Book Review: A NEST OF SNAKES by Deborah Levison

As a reviewer, it’s always such a pleasure to discover a writer whose style is fast-paced and doesn’t bog the reader down in details, whose storyline is fresh and different, and whose characters are unique and capture the imagination. For me, Deborah Levison is that kind of writer, and her first novel, A Nest Of Snakes is not one to miss if you enjoy psychological and/or legal thrillers.

From the onset of this absorbing tale, the very wealthy but reclusive protagonist, Brendan Cortland intrigues us. His behavior is strange; his mansion is filled with expensive purchases; he avoids everyone but his housekeeper, chauffeur, and therapist and he can’t stand being touched. Immediately we want to know why. When he agrees with his therapist to take his sorry case to court and begins confiding all the ugly details of his adolescent experiences in an exclusive, private boarding school in his beautiful lawyer, we are horrified and repulsed, but unable to stop reading.

While the primary plot is more than enough to keep us riveted, Levison has cleverly woven in several sub-plots around the supporting characters: the therapist, the Polish housekeeper and her chauffeur son; the young female lawyer and her father, and other students of Torburton Hall. Their stories all come together perfectly with some very unexpected twists at the end. In short, Levison never gives her readers’ imagination a dull moment! Terrific plotting and characterization make her writing a joy to read.

This is not Levison’s first book. Her previous publication, The Crate, was based on a true crime story involving her parents. After scanning the Amazon preview of that book and reading the many positive reviews, critical appraisals, and awards she received for it, it’s one I’d love to add to my reading list. As I said in my review opening, discovering Deborah Levison has been a real pleasure. I, for one, will be keeping an eye out for her next book.

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers Favorite

The Prison Within

A Memoir of Breaking Free

by Don Cummins

On a very personal level, reading The Prison Within by Don Cummins was a real treat. I say this because I know from first-hand experience how much courage it takes to “come out” in print on a very private but painful subject. What makes Cummins’ achievement in writing this memoir even better is the importance of his subject: the heart-breaking struggle with drug addiction faced by far too many people of all ages.

What readers look for in any memoir, and one of the reasons I believe so strongly in this genre, is not just the narrator’s story complete with its rather unpleasant details, but seeing a happy ending. Readers need to come away not just informed, but wanting to celebrate the writer’s victory over his or her demons.

In his simple, friendly approach to telling his story, Don Cummins gives us all that, and so much more. Cummins moves smoothly back and forth between his present and past, which incidentally included many long years in prison and once out, several failed attempts to stay clean. So many times I found myself thinking “Oh no...not again!” I became almost as desperate as he must have felt to see him finally kick the habit. Well he not only did that, but  today Don has both a happy marriage, several children and a very successful career. And like so many of us who have successfully overcome adversity, he is ever understanding of others going through the same hell and wanting to help them.

Again, on a personal level, when Don finally nailed how and why he had become an addict, I was struck by his recognition of the primary issue. I realized that his feelings of inadequacy, of somehow being undeserving were deeply rooted in his childhood. Some folks find the inner strength to get on top of such feelings as they mature; others need much more help, and when they can’t get it through friends, family or therapy turn to chemical or alcoholic escape. It can take decades, as Don’s recovery did, and even then, one can never be sure there’ll be no further relapses.

I highlighted sections of this book to share with members of my own family. While their “addictions” are different, the long-term effects can be just as debilitating. But reading Don’s story will help them see explanations they might never have considered otherwise. Like any well-written memoir, The Prison Within deserves a wide readership. It could save your life of the life of  someone you love. Thanks for writing this memoir, Don Cummins. 5 stars all the way!

Viga Boland reviews A SAINT AND A SINNER, a memoir by Father Stephen H D...

A Saint and a Sinner

The Rise and Fall of a Beloved Catholic Priest

by Stephen Donnelly with Diane O'Bryan

What I’m about to tell you has little to do with the content and intentions of the authors of A Saint and a Sinner, the biography of a Catholic priest, Father Stephen Donnelly. It has everything to do with what I felt as I read the last few pages of this courageous memoir: I was overcome with a profound sadness that a man who’d fought so hard to win control over his various addictions, and was helping so many people, made one more bad mistake. That slip-up resulted in his excommunication from the Catholic Church.

