Book Review:

The Polka-Dotted Penguin

Written by Amy Moy

This adorable book is written with some key ideas that set it apart from other “fitting in” type stories. The story begins with the fathers all holding their baby eggs, just like they do in real life. The other fathers mention the difference they see in the spotted egg but don’t make it a big deal, just a small curiosity. When the new little penguin is born from her dotted egg she is still a penguin, rather than some other sort of “misplaced egg” that would be similar to so many other stories. Instead this little penguin just has some differences, but is still the same type of bird. The reason this matters would be that when explaining differences to children the differences don’t have to be so extreme, as a differing species, for someone or something to still be different “enough”. When the little Penguin, named Dottie goes to school and plays with the other children, they don’t just laugh and ask why she is different. Instead they treat her just like they treat all the other penguins, since being different doesn’t mean she needed different treatment. The approach the author took in treating the different penguin was very realistic and completely acceptable and appropriate for children.

The author also used many well known titled stories in this story, changing the titles just enough to suit sea-life type stories. This is a great tool for opening discussion with little ones about how even different “people” know the same stories many children are familiar with.

I give this story four out of five stars for its realistic approach to dealing with differences. Many important aspects were touched upon but not over exaggerated. The story leaves many opportunities for conversation about being different and treating others who are different. It is a clever take on a popular topic with just enough dissimilar qualities to make it a must-read to little ones.

REVIEWED BY

Christine Bialczak

Book Review: The House Mate

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Living with people has its benefits but you really need to know more about your House Mate! 

The House Mate by Nina Manning is a quick moving story where the plot has you involved feeling like Regina is your house mate and you are helping her deal with those ghosts that haunt her. Regina isn’t easy to read and keeps her secrets throughout the story. 

Regina is an emotional mess dealing with OCD behaviors that she has developed to help cope not only with everyday life but with memories that are so difficult she can’t find the strength to share it with anyone. Now that she has made the decision to try and move forward she has the help of her much younger housemates and one of the professors at the university she has enrolled in. Will the young friends be able to bring a fresh way to look at emotional issues or will she be their strength and support? 

I give this book four out of five stars for its interesting subject matter and its ability to draw you in to the feelings of all of the characters. The mystery of Regina’s issues do not get resolved until late in the book which makes any reader with great anticipation feel some impatience in knowing the truth. The author has pulled all of the loose ends and characters together at the end leaving the reader some satisfaction and the feeling that it was all worth waiting for.  

Book Review: Unheard: The Story of Anna Winslow

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Unheard: The Story of Anna Winslow by Anthony Del Col is an eight part podcast produced by a student for a college course, the topic chosen solely based on one vague voicemail message and the questions it raised.

Melissa Lopez is studying linguistics and journalism and has decided that the voicemail left on her phone is in fact from missing student, Anna Winslow. Missing turns into a case of murder when Anna’s body is found in the woods. Each session of Melissa’s podcast has clips of the actual voice messages Anna has left her and a few fellow students. But no one really knew Anna, so why the voicemails and why is she dead? Melissa wants to find out and becomes so entangled in the story she actually becomes a suspect herself, asking questions that no one that never knew Anna should even care about, unless they killed her and are trying to cover their own tracks.

I give this 4 out of 5 stars for its originality and realistic plot. Because there are eight podcasts in the series there is quite a bit of repetition, so as to set the story up for a reader who may not listen to all of them. It is quite like a television show that begins with a recap of the previous episode. Melissa is a bright student and you come to realize that she has some real talent in both the podcasting and interviewing of characters, trying to get to the truth of who killed Anna Winslow and why. 

Book Review: The Secrets We Left Behind

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The Secrets We Left Behind by Susan Elliot Wright is a gripping story of love and loss and illustrates what any mother would do for her child.
At the beginning of the story the narrator does not give her name but you come to find out that she is Joanna, presently a mother herself. She tells her story starting when she was a teen. Her mother had just passed away and her father left many years ago. She is now on her own, ready to start her new life. But the London streets aren’t like they are down on the coast, in the small town she grew up in. Luckily she meets Eve, a sweet, caring, and sensible soul who takes her under her wing and teaches her how wonderful life can truly be.
Jo moves in with Eve and her boyfriend Scott and they soon become a close family of three. This was all in the past. Now, Scott has come back, on his deathbed, threatening to tell Duncan and Hannah, Jo’s husband and daughter, the truth about when they lived as squatters about 30 years ago. Scott wants to clear his conscious regardless of what it does to Jo and the life she has built since then, built on lies.
I give this book five out of five stars for its intricate plot that is woven so tightly and neatly you feel as though you are there with the characters, feeling what they are going through, living your life alongside them. The story flips back and forth between past and present but does so in such a way that there is no interruption to the plot and no loose ends left. It is amazingly touching and you will come away loving Jo and the other characters as if you have now all become family. The question is, can you forgive Jo for what she’s done?

