Review of NEST: Retribution: An Alivia Morgan Story by David Antocci

antocciWhile I am not normally one to pick up a thriller, this novel turned out to be one of those pleasant surprises.  From the very first word of this page-turner, I couldn’t stop reading.  I was reminded of watching a fast-paced action movie.  The scenes in this well-written novel certainly kept me wanting to know what would happen next!

David Antocci’s novel opens with an Islamic extremist suicide bomber standing in a crowd in Boston, where a Congresswoman is about to speak.  You know it’s not going to end well.  NEST, New England Special Terrorist Division, of Homeland Security is on it, but they have the wrong suspect.  As imagined, the bomb goes off, killing and injuring several people, including two NEST officers.

We shift to a heartwarming scene of a young woman named Alivia Morgan playing football with her nephew outside her parents’ home.  She has finally been given a break from serving her country, but after the Boston atrocity, she is called in.

It turns out the terrorists set off the bomb to get back at Alivia.  It’s personal because Alivia led a mission to find and kill an Islamic extremist leader.  Being a female that high in position went viral back home for her heroism, so with her name and face all over the media, there was no hiding from the world what she did…even though she didn’t want the recognition and hoped to return to a more peaceful life of serving her country back home instead of across the sea.

Now it’s become a game for the terrorists.  They demand the U.S. government hand over Alivia to them or more bombs will go off.  While Homeland Security doesn’t wish to give in, Alivia insists on playing along, in the hopes that the U.S. will prevail by saving her and taking down her captors.

It’s certainly a scary situation to imagine yourself in Alivia’s shoes.  What’s to say the terrorists won’t set off more bombs anyway?  What’s to stop them from killing her right away?  The stakes drive higher and higher as the story advances, so you can see why this novel is a real page-turner.

In addition to the gripping plot, the characters’ dialogue is spot-on for what I would imagine soldiers talking like when working under pressure.  There’s no sugar-coating things, yet there is an underlying tenderness between Alivia and her boss, Luis, as well as her secret boyfriend, fellow solider JJ, who has been injured by the terrorists.

Antocci certainly did his research for this novel.  When the team who is tracking Alivia is busy at work with computers and maps, the detail of their work is amazing.  I would believe the author has actually worked in such a facility because these scenes are written so well.

So, how high to the stakes go?  To tell you more would ruin this great novel, so I highly recommend you get a copy of this newly released book and give it a read!

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase David Antocci’s book here.

Visit his website and learn more about his other books here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.  Please note: I will be taking a break from posting blogs until January 2018, due to the holidays and time constraints.  Poetry and excerpts from my novels will still post weekly.  My apologies for any inconvenience.  Thank you for your support!

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Review of The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story (Book 1) by Ellie Midwood

theautrianThe title of this book alone is a hook, at least for me.  World War II is, after all, one of the most important events in recent history, filled with some of the greatest atrocities ever committed against our fellow humans.

It’s easy to root for those who were persecuted and the Allies who ended the war, but what about the Axis powers?  They were people, too.

After the fall of the Nazi Reich, many of the former leaders were brought to trial and convicted of war crimes.  What would be going through a war criminal’s head?  Regret for what he’d done to others, regret for getting caught?  Anger and hatred toward those judging him?  Fear that the end of his own life was coming?  Or something more?

The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story explores such questions with vivid, often heartbreaking detail, so much so that I sympathized with the man who this story is about.  In the end, he is still just a man who has known love and hate, happiness and sadness, good times and bad times.

Ellie Midwood’s well researched, well crafted World War II novel follows the life of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a high-ranking SS official from Austria. While based on a real historical figure of this name, the character of Ernst is fictionalized. The story swaps effortlessly back and forth between the novel’s current day of 1946 of his imprisonment while he awaits trial for his war crimes and his past–from his boyhood and first love with a Jewish girl to how he would up serving in the Nazi party.

The novel opens with Ernst in Nuremburg Prison on the day of his execution.  We know his life is at the end, so this might seem like a strange place to start, but how did this man wind up in the gallows?  

Ernst comes from a family where he’s the oldest son, so the expectation is that he will follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a lawyer, marrying, and having a family of his own.  Ernst is also a big, strong boy for his age, and his father encourages him to beat up those who deserve it.  As a young man, Ernst stands up for those who the bullies pick on at school, including Dalia, who is a little older than him and Jewish.