In his honest and raw memoir, Stephen Donnelly shares details of his less than idyllic upbringing that resulted in his decision to become a priest. His great love of God, coupled with his genuine desire to serve God’s people, qualified him for the priesthood but...and it’s a big “but”...he was addicted to cocaine and eventually, alcohol. Worse yet, being celibate wasn’t possible as he was deeply in love with Camilla. Their secret relationship lasted 7 years until Stephen fell in love with Anna. Honestly, Hollywood scriptwriters couldn’t write a more eye-opening film script. 

But A Saint and A Sinner is no fiction movie. What Stephen, and other priests like him experience, is a most difficult, sometimes ugly reality: the priesthood is a lonely and demanding vocation. Growing up Catholic, how well I remember being in awe of, and just a little afraid of priests. But as an adult, I found it almost preposterous that young men, in their prime, were denied the right to sexual relationships. Over the years I often wondered how they managed the self-denial. Well, Donnelly’s memoir sheds much light on the real difficulties priests endure. Though Donnelly himself, thankfully, was not part of the paedophilia exposed in the film, “Spotlight”, he certainly earned his “sinner” title. But the moniker he earned, and deserves far more, is the second half of the book’s title: he is a saint.

I feel sure that if I were one of his parishioners, seeing all the good he did to help others recover from addictions, the dedication he brought to his duties, and the genuine love he continues to have for his vocation and Church, I would forgive him for all those sins. As for what got him excommunicated, well, you will have to read A Saint and A Sinner to find out. 

This memoir is beautifully executed, fast-paced with lots of realistic dialogue, and characters to whom you can readily relate and whom you will not easily forget. My own memoir dealt with a very sensitive subject, but I wasn’t someone in the public eye, known to hundreds, perhaps thousands of worshipping parishioners. What stays with me most is the courage it must have taken to write this memoir. Hats off to you Father Stephen Donnelly. You’re my kind of saintly sinner and the world could use many more like you.


When you read Killer Calories, a Hi Fiber Lo Fat Mystery by Nancy Good, you will understand the rather unusual title applied to what is, after all, a sleuth mystery. Its sleuthing protagonist, Melanie, is zany, funny, ready for an affair after 12 years of marriage and totally obsessed with keeping herself slim through a diet of non-fat foods and overdosing on vitamins and herbs every time she’s stressed. 

When Melanie happens across the bloodied body of good-looking Ralph, just one object of her sexual fantasies, her stress levels are off the charts, as is her natural remedies intake. She knows she should leave the detective work to the police, but she’s also a wannabe famous writer and can’t resist the opportunity to co-write a screenplay based on Ralph’s murder with another gorgeous hunk, Devon. Together, they work on finding the murderer...and it’s a surprise...while trying to ignore the physical chemistry between them. 

Readers will have a ball enjoying Melanie’s zany justifications for everything she thinks and does, and if they like Nancy Good’s approach to mystery writing, the best news is this book is the first in a series planned around the very likeable character of Melanie Demming. Good’s style includes lots of easy dialogue and colourful characters, but underneath all the fun, are some astute observations on class differences, materialism and marriage.  

This is a quick, fun read and highly recommended if you’re eager for something a little different in mystery fiction. 

260 Pages
Fiction - Mystery - Sleuth

Reviewed by Viga Boland, author &book reviewer


This video began as a poem. The first few days after everything went into lockdown because of #COVID 19, I felt numb. It was all so surreal. Both my daughters were in different countries and my husband and I realized we wouldn’t be seeing them or our extended families for weeks, maybe months, maybe even forever if any of us were unlucky and passed away from the virus, as so many have done. So today, Mothers Day 2020, I put my poem and photos together to express how I have been feeling during this social isolation. In 2 days, May 12, my younger daughter and her husband will celebrate their first anniversary. The family photos near the end were taken at their wedding a year ago. We haven’t seen any of the extended families since. This video is for all our friends and family...and all others worldwide experiencing social isolation during this 2020 pandemic. Thanks for watching, and when you have, how about sharing what you have been feeling since this pandemic began. 


I have never, ever felt this way before
I've stepped into another world and feel so insecure
Everything’s familiar, yet everything has changed 
like pieces on a game board, life’s been rearranged 

Now I walk the streets alone, through the park closest to home
There are  ducks and geese on the pond but where have the people gone?
Wait!  I see some strangers on the other side of the street
Do they live in our neighbourhood? 

