Category Archives: Book Reviews

Sugar and Snails

Last week I finished reading Anne Goodwin‘s debut novel Sugar and Snails. While I have been a fan of Goodwin’s writing for some time, it’s difficult to anticipate whether someone who writes wonderful short stories will also have the skills required to assemble a novel. Goodwin most definitely does. I highly recommend that you give her novel a try – you will not be disappointed.


Below is the five-star review I am posting on Amazon and Goodreads:

A coming-of-age story unlike many others

I picked up Sugar and Snails without having any idea what it was about (details below under the Spoiler Alert), and I have to say that I was delightfully surprised by both the storyline and the style of writing. I loved the way the author slowly unravels the story behind the youthful Diana’s mysterious life-changing decision, picking away it, probing her memory and subconscious for details, just like the psychologist her main character portrays. It’s a classic example of form fitting function, and it drew me deeply into the story even as I was drawn more and more deeply into the depths of Diana’s mind.

The writing is smooth and expertly done, with characters who are imperfect and three-dimensionally drawn. I was reminded of the novels of Graham Greene in both the manner in which the story unfolds and the realistic characterizations of the people involved. Ostensibly this is a book about Diana’s decision, a decision that she made when she had neither the knowledge nor experience to make it, a decision that has dogged her every year of her life since she was fifteen. It takes her thirty years to comes to terms with that decision, but ultimately, you’re proud of her for how she handles it, and proud of her, too, for how she decides to move forward.


In a day in which Caitlyn Jenner is gracing the front cover of Vanity Fair, transgender issues are at the forefront of the collective consciousness. We are entering an era of great social change, an era in which we are coming to acknowledge that trans people, like homosexuals, have little choice but to be who they are. What is so powerfully moving about Diana’s story is that it harkens back to an epoch before there was any tolerance at all for gender that was not one hundred percent “man” or one hundred percent “woman”; she demonstrates with painful yet not pitiful eloquence how difficult it can be merely to exist in a world in which one must identify oneself solely with one or the other, and ultimately, how we all suffer from trying to adhere to this strict dichotomy of gender. Hers is a coming-of-age story unlike many others, yet it cries out to be told, to join the stories of other youths who have suffered crises of sexual or gender identity in a world that has often been hostile to them. Yet, it, too, offers hope, for if, in the modern era, a forty-five-year-old woman can at last find peace, if a sixty-five-year-old woman can find peace, then perhaps the young people who follow in their footsteps will never have to know the suffering that the older generation endured; peace may be theirs without their having to find it.

Book Review: Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle by Geoff Le Pard

Geoff Le Pard’s debut novel Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is pure solid entertainment. That’s the best word for it – entertainment. There’s no standing at the edge of the pool, wondering whether you want to get your feet wet; instead you dive right into the story and don’t come up for air until you reach the end of it. It’s an engaging tale, and deftly told, spiced generously throughout with a sense of humor that can only be described as witty. Le Pard excels at clever and unique turns of phrase that will make you laugh but also make you think.

The characterization is realistic and in-depth; the bad guys aren’t all bad, and the good guys aren’t all good. Indeed, in Harry Spittle’s world, people are rarely what they seem, which is what makes his life so darned complicated. But it’s our hero himself who is the most complex character of all. He’s the ideal kind of character for a coming-of-age novel because when we see him behaving stupidly or behaving badly, it makes sense to us; he does the same sorts of foolish things that we did when we were nineteen. And oftentimes, like us, he pays the price for his errors – but in a funnier fashion.

The story unravels in the same manner in which Harry’s life unravels, thread by thread, and string by string, so that we follow along with Harry, experiencing his consternation as he uncovers the truths behind a series of mysterious events. Indeed, it is not until the very end that the suspense is lifted, on numerous fronts, drawing the reader into a full and satisfying conclusion. The structure, too, of the novel lends itself well to maintaining reader interest – you can literally feel “the bad guys closing in” as the book progresses.

It’s a great story, and wonderfully told. It’s rollicking entertainment at its finest. I can’t wait to read more books by this author!

When Characters Mutiny: Guest Post by L.F. Falconer

Today I am pleased to introduce L. F. Falconer, author of the historical coming-of-age fiction novels Hope Rises from the Ashes and Hope Flies on Broken WingsHer latest book, a fantasy prequel entitled The Vagabond’s Son: Prelude to a Legacy was just released in September. You can find out more about Leanna on her website or on her author page on Amazon, where you can read an impressive array of book reviews for her work, most of which average 4.7 stars or higher!

Leanna’s guest post “When Characters Mutiny” is below, as is an excerpt from The Vagabond’s Son, but first I’d like to present this brief author interview. It took me a fair amount of thought to come up with these two questions, but I think Leanna’s answers provide a lot of insight into her and her work.

If you were throwing a party for the characters in your books, who among them would you refuse to invite and why?

