Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Book Review: The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan

 I rated The Sweeney Sisters with five stars: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟.  
Keep reading to discover exactly why I think that you need to read The Sweeney Sisters. 

Lately, I find myself using reading to escape these trying times. Luckily, I was introduced to the novel, The Sweeney Sisters, which provided a very necessary escape. I must say that this book did not disappoint me. I was first captivated by how beautiful the book jacket was. I have been reading a lot of audiobooks and reading books on my iPad, but when I received The Sweeney Sisters,  I was really excited because the cover was just so "happy." I know. I know. You are thinking that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I mean this time, I chose a book because of its cover, and I am glad that I did. 

Sitting on my porch, reading The Sweeney Sisters, and eating cherries
Sitting on the porch, eating cherries, and reading The Sweeney Sisters
The Sweeney Sisters is a unique tale that highlights how important a family bond can be for the survival of its members. As someone, who is very family-oriented and believes that family comes first, this book further reinforced my belief about the importance of family. The beginning of the text caught me off guard because it starts off with tragedy. Ironically, this tragedy is just the beginning of creating a bond like none other. It's almost as if the tragedy is a necessity for The Sweeney Sisters to experience. 

Three sisters, Maggie, Liza, and Tricia, have a unique sisterly bond that many people envy. Yet, when their father dies, they discover that they have a "half-sister," who happens to be older than the trio. The half-sister, Serena Tucker, is quickly swept into a life-changing cycle, as she discovers through a gifted DNA test, that her father is a famous writer, who happens to have been her neighbor during her childhood. 

The Sweeney Sisters provided such an entertaining escape that I was so excited to share with my readers. I especially liked how the book was unpredictable. So many fictional novels tend to be predictable, but The Sweeney Sisters forced me to speed up reading, so that I could get to the next plot twist. 

I won't give away the ending, but I will say that I was truly surprised. The Sweeney Sisters supported each other, maintained their bond despite disagreements and arguments, and kept going despite all the pain that they endured before and especially after their father's death. 

I think that my favorite character in this book is Tricia. She remains so focused and doesn't let emotion cloud her judgment. She resonated with me the most because I found similarities between me and Tricia. I always love it when I can relate to the characters in the book. I have two sisters, and I know the three of us will always look out for each other, just like The Sweeney Sisters.  

I think all my readers will enjoy this book. The versatility that it provides, while sharing a truly inspiring story makes it perfect for book clubs. If your book club needs a quick and inspiring read, The Sweeney Sisters, is the perfect book. You should definitely check out this book. You will not be disappointed. I truly wasn't. I am looking forward to reading more Lian Dolan books. 

Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Let's connect on Goodreads or Twitter and discuss The Sweeney Sisters. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Virtual Book Tour - Dharma: A Rekha Rao Mystery by Vee Kumari

I am happy to share with you a book, unlike any other book that you have read. Lately, I find myself reading more fiction, and I wanted to share a unique book, Dharma: A Rekha Rao. I was very fascinated with the synopsis of the book and felt that my readers would enjoy it. Below I have included information about Dharma and share the Question and Answer discussion with Vee Kumari. Let me know your thoughts when you finish this book.
“A polished, confident whodunit brimming with personality and the right amount of intrigue and mayhem.” – Kirkus Reviews
         Paperback: 302 pages
         Publisher: Great Life Press (March 2020)       

About the Book:

Rekha Rao, a thirty-something Indian American professor of art history, is disillusioned by academia and haunted by the murder of her father. She believes police convicted the wrong person and moves away from her match-making family. 

She’s focused on managing her PTSD and healing her heart, broken by an abusive boyfriend. She gets entangled in a second murder, that of her mentor and father figure. The murder weapon, an idol of the Hindu goddess Durga, is left behind on the body. Detective Al Newton asks her to look into the relationship, if any, between the meaning of the statue and the motive for the murder.

Rekha is attracted to Al but steers clear of him because of her distaste for cops and fear of a new relationship. The two constantly clash, starting a love-hate relationship. Meanwhile, her family sets her up to meet a suitor, an Indian attorney. When police arrest one of her students and accuse her mentor of idol theft, Rekha is left with no other choice but to look for the killer on her own. 

Despite admonitions from Al and bodily harm caused by an intruder, Rekha finds the killer, and in the process, emerges from the cocoon of a protected upbringing to taste the prospect of romance and discover her true identity.

