Cat Ellington’s review of Skin care: body scrubs. Homemade organic scrub recipes: Health & Beauty

Skin care: body scrubs. Homemade organic scrub recipes.: Health & Beauty.Skin care: body scrubs. Homemade organic scrub recipes.: Health & Beauty. by Nora Robson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The following analysis was inspired by a true story.

Once upon a time, many, many years ago—thirty-five, to be exact—there was a twelve-year-old girl who fell in love with the art of beauty (and natural skincare) after shedding 90 lbs of excess and unwanted fat from her young bodily frame. After a few years of sharing her childhood with all of that extra weight and some seriously bad skin in the form of acne—no thanks to a terrible diet of fatty, fried foods, soda pop, and plenty of junk food—that twelve-year-old girl (now newly thin) was ready to start her young life entirely anew. And that had meant that she would finally say goodbye to her old skin-ruining eating habits and all of the sugary soda pops that she’d so carelessly consumed for the majority of her early life. She would once and for all do away with the high-calorie carbonated beverages, too much candy, too many greasy potato chips, and any other unhealthy “snacks” that served to wreak havoc on her complexion and body mass.

From that time on, the twelve-year-old girl’s best food & drink chums became still water (lots of it), fruit juices, and sparkling mineral water. For her, granola bars had replaced candy bars, freshly popped popcorn replaced the salty, greasy potato chips, and honey grahams replaced cookies.

That young twelve-year-old soon became the ultimate beauty junkie. And on her behalf, her mother purchased a subscription to the highly regarded magazine publication, Essence, in order for the little lady to absorb everything that her young spongy mind could about health, beauty, and skincare.

The twelve-year-old soon started homemaking her own natural facial masques and exfoliators using a variety of ingredients right from her family’s refrigerator and pantry. And a few of these au naturel recipes contained mouthwatering ingredients like plain yogurt, buttermilk, honey, egg yolks (introduced by her godmother), oatmeal, bananas (to aid during the hot summer months when her skin produced excessive oils), fresh orange juice (a natural astringent), kiwi fruit, mangoes, papaya, strawberries, coffee grounds, light brown sugar, white pure cane sugar, and yellow corn meal. Only all-natural components sufficed for the twelve-year-old “chemist” who would make many a mess and many a mistake as she went along with her experiments. But as the years passed, she grew up and turned pro. Yes, she became an expert at the art of natural beauty. For she had once been an obese girl with bad skin, but now, she only wanted to look and be her very best. And natural skincare was her go-to repertoire.

That twelve-year-old girl—way back in the summer of 1983—had been me. And I felt that sharing a small part of my own life history with regard to the making of natural skincare “formulations” was appropriate given the subject matter of the self-help reference guide currently under review.

Not since 1997 when I had the pleasure of reading Diane Irons’ nonpareil The World’s Best Kept Beauty Secrets has a reference book catering to the skin we’re in brought me to such a level of excitement. For it had been within the self-help guide scribed by Irons that I learned a few additional beauty secrets: liquid fabric softener can double as a hair conditioner; pepto-bismol not only coats, soothes, and relieves an upset digestive system, but also tightens open pores when used as a facial masque; unscented natural clay kitty litter makes an outstanding mud pack… And a multitude of others. Voila!

Despite my decades of knowledge in the art of natural beauty, Ms. Nora Robson’s must-read health and beauty reference, Skin care: body scrubs. Homemade organic scrub recipes: Health & Beauty, casually expanded my mental encyclopedia with only that much more education in this area of expertise. I loved, loved, loved this self-improvement exemplar! And if you, dear reader, harbor an interest in natural beauty, so will you.

In this specific volume (fleeting as it may be at 47 pages), Robson—with a strong focus on natural oils, herbs, sugars and salt—generously shares a respectable number of her own delicious homemade skin-beautifying recipes, including the Vanilla Sugar Scrub, the Sugar Cookie Lip Scrub, the Sweet Orange Face Scrub, and many more.

In point of fact, no beauty obsessive should be without this warm and unique natural skincare guide in their reference books collection. It is well written, beautifully illustrated, and inordinately recommended.

Five cruelty-free stars.

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Cat Ellington’s review of A Ring to Die For: A Beauty Secrets Short Story

A Ring to Die For: Beauty Secrets Short StoryA Ring to Die For: Beauty Secrets Short Story by Stephanie Damore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“A kiss on the hand may be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
— Leo Robin, Lyricist
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Fancy ye a Marquise Cut? Fancy ye a Princess Cut? How about an Asscher Cut? Or a Cushion Cut? What would you say to a Radiant Cut? Or even a Tiffany-style Solitaire?

Fancy ye a Verona Emerald Cut? Or maybe even perhaps a Bali Trillion Cut?

Whichever cut of a diamond any singular woman may desire—Pear, Oval, or otherwise—it should be indicated that many great jewelers, even from of old and modern times, including the likes of Harry Winston, Louis Cartier, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Sotirios Voulgaris, and Cecil Rhodes, just to name a few, established their world-renowned jewel houses on this most exquisite and coveted rock of precious, carbonized mineral. And in this bright, sparkling gem of a cozy mystery penned by the admirably adept Stephanie Damore, one woman takes her insatiable want for the world’s most spellbinding stone to an entirely new extreme, even to that of theft by swindle.

Springtime and St. Patrick’s Day are quickly approaching in the Peach State where we come to meet Ziva, er, the diva Ziva Diaz, a beauty (products) queen and our lovely southern belle of a protagonist. Ziva has just finished picking up her product shipment and making a few beauty supply deliveries. And as a reward for a job well done, Ziva is on her way to Sweet Thangs to enjoy herself to the tune of a sweet treat and a chai latte (yum!) when she receives a phone call from her grandmother’s best friend, Mrs. Birdie Jackson, who goes on to tell Ziva that Aria (Ziva’s bestie) has been apprehended for shoplifting.