He even has to act as the head of his household when his father is drafted during World War I.  He seems to grow up before his time, even proposing to Dalia when he’s not old enough to marry.  Dalia, however, knows they could never be together because of their backgrounds.  The young Ernst doesn’t understand this, as both of their fathers are lawyers, and if Dalia and he love each other, what’s the problem?

Feeling bitter and heartbroken, Ernst leaves Dalia.  He begins attending secret political meetings with his father, where people get together who oppose the current government.  He meets a young woman named Melita afterward and begins hanging out with some college students, and from there, Ernst’s connections to the “right people” grow.

As he gets older, he moves up in the ranks of the Austrian SS.  He’s a mixture of a man who stands up for the underdog and who can easily beat someone to a pulp, sensitive and aggressive.  Before he knows it, he’s the damned leader, all the while wondering how he got into this position.

The story continues in the second book, including how Ernst falls in love with a woman who is the only beckon of hope he has as he awaits his end in prison.  I look forward to reading the rest of his story.

Ellie Midwood is an expert of World War II history, and it shows in his book. The historical facts check out, yet flow flawlessly with the fictionalized story of Ernst.

Her writing is lovely and at times heart-wrenching. Ernst is a good man who got caught up in the wrong world. His one true love is what gives him hope during his last days in prison, where he is left wondering if he did right by his life.

For anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and a complicated romance, I recommend this novel. It’s top-notch!

5 of out 5 stars!

Purchase The Austrian (Book 1) here.

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Review of Emilia: The Darkest Days in History of Nazi Germany Through a Woman’s Eyes by Ellie Midwood

Warning: contains spoilers.

emiliaEvery so often, a novel feels so real that the characters seem to be breathing right off the page.  Emilia is one of those stories.

The title clearly states what this book is about, but it doesn’t give away the horrors that the protagonist, Emilia Brettenheimer, endures during World War II.  Emilia is a young Jewish woman who grew up in Germany, but her family is forced to relocate to a ghetto.  She lives with her parents and three brothers, two of whom are considered useful workers in the ghetto.

While living in the ghetto, she thinks her life has surely taken a turn for the worse.  Food is hard to come by, at least enough food to thrive.  She begins, out of desperation, to give away the family’s hidden gold and then her services, in the sexual sense, to an SS guard named Richer, in exchange for enough food to feed her family.

She becomes pregnant with his child.  Just when she is on the brink of wondering what to do, things turn even darker.  Her mother, Hannah, and she are carted off to a labor camp in Poland after the unthinkable happens.

We all know the horrors of concentration camps.  Emilia’s baby is aborted, and she is put through a harrowing procedure that renders her no longer able to have children.  I cannot imagine the physical and emotional pain that would have involved.  Being a mother, having my children is one of my greatest blessings.  To take that away from a person is to say they are somehow not worthy of being a parent, that they are subhuman and should be allowed to be neutered or spayed like an animal.

The one saving grace poor Emilia has is her new friend, Magda, a red-headed girl about her age who finds something to be grateful for in the midst of hell.  Magda explains that an attractive young woman like Emilia could use her looks to get on the good side of the SS guards and get more food.  It’s a matter of survival.  The game they’re playing has no real winners, for a young woman loses her innocence to get a piece of bread.  Some of the guards are no less than bears, the sex nothing less than pure rape.

What Emilia had with Richer was heavenly bliss in comparison.

Things continue to unravel.  Emilia’s life spirals downward, for how can she hope to survive this horror, let alone hold to the belief that there is any mercy to be had?  

The war ends, but the price of survival is too much to pay.  Embittered to the point of hatred for her tormentors, and understandably so, Emilia tries to make her way in this new world.

Yet there are people in Emilia’s life who have been the balm of healing, those who have shown her a better way.  Will Emilia, broken and battered from her experiences, choose to hold onto her shattered pieces, or will she manage to rebuild her live, one piece painstakingly at a time, to create the masterpiece of forgiveness, wholeness, and love?

Ellie Midwood’s extensive knowledge of World War II is evident throughout.  She writes Emilia’s experiences with gut-wrenching rawness.  It hurts to read, but you can’t stop.  Perhaps to experience just a small fraction of the pain a Jewish woman would have endured during those years is a testament to us all of the horrors of humanity and one of the lowest points of history for mankind.  To think there are things going on like this in the world today is an atrocity.  This fictional book raises awareness to a very real evil.