Our eyes meet, and for the first time ever, we smile and say hello 
to neighbours we never knew we had a few long weeks ago
Now others are coming our way; this time we stop to talk
And I feel my spirits lifting as I continue on my walk

Yes, life flipped upside down and will never be the same
But perhaps it’ll be even better than before this virus came
Cyber hugs are good, but  never will they replace
A friendly voice, a loving touch, a smile, a kiss or embrace

We will settle in to a new normal, no-one knows quite when
But once we do, let’s cherish the freedoms we regain
We’ve been given a big “time out” to remember what we’ve known
But forgot as we rushed around: 
there’s no place like home.

For now dear friends and relatives
Life may keep  us apart
But We will always be together
Within the home of a loving heart.

Copyright VIGA BOLAND 2020
If you’ve ever been faced with the agony of knowing something is very wrong with you physically, but no doctor can figure out the problem even after doing a batch of the usual blood and other tests, after which they treat you for something that is similar, but not the real issue, or even suggest it’s all in your head, you know how devastating that is both mentally and emotionally. 

That’s the horrible reality Dr. Barbara Cordell and her husband Joe faced when she and others saw him stumbling and slurring his words as if he were totally drunk first thing in the morning. And yet, he hadn’t had a drop to drink! As Dr. Cordell writes in her important book, My Gut Makes Alcohol, Joe is one of hundreds of people who suffer from the little recognized Auto-Brewery Syndrome, and believe me, this almost inexplicable malady is one that nobody wants to live with as either a patient or caregiver spouse. 

I believe My Gut Makes Alcohol has been written to enlighten both sufferers and healers. To make that work for both, Dr. Cordell has included a fascinating and eye-opening collection of first-hand patient accounts interspersed with very detailed medical information on what happens in our guts after eating and drinking anything, not just alcohol. Regardless of whether you are a patient, a spouse or doctor, what you thought you knew about digestion seems grossly inadequate once you read the author’s very comprehensive breakdown. 

You see, as simple as I can make this, it is indeed completely possible for some people’s guts to turn into an alcohol brewery, depending on how their guts handle carbs, sugars, even the smell of solvents, chemicals or stress of any kind, just to name a few triggers. There are many more. And what do brewers use in making alcohol? Yeast!

 As the author points out, when our guts go haywire, as in Joe’s and other cases Dr. Cordell shares, it’s an overgrowth of yeast in our gut that can make us act, speak and vomit as if we were dead drunk. Just imagine how that can affect people in their jobs! Or imagine being pulled over for drunken driving, or worse yet causing an accident, and insisting you have had nothing to drink. Who would believe you, especially when you end up blowing well over acceptable limits in a breathalyzer test. Auto Brewery Syndrome, ABS, is no joke and not as rare as you might think. Victims’ lives have been turned upside-down and inside out after losing their jobs, draining their finances and still having no easy solutions, even medication, to relieve or end their suffering. 

How can you know if you or a loved one has ABS or is just a “closet alcoholic? Well here are some of the symptoms of yeast overgrowth:

“...itchy, flaky skin, toe fungus, vaginal or jock itch, athlete’s foot, dandruff, fatigue...gastric upset such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, belching and flatulence.” 

Wait, you or your doctor might say. That sounds like symptoms of a dozen other illnesses e.g. Diabetes. Exactly. And that’s why it’s so hard to nail down the real problem: your alcohol-producing, yeast-infected gut! And that’s also the reason you and doctors everywhere need to read Dr. Cordell’s eye-opening book. You’ll find yourself shaking your head at the heartaches suffered by the handful of patients’ stories shared in My Gut Makes Alcohol. You will also discover possible solutions to this crippling syndrome that include diet and lifestyle changes, along with some more effective meds that have been used to keep symptoms under control, if not fully eradicate the problem. 

Dr. Cordell includes copious references to reading materials and resources, her own website at, and mentions Facebook groups you might wish to look into for more information and support.  There are also several other links to ABS you will find on Google, but I recommend beginning your investigation into this syndrome by reading this book. Doing so could save someone’s life, possibly your own. Pick it up today. 

