Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again!

Five senior residence escapees from Sweden set off on a zany criminal adventure involving stolen gems.

The League of Pensioners, led by Martha Andersson and four feisty, resourceful retirees in their late 70s and 80s--escapees from a Stockholm senior residence--are back. The stolen millions from their previous Robin Hood-style art robbery, the caper featured in The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, benefited the conniving quintet and funded retirement homes, cultural institutions and supported other "less-fortunate members of society."

This second installment of their adventures is set six months later. The group has been keeping a low profile in Las Vegas while coordinating a casino heist. During their planning, they accidently cross paths with dangerous jewelry store thieves and, through a series of laugh-out-loud mix-ups and mishaps, the pensioners come into possession of a cache of stolen diamonds and other gemstones worth millions. When the "Outlaw Oldies" ultimately decide to return to Stockholm, a significant portion of their windfall--stuffed inside walking sticks that are crammed into a golf bag--goes missing at the airport. This launches Sweden's geriatric most-wanted on a suspenseful, bumbling mission to steal back what was already stolen, while trying to sidestep customs officials, the Swedish police and a host of quirky characters--including a biker gang and a fortune teller.

The well-drawn strengths and weaknesses of Ingelman-Sundberg's devious yet charming criminal masterminds work together to benefit mankind. They also deliver a hilarious story.

The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again! by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, trans. by Rod Bradbury

Harper Paperbacks, $15.99,  9780062663702, 368  pages

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (August 11, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife

A fascinating glimpse into the life of an eccentric, legendary photographer whose work came to prominence only after her death.

Pamela Bannos, a professor at Northwestern University, frames a fascinating portrait of Vivian Maier, the mysterious nanny who was also a gifted, self-taught photographer who chose to remain unknown. The biography also examines the astonishing circumstances and coincidences by which Maier's photographs emerged into the public eye and her meteoric posthumous rise in the art world. Bannos pieces together clues about the woman behind the camera, dispelling myths that have been perpetuated and shaped since her death in 2009.
Vivian Maier was--and continues to remain--an enigma. Eccentric, fiercely independent and intensely private, she was born illegitimately in Manhattan to a French mother, whose own birth was illegitimate. Both Maier's mother and grandmother were live-in servants. That paved the way for Vivian, throughout her adult life, to work as a nanny for several well-to-do U.S. families. This enabled her to support herself while also secretly pursuing her craft as a visual artist for decades. Those closest to her knew that Maier liked to take photographs, yet no one knew the extent of her passion and drive--and the scope of her talent. It was only near the end of Maier's life that her work was discovered: photographs, thousands of negatives and more than 1,000 rolls of undeveloped film.
Bannos's engrossing, meticulously researched biography sensitively reconstructs Vivian Maier's very private life in conjunction with her posthumous legacy as a visionary photographer. Many questions remain and always will. However, Bannos's comprehensive narrative ensures that Vivian Maier's story and the treasure trove of her work will live on. 

Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife  by Pamela Bannos

University of Chicago Press, $35.00 Hardcover,  9780226470757, 352  pages

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (November 3, 2017), link HERE

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv

An 85-year-old childless widower, a misfit 18-year-old girl  and a never-married 83-year-old woman form a life-changing friendship.

In The Story of Arthur Truluv, Elizabeth Berg (The Dream Lover) focuses on contrasting characters whose lives share common threads of loneliness and isolation: Arthur Moses is an 85-year-old grieving the loss of his beloved wife, Nola Corrine. A retired parks groundskeeper and an amateur gardener, he rides a bus everyday to the cemetery and eats his brown bag lunch graveside with Nola. There, he takes comfort in cleverly conjuring visions of the dead in surrounding, underground graves--"Nola's neighbors"--and he imagines the lives they might have lived. The simple gesture of a hand wave brings Maddy Harris--an 18-year-old with a nose ring, who also finds graveyards comforting--into Arthur's life.

Maddy calls the dead "her people," as her mother died in a car crash two weeks after Maddy was born. The tragedy and its aftermath drove a wedge between her and her father, who, tormented by his own grief, emotionally rejected his daughter and ultimately shaped her into a loner. When forlorn Maddy meets compassionate Arthur, their shared affinity for the dead sparks an unlikely friendship. She nicknames him "Truluv" because he speaks with glowing devotion for his late wife. Gradually added to the mix is Lucille, Arthur's meddlesome, 83-year-old, never married next-door neighbor, who faces a shattering loss of her own.

