Thursday, April 30, 2020

Book Review and Giveaway: Full Circle, a Memoir by Pamela Lombana ~ Lone Star Literary Book Blog Tour

Genre:  Memoir / Domestic Abuse / Forgiveness 
  Publisher: Wordfall Publishing
Date of Publication: December 5, 2019
Number of Pages: 217
   Scroll down for the giveaway!

Alcoholism and domestic abuse creep silently into people’s lives, shattering dreams. For Pamela Lombana, the excitement of marriage turned into paralyzing fear as alcohol became her husband’s best friend. Surviving the daily physical and emotional abuse was the norm for her and their children. Full Circle tells the story of how love and God’s abiding grace helped Pamela find the strength to leave her husband, Fernando. During this journey, healing and forgiveness allowed her and the children to be there for him when he needed them the most.

Although I mainly read only fiction these days, when I saw the description of this memoir by Pamela Lombana I knew I wanted the opportunity to learn more about it. I have known a number of people who have lived through similar experiences, but were never able to talk about them in such a way. When I read the introduction, written by the author's adult daughter, Christina, it reminded me of something that I've come to believe myself: our experiences, both good and bad, can define who we become, but they can also help us make decisions about who we want to be.

In the introduction, Christina writes: "Life is not just black and white; humans are not simply good or evil. In every person, there is the capacity for good and the capacity for evil. Our lives are defined by the choices we make [emphasis mine]. Some decisions are more harmless...but other choices can start you down the path toward self destruction."

Pamela Lombana's husband, Fernando, had many demons chasing him, resulting from an abusive childhood and later, alcohol addiction. The way that the author writes her story, with tenderness and grace, swept me into the lives of her family and the joys and struggles they experienced. For there were good times in her early marriage and she experienced many delights as a mother to her children.

For someone who is not an addict herself, the author has so much wisdom about the disease of alcoholism, and gives it a stunning anthropomorphic description in the chapter called Alcohol: "Alcohol comes into your life slowly. When you are young, he knocks at the door politely. Once you let him in and he feels comfortable, he wants to stay. He brings laughter and tears, you think he brings courage, but in reality, he brings chaos, unless you can stop him. He can become the unwanted guest in your house."

Fernando was also verbally and emotionally abusive, the seeds of this behavior beginning in his own childhood. At times, some of the descriptions were hard for me to read. Full Circle is an incredible story of the way generational abuse is passed down, and how important it is to break that cycle. Pamela writes poignantly, "Slowly, my marriage had become a quartet: Alcohol, Fear, Fernando, and me. While Alcohol was Fernando's companion, Fear had become mine." My heart breaks for the children who live in such homes, and the scars they carry forever because of it.

Ultimately, Pamela finds the emotional resources to leave her husband, taking her children with her, and starting over. The struggles she endured as a single mother are not unique - this happens so many times to so many women. But the way the author continued to encourage her children, to have hope, to bring wisdom to their lives, is one of the best parts of her story. This memoir came about from journal entries the author made over the course of her marriage, and one that resonated with me was this: "In life, everyone has their own struggles to fight and their own battles to win. I hope I can give my children the tools to do this." I also remember having these same thoughts as I was raising my own two sons, realizing I needed different tools to be a better mom.

Most surprising to me, and so powerfully written, are the parts of the story where the author helps her ex-husband as he nears the end of his life, dying from chronic alcoholism. She works hard at forgiveness, both for herself and her children, and they each manage to find peace with Fernando, who finally, at the end, realizes the damage he has done to his family. It moved me to tears.

Reading about one woman's journey through such difficulties, who came out stronger, wiser, and more empathetic as a result, was an encouraging and powerful experience. I'll never regret having read it. 

Pamela Lombana grew up in Colombia, South America, and emigrated to the United States to attend university. In 1999, Pamela became a pediatric nurse practitioner and went on to run a pediatric clinic in Spring Branch, Texas. Pamela loves working with families and children and focuses on educating her patients and their families. Pamela values strong family ties and friendships. She has three children and four stepchildren. Writing is a passion that started in Pamela's teenage years. She enjoys being amongst nature and loves to go hiking with her husband, Mark. Pamela is passionate about empowering women and providing them with tools to navigate life through her book, Full Circle: A Memoir, her blog, and Wordfall Publishing. Pamela wrote her memoir to offer hope and courage to women experiencing alcoholic and abusive situations.
THREE WINNERS: Signed copy of Full Circle 
APRIL 21-May 1, 2020
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Sunday, April 19, 2020

Book Review: Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

Storm Cursed (A Mercy Thompson Novel Book 11) by [Patricia Briggs]

*Trigger warning - animal abuse.

I stopped reading this book some time last year, but didn't remember why. When I saw the next book in the series was coming out, I though, "ooh, I need to catch up before starting Smoke Bitten (which came out last month). I got the book at a neighboring library and settled back into the Urban Fantasy world of coyote walker/mechanic Mercy Thompson, and all the characters I've gotten to know over the years I've been reading the series.

