Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gabby...All About Me

By Lee Carey
$3.99 at Smashwords.com

Okay, I admit it. I’m a sucker for dogs, for books about dogs, for magazines that sell dog stuff, for just about anything doggie.

Lee Carey’s novel, Gabby . . . All About Me, fits the dog-lover profile perfectly. Scooter, an aspiring novelist, lives on the beach in Virginia Beach, Florida. He’s single and decides he wants a dog. Like a good citizen, he goes to the local SPCA to adopt his new pet.

Only we’re not sure that Scooter does the adopting. An eight-month-old Lab-Chow mix starts talking to Scooter from his cage to make sure that Scooter knows she’s the one. Yes, that’s right, the puppy starts talking. She understands Scooter, too--his words as well as his thoughts.

Scooter’s a bit freaked out, but what choice does he have. He tells the SPCA lady that he wants this cute black puppy with white fur on her chest. Her name is Gabriella, but Scooter, in his macho beach guy best, tells the pup (yes, the pup herself) that he can’t have a dog named Gabriella and dubs her Gabby. Get it? Short for Gabriella but descriptive as well.

That first day you would think it was “all about Gabby.” She gets a romp on the beach, she gets grilled burgers for dinner as requested, and she gets to nap to her heart’s content.

Scooter is working on a novel, but it’s no better than the many others he’s written and received rejection letters for. Gabby offers to help. Scooter is skeptical, but he listens patiently. Before you know it, Gabby has given him some plot points and he’s on a writing roll.

They develop a routine of going to the beach (Scooter surfs and Gabby visits all the beachgoers), eating, writing and napping.

Gabby’s true calling, however, soon asserts itself. I won’t go into detail because it would spoil the story. Suffice it to say that amazing things happen with Gabby around. And her presence is life-changing for Scooter.

This is an uplifting novel that can bring a tear to your eye, a laugh from your belly and memories of our own dogs when they were puppies. This is an excellent book for 11- or 12-year-olds through the teen years and for anyone who loves a dog story—including this grandmother.

Click here to link to Gabby...All About Me.

Davilynn Furlow

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Magpie's Secret

By G.J. Lau
$0.99 at Smashwords.com

G.J. Lau has written a thriller with romance, politics, family complications, and, of course, secrets.

Frank Martinelli is an ordinary guy, if you take into account the effects a tour in Vietnam in his 20s and the disappearance of his daughter on her way back to college 20 years ago will have on a man. He lives in a pleasant town not far from Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Office of Management and Budget until he retired. His inability to get past the disappearance of their daughter resulted in divorce, although he and his ex-wife are still friendly.

Frank lives above a bar, and the bar’s owner and one of the bartenders are like family to him. He makes extra spending money by helping out at a funeral home when they need an extra usher, parking attendant, or pallbearer, and at a car dealer shuttling vehicles from one dealership to another.

All in all, his life is pretty mundane, and his schedule is predictable. Until one afternoon when a man asks to join him as he’s eating lunch outside at a neighborhood restaurant. That conversation turns Frank’s well-ordered life upside down.

The “stranger” turns out to be Thomas Clayton, who served briefly with Frank in Vietnam. When Thomas left the Army, he took what he had learned and became an assassin for hire. Thomas is essentially retired now and only takes special assignments. He tells Frank that someone tried to hire him to kill him. Thomas declined (seeing as how they had been Army buddies and Frank had done him a good turn), but the contract is still being shopped, and someone without Thomas’s scruples could easily take it up.

Although at first Frank can’t imagine why someone would to have him killed, paranoia becomes a constant companion, particularly after his ex-wife Emily’s condo is broken into.

Not long after Frank’s daughter disappeared, he had volunteered at a teen hotline and talked frequently with one particular young woman. He sensed that she was being sexually molested, but he had no proof. When he reads in the paper that a teen-ager named Rachel Meadows has been killed in an auto accident on the eve of her 16th birthday, he puts it together with his hotline client. Because he feels guilty, he goes to the funeral, even though he doesn’t know the family. Rachel’s mother, Catherine, thinks it odd that a stranger is at her daughter’s funeral and seeks him out. They talk briefly, and she senses Frank knows something about Rachel he’s not saying.