If everyone showed up this would be a fairly good-sized party, but I doubt it’d be much fun. Other than a handful of characters who could actually let their hair down and have a good time, what I really picture here is a room full of people keeping to themselves, or at the most, only associating with those of the same social standing. One character I would definitely leave off the guest list is Harlo, Dugan’s father from Hope Flies on Broken Wings. Because of his profane nature and mob-style clout, his presence would put a damper upon any frivolity the party might be able to muster. For similar reasons, I would try to exclude Laramato, from The Vagabond’s Son, as well. I doubt anyone would want to deal with either one of those sadistic creeps at a party and they would not be missed.

Suppose that you were suddenly transported into the world of one of your books. Which character would you be and why?

There are a good many characters in my books who are well-adjusted, upstanding, personable folk that one might think would be fine to embody. However, as their creator, I’m privy to all their ugly little secrets. I’m well aware of any less than enviable life experiences as well as the ultimate fates that await them. This insider knowledge can make selecting a character I might like to become a genuine challenge! Yet one does stand out above all others—that being Gabriel Hunter from Exit Strategy. I’ve chosen Gabe because, unlike me, he is definitely a piece of eye-candy and can play a mean ocarina. He’s also well-traveled, can adapt to any situation, and even though his strong inner self-discipline makes him appear cold and unfeeling, underneath that façade beats the heart of an angel.

When Characters Mutiny

In literature, not all characters are created equal, and some just naturally emerge stronger than others. Such was the case with Adalanto.

A handsome young piskie with beautiful blue eyes, Adalanto began his life as a secondary character in a supporting role. Yet the more scenes he appeared in, the stronger he became until he finally usurped the entire plot and foisted himself into a position of high importance

I could have put an end to this uprising with a sweep of the pen, but instead, I decided to let him go, just to see where he might take things. After all, he and his friend Tulemar, had already come to my rescue when I was suffering a severe case of writer’s block. Much to my surprise, he brought about a wonderful turn of events which led to a more satisfactory conclusion than I had originally planned.

But, perhaps I should start at the beginning:

Twenty-six years ago I wrote a poem—a medieval ballad of a young warrior who sought a treasure upon a mountaintop. Along his trek, he defeated several mythical beings who sought to end his quest, losing all his weapons in the process. And when he finally reached the peak, he came to learn the treasure was simply lore. It did not exist. Left disheartened and unarmed, he still had to face the menace of a dragon that stood in his way of retreat.

The poem sparked the interested of a couple of magazine editors but, at over four pages, its length prohibited publication. Several years later I began to convert that poem into a story. That one story grew into two, then into four, and continued to grow exponentially until it finally reached the epic proportions it is today. Over half a million words in length, The Legacy of Skur is finally nearing the publication stage. And out of this work, Adalanto of The Vagabond’s Son was born.

As I previously stated, Adalanto began his life as a secondary character, but he was having none of that! He demanded the lead. In the full development of his character, it dawned upon me that instead of just a paragraph or two of background now and then, his entire story needed to be told, for it is definitely one of “courage under fire.”

A child reared in insolation by his abusive, drunken father, Adalanto escapes at age twelve and is taken in by a kindly, deeply religious family. Being suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar society, Adalanto struggles, often unsuccessfully, to fit in.

The Vagabond’s Son follows this journey into adulthood as Adalanto learns to build relationships with others while trying to overcome the ever-present burden of his childhood scars. For as strong as his character is, he does have many weaknesses and flaws, and will forever do battle within himself. Each chapter in the book begins a new chapter in his life, until his story finally merges with his entrance into [as yet, unpublished] The Legacy of Skur.

Much of the writing of The Vagabond’s Son was painful to do. Often, during my research into the psychological problems usually endured by children raised in (a) isolation, and (b) abusive homes, I was left enraged and in tears. I had to walk a fine line in presenting the types of abuse young Adalanto goes through. I had to deal out enough to cause him a number of issues to overcome, but not so much as to leave him broken. And while at times it may have seemed none existed, I had to consistently provide him a thread of hope as well as the strength of spirit to succeed.

The Vagabond’s Son is a psychological, character based story set in a realm of fantasy, and deals with some hard social issues, including scenes of abuse, sexual situations, and violence. While not necessary to read in order to delve into the upcoming The Legacy of Skur series, its purpose is to give the reader a deeper understanding of his character. As with most of my works, it is recommended for a mature audience.

For more information please visit


Now, please allow me to present a short excerpt from The Vagabond’s Son, Prelude to a Legacy. [From Chapter Three, where Adalanto, at age fifteen and employed in the palace kitchen, is unexpectedly summoned before the Piskitian king.]

The following morning Adalanto was carving the fresh venison Thegn Peppolin’s company had just delivered, when a young boy in a green tunic and cap entered the kitchen.

“King Jaspidian wishes an immediate audience with Adalanto,” the page announced.

Gondofor and Ashirina shared a look of surprise while Adalanto’s own face was stricken pale. What had he done that would cause the king to demand him? Did it have something to do with Donamara, who used to be a royal’s favorite?

“Right now?” he squeaked.

