Thursday, February 28, 2013

Another Forgotten Child

Another Forgotten Child by Cathy Glass
HarperCollins UK,  2/5/2013
Trade Paperback, 309 pages
ISBN-13: 9780007486779

A new memoir from Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author Cathy Glass.Eight-year-old Aimee was on the child protection register at birth. Her five older siblings were taken into care many years ago. So no one can understand why she was left at home to suffer for so long. It seems Aimee was forgotten.The social services are looking for a very experienced foster carer to look after Aimee and, when she reads the referral, Cathy understands why. Despite her reservations, Cathy agrees to Aimee on – there is something about her that reminds Cathy of Jodie (the subject of ‘Damaged’ and the most disturbed child Cathy has cared for), and reading the report instantly tugs at her heart strings.When she arrives, Aimee is angry. And she has every right to be. She has spent the first eight years of her life living with her drug-dependent mother in a flat that the social worker described as ‘not fit for human habitation’. Aimee is so grateful as she snuggles into her bed at Cathy’s house on the first night that it brings Cathy to tears.Aimee’s aggressive mother is constantly causing trouble at contact, and makes sweeping allegations against Cathy and her family in front of her daughter as well. It is a trying time for Cathy, and it makes it difficult for Aimee to settle. But as Aimee begins to trust Cathy, she starts to open up. And the more Cathy learns about Aimee’s life before she came into care, the more horrified she becomes.It’s clear that Aimee should have been rescued much sooner and as her journey seems to be coming to a happy end, Cathy can’t help but reflect on all the other ‘forgotten children’ that are still suffering…

My Thoughts:
Cathy Glass is a pseudonym for a prolific author who writes about her personal experiences as a foster parent in the U.K. Another Forgotten Child is Cathy Glass's latest book/memoir. Aimee is a terribly abused and neglected eight year old child who was on the at risk child protection register at birth, but still fell through the cracks of a woefully inadequate, unorganized system. This bureaucratic oversight resulted in Aimee being left with a vicious, drug addicted, negligent mother, Susan. When Glass took over her care, Aimee was filthy, dressed in ill-fitting rags, lice-ridden, covered in bruises, and had no experience with basic personal hygiene. She had a defiant attitude, and had been subsisting on a horrendous diet consisting mostly of sweets. Soon Glass also realized that Aimee was likely also the victim of sexual abuse.
Aimee's mother, Susan, who had all five of her older children removed from her care years ago, knew how to work the system and complain, exaggerate, and twist events to try and exploit the various social workers an get her way. She is very insulting, threatening, and difficult to work with. It is obvious that Aimee's ordered supervised visits with her mother three times a week, and the telephone calls on the days other days were not in her best interest. 
Set up as relating a chronological series of events to the reader, like a journal, Glass's account of Aimee's arrival and her discovery of additional information is presented in a forthright way with no hyperbole or drama - beyond what Glass does to protect herself from Susan's unfounded accusations. She also includes many of the day to day actions that occurred while caring for Aimee. While there are times when this approach feels tiresome, the whole story is still very riveting. It is almost like you are reading a caseworkers detached account of a client. 
The biggest thing Cathy Glass does, beyond helping Aimee, is making an incontrovertible case that Aimee was not properly watched and served by the social services system in the U.K. In her case they did not serve her best interests and their neglect cause a child to suffer harm needlessly for eight years.
Very Highly Recommended - I had a few reservations about Cathy Glass's Another Forgotten Child however, once I started reading it I could not put it down.

Cathy has been a foster carer for over 20 years, during which time she has looked after more than 75 children, of all ages and backgrounds. Cathy runs training courses on fostering for her local Social Services, and helps draft new fostering procedures and guidelines. She has three teenage children of her own; one of whom was adopted after a long-term foster placement. The name Cathy Glass is a pseudonym.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

With or Without You

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta
Random House, 2/26/2013
Hardcover, 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812993240

A haunting, unforgettable mother-daughter story for a new generation—the debut of a blazing new lyrical voice
Domenica Ruta grew up in a working-class, unforgiving town north of Boston, in a trash-filled house on a dead-end road surrounded by a river and a salt marsh. Her mother, Kathi, a notorious local figure, was a drug addict and sometimes dealer whose life swung between welfare and riches, and whose highbrow taste was at odds with her hardscrabble life. And yet she managed, despite the chaos she created, to instill in her daughter a love of stories. Kathi frequently kept Domenica home from school to watch such classics as the Godfather movies and everything by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, telling her, “This is more important. I promise. You’ll thank me later.” And despite the fact that there was not a book to be found in her household, Domenica developed a love of reading, which helped her believe that she could transcend this life of undying grudges, self-inflicted misfortune, and the crooked moral code that Kathi and her cohorts lived by.
With or Without You is the story of Domenica Ruta’s unconventional coming of age—a darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s youth and the necessary and painful act of breaking away, and of overcoming her own addictions and demons in the process. In a brilliant stylistic feat, Ruta has written a powerful, inspiring, compulsively readable, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving.

