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To the Stars

Author: George Takei

Publisher: Gallery Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

This is going to shock some of my Star Wars followers out there.  I am a huge Star Wars fan…who has dabbled with Star Trek.  As a kid, my father was into science fiction, hence my fascination with the genre.  He introduced me to Star Wars and, as luck would have it, Star Trek.  My aunt was also a Star Trek fan and I would watched the show in reruns with both of them.  Yes, Star Wars fans, I know the names of all of the characters from the original shows, have read some of the books and have even seen some of the movies.  And in all of those years, the one character that I seemed attracted to was not Kirk or the exotic and mysterious Spock.  It was Sulu, that stoic helmsman, later turned Captain, who would steer the USS Enterprise to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Years later, I have always delighted at spotting George Takei, the man who so expertly brought Sulu to life, in other television series or movies.  I loved his performance in Heroes, for example, and was delighted to hear him voice Lok Durd in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series (I can hear the Trekkies and Star Wars fans alike shuddering).  I also often find myself following George Takei’s other interests – his activist work, his online posts, etc.  Though I never met him, I feel like he’s an old acquaintance that I can instantly relate to and, should we ever meet, would easily fall into conversation with.  So, when I learned that George Takei had written an autobiography and that it was available to read on Netgalley, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

To the Stars takes us through George Takei’s life up until 1991.  Dedicated to his father, Takei begins his tale with the Silver Anniversary celebration of Star Trek in 1991 and the moment in which the cast was offered the opportunity to place their autographs in a block of cement at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, California.  Anyone who has ever been to L.A. knows what a monument this theater is to the industry.  Walking past, one can see the handprints, footprints and signatures of a number of famous actors, including Clark Gable, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Henry Fonda, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and more.  Obviously, this was a great honor and a fitting way to begin George Takei’s story of his life. 

After discussing the ceremony, George Takei takes us back to the start, back to his trip to Arkansas from his home in Los Angeles aboard a hot stuffy train.  At the age of four, at the height of World War II, George and his family were being brought to a Japanese Internment Camp.  His father was a hard working Japanese man who had lived in the United States since he was a teenager  His mother was born in the United States and schooled in Japan.  All of the Takei children had been born in America.  But this was not important to the government at the time who viewed all persons of Japanese descent to be possible enemies of the country, working with Japan to destroy America.

Fortunately, the internment camp experience happened for George at a young age.  Though, throughout the book, we can see that the injustice of the experience has shaped the man George was to become, it did not make him bitter.  If anything, it made George Takei more aware of just how great a country America can be and how a country is only as great as those in power.  The experience served to educate George about the government and the process of protecting one’s rights.  As I read these early chapters of To the Stars, I began to see the activist George Takei was to become, always lauding the rights of others.

After the internment camps, moving back to Los Angeles was not easy for the Takei family and George describes how hard his father worked to keep the family together and make certain there was always food on their plates.  It is clear, through his writing, that George found his father to be an intelligent, hard working and honorable man and that he has tried to follow in his father’s footsteps.  George’s father’s attention to detail, prudence, hard work and helping others are values that he has emulated throughout his life and career.

The internment camps also had another profound effect on George Takei’s life – they introduced him to movies.  In reading To the Stars, we learn how George first fell in love with film and theater and, though he first studied to be an architect, his true love was acting.  I was amazed at how supportive his family, particularly his father, was in George’s pursuit of an acting career.  But then, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised – they supported almost everything George set his mind to, including running for various positions in student government, a preview of the political and activist rings George would find himself embroiled in in years to come.

Though I thought I knew quite a bit about George Takei, after reading this book, I realized I knew nothing of his life before the Star Trek television series.  I knew nothing of the imprisonment in internment camps, nothing of his life in the L.A. barrio as his father struggled to begin another life for his family after the camps, nothing of his architectural studies and dabbling in politics.  I was fascinated by all that To the Stars revealed to me.  I was equally fascinated at all of the amazing actors George Takei worked with and was delighted to read about his experiences with and opinions of stars like Dean Stockwell, Richard Burton, Alec Guinness, Cary Grant, James Caan, Jerry Lewis and more.