Apparently, Aria has been accused of attempting to steal a $10,000.00 diamond ring from the luxury jeweler, Magnificent Gems—previously Smith & Company. And once the two ladies connect by phone, Aria—who’s sitting in jail—lavishes Ziva with a first hand account of just what went down inside of the jewel boutique prior to her arrest.

In short, the pricey stone in query somehow ended up at the bottom of Aria’s handbag. It is certainly a mystery as to how the cased diamond ring made its way to the bottom of her bag, but Aria swears on the famous Kimberley of South Africa that she had no hand in it. And if she didn’t actually do it, then who did? Who so desperately wanted to acquire the 4 carat diamond-encrusted pink sapphire ring at a sticker-shocking five-finger discount?

In addition to Aria, there were also other customers inside of the boutique at the time of the would-be robbery, including that pesky, nosy, and gossipy old Mrs. Birdie Jackson. Could she be our thief?

Was it Justine Martin, the town skeezer and Ziva’s competitive nemesis? Could she be the one whose fingers were sticky?

How about the security guard, Joey Bones? Is it possible that he was idolatrous towards the extravagant piece, what considering that his impoverished home is a cinder block-perched trailer in the backwoods of Jawja?

Given his “questionable” behavior, could it have been Gregory Pierce, the store’s brand new owner?

Is it possible that our bandit could be Jacob, the man next to whom Aria had been standing so closely, and with whom Aria had participated in enlivening chatter?

Who was that man? The mystery man seated in his car outside of the jewel house? Who is O’Connor, the intriguing, red-bearded leprechaun? Is he in town for the upcoming St. Paddy’s Day festivities? Or is he in town to commit murder?

Ziva Diaz, assisted by the out-on-bail Aria, is out to crack the (jewelry display) case! And following her slapstick lead, it will only take the reader of this wacky and outrageously fun cozy (25) pages to flip forward to the answer.

A Ring to Die For was my satisfying introduction to the writing style of its cute and witty wordsmithess, Stephanie Damore. And in my longtime beauty buff, the talented novelist has herself a new fan.

Already in love with the makeshift sleuth, Ziva, it is with a burning zeal that I look forward to reading every published narrative of Damore’s Beauty Secrets Series—all of which star the same—in the succeeding order:

• Makeup & Murder (Book 1)

• Kiss & Makeup (Book 2)

• Eyeliner & Alibis (Book 3)

• Pedicures & Prejudice (Book 4)

• Beauty & Bloodshed (Book 5)

Drop dead gorgeous titles, all of them. But until I make the rib-tickling acquaintance of each individual one, I gleefully and loftily recommend their comedic and impermanent predecessor, A Ring to Die For.

Five IF Grade stars.

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Cat Ellington’s review of South of the City

South of the CitySouth of the City by W.H. Herman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
— John 3:20

Whenever your eyes cast themselves upon revering declarations that pertain to certain novels of fiction such as, “A gripping thriller with a shocking twist!” or “Unputdownable!” or “One of the best books I’ve ever read!” know for a surety that the dexterous hand of W.H. Herman was mightily blessed to scribe such a one in the highly recommended and entirely mind-blowing masterwork, South of the City — a prized fiction narrated by its creator over a time period of twenty-five years from 1990 to 2016.

The talented Kim Wright makes her flawless debut in this lightning fast-paced thriller playing the emotionally and physically battered wife of Jim Wright, the tale’s antagonist. A young woman of a pleasant disposition who, alas, becomes unequally yoked with her husband’s calloused coward, Kim Wright is laboriously penitent that she didn’t heed her mother’s many warnings about Jim as the elder woman forbade her daughter from having any dealings—romantic or otherwise—with respect to him. She should’ve just listened to her mother’s tearful pleadings, Kim would later reflect to herself. Why oh why didn’t she just listen to her mother’s tearful pleadings? She should’ve just listened to her mother.

The Preparation.

Grabbing its reader in a stronghold from the very first page, this captivating plot of murder, murder-for-hire, deception, political corruption, bribery, adultery, backstabbing, blackmail, vengeance, hopelessness, and hard-edged double-crossing features an award-worthy (and large) assembly of characters whose ships come to pass along the wide and spacious road of life in the New York-based small town of Grove Park . . . a tranquil little place where the rich—old and new alike—and the working class coexist in tolerant harmony.

And . . . Action!

With so many people’s lives viciously colliding head-on over the course of 400 pages, the Reaper is right in their midst, having himself a field day. And it’s up to our protagonist, detective Pete Webster, a man whose arms are already weary from the constant carrying of his own emotional baggage, to uncover the truths of many an ill deed, including serial murder, mafia entanglement, kidnapping, fraud, and any number of other federal offenses committed by a bundle of this grand ensemble’s never-do-wells.
. . . Especially the one named James.

Still Rolling.

James “Big Jim” Wainwright (formerly Jim Wright of Carthage, Iowa) is Grove Park’s Town Supervisor and a corrupt political figure if there ever were one. Once upon a time, though, James Wainwright had been Jim Wright, an Iowan of a hard-knock life who, together with his old partner in egregious crime, Mitch “The Stitch” Goren, shattered just about every law familiar to the Midwesterner during the dirty, hapless, poverty-stricken, and redneck days of their youth. Twenty-five years later, however, Big Jim—as he’s known to his crooked posse of cronies—has reinvented himself with both a brand new life in New York and a brand new name. But as fate would have it, the hateful—and hated—unfiltered Lucky Strikes smoker is now in somewhat of a bind as an eschewed ghost from his extremely unpleasant past has come back to simultaneously taunt him and haunt him.