“I am to escort you,” the page informed him.

“But I’m a bloody mess.”

“It’s not wise to keep the king waiting,” Gondofor said grimly. “Go at once.”

Adalanto quickly cleansed the blood from his hands and face in the wash bucket, cursing himself for having chosen this morning to wash his other set of clothes. He’d been in the palace over two years now and had yet to lay eyes upon the king. His stomach began to constrict in tight knots. His father’s drunken voice rumbled through his memory, “Did I ever tell you ‘bout the time I met the king?” With a trepid heart, he followed the page out the door.

They stopped before the double doors of the throne room and a guard with a brown leather cap announced him before ushering Adalanto inside.

He tried to control his queasiness and followed the guard over the woven reed mat across the expansive room, approaching the throne. Upon reaching the dais, he and the guard both dropped to one knee and bowed in genuflection.

“Rise,” the king commanded.

Taking a deep breath, Adalanto rose to await whatever punishment he had unwittingly been deemed to merit and dared to look upon the face of his king. He was younger than Adalanto expected, older than he, but not as old as Markaset, probably closer in age to Leandervon, with eyes so dark they were nearly the same shade as the black of his hair. A shiny, spiked, silver crown gleamed brightly above similarly spiked ears. He was dressed in tall black boots, black pants, and a flouncy white linen shirt beneath a black beaver fur vest. Two silver chains adorned with gold and silver medallions encircled his neck.

“You are the boy who has been aiding my cook?” the king asked, idly fingering one of the medallions.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” His voice sounded as tiny as he felt.

King Jaspidian rose from his mahogany throne and stepped off the dais. He stood beside him and Adalanto noted he was not as tall as he appeared on the throne. Chin cupped in his hand, Jaspidian circled around him studiously.

How Adalanto wished he’d had some clean clothes available. Such a disgrace to be clad so unkempt before the king. His sweat gathered. His heart beat hard against his breast, and he wished nothing more than to just crawl away and hide.

The Vagabond’s Son, Prelude to a Legacy by L.F. Falconer, is available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Outskirts Press.

New Goodreads Review of On Hearing of My Mother’s Death!

Byron Edgington (, author of The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying and Life, has posted his review of On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened on Goodreads. I read it yesterday, and his remarks about the book are so kind that I’m still blushing – in fact, his only complaint is that the book is too short (see my comments following the review):

“Here we have an extended essay/memoir on surviving a parent’s psychosis, inventing a life and then learning of the death of the long-forgotten parent many years after her passing. It’s much too easy to compare such works as Ms Schafer’s to other neglected childhood fare: Jeannette Walls ‘Glass Castle,’ Christina Crawford’s ‘Mommy Dearest’ etc. Too easy, because the parents in those memoirs cannot be easily forgiven; they can only be easily explained. Their cruelty stems from ambition, neglect, the depredations of poor parenting skills. Ms Schafer’s mother, on the other hand, offers a much more subtle, we might say inexplicable source of her wanton neglect and cruel treatment: mental illness and its untreated ravages.

Lori Schafer is an accomplished writer at the apex of her craft. Her images and reflections shimmer on the page: “grilled cheese and tomato…butter-brown bread…’ including good alliteration and excellent use of sentence length variation, she keeps readers moving forward. “The sidewalks were empty. I was empty.” Beautiful stuff.

Transitions are well done, despite many flashbacks and oblique references. Only one time, at an end chapter, and a reference to ‘Lila’ did this reviewer lose the thread, but then it picked up again.

Schafer’s use of a fictional device inside her memoir is very well done. She writes as ‘Gloria,’ to explain the horrors of a childhood in crisis, while giving herself a bit of remove as the writer. It’s an excellent device, and it works very well. It’s also entirely understandable. Much like any child will have an invisible friend, or a security blanket, Schafer has Gloria.

The writer’s voice stays consistent throughout, shifting with subtlety between the teenage, angst-ridden Lori and the determined older Lori living in a car in Berkeley and making her own way. “I was learning,” she writes, scraping for bottles and cans in Berkeley “…like the poor man’s Santa Claus.”

There are a few loose threads: We’re never told what happened to ‘Sandra Johnson.’ Indeed, none of the siblings’ lives are explained. There’s a reference to Schafer’s own concern about being poisoned, a thinly-veiled worry that she might have acquired her mother’s mental illness, but this is not addressed or enlarged. We don’t hear about mom’s own family history, or what may have contributed to her instability, only that ‘Judy Green-Hair’ is a serial marrier. Just open a vein, as they say; readers want more details.

Indeed, one critique of this memoir may be that it’s too darned short, that readers want to know much more about who this writer is: how did that young woman survive all she did? What resources did she uncover in herself? How’s she doing now? Has she finally found ‘a safe place?’

Wordsworth wrote, ‘…the child is father to the man,’ and we must assume he meant mother to the woman as well. If so, at the end of her fine memoir, Lori Schafer pays tribute to that young mother of herself. This is a good, fulfilling memoir. I just wish it was longer, darn it. Four stars, only because it’s too short.”