My Thoughts:
With or Without You is a powerful, disturbing, honest memoir by Domenica Ruta. Domenica suffered through a trash-strewn squalid childhood with her single mom, Kathi, in Danvers, Massachusetts. Kathi was a drug addict, dealer, and alcoholic. She was unpredictable and unstable. Even though I had an uncorrected proof, please allow me to share how Domenica describes Kathi:
 “Mummy wants to show off her boobies right now.” Her hair was almost black, but she insisted on bleaching it Deborah Harry blond. She had one tattoo, a small but regrettable crab on her left ring finger. It was her astrological sign—the Cancer. Even she was ashamed of it, I know, because she hid it under a gold wedding band long before she ever married. What else do you need to know about this woman before I go on with the story? That she believed it was more important to be an interesting person than it was to be a good one; that she allowed me to skip school whenever I wanted to, and if there was a good movie on TV she wouldn’t let me go to school because, she said, she needed me to stay home and watch it with her; that, thanks to this education, I was the only girl in the second grade who could recite entire scenes from Scarface and The Godfather by heart; that she made me responsible for most of my own meals when I was seven and all the laundry in the house when I was nine; that her ability to make money was alchemical; that she was vainer than a beauty queen, but the last time I saw her she weighed more than two hundred pounds and her arms were encrusted with purulent sores; that she loved me so much she couldn’t help hating me; that at least once a week I still dream she is trying to kill me. (Location 98-107)
As a child Domenica quickly picked up reading on her own. In a family "where people stumbled—and stumbled proudly—over three-syllable words, such a drooling little fiend for literature was endearing to no one. (It should be noted that even the most illiterate of my clan knew their way around a food-stamp application, a subpoena, and a workman’s compensation claim. We were nothing if not adroit at manipulating the system.)"
Kathi would work menial jobs to keep the cable on, get pain killers, and buy good clothes. They also were frequently on welfare. Kathi tried to share her pain killers with Domenica and wanted her daughter to experiment with more drugs at an early age. Domenica, however, resisted much of that (not all) and tried to focus on doing well at school, in spite of her circumstances, although she later succumb to the temptation of addiction. While Kathi's parenting skills were lacking, the whole family had addiction problems. Her grandmother was a dealer, although she wasn't a user. Everyone also swore loudly and often. "And, like movies, bad words were another resource in which my family was truly rich." Domenica also was sexually abused by a relative who was also a pedophile. While her family knew, they choose to remain firmly in denial about his activities.

Finally, Domenica describes her own ascension into drug addiction and alcoholism and how she struggled to overcome her addictions.
I did have a few issues with the book. Her early years began to feel like one bad story of neglect or addiction crashing into another. There was no good time frame or order established to help the reader follow when things occurred.  The end felt disjointed and like a lot of information was left out in order to wrap the memoir up quickly. This rushed feeling may simple be due to the amount of time that separates her childhood struggles from her adult addictions and recovery, making the early years easier to reflect upon. 
In any event, With or Without You is an emotionally wrought, highly recommended memoir that fans of The Glass Castle may enjoy (keeping in mind that it is not as well written as The Glass Castle).
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House and Netgalley for review purposes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Against My Will

Against My Will by Benjamin Berkley
Frederick Fell Publishers, 2012
Trade Paperback, 271 pages
ISBN-13: 9780883912799


Danielle Landau knows she should feel lucky, but she can't feel anything but dread. Not only did she pass the New York Bar, but she married the man her father says is just right for her and lives in a fashionable new loft in Queens. But the man who seems like the perfect catch is a perfect nightmare at home. Jacob tries to control her career, her daily routine, and even what she eats. He ignores her desires and belittles her every chance he gets. Soon, Danielle doesn't recognize her husband or herself, and she struggles to find a way out. One night, Jacob pushes her too far, and now Danielle has to escape. Whit the help of her beloved Nana, Danielle moves across the country and starts to rebuild her life. But will she be able to escape her past? And when one of her clients finds herself in the same terrible situation, will Danielle have the strength to help her? As we follow Danielle on her journey of terror and recovery, we see her story intersect with the diary entries of a young girl from more than fifty years ago, and the full weight of the family's secrets becomes clear. This is a story of survival, self-discovery, justice, and ultimately about love.