Despite their jaundiced split twenty-five years earlier, Big Jim and Mitch Goren—the “Bode Gazzer” and “Chub” of this this here fine work of literature—may or may not have committed multiple murder in their natural habitat of Carthage, Iowa circa 1990. Only they both know what really happened to Jim’s first wife, the pretty blonde Kim, and her anti-Jim Wright mother, Melanie, in their farmhouse all those years ago. And while Jim would prefer to forget that part of his miserable life history, his erstwhile pal Mitch the Stitch definitely doesn’t share his sentiments — especially not when considering that “Jimbo,” an old nickname by which he so irksomely addresses Wainwright, left him to hang solo in the winds of the Midwest while he himself went in pursuit of local fame and riches on the East Coast. His old buddy Jimbo owes him big. And Mitch the Stitch—the nickname in reference to his battle scarred face—does not aim to exit Grove Park by way of the same manner in which he entered it, what cash broke.

Take five.

As the pages of this action-packed film disguised as a literary work of fiction began to roll, the marvelous cast list extends to introduce the reader to those other members of the script’s fascinating troupe who appear as follows:

• Jack Ferris — tall and athletic with boyish good looks, is a painter by trade, a self-employed artisan (and unabashed beer guzzler) who does a magnificent job of adding vibrant colors and furnishing details to the walls and rooms of those pricey casas occupied by the nouveau riche in the gated compound of Heron Ridge Estates.

• Nicky Wainwright — Jim Wainwright’s drop dead gorgeous and way-too-spoiled (second) wife to whom Jack Ferris is especially attracted . . . and to whom Jack Ferris is especially attractive

• Pete Webster — unlikely protagonist, Grove City detective, and one of Jack Ferris’s closest friends, is a recent widower who is slowly yielding to an excruciatingly painful wound of depression that only alcohol can salve

• Marti Lucas — sole female patrol officer on the Grove Park Police Force and bench presser to whom Jack Ferris is especially attractive – or is it Nicky Wainwright to whom Marti Lucas is especially attracted?

• Joey Garrity — personal aide to Town Supervisor Jim Wainwright, and manager of Jim and Nicky Wainwright’s real estate agency

• Al Kaplan — former Grove Park attorney, advisor to Jim Wainwright, and town councilman

• Jill Sherman — married to the wealthy engineer Tim Sherman, stunning redhead, best friend to Nicky Wainwright, and possible love interest of Nicky Wainwright

• Victor Harmon — representative of New Century Corporation, and “golden retriever” for the corporation’s top bribe-offering honcho Kevin Cochran, a major land developer

• Kevin Cochran — elusive window dresser of a land developer to whom Victor Harmon is inferior, and Paulie Gotts is superior

• Brenda Jackson — hard-nosed—albeit gifted—attorney, Planning Board coordinator, and advocate for wetlands preservation

• Tim Sherman — wealthy engineer, vice president of Graham Aerospace, husband to Jill Sherman, and constant out-of-town traveling bit player

• Steve Hartman — former Grove Park police officer turned private investigator. Incidentally, Steve Hartman is hired by Nicky Wainwright to investigate Jim’s long lost Iowan background after finding a small bunch of puzzling paraphernalia in his office safe at home

• Paulie Gotts — Cochran and Harmon’s mysterious New York-based employer in whom “Big Jim” Wainwright (the former Jim Wright of Midwestern Iowa) finally meets his arctic-hearted match

(Resuming) And . . . Action!

It is within the cozy confines of Woody’s bar—a popular hangout for the blue bloods and the blue-collars of Grove Park—that Jack Ferris ultimately locks eyes with the sexy Nicky Wainwright, who, as it just so happens, is out on a group date with her husband Jim, her best friend Jill Sherman, and her husband’s right hand men, Joey Garrity and Al Kaplan. Enjoying a few beers with his now tipsy buddy, detective Pete Webster, Jack instantly recognizes the lovely Nicky from Strong’s gym—the same of which they’re both members. And straightaway upon eye contact, silent sparks began to fly—like bow-and-arrow armed cupids—between the them. However, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the big man—Big Jim—when Nicky eventually makes her way over to the handsome Jack to inquire of his professional painting services.

Apparently, there are a few rooms at Wayne, er, Wainwright manor that can stand some fresh new coats of color. And the good and married Nicky (already knowledgeable about Jack’s artistic talents, per his other wealthy clients) takes it upon herself to casually ask Jack if he would be interested in paying a visit to Jim’s and her home for an appraisal. Of course, Nicky Wainwright is not at all surprised When Jack Ferris agrees to her job offer because, as it is written, Nicky Wainwright is a woman who is well accustomed to getting any- and everything that she wants—especially from those of the opposite sex.

In due time, Jack and Nicky would hurl themselves onto a merry-go-round spinning to the loud carousel organ music of bliss . . . the loud carousel organ music of bliss that prevents one Marti Lucas from procuring a peaceful night’s rest.

Still Rolling.

Engaging in activities of illegality are nothing new to one lawless shyster, him being James Wainwright. And as Town Supervisor of Park Grove, accepting bribes from organized crooks—posed as legitimate businessmen—is only yet another extension of this trend.

Take for instance, the wetlands. Yes, those beautiful vast bayous and marshes of America that feverish members of the storied Sierra Club toil so strenuously to preserve the lives of, and rightfully so. But regardless of their EPA protected status, Supervisor Wainwright and his co-horts of kindred spirit, are monopolizing on these venerated lands and their creature inhabitants by issuing illicit contracts to unscrupulous developers whose main interests involve nothing more than desecrating the valued lands for the ravenous purpose of establishing (upscale) residential communities atop the graves of their natural wildlife. And no one is more disgusted by these felonious business dealings than Brenda Jackson, Esq., an attorney and the only African American member on the Planning Board, serving as its Coordinator.

Brenda Jackson also serves as an obstructor who intends to make the obtainment of any Planning Board-issued contracts to potential developers for the purpose of building gated communities (for the rich) on the guarded lands quite difficult, even for Victor Harmon—the Italian loafer-wearing and custom-tailored suit attired gofer—and his overseers at New Century Corporation who all, as a matter of fact, have taken to bribing certain small town officials—like James Wainwright and his two-man motley crew of Joey Garrity and Al Kaplan—in exchange for political favors. Not only is the infamous pit bull in a skirt (who is Brenda Jackson) prepared to vote thumbs-down on the New Century permit request, but she is also eyeing James Wainwright’s idolized job in the next election.

