Killjoy – LeVar Ravel

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“Gwen felt as if her familiar world had vanished. What was she doing in the middle of this wilderness? Was she safe in these shadows? Had Charles been right to trust this violent man with her life?”

Gwen is married to the most powerful mobster in Boston, Charles Orangegrave. He has sent her to meet with an unknown assassin to arrange a hit on a politician who betrayed them. This hit-man has the talent of makeing a murder look like an accident or suicide.

The marked man is not any politician, though. Congressman Corbin Locke is not only a con-artist who accepts bribes and doesn’t care about his constituents, but unbeknownst to Charles, he was having an affair with Gwen, and heartlessly dumped her.

Locke isn’t the only criminal. Charles and Gwen’s organization, Puritan Provisions, conducts its business in the name of God, but its main endeavors are illegal activities such as gambling, drugs, toxic cosmetics, and even selling counterfeit parts for sports cars. They justify the punishments dished out to their enemies as being ordained by God.

When Gwen meets with this assassin, she has second thoughts about arranging the hit on the man who conned her. Will Locke be killed? Will Charles find out about the affair? Will she survive her association with this killer?

Though you may not particularly like any of the characters, you’ll find them well-developed. I didn’t care whether our protagonist, Gwen, lived or died, but found myself rooting for the assassin. The story was fast-paced, and I couldn’t put the book down. I also appreciate tackling the issue of religious hypocrisy, especially in these times.

Who wouldn’t I recommend this thriller to? Hmm, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy it!

I urge author LeVar Ravel to create a series featuring our philosophical hit-man, who by the way, constantly changes identities. I found him so intriguing that I would like to learn more about him. That would be a winner!

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A Few Minor Adjustments: A Memoir of Healing – Cherie Kephart

(Reviewed by Pat Luboff)

Exceptional

“You know you’re having a bad week when you call 911, the paramedics come to your house, and one of them notices you’ve rearranged your furniture.”

This is the memoir, covering the years 1994 to 2011, of an adventurous soul trapped in a body that knocks her flat on her back.

Cherie signs up for the Peace Corps in 1994. She is told she will have to make a few minor adjustments to survive her assignment to Zambia. She endures the hardships and tries to believe her efforts in digging toilet pits are making a significant contribution to the people in the remote village where she is stationed. Then she is struck down with so much pain she wished for death. But death did not come. Cherie recovers but the Peace Corps will not let her go back to work in the village with the people she loves.

In the years that follow, she roams the world, from Europe to New Zealand, and then back home to California. All the while, she experiences strange symptoms. Eventually, her physical problems are so many and debilitating that her neck can no longer hold up her head and she must use her hands. Along the way, she meets and develops a relationship with Alex, who is the boyfriend from heaven, always there to help.

With help from Alex, her mother and friends, Cherie drags herself to a seemingly endless array of doctors, who put her through a myriad of tests. Not one of them can come up with a diagnosis and, of course, she’s told that it’s “all in her head.” She does see a psychotherapist, who is helpful on an emotional level, but her body still betrays her.

Excerpts from an entry in her journal, covering the period from April 2004 to October 2008 (just a few of many on her list):

“What I know, in Numbers

Blood tests (the most in one blood draw was 27 vials): Hundreds
Doctor appointments: 257
Treatment and therapy sessions attended: 517
Miles driven to appointments: 12,872
Days I was sick: 1,710
Total amount spent on medical expenses (not including amounts paid by insurance): $101,000”

It’s impressive, despite years of medical dead ends, how determined she is to recapture her health. Cherie tells the tale with just the right amount of details and insights. I was thoroughly engaged in the story of her journey. I found myself wondering, “What the heck is wrong with her and why can’t anyone figure it out?”

You’ll have to read it yourself to find the answer to that question. I recommend this book, especially to anyone who has had frustrating experiences with physical problems.

