April 2020 Review Issue
Fantasy & Sci Fi Mystery & Thrillers
The Empress of the Clouds
978-1087859378 $11.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle
Ordering Link: https://www.amazon.com/Empress-Clouds-Desiree-Ultican/dp/1655258664
The Empress of the Clouds is alternate sci-fi history at its best and is set in 1896, where widow Evaline “Evvy” Amstel has been saddled with her husband's debt and his dream of building an amazing airship, confronting a Southern millionaire still fighting the Civil War against the Yankees in his mind.
Was the airship just a dream on paper, or a half-constructed reality? And why would Evaline involve herself in her husband's madness and an angry rich man's quest for revenge?
It turns out that many have a stake in resolving this mystery. And so Evvy finds herself at the helm of an impossible adventure she'd never asked for, assuming control of her husband's struggling airship company and handling an angry billionaire's demands with little experience in each.
As mines are established around Joplin (thanks to the millionaire's influence and investments) and Evvy uncovers more evidence of her husband's creativity and intelligent planning, she inadvertently crosses the line of the rich man's insanity and finds herself imprisoned in more ways than one.
Her struggles with unexpected widowhood, a new business, and a dangerous adversary lends to a steampunk adventure story that is powered as much by a feisty young woman's personality and spunk as it is by the dilemma of a missing airship and its promises to different characters involved in its creation and vision.
As history, mystery, and fantastic encounters coalesce, readers are treated to a lively alternate history powered by not just an airship's social and political promise, but a widow's search for meaning, a new life, economic security, and her place in the world.
Sci-fi readers and many a newcomer to the idea of either steampunk or alternate science fiction will find The Empress of the Clouds lively, accessible, and satisfyingly, engrossingly unexpected.The Empress of the Clouds
Return to Index
Genex of Halcyon
Arch + Gravity Publishing
Paper: 978-0-692-18427-1 $17.99
Ebook: 978-0-578-51463-5 $ 7.99
Enthusiasts of hard sci-fi well know that there's all too little of this in the modern genre, which at times seems overloaded with sword-and-sorcery fantasy quests. Genex of Halcyon remedies this lack by providing a soaring vision of the near future of Halcyon, where everyone is free, having moved on from modern humanity to the next level of human evolution, a synthesis of human/machine.
Harmony and Azad are members of this utopian society: siblings caught in the poetry and promise of opium and high technology in a world where winged men fly, purposeful genetic mutations can turn a human into a half-cat, and "angels cross the sky" as barely-human participants in life's interactions: "Good evening, Harmony, Azad and Orion,” says a cordial centennial as they come to the entrance of the Theater. His head is rain-wet, a silvery case for two bulbous glass-and-steel eyes, friendly though inhuman. One of a dozen black-tied greeters on the lawn he has no legs, his thick torso anchored firmly into the earth. Politely, he greets like friends all who will pass by."
Through these descriptions, it's evident that part of the special allure of Joshua Stelling's Genex of Halcyon lies in its atmospheric descriptions of this strange new world and the people who inhabit it.
Stelling does an outstanding job of taking the familiar and twisting it just a little to provide a unique take on the futuristic possibilities and relationships that evolve in such a world.
2051 is not without its flaws and dangers, however. In this land of promise and happiness, three characters search for different forms of satisfaction in a world of chaos, machines, and artificial constructs and augmentations.
How does love and connection evolve in the face of such transformations? And how can a sense of purpose exist when everything is manipulated, controlled, and artificially contrived?
One of the powerful forces in this story is Stelling's ability to inject these issues and those of emotional ties into a very futuristic setting. Readers may not anticipate the depth of philosophical and ethical examination, nor the time taken to craft metaphorical descriptions of this strange universe, but these elements propel the story to higher levels: "Anesthesia does not block her vision as Harmony stares at the sky. It is not empty though her emotions would have it so. It is not sad, in epic fury. It is so alive. Stars fall through the gaps in the clouds now, as the moon shines through their tumultuous mass. They roll in the night above her, casting their drops down on her, cleansing and true, but she will not let them in. Yet they do not stop. A slow crimson comet—a returning shuttle—descends quietly through the clouds. What pain is in these stars? she wonders. What purpose is in that light, so alone, shining with heartache? Ridiculous bullshit of . . . us. Do they know my name? And still have nothing to say? Do they scream for Orion? Will the stars cry out, finally, if I throw myself at them? There is no answer in the vast night sky. She wonders how there could be any worth in the endlessness of nothing. Insane and brilliant, epic and vain. We’re outnumbered and surrounded in the dark, tiny lights adrift—we are like snowflakes. We don’t last long alone. The rain falls."
And so utopia crumbles and ripples, with mercurial changes driven by the characters and their relationships and questions. Hard sci-fi readers can expect to be delighted, surprised, and entertained with a thought-provoking story of evolution that probes the boundaries of pleasure, pain, transformation, and human connection. As Harmony and Halcyon step into inhumanity and embrace machine-driven changes and urban environments, all fall down.
Genex of Halcyon is, quite simply, an outstanding literary work of sci-fi that pushes the boundaries of expression and self-realization, both in its characters and in its journey through their lives.Genex of Halcyon
Return to Index
Six Factors Publishing, LLC
The Matriarch: Dianis, A World In Turmoil will reach fans of space opera sci-fi (especially those who enjoyed the first book in the series, The Foundary) with a focus on the evolution of a primitive world rich in rare resources the galaxy needs.
