Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Singing to a Bulldog: Life Lessons a Fellow Janitor Taught Me: My Journey from Happy Days to Hollywood and Beyond by Anson Williams

Growing up in 1950s California, young Anson William Heimlich showed very little promise. Clumsy, unsure of himself, and made to feel like a failure by his disappointed artist of a dad, Anson started working odd jobs as a teenager to help support his family. His boss at one of these jobs, an aging black janitor named Willie, unexpectedly became a mentor—and the lessons he taught young Anson proved to be invaluable throughout his subsequent career as an actor, director, and entrepreneur.

In Singing to a Bulldog, Anson Williams (as he came to be known) relates both these lessons and the never-before-revealed stories of the many seminal TV series he has worked on through his 40 years in Hollywood, including:
• being directed by Steven Spielberg in his first job as an “Equity” actor
• pitching Garry Marshall on the idea of adding a band to Happy Days
• getting kidnapped by the daughter of the president of the United States
• mentoring Shailene Woodley on the set of The Secret Life of the American Teenager
• and many more 

This entertaining and inspirational memoir has a cross-generational and broad appeal, combining all the fun of a celebrity memoir with the profound impact of a motivational bestseller. 

I had two on-screen loves growing up.  The first, Shaun Cassidy.  The second, Anson Williams.  So, I feel absolutely no shame in the fact that I snatched this book from the hands of another reviewer.  It's mine.  That's that.

The same year I was born, Happy Days debuted.  Most of you will know Anson from the character 'Potsie'.  I wasn't a Potsie fan though.  I was, and still am, an Anson fan.  He can act, he can sing and most recently I found out that he can write as well. The thing that's always drawn me to him is his glowing spirit.  He's one of those people that you can just look at and see that they're kind and good.  It vibrates from his spirit outward and you can see it on his face.  Though his range of talent includes comedy, what pulled me in was the genuineness of him.

If you're picking up this book because you're an Anson or Happy Days fan, you won't be disappointed.  There are some really interesting facts inside that I didn't know.  We get a glimpse of behind-the-scenes action and get Anson's view of lots of people.  I've always been a Garry Marshall fan and it was really fun to get to see him as Anson did.  Anson doesn't have a bad word to say about anyone.  This isn't some juicy tell-all book.  This is his experience and his perceptions and they're true to the person I've always thought him to be.

The writing is surprisingly well done.  I was so entertained I didn't want to put it down.  I'm sure it was easier because it's mostly his own recollections, but I'd love to see him branch off and write some fiction.  Take note, Anson!!!  Each paragraph enthralled me.  I laughed, I frowned.  The entire book kept me on an emotional roller coaster and at the same time, my brain was taking off in a thousand directions.  You're not bogged down with a lot of unnecessary detail, but at the same time, each scene is painted so vividly that you can't help but feel that you're right there.  

I picked up this book because I'm an Anson fan, but I found so much more inside.  This is one of the most inspirational books I've read in years.  You see, this isn't just about Anson's journey through fame.  It's Anson's journey through life and the most important lessons he's been taught.  The purpose of this book isn't to just tell you what he's done and how he's done it.  It's to inspire you to take his lessons into your own life and climb your own mountain.  I'm definitely a 'live every day to the fullest' sort of person, but even I want to take flight and follow my passions even more strongly after reading this.  Whatever greatness you have in you can be fulfilled and some of the truths in this book can help you get there.  

Anson did not let me down.  I found the genuinely kind spirit I've come to expect from him as well as hours of entertainment and a lifetime of lessons.  I tell you, this is one man I'd love to have dinner with!  This book is just the thing for media fans, Anson fans, those looking to break into the industry, and everyone who has a life to live.  No matter your station in life, you can identify with this book and you'll walk away wiser.  

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Shawn

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Caught Dead: A Rick Van Lam Mystery by Andrew Lanh

One of the beautiful Le sisters is dead. 