"A murder mystery set against an intriguing backdrop of Indian mysticism and archaeology makes this a very good pick. Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery may also provide some readers with a glimpse into the rich religious history of India's gods, rich mythology at least as rich to American readers as the more familiar Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. It's one of the hidden treats that makes this novel an enjoyable read for mystery lovers everywhere." 
- Chanticleer Reviews Rating: 5/5 star

About the Author:

Vee Kumari grew up in India. She loved to read, and often used it to avoid her mother, who might want her to do a chore or two. It was her mother who directed her to use the dictionary to learn the meanings of new words and construct sentences with them. Vee wanted to become an English professor but went to medical school instead.

Upon coming to the US, Vee obtained a doctorate in anatomy. She became a faculty member at the UC Davis Medical Center, where she worked for over 35 years, and later worked for the Keck School of Medicine for five years. Teaching neuroanatomy to medical students became her passion. She published many scientific papers and won several teaching awards. 

Vee Kumari
When she retired in 2012, she took classes from The Gotham Writers' Workshop and UCLA Writers Program. Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery is her debut fiction that incorporates her observations on the lives of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans in the US.

Vee lives in Burbank and is also an actor who has appeared in TV shows, including Criminal Minds and Glow, and produced and was the lead in a short film, Halwa, which garnered the first prize in HBO's 2019 Asian Pacific American Visionaries (APAV) contest.

She is at work on her next novel about an Indian immigrant family whose American dream shatters when one of their twin daughters goes missing.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook: @veekumari
Instagram:  @vee6873hollywood
Twitter: @veekumari1
Author website: https://www.veekumari.com

Question and Answer with Vee Kumari

Where did you grow up /live now?
I grew up in the south of India in a coastal town called Trivandrum. I now live in Burbank, CA
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I loved words, and I wanted to be an English professor.  
 When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Or what first inspired you to write?
As a scientist, my fall back was reading fiction. When I retired, it gave me the time to try it.  
What inspired your story?
I watched an OPRAH/Dr. PHIL an episode about a family who came to get help after the father came to the realization that he was always gay. Their genuine grief and need to find their way back as a family touched me. It’s best to keep this under cover since this is one of the threads that’s revealed only towards the end!
How does a new story idea come to you? Is it an event that sparks the plot or a character speaking to you?
All of those. I may hear something on the news or watch an episode of a TV show, or watch a movie, and my head gets filled with “What Ifs”. Some of these take life, others don’t. Right now, I have my second novel almost finished, and several premises written, based on these “What Ifs”.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Virtual Book Tour: Just Truth by Gen LaGreca

2020 is the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote, a great time to celebrate women’s achievements and independence, and a big reason to admire Gen’s main character, a courageous female journalist. I am switching up today's book tour by posting a guest blog post by the author, Gen LaGreca. Happy Reading! Information about the book, Just Truth, follows the post by Gen LaGreca.

Guest Post: Celebrating Women's Independence  By Gen LaGreca  

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which insured women's right to vote throughout our country. So let’s take a moment to celebrate women’s achievements and independence. 

The heart of a woman’s independence lies in the right to think for herself. This year’s anniversary is a perfect time to reaffirm every woman's right to think, speak, and act according to her own best judgment and to hold true to her convictions, even if that places her outside of the mainstream. 

In a proud tradition that continues to this day, woman have gone against the tide for noble causes and played an active role in fighting injustice throughout our nation's history. For example, women were leaders in the abolitionist movement, enduring vicious denunciations and even physical violence when they spoke out for what they believed. In the period leading up to the Civil War, it was a novel written by one of themUncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe—that became an international bestseller and provided the most powerful arguments against slaveryLegend has it that Abraham Lincoln referred to Harriet Beecher Stowe as the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war. Whether or not we like the “little woman" tag, and whether or not the anecdote is actually true, no one can deny the tremendous influence of one impassioned woman who dramatically exposed an unspeakable injustice and had a profound influence on righting it. 

Fast-forward to women writers and journalists today. When public polling shows the nation's opinion of the media is at an all-time lowthere are notable newswomen who courageously hold to the highest standards and integrity. For example, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, whose motto is “Untouchable subjects. Fearless, nonpartisan reporting,” has written two books containing shocking behind-the-scenes exposés of political corruption at the highest levels of government. Lara Logana veteran foreign correspondent who proudly declares, “Nobody owns me,” suffered brutal attack in a war zone that nearly killed herHer response was: "I may have been a victim that night, but I am not a victim for the rest of my life." 

