“Garden Wisdom: 365 Days” by Cheryl Wilfong


Cheryl Wilfong
Heart Path Press (2017)
ISBN 9780997272949
Reviewed by Susan Violante for Reader Views (01/18)

As a gardener I was very happy to read “Garden Wisdom: 365 Days” by Cheryl Wilfong. Just its cover grabbed and inspired me. Having said that, I must say that my first impression was quite different from what the book is about. I expected gardening wisdom instead I found that the content is much deeper.

The author, being a Master Gardener, decided to share a full year of life wisdom acquired while tending to all of her gardens. This wisdom is presented to the reader through the four seasons of the year. Within each season are daily lessons to be learned for all 365 days of the year. I found this mind blowing! In fact it is the reader’s mind along with their heart that will bloom like a garden through this book.

To illustrate this fact I will share a small quote of July 17th wisdom: ‘Big Basil And Little Basil.’ The author shares how one of her basil plants is doing better than another one planted in a different place, even though both were planted the same day. The difference is due to the soil; the first one was planted in her new garden, which she had filled with cow manure, but the second one was in a garden bed that did not receive any compost. She then asks the reader ‘What kind of soil do you dwell in? Is your life producing an abundance of joy? Or stress? Or both?’ The book also is enriched with black and white pictures of the garden.

I loved Cheryl Wilfong’s voice, and actually find it impossible to choose a favorite wisdom from her collection. Her writing skills are impeccable and in general the content and presentation are unique and creative. My only disappointment was the fact that the pictures were not in color, and the choice of paper. I find this book one to be kept and revisited over and over through the seasons of our lives, so although I understand production is based on budget, a book like this one should be in color, and on better quality paper to give maximum enjoyment to readers, as well to share as a conversation piece on coffee tables.

Overall, I LOVED “Garden Wisdom: 365 Days” by Cheryl Wilfong and recommend to all readers as a 5 star read for content. I do have to give it a 4.5 star rating on its production and hope a new issue will come out soon in color!

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“Swearing Off Stars” by Danielle M. Wong


Danielle M. Wong
She Writes Press (2017)
ISBN 9781631522840
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (1/18)

“Swearing Off Stars” by Danielle M. Wong tells the spellbinding tale of secret love and gender equality. When Lia leaves her strict family home in Brooklyn to be a student at Oxford University, she has no clue how her life will change. In the 1920’s, Oxford University was not a welcome place for female students. They could attend classes but were allowed no voice in class or a degree.

When Lia meets Scarlett Daniels on campus, she is immediately drawn to the beautiful aspiring actress, in spite of having a boyfriend waiting for her at home. This is not a safe time for homosexuals to be open. The punishment for being caught could be as severe as having to get a lobotomy. Because Scarlett wants to be a star, she has to be extra careful about hiding her forbidden relationship with Lia. While these two women are trying to sort their feelings out, they are also actively engaging in protests on campus. Their goal is to achieve gender equality. Both ladies have reasons for keeping their love a secret, and because of the hurt caused by this secret, their relationship falls apart until they are once again drawn to each other years later. They have to work through their issues and decide if the time is right for them to show their feelings to the world.

“Swearing Off Stars” is a powerfully written novel. The two heroines in this story are way ahead of their time and this causes them a great deal of suffering. On the other hand, it also gives them a chance to be part of the gender equality movement, which enables them to make a difference for others. The development of their characters is exceptional. The author takes us into their minds and hearts to gain a better understanding of the choices they make, and it is fascinating to see them evolve as time passes. The story begins with them having to travel by ship and it ends with them being able to fly. As women, they also gained more rights but they still were not where we are at today, so their chances of being able to be together is still tenuous.

“Swearing Off Stars” by Danielle M. Wong is an engrossing, thought provoking novel that will be enjoyed by all readers of quality fiction.

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“Survivor: The Benny Turner Story” by Benny Turner and Bill Dahl


Benny Turner, Bill Dahl
Nola Blue, Inc. (2017)
ISBN 9781543901283
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (12/17)

“Survivor: The Benny Turner Story” by Benny Turner and Bill Dahl, takes readers on a journey of Benny Turner and his family from the depths of poverty in Gilmer, Texas, to the bright lights of Chicago.

Turner, along with Bill Dahl, does an excellent job describing the brother’s, Benny and Freddie’s early childhood living in poverty where sometimes the only thing available to eat was “red clay.” Benny’s family were very close knit, and each did what they had to do to survive, from picking cotton at an early age to working any job they could get for very little pay. Freddie King, a legend in his own right, became an influence on Benny and his love for music and the blues.

When the family moved to Chicago in the 1950s, they continued to experience prejudice in segregated hostility, while at the same time experiencing a cultural shock of life in the “big city.” It was here that Freddie and Benny began their road to fame in some of the seediest places. Each had their special style of music whether it was bassist or gospel music. Never once did either of the brothers forget their humble beginnings.

