PUBLISHED BY: Independently published by Amazon, February 7, 2021
ISBN: 9798705975495
Review copy provided by author
Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This is no ordinary romance. It’s set in the present, without the Corona or Covid 19 virus, or whatever the hell they’re calling it now, to spoil the fun. A nice widowed lady named Cassandra Cortez DeMaio, Cassie to her friends, runs into an old high school friend at her uncle’s funeral. Doctor Kevin Berrigan, dentist, with a practice in Long Island, has been divorced long enough to be comfortable with the way his life is now. But meeting Cassie again after all these years makes the strings of his heart go zing!

Cassie, whose late husband left her with enough good memories to make her less than eager to replace him, suddenly sees her old friend in a new light, especially after Claire, one of her female friends, makes a snippy remark about his divorce; obviously she’s on the ex-wife’s side. Cassie, whose own memories of the ex-wife are less than fond, decides Kevin deserves a second chance. So she gives him her email and they end up video chatting each other almost every night. She always begins her emails with “Sweet greetings from Carthage!” (the village in Jefferson County, upstate New York, where she lives) and their long distance romance eventually turns into the real thing, with romantic dates and overnight sleepovers.

Next thing you know, Kevin pops the question in a romantic Italian restaurant, presenting her with a nice diamond ring before the entrée. Cassie accepts happily and agrees to move to Long Island, selling her share of the hobby shop she owns, along with her house, so they can be together. But just when the future is looking so bright, it begins to darken. Shortly after moving into Kevin’s house, Cassie starts getting headaches and forgetting things, like her own brother’s name when it appears on her phone’s screen. Unable to decide whether this is the natural result of aging (both lovers are 50+) or symptoms of a more serious problem, she agrees to see a neurosurgeon. The diagnosis: Cassie is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Panic ensues as Cassie imagines herself deteriorating into a senile old woman, rejected by Kevin, an object of pity to her family and friends. After calling her mother with the news, she collapses into a tearful heap in a closet at Kevin’s house, leaving her mother to call Kevin with the news. Kevin, understandably upset at not getting the news from Cassie first, leaves work early and comes home to find her hiding in the closet, still weeping. After coaxing her out, he tries to comfort her but it turns into an argument over whether they should still get married. He’s still willing, but she’s afraid of becoming a burden on him. It ends with him storming out of the house and driving to a friend’s house in the rain, while she calls her friend Claire, who quickly arrives to comfort her while saying “I told you so” between supportive sentences, believing Kevin to be abandoning her friend the same way he did his ex-wife (who, by the way, has already remarried and had children, so he didn’t exactly ruin her life).

Kevin arrives at his friend Peter’s house, the same guy he invited to be his best man. But instead of being sympathetic to Cassie’s plight, Peter urges him to dump her because she’s damaged goods. He’s only thinking of how Cassie’s Alzheimer’s will affect Kevin, but this insensitive advice almost gets him a knuckle sandwich. Fortunately, Peter’s wife Kate intervenes and manages to calm things down, informing them that a great many medical advances have been made in the last few years so that Alzheimer’s is no longer the slow death sentence it used to be. Peter realizes how insensitive he’s been and apologizes to Kevin, who decides to stick by Cassie no matter what. He returns home to find Cassie being comforted by Claire, who glares at him, expecting him to reject her friend. But he embraces her instead, reassuring both Cassie and Claire that he does love her enough to go through with the wedding.

And so, with a great deal of support from friends and family, as well as prescriptions and dietary suggestions from Cassie’s doctor, the wedding is still on. As the lovers join hands at St. Rose of Lima Church during the Memorial Day weekend, Cassie is relieved and comforted to know that Kevin will always stand by her in the days to come, no matter how dark they get. Isn’t that what every woman hopes for from the man she loves? Even if she doesn’t have a potentially fatal disease. Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is no ordinary romance. Despite the happy ending being shadowed by the prospect of a long, downhill slide into forgetfulness, Cassie can be sure that Kevin will never forget her or cease to love and care for her.