Book Review: I, Black Pharaoh: Golden Age of Triumph

I, Black Pharaoh: Rise to Power by Emmanuel Kulu Jr. is an historical fiction account of the mighty reign of Thutmose the Third in Egypt despite deceit and threat from the very people he is to inherit the throne from.

This historical fiction account begins with a vision from the Gods that there will soon be a birth of the new ruler, Black Pharaoh. Thutmose the Second is the current ruler of Kemet in Egypt and it has been prophesied that he will have a son who will be the ruler when he is gone. Hatshepsut, the pharaoh’s devoted wife is honored to provide this son but it seems destiny has its own idea. When Hatshepsut finds her husband with another lover her jealousy burns and plans begin to form in her head, plans to rid the world of this adulterous leader and become the true ruler. There are others who believe they have earned their place as rulers and those who decide to remain devoted to Thutmose the Second. For many years this position is fought for and in the end only one person can rule.

This account of Egyptian Rule is a twisted tale of deceit that sometimes reads as a textbook, other times as a novel dreamed up by a talented writer. Many of the facts used in the story are accurate and if you are familiar with the history, then following along will come easily.

I give this book three out of five stars for its creative take on an historical event with many diverse characters and plot twists. There were times where the dialogue seemed too “modern” for the times but this did not distract from the story. For a reader who is not familiar with Egyptian History this story can be confusing as allies quickly turn to enemies and enemies become allies quickly and frequently throughout the story. According to other readers the historical accounts may not convey the truth accurately but being a fiction novel there is room to make small adjustments as desired, as has been done by the author. It is well written and easy to read and understand, providing some history to the reign of the Black Pharaoh, ruler and conqueror of Egypt.

©2021 CBialczak Book Review

Book Review: Fleeting Chills

Fleeting Chills

A spellbinding anthology of creepy, twisted, and surprise-ending tales which will leave re-examining your own life and relationships.

Fleeting Chills by Joseph C. Gioconda is a spellbinding anthology of creepy, twisted, and often surprise-ending tales which will leave you wondering if you should re-examine relationships with the people you know, the places you visit, and the thoughts that you think. 

Gioconda has put together an anthology of tales that range from murderous plots to contorted ghost stories with a touch of reality leaving you to question if each one is a true story, or close to one. Difficult to talk about any of the tales independently, for fear of spoiling the endings, each tale begins with a somewhat realistic or slightly conventional beginning. Many of the tales are constructed in a contemporary perspective, which lends to its plausibility. There is Jack who believes he died and has come back to find an altered life, a bone collector who acquires an original find, and a suicidal psychopath who is just “following doctor’s orders”. Also included are tales of twisted families; leaving loved ones sleeping alone in morgues, stories of spirits who come calling, and anecdotes of harrowing relationships that just don’t work. 

I give this anthology four out of five stars for its ability to keep me absorbed in the irrational and often bizarre stories. Each tale is quite unique and seems to be written in such a way that the twisted endings are a true surprise. The first four or five stories are the most twisted which led to a slight amount of disappointment in some of the other tales, as the madness and absurdity was of a lesser extent than the beginning of the anthology. As a reader who enjoys the bizarre, I was looking for the intensity to increase rather than decrease. Regardless of order, this is a must read for those who love a twisted plot, some irrational characters, and completely insane endings to tales that seem realistic and quite commonplace. Being an anthology was a plus as each story could be read in a short amount of time without having to have any break in plotlines. 

Book Review: Judge, Jury, Executioner

Judge, Jury, Executioner by Mitchell Jones is a love story mixed with tragedy, where loving someone more than life takes on new meaning. Nathan has finally found his dream girl. He can’t believe that this beautiful girl actually wants to talk to him tomorrow, a trip into the coffee shop he never imagined turning out so well. Anna seems to fall in love with Nathan just as easily. Both individuals believe in working hard, so meeting Anna’s parents who are extremely rich does not excite Nathan or bring him any expectations, except Nathan’s father does seem genuinely accepting of his daughter’s new love. Anna’s mother is another story.