My Thoughts:

Against My Will by Benjamin Berkley is a novel with a message. Danielle Landau, a well educated but somewhat naive 29 year-old Jewish woman, is set up by her father and a matchmaker to meet and date Jacob Liebowitz. While she is more concerned with getting the results from taking the bar exam and starting her law career, Jacob is trying to push her into taking their relationship more seriously than she originally thought it should be taken. After they marry, Danielle quickly realizes what a horrible mistake it was to marry this man who must always be in control and has now become abusive. She puts up with the abuse, trying to be a good Jewish wife, until it finally becomes too much for her to tolerate any more and she talks to her grandmother, who tells Danielle to flee.

While we follow Danielle's story we also read diary entries from Rose, Danielle's grandmother. Rose lived in Austria in WWII and was sent to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. She was chosen to work in the Commandant’s kitchen, which resulted in her survival, but at a cost.  

I must admit that as written, the character of Danielle's father was supremely annoying to me. All of the perfect catch talk and focus on Danielle's age as a reason she should marry someone right away just irritated me. And Danielle started off seemingly a woman with self confidence but then she let other's push her into this marriage. Ugh. I understand people-pleasers like to follow the rules, including sometimes other's wishes, but this seemed over the top for her to marry a man she really didn't seem to even like all that much.  Additionally, I quickly became weary of all the Yiddish. It also made me feel disconnected to the novel. A little less might have improved my reception of the story.

However, the main point of this novel is the message delivered through the story. Danielle eventually learns that no woman is ever her husband's property and that she is not required to do anything against her will or tolerate his abuse. It's an important message and one that you would think women would all understand today, but, alas, as I know all too well, women still fall into the trap of tolerating many forms of abuse because they are married or have religious beliefs that discourage divorce. Today, though, the vast majority of woman are not trapped, as Rose was, in their abusive environments with no means of escape.

Recommended for the message

Growing up in Long Beach, NY, young Ben Berkley was fascinated by daily black-and-white re-runs of the TV lawyer show Perry Mason. After getting a B.A. in Speech and Hearing from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY, Berkley earned his law degree from Western State University in Fullerton, CA. For the past 34 years he has conducted a busy general practice which includes divorce, estate planning, family law, social security disability appeals and bankruptcy. He writes a blog for the Huffington Post and is the author of four self-help books. Against My Will is Benjamin Berkley’s fifth book and debut novel. 
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for review purposes.    

No quotes as I had a galley copy.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Shine Shine Shine

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
Audio CD, read by Joshilyn Jackson
Macmillan Audio, July 17, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1427221391
Hardcover, 320 pages

When Maxon met Sunny, he was seven years, four months, and eighteen-days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. They were different together.
Now, twenty years later, they are married, and Sunny wants, more than anything, to be “normal.” She’s got the housewife thing down perfectly, but Maxon, a genius engineer, is on a NASA mission to the moon, programming robots for a new colony. Once they were two outcasts who found unlikely love in each other: a wondrous, strange relationship formed from urgent desire for connection. But now they’re parents to an autistic son. And Sunny is pregnant again. And her mother is dying in the hospital. Their marriage is on the brink of imploding, and they’re at each other’s throats with blame and fear. What exactly has gone wrong?
Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight-the-hell home.
When an accident in space puts the mission in peril, everything Sunny and Maxon have built hangs in the balance. Dark secrets, long-forgotten murders, and a blond wig all come tumbling to the light. And nothing will ever be the same.…
A debut of singular power and intelligence, Shine Shine Shine is a unique love story, an adventure between worlds, and a stunning novel of love, death, and what it means to be human.

