No Ordinary LifeAnyone who’s worked even marginally in the Entertainment Industry knows fame may look like a fairy tale from the outside but it can easily become a trap for those unprepared for what it entails in reality. What would you do if your precocious young child was “discovered” and suddenly became a household name? Most people have no idea of the realities of fame. Suzanne Redfearn’s new novel, No Ordinary Life, does an excellent job of showing exactly what it’s like for an ordinary family to suddenly be thrust into the spotlight. Do you think you would know what to do and how to handle that level of unprecedented 24/7 attention, and everything that comes with it?

Fame is a dangerous drug and should be kept out of the reach of children.” Paul Peterson, child actor.

“The world of celebrity is fascinating. It is the topic of thousands of magazines, talk shows, news shows, reality shows, and websites. But what would it be like to be swept up into that world? Or to have your child swept up into that world? Thrilling? Terrifying?
…The story I wanted to tell was about someone real who finds themselves catapulted into superstardom and what that does to them.” Excerpt from the Author’s Note for No Ordinary Life.

Faye Martin was happy with her life in Yucaipa, California, a rural ranching community in Southern California. Her children had lots of freedom to run wild, ride horses, and live a carefree lifestyle. And then one day, that world got turned upside down when her husband, Sean, left without a word. At first she thought he was coming back since he traveled a lot with his job. But he didn’t. What is she going to do now?

“’My mom and I can’t survive five minutes together. How am I going to live with her?’
‘Because there ain’t no other choice. Sean ain’t coming back, and you in a pickle. That’s life, full of more pickles than cucumbers, but that’s the way it is.’
‘He called last night.’
Bo’s hairless brows rise, his black eyes looking straight into the back of my brain. ‘You talk to him?’
I shake my head. ‘I hung up.’
Bo nods his approval and returns to his work…
‘You tell him you was leaving?’ Bo asks, working another hole through the tough leather, his hands impressively deft and strong for a man so old.
‘I told you, I hung up,’ I snap.
A smile plays on his thick lips. ‘Finally getting some fire in your belly. That’s good.’
I sneer at him, and his smile grows.”

Faye’s got three children and no way to support them financially, and she’s got to make some heart-wrenching decisions. She can’t find a job in Yucaipa so she has to eat crow and move back to Los Angeles to live with her mother, who is never going to stop saying “I told you so” about her decision to marry someone her mother considered completely unsuitable. That is enough of a bitter pill to make anyone cringe but Faye is going to have to find some way to earn a livelihood so she can get her family settled eventually into a place of their own. And she has no clue how she’s going to accomplish that because Los Angeles is one of the most expensive places on the planet to live.

On top of that, Faye is facing a rebellion from her children, who understandably don’t want to leave the place where they’ve grown up and which they love. All of their friends are there, and her oldest daughter will have to leave the horse she loves more than life itself. Faye isn’t happy about it either but she’s realistic enough to know it’s her only option if they’re to survive. She only hopes she can earn enough to move back someday, even if part of her knows that’s probably only a pipe dream.

One of her concerns about being back in LA is that her kids are not street smart and her youngest child in particular, four-year-old Molly, is not only precocious but never met a stranger she didn’t automatically befriend. Molly loves everybody and to say that could be dangerous in LA is an understatement.

While Faye is applying for a job one day at the Santa Monica Promenade outdoor mall, Molly sees a man dancing for spare change and her eyes begin to sparkle. Molly loves to dance and she quickly joins him. Soon they’re doing a dance move challenge and she’s matching him move for move. A crowd forms and, as is often the case these days, cellphone cameras are trained on this amazing sight. At least one enterprising soul posts a video of this impromptu dance-off on YouTube and it takes the Internet by storm.

If this were the end of the story, the tag line would be…and a pint-sized star is born. Fortunately, it’s just the beginning of this cautionary tale because Suzanne Refearn shows us what it’s really like when fame and money suddenly descend out of nowhere upon people who never saw it coming.

Faye is not a stage mom and she does worry about what this kind of attention might do to her daughter and her family. At the same time, that level of money would tempt a saint – especially a saint who can barely feed her family, much less clothe and provide shelter for them. And the person she turns to for advice, her mother, is starstruck by Hollywood’s PR image of what fame is like so her advice is suspect at best (even though she loves her family and wants what’s best for them).