Berg's vivid characters may be vastly different in age, worldview and temperament, but they express a universal need for love, acceptance, purpose and connection. Tender, colorful strokes of humor dot the landscape of this touching story that deepens with poignancy and profound insights into the perils and glories of the contemporary human condition.

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Penguin-Random House, $26.00 Hardcover,  9781400069903, 240 pages

Publication Date: November 21, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (November 24, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Luster of Lost Things

A gifted, fatherless boy with a communication disorder goes on a quest to save his mother's magical bakery.

Walter Lavender Jr. is a 12-year-old with a motor speech disorder, a brain pathway dysfunction that prevents him from producing the words he wishes to speak. Walter may be isolated and withdrawn, but over the years, he's learned to adapt and cultivate an uncanny sense of perception. This turns him into a sought-after expert at finding lost things. Despite finding other people's prized possessions, a great sense of loss marks Walter's own life. His father, an airline co-pilot, disappeared on a flight to Bombay just three days before Walter was born.

While he waits for his father's return, Walter skirts bullies at school and spends time at the Lavenders, his mother's eclectic bakery in the West Village of New York City. Devoted patrons believe the desserts are magical--the angel food cake is light enough to whisk away pounds, and carefully crafted marzipan dragons breathe fire. The centerpiece and good luck charm of the success of the bakery, however, is a treasured, leather-bound manuscript--an illustrated winter's tale of lost love. When the book goes missing, the shop takes a nosedive: the magic suddenly evaporates from the desserts, business drops off, a French bakery opens a few doors away and the landlord threatens to double the rent. Fearful that all will be lost, Walter commences his 85th--and most personally challenging--case.

With straightforward prose, Sophie Chen Keller tells this insightful story from Walter's singular point of view. This is a feel-good, message-driven story about the restorative power of human connectedness and how acts of kindness can ultimately change lives.

Putnam (Penguin), $15.00 Paper, 9780735210783, 336 pages

Publication Date: August 8, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (September 8, 2017), link HERE

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Christmas Romances to Melt the Heart

Christmas--the season known to foster peace, love and good tidings of joy--is on the way. Sometimes, however, the sparkly cheer of intended amorous bliss sours at the most wonderful time of the year. Several new novels--stand-alones and additional installments of well-established series--offer feel-good stories of romantic dilemmas.
Elin Hilderbrand has expanded her trilogy of Christmas novels into a quartet with Winter Solstice, which reunites the extended Quinn family of Nantucket. This year, everyone is finally celebrating together under the same roof of the family-owned and -operated Winter Street Inn. But can the welcoming familial nest help resolve festering romantic entanglements, amid long-held traditions, heartfelt reunions and farewells?

A host of clever complications ensues in Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber, where a single, 20-something office temp reluctantly pursues a new relationship after her well-meaning, but meddling mother and special needs brother set up an online dating profile for her during the holidays.

Ugly Christmas trees upend a whole community in Christmas in Icicle Falls by Sheila Roberts, where one resident in particular, a successful writer, learns that everything and everyone has potential--including an old, overlooked friend who just might hold the key to unexpected romance.

Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne centers on a kindhearted, single, small-town librarian who longs to create a sense of family for herself during Christmas. Her plans go awry when she falls for her tenant--a handsome, sexy, commitment-phobic pilot who has a notorious reputation with women.

In Sugarplum Way by Debbie Mason, the future of true love is tested. A surprising, passionate kiss under the mistletoe at the town Christmas party turns the life of a romance writer--in search of her own happily-ever-after--completely upside down.

NOTE: This column previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers (11/3/17) and is being reprinted with their permission. Link HERE to read the column as originally published.

Monday, October 23, 2017


An engaged woman unexpectedly reunites with an old flame, forcing her to reconcile her feelings for two men.

