Jun 7, 2011

Book Review: Island Girl by Lynda Simmons, plus Author Interview

Title: Island Girl by Lynda Simmons
Paperback: 448 pages. Publisher: Berkley Trade; Original edition (December 7, 2010)
Genre: contemporary women's fiction
Source: review copy from author
Objective rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: Set on an island off the city of Toronto, the novel is about  hair stylist Ruby Donaldson, who at age 55 discovers she has Alzheimer's and makes plans for herself and her two daughters, Liz and Grace, for after she is unable to function normally. She is surrounded by friends on the island and an ex-lover who are willing to help her, though at first she refuses their advice and offers of help.

Ruby's plans are a surprise and her own plans for herself are somewhat unorthodox. She maneuvers to have her estranged daughter Liz return from Toronto to Ward Island to take care of Grace. The girls have different plans or hopes for their future.

Comments: Ruby is gutsy, overprotective of her daughters, and fiercely independent. We develop a soft spot for her as time goes on, and we get to know her daughters in their own words, as they tell their stories in the novel. I got very involved with these three personalities, richly drawn by the author. A fourth female is involved in this story, a 12-year-old girl who helps the childlike Grace to advance to more independence. The plot and characterization and the island setting make this a very worthwhile read.

Author: Lynda Simmons is a Canadian author whose first novel was Getting Rid of Rosie. She describes herself as a writer by day and a college instructor by night, who grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology. She and her husband live in a small city outside of Toronto.

Tour: This book tour was sponsored by TLC Book Tours. Click on the link to see other stops on the tour, June 6-10.


Welcome, Lynda, and thanks for sharing the background of your book, Island Girl, with us. Can you tell us how you decided to choose Alzheimer's as the topic for this novel?

Lynda: My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s fifteen years ago. A feisty little thing not five feet tall, she was the kind of woman who built backyard hockey rinks, rescued baby squirrels and made room in her home for forgotten kids. I think she would have gone on taking in those kids forever, but Alzheimer’s changed everything, slowly but steadily stealing her memories, her personality, eventually even her ability to communicate.

She’s been in care for a number of years now, and it was in the lounge of the long term facility that we met other families dealing with this devastating illness. Like strangers everywhere, we discussed the weather, the staff, and the next activity on the calendar. And sometimes, when we thought we’d found a kindred soul, we spoke in whispered tones about our own fears of this devastating illness, and our refusal to give in to the Long Goodbye. To tell the truth, it was the difference in the way the generations approached Alzheimer’s that fascinated me.

My mother-in-law’s generation, the ones who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, tend to be fatalistic about whatever life throws at them. They take a suck-it-up-and-soldier-on attitude, trusting their doctors, their government and their family to do what’s right for them. The people of my generation, on the other hand, don’t blindly trust anyone. We’re children of the revolution, after all. We want information and alternatives. And we are not at all ready to accept the Long Goodbye as our fate.

So we read, we surf the net, we drink the pomegranate juice and we do crossword puzzles. And even as we watch our loved ones disappear and pray for a cure before Big Al comes looking for us, we are certain of one thing – we want a choice in our own future.

“He never wanted this,” one woman told me, watching her husband shuffle back and forth between the nursing station and the lounge. “He wanted out long ago, but I couldn’t very well throw him in front of a subway train, could I?”

No, she couldn’t. So now this man, proud and handsome judging by the pictures the staff had put in the cubby outside his room, was reduced to diapers and mushy food and a life that would likely have ended a while ago if Big Al had been left alone with him for a few days. But that’s not going to happen so he goes on day after day, shuffling back and forth in front of that lounge.

I couldn’t help it. I had to explore this issue. Had to take a character who is strong and independent and accustomed to being in control, and thrust her headlong into a situation that takes all of that strength and control away. A character who has not made good choices in her life, a woman who has alienated lovers and friends and even one of her children, and now finds herself needing forgiveness and compassion – something she was never good at herself – from the very people she pushed away.

My research involved books and documentaries, doctors and nurses, caregivers and social workers, and most importantly, the patients themselves. And when I finally sat down to write, I started with two questions: Does Alzheimer’s grant a person instant forgiveness, a moral get-out-of-jail free card? And should you have the right to decide your own fate?

If I were writing non-fiction, I would take a stand on these questions and present facts and statistics to back up my point of view, expecting you to be swayed by my arguments when you closed the book. But Island Girl is fiction, and the purpose of fiction is not to persuade or win an argument. The purpose of fiction is to explore human nature, to present you with two people who are arguing and both are right. It’s up to you to decide who won!

You can find out more about Lynda Simmons at http://lyndasimmons.com/

Jun 6, 2011

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. What's on your shelf to read this week? Here are some on my list:

A Parfait Murder: A Mystery A La Mode
Pumped for Murder: A Dead-End Job Mystery

Eyes Wide Open: A Novel


Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel

A Time for Patriots: A Novel

Jun 5, 2011

Sunday Salon: Four Star Books

The Sunday Salon.comWelcome to the Sunday Salon. Click on the logo to join in!

I was lucky in my reading last week as I read several 4.5 star books in different genres!

Insatiable by Meg Cabot, a vampire romance

Dead by Midnight: A Death on Demand Mystery

Dead by Midnight: A Death on Demand Mystery by Carolyn Hart

Island Girl
 Island Girl by Lynda Simmons, contemporary women's fiction.