THE SANTA HEIST and other Christmas stories

TITLE: THE SANTA HEIST and other Christmas stories
ISBN: 9781689023665

Christmas came early this year for me and other fans of urban fantasy, especially those who like John L. French and Patrick Thomas. “The Santa Heist and other Christmas stories” is a collection of stories about Christmas, written in the irreverent, smart-alecky style of our boy Patrick, and his colleague John L. French, whose stories have a more serious tone and are much darker. His past as a crime scene supervisor shows in the way he depicts the dark side of humanity without flinching. Both of them collaborated on the cover story, “The Santa Heist”, about a gang of henchmen who decide to sleigh-jack Santa so the poor kids in Harbor City can have a happy Christmas for once, without having to settle for the cheap, knockoff toys. The rest of the stories run the gamut from sad to glad.

In French’s “All I Want for Christmas”, an abusive husband and father gets his just deserts after his young son’s letter to Santa is delivered to Satan by mistake, because of an innocent spelling error by the child. Bianca Jones, French’s badass detective who took on the Devil and won, meets him once again as a confidential informant in “A Gift Freely Given”, as he lets her know about a plot to steal certain religious relics from the local museum, particularly one that may have been in the stable the night Jesus was born. Speaking of that night, a French story that moved me to tears, “The Inner Light”, is about the angel who guarded Mary through her pregnancy and single-backhandedly defeated the five demons sent to destroy the Christ child on that blessed night. You wouldn’t think a sweet, black angel with ash gray wings was a match for five powerful demons, but the inner light of her faith was enough to help her route them all, though it left her badly wounded.

Thomas’s stories provide a more light-hearted contrast, with the exception of one that sent shivers down my spine at the conclusion; “Out of Bethlehem”, which tells us what happened to the babies left in Bethlehem after the Holy Family escaped to Egypt. Every Christian knows about the slaughter of the innocents, when King Herod sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill every baby boy under the age of two, to rid himself of the newborn King of the Jews. One baby boy escapes the slaughter thanks to an angel of the Lord who rescues the mother from the Roman soldiers pursuing her. He tells the mother that her son has “a great destiny to complete”, but when I found out who her son was, I wondered whether this was the Angel of Death. Two of Patrick’s Christmas stories from his Murphy’s Lore series are reprinted here, “Pining Away” starring Agent Karver and his partner Mandy Cobb from the Department of Mystic Affairs, where they take on a dryad who murdered a suburban family after they unknowingly chopped down her tree to decorate it for Christmas, and “Hell’s Covenant”, with the gang from Bulfinche’s Pub fighting to protect Toni, their waitress, from the demon she unknowingly made a bargain with for shelter, in exchange for her unborn baby.

These two gentlemen alternate between serious and humorous stories, even the serious ones frequently containing a note of humor, like Patrick’s puns and French’s reference to Rocky and Bullwinkle in “Joy to the World”, where the angel who saved Baby Jesus makes an encore appearance. I enjoyed every story, even the ones that made me sad, because Christmas is about joy and sorrow and life and death, something people frequently forget in their greed for gifts and their desire to one-up everyone else in the giving and receiving of gifts. So if you’re looking for a good read for Christmas, get a copy of “The Santa Heist” for yourself or for someone you love who loves Christmas. It’s dedicated to “all those who honor Christmas in their hearts and who try to keep it all the year”, a quote from Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, which is represented here by “Saving Marley”, a story by John French. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good read!

Book Review: The Mug Life

ISBN: 978-1-890096-84-7

It’s been a while since I wrote a review of any of Patrick Thomas’ works. The closest I came was my review for “Release The Virgins” on June 10th, an anthology by Michael Ventrella to which Patrick contributed a short story, “The Running of The Drones”. That was done with his usual flair. Now here comes another volume in the Murphy’s Lore After Hours series, in which we learn of the misadventures of Murphy’s motley crew of gods and monsters, along with pixies, demons, immortals and just plain folks along for the ride.

