Saturday, September 20, 2014

Back to Jerusalem by Jan Surasky

Review by S. Marie Vernon

Back to Jerusalem is a novel written by Jan Surasky, the 2012 award winning author of Rage Against the Dying Light, a story about Boudicca and her battle with the Roman Empire.  Back to Jerusalem is a novel about another type of battle faced by women living in the 1970’s.  Set in the small town of Jerusalem New York, Jenny Thompson grows up on her family farm, just hours from New York City.  Jenny is gifted and dreams of going to college and pursuing the life of a successful artist.  However, like so many young women of her time, Jenny feels the pressure from her mother and society to put her dreams on hold.  Women of this era are expected to marry well, have children, and support their husbands as they climb the ladder of success. That’s all that is expected of Jenny, but she is destined for so much more.   

Jenny is beautiful, compassionate and very talented.  She’s dating the local football star when she graduates from high school.  Bud sweeps her off her feet and they soon marry and have a wonderful son, Josh.  Later, Bud proves he’s not the best husband and not the best father either.  Jenny has an eye for what is real, beautiful and good.  She wants a more loving and fulfilled life.  She moves to New York City.  There, Jenny struggles, but over time builds a successful life for herself and her beloved son who is growing up.  She’s becoming known for her beautiful landscape paintings and her photography. 

In New York, Jenny sees cultures collide and find ways to exist side-by-side without issue, without drama.  She thinks of Jake Martin, childhood friend and playmate.  Jake was a Mennonite.  She remembers what a great person Jake was and how he dreamed of becoming a revered attorney.  He wanted to help the poor.  Jake had meant a lot to Jenny growing up, but her world and his would not have been accepted by her mother and her Methodist upbringing.  Her mother would never have approved.  The question was would her path and Jake’s ever cross again?  And, if they did would he inspire her and she him as they once had, so long ago? When Jake’s picture hits the cover of the New York Times, Jenny dreams they might, but learns Jake has a fiancĂ©.  Fate would have to intervene if this couple would ever find each other again.

Jan Surasky’s first successful novel, Rage Against the Dying Light received the Eric Hoffer Award and many rave reviews from established publications.  She has now created Back to Jerusalem as another great book.  Through Jenny, this one accurately depicts the plight of women caught in the strong grip of society’s expectations of them in the 1970’s.  Liberation is slow to come for many women, if at all.  Jenny lived her life in the traditional way as long as she could.  She finds herself divorced and struggles for real meaning in her life.  It’s difficult, but she finds her way back to her talents as an artist.  She is successful in every way and she’s done it all by herself.  The one thing she is missing is real love and contentment.  The question is if she goes Back to Jerusalem will she find it?  To find out, it is a must read.

This novel is really a love story, written in a narrative that will speak to those who are romantic at heart, those who desire a little mystery and those who look for what is real in life.  I believe this is a book for any woman who has struggled against odds to be successful in the face of a society that says she can’t do it and shouldn’t even try.  And, Back to Jerusalem is an encouragement to women everywhere, to never give up on their dreams.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Sheraton Read House Hotel Chattanooga