Not too far into the book, I remembered why I stopped. There is a very graphic scene of animal abuse (puppies and kittens) which is done by some evil/bad witches to increase their powers.

Authors: if you decide to add animal torture to a book in a series, you are going to risk losing new fans and alienating old ones. I realize that it must be hard to come up with new plot points and conflict/tensions in a long-running series. But this is not the way to do it.

I skimmed that part of the book, and will say that, for the most part I enjoyed the rest of it. I have read this series since the first book came out, and if you are an Urban Fantasy fan, you will love it. I have recommended it to men and women both at the library, and never heard a negative comment about it. If you want to know more about the series, please see my review of Moon Called here:

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, Book 1) by [Patricia Briggs]

In this latest book, Mercy and her pack discover that someone has been raising zombie animals, and proceed to investigate this unusual state of affairs. Which is when we get to the evil bad witches and their black magic with baby animals. After moving on from that part of the book, it proceeds fairly smoothly in the same manner of the rest in the series. Great dialogue, action scenes, and family dynamics among the pack.

I have the next book in the series, and do look forward to reading it. I don't give up on an author or series just because I'm disappointed with both, one or two times in 10 years. But, as I said, this is not the best way to add shock value to your story. I don't really know of anyone who would enjoy reading such extreme animal abuse - if they did, I'd run in the opposite direction, for sure.

Hoping the next book will be better.

Book Review: The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni

The Ancestor: A Novel by [Danielle Trussoni]
Trussoni, Danielle. 2020. The Ancestor. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, an imprint of HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0062912756. $27.99 USD.

Brief annotation: After taking a DNA test, a woman unexpectedly learns she has inherited an Italian title and estate. Travelling to a remote area in the Alps, she finds out more than she bargained for about her family history. The clever foreshadowing, fantastical elements, and sense of dread invoked in The Ancestor make it a page turner.

It's a challenge to review this unique new novel from Danielle Trussoni without giving away too much. There's quite an unexpected twist that I never saw coming, and I would not want to spoil it for any potential readers! But I can say a few things that will give readers an idea of what's in store if they choose to read it.

Alberta "Bert" Monte is having a tough time after a series of miscarriages, and is separated from her husband in a marriage that's on its last legs. She even took a DNA test to try to determine if there was a genetic reason why she could not bring a child to term, but the results never arrived, and she forgot about it.

When she receives an official letter written in Italian addressed to "Alberta Isabelle Eleanor Vittoria Montebianco, she opens a door to a strange family history she knew nothing about. That history includes a mysterious ghost town in the Italian alps, a Gothic castle and compound with enigmatic caretakers, something, or someone, hidden away in a tower on the estate, and a secret so incredible that it's only whispered on the cold wind.

The author has done a fantastic job with foreshadowing, and I remember being in the staff lounge at the library on my dinner break one evening and kind of singing, "Uh, oh: someone's gonna DIE." My colleague looked at me funny. There is also a very real sense of dread and foreboding throughout the book which kept me turning the pages.

The Ancestor is a novel that's hard to classify, genre-wise. It's a gothic thriller and mystery, with elements of horror and the fantastical. I'm not sure where to shelve it at my library, but I bought copies, and will look forward to recommending this one to readers looking for something a bit different.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Book Review: Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Center, Katherine. 2019. Things You Save in a Fire. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 987-1250047328. $26.99 USD

I was fortunate to hear Katherine Center speak at a librarian conference last year and get a signed copy of this title. She is delightful, and so enthusiastic about reading and books. I've had it on my TBR for a while, and having had trouble focusing on fiction during the COVID19 pandemic, this seemed like a good choice to help me get my reading groove back!

It had both more depth and more melodrama than I expected, but overall I enjoyed this fast-paced, absorbing read about a tough-as-nails female fire-fighter who experienced, and eventually overcame, some major losses in her life.

Cassie Hanwell is an fearless, ambitious fire-fighter in Austin, Texas, who has worked hard to develop a place for herself and gain the respect of the male-dominated fire station company she works for. She's being presented an award for bravery at a formal dinner with a number of fire-fighters and city employees when she unexpectedly loses her cool and bashed a city councilman on the head with her award when he tries to cop a feel. We find out fairly quickly that there is some history between them, but the facts about that are not revealed until much later. The trauma we slowly learn that Cassie experienced as a teenager is a driving force in the book.

When her estranged mother contacts her needing help for a year in Maine due to an injury, Cassie initially refuses. She doesn't owe this woman who abandoned her as a teenager anything. But when Cassie's captain tells her she needs to remove herself from Austin for a while due to the repercussions of the assault on the councilman, and a fire-station is found in Maine who will take her on, Cassie reluctantly agrees to move in with her mother and help out, but grudgingly.

The rest of the novel is an fascinating look at what a female fire-fighter goes through to prove herself in an all-male station. Cassie is a strong character, who doesn't allow herself to feel much. She basically has to come across as one of the guys, and she does this very, very well by, among other things, beating the men at pull-ups and later a challenging obstacle course.