Hartford, Connecticut's small Vietnamese community is stunned. Mary Le Vu, wife of a poor grocery-store owner, is gunned down in a drive-by. Her twin sister insists dutiful Mary “wouldn't be caught dead” in that drug-infested zone. The police rule it an unlucky accident. Skeptics hire private eye Rick Van Lam to get to the truth.  

Amerasian Rick --his father an unknown US soldier --is one of the Bui Doi, children of the dust, so often rejected by Vietnamese culture. But his young sidekick, Hank Nguyen, a pureblood Vietnamese, can help Rick navigate the closed world of Little Saigon. Surrounded by close friends --a former-Rockette landlady, his crusty mentor, and his ex-wife Liz --Rick immerses himself in a world that rejects him, but now needs his help. Especially when a second murder strikes in Little Saigon.  

Rick and Hank delve into the families of the Le sisters, one poor, one very rich, and uncover a world of explosive ethnic tension and sinister criminal activity ranging from Hartford's exclusive white suburbs to the impoverished inner city. To solve the murders --and bring closure to Mary's grieving circle --Rick looks to long-buried memories of his Buddhist childhood for the wisdom that will lead him to a murderer. Caught Dead starts a smart, unusual series. 

Caught Dead is a great thrill ride.  What starts out as a sad tale of one sister’s death turns into a mystery that seems unsolvable.  Rick Van Lam is asked to look into the death because he can get answers that the police can’t seem to get.  You meet a great mix of characters in this book and each one of them has so many flaws that you don’t know who to like, trust or just outright dislike, but they all draw you in. 

I started trying to guess who the killer was and every time I thought I knew who and why, I was proven wrong. Caught Dead is a great ride of a book and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I actually found that I couldn't put this book down and while the pace was fast I was wishing for it to slow down so that I could savor it 

While Rick Van Lam is the main protagonist he is supported by a team of characters.  There is Jimmy his partner in a private investigators office.  Liz his ex-wife who he still has a thing for.  Hank who is training to become a cop and who’s Vietnamese family has taken Rick in. Gracie his landlord who loves to help in any way possible. 

Then there are the Torcelli and Vu families.  While they are grieving their Mother and Aunt they each have something to hide.  But what is it? Each character is more intriguing than the next. 
This story is great.  Not only is the writing fabulous, you are swept away with the story.  You can picture each person and who they are reacting to what his happening.  I would highly recommend this book to everyone.   

Andrew Lanh is a pseudonym of Ed Ifkovic. Ifkovic taught literature and creative writing at a community college in Connecticut for over three decades, and now devotes himself to writing fiction. A longtime devotee of mystery novels, he fondly recalls his boyhood discovery of Earle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason series in a family bookcase, and his immediate obsession with the whodunit world. 

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Stephanie

Monday, April 20, 2015

Something Red (Something Red #1) by Douglas Nicholas

I read Something Red by Douglas Nicholas with a sense of déjà vu.   At first, I thought that it reminded me of some historical movie I had seen.  Then, I thought it might remind me of Game of Thrones.  It was only when I had read 2/3 of the book that I realized that I have read this book before!  I am not sure forgetting the plot the second time around is a good sign.  But I will say that after a really slow start, the book did pick up and I ended up enjoying the richness of the language—even if I did not enjoy the plot so much.
            First thing to know is that Something Red was written by a poet.  Why is this relevant?  It is important because Nicholas does a commendable job describing things with an attention to detail.  The problem is just that there was too much description.  I felt like I was slogging through pages and pages of sentences with clause after clause.  While lovely and evocative, these descriptions did nothing for me in terms of the plot.  I felt like I was slogging through the mud.
            The plot centers on a group of travelers during the Middle Ages.  Maeve, the leader, is an Irish healer who some believe to be a witch.  She travels with Jack, a strong but damaged man, her granddaughter, Nemain, and a boy named Hob.  As the travelers go from monastery, to inn to castle, they meet many other people who are dwelling in the forest.  Unfortunately, a malevolent force is traveling with them too.  The battle at the end of Something Red is a battle between the forces of good and evil.
            While my main problem was with the long, descriptive passages, I also had some issues with the dialect some of the characters used.  It was difficult for me to decipher at times.  There is a good plot in Something Red, but you have to slog through many pages to get to the next move forward in the story.  I am hoping that the next book in the series is longer on plot and shorter on description.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina

Friday, April 17, 2015

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated. 