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Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup – Gabriela Hernandez

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Classic Beauty takes a historical look at makeup styles and trends, starting at 3300 BC Egypt, Persia and Greece, to current day Europe and America. It examines the political, religious and social conditions and how those elements affected the way women look.

Did you know that many perfumes were toxic in the eighteenth century? Also that George Washington’s dentures were made of animal teeth and ivory? How about the fact that lipstick played an important role in WWII? Have you ever heard of a “moon manicure”? There are a lot of interesting tidbits in this book.

We learn about the modern day cosmetics industry through gorgeous pictures and actual twentieth and twenty first century ads. I also found the product development timelines informative. Did you know that Maybelline started before 1916?

The history of skincare is also explored, as the 1920s marked the beginning of our quest for youth and its association with beauty.

Starting with that decade, the book shows highlights and what facial features were accentuated, popular color palettes and styles for contours, eyes and lips.

The major flaw of this book is that there is little information on makeup trends for women of color. Style for Asian women is ignored except for cosmetic contributions in the early civilizations. Though there is a bit on Josephine Baker, and a line on Grace Jones, trends for black women are omitted. Could this be because the industry caters to Caucasians?

I personally found Classic Beauty fascinating. It would make a nice coffee-table book or a great gift for someone interested in the history of cosmetics and makeup trends. I just wish it displayed trends for women of all races.

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Harkworth Hall – L.S. Johnson

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Harkworth Hall is a late Georgian historical adventure novel that has hints of goth, romance, and thrill embedded into its story.

The tale focuses on the lead heroine, Caroline who is very smart, adventurous, and likable. Her situation in life is very hard and it is very easy to see how lost and stuck she feels having to marry. There is, however, a twist to this tale and that is what makes the novel very interesting. The secretary knows of a secret that changes everything for Caroline.

Although the story is short, it was well put together and was filled with an immense amount of content. It was very surprising to feel as gratified as I was, once I had finished reading this book. The literature style of writing is in a classic format adding to the texture of the theme and it is action packed with romance and hidden twists, making it an ideal choice for a fast-enjoyable read.

There is a sequel to this book which made the ending more intriguing. It definitely provides something to look forward to and promises great potential for something as good as this one. What the work could improve on was its character development. Having said this, it did not take away much from the book since it was short.

I recommend this book to historical fantasy readers.

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Skinny and Super Skinny Reads

(by JD Jung)

Want to read something short and sweet or maybe something short and not-so-sweet? Do you have a friend who claims that he/she doesn’t have the time to read? Or maybe you want to learn about an event or topic in history; but how are you going to find the time?

We at UnderratedReads have your back. Check out our new category, “Skinny Reads” located in the crazy area on the right-hand side of the site. These are books typically under 150 pages. You’ll even find some as skinny as fifty pages! Don’t worry, they’ll still follow UnderratedReads’ high standards of deserving at least three bookmarks

 

by at least one of our reviewers.

Here are just a few of our top recommendations:

Mygale – Thierry Jonquet ,Translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith, (Dark and bizarre and my personal favorite!)

Dreams of Heaven – Elizabeth M. Herrera (reviewed by Pat Luboff)

The Butcher’s Daughter: A Memoir – Florence Grende (reviewed by Judy Deutch)

The Black Spider – Jeremias Gotthelf, Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, (reviewed by JD Jung)

The Hideout – Egon Hostovsky, Translated from the Czech by Fern Long (reviewed by JD Jung)

…and there’s more to come. Enjoy and keep reading!

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Zendar: A Tale of Blood and Sand – K.T. Munson

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Exceptional

Zendar is a fantasy romance novel written about a girl named Azel Undel. She is the youngest daughter of one of the seven bloodlines. She is arranged to be married for political gain. As she sails to meet her future husband, her ship sinks and she is captured by the enemy. That is when she gets to learn about Aleron and with that, everything she has known is then questioned.

This is a tale about love and loyalty. Aleron seeks revenge over what’s happened to his ancestors in the past. The tangled affair becomes very emotional and dramatic creating this really interesting storyline.