Just when Kailey "KC" Crane is about to start a new chapter of her life, the successful journalist--in her 30s, working for a Seattle newspaper--is brought face to face with an old flame. The chance encounter happens one night after KC and her handsome, attentive fiancé, Ryan, a high-end property development manager, dine in an upscale French restaurant. As Ryan fetches the car after dinner, good-natured KC offers a painfully thin, homeless man her leftovers only to discover the man is Cade McAllister, a once-successful music business mogul and also the long-lost former love of KC's life.

What ensues is a richly drawn, emotional story rife with conflict. Cade has suffered a traumatic brain injury--origin unknown--that has compromised his memory. KC eagerly advocates to help Cade, while trying to piece together what happened to him and why he disappeared from her life ten years before. In her quest, KC's heart is pulled in two directions, and she is forced to reconcile the choices that have shaped her own life: Will KC have a fulfilling future with Ryan? Might she still be in love with Cade, even in his altered state?

Jio (Goodnight June) braids a thought-provoking narrative that examines the forces that brought KC and Cade together and pulled them apart--the tenuous bond of their love--versus the cushy, comfortable life KC shares with Ryan. Contrasting past and present perspectives and KC's choice between old love and new makes for a suspenseful and highly charged romantic conclusion

Always: A Novel by Sarah Jio
BallatineBooks, $27.00 Hardcover,  9781101885024, 288  pages
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (February 21, 2017), link HERE

Friday, October 13, 2017

Norbert's Little Lessons for a Big Life

The lighthearted wisdom of a three pound, mixed-breed therapy dog is shared in a beautifully photographed, inspirational book.

"I believe your every little thought, word, and deed can make a BIG difference in the world." That's the motto of Norbert, a lovable, three pound, mixed breed who has become a social media phenomena. In his eight short years of life, this registered therapy dog has served up hearty doses of comfort and joy to children; the ill, the aged and infirm; and the homeless. He's brought smiles and support to countless individuals and charitable organizations such as the Best Friends Animal Society, Marine Toys for Tots and the Amerman Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.

A born emotional philanthropist, Norbert's social media and literary career have thrived under the love, care and devotion of Julie Steines and Virginia Freyermuth—Julie's Mom; a teacher, fine artist and PhD.  Julie and Virginia co-wrote three picture books for children: Norbert: What Can Little Me Do?, Norbert: What Can Little You Do? and Norbert & Lil Bub: What Can Little We Do?  It seems providential that when Julie and Norbert later appeared on the Home & Family TV show (Hallmark Channel) to promote their books, Julie first met her future husband, Mark Steines, the Emmy Award-winning host of the program and an accomplished photographer whose work cleverly captures Norbert's cuteness in Norbert's Little Lessons for a Big Life.

In this latest book, Norbert's human entourage pair the philosophical wisdom of the little dog--sharing lessons Norbert has learned, in his own words--with 50 adorable photographs depicting the ways this four-legged emotional philanthropist continues to bring joy and make others smile.

Norbert, little pink tongue perpetually sticking out sideways from lost teeth, spouts sentiments like: "You are wonderful just the way you are." A photo of Norbert after having been hosed off in the summer sunshine, trying to dry himself off by flinging water droplets everywhere, is accompanied by, "When your enthusiasm gets dampened, just shake it out." Another shot shows Norbert and a beautiful Golden retriever donning hats, the two sprawled on a colorful beach chaise, paired with the thought, "Hang out with friends who make you laugh and help you enjoy life."

The goal of the book is to inspire others toward thoughtfulness, kindness and gratitude.  No doubt, once children and adults peruse the many cute and cuddly sides of Norbert--and his endearingly simple messages of hope and resilience--even more joy and delight will be spread into the world.

Norbert's Little Lessons for a Big Life by Julie Steines (Author), Virginia Freyermuth (Author), Mark Steines (Photographer)  

North Star Way (Simon and Schuster Publishing), $12.99 Hardcover,  9781501187315, 144 pages

