and Jane Eyre claim to have come up with the ideas for their novels in their dreams. And these aren’t the only cases, either. You’d be surprised how many famous…

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“Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano

Genre:  Literary FictionDear Edward
Publisher:  Random House
Pub. Date:  Jan. 14, 2020

After losing everything, a pre-teen boy discovers there are still reasons to continue living. This is just the sort of sappy novel that I usually do not care for. Surprisingly, I enjoyed and recommend “Dear Edward.” The unique writing style is what made the difference for me. The reader goes in knowing that twelve-year-old Edward’s older brother, his parents, and almost 200 other passengers will die when the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor. The book is divided into two timelines, the past, which is during the flight, and the present. On the plane, we get to understand the family dynamics of Edward’s immediate family. We also meet a Wall Street rising star, an unlikeable septuagenarian business billionaire who is the rising star’s role model, an unmarried young woman who takes a pregnancy test while on the plane, a wounded vet with a secret, and an uninhibited, possibly crazy woman who happens to believe in reincarnation. These well-developed characters are very much a part of Edward’s story, creating interesting storylines that are not about overcoming tragedy. This helps make the novel less fatiguing to read since the bulk of the story in the present describes Edward’s overwhelming depression.

The events that occur on the flight are divided by time right down to the minute of the crash. (Boarding your next plane might feel different after reading this one). Even though we know the ending, this part of the tale still reads like a page-turning mystery. In the present, we meet a few new characters. In Edward’s new life, disagreeing with myself, there are characters that read a bit saccharine. His aunt and uncle, new best friend and high school principal are just too self-sacrificing and flawless to feel like true people. This contrasts with the realness felt in the characters from the plane ride. Still, in my mind, Napolitano’s weaving of past and present makes up for that over-sweetening. Plus, by the end of the novel, it can also read as a coming-of-age story, which is a genre I have always liked. Clearly, the novel is not all doom and gloom. By the end of the novel, as the author intended, I had a smile on my face. Heartwarming endings can be a good thing.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Confessions of Frannie Langton” by Sara Collins

Genre: Historical FictionThe Confessions
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Pub. Date:  May 21, 2019

This novel is good, unusual, but not unusually good, although it could have been.  There may be too much going on, which I will get to, but at its center is a gripping narrative about a female servant in England who was a former Jamaican slave.  In 1826, she is accused of the brutal double murder of her employer and his wife, George and Marguerite Benham.   The first half of the tale is written so well.   We meet Frannie in jail writing her life’s story.   She was born on a West Indian plantation whose master, John Langton, is a sadist.  (Spoiler: She is her master’s bastard daughter).  As a child, she was taught to read and write. She grows to be highly self-educated.

The reason for her literacy was for her to participate in and take notes on her master’s pseudoscience experiments.  Langton is studying racial differences.  He is trying to prove that blacks are not human.   He uses skulls, blood, and skin samples from dead as well as live slaves.  The author chooses to leave out, what could be barbaric descriptions.  You will read about a baby being used as a research subject.  Rather than focusing on what is being done to the infant, Collins writes about the child’s desperate mother scratching on the outside of the locked room.  Or, that Frannie knows that the woman will be sold in the near future.  Less gore can equal more horror.  In the endnotes, the author cites “Medical Experimentation and Race in the Atlantic World.”  The author’s research charges these scenes with a terrible plausibility.

During the trial of the “The Mulatta Murderess,” Frannie is asked why she didn’t just leave England.   By then, slavery was illegal in Great Britain.  Her reply is heartbreaking:  No one told her that she could.   It is this style of understated writing that packs the strongest punch.  If the author would have stayed with this theme, this could have been an unusually good story, different from other historical novels on the subject of slavery.  This is shown through Frannie’s narrative, “…no doubt you think this will be one of those slave histories…with misery and despair.  But who’d want to read one of those?…What no one will admit about anti-slavers is that they’ve all got a slaver’s appetite for misery…And, for all their talk of men as brothers, most of them stared at me as if I had two heads.”

In the second half of the book, Frannie is a lady’s maid to a wealthy Georgian couple who live in London.  Here is where the story’s pacing becomes uneven with way too many subplots.  It is easy to become less invested in the character because the story is all over the place.   You will read about betrayal, murder, lesbian love, drug addiction, and a whorehouse devoted to spankings.  The punch is muted, but not completely gone.  It is impossible not to be swept away from a story with such concise and powerful writing.  “My intentions in writing my jailhouse musings …it’s my life, I want to assemble the pieces of it myself…For every crime, there are two stories, and that an Old Bailey trial is the story of the crime, not the story of the prisoner. That story is the one only I can tell.” The writing’s strength is reason enough to recommend the novel.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Miracle Creek” by Angie Kim

Genre:  General Fiction/MysteryMircle Creek
Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton
Pub. Date:  April 16, 2019

This complex novel begins with a tossed cigarette causing an explosion that kills two people in what is believed to be premeditated murder.  Still, the story can read more sci-fi than murder-mystery.   This is because of a seemingly bizarre treatment for autism.  Parents who are seeking a miracle cure take their children into a large chamber that looks like a submarine.  The families take ‘dives’ where they are exposed to high levels of pressurized oxygen.  This is an actual treatment commonly used in Asia named “hyperbaric oxygen therapy” (HBOT).  This reviewer needed to google to learn that fact.  You can even buy a chamber online.  Turns out, the author was not bending reality.  Learning this took some of the fun out of the story, but have no fear, this is a very good murder-mystery. The author is a former litigator, which makes for authentic courtroom scenes.

The story centers around a South Korean American couple and their teenage daughter who recently arrived in the United States.  They own and run a small HBOT facility.  A mother and a child, not her own, both die in the chamber due to the explosion.   The mother of the deceased child was taking a parental break and she remained outside for that fatal session. This mom has been known to show her burnout and has said, while the other mothers only thought, “Sometimes I wish my child was dead.”   For this reason, she becomes the murder defendant on trial.  But the author keeps us guessing.  Could it have been the owners, who needed the insurance money?  Or perhaps a protesting mom who does not believe in the therapy?  All the twists make for an entertaining read.  What makes the story complex are the aspects of the characters’ individual lives.  The exhaustion and depression that comes from the daily superhuman caregiving demands placed on the mothers, the difficulty of the immigrant experience, the confusion of the teen who wants to go back to Korea, despite being more American in her speech and mannerisms than her parents will ever be.  It has been reported that HBOT can help with many other medical issues; a white American doctor married to a Korean American woman participates in the dives because his wife says it will help them conceive.  He personally believes the treatments are nonsense but appeases his wife, putting himself in what he considers a humiliating position—Great tension.

Combining a murder-mystery with family issues, the immigrant experience, and the keenly felt, heart-wrenching emotions of the parents makes for an interesting use of the genre.  There is even an emphasis on the social drama provoked by different parenting beliefs.  A group of protesting moms feel those who put their kids in these chambers (which can on rare occasions be dangerous) do not accept their children as they are, and want to ‘fix’ them.  They hold signs reading “I’m a child, not a lab rat.”   In the April 2019 Asian American Writers Workshop (AAWW) interview, the author’s shares that her own son received HBOT treatments.  Once again, Kim uses her personal experience to create a powerful human story disguised as a legal thriller.  Kim’s courtroom drama will pose threat to any others out there.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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