And then I was into the Star Trek years, learning all of the behind the scenes stuff that I, not being a Trekkie, never really knew.  I learned about the early stages of the show, the cancellation, the rebirth in movie format and more.  I learned that my opinion of William Shatner was not far off.  I learned that George had so closely related to his character that he was willing to fight for Sulu’s improved career, not just for more screen time, but because George truly believed that Sulu was better than just a helmsman.  And, taking us full circle, I learned the impact Gene Roddenbury’s death just prior to the release of Star Trek VI had on the cast and crew who had worked so long to fulfill his Star Trek dreams.

I loved the revelations To the Stars made for me, bringing me that much closer to an actor/activist I have long admired.  George Takei’s intelligent and easy writing made the journey that much more interesting.  I breezed through this book and my only lament is that it ended so quickly.  Two decades have passed since this book was written and I wanted more.  I know he has written a couple of books about his internet experience, but I would love to know more about his life after Star Trek.  Hopefully, he will write another extensive memoir, picking up where he has left off with To the Stars.  I know I would be first on line to buy a copy.

The Madwomen of Paris

Written By: Jennifer Cody Epstein

Published By: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I recently received an email from a Random House representative asking me if I would like to check out a new historical novel about two women under the influence of a powerful doctor in a notorious women’s asylum located in Paris.  It sounded rather interesting – I enjoy historical fiction and I also enjoy reading psychological thrillers, so I thought, why not.  Thus began my adventure into The Madwomen of Paris by Jennifer Cody Epstein.

               The Madwomen of Paris centers around Laure, a woman who spiraled into hysteria after the untimely death of her mother, father, and unborn baby brother.  A wave of hysteria was taking place in Paris during the late 1800s and Laure had become its latest victim.  She was separated from her younger sister and sent to the Salpêtrière to convalesce under the care of the leading expert on the disease, Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot.  Now healed Laure works as a ward attendant in the asylum, helping with the patients while seeking out her younger sister’s whereabouts during her off hours.

               One day, a young woman is brought to the asylum in a serious state – violent, bloody, and bruised, the woman is afraid of everyone and everything.  No one knows exactly who she is, only that she was brought to the asylum after attempting to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge.  The woman is slated to be sent to the lunacy ward as it is believed there is no getting through to her, when Laure somehow connects with her, getting her to eat and agree to be examined by the doctor.  She remembers her first name is Josephine, but little else.  Josephine is eventually assigned to Laure’s care and eventually opens up to her, admitting that she was on the bridge to commit suicide after having murdered her tormentor. 

               Laure has always trusted Dr. Charcot, his teachings and his healing powers.  Josephine causes her to begin to question Charcot’s methods.  Charcot’s belief in hypnosis as a tool to study hysteria, possible causes and cures, is widely known and embraced by such important doctors in the psychiatric field, such as Freud, Babinski, Tourette, and more.  However, Charcot is not without his critics.  Some don’t believe that Charcot has actually hypnotized his patients and that it is all just an act.  However, Laure is beginning to believe that hypnosis is actually making Josephine’s hysteria symptoms worse.  Josephine has been seeing her dead tormentor everywhere she goes. 

               As the two become closer, Laure becomes certain that the best thing for Josephine is to get her away from the Salpêtrière.  The question is how and where will they go that Charcot won’t be able to find them?

               Hysteria was thought to be a great mysterious epidemic in France, suffered mainly by women.  Charcot believed the disease had a great deal to do with women’s sexual organs and impulses and many of his stage conducted experiments were attempts at proving his hypothesis.  The Madwomen of Paris reminds us of the early days of psychiatry and how women were treated at that time.  Though he acknowledged that hysteria was a psychiatric disease of some sort, he blamed it on the weakness of the “frailer species” and not the environment or actions of others.  Laure and Josephine’s struggles in this novel further illustrate what women were treated like in the late 1800s.  It also briefly touches upon women’s struggle for equality and suffrage and what men thought of women who dared to fight for such rights.

               Jennifer Cody Epstein is a rather descriptive writer, and I could almost picture the forbidding halls of the Salpêtrière and all the horrors that awaited those who were unlucky enough to find themselves confined there.  The novel drags a bit in the beginning as we learn about Charcot, the inhabitants of the Salpêtrière, and Laure’s struggle to find her sister, but once Josephine enters Laure’s life, things start to move rather quickly.  Although I sometimes found Laure to be a bit whiny as a main character, I grew to like her and was as infatuated with Josephine as she became in the novel.  The mystery of Josephine was intriguing, as was the planning of their hoped-for escape.  And the plot twist at the end!  I simply loved it! 

