The Magic Pumpkin by Benji Alexander Palus

The Magic Pumpkin is a fantastical and adventurous story about two brothers who suddenly find themselves in a beautiful and strange land. Escorted by a magic pumpkin, the young boys stick by each other and figure things out together.In this fantasy world, the boys discover four areas: Springland, Winterland, Summerland and Autumnland. Each area has pleasures and challenges. The skies turn multiple colors; there is a make-place, a clothes stone, paint plants and a leaf catching area. There are magical rivers (White, Black and Gold), fire trees, singing fish, and mystical fruits like pinkberries, rainberries, pumpkin apples and parrots (potato on the outside, carrot inside and the taste of French toast). The magic pumpkin flies the boys everywhere and remains their constant companion, their support, and sometimes their savior.

When the books opens, Owen is five years old, Oliver is three, and they have been in this world since little Oliver was only 18 months old. And it is not revealed until later that Oliver was very sick when he arrived. The author, Palus, is very good at describing the boys’ thoughts and feelings as they navigate their relationship and the environment around them. The boys don’t understand how they got to this special place, but they figure out how to decide their future together.

Throughout this tale, the young brothers hold together through tantrums and hunger, big storms, attacking beasts, and shadow eyes that cause nightmares and night terrors. Oliver’s illness actually fades and he gets healthier. The boys grow up together; both boys outgrow their clothes, Owen tries to potty train Oliver. Oliver’s speech develops from one-word answers to full sentences. And because Owen is older and spends most of his time caring for Oliver, he tires of their life there sooner. This remarkable story explores the bond between two young brothers as they take an exciting and daring journey together and learn from each other how to be strong. As Palus aptly puts it, “…they were running because there was joy in their hearts… for the boys loved each other and they were together.” Readers will enjoy Owen and Oliver.

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The Parent Pact (Book Three) by Laurie Kellogg

The Parent Pact (Book Three) is a love story about an unlikely pair of people who must overcome their differences to make a relationship work. 33 year-old Tyler Fitzpatrick is a successful businessman who rose from poverty and suffered through a difficult married life that left him a widower and a single father. Annie Barnes, ten years younger, is a struggling single mom who dropped out of high school and lost both parents when she was young. When Tyler and Annie see each other for the first time at their kids’ school, despite the difference in their ages and lifestyles, sparks fly.

After they become better acquainted, Tyler proposes a Parent Pact. They each notice that their child likes the other parent, so they agree to become role models to each other’s child and to fill one another’s needs as single parents. Tyler offers Annie a job as his housekeeper, caring for his daughter and home in Redemption, PA. This includes a new car with prepaid gas credit card, money for food and clothes shopping. Tyler is immediately interested in Annie, but she has been hurt badly in the past and is therefore a bit more trepidacious about getting involved with him. But they enjoy each other’s company and their bond grows: Tyler slowly learns that he shouldn’t ignore his difficult past and there’s more to life than money and social status. Annie starts to read Aesop fables, applies to college, and learns about etiquette.

Author Laurie Kellogg tells this love story with ease while recognizing the real life glitches that come with a unique couple in love. Tyler and Annie prove that love can work regardless of age, background and life’s complications. To paraphrase Tyler’s sister in the book: “It’s better to enjoy the cake today while it’s here…than when it’s gone and you have none at all.”

Kellogg is a two-time winner and seven-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® award, the winner of Pacific Northwest Writers Association® Zola award, and a Romantic Times® American Title I finalist. The Parent Pact series further proves she is a forerunner of Romance Novels.

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“Better Off Without Him” by Dee Ernst

“Better Off Without Him” by Dee Ernst is comedic novel that will have you laughing from the first page.

The main character is Mona Berman, a very successful romance novelist who lives in the suburbs of New Jersey. The drama begins when Mona’s husband, Brian, after two decades of marriage, comes home from work in the middle of the day to tell her that he is leaving her for another woman. Her reaction? “I was perfectly willing to do whatever it took to get my marriage back to where I thought it was, say, oh, two hours before.”

“Better Off Without Him” is told in the first person, so it reads like a diary. Using a lot of wit and sarcasm, Mona relates the trials and tribulations that follow Brian leaving her. Throughout the book, as Mona gradually realizes that her marriage was really not as successful as she thought it was, her humorous thoughts and feelings on the subject are perpetuated by feedback from close friends and family and the other characters around her.

