Monday, November 28, 2016

Book Nook Review of "SWIM SEASON," by Marianne Sciucco


Marianne Sciucco’s captivating YA novel, SWIM SEASON, is the “All The Right Moves,” of swimming, illustrating the high-stakes pressure placed on premier athletes whose collegiate hopes and dreams are pinned to success in the pool. As the mother of a competitive swimmer, Sciucco draws from first-hand experience, giving readers a real glimpse into the mindset of these elite swimmers, whose bonds of friendship are tested on the starting blocks, while they also deal with all the other demands of youth.

Swim Season is more than a story about swimming. It is a story of friendship, family loyalty, hard work, and dedication. A whopper of a book, it weighs in at just under six hundred pages. Don’t panic. Sciucco breaks the book down into eighty-eight short, satisfying chapters that allow readers to nibble at the book for days. I found the characters and situations so compelling that I grabbed my tablet every time I had a moment. Yes, it’s that good.

The book opens with tough and guarded transfer student, Aerin Keane, walking into tryouts for Division Champions Two Rivers High School Girls Varsity Swim and Dive Team. Divorce, and other troubles we are dying to understand, cause Two Rivers to be the senior’s third high school. More troubling is that she’s not living with either parents. By the time Aerin shoots off the block for her inaugural swim at Two Rivers, we are hooked and hungry for answers.

Marianne Sciucco doles out breadcrumbs at a delicious pace, while always keeping us at the edge of the darkness, compelling us to follow willingly. Kudos for Sciucco’s characters, who are distinct and complex, as are their individual voices. Aside from Jordan, the team bully, the author makes it difficult to separate good girls and mean girls. All are flawed. All are compelling. All have moments of redemption. We empathize with Aerin and all these young athletes who bear adult responsibilities and pressures while having little to no control over their environments and family lives. 

The book is a resounding testament to the complexities of this stressful, sometimes fickle, almost always sleep-deprived, season of life, where friendships are fragile, families are complicated, and big money and entire futures are on the line. I highly recommend Swim Season. All athletes will see themselves in the sacrifice and dedication displayed here, and people who love a young competitor will better understand the mindset of those who do not merely play a sport, but who identify as “athletes.”

SWIM SEASON is available at Amazon

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Giveaway for US Military Personnel

Romance author and friend, Donna Hatch, is a military mom with a son serving in the Air Force and deployed to the Middle East. She understands how hard the holidays can be for the brave men and women who are deployed during the holidays.

Donna also knows that a good read, and just being thought of, can lessen the loneliness of soldiers far from home. To that end, she set up a book giveaway for our men and women in uniform who can't be home for the holidays this year, and asked some friends, myself included, to donate books.

Do you know a member of the military who will be deployed this Christmas? What types of books does he/she enjoy? The list of titles and genres of the donated books is available here. Choose one and enter a service members name in the rafflecopter giveaway starting November 18.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

WE ARE ALZAUTHORS: The Inspiration Behind "Dragons."

I was honored when Marianne Sciucco, (author of the newly released "Swim Season,") invited me to guest post on the "We Are Alzauthors" blog. Marianne, and several other authors impacted by dementia/Alzheimers, began this blog "to provide resources for those living with dementia, and their caregivers." Collectively, this group offers decades of experience in living joyfully in spite of this disease. Here's the article, but please visit the site and check out my friends' books. Their stories will remind you that you are not alone.
Like our family, my proposed WWII mystery, “The Dragons of Alsace Farm,” was also changed by our mother’s diagnosis of dementia.
After my father’s passing, Mom threw herself into her farm and animals, finding purpose in the care of her “babies” and the maintenance of her land. Progress on the book slowed when our previously happy, healthy mother began exhibiting signs of what we assumed was depression, needing more of our time and care. Her mood swings were erratic and her reality seemed very skewed. She was often sick, and we suspected that her hygiene and cooking skills were slipping, causing recurring stomach distress.
Over and over, we took her to her internist, pulling the physician aside to express our concerns that something was amiss. Each time, Mom charmed her, redirecting all questions about her health and routine to another topic with the skill of a railroad switch operator. We were always assured that she was great, and dismissed without getting any solid help. But the changes increased, and a neurologist finally concluded that Mom had dementia. Fear became her new reality. Fear, frustration, and guilt became ours. 
After interviews with caregivers, loved ones, and health care providers, we realized we weren’t alone. Although most people are impacted by dementia in some way, I was aware of only a few books tackling the topic. I decided to ramp up the tension in my book by placing my WWII survivor, Agnes, on the dementia spectrum, allowing me to offer readers a glimpse into the impact of the disease on individuals and entire families.
Soon after Mom’s diagnosis, we found a young couple with mild disabilities who wanted more independence. They moved into Mom’s home for a time, offering farm help and companionship in exchange for rent. Mom believed she was helping them, and they felt they were helping her. As a result, the three of them rose above their limitations to lift and serve one another. 
Inspired by these observations, I spoke with counselors at the local Department of Aging to see if we could pair people who have a home but need help, with people who could help but need a home.
Legal barriers killed the idea, but I decided to introduce this dynamic into the book. I turned to two friends/family therapists to help me accurately create Noah and Tayte—characters with alternative challenges who would similarly impact Agnes. My mystery had now morphed into a family drama about internal dragons—the fears and secrets we all battle.
It’s been very gratifying to see how people are reacting to the book. Many say it hits close to home. Readers love the characters, especially Agnes, who reminds them of some loved one who has been similarly affected by dementia. They also mention the hopeful, redemptive message in “The Dragons of Alsace Farm.”

On a personal note, writing “Dragons” was cathartic and healing. Writing Agnes’s scenes helped me step away from my concerns and see things from Mom’s perspective. Like Tayte, I finally stopped trying to “restore” her, and learned to appreciate her for whom, and where, she is. Like Noah, I recognize that she still remembers what matters most—love. 

Available on Amazon