               I have already recommended this novel as a historical fiction worth reading if not for the engaging tale, then for the view of what psychiatric hospitals were like in the 19th Century.  Psychiatry was in its early stages and patients were often used as guinea pigs by doctors who wanted to learn about the mind with no regard to the patient they were attending to.  The book actually inspired me to do some research on Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot and I found his arrogance and misguided research regarding hysteria to have been represented well by the author.  I found The Madwomen of Paris to be an educating and entertaining historical fiction worth the read.

Star Wars: Brotherhood

Written By: Mike Chen

Published By: Del Rey

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Del Rey has been looking to “fix” things now that the original storylines have been changed by the newer Del Rey-owned Star Wars movies and television series.  They are also working on filling gaps in storylines from the prequels.  Star Wars: Brotherhood, by Mike Chen, seeks to fill in gaps between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  I was interested in reading this new tale and I recently received it as a gift.

               As Brotherhood begins, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are receiving new roles.  Anakin has been promoted to full Jedi Knight status, while Obi-Wan is currently holding a temporary seat on the Jedi Council.  But before the two can get an opportunity to adjust to their new positions, tragedy strikes.  An explosion on Cato Neimoidia kills many innocent people and threatens to change their status in the war between the Republic and the Separatists.  Cato Neimoidia and the Trade Federation have declared neutrality in this war, but this terrorist act can sway them to pick a side.  Count Dooku is already pointing fingers at the Republic. 

               Obi-Wan suggests sending an unbiased emissary from the Jedi to investigate the incident.  The Neimodians agree, but the emissary must agree to their terms, one of which is staying out of contact with the Republic while conducting the investigation.  Though the terms are not exactly agreeable, the Council chooses Obi-Wan to conduct the investigation, putting their faith in his abilities.  Neither Anakin and Obi-Wan are happy about the conditions and both will have to adjust with the fact that they are no longer working as a team.  Instead, Obi-Wan must adjust to working without Anakin and find allies amongst the Neimoidian people…a difficult thing to do, considering the history between the Trade Federation and the Republic.

               Meanwhile, Anakin gets his first assignment as a Jedi Knight: working with younglings.  On his first day, he discovers a youngling presenting a peculiar void within the Force.  Mill Alibeth fears opening herself to the Force because of her special ability – Mill can sense the emotions of others around her.  The power of the emotions of so many people threaten to overwhelm her, so she shuts down, fearful of her powers and unable to control them.  Despite Anakin having fought hard against being given an apprentice, it would appear that Mill Alibeth needs his help.  As he works on getting Mill to fear her abilities less and to learn how to control them, Anakin learns that his former master is in danger.  He has no choice but to take Mill with him, but has he made the correct decision in defying the Council?  Even worse, what kind of danger is he putting this youngling who doesn’t trust her own abilities in?

               This book takes place at a time when Obi-Wan and Anakin are at a crossroads in their lives.  They have been working together for so long and have been such a great team, despite their bickering and frustration, they are not quite sure how to work apart.  Obi-Wan begins to notice Anakin’s growing closeness to Senator Amidala, and despite his misgivings about this violation of the tenets of the Jedi Order, he wonders how he can counsel Anakin.  After all, he is no longer Obi-Wan’s padawan, and besides, hadn’t Obi-Wan had just such a relationship with Mandalorian ruler Satine Kryze all those years ago? 

               After reading this book and seeing the outcome of Anakin’s mentorship, we can understand his misgivings regarding taking on Ahsoka Tano as his padawan.  Anakin didn’t want to mentor anyone and sort of fell into mentoring Mill Alibeth.  The outcome of that mentorship was nothing like what Anakin expected and this, coupled with the idea that he never wanted to be in charge of a padawan in the first place, would have soured him toward the idea of taking on Ahsoka’s training during the Clone Wars.