My Thoughts:
Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer follows the love story of Sunny and Maxon, but it is so much more than just a love story. Sunny was born completely hairless during an eclipse while her family was in Burma. Her missionary father was executed by the Communists and her mother moved back to the States. Sunny and Maxon met as children and knew one thing: that they belonged together. Now married, Maxon is a very successful Nobel-winning autistic NASA scientist who is on a mission to colonize the moon with self-replicating robots. Sunny is his very pregnant wife, left behind on earth with their autistic 4 year-old son, Bubber. In their current suburban life, Maxon's success has afforded them a model house. Sunny wears a variety of blond wigs to hide her baldness and keeps an expensively furnished, immaculate house. It soon becomes clear that Sunny has tried very hard to reinvent herself as the perfect suburban mother, which has put a great deal of self-induced stress on them.
But after Maxon leaves for the moon, Sunny has a car accident that sends her wig flying off in her neighborhood. This exposure of her secret causes Sonny to re-examine her life and the choices she has made in order to fit in and seem "normal."  Then a meteorite hits the space ship Maxon is on, placing the mission and his life in jeopardy. To complicate matters further, Sonny is now feeling contractions, her mother is dying in the hospital, and she's re-examining Bubber's need for medication. Sunny's on-going crisis situation causes her to question if she needs to embrace the idiosyncrasies of her and her family. She soon begins to wonder what makes us human and if such a thing as normal exits. 
In Shine Shine Shine, Lydia Netzer has penned a clever, imaginative novel full of great descriptive language and unique, quirky characters. The language flowed beautifully, as read by Joshilyn Jackson on my audio version.  It has a strong message about accepting the peculiarities and faults of others rather than everyone striving for a Stepford-like conformity. Netzer alternates between the points of view of Maxon and Sunny. She also gives us backstory along with current events to help us better understand these characters and their motives. Sunny is not a perfect character, but that was the point. She tried to put on the facade and be perfect for others. Once her cover was blown, Sunny realizes that she has to accept who she is and who Maxon is and who Bubber is - and that each of them is special and unique.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best
This was my first audio book. I won the audio version of Shine Shine Shine  from a giveaway on Joshilyn Jackson's website an embarrassingly long time ago. The problem is that I wasn't finding a time to listen to an audio book. My "commute" to work is maybe 5 minutes and I just haven't taken any long car trips. Finally I just had to tell myself to start listening to it while I was doing other things. That worked, but I have to admit that I missed seeing the words in a physical copy of the book. I loved listening to Jackson read the story, however, and I'd like to get an audio CD of one of her books just to hear her read it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Domino Falls

Domino Falls by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
Atria Books, 2/19/2013
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781451617023

It began on Freak Day—that day no one could explain, when strangers and family members alike went crazy and started biting one another. Some thought the outbreak was caused by a flu shot, others that it was a diet drug gone terribly wrong. All anyone knew is that once you were bitten and went to sleep, you woke up a freak.

My Thoughts:
Domino Falls by husband and wife writing team Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due is a sequel to the story they began in Devils Wake.  In this post-apocalyptic thriller, Zombie-like freaks abound as a small rag-tag group makes it to Domino Falls, California. Along their trek they have heard broadcasts from Joseph Wales, the leader of the Thread group. He has a Threadie sanctuary/compound in Domino Falls. After the group manages to gain admittance to the town it almost seems too good to be true - and that may, in fact, be the case. Could fighting the freaks on the outside be preferable to the sanctuary Wales' group provides?
An infection has caused the outbreak of freaks. One bite from them and a healthy person is infected. Once the freaks fall asleep, they turn into the dangerous runners. After that they change into the slower shambling freaks. Although Domino Falls doesn't quite have the full, detailed explanation of what happened, it certainly provides enough information to enjoy the novel. The explanation given is that the freak outbreak was caused by receiving a flu shot after eating a certain mushroom. After that the freaks infected people through their bites.
Characters include: Kendra Brookings, Terry Whittaker, Sonia Petansu, “Piranha” Charlie Cawthorne, Corporal Ursalina Cortez, Darius Phillips, Dean Kitsap, and Hipshot, a black terrier mix. (Dogs can detect freaks before people can.)  These characters are well-drawn in this novel especially for the second book in a series. Actually Domino Falls is more of a character driven novel and the freaks are simply there, as an ever-present threat that everyone must consider. But there are other threats in this novel that may be just as creepy.
Clearly, from the ending, there will be more books in the series. 
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It was engaging and the plot was gripping from beginning to end. I haven't read the first book in the series, but if  it is close to the quality of Domino Falls, then I'd very highly recommend it too.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was an uncorrected proof courtesy of  Atria Books and Netgalley for review purposes.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Best of All Possible Worlds

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
Random House, 2/12/2013
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345534057

The Best of All Possible Worlds is a stunning science fiction epic that is also a beautifully wrought, deeply moving love story.
A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.
Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race—and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—just may find in each other their own destinies . . . and a force that transcends all.