I also liked Ink Flamingos: A Tattoo Shop Mystery by Karen E. Olson and Spider Web (Benni Harper Mystery) by Earlene Fowler. I had a giveaway of Secret Daughter: A Novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, and am doing another givaway of Lift by Rebecca K. O'Connor.

To Sketch a Thief (A Portrait of Crime Mystery)Unraveled (A Knitting Mystery)On my list to read next are Unraveled (A Knitting Mystery) by Maggie Sefton and To Sketch a Thief (A Portrait of Crime Mystery) by Sharon Pape, two new cozies published by the Penguin Group.

Finished one of the books above at the park today, sitting in gardens on a bench under a shady tree. It was very pleasant to get some reading done there.

What have you been reading lately?

Jun 3, 2011

Spider Web by Earlene Fowler - Beginning Sentences

Spider Web (Benni Harper, #15)

Music flowed out of the old ranch house's open front door like a wash of honey water - "Are you Lonesome Tonight?"
Elvis Presley's unmistakable voice rose and surrounded me as I watched from a small rise a hundred yards away. The damp, drooping branches of a pepper-scented valley oak camouflaged me and my horse from whomever was inspecting my former home. Trixie, a new mare my father bought last week, shifted beneath me. (Ch. 1)

Spider Web (Benni Harper Mystery) by Earlene Fowler
Hardcover: 320 pages 
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover; 1 edition (May 3, 2011)
Source: Publisher

Product description: Folk art museum curator, rancher and sometime sleuth Benni Harper is organizing a Memory Festival, in which she and the ladies of her Coffin Star Quilt Guild are displaying their Graveyard quilt. But a sniper threatens to make it a day to remember in the worst way. When a local cop is wounded by a mysterious sharpshooter who seems to have a vendetta against the police, Benni fears for her loved ones, especially her police chief husband. Benni is determined to make her hometown safe-before their peaceful street fair becomes a shooter's deadly target range.

Comments: This is the 15th in the series featuring quilter Benni Harper. The setting and the plot make this a memorable mystery, in addition to Benni herself and her friends in the Quilter's guild. Folk arts and craft lovers who love mysteries will enjoy this series.

About the Author: Award-winning mystery writer Earlene Fowler was raised in La Puente, California, and now lives in Southern California with her husband. Visit her at http://www.earlenefowler.com/

Jun 2, 2011

Book Giveaway: LIFT: a Memoir by Rebecca K. O'Connor

Rebecca is offering a lucky reader a signed copy of her award-winning memoir on falconry, LIFT! (see details below). If the winner already owns LIFT, they may request the author's romance novel, Falcon's Return , instead.

About the book: Lift, A Memoir does an excellent job of combining a description of the art of falconry with the memories of a woman becoming a confident falconer in spite of growing up with uncertainty in her personal life. Left by her parents at a young age, she learns about birds and the natural world from her grandfather, and develops a love of birds including hawks and falcons. She becomes a bird trainer, naturalist, and owner of a peregrine falcon. This is her story.  (see my book review )

Rebecca is also offering a coupon code for an eBook she is working on - RISE, which will be available July 1, the same date LIFT will be available on Kindle!

Rebecca: "RISE is a collection of essays, short stories and poetry that ties into LIFT with more falconry and backstory. It also includes a stand-alone excerpt of my current novel in progress. It will be available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and others. I will be giving a coupon code to get RISE for free to anyone who has read LIFT. (bought, borrowed or checked out from the library).

Anyone who can answer, “Who did it turn out owned the peregrine that landed on the roof of Rebecca’s house when she was a child?” and send the answer to me at rebecca@blueskywriting.com will get the coupon code. Otherwise, RISE will be available for .99. Please check out the trailer for RISE here."

Book Giveaway of LIFT: Leave a comment with your email address, U.S. residents only. For an extra chance to win, become a follower or let me know if you already are a follower. Contest will end on June 7 and winner will be asked to email me a mailing address, no P.O. boxes please, by June 10. Do enter, and good luck!

Jun 1, 2011

Book Review: Ink Flamingos, a Tattoo Shop mystery by Karen E. Olson

Ink Flamingos: A Tattoo Shop Mystery by Karen E. Olson
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Signet; Original edition (June 7, 2011)
Source: review copy provided by the Penguin Group
Objective review: 5/5

Product description: Dee Carmichael, lead singer of the pop sensation The Flamingoes, has been one of Brett Kavanaugh's most dedicated customers at her tattoo shop. When Dee is discovered dead surrounded by ink pots and needles, Brett is branded a suspect. It seems that someone is impersonating Brett. And if she doesn't act fast, the killer is sure to put the dye in dying once again...

Comments:  I enjoyed  "Ink Flamingos" so much that I plan to read the other three in the series. The setting is unique - a tattoo shop near famous hotels on the Las Vegas strip. The main character and amateur sleuth  owns the shop, is a tattoo artist, and of course has tattoos herself. The plot is original - a well known singer, allergic to tattoo dyes, is found dead in her hotel room. Brett, the tattoo shop owner, is a suspect in the death, as someone looking like her was seen leaving the hotel room where the singer's body was found. The plot unfolds...and I never guessed the real culprit. A nice easy read with descriptions of the layout of Las Vegas and some of its hotels mixed into the plot.

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...