               I did like the introduction of Asajj Ventriss to Obi-Wan in this novel.  He has never actually faced the Sith apprentice before the events of this novel and their animosity is evident even at this stage.  It gives the reader some idea as to why Obi-Wan was so focused on this one enemy of the Republic in later years.  I also liked how Mike Chen was able to express Ventriss’ ability to discover weaknesses in others and manipulate them to her own nefarious ends.  We get an idea of how dangerous she can be without the use of her lightsaber or other Sith fighting techniques.

               The addition of Neimodian characters Ruug Quarnom and Ketar Nor, the former a soldier with a great deal of experience, and the latter her apprentice of sorts, offered up a new look at the Neimoidian civilization.  We soon discover that not all Neimoidians are like the ones that invaded Naboo.  Ruug Quarnom is a tough warrior with a strong moral and ethical focus.  She is intelligent enough to see more to the explosion than meets the eye.  Meanwhile Ketar Nor is young and inexperienced.  His anger and anguish coupled with that inexperience make him easily manipulated into seeing what others want him to see instead of the truth.

               For Mike Chen’s first Star Wars novel, I think he did a great job.  He was able to write the characters of Obi-Wan and Anakin in a way that is consistent with previous novels, movies, and television series.  He had Asajj Ventriss’ attitude, dialogue, and movements down perfectly.  The descriptiveness of his writing was such that I was instantly transported to locales like Coruscant’s upper and lower levels and Cato Neimoidia.  I could see every detail and every event in my mind’s eye as if I was actually there.  I found the story of Mill interesting and loved the plot twist there.  I would love to read more of Ruug Quarnom’s adventures.  I’m sure they would be quite entertaining.

               In Star Wars: Brotherhood, Mike Chen has filled in some of the gaps between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith in a captivating way that fits perfectly with all of the other media that can be read or viewed during this era.  The story was enjoyable and relevant to future storylines and the tale contained just enough slow concentration, fast-paced action, intrigue, drama and more to keep any Star Wars fan rooted in place while reading this book.  Great job!

Check out Star Wars: Brotherhood at Amazon

Boston Strangler

Inspired By A True Story

Distributed By: Hulu

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I had been seeing promotional ads for a new film on Hulu based on the true story of the Boston Strangler, a serial killer who is alleged to have killed 13 women in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1960s.  The film starred Keira Knightley.  Being a fan of her work, I was immediately interested.  Lucky for me, my friend was also interested.  We decided to check it out over a dreary Saturday afternoon.

               In 1962, Loretta McLauglin (Keira Knightley) is a female reporter for the Boston Record American.  As a female reporter, she doesn’t get many juicy stories to write, just fashion articles or product reviews.  But Loretta longs for more, especially when she begins to notice a pattern of murders in the Boston area.  Three older woman were attacked, raped and murdered via strangulation, stockings tied around their necks in a bow. 

               At first, Loretta’s boss is not inclined to have her work on these murders.  After all, he has a room full of men working the crime beat, but as Loretta notes that the paper has been repetitively beaten to the punch on crime stories by other papers lately, he relents, assigning her a partner in Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), another female reporter with a keen eye for investigative reporting.  Together, they work on gathering leads and informants, despite the idea that this is no story for “ladies” to cover.

               As time moves forward, a suspect is taken into custody.  Albert DeSalvo confesses to 13 murders, despite the fact that a witness to one of the murders selects a different man from a lineupPolice and the public believe they have the right man, but Loretta eventually discovers a pattern of murders in Ann Arbor, Michigan that match the Boston Strangler’s in Boston.  Could it be that the same person is responsible for all of the murders and that DeSalvo was taking the fall for someone else?  Or is it possible that there are multiple murderers?

               The most I knew about the Boston Strangler was that he was a serial killer that plagued Boston in the 1960s.  I knew that someone confessed to the murders, but that many believed he had not actually been the true killer.  That was all I knew, so it was quite interesting to see how the events played out in this film.  I liked how Boston Strangler actually focused on the female reporters investigating the crimes rather than on the police or the killer himself.  This gave viewers a fresh perspective and one that many, including myself, never knew about.  I had never heard of Loretta McLaughlin or Jean Cole before this film.  I owe that to a sexist hierarchy prevalent in the news networks that too often presents the investigative reporting of male reporters over females. 