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project--an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past--Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared more than one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on. 

 Upon finishing this book I was really relieved, only because I felt the story was about 50-60 pages longer than it had to be. Usually I do not like reading books set in other countries mainly England and the reason is because as I’m reading I take on an English accent, even in my head. I didn’t really start enjoying this story until the mystery” happened.  After that I was hooked on the story and trying to figure out exactly what had happened or what would happen 

     Through the first half of The World Before Us I kept thinking I knew what was going on, but then my theory would blow up in my face as certain things were came to light. However, I was able to figure out the plot by page 305. It took me a little longer to read The World Before Us compared to other books, only because some of the paragraphs within the chapters were a little longer than most. 

      I thought Aislinn Hunter did a great job on how she put this novel together. I really enjoyed reading it, but by page 310 I did find myself getting a little bored with it; I guess because I had already figured out the “mystery.” I think other readers may enjoy how long the book is and others may agree that it’s too long; we readers can surprise other you I give The World Before Us an “8” and Ms. Hunter a “9.”

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Tiffany

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mr. Samuel's Penny: An Elizabeth Parrot Mystery by Treva Hall Melvin

What if the most important clue to solving a crime is a tiny, collectible penny?  That is the premise in Treva Hall Martin’s novel Mr. Samuel’s Penny.  Learning the identity of murderer falls on fourteen year old, Elizabeth Landers, a young woman visiting her family in Ahoskie, North Carolina.  Elizabeth cherishes the time she gets to spend with her Aunt Al and her Uncle Frank in their rural community.  It is a huge change from her New York home, but she is not prepared to deal with some of the difficulties of living in the South during the early 1970s.
            Mr. Samuel’s Penny opens with the death of Mr. Samuel, the owner of a local lumberyard.  For reasons unknown, his car veers off a bridge.  In the car with Mr. Samuel is his infant daughter.  Though he was found clutching a distinctive penny in his hand when he died, the penny is missing from the other evidence when it is examined.  Lizbeth knows that if she finds the penny again, it will be in the hand of Mr. Samuel’s murderer.  She spends the rest of the summer on the lookout for it. 
            Mr. Samuel’s Penny is about far more than the mystery of who murdered Mr. Samuel.  This is a good thing—and a bad one.  First, it is a good thing because the other aspect of the story is a far more compelling one than the murder mystery.  Lizbeth encounters many examples of prejudice and unkindness in the town.  The expectations that are placed upon whites and African Americans is well represented here, as is the distrust that the communities have toward one another.  It is a credit to Hall Martin that she presents these obstacles in a measured way, and I particularly enjoyed how the characters changed their perceptions of one another as the novel progressed. 
            I enjoyed the characterization of Violet Samuel, the widow of the dead man, and her efforts to overcome her grief.  Some other supporting characters provided some much needed coming relief—including a crazy old aunt and a mean, spiteful woman named “Ms McMeanie”, who ends up getting her comeuppance in the end.  I found myself wanting to spend more time with these characters and to inhabit their every day lives.  That would have been a compelling enough story.
            This brings me to the part that is not a good thing.  The genre of this novel was all over the place.  Is it a mystery about the penny and the murder of a good man and his daughter?  Is it a commentary on race relations after the Civil Rights era?  Is it a coming of age tale?  Is it a family drama?  Unfortunately, it was trying to be all of those things at the same time.  This led to each aspect of the tale getting a bit less attention than it should have received.
            There were some coincidences that messed up the story a bit for me.  (A character gets struck by lightning.)  But far more problematic were a couple of scenes of sexual violence.  There was an attempted molestation, domestic violence, and an allusion to a group rape that made this novel more than a young adult read (as it was labeled).  Again, this to me was another example of the novel trying to be too many things at once.  Yes, for the most part it is a young adult novel.  But the sexual violence makes it too intense to be a young person’s book, while the rest of the book reads more like a children’s’ book.
            There were admirable aspects to Mr. Samuel’s Penny, and I would very much like to read another book in the same vein.  A tighter focus and a clearer scope would make such a novel a greater pleasure to read.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Sin Eater’s Daughter (The Sin Eater’s Daughter #1) by Melinda Salisbury