5 out of 5 stars

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Review of Hope Dies Last: An Alaskan Adventure by Megan Webb

hopeWhen I started reading Megan Webb’s book, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The main character, Mekana, works in a pet store in New Mexico and lives in an apartment with her sister, Bird.  The sisters are obviously close and love quoting movies, being goofy, and having fun.  While Bird is outgoing and easily has fun with people, Mekana is full of doubt and quiet.  Her uneasiness around men has made is hard for her to have a boyfriend.

She has a sweet dog called Chili Dog and a mostly aloof cat named Snowbeast.  Her life seems pretty ordinary.  With the slow beginning to the book, I was wondering how Mekana would get wrapped up in the adventure the title promises.

A chatty friend named Chessie comes for a visit and insists on Mekana flying with her to Alaska for a funeral.  Bird and Chessie are both convinced that a trip to Alaska is just what shy Mekana needs–a chance to get out there and explore, maybe even have an adventure.

Things continue to be pretty mundane for Mekana as she and Chessie attend the funeral, but then Mekana meets a strange older lady and a handsome bodyguard-like man at the reception after the funeral.  Nothing comes of this, at least the reader thinks.

Mekana and Chessie decide to go on a small plane tour next, but Chessie gets sick from some bad cheese at the funeral.  Mekana boards the plane alone, joining a few others.  Just as the pilot gets on, two men and the old lady from the funeral suddenly show up–and the men have the old woman at gunpoint!  They seemingly hijack the plane, and things start to get interesting.

The heist turns out to be staged–a way for the older lady, Tabitha, to fake her death.  She is trying to escape from someone who works for her company.  She owns a company that makes cures, but sometimes things go wrong, and a stray ingredient renders a cure into a poison.  A man who works for her has died from an accidental poison he created, and another employee wishes to exploit Tabitha and wants to ingredient that make the lethal substance.  This is all backstory.

The small plane winds up crashing in a canyon, however–which wasn’t part of the plan.  This is where the adventure really starts, albeit a quarter of a way into the book.  Mekana is with strangers in a place where they can’t seem to find a way out.  The plane sinks to the bottom of a river, and the only way out is too narrow for passage on a raft on the turbulent waters.  

The group must learn to cooperate to survive in the wilderness as they wait for a rescue that may not ever come, since it isn’t clear if the black box in the plane sent a signal of their distress.  Tabitha turns out to be a grandmotherly type figure for Mekana, and they become friends.  Brody, the bodyguard-like man from the funeral, is gruff but gentle.  Mekana and he start to develop feelings for each other.

As the days pass and no rescue arrives, tension grows.  The real worry of survival increases.  Bears surround the small camp.

The author clearly knows a thing or two about surviving in the wilderness by the details she gives.  This is not only a nice touch but a vital one to make a story like this realistic and believable.

Also, Megan Webb’s faith plays an important role in her story.  Mekana, who admits to herself as not having prayed much lately, begins to talk with God more while they are stranded.  Her faith in God to protect them and deliver them through this tough time is what keeps her going when things get rough.

There are many lovely passages in Megan Webb’s writing in regards to faith and being outdoors.  Her story is an adventure with elements of Christian literature and romance.

You might be wondering if they are rescued or how this would even happen.  Even if there is a rescue, the book delivers a satisfying twist at the end that wasn’t expected.  In spite of that excitement, I would have liked to have seen more development after the climax in the resolution, as it felt rushed.  So much led up to the climax that there still seemed to be more to wrap up at the end, and I felt like I wanted or needed more.

Overall, this is a good story, and being Christian myself, I appreciate the faith elements.  

4 out of 5 stars

Buy Megan’s book here.

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Review of First of September by Kathleen Joyce

21150214_1907201166200024_3636356680373994494_nYou know that cozy feeling of holding a warm beverage, wrapped in a blanket, and curling up with a good book by the fire?  That’s Kathleen Joyce’s cozy mystery…with a murder or two in the mix.

I admit that I haven’t read many cozy mysteries, but the appeal is inviting from page one of First of September.  The main character is a 46-year-old divorcee named Clare Harrigan, who lives in charming fictitious town Amelia Bay in the Pacific Northwest.  Clare is a potter and mother to grown children, and she has a group of the best friends a girl could ask for–the group tight since childhood.

