Merry Christmas Everyone/What inspires you?

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope that all of you have a wonderfully relaxing holiday and a blessed New Year. It is hard for me to believe that soon we will all be writing 2013 on everything. (I just got used to writing 2012.) I guess since the world didn’t come to an end on the 21st we will all be searching for the inner muse when it comes to creativity throughout another year.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes us unique as individuals. Why some people excel at one thing and others don’t. When I first started writing, years ago, if I found I had writer’s block and couldn’t figure out where to go next with the writing project I was working on, I would go to the ocean. I could always count on the sounds of crashing waves and seagulls to free my of my proverbial bonds and clear my head again. There was just something about breathing in the salty sea air and trudging through the sand that would inspire me to create. Years later, and amongst the craziness that life has become with four kids, a continued education and work responsibilities as well as being a couple states away from the ocean, I find that it is now my children that inspire me. I look at them playing together, (fighting with each other,) asking me questions that seem so simple and yet so complex that they could only come from a child; this is what inspires me now.

So, I ask you…what inspires you? Musician’s, artists, writers, creative people of all kinds. Where do you go when you have no inspiration and what is the catalyst that helps you start a new project? I would like to see what other people have to say. Leave me a comment please!

Happy Holidays everyone–Ionia

The Trail of Money by Peter David Shapiro

The Trail of Money

Devastated by the death of his daughter, numbed by the dissolution of his marriage, and facing collapse of his management consulting firm, Harry West embarks on his personal journey out of emptiness and loss when he takes on a project in Hong Kong, to evaluate a business deal involving the son of one of the richest men in Asia. But the assignment is not what he expects. Instead, he is asked to uncover evidence of money laundering and corruption, evidence that will expose people who will stop at nothing to protect themselves. To discover the truth, Harry must draw on resources that he never knew he had. Along the way, Harry’s journey is shaped by two women in Hong Kong, an American journalist who is investigating the same business deal, and a long-lost love who comes back into his life. Both a gripping and evocative suspense novel about secrecy and corrupt dealings in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and a moving story about the bonds of love and memory, The Trail of Money keeps the reader guessing until the end.–Description from Amazon.com

Wow! What a thrill ride. When I decided to read this book, I hadn’t read the previous book by this author and wasn’t sure what to expect. This thriller quickly grabs a hold of the reader and refuses to let go until the very end. Because this author is so great at building suspense and giving vivid descriptions, reading this book was much like watching an action movie.

Usually thrillers are not my taste in books because I have seen the plots repeated so many times that I always prepare myself for a letdown. This is not the case with “The Trail of Money.” As the characters struggle with their own issues and have to face the reality of their individual situations, Mr. Shapiro also manages to please his readers with plot twists and original ideas that make this book a lot of fun to read. I found the main character to be quirky enough to hold my attention and appreciated the way humor was used to dispel the seriousness of the subject matter. The main character was believable and likable, which is always important with me if I am going to enjoy a book. I felt by the end, like I was reading about an old friend.

What I found made this so brilliant was how the various elements of the story were weaved together a little at a time until a story of intrigue, determination, suspense and perseverance of the human spirit emerged. This author has a superior grip on how to choose his wording carefully for the maximum effect. I was never bored while reading this book and actually found myself wondering what I would read next that could be as good as this was. The pace of the writing matches the plot and the characters. I appreciated that the end of this book did not feel rushed in any way and the author took the same painstaking time to craft it as he did the rest of the book.

If you are looking for a light, easy bedtime read this is not your book. If instead, you are looking for a truly entertaining, very well-crafted tale that will keep you away from bedtime turning pages, this is definitely the one to pick. I will have to go find the other book that is available by this author now.

In summation, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for some excitement. Highly recommended.

You may purchase this book by following this link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009S9DGUA/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img

Note from reviewer: On a personal note, I think sometimes I am a bit quick to judge a book by the genre it falls into. I remember years ago, when I was a teenager (oh too many years ago) I never thought I would love reading horror novels until I came across a beat up copy of Stephen King’s Christine. That book opened my eyes to a genre that I would later fall in love with. For the last few years I have really made an attempt to stay away from mystery/thriller/action type books as I found they were getting too repetitive and I could usually guess the outcome. I would like to take a second and thank this author, Mr. Shapiro,  for rekindling my desire to read this genre and reminding me that all books are not built equally. –Ionia Martin

The Chicago Cap Murders by Warren Friedman

The Chicago Cap Murders

What if your life depended on the Chicago Cubs making it to the World Series? Diehard fans have always supported the team, which has not won a World Series since 1908, the longest drought in Major League Baseball, but this year people are dying for the Cubs to win literally. A serial killer is killing fans when the team loses, leaving them alive when the Cubs win. Either way, the killer leaves a calling card a Chicago Cubs cap. Can the police, the Cubs, and Major League Baseball stop the Cubs Cap Killer? The case falls into the lap of Detective Slats Grodsky, once Chicago s top cop but now resurrecting his career after a broken marriage and years of alcohol abuse. Grodsky’s road to redemption is rocky, however. Will his demons, detractors, and blunders keep him from following the killer s trail? Tension mounts outside and inside Wrigley Field as the team fights to pile up wins and not corpses.–Description from Amazon.com

 

This review is from: The Chicago Cap Murders Kindle eBook

“The Chicago Cap Murders” by newcomer Warren Friedman was a highly entertaining murder mystery. I will not go into the plot of the book and so forth as it would be too easy to give away something important and inadvertently include a spoiler. What I will say, is that this book surprised me in a good way. I am not an over-the-top baseball fan, but I found that I was still able to fully enjoy this book regardless. The author does a remarkable job of character building, giving each of the important characters in the book a history and a unique personality. The characters in this book are all necessary to the plot, which was a nice change. This author does not waste space with fluff. This book never loses pace and kept me turning pages long after I should have been in bed.