Byron Edgington, author of The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying & Life

Although it’s not an unqualified five star review, I’m really very pleased with it because Byron’s feedback actually gave me a great idea. It’s true that there are certain parts of the story into which I do not delve, in particular, regarding my mother’s family history, or what ever happened to my sister. I can’t provide answers to those questions simply because I myself don’t know the answers. My mother’s parents died when I was too young to know them; I don’t remember her sister and was merely acquainted with my uncle. I know very little about my mother’s life before me, and virtually nothing about the rest of her family. Likewise, my sister and I fell out of touch even before I left home, and as to Sandra Johnson, she’s a mystery that will forever remain unsolved.

But at no point do I ever make any of this clear to the reader. Most people, I think, see “family” as constituting a group of people; a set of relations with whom one shares varying levels of affection or bonding. For me, “family” meant Mom. She was it; there really wasn’t anyone else to fall under that heading. So it frankly never occurred to me that I might need to explain why I wasn’t talking about those larger family issues. But, of course, Byron is absolutely right; readers will be curious about those aspects of the story, and even if I have no real answers to give them, I like the idea of explaining why.

And this, of course, is one of the beauties of independent publishing. I’m not bound to someone else’s contract, or to a print run of thousands of copies that are already stacked and waiting in warehouses. So why not add another chapter? Even with my current crazy schedule, I can probably even get that done before the release date, and start fresh with an improved version of the story. A good idea is a good idea – even if it wasn’t my idea!

So thank you, Byron, for taking the time to detail what you thought was missing from my book. Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I hope you’ll be glad to know that someone is listening.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

On Hearing of My Mother's Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer

On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened

by Lori Schafer

Giveaway ends November 23, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle

Author, blogger, and all-around great guy Geoff Le Pard ( has just published his first novel Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle.

It’s summer 1976 and hotter than Hades

Harry Spittle, nineteen, is home from university, aiming to earn some money to go on holiday and maybe get laid. He expects he will be bored rigid, but the appearance of an old family friend, Charlie Jepson, his psychopathic son, Claude, and predatory wife Monica changes that. As his parents’ marriage implodes, Harry’s problems mount; before he knows it he’s in debt up to his ears and dealing in drugs. Things go from bad to worse when he is stabbed. He needs money fast, but now his job is at risk, his sister is in trouble and he has discovered a family secret that could destroy all he holds dear. The only way out appears to require that Harry join forces with the local criminal mastermind. Can Harry survive to see out the summer? Can he save his family? Can he regain some credibility and self-respect? Most importantly, will he finally get laid?

Now I’ve been following Geoff’s blog for a while, and it rapidly becomes apparent when you read his depictions of his various adventures that he’s a born storyteller. Still, when Geoff posted the first few chapters of his novel on his blog a while back, I was even more impressed than I expected to be. There’s such cleverness to his fiction – I described it as containing numerous “zing” moments that made me turn pink and a variety of other colors! If you like that style of writing, I encourage you to click the book cover above to be taken to the Amazon page, where you can preview several sample chapters and judge for yourself. Please also note that the paperback is forthcoming if Kindle books aren’t your thing. It may also make you feel good to know that Geoff is donating the proceeds to his local youth charity, Streatham Youth and Community Trust.

I myself am really looking forward to reading the rest of Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, although alas, with my current overabundance of work, it may be Christmas before I get to it. So if you do decide to check it out, let me know what you thought – or better yet, leave a review and let everyone know what you thought :)

Guess the True Statement and Win Jessica Bell’s New Thriller, White Lady!



To celebrate the release of Jessica Bell’s latest novel, WHITE LADY, she is giving away an e-copy (mobi, ePub, or PDF) to the first person to correctly guess the one true statement in the three statements below. To clarify, two statements are lies, and one is true:

Some of Jessica Bell’s first music purchases (in cassette tape!) were ….

a. Bon Jovi, Metallica, U2, Talking Heads

b. Guns N’ Roses, Alice in Chains, AC/DC, Eurythmics

c. Kylie Minogue, Prince, Technotronic, Alannah Myles

What do you think? Which one is true? Write your guess in the comments, along with your email address. Comments will close in 48 hours. If no-one guesses correctly within in 48 hours, comments will stay open until someone does.

Want more chances to win? You have until October 31 to visit all the blogs where Jessica will share a different set of true and false statements on each one. Remember, each blog is open to comments for 48 hours only from the time of posting.

If you win, you will be notified by email with instructions on how to download the book.

Click HERE to see the list of blogs.


*This novel contains coarse language, violence, and sexual themes.

Sonia yearns for sharp objects and blood. But now that she’s rehabilitating herself as a “normal” mother and mathematics teacher, it’s time to stop dreaming about slicing people’s throats.

While being the wife of Melbourne’s leading drug lord and simultaneously dating his best mate is not ideal, she’s determined to make it work.