Admittedly, Brenda Jackson, Esq. is a fully loaded Beretta just waiting to have her trigger pulled. And her influential existence has become an aggravating thorn in the combined sides of James Wainwright, Victor Harmon, Kevin Cochran, and Paulie Gotts—this effort’s “Paul Cicero.”

Still Rolling.

Jill Sherman has to be one lonely woman, what considering that her breadwinner of a spouse—the notable engineer, Tim—often leaves her at home alone while he travels on business related to his famous company, Graham Aerospace. So, Jill spends the bulk of her quality time with her best gal pal, Nicky Wainwright. And the two ladies do pretty well, what working out together, shopping, lunching and other girly things of the like. Nicky loves her Jill . . . but Jim hates her Jill. And it is for this very reason that Jim urges Nicky to abandon Jill at a restaurant one night during a fierce lake effect snowstorm which is already in progress. The lovely redhead—who has already had a cosmopolitan or two (or three)—is forced to drive herself home, and in her husband’s classic 1975 Jaguar no less.

It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s snowy, and visibility is limited. Jill just wants to get back to the warmth and safety of her opulent home, and out of the unforgiving snowstorm. But someone else out on the snowy roads has other plans for the titian haired, classic 1975 Jaguar-driving beauty.

Take Five.

With never a boring moment to spare, the attention-absorbing and expansive South of the City continues to whip the reader around many a sharp turn at the corners of its cobblestone-paved roads . . . as though it were the Jaguar XE with 590 Horsepower. And as a passenger in this premium fuel-operated narrative of potency and adrenaline-inducing trepidation, you are warmly encouraged to stay glued your seats, and to keep your seatbelts snugly fastened.

(Resuming) And . . . Action!

Steve Hartman, P.I. has found himself on the Missing Persons list in Iowa after having visited the town, while in the employ of Nicky Wainwright, to learn more about her husband’s past there. He went. He questioned. He vanished.

It’s been two long weeks since Steve’s contentious, although very caring, ex-wife Sally has heard from him, prompting her to contact his old partner and good friend at the GPPD to not only supply him with an explanation, but also express her growing anxieties. And immediately recognizing the sudden stench in his nostrils as being that belonging to a mangy rat, detective Pete Webster opens his own investigation into his former partner’s disappearance in America’s Heartland—adding to his already mind-boggling overload. Can any of Pete’s criminal cases involving this tale’s remarkably talented cast get any worse? To utilize my very best Midwestern lingo: Oh, you betcha!

Cut!

The South of the City storyline—with its pagination of 400—seems to go on forever, but boy is it phenomenal! So phenomenal in fact, that the reader won’t even take into regard the time consumption of its bi-state composition as he or she will be so immersed in the fascinating and entertaining drama unfolding in the lives of those men and women who so expertly play their parts within its covers.

Exceptionally scribed in short, fast-striding chapters, South of the City is a complete literary masterpiece from start to finish. More than worthy of its collected five-star reviews, the narrative is a diamond in the rough, truly so. And it was an honor for my reader to behold.

Five . . . critically-acclaimed stars.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, as well as W.H. Herman himself, for the author-issued copy of South of the City in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of “South of the City” by W.H. Herman is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington: https://catellingtonblog.wordpress.com

Date of Review: Thursday, January 18, 2018

• Reviewer’s Note: Those fictional characters whose names were mentioned per this analysis as being likened to certain members of this work’s cast are known for the following:

Bode Gazzer and Chub, co-stars of Carl Hiaasen’s Lucky You (Alfred A. Knopf, November 1997)

Paul “Paulie” Cicero, a mafia boss portrayed by Paul Sorvino in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990)

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Cat Ellington’s review of Rosolio Red: A Holiday Short Story (Franki Amato Mysteries, #1)

Rosolio RedRosolio Red by Traci Andrighetti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s the most wonderful time of the year in New Orleans, LA and Houston, TX—the primary setting locales for this transient and relatively decent cozy mystery penned by USA TODAY bestselling author, Traci Andrighetti.

Franki Baby, Hurry Down the Chimney.

Seated on a barstool at Thibodeaux’s Tavern in N’awlins on Christmas Eve night is Ms. Francesca Lucia Amato, a purebred Italian, licensed PI, coveter of sassy wit, and pitifully repressed Catholic. While awaiting the arrival of her best friend, fellow Italian and fellow gumshoe, Veronica “Ronnie” Maggiano, our leading lady Franki is quietly thinking about Bradley Hartmann, the president of Pontchartrain bank and her new beau. On the evening in question, Franki’s thoughts of Bradley revolve around the romantic dinner that she is planning to make for him in celebration of their very first Christmas together. And keeping Franki company—at least conversationally—is her golden girl of a landlady, Glenda O’Brien, this fleeting cozy’s very own “Blanche Devereaux.”

Soon, Veronica—who also happens to be Franki’s employer—arrives and further chit chat ensues before the Houston native who is Franki receives a frantic call from her mother back home telling her that Franki’s nonna (that’s Italian slang for “grandmother,” boys and girls) has gone missing.

The vanished nonna, whose given name is Carmela Montalbano, has left no leads, whatsoever, as to her whereabouts, nor has she called home to relay any indication. And this news immediately unnerves our certified sleuth who is now in detective mode and homebound. Veronica—who will be spending Christmas in Houston with her family anyway—has offered to drop her bestie off along the way, and from there, Cagney & Lacey, er, Amato & Maggiano head on out—Texas or bust.

Many unanswered questions lay in the wake of the eighty-three-year-old nonna Montalbano’s suspicious disappearance, including who the “Man in Black” was that a neighbor of the popular deli-owning Amato clan witnessed hustling Carmela into the backseat of a black, stretch limousine in broad daylight, and what those splotches that appear to be dried blood are in the family’s kitchen.