Only one of the members of the group, Addie, turns up dead.  The police are saying it’s an accident.  Clare doesn’t think so.

She knows Addie, after all.  Just before Addie turned up dead on the beach outside her home, she seemed excited to be starting a new life.  Add to the mix that Addie hated swimming and being near water in general, so when her body turns up near water, Clare knows something isn’t right.  Amelia Bay is a small town that talks, and Addie has some secrets from her past that haven’t been forgotten by everyone in town.

The police don’t take Clare seriously at first.  But as another murder shortly follows, Clare and her friends can’t help but be involved.  The sleuthing begins as page after page Clare, Bev, Liz, and the other ladies discuss their thoughts and findings over wine, coffee, and food described with such detail that the delicious smell comes right off the page, inducing hunger in the reader.

Of course, these ladies aren’t just content to sit around and talk.  They get involved, sometimes whether they like it or not.  They question possible suspects and go looking for evidence at the crime scene and around town.

All this action is written with care and loving detail.  There are especially beautiful passages where Kathleen describes the outdoors or the interior of a home.  Being an interior decorator earlier in her life, it shows that Kathleen knows what she’s talking about.  The same is true when she writes about the process of pottery.  She writes from experience, and this is a nice touch.

When I got to the end, I was surprised who the murderer was, and it’s my bet that you won’t be able to guess whodunnit.  Kathleen’s easy flow of her prose keeps the reader guessing with every page turn.  Her characters come to life off the page.  I truly cared about them and what happened to them.  All in all, this is a well-rounded novel for this author’s debut book.

And the best part?  Clare’s story isn’t over!  First of September is just the first book in a series!

5 out of 5 stars!

Purchase First of September here.

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Review of Life as a Spectrum Mom: The Ups, Downs, and Upside Downs of Parenting Autistic Kids by Karen Pellett

I love the title of this quirky and honest book because I am also a spectrum mom.

Now try saying the title fast three times while I sit back and smile.

Okay, in all seriousness (or not)… Can I really take life so seriously?  Karen Pellett, despite raising not only one kiddo on the spectrum, like me, has three.  Yes, three.  And she manages to find humor in her situation because, honestly, sometimes all you can do is laugh when life takes a detour around every carefully crafted plan you had for your kids, and life seems to be mocking you as your child melts down for the fifth time in ten minutes.

This is the first review of a nonfiction book I’m doing, and while I usually read fiction, because I am trying to escape from brutal reality at times, I felt drawn to this mom’s story because I understand her pain, her worries, her frustrations, her joys, her laughter.  Anyone who is a parent understands these sentiments in regards to raising children–the hardest job you will ever, ever have…and no one is paying you to do it.

The author begins the book by sharing facts about her three kids (a girl born first, followed by two boys, all in three years)–their names, their quirks, their diagnoses, etc.  She also explains how she had a vision of what her family would look like before having kids and how that changed quickly.  It was either get on board with what she’d been dealt with or continue in denial, refusing to accept it.

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I commiserated with her when she said it took years to conceive their first child, as my husband and I also went through that.  Then you get the best news ever–you’re pregnant!  But then after the child is born, you start to realize she or he isn’t developing typically.  For us, our son had delayed speech.  At 24 months, he hardly spoke, and we got him started with speech therapy.  Nine months later, he was diagnosed as autistic.  Karen’s daughter has ADHD and sensory processing disorder (SPD).  My son also has ADHD, although it wasn’t until last year that was confirmed.  Both of our oldest kids are eight.  

But as Karen’s story continued and she almost died while giving birth to her last kid, I soon realized that I had to take a step back.  I am not one for comparing heartaches, but I can say her situation is harder than mine.  I know how it feels to watch helplessly as your child grows frustrated and has a meltdown, which results in throwing things, kicking, hitting, and ripping pictures off the walls.  As a mother, nothing hurts more than seeing your kids in pain, whether that pain be physical, mental, or emotional.  If we could, we would take it away.

But that is not the reality of things.  I love how Karen has shared funny stories in the midst of telling her tale, which often is quite serious–like her injuring her back and needing surgery or having a car seat thrown at her head, resulting in a concussion.  She is a strong woman who has been through more than most, and I admire her brutal honesty in sharing her story.  Books like hers as essential for bringing awareness and understanding to autism.