It does work. Until Mia, her lover’s daughter, starts exchanging saliva with her son, Mick. They plan to commit a crime behind Sonia’s back. It isn’t long before she finds out and gets involved to protect them.

But is protecting the kids really Sonia’s motive?

Click HERE to view the book trailer.

Click HERE for purchase links.

Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Connect with Jessica online:


Akin to the Truth: Identity and the Adopted Child

Today I am hosting my very first post on a Wow! Women on Writing blog tour. I thought it might be a good idea to participate in something like this on the host side before I decided whether I wanted to get involved in having one myself. And, I hoped, I might just get to read an interesting book.

I wasn’t disappointed. Paige Adams Strickland’s memoir Akin to the Truth concerns a subject I know very little about – adoption. It’s an entertaining story of a woman’s youth, adolescence, and young adulthood, but what is perhaps most fascinating about it is what it teaches us about the nature of identity, of a child’s need to know from whence he or she came.

Perhaps the first aspect of Paige’s memoir that one notices is what might be described as a veritable obsession with family. This is not what I would have anticipated from an adoption story – on the contrary, I might have expected instead to read about a child who distanced herself from her adoptive family, who, subconsciously, perhaps, rejected them. But rarely will you see so much time devoted in a memoir to the writer’s relations: parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins even; a treasure trove containing detailed descriptions of both the positive and negative characteristics of each person in Paige’s extended family. And of those individuals with whom Paige felt a special bond, such as her grandmothers, we receive an even more comprehensive and personalized view.

Of course, the importance of family to Paige is not necessarily related to the fact of her being adopted, but it certainly seems probable, and that is because most of us, whether we choose to admit it or not, tend to take family for granted. In fact, to a certain extent, family relationships are deemed to be the ones we are permitted to take for granted, because family is built on unconditional love.

But for the adopted child, there is, perhaps, no unconditional love. Paige’s doubts and fears about her place within her adoptive family are never assuaged by being reassured that her adoptive parents “chose” her. No, she takes no comfort from the notion that she was specially selected; rather, she sees it instead as having been picked from a litter like a puppy. There is, to her, something dehumanizing in the manner of her adoption, almost as if she is not – or does not envision herself to be – quite a real person.

Her sense of self is affected accordingly. It becomes apparent early on in the memoir that the young Paige suffers from poor self-esteem, which is not truly warranted by any failings on her part; but rather results from an insecurity that seems essential to her being, an insecurity which, one wonders, may derive from being adopted. Throughout her youth, Paige struggles with her deep, dark secret – that she is “different” because she is adopted.

It doesn’t end there. Fear of loss runs through the memoir like a continuous, interwoven thread – loss of friends, loss of homes, loss of pets, loss of family members. Any youngster will have difficulty coping with the death of a beloved family member, but for the adopted child, perhaps, the loss is felt even more keenly. For Paige, certainly, the deaths of various members of her extended family seem to hit home particularly hard. Pop psychologists might explain her feelings as “abandonment issues,” but I suspect that it goes deeper than that. As devastating as these deaths may be, perhaps Paige’s reaction to them transcends the loss of a loved one, and goes deeper, down even into the determination of one’s own identity. It signifies perhaps more than the loss of a loved one, but a loss of a vital piece of one’s self.

It struck me this past Father’s Day, when I ran across this post by Penny Lane entitled “Who Were You, Dad?” The post fascinated me because of how much my own story has in common with that of this stranger I had never met before. While the writer herself was not adopted, she, too, had an absentee father, and was raised by her single mother. Yet she has no complaints about her upbringing. She doesn’t berate her biological father, or lament that he was never around to offer her the support a growing girl needs from the adult man in her life. No, she has but one question: “Who were you, Dad?”

Who were you? What were you like? What kinds of things did you enjoy? How did your voice sound? Did you look like me? Did you act like me?

These are the same kinds of questions that recur throughout Akin to the Truth. And they are the same questions that lie at the root of Paige’s ultimate decision to attempt to locate her birth parents. She simply wants to know who they were.

Maybe there isn’t so much difference, after all, between the adopted child and the child who never knew one or both of his or her parents. The distinction may be a matter of degree rather than of kind. Because the questions they ask are the same; the issues with which they struggle are the same – who were you?

And this, at heart, is Paige’s story. There is little anger in her over being given up for adoption, little judgment on her mother or father, little desire to be returned to a life with some idealized fantasy couple, à la Little Orphan Annie. There is, perhaps, a bit of insecurity, for it is evident, at the end, when she learns her mother’s story, that she feels a sense of relief in knowing that she was, in fact, wanted. But most of her curiosity, most of her desire to learn about her biological mother and father, stem not from a desire to alleviate her own fears and insecurities, but simply from a desire to know. Who were you? What were you like? What kinds of things did you enjoy? Did you look like me? Did you act like me?

A child determines his or her identity in numerous complex ways. His or her sense of self is not created solely by looking in the mirror, but by examination of the community in which he or she resides, in its city and country and church and school, but most of all, in its family. It should therefore come as no surprise that a child who is missing one or more of these vital pieces of information about who they are – or who they can be – should yearn to know. What child does not long to learn, “Where did I come from?”