Franki doesn’t waste a minute of time pounding the pavement to query anyone else who may have seen or heard anything. She even pays a reluctant visit to her kinship group’s parish, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, to inquire of the clergyman in whom her Sicilian nonna emphatically puts her faith and trust—that clergyman being Father Nolan. Aside from patronizing our star investigator about her “still single” marital status, Father Nolan can be of no assistance to Franki regarding nonna Carmela’s orientation; he simply doesn’t know. But Father Joe—who’s acting awfully nervous for some strange reason—just might.

What on Earth has happened to Franki’s grandma? Has she been gobbled up by a big bad wolf? Has she fallen somewhere and can’t get up? Did she get run over by a raindeer while trying to get back to her family’s home on Christmas Eve? The inevitable, nutty as a fruitcake answer can be found right here on the hilarious pages of this holiday short story, brought to you by the humorous Traci Andrighetti.

Book 1 in the author’s Franki Amato Mysteries series, the 36-page Rosolio Red initially failed to ignite my undivided attention, but as the narrative progressed it ultimately found its footing and was able to evenly guide me along without any further stumbling.

Despite its Christmastime theme, I would recommend reading this zany cozy during anytime of the year when you may crave a quickie mystery with a side of hearty chuckle.

Because half-star ratings are not permitted in this particular system, I was faced with a “tough decision.” Should I rate this novella of fiction with four stars or five? Well, after weighing its pros and cons, the heft of its pros tipped the scale at just over 75%. With that, my decision was made.

Five gingerbread-flavored stars.

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Cat Ellington’s review of Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair

Returning: The Journey of Alexander SinclairReturning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair by Sharon Gunason Pottinger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While a buttery smooth preamble serves to set this heartwarming anecdote of insensitivity, regret, remorse, and absolution into motion, Sharon Gunason Pottinger, its Scotland-born author, transports the reader to a war-torn Kandahar, Afghanistan where the latter makes the fictional acquaintance of both Alexander Sinclair—our leading man, an author, and a freelance journalist—and William Tallgrass Macdonald, a Pulitzer Prize worthy photographer and Alexander’s editor, as the pair of Frontline-like correspondents travel together on assignment abroad.

The two Scottish colleagues—Alexander, an aborigine of Caithness; and William, an indigene of Edinburgh—are communing, casually, about life back home in their respective nativities, wondering aloud what changes have occured over all the years of their individual absences from their families, and sharing their ideas of just how they plan to right many wrongs upon their returns. The men continue their bond of communication with William discussing Ahmad, a young Afghan
boy who has become utmost special to him, and whether or not he should take Ahmad back to Scotland with him when that time comes. But thoughout their dialogue, neither Alexander nor William can foresee an impending tragedy. The men are being driven along a dusty Afghan road, with William leaning from the window and focusing his camera lens to seize the perfect shot, when their vehicle suddenly rolls over a rigged landmine, exploding and killing William Tallgrass Macdonald instantly. Alex luckily survives the blast, suffering only a mild concussion and a brief stretch of deafness.

Finally going home, although in shock and under mournful circumstances, Alexander escorts William’s boxed remains back to Edinburgh, delivering them to those by whom he is survived: his stoic father Andrew, and his profoundly aggrieved stepmother, Plyllidia. The couple provide Alexander with free room and board—not to mention clean clothing—preceding William’s funeral. And in the wake of his dear friend’s eulogized burial, Alexander vacates the environs of Edinburgh only to direct his fleeing feet right back into those of Caithness, and to the home of the would’ve-been wife and daughter that he selfishly abandoned sixteen years before for the sake of his new “job assignments.”

WELCOME TO
HISTORIC CAITHNESS
Member of Parliament
Established 1266
Treaty of Perth Flag_of_Caithness.svg

It is here in the lieutenancy area of Scotland, bounded to the south and west by Sutherland, that the literary script enters Heather and Lexie, the two most important women in the world to one Alexander Sinclair. Skipping out on Heather and their then three-year-old daughter, Lexie, all those years ago has plunged Alex into a cavernous ocean of regret. And in a penitent reflective mood—especially in the aftermath of his dear friend William’s death—the aging journalist has returned home to his geographical roots to make amends with his family, and to get it right this time if, perhaps, they would be willing to grant him a second chance. Nineteen-year-old Lexie is good and ready to receive her long-lost father back, willing to forgive him and to forget his egotistical iniquities, but her mum Heather? Not so much.

As weeks pass into months, Alex and Heather’s “reunion” is anything but happy as the volatile spitfire prefers to unleash her pent-up rage on the man who so effortlessly abandoned her and their daughter only to reappear as though he never had, even too nonchalantly. Alex desperately fancies repentance, however, after too long an absence as both a husband and a father, it’s just not going to be that easy. But is anything ever?

Poetically scribed and harmoniously structured by the evidently talented Sharon Gunason Pottinger, Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair is 100 easy-going pages of pure astonishment. A serene, calm, lovely, and relaxing fiction, were the European-set novella a musical genre, it would indeed be that of extremely mellow Easy Listening.

Alexander Sinclair is one of those protagonists that the reader will either pity, hate, become annoyed by, or passionately love. And to my particular reader, every one of those emotions—especially that of love—applied. I especially loved this man more so. He is as much strong as he is weak. And despite his many ill-advised decisions, still, his compassionate and undying love for his family overrules. Unfortunately, the ghastly death of a good friend—right before his very eyes—is what it took to bring Alexander Sinclair back into the sphere of reality, and force him to the understanding that time waits for no one.

Not a single man or woman has ever gotten it just right, and not a single man or woman ever will. Mistakes will be made, that is why erasers exist. But the tenacity of this narrative’s leading man going out of way to correct his own is certain to galvanize the reader into an emotional reaction, even to the point of shedding a tear . . . or two.