I wish to begin discussing the world setting of this novel. I really enjoyed the pattern the author took in slowly introducing a picturesque description of the fantasy world. The characters were also introduced at a slow pace before the story picked up, intriguing the reader on wanting to know what’s going to happen next.

The literary standard and the style of writing was enjoyable to read. The author perpetrated the lead character in a very well-suited place. Zendar is full of magical powers and hidden secrets. This imaginary world really needs saving and all the hatred and crime has to stop, but it has a history. Azel is strong and has the perfect personality for such a situation and the author has created a very likable character.

There was a nice flow and connectivity between the chapters and the plot. The contrast between the good and evil was deliciously written and I believe the author can succeed in writing a sequel following the way the book ended.

I recommend this book to romance- fantasy book lovers.

(The original review was posted on “Review Tales – A Personal & Sincere Review On Books Read”)

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Hollywood Homicide (A Detective by Day Mystery) – Kellye Garrett

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Dayna Anderson lost her job as the girl on the Chubby’s Chicken commercial eighteen months ago and hasn’t heard from her agent in six months. So now she’s an out-of-work, dreaded size ten, former actress and dead broke. In fact, she sleeps in her friend’s closet, or “bloset” (bedroom/closet combo).

She can still take care of herself, but when she discovers that her proud parents are close to losing their house due to foreclosure, she desperately has to find a way to help them out.

A few weeks ago, she and her friends witnessed a hit-and-run but didn’t know the severity of it. She later saw a billboard offering a reward of $15,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person who ran down Haley Johnson, a young, blonde woman. This was the crime that they witnessed weeks before and Dayna sees this as a way to earn the reward money and save her parents’ home.

As Dayna finds clues and figures that she has solved the crime, she calls the tip line to claim the reward money, only to find that her “proof” is all wrong. This problem is further aggravated when she keeps calling as she comes up with new theories and thus loses credibility. Throughout all of this, she finds that there’s more to the crime than meets the eye. Instead of a hit and run, could this have been premeditated? It’s no longer just about the reward, she wants to find justice for Haley.

Though it was engaging and fast-moving from the start, initially I thought that this was too far-fetched to be enjoyable. After all, there must be an easier and less dangerous way to earn $15,000. However, my gut told me to continue, and I’m sure glad I did. As we read on, we learn more about Dayna,  a multitude of interesting characters and more crimes. This, along with all the twists and turns, kept me engrossed to the very end.

Unlike the last book I reviewed, Sex and Rage (a story of 1970’s Los Angeles), this is a current-day look at Hollywood with a fun take on contemporary culture such as social media, hair extensions and boob jobs.

Author Kellye Garrett—who worked in Hollywood for eight years, including writing for the television series, Cold Case— successfully incorporates dry humor into this crime novel.

I hope Garrett writes more stories about this “Detective by Day” whether Dayna makes it in superficial Hollywood or not.

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Sex and Rage: A Novel – Eve Babitz

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“Years and years and years were pocked with holes of things Jacaranda simple didn’t remember, with people Jacaranda didn’t remember meeting, conversations she didn’t remember having, promises and parties and great ideas and projects Jacaranda didn’t remember hurling into….she accidentally found herself in the approximately right spot and the approximately right time, and people mistakenly assumed she was reliable…”

Jacaranda grew up in Santa Monica near the ocean and loved to surf. This original surfer girl–tan and blonde —painted surfboards for a living. However, life brought new acquaintances and from the age of twenty-three to twenty-eight she found herself addicted to the eccentric Hollywood crowd with heavy partying, drugs and drinking. The years were like “tilted jello salad. They shimmered if you prodded them.”

During her lucid moments, she realized that she had a talent for writing magazine articles. However, her Hollywood friends and acquaintances advised her, “Don’t write, darling. It’s not nice.” She continued to write though, and was discovered by a New York agent. When she reluctantly flew to New York—sober—her identity and self-destructive behavior was challenged.