Curiosity about one’s birth parents, the desire to meet and to know them, does not belong solely to the adopted child. It is a desire that all children have, including those with an absent parent, or those who have lost one. An adopted child’s interest in knowing his or her birth parents, in learning their story, is in no way a reflection on the adoptive parents, any more than a child’s interest in knowing his or her biological father is a reflection on the stepfather. It is not about ingratitude, or evaluation of a caregiver; rather it is about one’s own self-image, about determining where one sits in this grand world of ours. These are questions that must be answered in order for a child to feel complete and fulfilled. The conclusion of Paige’s memoir, which is, by and large, a happy one, clearly illustrates the satisfaction that a child can derive from finally learning who she is and where she belongs.

What lesson may we draw from this? When Paige was growing up, there was – and perhaps, to an extent, still is – stigma associated with being adopted, although this is perhaps stronger in the child’s own mind than in the view of the world. Adoptive parents today still struggle with the decision of when and how to inform their child that he or she is adopted. The new trend towards open adoption may perhaps alleviate some of the pain of this decision – and may also, in its way, alleviate the pain a child suffers from not knowing his or her parents.

By extrapolation, we might also infer that the same treatment ought to apply to children of single parents, both those who have lost a parent due to separation, and those who have lost a parent to death. It is a mistake to attempt to “shield” the child from the truth about the guardian who died or abandoned them, for this, in the child’s mind, can only lead to deeper fears and more perturbing unanswered questions. What if my father was a criminal? What if my mother had a genetically transmitted disease? In the absence of the truth, these are the kinds of questions Paige poses to herself. The real truth is rarely more sinister than a child’s imagination.

It is not always possible, of course, for a child to be reunited with a long-lost parent. For many of us, such a reunion is neither possible, nor even desirable – either from the child’s point of view, or from the parent’s. Yet, as Paige’s story illustrates, that should not deter those with knowledge of the biological parent from sharing that information with the child. Indeed, it is only through this open discourse that the child may begin to feel truly at home. Not only with his or her adoptive family, but within his or her own skin.


Official blurb for Akin to the Truth:

Akin to the Truth

Akin to the Truth is Paige’s own memoir about her adoption. In 1961, adoption was still one of those private and taboo topics. Not much identifying information was provided for adoptive families or for birth parents by the agencies. In Ohio, records were sealed forever. Adoptees and birth mothers were supposed to be thankful for the adoptive family and never look back. Adoptive parents thought their deal was signed and sealed. As a child and teenager, growing up adopted was like a Scarlet Letter “A” if anyone ever found out the truth. At least, that’s the way author, Paige Strickland felt as she muddled through social situations and other interpersonal relations. She always loved her adoptive family, but realized she wanted not just more, but what other “regular born” people had: real roots, accurate health history and authentic family lore. She wanted freedom from shame, more dignity, authenticity and a full identity. Then, through random chance, a local TV talk show in 1987 revealed that certain records were open if you were born before 1964 in the state of Ohio, and the author’s life would never be the same after that program. During her quest, (pre computer), for her identity, her adoptive father struggled with his own self image and sense of belonging, so both father and daughter embarked on separate and unique parallel missions to find what was missing in their lives. This is the story of how being adopted affected Paige growing up in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. It shows how one adoptee has embraced and learned to view family more globally. She tells the saga of a loving but dysfunctional family of both blood and choice, trying to cope with typical and not so typical life alterations during the decades of social revolution and free love. She learns that the most fascinating family stories are discovered by those passionate enough to question and search.

Paperback: 285 Pages
Publisher: Idealized Apps, LLC (September 8, 2013)
ASIN: B00F28TM86
Twitter Hashtag: #AkinStrickland

Paige Adams Strickland

About the Author: Paige Adams Strickland, a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, is married with two daughters. Her first book, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity, is about growing up in the 1960s-80s (Baby-Scoop Era) and searching for her first identity. It is also the story of her adoptive family and in particular her father’s struggles to figure out his place in the world while Paige strives to find hers. After hours she enjoys family and friends, pets, reading, Zumba ™ Fitness, gardening and baseball.

Find Paige online:

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Book Review: Hyperbole by Ryan Parmenter

Some time ago, I decided it might be fun to start doing reviews of contemporary authors’ work. This is actually kind of a stretch for me because 1) I acquire most of my books used for $2/bag at my local library’s twice-annual sale and 2) It’s rare for me to read a book that’s less than ten or twenty years old. However, I see so many free e-book promotions on Twitter nowadays that it seems a shame not to read some more modern works, and in addition, I thought it would be the best way to get a handle on what’s happening in the indie author community.