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

Friday, September 29, 2017

Documentary: Soldier On

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Susan M. Sipprelle presents a thorough, unflinching look into the lives of three young women veterans (post 9/11) as they strive to readjust to civilian life following military deployment. The film, Soldier On, delves into the formative years of the women, their personal reasons for enlisting, the rigors of military life and the challenges and progress the women face in re-acclimating themselves to "normal," everyday life. Through well-edited, interwoven narratives, Sipprelle (Set for Life; Over 50 and Out of Work) weaves three distinct, diverse stories.
"When you're over there, your world stops…but everyone else's life goes on," says Natasha Young, a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps--a 12-year U.S. Marine Veteran--who was deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2007 and served as a 'fixer' amid combat skirmishes. "You're getting mortared…shot at every day," says the tough, no-nonsense, young woman who initially joined the military because she wanted "to do more, to be more." She was looking to be "part of a team." A romantic break-up at the age of 17, along with family dysfunction, propelled her toward a military career that took her far beyond her Massachusetts roots. She admits that her street-smarts were challenged by boot camp and later, as she bore witness to the atrocious horrors of war. Surges of adrenaline sustained her throughout her deployment, which was emotionally and physically draining. She even endured a violent sexual assault by a fellow marine. Since returning home, she's continued to press on and barrel on through, now picking up the pieces of her own life despite chronic health challenges and the demands of co-parenting her young son. Today, she finds purpose working as an advocate on behalf of veterans facing homelessness and housing issues.
Amanda Tejada, Sergeant in the U.S. Army who was deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan, also came from an unsettled background. She was abandoned by her mother and suffered a difficult, isolated childhood. Amanda was inspired to enlist to "help others" after witnessing "people jumping out of the buildings" during 9/11. This introspective, largely self-reliant young woman felt a sense of belonging and purpose during her military career.  After having been embroiled in almost daily combat missions and firing upon the enemy just a few miles west of the Pakistan border, where Osama bin Laden had been hiding, Amanda finds adjusting to ordinary civilian life especially challenging. Hearing loss and a myriad of wide-spread and debilitating symptoms of PTSD--depression, insomnia and subsequent alcoholism--make her transition all the more difficult. "The aftermath of being in the military isn't so pretty," she says. "Nobody comes back the same person...brain chemistry permanently changes." Amanda works hard to surmount emotional struggles. While her life had structure, and she was "taken care of" while in the military, as a civilian, functioning and bettering herself are constant uphill battles. A quest to finally finish her education, however, ultimately gives her a new lease on life.
In search of a sense of self, belonging and finding financial security lured Lyndsey Lyons--a 1st Lieutenant of the New York Army National Guard--into the military. She joined the R.O.T.C. while a psychology student at Fordham University. Lyndsey's innate sense of adventure made her feel truly excited to begin her military deployment. She was stationed in 2013 at the Kandahar Air Force Base in Afghanistan. "I was more fearful of being sexually assaulted than being killed in action," she admits. What makes Lyndsey's story unique is her lesbianism and the separation she endured from her girlfriend throughout deployment. While in service, Lyndsey was also forced to keep her sexuality secret as it was during the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  During her deployment, however, President Obama lifted the ban, and Lyndsey felt a true sense of liberation as if a "weight were lifted" from her life. Her post-military story largely focuses on her relationship with her girlfriend and how the impact of Lyndsey's deployment and return home affected them both, turning their lives upside-down. Throughout her military service, Lyndsey worked hard to remain unemotional and her quest, once home, becomes a process of learning how to soften her heart, getting in touch with and expressing her true feelings and emotions, and practicing spiritual mindfulness via the study of contemplative psychotherapy and meditation.
Well-selected, interspersed footage from world and political events, along with clips from military drills and actual combat, enrich the documentary along with the tight, crisp cinematography of Samuel E. Newman and the seamless editing of Jenny Filippazzo. Sipprelle's meticulous direction paints a clear, well-rendered portrait of the arduous journey young military women of diverse cultural backgrounds--and psychological profiles--face as they rejoin contemporary society. Their unifying thread becomes a sense of not belonging, a lack of purpose in fulfilling the mundane tasks of everyday life and no longer fitting in with civilian peers and contemporaries because military experience has set them apart. Sipprelle compassionately traces their unique feminine perspectives from combat to healing, and the long road they are forced to travel toward peace, with great insight and sensitivity—shining a necessary spotlight upon these unsung, courageous women who answered America's call.  

To watch the trailer for Soldier On, link HERE

To purchase a copy of Soldier On, link HERE

To learn more about TREE OF LIFE PRODUCTIONS, link HERE