Book Reviews: From My Nightstand

By Leslie C. Halpern

Much of my professional work involves reviewing books assigned by someone else for book review sites. So when I select books to review from the towering stack on my nightstand to review for my blog, you can be sure I enjoyed them enough to go to the extra effort. My nightstand includes books from authors I met at conventions, book signings, book fairs, and other events. Sometimes they just arrive without warning in the mail.

The stack is still towering and threatens to topple over at any minute, but of the past several books I’ve read recently from my nightstand, these are my three favorites. Find out more information about each book from Amazon.com by clicking on the highlighted links.

The Bait Man

The Bait Man by DL Havlin. (Paperback) Taylor and Seale Publishing, LLC. 315 pages. 978-1943789450.This mystery-suspense novel takes readers deep into Florida’s snake-filled swamps for an exciting story about Chessie, a brash young woman who works for a small fishing business and her harrowing experiences with her nemesis, Rooster, a vile, foul-mouthed bait man. Told mostly through Chessie’s first-person account, the story pits the former wild child and ex-Marine against the huge, hulking Rooster from their first encounter. After finding teeth and bone in frozen blocks of bait that Rooster provided, Chessie is convinced he’s a murderer and enlists the help of her policeman brother, Reading, to help her discover the truth. With or without police assistance, the strong-willed, thick-headed young woman puts her life in danger on numerous occasions to set a trap for the bait man. Thrilling and suspenseful, this novel reveals its secrets slowly as it reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Journey

Journey by Gary Roen. (Paperback) Legacy Publishing. 252 pages. 978-1937952075. This collection of short stories (both science fiction and general fiction) takes readers on journeys into many “what if” scenarios. Although some of the stories are flash fiction at just 66 words, most of the pieces are several pages long. The stories cover themes including revenge, lust, and greed, sometimes set within the publishing industry. Florida and Chicago serve as backdrops, along with some outer space locations. Each story has the element of surprise for the reader when characters behave unexpectedly and plots twist in curious ways. Seven of the short stories focus on the adventures of a hideous human-sized teddy bear named Slotski who has sharp claws and bloody fangs that come in handy when he’s angry. For the most part, however, his mission is to help people who unknowingly need his services. These quirky stories make an interesting and diverse collection.

Beauty Lessons

Beauty Lessons by Terry Godbey. (Paperback) Quercus Review Press. 63 pages. 978-0974307091. This lovely chapbook was an annual book award winner in the Quercus Review Press poetry series a few years ago. Divided into three sections, “Ready or Not,” “Only Child,” and “Hunger,” the book is loosely chronological and traces the author’s childhood (including her first kiss and awakening sexuality) to her adult life. Throughout the years, she often focuses on beauty, as in “My Face at 46” in which she writes: “I’ve seen enough of my mouth / wrinkled as a drawstring purse, / my parade of big teeth, / the two in front tipping forward / like drunks.” Her critical eye looks outward also. From “Produce Man”: “He’ll fuss over vegetables and fruit / only to watch them leave / in the arms of women / who never look at him / among the mangoes and artichokes / and find him appetizing, / this famished man / who feeds us all.” Sensitive, insightful, and accessible, it’s easy to see how this accomplished poet and her delightful collection won first place in the annual contest.

My Favorite Books of 2014

By Leslie C. Halpern

In addition to writing books, poetry, and movie reviews, I’m also a book reviewer for several online publications, including BlueInk Review and IndieReader. Although I have a special fondness for romance, science fiction, thriller, autobiography, poetry, spirituality, and entertainment industry nonfiction books, my editors (and sometimes publishers and authors) send me just about anything to review, so I’m exposed to a variety of genres throughout the year, from traditionally published books to small presses to self-published platforms.

The following list represents (in no particular order) new books I most enjoyed reading in 2014.