The book has been edited professionally, making it stand out from the crowd when it comes to the work of first-time authors. The descriptions are very visual and help move the story along as you can easily imagine being the main character and seeing through his eyes. I would bet that everyone in Chicago who reads this book will be smiling and nodding their heads.

Although I have seen plenty of murder mysteries with a tortured character leading the pack, I thought Mr. Friedman did an exemplary job of showing us the more human effect of alcoholism and what it can cost someone who struggles with it. I liked that the characters in this book were not from a cookie cutter and neither did they feel overly sensationalized. They seemed like real, everyday people which drew me into the story that much further.

The only negative I can really mention as far as this book goes, is that the swapping from flashback to flash-forward threw me a couple of times, but at the end of the book it becomes apparent why this was necessary. I felt that the author may have gone to a little bit of an extreme when making an original killer, but then again, with such a litany of other fictional killers parading through the world of literature, I also congratulate him for his originality.

The ending of this book contains some surprising elements and I thought it was a nice cap (no pun intended) to an exciting book.

Overall, this was one of the better books I have read this year. I am somewhat amazed that this is a first effort. One thing is for sure. If Mr. Friedman ever decides to set down the proverbial quill and parchment, he might have a fantastic career as a sportscaster. A very readable book by a new author to watch.

You can find this book available for purchase by going here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Chicago-Cap-Murders-ebook/product-reviews/B009160S7O/ref=cm_cr_dp_qt_hist_four?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addFourStar&showViewpoints=0

The North Pole Challenge (Flea’s Five Christmases, #1) by Kevin George

The North Pole Challenge

**WINNER OF THE BEST UNPUBLISHED NOVEL IN THE 2010 NEW YORK BOOK FESTIVAL**

Flea has always been different from other students in school. He’s not smart or athletic, he’s shorter than kids five years younger than him and his facial features are so pointy that everyone avoids him. His foster mother constantly warns him to avoid attention, though Flea has no idea who’s after them. But Flea has recently discovered several abilities that change his life forever: snowy weather follows him wherever he goes, he stops snowballs in mid-flight and he builds anything in shop class in the matter of minutes despite his lack of training. An appearance on The Great Build-Off – a popular construction game show – leads him to a magical place he thought existed only in Christmas stories.

At the North Pole, Flea feels even more like an outsider. In fact, this storybook village reminds him of every school he’d ever attended, complete with overachievers and underachievers, popular elves and outcasts, even elves who aren’t afraid to march to their own beat. But during his training to become a proper builder elf, he discovers that the North Pole has an arch-nemesis bent on invading the elfish lands and ending Christmas forever. With a war looming against the South Pole, Flea’s sudden appearance at the North Pole is no coincidence, as he questions his role in the fate of the world’s greatest holiday.

“The North Pole Challenge” is not your typical Christmas story. Everyone knows about Santa Claus, his elves and the North Pole but this book provides a fresh outlook on the old familiar tales. Imagine Santa Claus as a reclusive loner, Rudolph as a narcissistic whiner, the elves as cruel party animals. And no great story would be complete without an enemy of epic proportions, another familiar Christmas name with a wicked past never before told…

Until now…

“The Rudolph Challenge – Flea’s Second Christmas” and “The Jack Frost Challenge – Flea’s Third Christmas” out now–Description from Amazon.com

Buy it here:http://www.amazon.com/North-Challenge-Fleas-Christmases-ebook/dp/B0050211UQ/ref=cm_pdp_rev_itm_img_1

It is not often that I cross a work and wonder why the author of this book has not become one of the “BIG NAMES.” That is the case with this book and I can’t wait to read the rest of this series. How could this book possibly get any better? I absolutely loved Flea. He is everything the hero of a book should be.

This story is so well written, that you actually forget yourself a bit while you are reading it. I realized about an hour into it that everyone was hungry and I had actually forgotten to make dinner.:) For once I actually have nothing to pick on about the book I have just finished.
I will say, that I wish there were more books like this in the world. This book is appropriate for all age groups and would make an excellent gift for anyone. My kids adored this book and so did I. I can’t recommend this title enough.–Ionia Martin

Secrets by Robin Jones Gunn

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I had really mixed emotions about this title. From the beginning, the book is interesting and the story is compelling enough to pull the reader in and keep them moving along. I liked the main character, Jessica for the most part.