Cassie is consummate professional throughout the book, which makes some things that happen toward the end of story surprising. When Cassie finally allows herself to "feel" her emotions, she does a LOT of feeling. It didn't quite match up with the first 3/4th of the book. Additionally, some of the sudden changes in the antagonist's character I felt were wrapped up a bit too neatly. But these minor issues didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the story and the slow-burn romance Cassie develops with another fire-fighter.

Ultimately, Cassie must face her past, both her teenage trauma and her anger toward her mother, to heal and gain a chance at a life and a love she never thought she'd have.

I was fortunate to recently receive a galley of the author's next book from the publisher (What You Wish For, coming in July) and will look forward to reading it, too. Especially since the main character in the new book is a Librarian! Katherine Center is a great writer, and I enjoyed spending time with the characters she crafted and the world she created in Things You Save in a Fire.

What You Wish For: A Novel by [Katherine Center]

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Edison Jones and the Anti-Grav Elevator by Michael Scott Clifton ~ Lone Star Literary Book Blog Tour

Genre: MG-YA / Action & Adventure / Men's & Boys'
  Publisher: Book Liftoff
  Publication Date: February 11, 2020
Number of Pages: 282 pages
Twelve-year-old Edison Jones is a prodigy with a passion for technology and inventions. Paralyzed from the waist down since the age of five, he hasn’t let his disability slow him down. Then his world changes overnight when his grandfather, a billionaire tech company owner, decides to enroll him in a public school. Algorithms, quantum physics, and digital engineering are easy. Finding his way in the bewildering world of boys and girls his own age is quite another thing . . . the biggest challenge of his life.
  Amazon  ┃  Draft2Digital 

I don't read a lot of YA novels anymore, as I select all the adult fiction at my library and have to stay knowledgeable with what's being published in that category. But I was intrigued by Michael Scott Clifton's new middle grade/young adult novel, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it. The opening scene is one of the best I've read in quite some time, with the gripping descriptions and creative use of onomatopoeia. 

Being somewhat plugged into the publishing industry, I know that there has been a positive trend lately to try to offer more novels featuring characters with disabilities, and the author has created a wonderful main character in Edison, who was left paralyzed after a car accident when he was very young. 

It is clear from the very beginning of the book that 12 year old Edison is extremely intelligent - a genius actually. He has been home schooled by his grandfather, Stanton, since his parents were killed in the accident, and has had access to many advanced technologies and laboratories at Stanton's company. But the decision is made that sheltering Edison from the "real world" is harming him more than helping him, so as the novel opens, Edison is starting 7th grade at the local public school. It's intriguing the way Edison plans to get around though: he has modified his wheelchair into a hover craft of sorts, and the descriptions of all the advanced things the chair can do are fascinating. 

As nervous as Edison is to start school with kids his own age, he luckily meets some fellow students who become his friends throughout the book. And in these interactions with other 7th graders, Edison learns a lot about himself: he has much to be grateful for, in spite of his disability; he has something to offer to the world with his intelligence and creative thinking; and he has more of an ability to help others than he ever thought he could. At times, I felt that the author needed to "show me, don't tell me" better with his writing; but overall, the characters were well-developed and the pace was such that I wanted to keep turning the pages, especially at the exciting end of this well-written book.

There is a lot of science and technology explored in this novel, and I admit I didn't understand all of it! But it would be a great book to put into the hands of mature middle grade and teen readers who are interested in STEM. Budding scientists and those fascinated by space flight and advanced robotics should enjoy this one and look forward to more adventures with Edison and his friends.

I only have a few criticisms, and those are minor. The first page of each chapter is printed on gray shaded paper with images, and that made it a bit of challenge to read in print. And although the writing is excellent, I felt that some of the vocabulary was well above the intended audience. The characters are all fully fleshed out, but do fall into stereotypes: the jock, the brainy girl, the cheerleader, and the bully, for example. The story really shines, however, when it shows Edison overcoming some of the limitations he has put on himself. Overall, this was a unique, action-packed story, with exciting twists and turns, and I will be happy to recommend it.

Multi award-winning author Michael Scott Clifton, a public educator for over 38 years as a teacher, coach, and administrator, currently lives in Mount Pleasant, Texas, with his wife, Melanie, and family cat. An avid gardener, reader, and movie junkie, he enjoys all kinds of book and movie genres. His books contain aspects of all the genres he enjoys: action, adventure, magic, fantasy, and romance. His fantasy novels, The Janus Witch and The Open Portal, received 5-Star reviews from the prestigious Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews, and he has been a finalist in a number of short story contests, with Edges of Gray winning First Place in the Texas Authors Contest. Professional credits include articles published in the Texas Study of Secondary Education Magazine. Clifton’s latest book, The Open Portal, won a Feathered Quill Book Finalist Award, and launched the fantasy book series, Conquest of the Veil. 
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THREE WINNERS! 1st Prize Signed Paperback Copy of Edison Jones
+ $15 Amazon Gift Card + bookmark
  2nd & 3rd Prizes eBook Copies of Edison Jones
APRIL 9-19, 2020
(Print copy U.S. Only)