My new novel, Just the Truth, celebrates the storied tradition of women leaders and journalists in their fight for the truth. The heroine of the novel, newswoman Laura Taninger, risks her career, her reputation, and even her life to uncover a secret plan implicating powerful public officials in a scheme to rig an upcoming presidential election. Laura faces the crushing retaliation of her political foes as they pull out all the stops to silence her, but her resolve is unwavering. She’s an inspiration to all independent women as we celebrate our special year, our glorious past, and our boundless future. 

Let’s keep making ourselves proud! 

About the Book

100 years after women were granted the right to vote and in the era of “fake news,” author Gen LaGreca has written a relevant political thriller, Just the Truth, about a woman with unwavering integrity fighting against the overpowering institutional and economic pressures compromising journalism, as she uncovers suspicious circumstances that just might manipulate an upcoming presidential election. In Just the Truth, the businesses of Laura’s family-run corporation, Taninger Enterprises, are the subject of covert political retribution by public officials who abuse their power and the public trust by targeting political enemies. The Taninger family faces pressure to discourage Laura from investigating the president and his administration. Will the family members be pragmatic, try to avoid controversy, and help to cover up a huge scandal, or will they defend Laura? How can businesspersons and private citizens stand up to intimidation from powerful officials and partisan groups wishing to silence their views.

Question and Answer Session with Gen LaGreca

Can you give us a short introduction to Just the Truth?

Just the Truth is a political thriller set in Washington, DC, in the near future. It's the story of Laura Taninger, a journalist who suspects foul play by President Ken Martin in his bid for reelection. Laura is determined to find the truth, while the president's administration is determined to silence her. The story reveals the many covert ways in which unscrupulous public officials can stifle a free press, and how one journalist risks her career, her reputation—and ultimately her life— to uncover a plot to subvert free elections in America.

Laura Taninger is president of Taninger News, the organization started by her grandfather, newspaper mogul Julius Taninger (“JT”). Find the truth, wherever it hides was JT’s slogan in the mid-20th century. Then, politicians feared his scathing editorials. Now, 70 years later, with JT deceased and his four heirs running the company, have the tables turned? Does today’s press still have the freedom to criticize elected officials, or do those officials have the power to silence their opponents?

The signature program of President Ken Martin’s first term is called SafeVote, which puts control of national elections in the hands of the federal government, rather than letting the states manage the voting in their own jurisdictions. With claims that a federal voting system will better insure fair, unbiased elections, as well as avoid fraud and voter discrimination, SafeVote was passed and is scheduled to launch with the upcoming presidential election in which Martin hopes to win a second term.

When SafeVote pays $400 million to an undisclosed contractor for work it won't reveal, other journalists aren't concerned, but Laura is suspicious. When she starts to investigate, Laura is faced with the crushing retaliation of her political enemies and their media supporters against her, her family, and their companies.

Laura has a source, James Spenser, who's a high-level person within the administration. He has vital information for her, but just as he meets her outside a restaurant to reveal it, he's gunned down before he can speak and the killer gets away.

As Spenser lay dying in Laura's arms, he whispers a curious, final word: “Fox…”

Laura can't let Spenser die in vain. While the police and the media attribute Spenser's death to a random street crime, Laura is convinced it's connected to SafeVote.

As Laura gets closer to uncovering the meaning of Spenser's dying word, the identity of his killer, and the mystery surrounding the new voting system, she realizes that the facts point to shocking revelations about someone unforgettable in her life, a man who was her greatest business competitor and her most passionate lover—until he betrayed her and the ideals they shared. With Election Day looming and the country at a crossroads, and with intense pressure from her family to give up her investigation, Laura is determined to pursue the truth wherever it leads.
As our actual presidential election of 2020 approaches and as questions mount about the integrity of today’s journalism and our election process, Just the Truth couldn't be more timely.

Tell us about your main character, Laura Taninger. Who is she and what makes her special?

Laura Taninger is a journalist who sees her profession as a calling. She runs Taninger News by the motto of her deceased grandfather, the company’s founder: Find the truth, wherever it hides. She's forthright, quietly self-confident, passionate about her work, and true to her ideals. When people try to smear, shame, humiliate, and destroy her, she doesn’t buckle. At twenty-nine, she’s intelligent and beautiful. There’s an honesty and openness in her expression that gives others the sense that they’re seeing the real person without pretensions.