This journey is written with passion and genuine love of family and music. When Freddie suddenly passed at an early age, Benny was devastated as he was the one who cared for him and taught him to love the blues.

The authors provide vivid descriptions of living in the 50s of the clothing, segregation and the hardships – one actually felt as if they were experiencing it firsthand. Turner shares many of the home remedies that his mother used when anyone was sick, like soot and sardine oil. Baths were taken in a number 3 washtub.

I enjoyed reading about this era with the coming of the blues and the different stars Benny played with, which included Eric Clapton. Sometimes the paragraphs were a bit choppy, more like jotted notes but the message was clear. The author includes many photographs which add to the descriptions of his life as he moves to become an international star.

If you like the discovery of learning about the birth of the blues and how famous musicians and band leaders came to be, “Survivor: The Benny Turner Story” by Benny Turner and Bill Dahl is the book for you.

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“Circadian” by Chelsey Clammer


Chelsey Clammer
Red Hen Press (2017)
ISBN 9781597096034
Reviewed by Skyler Boudreau for Reader Views (1/18)

“Circadian” is a collection of twelve essays for adults that make use of both poetic and lyrical structure and mathematical and scientific practices. Through these lenses Chelsey Clammer explores mental illnesses, past stories of trauma, and a series of different relationships.

From the first essay, formatted as a bulleted list, Clammer captures the reader with her unique voice and honest, raw vulnerability. Each of the following pieces are equally enthralling and stay with the reader long after the book has been closed. Collections like these are such personal things that it takes great courage to even write them down, let alone share them with the rest of the world.

Each piece easily hold its own, and putting them together in one volume builds a powerful experience, seamlessly slipping Clammer’s audience into each new lens. In the first piece, she uses mathematics to explain an alcoholic father. Just a few pieces later, in “An Outline for Change,” mathematics reappear, accompanied by an exploration of mitosis to explore her father’s death. Throughout all of her essays Clammer maintains a lyrical voice that adds a bare, haunted feeling to the reading experience. Everything comes together to create a phenomenal piece of literature.

“Circadian” serves as a testament that writing is an effective way of dealing with trauma and tragedy. Reading this work is both emotional and therapeutic. Discovering how another person handles difficult events in their life is fascinating and can be exactly what someone needs to survive their own. Clammer’s essays provide a study into her mind, as well as offers several new ways for the reader to view life.

This is one of those books that everyone should read, if only to understand why it can become a favorite. “Circadian” is a unique work and has successfully garnered my interest in Clammer’s other books. Her essays are everything they should be; engaging, emotional, and very, very human. The reader can truly catch a glimpse of the person behind the words and use those words as a means of connecting with the author. If you read just one essay collection this year, make it “Circadian” by Chelsey Clammer.

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“Waking Isabella” by Melissa Muldoon


Melissa Muldoon
Matta Press (2017)
ISBN 9780997634822
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (1/18)

Melissa Muldoon delivers an enchanting story set in Arezzo, Italy about love, intrigue, mystery, traditions, and art in her latest novel, “Waking Isabella.”

Leonora (Nora), a young research assistant who is at a crossroads in her life, travels to Italy to film a documentary on 16th Century Italian princess, Isabella de Medici.  Fascinated with the history surrounding the princess, Nora hopes to uncover some of the mystery surrounding her tragic death, and a painting of Isabella and her mother that has been missing for decades. There is also the rumor of Isabella’s ghost to consider.

While in Italy, Nora reunites with an old friend and meets several new ones. Of particular interest is Gianluca (Luca) Donati, owner of an antique business that has been in his family for generations.  When Luca shares details about his ancestor’s participation in smuggling famous artwork out of the country during WWII, Nora’s research takes her down yet another path, exploring the life of Margherita, Luca’s grandmother. Muldoon magically weaves together the lives of Nora, Isabella and Margherita, spanning the course of many centuries, into a story that will mesmerize and haunt readers long after the last page is read.

As a big fan of Melissa Muldoon’s since reading her debut novel, “Dreaming Sophia,” I could not wait to dive into “Waking Isabella.” The author has such a unique voice you can feel her personality in every sentence.  Her writing is magical, as she incorporates her distinctive style through various methods. She eloquently takes the reader from the past to the present and back again with seamless delivery.  She transitions from real-time drama to bits of fantasy through almost dream-like sequences. She delivers historical references and tells of lasting traditions that drive you want to learn more, and exhibits a contemporary voice through her protagonists, all the while weaving bits of Italian into the dialogue.  I’ve read books where intermingling languages actually took me out of a story—but not so in “Waking Isabella,” where the words flow harmoniously together, further adding to the author’s individuality and voice.