I am the perfect weapon.

I kill with a single touch.

Twylla is blessed. The Gods have chosen her to marry a prince, and rule the kingdom. But the favour of the Gods has it's price. A deadly poison infuses her skin. Those who anger the queen must die under Twylla's fatal touch.

Only Lief, an outspoken new guard, can see past Twylla's chilling role to the girls she truly is.

Yet in a court as dangerous and the queen's, some truths should not be told...

A new debut filled with fantasy, suspense and a heroine stuck in a hard luck corner with no reprieve in sight. The Sin Eater's Daughter is a deftly built world filled with vivid scenes and full fleshed characters. 

The writing is sometimes elegant but sharp enough that the scenes will impact your emotions. I felt so many with this debut: horror, disgust, hope, sadness and anger. I empathized with Twylla, yet wanted to throttle her for just accepting her fate in the beginning. Her sense of loss was not as broad as it should have been as she just accepted what she was and what she does.

 I really liked Merek and Lief, hoping at least one of them would save Twylla....but knowing she would have to know that she needed to save herself first. The pages just flew by and I really enjoyed it.  If you're looking for a new twist on a fantasy, then give the Sin Eater's Daughter a try!

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Wendy

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Last Changeling (Faerie Revolutions #1) by Chelsea Pitcher

A Kingdom at War . . .

Elora, the young princess of the Dark Faeries, plans to overthrow her tyrannical mother, the Dark Queen, and bring equality to faeriekind. All she has to do is convince her mother’s loathed enemy, the Bright Queen, to join her cause. But the Bright Queen demands an offering first: a human boy who is a “young leader of men.” 

A Dark Princess In Disguise . . .

To steal a mortal, Elora must become a mortal—at least, by all appearances. And infiltrating a high school is surprisingly easy. When Elora meets Taylor, the seventeen-year-old who’s plotting to overthrow a ruthless bully, she thinks she’s found her offering . . . until she starts to fall in love.

The Last Changeling was a riveting novel about fairies and humans. This book had two amazing main characters whose differences bring them together in an epic battle between good and evil.

The main characters, Taylor and Lora, are from two very different worlds and collide when Lora comes out from the fairy world to visit the human one on a mission. Lora meets up with Taylor and then the rest comes in a whirlwind of romance and action. However, Lora has a dark secret she has been hiding from Taylor. She is the Dark Court Princess and she has been sent to this world with a goal to capture someone needed to overthrow her mother, him. She doesn't agree with her mother's ways and persuaded the Bright Court queen to give her a quest. He is her quest. But, in the end, love always wins. Or does it?

There are many twists and turns the book takes as you travel along its pages. It enraptured my attention and captivated my mind. It was beautifully written and had a wonderful, flowing plot that travels along with you, leading from one scene to the next. It also raises awareness about LGBT rights, which was a plus for me.

 Although some people do smoke, drink alcohol, and do other harmful things, it was a fabulous read. There is mild cursing. On my "Amazingly Fabulous Book Scale" I would rate this book a perfect 10 because I enjoyed it that much! Yay!

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Hannah