The only problem is, most of the books I’ve acquired so far – how can I say this politely – stink. It turns out that there are, in fact, some solid reasons why indie authors don’t get the respect that traditionally published ones do, and it’s precisely because so much of the work that’s being released is so poorly done. It’s not just bad writing; I’ve begun books that were so rife with grammatical and spelling errors that they made me want to contact the authors and beg them to let me edit their work just so no one else on the planet would ever have to be exposed to such abominable English. Oftentimes you can see the beginnings of a good story, but the mechanics simply aren’t there to support it. And to me, I don’t care how great the plot is – if it’s torture for me to try to muddle my way through the bad language, I’m not going to force myself to keep reading. And it makes me very sad just how many of these books I’ve had to stop reading.

Hyperbole by Ryan Parmenter is the exception. An exception, and a truly exceptional work. Here is a book that is so professional, on every level, that it is virtually indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. Indeed, any publisher should have been honored to print it.

I don’t know why Parmenter chose to go the indie route instead. Perhaps he suffered the usual indignities heaped upon debut authors seeking publication, or perhaps, like me, he simply tired of all the waiting. What I do know is that Hyperbole has moved on to the second round for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. And having read the book, I can tell you that this doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Parmenter has dubbed his novel “the most violent comedy since The Bible.” While this description does not do it justice, it does paint a very accurate picture of the author’s satirical and incredibly witty sense of humor, which prevails throughout the book. There are countless passages that are so well-written, so brutally clever, that there were times in which I was jealous, actually envious that he wrote them and I didn’t. And that is perhaps the greatest compliment one author can pay to another.

Don’t get me wrong. Although there are moments that will make you laugh out loud, the book has its dark side, too, and a very dark one it is. Hyperbole takes place in the aftermath of the tragedy of “7/11,” in which Washington D.C. was obliterated, leaving a tremendous vacuum not just in the government, but in the lives of everyday Americans. The results of this catastrophe? A group of characters who might best be described as “slackers,” youngish people who lack drive or purpose and spend a great deal of time getting high. Indeed, whether it was intentional or not, there’s a definite Generation X/Y sensibility about the book. It reminded me quite forcibly of my own youth, in which many of us never bothered to make long-term plans because we figured that with the Cold War and all, the world was going to end before we grew up anyway. Imagine our surprise when the Soviet Union broke up and we suddenly had to find something to do for the next several decades, and you’ll understand how lost the characters in the novel feel in their own meaningless lives.

Yet they do find meaning. In strange, circuitous, unexpected ways, Harland and his friends somehow manage to do something, to contribute something to their vastly altered universe. And although they ultimately fail to accomplish their intended goal, such as it is, in the end what matters is that they make the effort. They find a reason to be, to continue to be. And that, it turns out, is enough.

Some readers might not enjoy Hyperbole. They may not appreciate the often dark sense of humor, or they may be offended by the rampant pot smoking, or they may not even care for the somewhat roundabout path by which the plot and the fate of the characters unfolds. But those readers will be the exception. And even to them I say, give it a try. Whether you like it or not, it’s an important book and it’s worth reading, even if it’s only to see, to feel what many people in this country are feeling. To understand the apathy and hopelessness of our generation, to comprehend how we, too, are struggling to find meaning. And most importantly, to recognize, as Hyperbole does, that the choice of who we want to be, of how we want to live, is ultimately ours. We merely must choose to make it.

It’s not a book for everyone. But everyone should read it.



Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz

Hess, Rudolf, Commandant of Auschwitz, tr. Constantine FitzGibbon, World Publishing Company: Cleveland and New York, 1951.

Commandant of Auschwitz combines the autobiography which Rudolf Hoess wrote while awaiting trial at Nuremberg as well as a number of official statements he gave to his interrogators regarding other SS personnel with whom he had significant contact. There is a lot I could say about this book, because Hoess, rather surprisingly, has a number of interesting ideas and observations, particularly in regards to the concept and execution of imprisonment and the lesser-known victims of the concentration-camp system, but for the moment I’ll confine myself to what he has to say about conducting the affairs of Auschwitz.

Hoess makes no bones about his political beliefs; he unwaveringly avers his continued allegiance to the Nazi Party, and, unlike many Nazis, who denied complicity with the concept behind or execution of the Holocaust, even suggests that he would have been in favor of it were it vital to the cause:

“Whether this mass extermination of the Jews was necessary or not was something on which I could not allow myself to form an opinion, for I lacked the necessary breadth of view.” p. 160.

However, what is most fascinating about the book is that as it progresses, it becomes clear that Hoess was, generally speaking, against the customary Nazi treatment of the Jews, not out of compassion for their situation or any sense of wrongdoing in causing their suffering, but for purely bureaucratic reasons.

Thus he complains about the nature of the site, which lacked sufficient water, drainage and building materials for the size it was later to assume; he argues against the massive overcrowding, which caused disease to run rampant and had terrible psychological effects upon the inmates, which he believed led to rapid deterioration in their health; against the incompetence and maliciousness of the guards under his control, whose approach to corporal punishment he felt was detrimental to the objective of maintaining peace in the camp while it conducted its operations. He berates the Food Ministry for constantly reducing rations during the course of the war, not because he had pity for the starving concentration-camp dwellers, no, but because it prevented him from maintaining an adequately-functioning work force. The selection process itself, he argues, was faulty at its core:

“If Auschwitz had followed my constantly repeated advice, and had only selected the most healthy and vigorous Jews, then the camp would have produced a really useful labor force and one that would have lasted.” p. 176.