While I don’t often feel judged by the public eye when my son acts out, I know there is still ignorance out there.  I was at the library (alone, for once) and walking out when I passed a mother and her son, who were standing off to the side.  The boy was obviously autistic, exhibiting the hand-flapping, bouncing in place, and vocalizations my own son does.  He was about ten and wasn’t wearing pants or shorts.  He had on a diaper, a shirt, shoes, and socks.  Now, I don’t know what was going on, but even when a mom tries to be prepared with extra clothes and diapers, accidents happen.  Also, autistic kids have sensitives, sometimes resisting clothing.  I continued on my way out, but an older lady stopped me and asked why that boy wasn’t wearing pants.  I am glad she asked me, as I was able to explain to her that the boy was autistic.  I don’t know if this woman knew nothing about autism, but she was shocked and seemed to judge the mother for not having pants on the boy.

My purpose in sharing this story is to drive home the importance of autism awareness.  I will promote it and push it.  That said, I highly recommend you read Karen Pellett’s eye-opening book.  You don’t have to relate to her or have autistic kids, but I believe her book brings servings of awareness to the table of autism.

5/5 stars

Buy Karen Pellett’s book here.

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Book Review of Production Values by Liv Bartlet

Never mix business and pleasure.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and there’s a reason for this.  The consequences can be disastrous.

This is the premise of Liv Bartlet’s debut women’s fiction novel, Production Values.  This edgy, contemporary, sometimes cut-throat story takes the reader on an emotional ride through the throes of best friends, Kat Porter and Bea Douglas, in Hollywood and the film industry beyond.  Kat and Bea are as different as night and day — the dreaming artist versus the level-headed realist — but their friendship and their partnership as Monkey & Me in the business of making TV shows thrives because of their contrasts.

I couldn’t help but be drawn in from page one to Kat’s desire for her dream to come true — for her vision to become reality.  She’s an art prodigy.  She’s ambitious.  And she’s also a hopeless romantic.  

Everything seems to be working well for Kat and Bea with their highly-rated BBC show, 21 Things.  Kat pushes the limits of the show by hiring heart-throb and heart-breaker Ian Graham, the GQ-esque actor from Scotland with the sex body and voice.  Having a star like Ian on the show is sure to give the story-line that extra oomph to get a Golden Globe.  

Bea is skeptical.  She has dreams of her own of stepping down from the world of producing shows and becoming a nurse and mother.  She comes from a family-oriented background that values close bonds, but she is ever-supportive of Kat’s dreams and goes the extra mile to make those dreams come to fruition.

But Bea sees Ian as a problem, a distraction.

But then golden statues become a reality for the whole team behind 21 Things, and it’s off to Hollywood from London.  With a Golden Globe under her belt, Kat is flying high.  She runs off with Ian while flying over Cloud Nine, leaving Bea to keep the rest of the team together.20448924_1970798226535004_702796297789596401_o

From there, Kat’s dreams grow.  More ideas for more shows means stretching herself too thin, and she relies on Bea even more to pick up the slack.  With growing reluctance, Bea does so.  

But Kat’s dream-bubble pops.  Ian and her next show aren’t in the limelight, but Bea’s hard work is paying off.  The women struggle to keep their friendship afloat as Kat continues to chase a dream (and Ian), and Bea keeps wondering when she’s going to get off the bus that’s taking her to the wrong destination.

Can their friendship survive the sometimes brutal business of making shows?  Can they overcome their differences to each find their true happiness?  Or will a guy or a movie come between them, irreversibly damaging the Monkey & Me partnership?

The story keeps the reader pulled in, needing to know the answers, from page one.  The writing is poetry in the form of prose, metaphorical and entertaining at the same time.  The characters step off the page with their witty, cutting, cunning, and lovely dialogue.  Liv Bartlet doesn’t disappoint.

Liv Bartlet clearly did her research on the inner-workings of the film industry.  The story is clear-cut and renders writing that would appear beautiful on screen.

At the core of this amazing novel is the struggle we all must face — head versus heart.  We live in a world of relationships and choices — often decisions that aren’t easy to make without hurting someone.  

I highly recommend this novel and applaud Liv Bartlet for delivering such an action-packed, punch-in-the-gut, heart-twisting story.

5 out of 5 stars

Visit Liv Bartlet’s Website

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