“I would love to hear readers’ comments concerning this book, both positive and negative. It was my first attempt...”

So writes John W Long, author of Red Blood on White Cotton at the end of this incredible novel, and right off the bat I’d like to tell him that I could only wish my first book had been half as good as this one! Not only is the plot superbly developed, but the characters and what happens to them are unforgettable.

Long has chosen to move back and forth between the present and the past to tell this story. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, this can be a quick way to lose readers. But in Red Blood on White Cotton it is necessary, since what happened to the protagonist, John Reynolds, as a child, has everything to do with who he is when we meet him at his father’s funeral: Calvin Reynolds, a wealthy plantation owner, was one cruel father.

It is finding out why John grew up hating his father that is the most memorable part of this story, even more engaging, perhaps, than the investigation on which John embarks in the present. This investigation is to solve the mystery of his beloved brother’s death 30 years earlier. What he finally uncovers about what was going on in his father’s life when John was just a youngster would have ruined his family’s standing in the community. It exposes corruption and criminal activities at all levels of society and politics, and makes for exciting reading as we wait for the crooks to get caught.

Red Blood on White Cotton is rich in historic detail re the hardshipsl endured by farming families and their workers. Long’s descriptions are eye-opening, graphic, never boring and definitely  unforgettable. Dialogue is realistic and expertly handled, and thankfully, the author knows the value of more showing and less telling, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about all characters and their motivations. This is great writinI am really looking forward to what John W Long has in store for us next. Red Blood on White Cotton might be a tough act to follow! really looking forward to what John W Long has in store for us next. Red Blood on White Cotton might be a tough act to follow!

Book Review: TOUGH BLOOD by Susan Tuttle

OK all of you female private eyes out there! Move over. There’s a new P.I. on the block with an unusual first name, Skylark, and an even more unusual personality. She’s feisty, funny, snarky, and somewhat psychic. She’s also a thorn in the side of the lead detective on the trail of an especially horrific killer in Tough Blood, the first book of a new series by Susan Tuttle.

Now tracking down serial killers isn’t what Skylark normally does, but when this Neanderthal detective gets it in his head that Skylark is the killer, what’s a girl supposed to do but find a way to defend herself. She needs to find this brutal killer and prove to both him and the cop that she doesn’t take second place to any man. 

Like a dog with a bone between its teeth, despite the advice of her  devoted lawyer, Skylark won’t let this pursuit go. As horribly mutilated bodies keep surfacing and Skylark’s efforts land her in hospital more than once, Tough Blood moves forward at breakneck speed that leaves readers with only one thought: give us some more Skylark!

I can’t remember when I have enjoyed suspense fiction more. Enjoy is the best word for this novel: it has such a fascinating cast of well-developed and contrasting characters, not to mention the subtle irony of having a lead detective mirror many of the traits of the killer. There’s blood and gore, graphic and frightening, but there’s also so much humor, especially in the character of Skylark. What a wonderful blend Susan Tuttle has put together here. I, for one, can’t wait to read whatTuttle is cooking up for us  and Skylark in book 2. Grab this one and keep your eyes open for the next one!

Book Review: REDEMPTION by Viga Boland

If you’re getting tired of reading the same old, same old, or are  starving for something different, come meet Angel and Ice, the stars of Redemption by Susanne M. Beck. Prefer to a watch video review instead of reading? Go here: 

Both convicted murderers, like hundreds of their friends and enemies who share living quarters at the state penitentiary, the relationship that evolves between these two will leave you pondering the strengths and frailties of humanity. Why do we do what we do? What lies beneath the masks we wear? Why is it so hard to be honest, especially with those whom we love? And what indeed attracts one person to another? You might be surprised by humanity’s ability to bond, to find love and even some measure of joy and peace in a prison like this.

Simultaneously, as deeply as Beck moves and touches us with her story of Angel, Ice, the close members of their “good” gang, the Amazons, and even their kind guards, the author appals us with the often violent, even murderous activity of the rival gangs and their leaders. Readers see the other side of life in a woman’s prison. Susanne Beck spares no details in the often hate-filled and brutal clashes that will leave your brain spinning. You come away glad that you are out here and not in there!