The implication is that more Jews should have been sent immediately to the gas chambers rather than being corralled into the work details if the goal of attaining adequate war-workers was to be achieved. In other words, if Hoess had had his way, the concentration camps would have contained a large contingent of healthy, well-fed Jews and many more dead ones.

Hoess relates anecdotes of the desperate starvation of the camp residents; of inmates being attacked and beaten by their fellows for a crust of bread, of cannibalism among Russian prisoners-of-war. He assures us that his war-time prisoners became little different from civilian criminals, unhesitant to sacrifice their fellows in order to improve their own condition; in order to get an edge on survival. He speaks of the attachment of the Jews to the members of their own families; of the efforts of the mothers to calm their children as they walked into the gas chambers or to throw them out of the doors, pleading for their young lives, just before they are sealed. And then he tells a story of one Special Detachment Jew who had been assigned to the burning of corpses. When the man pauses for a moment in the course of his labors, Hoess inquires of the Capo in charge as to the cause. The Capo informs him that one of the dead in the pile is the man’s wife.

But following his moment’s pause, the man has already gone back to work. And that is when it struck me, that in spite of the distinction between the powerful and the powerless, what a terrible similarity exists between the Commandant and the prisoner. The Commandant does not deal with people; he deals with issues, problems, supply chains, bureaucracy. He is almost entirely detached from the suffering of those under his care. And likewise the inmate has detached himself from his own suffering; he is unable to acknowledge or permit it to penetrate him. Instead he merely attends to his work, the work that, ironically, makes him free, even as the sign above the gate so illusively promised. Detachment means survival; and the ability to detach oneself from one’s circumstances is perhaps a necessary adaptation. For as long as people are able to view one another without acknowledging their humanity, their personhood, they will treat their fellows cruelly. And in order to endure that cruelty, those who suffer from it will have to become like their oppressors: empty of compassion and feeling, intent only on bare survival.

It is now well-known that many Nazis who were recruited into concentration-camp or extermination services were unable to endure it; indeed, many were transferred, upon request, from participation in the brutalities that accompanied occupation and deportation into other branches of service. Considerable care and effort were expended in making exterminations tolerable for the executioners as well as their victims; as horrendous as the mass gassings were, they were viewed as more humane, less wearing on the soul than the mass shootings which had theretofore been employed. Hoess describes how numerous of his subordinates approached him, expressing deeply-troubled thoughts over the mass exterminations; how he deemed it his duty to appear unmoved. Not all of the Nazis were able to view their captives as chattel, as mere bodies to be fed and housed and employed and killed and burned, any more than some of their victims were able to forget the essential humanity of their captors. Consider Hoess’ description of the Allied air raids, which brought terror to the skies over Germany and the occupied lands:

“Attacks of unprecedented fury were made on factories where prisoners were employed. I saw how the prisoners behaved, how guards and prisoners cowered together and died together in the same improvised shelters, and how the prisoners helped the wounded guards.

During such heavy raids, all else was forgotten. They were no longer guards or prisoners, but only human beings trying to escape from the hail of bombs.” p. 183.

Humans, one and all. Hoess is not one of the Nazis who viewed the Jews as somehow less than human, and therefore worthy of extinction. He sincerely believes that they were a threat to what he sees as the truly German way of life, and that the measures that were taken against them were necessary in order to preserve the integrity of the nation. He is therefore offended by the vicious propaganda propagated by publications such as Der Stürmer, believing its exaggerated attacks upon Jewish morals and behavior capable of backfiring and creating sympathy for the Jews. He argues that the nations conquered by Germany during the Second World War should have been treated with greater respect and kindness, which would have unmanned much of the resistance which grew following the invasion. And finally, in the ultimate expression of utter disregard for the unadulterated evil imposed upon the unoffending peoples of the world, Hoess at last concedes that the Holocaust should not have occurred. But listen to his reasons why:

“I also see now that the extermination of the Jews was fundamentally wrong. Precisely because of these mass exterminations, Germany has drawn upon herself the hatred of the entire world. It in no way served the cause of anti-Semitism, but on the contrary brought the Jews far closer to their ultimate objective.” p. 198.

The Holocaust was wrong, according to Hoess, not owing to fundamental human principles of kindness and decency, or compassion for one’s fellows, but because it did not serve the Nazi cause. Which eerily implies that he believes that it would have been “right” had it only served the purpose for which it was intended. Is that, too, an essentially human characteristic? To be able to justify the means, if they achieve what is perceived to be a desirable end?

Lithograph by Leo Haas

Lithograph by Leo Haas (1901-1983), Holocaust artist, who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. From the Center for Jewish History – no known copyright restrictions.