Our man John Murphy tells us two tales in this assortment of stories about the mug life (whether he’s referring to the mugs he fills at Bulfinche’s Pub or the mugs who work and drink there is anyone’s guess). The first one is about an angry man who shows up at Bulfinche’s with his two kids and a gun, determined to repay his ex-wife for taking his kids, the house and half his pension. Murphy manages to defuse the situation with the help of his co-workers and the Mayan death goddess Ixtab, who specializes in suicide, and was there to counsel another customer suffering from terminal cancer. The second story takes place on one of Murphy’s rare days off, when he goes to a mall and runs into Jason Cervantes the cross-dressing cop and Bubba Sue the gremlin, who are now dating. The three of them end up at a lingerie shop, where they have to defuse another bad situation between an angry young woman with a bomb strapped to her chest and one on her ex-boyfriend’s. Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for the guy; he screwed her over badly and even got her deported to Mexico to end their relationship, and she doesn’t even speak Spanish. Two prime examples of love’s labors lost.
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Release The Virgins

Title: Release The Virgins
By: Michael A. Ventrella, editor
Published by: Fantastic Books
Isbn: 1-5151-2384-0/978-1-5154-2384-3
Review copy sent by Publisher
Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This is the second best book I’ve ever read that was written on a dare. The first was “Frankenstein” by 18-year-old Mary Shelley, after she and her future husband, the poet Percy Shelley, spent a wet summer at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland with their friend Lord Byron, where it wouldn’t stop raining. They spent most of their time reading ghost stories in front of the fireplace during all those dark and stormy nights, which inspired Byron to suggest that they all write a ghost story of their own. Poor Mary spent many sleepless nights wracking her brain to come up with a scary story, until she had a nightmare about “a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later evolved into the novel’s story.”[Wikipedia, “Frankenstein”]. I think we all agree that Mary Shelley won that competition.
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Otakon 2018 – a con in review

The second year of Otakon in Washington, DC was a weekend filled with fun surprises. There were guests of all media from culture with the Shinto Priestess Kanawa Kuniko to Man-at-Arms, cosplayers Serena Dejesus to production with Square Enix Producer Kimura Yasutaka and Studio Trigger President Otsuka Masahiko. Highlighted guests were Conductors Arnie and Eric Roth for the Distant Worlds orchestra with the esteemed composer Uematsu Nobuo and a treat for us all: Cheritz developer, Sujin Ri with the Korean voice actors from the popular, Mystic Messenger mobile game. There was alot to take in, alot to reminiscence, creating a weekend we will not soon forget.

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Otakon 2018 – Mobile Suit Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans panel

The host opened the panel with a call to cosplayers to join the staff for photos at the end of the panel. They also plugged the boxsets available at the booth. The limited edition is available online which includes the Barbatos gunpla. After introducing the guests, they asked them to talk about how long they have been in the industry.
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Otakon 2018 – Distant Worlds concert

Since Distant Worlds started in 2007, I’ve been to all their concerts in the New York area. And every concert has been a wonderful experience of music, animation and story. A celebration with fans of music and game. But for Otakon to host the concert was a rare treat for attendees. And it was even rarer for me to be able to take photos to memorialize the evening after only savoring with my eyes and ears for so long.
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Book Review: FIERCE: The History of Leopard Print

TITLE: FIERCE: The History of Leopard Print
BY: Jo Weldon
PUBLISHED BY: Harper Design, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPubishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-269295-5
Review copy provided by author

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This book is dedicated to “the BIG Cats, the people they INSPIRE, and the people who work to preserve their lives and HABITATS.” But it’s intended for all you wild things out there who love to wear leopard print. It’s a historic study of the vivid, spotted fur of a beautiful beast whose strength and independent nature inspired women, who are usually the downtrodden, powerless members of society, to be strong and fearless too.

Being a livelong lover of leopard print myself, I have worn it in every way possible. My favorite loafers and sneakers are leopard print; so is a well-worn pair of high heels, along with one of my mock turtleneck tops, a short-sleeved blouse and a pair of stretch pants. Of course I have a leopard print nightgown, and a sleepshirt, as well as pajamas. I also have a leopard print bra, for which I have yet to find matching undies. I laugh to scorn the conventional notion that women over fifty shouldn’t wear leopard print. I’ve worn it more often since I turned fifty. I use it as an accessory, to set off my favorite clothes. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to wear head to toe leopard print, though certain celebrities, from Peg Bundy of “Married With Children” to Pat Benatar, who regularly performed in a leotard or catsuit, are not shy about doing so.
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