So Faye signs Molly up with a powerful agent and they’re off on the golden brick road that is child stardom. No one in the family is in the least prepared for what will happen to each of them. Faye is ill equipped to stand up for Molly, Molly is only four years old and ill equipped to be a working actor, Faye’s two other children suddenly feel left out, and life rapidly gets extremely complicated. And that doesn’t even address the public’s reaction to this adorable child everyone has seen on the Internet. Remember, all kinds of people see what’s posted online and some of them are not people you’d want within 100 miles of a small child. Need I say more?

What will happen to Molly, to Faye, and to their family? Can they survive Molly becoming a star? Is fame worth the price they’ll all pay?

Faye is a young mom doing the best she can in one of those awful situations life can throw at any of us. Does she always make the best decisions? No, but then no one ever does. We all do the best we can with what we have to work with at the time. Molly is one of those adorable kids everyone falls in love with and it’s easy to see how special she is from Page 1. That Hollywood wants to turn that into a commodity is just what Hollywood does…seriously. How the rest of their family members react makes sense when you think about how fame upends the family’s dynamics. Oh, and I’m not forgetting Faye’s ex-husband – just not telling you what happens with him. Are there any villains in this story? Not intentional villains…not really.

Suzanne Redfearn has written a very realistic look at child actors and Hollywood fame in No Ordinary Life. She’s taken us behind the curtain to see what’s really going on in the Oz of Hollywood. Most people don’t see that side of Hollywood until they’re already well inside of the system, so I’m saying a big thank you to her for that. Do people really get discovered like Molly did? In the age of the Internet/YouTube, instant fame does happen but it’s rare. That said, the old Hollywood myths of so many “drugstore” discoveries, etc., is just that – a PR myth that’s far more glamorous than the truth. Anyone who wants to know how Hollywood really works should read this novel. Even if that’s not a burning desire for you, it’s a great story with lots of twists and turns, and heartwarming moments. I loved it and I hope you will too!

Can’t wait to read it? No Ordinary Life is available from your favorite online bookseller below. Just click the link and you can have it to read asap!

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Fields of WrathHaving lived in Southern California for several decades, I’m always interested in mystery/thriller series that take place in that area. When I saw Fields of Wrath by Mark Wheaton in my Amazon Prime selections list, it not only interested me because it takes place in the agricultural area near Ventura but because it deals with migrant farm workers. Slavery may have been outlawed in the mid 1800’s but some migrant farm workers in different parts of the U.S. are still not that far from slaves.

Fields of Wrath is Book #1 in a new mystery/thriller series featuring ex-gang member Luis Chavez, a newly ordained Los Angeles priest. Given that Cesar Chavez was a driving force in getting better working conditions for migrant farm workers, this main character’s last name seems only fitting. Most of you already know that I like novels which don’t just provide a gripping story but also provide a window into the lives of people about whom you may be unaware, except on a superficial level. Fields of Wrath provides that kind of window as well as one hell of a nail-biting read. Sound interesting?

“He [Santiago] heard a noise from the other room.
‘I’m in the shower!’ he called in Spanish.
As he squirted a dollop of shampoo into his hand, the door burst open.
‘Hey, what…?’
Before he could finish, two men in the uniforms of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – one white, one Hispanic – yanked him out. He kicked and flailed, but two swift elbows to the temple and he was out like a light.”

“The shooter exhaled, waited until the woman was three steps from the driver’s door of her blue Civic, and pulled the trigger. The bullet took so long to reach her, he monetarily wondered if he’d missed.
Impossible, he thought.
Half a second later she was lifted off her feet and propelled forward into the car. He chambered a second round and fired again…He swung the barrel around, catching sight of a figure running through Annie’s backyard. He turned the night vision back on as whoever it was flung open the back gate and emerged into the arroyo behind Annie’s walled neighborhood.
It was another woman…The woman ran along the back wall in a straight line. This told him she had no idea anyone was aiming at her. It wasn’t even sporting.”

Father Luis Chavez grew up on the mean streets of Los Angeles. As a gang member, he could have easily become just another prison or murder statistic. Instead, he found a calling in the Catholic Church and became a priest. It was definitely not easy but he gives thanks every day that he chose that path. Now he’s being tested because his first posting as an apprentice priest is back in Los Angeles. He’s going to have to be careful to stay away from the temptations he knows his old gang members will throw his way to try to persuade him to fall back into that life. He can only hope he’ll be strong enough to stick to his convictions and values, i.e., the right path for him, a path where he can make a positive difference in his church and his community.