Twenty years pass; Frank finds out he’s the target of an assassin; Rachel Meadows’ father dies; and Frank is asked to work the parking lot at his funeral. Catherine sees him, remembers him from her daughter’s funeral, and seeks him out. They talk again.

Catherine’s son Adam is running for political office, and Frank volunteers to work on the campaign. He likes politics, but he also wonders if Adam knows about Rachel’s abuse and the contract on him.

Just to make matters complicated, Frank is falling romantically for Catherine; he actually likes Adam, and he’s getting warnings from different sources about the contract on him.

Lau has created believable characters, including our protagonist, who finds himself in an unfathomable position as the target of an assassin. I was engaged from the moment I began reading until the end, which is unexpected and satisfying.

Click here to link to The Magpie's Secret.

Davilynn Furlow

Friday, April 8, 2011

My Two Years in the Priest Corps

By Joe Novara
$1.99 at www.smashwords.com

Former Roman Catholic priest Joe Novara has written the least angry memoir about leaving the priesthood you’re ever likely to read. If Novara is outraged by the church’s child-abuse scandal, he keeps it to himself. If he felt somehow betrayed by those who educated him in the holy mysteries for a dozen years, he doesn’t let on.

And yet Novara has written a most pleasant account of being sent to seminary in high school, remaining there through college and then going off among a select few for further theological training in Rome. Over the course of the narrative, he goes from being “totally engaged” with the church to having an “arm-length indifference” to it.

The tale doesn’t spool out in chronological sequence but is told via a collection of stories – sort of a “Then-there-was-the-time” approach, which works fine. He doesn’t say it straight out, but if I had to guess, I’d bet Novara at least occasionally wishes it had worked out differently. He wouldn’t give up his wife and child from his post-priesthood life, of course, but I think he wishes he were still in love with the church.

Married now and with a grown daughter, he takes a nostalgic tour of the churches in his former precincts. He runs into an old friend, an admirable, aging priest who still puts effort into his homilies for weekday evening liturgies for a congregation too small to justify use of the sanctuary. A nun who had been the principal of Joe’s high school still serves with the priest as “missionaries to Detroit’s East Side, urban-renewed wasteland.” She was now trying to establish and run an experimental high school.

As he leaves the church and his former mentors, Novara wonders whether he had “skipped out too soon – had left right after the bloom went off the romance of priestly work. Theirs has been a lifelong commitment. Mine was a kind of ‘living together’ arrangement – fine as long as it worked.”

Novara doesn’t ignore the priest child-abuse scandal. He writes of a seminary classmate who was great with kids. “Is my memory of Dave na├»ve? Would he have been the kind of priest to commit these awful crimes? All my instincts shout no. But I’ve learned I never can know for sure.” It’s one more thing that’s changed from the church he thought he once had committed himself to.

One reason Novara’s edges aren’t sharper may simply be the passage of time. He became a priest in the ‘60s, a tumultuous time in the world and an exciting time for the post-Vatican II Catholic Church. He served two years in a Detroit parish before making his exit.

After ordination and his Michigan homecoming, he began to learn the realities of being a priest, that it’s the ultimate 24/7 job, and you never get to leave the burdens at home. He also saw the relationship between priest and parishioner in a different light. “I thought I was going to be a personal trainer for a leaner, enlightened Catholicism,” he writes. “The majority of my congregation simply wanted a massage therapist.”

Despite any yearning for or curiosity about the road not taken, Novara ultimately is content with his choice to leave the church. “I so wanted to serve God and humanity on the macrocosmic, supernatural level. I came to find that atmosphere too rarefied. The scale of one on one friendship; the microcosm of my family has proved a more gratifying and seemingly successful strategy.”

Click here to link to My Two Years in the Priest Corps.