Nonfiction

  • The Wisdom of Money: Listening to the Spiritual Message of Your Finances by Dr. Alice Bandy. (Paperback) Silver Tree Press, 144 pages. 978-0615745138. Although most financial guidebooks crunch numbers rather than inspire souls, this wise and wonderful book approaches money from an entirely different perspective. Complete with personal anecdotes, inspirational quotations, and enlightening exercises, The Wisdom of Money enables readers to see the connection between their finances and their emotions, beliefs, and behaviors.2014 Books Wisdom of Money
  • Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers) by Daniel Jones. (Hardcover) William Morrow, 209 pages. 978-0062211163. As editor of the “Modern Love” column for The New York Times, the author draws upon his experience with his advice-seeking letter writers, plus his own long-term marriage to form conclusions about love. With humor and compassion, he provides entertaining observations on love in the computer age.
  • How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days: Step-by-Step Instructions for Creating and Publishing Your Personal Story by Roberta Temes, PhD. (Softcover) Reader’s Digest, 192 pages. 978-1621451457. The author approaches memoir writing from more of a therapeutic than a writerly perspective in this helpful new book. After completing 30 memory-based writing exercises in 30 days, readers may find their memoir (relationship, animal, illness, religious, business, travel, romantic, tell-all, disaster, coming-of-age, or call-to-action) partially developed or near completion, depending upon their skills, focus, and dedication.
  • Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization by John J. Ratey, MD and Richard Manning. (Audiobook) Read by Dan Woren. Hachette Book Group. 9 hours on 8 CDs. 978-1478977292. Citing historical data on early hunter/gatherers and numerous research studies on some of today’s more primitive cultures, this book concludes that modern life with its carb-rich and high-processed diets is making us fat, sick, and stupid. Harvard Medical School Professor John Ratey MD and journalist Richard Manning make a strong case for living the Paleo lifestyle, a “wilder” approach to eating, moving, thinking, and behaving.
  • The Pound a Day Diet by Rocco DiSpirito. (Audiobook) Read by Rocco DiSpirito. Hachette Book Group, 5 hours on 5 CDs. 978-1478900689. This audiobook provides excellent background information about embarking on a 28-day carb-corrected menu plan designed by celebrity chef DiSpirito. He cites the latest nutritional studies, provides his own unique recipes, and shares personal struggles with his weight.2014 Play On
  • Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac. The Autobiography by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza. (Audiobook) Read by Martin Dew with Mick Fleetwood. Hachette Book Group. 10.5 hours on 9 CDs. 978-1478957201. Readers expecting gossip, trivia, drugs, sex, and rock and roll won’t be disappointed with this fascinating and introspective look at the life of Fleetwood Mac drummer, Mick Fleetwood. He’s candid about his mistakes and achievements, presenting an extraordinary life as if it were an ordinary tale of love, loss, and ambition.

Fiction

  • Lying With Strangers by Jonnie Jacobs. (Hardcover) Five Star, 348 pages. 978-1432827311. Filled with surprising plot twists, this intriguing mystery-suspense novel contrasts the lives of two vastly different women: a lonely teenager trapped by poverty and desperation, and a financially stable older woman with two children and a loving husband. A violent crime unexpectedly brings them together repeatedly until they form a mutually beneficial bond that keeps readers engaged from beginning to end.
  • Flat-Out Celeste by Jessica Park. (e-book) CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 336 pages. 978-149964702. The third book in a series, this imaginative coming-of-age story portrays a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome adjusting to changes in her family, school, and social life. Though primarily aimed at young adult readers, the touching story and laugh-out-loud humor allow this book to appeal to readers of all ages.
  • The Drop by Dennis Lehane. (Paperback) William Morrow Paperbacks, 224 pages.  978-0062365446. Based on a short story adapted into a screenplay (recently shown at movie theaters in a film of the same name), The Drop focuses on the illegal activities of Cousin Marv’s, a seedy Boston bar owned by ruthless Chechen gangsters. At the center of the story, a lonely bartender adopts an abused pit bull in an attempt to make a loving connection in this intriguing crime thriller.2014 Books The Drop
  • Gull Harbor by Kathryn Knight. (Paperback) The Wild Rose Press, 268 pages. 978-1612178363. In this paranormal romance, the love story and ghost story work well independently and eventually together, as they become intricately entwined. There’s a perfect blending of clues, hints, and foreshadowing as Claire, a medium who evicts ghosts from haunted houses, delves into the past (including her own) to solve today’s mysteries.