By S. Marie Vernon
July 30, 2013
The Sheraton Read House Hotel is a unique hotel located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It is one of the city’s greatest architectural landmarks and a timeless masterpiece of history that offers a perfect setting for today’s business meeting, convention, conference, family reunion, wedding, vacation or a simple weekend get-a-way.  This charming, elegant and historic old hotel is now franchised by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a member of the Sheraton Family, a family that places strong emphasis on superior service, satisfaction and comfort for each of their guest.  Here, they offer a four-star hotel experience that combines the nostalgic charm and hospitality of yesterday with the modern conveniences and amenities of today.  A stay at The Sheraton Read House while visiting Chattanooga is truly a unique experience and one not soon forgotten.
The first hotel to occupy this site was built in 1847 and known as the Crutchfield House.  In 1863, the Crutchfield House was converted into a hospital as the Civil War ravaged Chattanooga.  The hotel survived the war only to burn to the ground in 1867.  This gave way to the present day hotel which opened in 1926 designed in a Georgian style brick and terra-cotta building that climbs ten stories with an elaborate lobby and bejeweled Silver Ballroom that exudes class from an era long past.  The high ceilings glisten with original Waterford Crystal chandeliers and mirrors recessed into massive arches.  The grand lobby has tall columns with carved and gilded woodwork and marble inlaid flooring that shines like glass.  Lavish, luxurious and extravagant there’s no doubt about it!  Once the choice of the elite, many presidents and famous people have stayed here, yet, today Sheraton has made The Read House the personal choice of the every-day, yet discriminating, traveler or business person.  With its antebellum charm and warm hospitality, to visit The Sheraton Read House is to fall in love with it. 
   The Sheraton Read House Lobby from the Sheraton Photo Gallery
The Hotel has 241 spacious rooms for its guest with Sweet Sleeper Beds that offer the most in comfort.  There is 17,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space that’s perfect for catered events and the hotel has been catering social events for eight decades.  In addition to meetings and conferences, family reunions and weddings can become even more special when experienced in this elaborate setting, especially the Silver Ballroom and the Courtyard designed for the ultimate presentation.  Whatever your occasion, the Sheraton staff can help you pull it off in style.
Located inside the hotel, Porter’s Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily, and is famous for their mouth-watering steaks and seafood.  Also inside, Starbucks coffee is fast and convenient for those on the go.  And, the kids will love the dog can vacation with them, but do contact the hotel first as some rules will apply.  For the dedicated, there’s an indoor heated pool and a core performance 24-hour fitness facility.   And, this hotel offers, friendly and fast, valet parking for a reasonable fee.  It is 100% non-smoking and you never pay for high-speed internet.  
  The Sheraton Read House Silver Ballroom from the Sheraton Photo Gallery
Officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Sheraton Read House will honor the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, in the fall of 2013, offering Civil War Commemorative Packages that will include tours in horse drawn carriages.  It’s a must to reserve rooms early since the hotel is often booked to full capacity.  During the Civil War, the hotel served as a hospital and so will add a museum to display its Civil War relics to reveal even more about this fascinating time in history, including accounts of a ghost that may live in room 311 and another on the 4th floor.  Since the War, the hotel has entertained many dignitaries and celebrities including Jefferson Davis, Winston Churchill, William McKinley, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Truman, Richard Nixon, Al Capone, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan and more recently, Oprah Winfrey (she asked for room 311, by the way).  But, today The Read House invites you to be their honored guest and add to their rich and long-standing history.  
In 2012, The New York Times named Chattanooga, also known as The Scenic City, one of 45 top cities to visit, worldwide.  Only four locations were named in the United States, the other three are in California.  Travel and Leisure Magazine named The Scenic City one of their five “Next Great Escapes” and says Chattanooga is a “Cultural Find.”  Southern Living says, “Chattanooga is one of the most family friendly, outdoorsy spots in the South.  Debra Warren, Director of Sales at The Sheraton Read House said “the terrain, the landscape” was captivating to her and one of the big draws to the city itself.  And, she says “Chattanooga has it all, the downtown area, the Tennessee River with the riverboats, Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls and Rock City and easy access into the city from all directions.”   
And, why do I love The Sheraton Read House some have asked?  Well, let me explain.  I lead a double life, working full-time and moonlighting as a writer and professional reviewer as often as I can.  Writing is my creative passion.  I live in Jacksonville, Alabama, a small town surrounded by Birmingham Alabama, Atlanta Georgia and Chattanooga Tennessee.  I enjoy getting away for the weekend, and for me Chattanooga is my most fun get-a-way location and The Sheraton Read House is one of my favorite hotels.  What I love best is how the city makes it easy to get around and The Read House makes my stay delightful.  Most cities I visit in Alabama, Georgia or Florida, I am forced to drive my car to the main attractions and hotel quality will vary.  Once I’m checked in at The Read House, the valet parks my car and I never see it again, until I leave.  I usually walk the seven or eight blocks down to the river, to the Aquarium, or to the Art District or to any number of restaurants or special music events that might be in town.  There’s one caveat: the traffic signals - they change too quickly and you don’t have time to get across the street before they change again.  If I don’t feel like walking, I can, conveniently, rent a modern city bike for only $6.00 per day and turn it in at my destination, no problems, except for those changing lights!  And, best of all there is the free Electric Shuttle.  I can hitch a ride on the Shuttle and go anywhere in the city.  I especially like riding it to the Chattanooga Choo Choo and The English Rose Tea Room.  The Read House has its very own Shuttle stop so I can get on right in front of the hotel.  It makes the whole experience just awesome!
As much fun as downtown Chattanooga can be, The Read House has so much to offer you almost don’t need to leave the hotel to feel like you’ve had a great vacation.  Sometimes I meander about enjoying the grandeur of this marvelous place.  I grab a glass of merlot, slip up to the mezzanine, find a comfortable spot and pretend I’m the pianist sitting at the baby grand below, creating a crescendo for those still coming and going.  What more could one need to recharge?  It's truly rare to find such elegance in a hotel coupled with outstanding service and yet still feel so very casual, laid back and comfortable while you are there.  The Sheraton Read House has become a beloved, favorite hotel to me because it has so much to offer and it does not disappoint.  
See the Sheraton Website and Photo Gallery for more information and exciting photos at
For Groups and Family Reunions contact Christi Baggett at
For Catering and Weddings contact Catering Sales Manager, Cristi Davidson, at


Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Big Empty is a novel, written by seasoned author Ritch Gaiti, sure to bat a home run with fiction lovers, conspiracy theorists, and anyone who likes a fast-paced mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Written in true conspiracy theory style, Gaiti’s protagonist, Rick Wallace, has only a small thread of information when he begins an assignment that takes him back to his roots in the Bronx and New York City. The conspiracy he unravels goes all the way to the top of New York Society and back to the first inhabitants of the land there, the Native Americans. It’s often difficult for Rick to tell what is real, coincidence or just plain propaganda. Uncovering the truth could cost him his life but, strong and stubborn, he won’t back down.
The author accomplishes his goal of exposing the vast conspiracy through characters that cannot be bought off or manipulated, but it’s difficult to tell who’s playing who. The timeline changes quickly too, like a New York train, but you won’t mind tracking it because it’s all part of the adventure. Some language designates this book for mature audiences only. Expertly written in third and first person narrative the dialogue between characters makes this fiction believable. For instance, Rick is a take me as I am kind of guy. He’s less than perfect, wounded but still has heart and soul. He’s lovable and caring, sometimes, and other times he’s just in your face, up-close and personal. The evasive E.P Smith and his wife are two very interesting characters, along with Professor Elias Opdyck. Elias is a long-time resident of the city, but wanders the streets like a tourist marveling at skyscrapers and landmarks.
Author, Ritch Gaiti is well established, an artist, screenplay writer and producer of short films. He’s been interviewed on several talk shows, including The Today Show, regarding his previous book, titled Points. In The Big Empty mystery, the author racks up a victory for the insignificant little man trying to survive against big business antics, when Rick fills in The Big Empty in court explaining the Latin meaning of Terra Nullius, and how it set a de facto standard of behavior that was unfair and exploited indigenous people, so long ago. Question is will the jury buy it, now? Written on many levels, there’s a realistic plot here that gives pause for serious thought about the plight of the Native Americans who offered up their hospitality to the white man, only to be deceived by them later on. No small feat for an author, Rick Wallace’s personal story is woven in and captivating as is the larger story itself. In my opinion, The Big Empty is not empty at all, but choc-full of possibility to become a best seller.