My Thoughts:

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord is a science fiction/love story.  In it the Sadiri, a humanoid race, have been the victims of genocide on their home planet. The attack has left many more male survivors than female, so a large group of males has traveled to settle on the planet Cygnus Beta because there is a large population of displaced races and peoples settled there and some of them may be related to the Sadiri. The male Sadiri survivors are telepathic and can determine if a group of people/settlers have a high percentage of Sadiri blood.
An expedition traveling across Cygnus Beta is looking for groups that may be distant genetic relatives of the Sadiri. Grace Delarua, a Cygnian bio-technician and linguist,  along with Dllenahkh, a Sadiri emissary, are part of the group chosen for the expedition. Delarua narrates a majority of the novel in a chatty, first person style while Dllenahkh careful reflections are in the third person. This expedition is basically to seek mates for the surviving Sadiri males so they can preserve as much of their genetic heritage as possible.
The novel consists of chapters that are evocative of a series of short stories because, basically, the group is traveling across the planet exploring, looking at the locals, and getting to know each other, while under a variety of circumstances. As a result of this style, the novel felt choppy and disjointed to me. The main focus of this novel, despite the science fiction label, is following the budding romance between Delarua and Dllenahkh.
I'm going to have to admit that I didn't enjoy The Best of All Possible Worlds. I wanted to, especially when it is described as a science fiction epic. I enjoy science fiction, but romance novels... not so much. The combination didn't work for me and I'm going to chance a guess that it won't for many other science fiction fans. This novel is really more of a romance novel in a science fiction setting, which explains why it is getting many great reviews, but is so-so for me.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was an uncorrected proof courtesy of Random House and Netgalley for review purposes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Three Graves Full

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason
Gallery Books, 2/12/2013
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781451685039 
For fans of the Coen brothers’ films or for those who just love their thrillers with a dash of sharp humor—an engaging and offbeat story about a man driven to murder, who then buries the body in his backyard only to discover that there are two other shallow graves on his property.
“There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.”
With this memorable first line, we meet Jason Getty, a regular guy in every mild sense of the word. But extraordinary circumstances push this ordinary man to do something he can’t undo...and now he must live with the undeniable reality of his actions. And just as Jason does finally learn to live with it, a landscaper discovers a body on his property—only it’s not the body Jason buried.
As Jason’s fragile peace begins to unravel, his life is hitched to the fortunes of several strangers: Leah, an abandoned woman looking for answers to her heartbreak; Tim, a small-town detective just doing his job; and Boyd, a fringe-dweller whose past is about to catch up to him—all of them in the wake and shadow of a dead man who had it coming.
With the tense pacing of a thriller and the language and beauty of a fine literary novel, Three Graves Full heralds the arrival of a stunning new voice in fiction.

My Thoughts:
Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason is a murder mystery that can also be comedic. Jason Getty is a man under a constant strain. He has a man buried in his backyard, by his own hand, however, unknown to Jason, there are two other bodies buried in his yard. When one of the other bodies is discovered by a landscaper Jason hires, it soon leads to the discovery of the second body. Although culpability for the untimely burial of these bodies points to the previous owner, Jason is, quite naturally, obsessed with the thought that the police will soon find the third body, the one he is responsible for burying in the yard more recently. Adding to Jason's already overwhelming fear of the police investigation is a smart dog and a couple of unwanted trespassers.
Three Graves Full juxtaposes murder with comedy. It has been compared to works by the Coen brothers, and I can see the comparison to Fargo, but it brought to mind, for me anyway, Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, another dead body mystery/dark comedy. The humor here is not slapstick; it is based on the absurdity of the situation and the consequences of choices the characters make. The story whipped along at a good pace, but did slow and trip a few places along the way. Additionally, Jason is not a readily likeable character. While I can accept unlikable main characters, Jason's personality is best described as bland. That could be problematic for some readers.
Since I was provided an uncorrected proof for review purposes I have provided a link to an excerpt below, but there were several times when I sorely wanted to saved a sentence, description, or paragraph for quotes to share with you. Not only is Mason witty, she has some very descriptive language which provides wonderful insights into portraying her characters and their emotions, motives, thoughts, and backgrounds. There were places where descriptions were a tad bit overwritten, which could be indicative of any first novel. It is clear that Mason is a talented writer, so, since this is her debut novel, look for future novels.
highly recommended - and keep an eye on future novels by Jamie Mason
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Gallery Books and Netgalley for review purposes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guest Post - Art Maines, author of Scammed

Why Seniors Are Easy Targets: The Psychology of Scammers
One in every five Americans over 65 are taken in by scammers.  The criminals who scam elders like your mom or dad are professionals. It’s their job, and some people claim they study their reprehensible craft day and night. Their sole purpose is to rip people off, and no doubt about it, they are very, very good at it. They seem to be as intelligent and well educated in their line of work as any doctor or lawyer is in his or her respective profession. The rest of us often underestimate them, and the crooks like it that way because it makes their jobs easier. Our parents are literally nothing to them but a payday or even a game. Often they get an adrenaline rush from defrauding others, and a sense of triumph or victory. Put bluntly, they’re predators.