To those readers who absolutely love the genres of Historical fiction and Cultural Heritage, I would avow that Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair is for each and everyone of you a must-read.

Five Great Scott!—er, Great Scot!—stars.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Pottinger Publishing, as well as Sharon Gunason Pottinger herself, for the author-issued copy of Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of “Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair” by Sharon Gunason Pottinger is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington: https://catellingtonblog.wordpress.com

Date of Review: Friday, January 12, 2018

• Note to the author: Sharon, reading your (well) written composition had brought to me nothing short of genuine enjoyment. And I humbly thank you for your loving gesture in gifting me with a personally signed copy of said effort in honor of Reviews by Cat Ellington.

I will forever bless that fateful day in July of 2017 when both my husband (Joseph Strickland) and you crossed paths for the very first time in our beloved Chicago. That fortunate day had brought upon itself a massive rain storm in which the two of you—along with a generous bunch of others—found yourselves stranded. I say ‘fortunate’ because had it not been for that major rain storm which had delayed all of your travels, Joe and you probably wouldn’t have ever met, and I would not have ever come to know of you by way of him. Therefore, I will forever bless that fateful day. Your warm spirit is what had attracted him to your conversation. And it was meant to be as he was soon made aware of your work as a novelist, and you were soon made aware of me and my work at RCE. Of course, one thing soon led to another and here we are. Now, that’s fate. Beautiful fate.

Though your primary residence be based in Scotland, respectively, Chicago is still your esteemed second city . . . literally. And of that, we are truly proud. Sharon, I want you to know that our family will always cherish this signed work of fiction that you have given us, even for generations. On that, you can most definitely count. Not only do I congratulate you on all of your fictional releases, but I also pray that God will continue to greatly bless you and yours through their circulation.

Lovingly,

Cat Ellington
Reviews by Cat Ellington

• The official flag of Caithness—in association with this analysis—is featured courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington

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Cat Ellington’s review of The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between UsThe Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday.”
— I’ll Never Love This Way Again (1979)
Format: Sound Recording
Vocalist: Dionne Warwick
Credits: Kerr (Richard) and Jennings (Will)WifeBetweenUs_BlogTourBannerv2r1(1)

A Popular Misconception.

One might be tempted to assume (and understandably so) that having considerable monetary riches and vast material wealth would account for a life of blissful happiness and serene peace. Because practically every aspect of society conditions us to wholeheartedly believe such an illusion and to settle it in our minds as the gospel truth. But is verifiable happiness genuinely dependent upon how “obese” any given person’s piggy bank is? And does the gift of peace reserve itself exclusively for those whose residential environs, garages, walk-in closets, shoe storage shelves, handbag organizers, and watch cases (or cabinets) contain only the most opulent of man-made fineries?

What constitutes authentic happiness? What would you say constitutes authentic peace? Do vast riches? Does great wealth?

Can anyone—regardless of the monetary or material things that he or she may possess—honestly obtain the dynamic duo of authentic happiness along with authentic peace if they have yet to obtain spiritual edification because they have a common enemy troubling their minds in order to cause confusion?

If one were to ask the manic Vanessa Thompson, star of the immensely complex psychological suspense currently under review, any of those thought-provoking questions, her answer to that someone would undoubtedly be, ‘Absolutely not!’

The Setup.

Imagine, if you will, being courted and swept off the soles of your feet by the Prince Charming of your wildest and most erotic fantasies. He’s tall, athletic, breathtakingly handsome, upstanding, and outrageously rich and wealthy. He also treats you royally, and to you, that is an added plus. Nothing is too good for you (his future princess)—not the five-star dining establishments, or vintage wines imported from the most renowned regions in the world, or the most sought after ready-to-wear from only the top-tiered designers, or the exotic, first-class vacations, or even the top-rated luxury vehicles according to the Kelly Blue Book—as far as Prince Charming is concerned. He has it all. And he spoils you with it all. The crystal glass slipper that he holds fits your foot perfectly. And he has chosen to take you, and only you, to wife. Of course, you’re elated. What woman wouldn’t be? So you gladly—no, frantically—accept Prince Charming’s marriage proposal, internally bidding farewell to all of life’s financial woes and slave freight basket struggles. The two of you are a match made in an Earthly heaven.

Not only do you wear well the crystal glass slipper that he has so delicately slipped onto your foot, but also the huge and exquisite diamond ring (Tiffany and Co., eat your heart out) that he has slipped onto your eagerly awaiting finger. He treats all of your closest friends and family members well, providing for them whatever it is that they may be in need or desire of, including all-expense paid (first-class) trips. Your Prince Charming is the absolutely perfect gentleman . . . until he makes you his own . . . legally . . . bound by the sanctity of marriage . . . and you soon come to realize . . . with the passing of time . . . that you’ve married into a nightmare . . . that you’ve married “Martin Burney.”

In this dispirited Sleeping with the Enemyesque thriller, we will come to meet a woman who was swept clean off the soles of her feet by just that, what such a too-good-to-be-true delusion.

The Evaluation.

Co-authored by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, The dark, intriguing, quietly chaotic, and inescapable The Wife Between Us acquaints the storyline’s readers with the troubled lives of its leading lady Vanessa Thompson, her husband Richard Thompson, Richard’s sister Maureen Thompson, a woman named Nellie, a woman named Emma, and Vanessa’s only surviving relative, her Aunt Charlotte, as they each intertwine through the gloomy locales of New York City and Florida.

Vanessa Thompson apprises her heavily neurotic witness as a woman who desperately struggles to cling to a destructive past long dissolved into a forgotten eternity. Married for a respectable number of years to a fabulously wealthy New York hedge fund executive named Richard, Vanessa’s hellish account of Richard’s and her so-called happy marriage sheds a harsh light on the façade that it had been, and the constant pain and suffering imposed upon her by the passive/aggressive “Prince Richard” whenever she fell prey to his devious wrath.