There is always something going on in Mona’s big cozy house, and she loves that. Mona has three teenage daughters, Miranda, Lauren, and Jessica. Her two best friends, Patricia and Marsha, live close by. Her personal assistant, Anthony, is always around. Her Aunt Lily suddenly shows up after having sold her Brooklyn apartment with no place to live. Mona’s plumber, Ben, is practically on retainer, there are so many issues in her house for him to attend to. And Mona has a whole other set of friends and activities at her summer beach house neighborhood on Long Beach Island.

Everyone will laugh when reading this book, and one particular demographic—mothers in their thirties and up—will connect well with and understand Mona. She worries about her drooping physique, the wellbeing of her children and how to find a sex life now that she’s single. Some readers will also learn from Mona; she starts off wobbly, but with the support of friends and family, realizes how talented and awesome she really is.

Dee Ernst is a talented and humorous writer. The story flows well, makes sense, and you can imagine Mona Berman as a real person: hanging out at home, dealing with tension, feeling elated. You will wish “Better Off Without Him” could go on forever.

GoodbooksToday.com

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“War Brides” by Helen Bryan

“War Brides” by Helen Bryan is a work of fiction based on true World War II stories told to Bryan by family and friends in the United States and England.

This story is about the unsung female heroes of war; the women whose husbands were off fighting or working for intelligence divisions. Unprepared for the stress and trying times of war, the wives were left home by themselves, sometimes for years, to fend off enemies, raise the children and keep the household, and help the war effort on the home front.

“War Brides” follows a small group of women in the small English town of Crowmarsh Priors:

Evangeline Fontaine comes from a wealthy but dysfunctional family in New Orleans, Louisiana, whose fortune is slowly diminishing. Evangeline is a lazy, spoiled, rebellious young lady who, having grown up with brothers, is constantly getting into mischief and trouble; when the book starts, she is pregnant with the child of a black slave.

Alice Osbourne was born and raised in Crowmarsh Priors. The daughter of a vicar, her only contact with a man was with Richard Fairfax, who proposed marriage to her and then went to the United States, only to return married to Evangeline. Left alone to care for her mother and the church, Alice fears that she will never marry.

Antoinette Joseph—Tanni—a Jew living in Germany, is forced to marry Bruno Zayman and flee in the middle of the night as the Germans are closing in on the house. She leaves her mother, father and two sisters in that moment, never to see them again—and spends years of her life trying to find them.

Elsie Pigeon Hawthorne grew up dirt poor in Crowmarsh Priors. One of eight Pigeon children, she and her siblings had to wrap rags and dishtowels around their bodies on laundry day. Though she is a rebellious teenager, she married at fifteen years old.

Frances Falconleigh is also a wildcard. Having grown up without a mother, she lacks grace, manners and basic etiquette. After having rejected nanny after nanny and being rejected from schools, she runs “wild in London with a fast set of unsuitable men.” Frances grows up to join the Special Operations Executive (SEO) and become one of England’s most active and proud spies.

Penelope Fairfax, a relative of Evangeline’s, joins the SEO and helps enroll families in Kindertransport so children will be in a safe place during the war.

Despite their differences in background and personality, the women come together in crisis and become lifelong friends; they help each other through bombings, births, miscarriages, weddings, nursing wounded husbands, housing and feeding refugees and the endless search for lost relatives. “War Brides” is a remarkable story about women’s strength and their will to carry on for the next generation.
GoodbooksToday.com

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“Make Him Beg to Be Your Boyfriend in 6 Simple Steps” by Michael Fiore

“Make Him Beg to Be Your Boyfriend in 6 Simple Steps” by Michael Fiore is a Self Help dating book for women. (Actually, the cover says, “A Special Report.”) This book gives specific instructions on how to hook a guy and make him a boyfriend.

A lot has been written in the past about how to hook a man, how to flirt with a man, how to marry, and how a woman can use the male courtship process to her advantage. Most of the these types of Self Help books were written by women for women; “The Rules” was probably the best selling of all. “Make Him Beg to Be Your Boyfriend” is one of the few that has been written by a man; yet it actually follows some of the same logic as “The Rules.” This is particularly interesting, because Fiore makes it clear that his girlfriend, who he’s totally head-over-heels in love with, followed these steps to get him and he appreciates all of it.