Laura has one great hurt in her life. She loved Reed Miller, the self-made man who built a corporate media empire that includes Miller News Network, her biggest competitor. She and Reed once shared the same ideals about speaking truth to power, but Reed betrayed them and walked out on Laura. Reed is the most enigmatic character in the story, and we don't discover the truth about him, his motives, and his feelings for Laura until the end.

Laura Taninger represents the essence of women's independence. She thinks for herself. She stands up to everybody. Her judgment matters to her above other people's views. She has incredible integrity to the truth and trust in herself to see it. She's the role model of a strong woman, who doesn't cave to the mainstream, to pressures, or to the mob. Laura is an especially important heroine this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote throughout the United States.

What are some of the themes that weave through the story? And how do the characters conflict with each other on these themes?

One theme is: The importance of a responsible and independent press.

Laura's friend is fellow-journalist Sean Browne. Unlike Laura, Sean is an opportunistic journalist who’s obsequious and overly trusting of the people in power in order to advance his career. In return for his softball reporting on the president, he’s offered a prestigious post in the Martin administration. Sean illustrates the danger of losing objectivity when a newscaster has too cozy a relationship with the people he reports on. Because Sean craves recognition and advancement, he fears taking stands that conflict with the mainstream. Yet he’s drawn to Laura. He admires her passion and integrity—and deep down he knows he’s betrayed his own ideals. When Laura challenges him, he rationalizes his way of practicing journalism by saying that idealism is an adolescent carryover from college, which can’t succeed in the adult world.

So the theme interweaving Laura and Sean's friendship is: Do ideals matter? Do truth and moral principles matter? Do they carry weight in our lives, or is everything just pragmatic and expedient? As a journalist, Laura considers it her duty to be a watchdog on the government and to have a healthy skepticism about those in power. But Sean, on the other hand, wants to keep in step with what his peers are reporting and not be an outlier and risk disapproval. Sean cozies up to powerful politicians who can advance his career. So the story raises the question: If journalists have incentives to ignore abuses of power, then who's left to safeguard our freedoms?

A second theme is: Does the end justify the means?

We hear this expression all the time. The villains of the story—the president and his two top aides—claim that the reelection of Ken Martin is so vital to the country that it justifies employing any means necessary to achieve that end.

President Ken Martin is unprincipled, power-hungry, and without a moral compass. He condones lying, smearing, cheating, and using federal agencies to destroy his political enemies. After all, it's for a good cause (his own reelection). He fears an investigative journalist like Laura, who can shine a harsh light of truth on his hidden activities and cause his downfall.

Darcy Egan is the chief advisor to President Martin and the most evil character in the story. She pushes Martin to cross lines of corruption never before crossed in the American presidency. Her own lust for power will stop at nothing to ensure her place in history alongside the president's. She's so drunk on power that she thinks she can manipulate people into believing anything—and thereby create her own “truth.” She says, “The truth is like clay, and we’re the sculptors. We knead it, we work it, we mold it, we massage it to suit our ends." How many actual politicians think this way? I'm afraid to say, quite a few. Darcy, of course, fears Laura's investigation and will stop at nothing to destroy her.

Zack Walker is the chief strategist to President Martin. He's part of the scheme to, shall we say, "adjust" the voting in the president's favor. Zack's job is to destroy Martin’s opponents through smear campaigns, so he constantly lies, engages in character assassination, and plants false stories which his media friends spread through the news cycles. But can Zack be pushed to do even greater evil acts under the notion that the end justify the means? Darcy will test him. She tells him, “Remember, the means are just the mechanics. We mustn’t dwell on them because the end is so important, so great, so right. Just stay fixed on our goal of getting Ken reelected!” Zack's main task is to eviscerate Laura Taninger.

So an important theme in Just the Truth is a moral issue: Can the end ever justify lying, cheating, destroying good people, violating the rights of others, and losing your own character?

A third theme is: The intimidation of private citizens by public officials.

Just the Truth examines the danger of public officials using their power to silence political opponents. This is what Laura and her family experience.

Laura is in business with her father, older sister, and brother. The children each run different companies within the Taninger Enterprises corporate umbrella, with Laura running the news operation. Each company faces retribution from the president's administration to pressure the family to fire Laura. Irene's company loses a lucrative contract, Billie's company is found to be in violation of an environmental regulation and forced to incur substantial costs and a public relations nightmare to correct the situation, and the parent corporation is threatened with a federal lawsuit accusing it of being a monopoly that must be broken up.