The characters are intriguing, versatile and genuine. At the onset of the story readers are drawn inside Isabella’s character, all at once capturing the essence of her free spirit and strength in light of the heartbreaking end to her short life. Protagonist Nora’s character grows impressively with the story as she pushes through her fears with courage and determination to reinvent herself and follow her dreams. Supporting characters are equally portrayed with authenticity and it is an exciting spin inside their heads.

It’s apparent “Waking Isabella” required extensive research, though it certainly feels like a labor of love.  Muldoon’s passion for Italy is evident and I really enjoyed the addition of the last few pages of the book where she provides information distinguishing the facts from the fictional parts of the story. I found these tidbits the perfect way to wrap things up, inviting and encouraging the reader to learn more about the historical period, if so driven. All in all, I would say “Waking Isabella” by Melissa Muldoon is a must-read for all fans of Italy, history, romance and intrigue. Eccellente!

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“Pretty Blue Death” by Dan Blair


Dan Blair
Outskirts Press (2017)
ISBN 9781478788393
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (12/17)

“Pretty Blue Death” by Dan Blair is one of the most unique suspense thrillers I have read in a while. The characters are so down to earth one can imagine playing poker with them and socializing on a daily basis.

Mark and Daly Ford run their own security company, while some of their friends hold work in the food conglomerate business, a hospital and in real estate. All are successful in what they do and are devoted to their families.

The mystery begins when their friend Tommy is found dead in his pool, discovered by his wife, Pat. Given that Tommy was an avid swimmer and swam on a daily basis, this stumps them all. After Tommy’s funeral, another friend suddenly dies, with no clues as to why. The big question is, is someone targeting this group or is it just a coincidence?

As Mark and Daly investigate the possibility of foul play, Sergeant Sean McClary, on loan from Scotland Yard, gets the feeling all is not what it seems. As more members of the close knit group die, readers get snippets of dialogue from a couple of women characters that have anger and revenge on their mind. The ending however, regardless of your sleuthing skills, will shock you.

The characters are well-developed; the plot is well thought out and researched. This read will keep you guessing as to motive, and who did it, and just when you think you have it all figured out, another twist puts you on an entirely different trail. I thought the method of killing was unique and how the perpetrator accomplishes it was brilliant.

The author provides a fast-paced, engrossing read that challenges you to the end. He provides a detailed knowledge of personal interaction and perfect revenge even if it is only in their minds. I found myself looking up specific plants mentioned in the plot and how they are used and possible potential hazards to a person. If you like books that put you in the action, have a great plot and keeps you searching for clues, “Pretty Blue Death” by Dan Blair is the book for you.

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“Sidrow Glaves” by J. Collier Kegerris


J. Collier Kegerris
Outskirts Press (2017)
ISBN 9781478787976
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (1/17)

“Sidrow Glaves” by J. Collier Kegerris is a fast-paced, fascinating read of times in the 1930s, including racism, police corruption and the downfall of many innocent businesses.

The story begins with Sidrow coming out of a Chicago speakeasy, where he is loved and admired by all. As the cops raid the speakeasy, Sid walks away untouched. This is in part due to his charm, and having the cops as his drinking buddies.

At 28 years old, Sid lives with his father, who pays all his bills and entertainment. His father, Andrew built Inform, the first company to invent and produce infant formula. He is well respected in the community, worth millions and has a special relationship with his son.

Inform is raided by agents from the State Attorney’s office due to complaints from several families in several states citing medical problems with their infants due to tainted formula. The slick and sly prosecutor is hoping to put Sid’s dad in his place and ruin him. During the time of Inform’s court case, the stock market fell, and many were without jobs, income and skills to find a new job. Sid is a lawyer but has never practiced in a court of law; when he is called on to do so for his dad.

Sid has never known poverty, and never held a job and is now in a position where he has to start a new life. He chooses Le Sueur Lake where he lives in a very rustic cabin. It is here at the cabin Sid learns that money doesn’t equate love and happiness. He meets Pam, her son Terry and wheelchair bound daughter Emma and the rest is history. It is when Pam takes Sid through the canning factory that it dawns on him the cannery is the cause of all the medical problems.

The author’s chosen time frame and plot with the invention of formula and problems with the cannery was well done. His research of the era of racism, corrupt police, lawyers, and big businesses was well worth the read. The story is captivating from the first to the last page, and the ending will surprise you. Sid’s character is well developed, and you definitely felt all his emotions when he finally has to learn to be a man and make his own way in life. The story is entertaining and uplifting.

I felt engaged with every character, scenario and mystery that occurred during the 1930s in this small town of Geneva, where all relied on Inform for their livelihood. I highly recommend “Sidrow Glaves” J. Collier Kegerris if you want a book that will keep you reading into the early hours of the morning.

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