Nathan and Anna have become completely intertwined and when Anna comes home from her work party battered and shattered, Nathan knows something bad has happened and that he is the one who must try and fix things for his Anna. It doesn’t take him long to figure out what must be done to the people who have hurt Anna so badly; all while losing Anna to the depths of her own silence and suffering.

When Nathan has taken care of the problem he reluctantly tells Anna what he has done, hoping to bring her vibrant, fun self back to him.

I gave this story four out of five stars for its “to the point” plot and easy readability. I wish I had learned more about Anna, as she seemed to be an interesting character with many facets, but we don’t learn much more than what is recounted by Nathan. This is definitely a story that could be added to and made into a novel of some length, pulling the reader in despite its shorter length.

©2021 CBialczak Book Review

Book Review: The Liar’s Girl

The Liar's Girl

The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard is a psychological thriller set in Dublin, where the truth comes out, but at whose cost? 

Allison is going back to Dublin, reluctantly. She hasn’t been back there in ten years, not since her boyfriend was found guilty of being a serial killer; one of the victims having been her best friend. Now for some reason Will wants to try and convince Allison that he is innocent, that he always has been. This might be possible now that girls are being killed again, in the same fashion as all those years ago. Is it a copycat or Will’s partner coming back to take more lives? 

Flipping between Allison’s rendition of the past, along with what she is doing now, we see Allison’s world and how it was shattered all those years ago. We join her in questioning whether Liz really was a good, best friend and whether there is any point in dredging up the past, whether Will was who he seemed when he was the love of her life, and if coming to terms with the past can help her move forward in the future.  

I give this story five out of five stars for its in-depth plot, believable characters, and surprises that leave you as confused as Allison and the Dublin police. Howard has written a horrific tale of murder, deceit, and the mayhem that go along with both of those.  

©2021 CBialczak Book Review

Book Review: A Child’s Spiritual Journey

By Ernie Liverman

Come along with Ernie and listen to his story of strength, hope and discovery in a story so painful you want to reach in and offer your support and wisdom, hoping that there is a good ending to it all. 

Ernie Liverman found strength in opening the doors of the past, reliving the pain through memories, of a horribly abusive childhood and the lonely life he had for so long. When you first start reading this story you want to scream out, “Why didn’t anyone help him?”. It is astonishing that a mother could inflict such pain on a child that she birthed but it did happen, and it was awful. Ernie’s bravery in telling the truth, telling the stories that were buried deep, has helped him lose some of the pain that had been trapped.  

Throughout Ernie’s story you will continue to ask questions about his father and the lack of involvement, or his sister and what she may have endured. You may want to scream at Ernie to take some of the help that was offered to him, to tell him to go back and take that chance just to see what would happen. Obviously, going back cannot happen but by he has taken a chance by putting it all down on paper and freeing his mind. It has been therapeutic and has its own healing power. 

I give this story five out of five stars for its honest synopsis Liverman presents without leading the reader toward a shocking halt. The horrors he speaks of are awful but the feeling of power and hope he emulates through each page of his story is full of light and ambition; a need to survive. This is a must read for anyone who has ever felt alone or mistreated, or for those who work with children that might need help reaching out, exposing the truth, and living a healthy and happy life.   

Book Review: When You Find Me

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When You Find Me by P.J. Vernon is a twisted, complex mysterious thriller that will keep you guessing and shock you at the end.  

Gray has gone home with her husband Paul, to Piper Point, the home she grew up in, to spend the holiday with her sister and mother. Unable to admit that her drinking is out of control, Gray has too much to drink and kisses her old boyfriend at the bar. Paul is furious but that is all Gray can recall; and now Paul is gone.  

The plot weaves through Gray’s binges and the introduction of Annie, the woman who might know what happened to Paul and why. Gray doesn’t know who Annie is but is willing to do anything to meet with her, to hear the truth.  

I give this story four out of five stars for its twists and turns, intriguing plot, and surprising conclusion. Vernon has found a way to keep the plot vague enough to keep the reader guessing and the characters evolving to keep the story moving. This is a must read if you want a surprise ending with a full bodied, suspenseful plot.