               Keira Knightley was excellent in her portrayal of a woman determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, despite the fact that doing so put her in danger and put pressure on her marriage due to long hours spent investigating the multitude of clues and dead-ends that this case consisted of.  Carrie Coon also did an excellent job in presenting the no nonsense attitude of seasoned female reporter Jean Cole.  The rest of the supporting cast did a good job in this film, but really, this was Keira Knightley’s film all the way and I’m okay with that.

               I loved the theory that Boston Strangler puts forth regarding the possibility that the murders were not the work of one killer.  The idea that someone might take advantage of a serial killer’s murder spree by committing a murder of their own and passing it off as a victim of the serial killer at large is not new.  It has happened time and time again, most recently during COVID as some people figured they would use the guise of a pandemic to say that their loved one went missing after saying they were going to a hospital due to illness, when they in fact made that “loved one” disappear.  There is a theory that one of the Boston Strangler’s victims was actually just an office secretary unfortunate enough to have gotten pregnant while in an affair with her murderous, married boss, and not a victim of the serial killer himself. 

               There has been some criticism regarding the tale being less gripping than it could have been.  Well, I’m not so sure I agree.  When Loretta McLaughlin attempts to interview suspect Paul Dempsey (Christian Mallen) the atmosphere, music, and cinematography were enough to send chills up my spine and inspire me to move to the edge of my seat yelling at her to get out of there.  If that’s not the definition of gripping, I don’t know what is.  Perhaps there were not enough of those scenes in there for the critics liking, but I had the distinct impression this movie was meant to be more about the inspirational female investigative reporters on this case than the murders themselves. 

               Someone tried to compare Boston Strangler to Zodiac, which I have also seen.  Yes, that film was gripping and well-acted, but these are very different cases and although Zodiac did put the focus on the reporters and police who tackled the serial killings, they were, quite notably, all men.  Boston Strangler focuses on the lesser-known story of the two female reporters that covered the case at a time when women were not expected to perform investigative reporting into such areas as murder.  This makes the film a must see for all women out there who have been told they are not capable of working such jobs or performing at such an intense level.  But I would recommend Boston Strangler to anyone interested in a fresh perspective on this case…or any perspective for that matter as the Boston Strangler just hasn’t received much movie attention.

Check out Boston Strangler posters on Amazon

and watch the movie now on Hulu!

North to Paradise: A Memoir

Written By: Ousman Umar

Published By: Amazon Crossing

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

              Some time ago, I was offered a bunch of free books from Amazon for my Kindle.  Each was from a different culture and some were memoirs.  I love when Amazon offers stuff like this as it offers me an opportunity to learn about other countries, cultures, traditions, etc.  One of the books I was offered was North to Paradise by Ousman Umar a book about a young man’s journey from his homeland of Ghana to Europe.  What a compelling story!

              Ousman Umar lost his mother during childbirth but lived a good life with his father in a small village in Ghana.  When he reached the age of twelve and began learning a trade, Ousman set his sights on something more lucrative.  He had heard tales of the “Land of the Whites,” where there was money to be made for someone who was willing to work hard to get it.  What Ousman didn’t realize was how treacherous and devastating a journey to Libia could be, especially if you made the journey with untrustworthy guides.  At one point Ousman finds himself walking across the Sahara desert, having lost most of the people in his group to exhaustion, thirst, etc. 

              When he finally reaches the end of the Sahara, he finds it hard to live in the various harsh cities he encounters.  He finds it hard to find work, but eventually makes enough to take him on a dangerous adventure to cross the water into Europe.  The journey through the desert is dangerous enough, but traveling the water in dinghies packed to the brim with other hopefuls can be disastrous.  His first attempt proves to be just that as he learns of the death of his best friend, drowning when his boat overturned in the harsh conditions. 

              Ousman finally makes it to Europe, but learns that the paradise he dreams of is still out of reach.  He doesn’t speak or read the language, has had very little schooling, and doesn’t really have a skill or a trade he can offer.  How will he survive in Europe?  Where is the “Land of Whites” that he heard of, the paradise that he was supposed to thrive in?