Some people who perpetrate fraud indulge in what therapists call “selective disengagement of moral self-sanction from inhumane conduct.” What a mouthful! This means they use mental games to ignore internal messages meant to stop them from hurting others. I theorize that they often use worthy ends such as the need to support a family in a hostile economic environment to socially and morally justify hurting our parents. They downplay the harm they cause and even blame the victims for bringing the problems on themselves. Others are sociopaths who lack a conscience and simply don’t care what happened to others. Either way, or through a combination of these two elements, our elder loved ones don’t stand a chance against these people unless we help them.

A scammer makes contact with a potential elderly victim, and then begins building a manipulative web of lies carefully designed to make the senior believe they can gain money or help someone else. When an elderly person gets ripped off by a scammer, it isn’t about being stupid; it’s often about unmet needs like feeling lonely, worry about limited finances, or the desire to help others. Many people judge victims of frauds and scams as stupid, gullible, or some variation of these ideas. I disagree. 

In my experience, seniors are easy prey for scammers because they have unmet needs.  They may feel lonely, undervalued, bored, poor, or sincerely desire to help others.  These needs make the ploy for the chance to win a bunch of money, bail a grandchild out of a foreign prison, or save a lot of money on driveway resurfacing sound like a good idea to a senior.

A certain level of unmet needs in an elder is normal, so please do your best to move beyond any guilt you may feel about this. We can’t possibly meet all of our needs as younger adults, let alone as we age. Virtually everyone experiences a discrepancy between their needs and what their life actually brings them. What we’re seeking to do here is understand more about the role unmet needs play in our parents’ vulnerability to criminals who want to use their discrepancies against them, and perhaps work with our elder loved ones to help them think more clearly and have fewer unmet needs.
Let’s face it—the perpetrators are better at their job of hurting people than the majority of elders currently are at staying safe. Most people will never be able to tell just by talking with someone whether or not that person is a criminal out to steal from them. The crooks are incredibly skillful at reeling in their victims without revealing their actual motives. Virtually everyone I’ve spoken with said the scammers were “very friendly” and “seemed totally honest.” So what can be done?

The most important you can do to protect your parents or other senior loved one is to educate them about scams.  Have the conversations regularly in case Mom or Dad does not remember well.  Ask them if they have gotten any suspicious phone calls or emails. 

Make scam prevention and education a frequent topic just as you enquire about their health.  Your goal is not to frighten your senior but to let them know you care about their welfare and want them to be smart and savvy where these crooks are considered.

Art Maines, LCSW, is a therapist in private practice and an expert in Elderly Fraud Recovery and Prevention.  His new book Scammed: 3 Steps to Protect Your Elder Parents and Yourself, gives in-depth information on scam prevention and recovery.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Scammed: 3 Steps to Help Your Elder Parents and Yourselfby Art Maines
Love Your Life Publishing,  October  2012
Trade Paperback, 210 pages
ISBN-13: 9781934509524

One in Five US Seniors are Scam Victims, Learn How to Prevent and Recover from this Crime:
When author Art Maines' beloved stepfather Bill was cheated out of thousands of dollars, Art went on a mission to ensure no other family experiences this tragic crime.
In Scammed, Art provides a three step scam prevention and recovery program, based on his training as a social worker, therapist, and his extensive research.  Suitable for seniors or children of elderly parents, Scammed will help you:
Understand the most common types of scams
Learn the psychological ploys used by scammers so that you can spot a scammer immediately
Create a scam prevention plan
Recover from a scam with your dignity intact
Use the resources in your community if you suspect a scam

My Thoughts:
Scammed: 3 Steps to Help Your Elder Parents and Yourself by Art Maines is the kind of book you hope you never need but it's great to know that it's available if that concern should arise.  And that need may arise so it might behoove those of us with elderly parents to take this seriously. According to Maines, "Seniors make up about 12 percent (and rising) of the US population, but are approximately 35 percent of all fraud victims." (pg. xvi) Maines is talking about several different kinds of scams, frauds and exploitation targeting our elderly parents. Maines took up this educational cause after he helped his stepfather, Bill, through the aftermath of an ongoing scam that ended up robbing him of tens of thousands of dollars.

Maines writes: "My main purpose in writing this book is to help you help your parents or other loved one deal with and recover from the awful experience of getting ripped off by professional scam artists. I provide the three steps I took in handling a series of scams perpetrated on my 82-year-old stepfather in 2009. Though the specific details of your experience will be different from mine, I provide ideas and resources to help you manage and minimize the damage from this type of crime." (pg. xxi)

Scammed is set up to make providing help and guidance very accessible to the reader. The easy to read, informative style shouldn't be intimidating to anyone. The advice is very well organized. There really is a plethora of good, common-sense advice as well as some very specific steps that you need to take, organizations you need to contact, hurdles you might encounter, and even proactive ways to prevent scams.