Clark Taninger, Laura’s father, has long-ago abandoned the dedication to truth of his father, the company's founder. Clark is pragmatic, conciliatory, and compromising toward those in power in order to avoid confrontations with them. He sees himself as a modern, effective businessman who doesn’t stand on principles, which he views as rigid and outdated, but who instead adjusts to changing times. As Taninger Enterprises’ CEO, Clark orders Laura to end the investigation that's rattling the Martin administration. Laura's brother and older sister side with their father. What will happen if Laura defies his order?

Laura's only ally in the family is her younger sister, Kate, a college student. Kate passionately supports Laura’s investigation into corruption at the highest levels, and she calls out her family for their timidity and cowardice. But even Kate gets embroiled in Laura's controversy when her campus newspaper viciously attacks Laura, claiming that she's racist, bigoted, and elitist for being a critic of the new voting system. The attacks are launched by a partisan campus group that backs the president. When Kate writes an editorial defending Laura, she becomes the target of a squad of activist students, unstopped by an ineffective dean, who try to force Kate to recant or be expelled. Will Kate give in? What will happen if she defies the mob?

Just the Truth shows how the Martin administration is covertly behind all of the attacks on Laura and her family. The novel is a cautionary tale about how the tentacles of government, if left untrimmed, can spread to reach all of us and strangle our freedoms.

The themes in this novel hit on real issues occurring in America today. There are reams of news stories questioning the integrity of today's journalists, the veracity of the news we're getting, the flagrant overstepping of federal agencies to stifle political opposition. There are also reports questioning the accuracy of our elections with calls for the federal government to exert more control over the states’ voting programs. Just the Truth is a shocking, eye-opening tale that everyone should read in order to understand better the times in which we live and the threats we face.

Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find writing helpful in achieving a clarity about yourself or ideas you’ve been concerned with?
Yes! I love fiction’s power to dramatize ideas and to clarify important issues. This has been true throughout history, starting with ancient mythology and continuing to modern times. For example, in the 1850s, it was a novel— Uncle Tom’s Cabin—that galvanized people against slavery. During the American Revolution, when our troops suffered great hardships at Valley Forge, George Washington turned to fiction. He had the highly influential play of his time, “Cato, A Tragedy”—about a Roman hero of republicanism who opposed the growing tyranny of Julius Caesar—performed for his troops to motivate them to fight on. People turn to fiction for inspiration, for a refueling of their spirit. That’s why good novels are treasures.

Once I discovered fiction writing, I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do more than to write novels. The work is what I call a sweet torture.
What has your journey as an author been like? Was there ever a defining moment when you suddenly realized “now I am an author”?
Yes, there was! I once worked as a management consultant. One of the things I did for clients was to write and produce videos for staff training. I found that these videos were becoming more and more imaginative and plot-oriented. Finally, one of my clients, the publisher of a magazine for the foodservice industry, said to me, “Gen, I can’t have romance in this video about restaurant sanitation!” That was when I thought to myself, “Hey, I ought to try writing a novel.” And so I did.
Does Just the Truth contain an underlying message? What do you hope your readers will take away from it?
The broad message of all of my novels is that good people, who have courage and passion, and who want to live to the fullest, can fight for their world and win. I want to entertain people and leave them with hope. Although grim things happen and there are villains in my novels to be sure, my focus is on the heroes and the great potential of people in the exciting adventure of life. I want to inspire and enlighten people.

Just the Truth is an entertaining murder mystery that weaves wider social and moral issues into the story. Without mentioning any actual political parties, persons, agencies, or events, this nonpartisan drama is addressed to everyone concerned with these issues.

The underlying message of Just the Truth is: Independent thinking can't exist when the government gets too big. There's always a new tax, or a regulation, or an investigation that public officials can use to threaten anyone who speaks out against them. It's the job of journalism to maintain objectivity and expose corruption. If journalists are lured into favoring the bad players, as Sean Browne is, then we’re doomed. Journalists must speak truth to power, and Laura Taninger shows us the way.
What are you working on right now? 
I wrote a stage play adaptation of Just the Truth. I hope to have it produced and to start a new trend, a theater of ideas, which entertains the audience with suspenseful, well-crafted plays while shining a spotlight on important issues that we need to be discussing.
Where can readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

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