Plagued by a mass of bloodthirsty demons vying to obtain complete control over her already tormented mind, the crestfallen Vanessa becomes a hunted and haunted soul: her dreadful past haunts her, her inability to conceive a child haunts her, the memory of her late mother—”demented” as she had been—haunts her, her father’s sudden death haunts her, memories of her ghastly marriage to Richard haunt her. And as her appalling witness continues to unfurl, Vanessa delineates how she had been a woman beaten into submission by the man she thought she loved, and whom she too thought loved her . . . before he discarded her compliant sentiments for the surrendering vulva of her doppelgänger, Nellie.

In the wake of their unsweetened divorce, this narrative’s “Prince Charming,” who is Richard Thompson, has taken his crystal glass slipper to the next village in search of Vanessa’s replacement. And he finds both that woman and her dainty foot in a young, fair-haired, curvy, and vibrant Nellie, a twenty-eight-year-old educator who adoringly refers to her three-year-old students at the Learning Ladder preschool of Manhattan as her “Cubs.” Vanessa’s spitting image, Nellie is wholly enthusiastic about marrying the rich and powerful Richard, and is in the happy process of making her wedding day arrangements when her embittered predecessor intercedes.

Unable to move on after her divorce from Richard, and with so much on the firing line including her job position at the unparalleled Saks, the insomniac who is Vanessa has weakly given in to the demons attacking her worldly mind, even to the extreme of depriving her own being of the proper nourishment and rest that it so eagerly craves. In point of fact, Vanessa is a woman hanging by a string.

The insanity begins to build . . .

She cannot eat. She cannot sleep. And she cannot allow Richard to marry again. She must do away with Nellie. It is imperative. She must see her up close and personal. It is imperative. She must stalk her. It is imperative. She must mimick her. It is imperative. She must stop the “royal wedding” from ever taking place. It is imperative.

While reduced to living with her Aunt Charlotte—a self-employed artist with her own health woes to spare—in a grizzled New York apartment near Eighty-sixth Street and Central Park West, Vanessa sustains to sink deeper into her pitch black well of demonic warfare as her intellect has come under the quotidian assault of depression, self-hatred, self-pity, alcoholism, fear, anxiety, worry, doubt, envy, jealousy, paranoia, denial, and delusional lying—only a small batch of the spiritually demonic thoughts that have waged a vigorous war on their targeted human in a concentrated endeavor to completely destroy her . . . both body and soul.

Yes, the regretful Vanessa is a soul haunted by the madness of her own culpable conscience. And this same culpable conscience despairingly tells her that she cannot allow the beautiful, young, curvy, fair-haired, and devoutly attentive Emma to marry Richard.

She must preoccupy her conflicted mind with enemy-centered thoughts of Emma. It is imperative. Emma must become her new stalkee. It is imperative. She must confront Emma. It is imperative. She must prevent Emma from marrying Richard. It is imperative.

The insanity steadily builds . . .

Is He Prince Charming . . . Or A Toad?

Richard Thompson—who traded in the sagging bustline of his loyal wife in exchange for the youthful, perky bosom of another—may or may not be his own miserable and tumultuous soul. As the rattling skeletal remains of long dead and buried secrets angrily threaten to emerge themselves from the darkened confines of his expensively attired proverbial closet, Richard Thompson is a man who is constantly on edge. He appears stable, yes, but is he really? With his only living relative being an older sister named Maureen—to whom Richard is “peculiarly” close, I might add—Richard Thompson is a problematic individual of an utmost borderline personality.

Having great monetary riches, Richard Thompson can easily fund the two places of dwelling that he so arrogantly holds down: one, a luxurious apartment in Manhattan; the other, a mansion—er, castle—of sorts in Westchester. The cultured one-percenter lives very well and nurtures an insatiable penchant for only the most grandiose afforded to those of his financial hierarchy: leisurely, high-class travels around the world, upper crust cocktail parties flowing with Raveneau and shucked brine oysters on the half shell, Alvin Ailey galas, dates to the Philharmonic, extravagant ballets, sporting events, live shows on Broadway, and countless other sumptious enjoyments of equal ranking.

To his many well-heeled friends and business associates alike, Richard Thompson projects to have it all together on his “caring, attentive, kind, and honorable” physical surface. But that which lies beneath the knightly exterior—lurking in Richard Thompson’s innermost soul—is an eternities-old and rabid spiritual predator, threatening to claw his way out. And he is not an immortal predator that intends to spare his host, or any other equivalent for that matter. His main purpose, for the most part, is to ingest whole his mortal prey. Richard Thompson’s inner predator so critically needs to carnage. It is imperative.

As the insanity intensifies—compliments of Mankind’s one true enemy—plaguing thoughts of Vanessa’s chilling past make time to disturb her defeated mind: Are you crazy? Of course, you are; you got it from your loony mother! Where’s your best friend, Samantha? Hmm? You lost her, didn’t you? Daniel! Maggie needed you! Where did you go? ‘You can’t leave me!’ Maggie had whined. ‘You can’t leave meeee!’

Will you survive? How will you make it? Where is your strength? You stupid, weak, mortal human! Do you really believe that you can beat me?

Vanessa Thompson is damned if she doesn’t at least try.

The Summation.

Reeking in a blended demonic stench of mania, terror, and obsession, The Wife Between Us probes deep into the human psyche to expose the truth—ugly as it may be to some—about the unmerciful consequences of unrebuked spiritual warfare. And Hendricks, along with Pekkanen, outdo themselves revealing it. In essence, spiritual warfare is prevalent to all humankind. And not even one of us who is existent in this three-dimensional physical realm is immune to it. No, not even one of us.

Our spiritual enemy’s meticulous and systematic method: destroy the human mind, destroy the human body. Once the human mind becomes corrupted, the rest of the body is sure to follow. And in the severely unsettled lives of our top-billed cast, the two consummate novelists—Hendricks and Pekkanen, respectively—encapture this Hadean enrapture pristinely.