I loved the fact that Maines even made it clear that you need to keep good records as you gather evidence - including notebooks, a filing system, and logs for everything and all information. This is something that most of us instinctively know, but I had to ask myself how many times do I make important phone calls and jot down notes and details I know I need on scratch paper. This reminder to approach helping your parents purposefully and carefully is a great reminder.

The contents of Scammed

Section One: Getting Scammed and the Recovery Steps
Bill's Story
Chapter 1: Step 1 - Discovery: Gather the Vital Information Quickly
Chapter 2: Step 2 - Protect Your Parents: Stop the Bleeding and Lock Down Their Assets
Chapter 3: Recovery: Plan Your Parent's Financial Recovery

Section Two: Emotional Challenges and the Psychology of Scamming
Chapter 4: Helping your Parents Recover Emotionally
Chapter 5: Handling Your Own Emotions: The Importance of Good Self-Care
Chapter 6: The Psychology of Scamming: An Introduction to How the Scammers Do It and What That Can Teach Us

Section Three: Prevention: The Scam-Resistant Elder
Chapter 7: First Things
Chapter 8: Unmet Needs, the Five FLAGS and Scam Drills
Chapter 9: Preventing More Pain: Financial Abuse and Identity Theft

Section Four: Putting the Steps into Practice with Three Common Problems
Chapter 10: Recovering from Telemarketing Scams
Chapter 11: Recovering from Home Repair Rip-offs
Chapter 12: Recovering from Financial Identity Theft

Final Thoughts
Appendix: Resources and Recommended Reading; Relevant Websites for Each Step of the 3-Step Process; Books; State Contact Information;

As you can see, Scammed is a short book packed with information. And if information is power, scam prevention is the key. Maines makes it clear that it is better to "Never let yourself be chosen. Always do the choosing." (pg. 104)

 Very Highly Recommended

Art Maines, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice, speaker, and expert in elderly fraud recovery and prevention. He earned his Master's Degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Art and his stepfather Bill live in St. Louis.
Come back tommorrow for a guest post by Art Maines, author of Scammed. 
Although I would recommend everyone read the whole book, I asked Art  to address the question: What is the single most important fact that you would like people to remember after reading Scammed?

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for review purposes.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Expats

The Expats by Chris Pavone 
Crown Publishing Group, 2012
Hardcover, 336 pages

ISBN-13: 9780307956354


Kate Moore is a typical expat mom, newly transplanted from Washington DC to the quiet cobblestoned streets of Luxembourg. Her days are filled with coffee mornings and play-dates, her weekends with trips to Paris and Amsterdam. Kate is also guarding a tremendous, life-defining secret, one that’s becoming unbearable, indefensible. It’s also clear that another expat American couple are not really who they’re claiming to be; plus Kate’s husband is acting suspiciously. While she travels around Europe, looking for answers, she’s increasingly worried that her past is finally catching up with her. As Kate digs, and uncovers the secrets of the people who surround her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage, and her life.

My Thoughts:

 In The Expats by Chris Pavone we are given delicious clues right from the start that Kate Moore is more than she seems. When Kate's husband, Dexter, is offered a lucrative position with an unnamed bank in Luxembourg, Kate quits her job in Washington D.C., the details of which (she's CIA) she never totally explained to Dexter, and they decide to pack up their sons and become expats, Americans living and working abroad.

While Kate thinks, at first, that she is leaving her double life behind to concentrate on being a wife and mother, it soon becomes clear that she has developed some skills that could still be useful to her since everything in Luxembourg may not be quite what it seems to be. Dexter is becoming increasingly distant and might be hiding something from her. And then there is a couple they have met who don't seem to be who they claim they are.

As the tension slowly begins to build, clues foreshadow that there is much more to the story: "Much later, Kate realized that Chicago should have been her first clue. (page 48)." The Expats is full of clues and hints like this of much more to come... and the secrets, all the secrets and half-truths being hidden from others..

In fact, this stylish and cerebral espionage novel is about secrets, people keeping secrets wrapped up in other secrets. It's not a novel full of violent gun battles and fight scenes. Instead it is an intelligent novel where we are allowed glimpses and tantalizing clues of what might be the real truth, only to have these new revelations dashed  aside as new clues are revealed. This is a long-con (and as a Lost fan, I appreciate a great long-con story.) 