First, Fiore explains the six reasons why the man is not your boyfriend yet: He wants variety; he doesn’t see you as a girlfriend; he believes you want to be casual; he’s been burned before; he’s a player; he’s already in a commitment.

Then Fiore leaps into the four basic steps behind making that man your boyfriend:

1) “Shoot down” his unconscious objections
2) Make him chase and earn you
3) Make him feel like he’s going to lose you if he doesn’t take action
4) Make him feel like it’s his idea for entering into a relationship

Fiore gives warnings in the introduction about how straight he’s actually going to be: “Warning #1: Read the whole damn report” and “Warning #2: I don’t pull punches.” He also fully admits these are games, and that some of them are a little cruel. And he assures that all of them work.

The material for this book was originally Fiore’s blog, and it’s still active at http://michaelfiore.org/. That’s probably why the tone is simple and no-nonsense. A straightforward explanation and instruction manual, “Make Him Beg to Be Your Boyfriend” gives women the tools to successfully find a boyfriend.

GoodbooksToday.com

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“Pines” by Blake Crouch

“Pines” by Blake Crouch is a thrilling work of fiction. You will be hooked from page one.

Ethan Burke, the main character, is a man on a mission. The story begins with his waking up in a place called Wayward Pines. It is an idyllic setting: beautiful Victorian houses surrounded by gorgeous park and grass fields, majestic cliffs and a crystal, rolling river. But he is badly hurt. And he discovers that he has no wallet, no money clip, no ID, no keys, no phone. He only finds a Swiss Army knife in one of his pockets.

Burke gradually starts to remember: He is a Secret Service agent who came here to search for two other agents. But as he learns what happened to them—and to him—he discovers that Wayward Pines is not as pretty on the inside as the outside. And as he tries to find reasons for things around him that don’t add up, he senses that he’s heading for trouble.

The man is built for action; he has superhero endurance. Burke was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the second Gulf War. Later he joined the Secret Service. He has incredible stamina, an excellent arm, impeccable aim and he can ignore pain and extreme thirst and hunger if it means getting out of danger. He can take on and take down pretty much any enemy, even as fear rushes through him.

The story is mainly about Burke, but it does touch on his wife, Theresa, and their son, Ben. Burke longs for them, remorseful of his mistakes as a husband and father. He also has nightmares about his time as a prisoner of war, being tortured by a man called Aashif; his emotional shortfalls seem to stem from when he was a soldier.

This book is a successful cross between “The Bourne Legacy,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Planet of the Apes.” The ending, with all its wild explanations, makes sense.  The narrative is non-stop engaging action with twists and turns the entire way. This book would make a fun movie; you will enjoy all of “Pines,” from beginning to end.

 
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“Between Eden and the Open Road” by Philip Gaber

“Between Eden and the Open Road” by Philip Gaber is a collection of contemporary poetry and stories.

Gaber wrote these pieces apparently while ignoring classical literature boundaries. There are some stories, some poems, and some hybrids (combination of poetry and prose). All the titles are lower case, in the style of the poet e.e. cummings. The works are all non-traditional formats.

A lot of pieces read like they are exercises in sarcasm; some are downright sardonic. There are witty and funny moments:

“He was the Monday morning of human beings.”

“I was looking for healing, so I drove to a house of ill-repute.”

“Blew into town like a reputable vagrant….with…. a quarter of a chip still left on my shoulder….”

Some lines are downright strange: “Ursula’s still exfoliating quiet hysteria from her pores…” Some lines are cryptic: “That’s the price you pay for living the life of the oblique mystic minstrel.”

Some stories, though very short, are divided by Roman numerals: I, II, III, etc.

The section entitled, “the dust of everyday life” is about someone named Picasso. Is this a true story? Is it a story based on an anecdote the author heard? It seems so. The section entitled “to leave the consideration of the self behind” might also be about or be a vague reference to someone famous that the author knows.

There are no classic elements here: no metaphors, no Shakespearean influences, no flowery phrases. The writing is short and blunt; the longest piece is five pages. The imagery is stark. Some pieces seem dreamlike. There is not necessarily a beginning middle and end to each piece—or to the whole collection. The closest thing to a conclusion is the section “my humbug,” which might suggest the author’s intentions—if there are any. But its placement at the third-to-last entry suggests otherwise.

If you see this type of writing as free expression, then it really is a pure form of art. If you enjoy reading contemporary literature that seems more like flows of thought than structured story, “Between Eden and the Open Road” is for you.

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