In all of my years as a reader of prose literature, The Wife Between Us is the very first co-authored effort that I’ve ever perused over that full extent of time. And I am inclined to admit that I was originally biased towards the co-composition, what prejudging that such a collaboration (in any literary work of fiction) couldn’t possibly produce the same solid result as a traditional novel of a sole authorship and a singular vision. But I was wrong. It actually turned out to be a rather interesting reading experience.

While I found the storyline to be somewhat tedious in taking a bit too long to arrive at its point, and slightly complicated as it maneuvered around two entirely individual visions, nevertheless, the same eventually managed to show itself surprisingly approved with the turning of each excitement-building page, rendering a highly respectable and intensely riveting subject matter that held my interest tightly until the time of its highly combustible, you-won’t-even-see-it-coming conclusion. And for that, I commend the joint authorship. Yes, I stand corrected.

Overall, is The Wife Between Us a psychological suspense thriller that I would avidly recommend to those innumerable pundits of the admirable and fabled subgenre? It most definitely is.

Five psychosis affected stars.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank St. Martin’s Press, as well as NetGalley, for the advanced review copy (ARC) of The Wife Between Us in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington: https://catellingtonblog.wordpress.com

Date of Review: Monday, January 08, 2018

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Cat Ellington’s review of White Christmas (A Live To Tell Short Story)

White Christmas (A Live To Tell Short Story)White Christmas by Bianca Sloane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

📰 CHICAGO MOON-TIMES 📰
EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!

Prominent Gold Coast Doctor Charged
In Grisly Murder Of Mistress

By Cat Ellington | December 25, 2017 11:42pm

CHICAGO — Dr. Charles Morgan, a well-known and highly respected cardiologist with a successful medical practice on the city’s ritzy Gold Coast, has been arrested and charged with murder in the brutal stabbing death of Tamra Washington, a local cocktail waitress and the married doctor’s alleged mistress.

It is believed that Washington, who was in her twenties, had been romantically involved with the wealthy, forty-something Morgan for quite some time prior to her death.

Authorities discovered the butchered remains of Tamra Washington in the bedroom of her Uptown apartment on the city’s North Side, as well as evidence of her intimate, extramarital affiliation with Dr. Morgan, a resident of the posh suburb of Winnetka.

Dr. Charles Morgan, who Chicago police say is their only suspect in the crime, has been arrested and charged with Washington’s murder, and is now in jail awaiting arraignment.
(Cat Ellington contributing – https://catellingtonblog.wordpress.com)

The WASPs.

It’s Christmastime and Dr. Charles Morgan, a denizen of the ostentatiously rich exurb of Winnetka, a respectably revered mastermind in the astonishing branch of cardiological medicine, a hated husband, and a descendant of centuries-old wealth (or old money, if you will) belonging to his elitist pedigree—the powerful Morgan family of the tony Chicago suburb of Lake Forest—is sitting in prison, charged with murdering his beloved mistress, an African American cocktail waitress named Tamra Washington. And nearly every living member of his blond-haired, blue-eyed bloodline is convinced that Charles is guilty as sin and has dreadfully shamed the Morgan family’s “good—no, great—name.”

His ornery and judgmental father Clayton Morgan, his Chardonnay guzzling and judgmental mother Celia Morgan, his uptight cousin C.K. “I’ll go wherever the winds blows” Morgan, and even his eldest son Chase (the Louis Winthorpe III of the Live To Tell 3-part Series) all believe that Charles is a merciless murderer . . . a disgrace . . . and a menace. Charles’s actions, according to his contemptible parents, are an outrage. And they together have all but disowned him. Only his loyal sister Charlotte stands assured of her brother’s innocence. And Charlotte’s husband Rex has been given no choice other than to side with his wife.

This is the heated topic under discussion at Fairmore—the palatial childhood home of one Dr. Charles Morgan—according to one Jillian Vaughn Morgan, his scorned and humiliated “ice queen” of a wife—whom, by the way, narrates this spiritually arctic suspense novella in the first person.

As the gilded Morgan clan are congregated together at the family estate in the wake of attending Christmas Eve services at their respective church St. James, Jillian plays her part well in the presence of her equally acidic in-laws. Not even one suspects that they’ve a cold-blooded rattler in their midst. But they do. And much like themselves her hair is too the shade of gold, and her eyes are too the hue of a wintry blue.

In this, the second installment of Bianca Sloane’s Live To Tell trilogy, Jillian Vaugn Morgan continues her embittered and chilling witness to the reader of just how she set out to destroy the perfectly privileged life of her husband by framing him for the heinous murder of his own mistress whom he unapologetically loved, even moreso than he did her.

What were the actual events that occurred during the time frame of her husband’s incarceration? What happened at the opulent Winnetka dwellings of Dr. and Mrs. Charles Morgan on Christmas day after Jillian returned home only to find Charles—released on bail—awaiting her? There were any number of unanswered questions following Live To Tell. And here, a remarkably frigid Jillian Vaughn Morgan casually provides the reader with a savage play-by-play eerily reminiscsent of Investigation Discovery.

Immensely recommended, White Christmas (A Live To Tell Short Story) is nothing less than what I have come to expect from the phenomenally gifted Bianca Sloane. Blessed with astounding literary wisdom, the ingenious novelist is more than worthy of the praise being heaped upon her—both personally and professionally—as hers is a fascinating ability in relation to the unrivaled craft of writing.

A perfect between meal snack to tide over those present-day and would-be fans of the hugely suspenseful Live To Tell trilogy, White Christmas (A Live To Tell Short Story) is keenly articulate in discourse, and reads in less than forty-five minutes.

It is in a spirit of colossal jubilation that I anticipate the conclusion of Live To Tell and White Christmas with the release of Tell Me No Lies, as I am almost certain that the narrative will effortlessly uphold its own, and render a greater esteem to its attributable author in the dexterous Ms. Sloane.

Five Christmas tree topper stars.

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