As this story moves along, the reader begins to understand that Jessica is haunted by the life she left behind and her lack of a relationship with God. The romance angle in this book is rather predictable in some ways, but well plotted in the respect that it does not move too fast and it is believable.

I liked that the author built her story around people that had some issues and were conflicted, rather than making everyone seem like they fell out of a perfect tree and got smacked by every branch on the way down. There were times where I wanted to throttle the main character for her superficial thoughts about the people around her and about  herself, but in the end, it added to the feeling that she had done a lot of growing up over the course of the book.

For the most part, I found this to be an enjoyable read with beautiful descriptions of Oregon (where I’m from) and an adequate description of Northern Nevada (where I live.) I thought the author definitely built a story around her personal faith and her own beliefs filtered through this work brilliantly.

What I didn’t love about this book was that the big ‘secret’ the book is titled after, really wasn’t that much of a surprise or a big secret to begin with. I guess I was expecting a big bang where there was something truly dark and haunting in Jessica’s past, and instead (without a spoiler this is hard) it was kind of like…”Oh, well hmm.” Not the startling revelation I was expecting.

This book covers the subjects of faith, abstinence and missionary work. It has very strong Christian ties and is not a lightly Christian read. I found the themes to be handled well and thought they fit into the book nicely and didn’t feel pushed.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it for someone looking for a very faith-filled Christian read.

**Review copy provided by the publisher

How to write a good review for a children’s picture book

Throughout the time I have been reviewing books, I have had this simple question posed to me in many forms. “How do you write a decent review of a children’s title when in many of these books there is very little substance?” This is a good question and I would like to take a moment to answer it to the best of my ability.

The simplest answer I can give, is to write the review the same way you would any other book you read. Just because the book is smaller than others or does not have a complex plot, does not mean you need to treat it much differently. Here are some basic rules for writing an outstanding and complete review of a children’s book.

1. Read the book from cover to cover, noting the things you like about it either mentally or on a notepad. If there is something that you don’t like about it, be sure to take note of that as well.

2. If you can’t think of much to say about it, ask an expert. If you are reviewing a kid’s book and you happen to have a child of the proper age group  nearby, ask them to read it (or read it to them) and ask them what they liked and didn’t like about it. Sometimes when I ask my children for their opinion on something it truly surprises me what they come up with. They can point out both likes and dislikes that as an adult, I may never have thought of. I mean, if you owned a company that sold hearing aids for elderly people would you ask a preschool teacher to distribute them to her students for an opinion? Sometimes us worldly and all-knowing adults come up empty handed when it comes to the world of children. Kids are honest and reviews should be as well.

3. When you begin to write your review, here are some things you might want to include:

What age group is this book going to appeal to. There are some books out there that will appeal to all ages and genders, but many of them are intended for a specific audience. If the book claims it is for ages 4-8, but you found it was either too advanced or not advanced enough to hold the attention of a child that age, say so.

When stating what you liked about the book, try to stay away from the old standards like “this book was fun because it had cute pictures.” Get a little creative. “The vibrant, colorful images in this book fill the pages completely and keep the child’s attention as you read.”

Be sure to include whether this book would appeal to one gender more than another. You may also want to include the length of the book. Can it be read in so short of a time span that you have to read it a couple of times for the child to be satisfied, or is once enough?

I always try to state what I think the book would be good for. Would it make a good bedtime story or a good book to read on a trip or whatever my opinion is about that usefulness of particular title.

You may want to include in your review if the book has any educational qualities. Does it help the child learn or reinforce a special lesson of some kind? Will it help them learn a new skill such as math or a foreign language?

Just because a book is not lengthy, does not mean there is nothing to be said about it. Did the book have a plot and were you able to follow it from beginning to end?

Can a child relate to any of the characters that are featured in the book? Were the characters likable or not and why.

When closing your review, be sure to include your opinion of the overall book. Did it reach the audience it claimed to? Did you feel it would be a nice gift for a child or worthwhile for them to add to their library and would you recommend the book?

4. When you write the review, do not be afraid to be honest. Just because you are reviewing a children’s book does not mean you are reviewing a child. As reviewers, our duty is to help the buyer make an informed decision. If you do not believe that a book would be good for a child of a certain age or if you do not feel it would be good for children at all, then say so. The author may not always be happy with the review or the reviewer, but if they have published a book, eventually they will have to face that someone, somewhere is not going to love their work. I always try to give a good reason for my rating of a book. If I liked it or if I didn’t or if I was neutral, I make sure to list the reasons why the book affected me the way it did.

5. stick with your opinion. On very rare occasions, I have had an author contact me who had updated a book I previously gave a low star rating, (usually for grammar and spelling errors) and asked me to read it again. This I will agree to. If I feel the new version warrants it, I will upgrade the stars if the errors have since been corrected. Never, under any circumstances, have I ever gotten a nasty note from one of the authors who were unhappy with my review and agreed to change my rating of the book. You have a right to your opinion. No matter what anyone else thinks, you have a right to express how you feel about a product you have had experience with. Just because the book is written for children does not guarantee it will be deserving of five stars and praise.

I hope this was helpful to those of you who were pondering this question. Happy holidays everyone and keep on reading!