              North to Paradise is a captivating tale of perseverance, hope, and compassion.  Ousman Umar is an excellent storyteller and his descriptions of what he went through on his journey from Ghana to Spain is incredible.  I could actually picture everything that occurred in his story perfectly in my mind’s eye.  I am amazed at the strength Ousman showed at such a young age, going though all he had to get to Europe from Ghana would have crushed a weaker soul.  The compassion he was shown by the people who would become his adoptive parents in Spain is amazing and heartening in a world that has become so negative and selfish-seeming.  What Ousman eventually achieved after arriving in Spain is nothing short of incredibly admirable.  Ousman overcame overwhelming adversity to get to where he is now and his willingness to give back to his people is worthy of praise.

              North to Paradise is an incredibly uplifting story, well-written and fast-moving.  Osman Umar is a gifted and talented storyteller who doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of his journey in a effort to give readers an understanding of all that countless individuals just like him go through on a daily basis trying to leave their village lives in search of paradise.  North to Paradise is a memoir well worth the read.

Check out North to Paradise at Amazon


The Power

Written By: Naomi Alderman

Published By: Back Bay Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Some time ago, I sent a friend a powerful film called Disobedience, based on a book by Naomi Alderman.  Little did I expect to receive a novel from that same friend written by the same author.  Knowing how engaging, dramatic and thought-provoking her works can be, I couldn’t wait to dive into The Power.

               Imagine a world where women are the dominating species…where women are in control.  The Power begins in a man’s world – the present-day world in which we live in where the majority of governments are run by men, where men have the upper hand and are seen as the “stronger” of the sexes.  And then something strange begins to happen – women start developing a special power – the power to emit controlled electrical pulses.  It begins in young women, but as the younger generation realizes their abilities, they are able to teach it to the older generations.

               Soon, the power spreads and women come into positions of power.  A young girl, running from a history of sexual abuse, becomes a powerful figure in all of this.  Now known as Eve, she is strong with the power and has an innate ability to know just what to say and how to say it to make people believe in her.  In fact, people believe that she may be the second coming and women all over the world follow her and her new brand of religion.  One such acolyte, Roxy, is the daughter of a mob boss in England.  After seeking out revenge against the people who killed her mother, Roxy looks for more in life and finds it in Eve.  A voice in Eve’s head tells her that this woman will be her soldier at arms and thus, the two become great allies.

               Meanwhile, Margot Cleary has been on the rise thanks to her response to the incidents in which young women are experimenting with their power.  She finds a way to harness this ability, teaching the girls enough control to create a whole militia…a powerful army that will be able to take on those opposed to women’s eventual rule.  This evolution of the female race is something that interests Tunde, a young Nigerian man with hopes of becoming a journalist.  Tunde believes that this new rise in power is amazing and something that should be documented.  To that end, he travels the world, filming women in the act of “expressing” themselves and the men who form an underground revolution to stop them.

               As the various factions supporting and opposing this new women’s revolution collide, what will be the outcome?

               I loved the fact that this book opens with letters from one author to another regarding a historical fiction novel based on a theory of evolution – that of women.  The authors both express that women are in power, but one theorizes that this was not always the case and uses the facts he was able to dig up through thorough investigation as to how women could evolve into what they have become.  I also enjoyed the additional sketches and pictures of artifacts used to support the story.

               As always, Naomi Alderman has created a thought-provoking book.  Many women I know have said that the world would be better if run by the female race.  This book proves that no matter the gender of the individual in power, there are some truths that will remain: power can corrupt; those with power almost always seek more; some of the folks who rise to power are not exactly in the right mind to wield it; those in power always think they are right while those without the power are quick to criticize; and those who lose power will always want to get it back.  No matter the gender, The Power suggests the result will always remain the same.  The individuals with the advantage will almost always lord it over those without and thus, we witness a role reversal for women and men, but nothing much has changed except the gender.  Quite the interesting concept!

               The Power is well-written, the characters well-fleshed out and relatable and the storyline is not something you read every day.  Kudos to Naomi Alderman for an amazing read that I have been recommending to every woman I know.

Check out The Power at Amazon

Happiness Is Opening Day

By Melissa Minners

            Football fans will scoff at me.  Hockey fans will snort.  Basketball and soccer fans will walk away in disgust.  I don’t care.  Opening day of the baseball season equals happiness and I don’t care who doesn’t share my opinion.  Each year, I mourn the last day of the baseball post-season.  Every year, I wait patiently for months until the day that pitchers and catchers head off to spring training.  I check out the scores of the spring training games, yearning for the first day of the official season.  I mark the date down on my calendar and count down until the fateful day when the new season will begin.