“Near monastic solitude forced a person to confront himself as well as his relationship with the ever-present divine. Most of the time this was just fine for Luis. But he was an LA kid. Sometimes the voice of El Cucuy on AM 690 was all it took to make him feel more connected to his roots and less defined by the collar around his neck.
…Luis had been in his fifth year at the St. Robert Bellarmine Seminary in upstate New York when he learned St. Augustine’s was ready for him. Though they gave him the opportunity to stay at St. Bellarmine for up to another year, he made the move in six weeks.”

“Before Willans [Luis’ mentor] could dismiss him, there came a frantic knock on the door.
‘It’s one of the boys from the baseball team,’ Erna called out. ‘Says we need to call an ambulance immediately.’
‘Is one of the boys hurt? Willans asked, springing to his feet.
‘No, but there’s an injured woman in the dugout. They think she’s been shot.’”

An injured young woman named Odilia, who only speaks Zapotec, shows up at the local parish seeking sanctuary. She tells Luis a horrific story about what is happening to migrant workers in the farm fields near Ventura, just north of Los Angeles. It’s obvious just looking at her that she has been through hell and back. She and a friend named Santiago had been scheduled to meet with the Los Angeles DA’s office to provide testimony but that friend has disappeared and she fears he is dead, along with her DA office contact, which means she also quite rightly fears for her own life.

As he listens and translates her story for Father Willans, Father Luis is not just appalled by what she relays but he becomes very troubled by it. I’d call this moment the beginning of his crisis of conscience, the kind of crisis that strikes so deep it can’t be ignored no matter how hard you try. He’s torn about what to do because he’s unsure the church will look kindly on him getting involved in a secular matter; however, standing by while he knows people are being abused and possibly worse is in direct conflict with his hard-won beliefs and values. This is why he became a priest, to better people’s lives and to be a living tool to make the world a better place for everyone.

When the young woman is kidnapped from the church, Luis knows her life is in peril and he’s can’t just stand by and do nothing. He agrees to go undercover and work with authorities to try to find the girl and unravel what’s really going on at one of the biggest agricultural operations in Ventura County. He’s got the survival skills he learned as a gang member and a steel-like determination to get to the bottom of this mystery, but has he underestimated how vast the tentacles of this conspiracy have spread not just through the corporate farming community but through the powerful political community as well? Soon he will learn he may find it’s even harder to survive as an undercover migrant farm worker than it was as a tough East LA gang member. And will his decision risk his calling in a very bureaucratic church hierarchy that doesn’t normally tolerate outliers?

Luis Chavez is a very interesting and sympathetic character. I liked him immensely from the beginning, possibly because I could relate to his need to follow his deeply seated values despite outside pressures. He would definitely pass the face-in-the-mirror test of being true to himself. I also really liked his LA parish mentor, who I haven’t mentioned in the synopsis. I’m going to let him be a pleasant surprise. There are other wonderful characters and some truly horrific villains (corporate, political, and just bigoted individuals) of all kinds. Nothing this awful can happen without overt collusion and those people who turn their backs because they don’t want to see what’s going on. And all of the “good” guys don’t have altruistic motives either…just like in real life. That makes this a much more realistic picture of the real push-pull nature and conditions of migrant farm workers in this country.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect a lot from Fields of Wrath when I chose to read it; however, I was drawn into it quickly and was very pleased to find that Mark Wheaton has done his homework. He presented an uncomfortable at times but realistic picture of the industrialized nature of food production in the 21st century, as well as the conditions under which often undocumented farm workers plant and harvest that food. They’re human beings but they are treated by some as if they are mere objects to be used and discarded. No matter your thoughts about undocumented workers or immigration issues, no one deserves to be treated like an object, and animal, or a slave IMHO.

Getting off my soapbox because no matter how you feel about those issues, this is one hell of a rollercoaster ride with lots of OMG moments. I can’t wait to find out what kind of trouble Father Luis gets into in Book #2 in this series, City of Strangers, which is scheduled to be published in September 2016!

Can’t wait to read Fields of Wrath? It’s available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller (and is a free e-read for Kindle Unlimited members). Click on the link below and you can have it to read immediately!

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American Housewife: Darkly Funny Short Stories by Helen Ellis

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When I decided to read My Name is Lucy Barton by Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Strout, I had no idea it would become an instant bestseller. I just liked the publisher’s description and I had previously reviewed one of her novels, The Burgess Boys (link at end of this review), which I loved. So, […]

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