What I particularly relished about Sex and Rage were the multitude of eccentric characters and their relationship to Jacaranda, superficial as they were. That’s why I think this novel will have broad appeal; it’s entertaining. Personally though, it did remind me that there is nothing to miss about 1970’s Los Angeles. I also loved the New York versus Los Angeles culture comparisons.

Originally published in 1979 and recently re-released by Counterpoint Press, this coming-of-age story captures the hip LA lifestyle of the late 1960’s and ‘70s. Like in her memoir, Slow Days, Fast Company, author Eve Babitz has an unsentimental approach to her Hollywood story. However, she doesn’t go into the toxicity of the California surf culture. Then again, I don’t remember girls surfing back then; Gidget was an anomaly.

Those who loved Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. are sure to  enjoy Sex and Rage.

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She’s so Fine: A Samantha Block Novel- Jaimee Campbell

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

She’s so Fine is a thriller  short story written  about Samantha. She is a mother of two children and appears to be leading a normal life with ordinary routine wifely chores. However, she is nothing but ordinary. Samantha has a past, which intertwines with her present life. The past is something she does not want to confront but, as life always comes to bite you back, it captures Samantha and she has no choice but to face it.

In a world where you give some – get some, Samantha is then left with juggling between the aftermath of the choices she makes. Her two daughters and husband, Mark, welcome another girl into their lives after a suspicious fire kills the girl’s mother. The fight for guardianship is another battle Samantha has to face. She has to tell her husband about everything that has happened in order to save the marriage. Other encounters and dramas unravel, causing a drift into her marriage, making this is a constant thrilling novel that you really don’t wish to put down.

I found the book to be written very well. I particularly enjoyed Mark and his interactions with Samantha. The character development was spot on. Each had their own visions and ways of dealing with things. The chapters were short, and some had the same number as in the Kindle version I was given. I found little editing issues or any major structural formatting concerns, which was nice.

The author has a very appealing way of writing thriller novels. The book did not spend much time in descriptive page fillers or fluffy women insights and emotions; it was instead filled with action and active occurrences, making it a joy to read.

I recommended this book to anyone who enjoys mystery thriller themed stories.

(The original review was posted on “Review Tales – A Personal & Sincere Review On Books Read“)

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New People – Danzy Senna

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“The poet is not a New Person…He doesn’t have mud-toned dreadlocks or octoroon gray eyes or butterscotch skin. …He has the body, the skin, the face that cabdrivers pretend not to see, that jewelers in midtown refuse to buzz inside. His body is the very reason they got those buzzers installed in the first place.

In contrast, Maria is a twenty-seven year old “New Person” and is engaged to marry Khalil (also a New Person) who she met at Stanford. He now is a successful entrepreneur, and they live together in Brooklyn. They seem like the perfect couple. and he absolutely adores her. But from Maria’s perspective, something is missing. This leads to a strange infatuation with a poet who she hardly knows, and Maria becomes totally obsessed with him.

Maria was adopted by a single woman and discovered that when she was ten months old her mother had to accept that she was a “one-dropper, that peculiarly American creation, white in all outward appearances but black for generations on paper.” This may be a major reason that almost everything she does is affected by her feelings regarding her racial identity. This includes her dissertation about the music of the Peoples Temple (Jonestown), exploring how the cult lasted as long as it did.

New People is a riveting novel that is both poignant and humorous. Author Danzy Senna is able to delicately balance the two to create an enjoyable read. She takes us between Maria’s past and present and shows us how her choices have been affected by her feelings on race. As you read, you will have questions about the story. Be patient; they will be answered.

I can’t even pretend to understand her conflicting feelings on identity and race, since that has not been a part of my life experience. What I can say is that I couldn’t put the book down and it did give me some exposure to an experience that I was unaware of. Yes, some of it may make you feel uncomfortable, but that is a good thing.

New People is an enjoyable “must read” that will make you think long after you finish the book.

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