            And then it happens – opening day!  My heart soars with happiness in anticipation of the hour when the first ball will be thrown and the season will officially begin.  No matter where I am…no matter what I’m doing…no matter what time of the day the game takes place, I have to be there.  Of course, sometimes it’s physically impossible to be at the game – especially when it is played in another country.  But I don’t have to be there physically to relish in the joy and excitement that pervades the stadium, an infectious beast that taints every being in the ballpark and beyond.  No, all I have to have is a television, radio, or computer with streaming capability and I’m there, sharing in that excitement, that joy that comes with being a part of something reborn.

            The rebirth of the baseball season begins with the crack of the bat, the smack of a baseball hitting the leather mitt, the swoosh of someone sliding into base, the pounding of feet running the base paths, and the scraping of spiked shoes on dirt as players dig in.  It’s the umpire yelling the calls, the announcers‘ banter, and the organ music inciting the crowd to roar.  It’s the very roar of that crowd that gets the juices flowing, the blood pumping, that sets the heart to soar. 

            To actually be in the park for opening day – to experience the sights, the sounds, the smells – is an opportunity I have never been fortunate to have.  But I have been to the park during the baseball season.  I have experienced the joy of coming to my favorite stadium and rooting my favorite team to victory, thousands of rabid fans by my side.  People I have never seen before suddenly become my best friends and we have rousing conversations about the team and the game at hand.  I once witnessed a baby speak what her parents would tell me was her very first word.  Clad in the blue and orange of the young family’s favorite team, the baby cried out, “Mets!”  The excitement of the crowd is just one thing that gets the blood racing at the ballpark.  The sounds of the game – the announcer’s voice echoing from everywhere in the stadium, the organ-player spurring on the crowd, the calling of venders as they hawk their wares up and down the aisles – and the smells and tastes of the game – hot dogs, roasted peanuts, Cracker Jack – all of these things combine to complete the incredible experience that is the game.  To see the players practicing before the game…to watch them play their hearts out – it’s an experience like no other.

            Ah, baseball!  To me there is no greater sport played!  Sure, there are grumblings…there are scandals, but no one can take away from me the beauty of opening day, a day when all is begun anew and hopes soar to their greatest heights.

Visit Amazon for all of your baseball needs


Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City

Written By: Jaleigh Johnson

Published By: Aconyte

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

I love reading historical fiction novels.  I also enjoy adventure-driven video gamesAssassin’s Creed novels, based on the video game series, combine the two.  The action and adventure set in history, containing characters and situations that existed in real life, make for quite an interesting read.  I have enjoyed them all.  At one point I had read them all, but now, all new novels are hitting the bookstores.  My most recent acquisition: Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City by Jaleigh Johnson.

The Golden City features characters from the video game Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.  Set in Constantinople in 867C.E., the Hidden Ones (a precursor to the Brotherhood of the Assassins) have sent Master Assassin Basim ibn Ishaq and Assassin Acolyte Hytham to enter the city and prevent the Order of the Ancients from gaining a foothold.  The Hidden Ones have learned that Emperor Basil has doubts that his son Leo is actually his own flesh and blood, despite the reassurances of Empress Eudocia.  Basil has decided that Leo should be executed and the Order of the Ancients have offered to help him do just that.

It is up to Hytham and his mentor Basim to infiltrate the palace to prevent this from happening.  While working with the Viking clan sworn to protect the members of the palace hierarchy to protect young Leo, Hytham must also attend to another mission the Hidden Ones have charged him with.  Hytham must discover whether Basim is truly loyal to the order or if he has a hidden reason as to why he has taken on this mission.  Neither mission will be easy.  People with murderous intent are hidden behind every corner and Hytham is having a hard time knowing who to trust.  Even worse, Hytham has become very close to Leo to the point of losing objectivity.  Could it be possible that Hytham is in danger of doing the very thing that his mentor is being accused of, putting personal issues before the mission itself?

Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City has everything an Assassin’s Creed fan could ask for: action, intrigue, danger around every corner, disturbing revelations, and more.  Jaleigh Johnson has written Hytham in such a way that we root for him in each and every endeavor regardless of how ill-thought-out his adventures can be.  Basim is the mysterious mentor who has much to teach and is quite observant, despite the distraction of his personal secret mission.  And secret it is – if you believe you will discover what it is in this novel, you are mistaken.  As I read The Golden City, I realized I would never learn the truth behind Basim’s motives if I never played Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.  I’ll have to get my hands on that game!