It’s impossible to touch on all the wonderful things about Redemption, too many to list here. A well-developed plot, captivating and unforgettable characters, excellent use of dialogue to reveal character and move the story along, graphic detail...Beck has brought it all together beautifully. But while the often ugly details make us wince, it’s the emotions Beck’s characters stir in us that we take away most from reading this brilliant story. It’s fiction, but the way it is delivered makes it so real you wonder if it is perhaps, a skillfully masked memoir.
Whatever the case, since this is a series, I’m definitely ready to read the two books that come next: Retribution and Restitution. 
Ice and Angel have grabbed a hold of my head and heart. 

Add this one to your reading list now!

Book Review: NORMAL FAMILY by Don Trowden

Every once in a while a book comes along that is so different from what you expected your reaction shocks you. That’s what happened to me when I finished Normal Family by Don Trowden: I burst into tears! Why on earth did that happen?

It happened because the description, and a few reviews I read on Amazon, prepared me for a good laugh. And laugh I did…often. I mean, visualizing grand-dad dropping his hearing aid in the toilet or bumping his noggin every time he exits the bathroom or crashing head first into the beautifully decorated Christmas tree when he’s had a little too much Christmas cheer before dinner is funny…especially when I can see my own husband doing exactly the same. 

And it’s hard not to laugh when the grandchildren discover the contents of Grand-dad’s secret bomb shelter and decide to share a joint down there, only to have Grand-dad ask to join in their fun. What? Yes, this is definitely not a Normal Family in some respects, and yet, so very normal in others e.g. everyone keeping secrets, older siblings picking on younger siblings and a father who marries a bit of a witch after a divorce and hopes the kids will like her and vice versa. Yeah right!

Young Henry Pendergast, the 10-year-old narrator of Normal Family, watches, observes, eavesdrops and becomes increasingly puzzled by the behaviour, not just of his gifted older brother and sister, but by all the adults around him…except for his beloved grandfather who imparts the wisdom of years to his attentive grandson. Oddly enough, it is young Henry who opens Grand-dad’s eyes to his own failings. If only all families could be so honest with each other.

Normal Family will have you thinking about your own family, identifying with the various characters, and questioning, as young Henry does, why we do what we do and indeed wondering just what the heck is a normal family. Will it make you cry at the end? Perhaps not if you’re made of sterner stuff than I am. But I assure you you won’t come away untouched by Don Trowden’s beautifully delivered story. And if you love it, as I did, you might find yourself keen to read the two books that followed this one. I certainly am. 

Book Review-NO WOMAN'S LAND by Ellie Midwood

Since according to this post I saw today on Facebook, today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, it seems appropriate to tell you about one of the most recent books I have read and reviewed. If you care about what happened during that second World War, don't miss this book:

When you flunk high school history, it’s a sure sign history isn’t your thing. But then, along comes an incredible book like No Woman’s Land, a novel based on the Holocaust by Ellie Midwood, and even a non-history fan like me is unable to put it down. 

Midwood has succeeded where all my history teachers failed: she grabbed my attention and held it for 277 pages as she shared the love story of two people who were never supposed to love each other: Ilse Stern, a German Jew and Willy Schultz, a Luftwaffe Captain.  And yes, these two people did exist and those are their real names. Several of the other characters named in No Woman’s Land also existed. 

But while the beautifully delivered love story was as touching as it gets, it was Midwood’s riveting descriptions of the inhumanity of the SS to the German and Russian Jews that made me choke up. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of documentaries and films based on that horrible time in history, but somehow, Midwood’s graphic details shocked me more. Perhaps it was because she helped us “see” the actual abuse and slaughter through Ilse’s eyes. As a reader, I felt I was watching the nearly frozen Jewish women lugging wood to heat the German officers’ offices. I could better see that German officer who liked children tossing them candies in the death pits while they waited to be massacred. And I could better feel Ilse’s own hopelessness as she and her suffering women friends faced each new day wondering if this was their last. What a horrid way to live month after month for no reason other than you are a Jew. Haunting and mind-blowing!

If stories about the Holocaust are on your bucket list, make sure you add No Woman’s Land to it immediately. Ellie Midwood has thoroughly researched her subject and characters to bring truth into fiction. She has written other books on this subject and after reading this, I know why she is a “USA best selling and award-winning historical fiction author”. This lady knows how to deliver an unforgettable and haunting novel based on reality. 5 stars!