The writing was superb. The narrative alternates between the present and the past, both in chronological order, giving us clues and information slowly and subtly. This really makes for a complex, cleverly plotted novel. I started The Expats and could hardly set it down. At page 250 if I didn't have an early meeting the next morning, I would have been sorely tempted to stay up way-too-late to finish this novel, something I really can't say very often anymore.

I thought Chris Pavone did a tremendous job developing Kate's character and taking us along as we slowly learned what was really going on. While there have been some complaints about the ending, I thought it was great, full of unanticipated twists, and perfectly fit the whole tone of the novel.

Very Highly Recommended - I thoroughly enjoyed this novel!

Quotes:   Excerpt

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Crown Publishing Group and TLC for review purposes. 

Chris Pavone grew up in New York City, and attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn and Cornell University. He worked at a number of publishing houses over nearly two decades, most notably as an editor at Clarkson Potter, where he specialized in cookbooks; in the late nineties, he also wrote a little (and mostly blank) book called The Wine Log. His first novel, The Expats, released in the U.S. and the U.K. in early 2012, was an instant New York Times bestseller, and is being published in fifteen languages on five continents, and developed for film. Chris is married and the father of twin schoolboys, as well as an old cocker spaniel, and they all live in Greenwich Village and the North Fork of Long Island.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Stories from Jonestown

Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowski
University of Minnesota Press, 2/1/2013
Hardcover, 312 pages
ISBN-13: 9780816678082

The saga of Jonestown didn’t end on the day in November 1978 when more than nine hundred Americans died in a mass murder-suicide in the Guyanese jungle. While only a handful of people present at the agricultural project survived that day in Jonestown, more than eighty members of Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones, were elsewhere in Guyana on that day, and thousands more members of the movement still lived in California. Emmy-nominated writer Leigh Fondakowski, who is best known for her work on the play and HBO film The Laramie Project, spent three years traveling the United States to interview these survivors, many of whom have never talked publicly about the tragedy. Using more than two hundred hours of interview material, Fondakowski creates intimate portraits of these survivors as they tell their unforgettable stories.
Collectively this is a record of ordinary people, stigmatized as cultists, who after the Jonestown massacre were left to deal with their grief, reassemble their lives, and try to make sense of how a movement born in a gospel of racial and social justice could have gone so horrifically wrong—taking with it the lives of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters. As these survivors look back, we learn what led them to join the Peoples Temple movement, what life in the church was like, and how the trauma of Jonestown’s end still affects their lives decades later.
What emerges are portrayals both haunting and hopeful—of unimaginable sadness, guilt, and shame but also resilience and redemption. Weaving her own artistic journey of discovery throughout the book in a compelling historical context, Fondakowski delivers, with both empathy and clarity, one of the most gripping, moving, and humanizing accounts of Jonestown ever written.

My Thoughts:

With the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" part of our lexicon it behooves us to go back and look at where that phrase originated. In Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowski we learn that it wasn't Kool-Aid, but was, in fact, poisoned Flavor-Aid that was used in the mass suicide/murder of over 900 followers of Jim Jones People's Temple agricultural project in Guyana on November 18, 1978. About half of those who died were children. Included in the 918 people who died were U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan and three journalists who were accompanying Ryan on a fact-finding mission to Guyana.
Jim Jones group began as a Christian church in Indiana. He moved to San Francisco in the 1960s. While the group began as a integrated group who wanted to help the community, it soon changed into a much less altruistic socialist experiment. But this book is not about Jim Jones. It is about the survivors. Some of them still think the Peoples Temple was wonderful, others wonder at their blindness to the warning signs that there were problems and Jones was no longer the man or leader they thought they were following.
There are already numerous accounts written about Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple murder/suicide. In Stories from Jonestown, author Fondakowski focus is on interviewing the survivors. She points out that only they "can truly know what it means to survive a tragedy of this magnitude. These are the stories of the survivors. It is a privilege to tell them."  Fondakowski, a playwright, spent over three years interviewing survivors, reviewing documents, and collecting letters trying to compose a complete picture of what happened while gathering material in order to write a play about their experiences. The book is a compilation of the many interviews and stories she collected.
Very Highly Recommended - but not an easy book to read
Since Stories from Jonestown is composed of interviews and materials gathered for Fondakowski's play, "The Peoples Temple," this book does not include extensive research or a complete chronological record into all the details of Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple. Readers who don't have previous knowledge of Jim Jones and what happened in 1978 might want to look into some other works that cover that information. This book is about the survivors, what they remember and how they are handling dealing with those memories. Recommended books by those who know include: A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julia Scheere; Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman; Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple by Rebecca Moore
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of  Netgalley for review purposes. 

Since my copy was an uncorrected proof I am not including any quotes.