Johnson’s descriptive writing transports you to the ancient city of Constantinople and the days of the Emperors’ reign over the people.  The twists and turns of the storyline keep you guessing as to who the members of the Order of the Ancients and their associates truly are.  Who can we trust?  Who wants to kill Leo and how will they get close enough to do it?  While Hytham and Basim are terrific characters, I have to say that I enjoyed the co-stars of the novel as well.  Thyra, an axe-wielding Viking warrior who is the leader of the Varangian Guard, is a formidable woman and worthy opponent to all who threaten the life of the heir to the throne.  Leo is also a well-formed character, fearful, yet quite intelligent and in need of a proper mentor.

Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City is a worthy entry to the Assassin’s Creed novel series.  The action and adventure contained in its pages were so captivating, I finished the book in a matter of a couple of days.  Such a great read!  I can’t wait to get my hand on the next Assassin’s Creed novel.

Check out Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City at Amazon


The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle

Written By: Matt Cain

Published By: Kensington Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

              A friend of mine sent The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle to me, knowing just how much I like new and interesting reads.  She hasn’t yet sent me something I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, so I couldn’t wait to start reading this one.  Once I started, I couldn’t put the book down.

              Albert Entwistle is a postman for the Royal Mail.  As he approaches his sixty-fifth birthday, he receives notice of his forced retirement.  A single man, living in the house his long-dead parents left him, Albert isn’t quite sure what he will do with himself once he retires.  The Royal Mail is all he knows.  He leads a solitary life with no one really close to him except his cat Gracie.  Without mail deliveries filling up his days, Albert fears the future.

              As he looks back on his life, he realizes he has fallen into a bit of a routine, never veering from his set schedule.  He begins looking around his house and decides changes are in order, especially after he finds a box of old letters reminding him of a love he once shared.  When tragedy befalls Albert in the loss of his only companion, he decides it is time to seek out his one time love.  This will mean coming out of the shell he has build around him, letting them know the true Albert Entwistle…the one who once loved a boy named George. 

As he embarks on his journey to find George, Albert begins telling people his tale, getting closer to a neighbor who is also trying to find herself while wondering if she is seeing too much in the relationship she is currently in.  Albert finds that he enjoys having friends who he can get advice on and for whom he can give a bit of himself.  In the process, Albert discovers that he was never truly alone, that he is surrounded by a community of coworkers and friends along his mail route who really care about him.  There is no doubt that Albert is a changed man, but one question remains: if Albert finds George, will he want him, or will events from the past prevent the two from ever being together?

Author Matt Cain is an amazing writer, so descriptive that the imaginative reader can picture everything, from Albert’s route, his home, his office and even Albert himself, in their mind’s eye.  Cain manages to make this solitary curmudgeon find a way into the reader’s heart early on.  You will find yourself laughing and crying with Albert’s ups and downs,  And yes, I was crying real tears during the tragic turn that pushes Albert to find George.  I could relate to what the character was going through and I was deep into the Kleenex by the time that chapter was completed, heart-wrenching experience as it was. 

One thing is for sure, the reader will definitely find themselves rooting for Albert all along his journey, saying things to themselves like, “go talk to her” or “stop hiding, Albert.  Let someone in!”  As the journey moves forward, despite all the ups and downs, you will find yourself smiling as Albert does just that.  You will be on the same rollercoaster ride he is on, experiencing the extreme highs and lows of his journey as if it is your own.  At some point, though you hope he finds George, you will be proud of how far Albert has come in the past couple-hundred pages you have read.

I loved this book so much, I was loathe to put it down to eat or sleep.  My only criticism of the tale is that I felt the author was too optimistic regarding the way people treat homosexuals in life.  It seemed that everyone Albert came out to treated him with the utmost respect and happiness.  The real world is not as rosy colored, but one could wish for it to become that way.  The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is enough to give one hope for that in the future.  It’s a terrific journey you don’t want to miss!  I truly hope someone decides to make a movie out of this book.  I’ll be first on line to see it!

Check out The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle at Amazon