©Viga Boland, author and book reviewer

Book Review: THE EMANCIPATION of EVAN WALLS by Jeffrey Blount

Every so often a book comes along that you believe everyone should read. For me, The Emancipation of Evan Walls by Jeffrey Blount is that book, a story in which not only the protagonist, Evan Walls, is liberated from the demons of his youth, but through which receptive readers will be freed of uninformed notions about what it was like to grow up black in America before, and after, emancipation. This incredible story, might shock you, or at the very least, will move you to tears. Either way, you won’t forget it any time soon, if ever. 

Pre-order this book now from Amazon

As a wide-eyed, curious and intelligent youngster, Evan loves the weekly gathering of friends and family for Kool-Aid, chatter and gossip on his parents’ verandah. At one such gathering, he tunes into Bojack’s grumblings on the status of the black people of Canaan who seem content with, and intent upon staying where years of white suppression have put them ie. not seeking to better themselves, to get an education, and one day become somebody who matters. 

Evan takes Bojack’s views to heart and from that point on is determined to make something of himself. He learns to read; he slowly replaces his “black” way of speaking with proper English. He is mentored for years by both Bojack and his beloved great-grandmother Jennie, but along the way he is rejected, not just by his peers who see him as an Uncle Tom and as turning his back on his race, but by his own status-conscious mother and father. After schools become integrated, the friendless, unloved and abused Evan finds friendship in some white classmates. Unfortunately, that fuels even more anger from his family, and triggers complete isolation and violence from his black brothers. Despite a broken heart and incredible loneliness, Evan weathers it all to become a star athlete. But even that cannot salvage the damage his determination to become a somebody has caused in his personal life. He has broken the unspoken rule of accepting the status quo, of fitting in with everyone, and now he must pay the price.

The Emancipation of Evan Walls is a gut-wrenching read, delivered by a brilliant, award-winning author and television director, Jeffrey Blount. He is a master of telling a story, revealing characters and their motivations primarily through dialogue. This style of writing not only makes his characters utterly realistic and emotionally engaging, but also moves the story along quickly. This is one of those books that keep you turning pages, not because of non-stop action or unexpected twists and turns, but because of the stark reality and truths explored through the characters and setting. The Emancipation of Evan Walls is utterly riveting reading and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Brilliant! 

Book Reviews: THE BOOK OF DAVID by Kate L. Mary

Coming to Amazon in March 2019

About a month ago, I read Tribe of Daughters by Kate L. Mary and was totally blown away by the concept, theme, characters and plot based on a future world where women, not men, rule. I was keen to read more by this talented, award-winning author and didn’t hesitate one second to snatch up The Book of David. Just like that previous book, I couldn’t put this one down.  

Reading well into the night until I finished the book 48 hours later, I was mesmerized by Willow Sands, a beautiful young woman born into a cult where men are everything and women’s only purpose in life is to serve men’s needs; where women must wait till the men have been fed and their dishes washed before women can eat; and where girls are betrothed when they turn 15, and on the night of the betrothal, the fiancee, with the cult-leader’s blessing is allowed to have his way with the 15-year-old. From that night onwards, she belongs to him but they will not mate again until they marry when she turns 18. The punishment for social interaction with any other males keeps women submissive, wary and afraid. Mothers and daughters alike are abused and don’t dare step out of line. 

Willow’s betrothal night horrifies her but she can’t even talk to her mother about it. An attempt to escape the compound brings death to those who try to help her and subjects her to inhumane punishment once she is recaptured. 3 years later, working in compound hospital, she meets Jared. What follows is a touching story of stolen moments and dreams of escape against all odds. Do they succeed? If you’ve been sexually abused or suffered under male domination, as I have, you won’t be able to stop reading until you find out if good can win in a world that bad. 

Kate L. Mary is one of those writers who is able to keep readers glued to the story despite much narration and reflection. She writes in the present tense, giving the book immediacy, handling it perfectly and leaving readers hungry for more. In the current “me too” climate, The Book of David is timely and will be understood and appreciated by female victims of sexual, physical and mental abuse. But don’t be surprised if you come away angry, that despite all the advances society is making toward gender equality, there are still far too many societies, religions and cultures who live according to principles similar to those found in The Book of David. Changes can’t happen soon enough!