When the world is stripped of all but one of its investigative/protective teams, competing forces vie for control and more when the team vanishes. The Dianis sect, the Paleowrights, search for the forbidden technologies brought to their world, and a battle emerges on a local and cosmic level over free will and self-determination.
When Princess Marisa discovers that her lover Achelous is not the man she thought, and that he's involved in a plot that threatens her world, tension erupts on a personal as well as a political level.
It should be mentioned that there's quit a bit of back story in The Matriarch. This isn't a casual account of individual struggle, but a world-spanning romp that builds not just a planetary group, but a galaxy.
Maps, a cast of characters, and discussions of relationships and the special purposes of the Matrincy and the Auro Na (among many other forces and groups) require an attention to detail and complexity along the lines of Dune.
Such a reader will more than welcome the complex social and political structures that continue to evolve in the second story in the series. Armed with the backdrop of the first adventure in The Foundry, prior fans will relish how these well-developed worlds continue to expand.
As turmoil swirls around extraterrestrial incursions and special interests on Dianis, readers will find this complex world grounded in not just adversity between a number of groups both native to and outside the planet, but a romance challenged by special interests.
Frank Dravis employs a vivid hand to his descriptions of these worlds and encounters between very different creatures: "The expedition rode south much of the morning, catching glimpses of straggler troglodyte bands making their way back to the Great Latitude swamp from which the Paleowright clergy had enticed their chieftains with pouches of sage-rose. Addicted and high on the opiate, the troglodyte leaders were easily manipulated into joining the Paleowrights in a Kurchka against their old neighbors, and now enemies: the Timberkeeps of Clan Mearsbirch."
What is demanded of the reader in a character-packed series of confrontations and political realignments is rewarded amply by atmospheric action and satisfying twists and turns to keep readers not just guessing about motivations and outcomes, but involved in Dianis' evolving sixth sense phenomenon.
From genetic evolution unique to Dianis to the real value the planet represents to the universe, readers are treated to a gripping story that holds many intriguing subplots and struggles.
Fans of space opera who look for epic world-building stories akin to Dune will find The Matriarch: Dianis, A World In Turmoil fits the bill for a rollicking good read.The Matriarch
Return to Index
Ambassador Of Tewksbury
Unicorn Editions Publishing LLC
978-1-7326536-1-0 (Ebook) $ 3.99
978-1-7326536-3-4 (Softcover) $17.95
978-1-7326536-0-3 (Hardcover) $27.95
978-1-7326536-4-1 (Audio) $ 7.49
Blossom—The Wild Ambassador Of Tewksbury is set in New Jersey and tells of a connection between a wild deer and the author who saved her life. It's the perfect match for anyone who enjoyed Bambi in childhood, evolved to enjoy stories of adults who developed relationships with wild animals, and who appreciates stories replete with atmosphere and description.
Take, for example, Anna Carner's initial observation of the wild world around Tewksbury: "I grinned at the playful awkwardness of a couple of long-legged fawns vying for the attention of a mature buck. He stood tall and vigilant, dark eyes missing nothing, snorted a small alarm, and stomped his foot. In one intuitive swoop, four flared white plumes and two slender feather-like tails played catch-up into the trees, and out of sight. Life was there for all to enjoy; except of course, if you lived life as a target. The earth smelled clean and alive. Vintage Tewksbury. My saddle squeaked with the sounds of well-cared-for leather as I urged my horse near the trunk of a gnarly old tree loaded with floral rosettes, the first in a long row hugging the southern slope of the old orchard. The rich musky aroma of damp earth mingled with a slight scent of apple blossoms."
Her language isn't just about the deer, but the environment of rural Tewksbury and its daily life, capturing the richness of in-the-moment experiences, such as a bubble bath: "As afternoon turned into evening, the promise of a relaxing spa-like atmosphere beckoned from the picture on the Lemon Fantasy bubble bath bottle. The bathtub was built into an alcove, with a picture window facing a tiny secluded garden where Blossom sometimes napped, curled up on the pachysandra ground cover. She wasn’t there. I lit a row of candles on the glass shelf next to the windowsill and turned on a meditation tape. Total relaxation had become an indulgence, and I allowed my thoughts to drift within the mellow, spiritual tones of wooden flutes, my body soaking under a thick layer of scented lemon meringue suds. A snort and a splash of suds put an end to my tranquility. Who knew Blossom liked bubbles?"
These two passages are just small examples of the lyrical language, evolving relationship between woman and deer, and lovely observations of the sights, smells, and warmth of not just the deer, but the entire environment. Even the aged, warped wooden floors of Oldwick General Store are juxtaposed with the foundations of Carner's caring concern for her new charge: "You are who you are—caring comes from losing those battles you still dream about. Blossom is who she is because you're in her life. You're both better for that.”
From self-healing and terrifying publicity about their relationship that endangers Blossom to discussions of the boundaries between wildlife and humans and the dangers that stem from crossing them, Blossom—The Wild Ambassador Of Tewksbury creates a gorgeous interplay of images and words that will keep readers engaged, engrossed, and educated about the plight of wildlife in growing human habitats and deer in particular.
Readers seeking a thoroughly endearing story that holds much food for thought about a woman healing from her past and transmitting that process to her relationship with an injured wild deer will find Blossom—The Wild Ambassador Of Tewksbury just the ticket for a cold night and a warm cup of cocoa.Blossom—The Wild Ambassador Of Tewksbury
Return to Index
Dear Folks, Love Orlie
Orlie Meskimen Book LLC
Paperback: 978-0-9991347-0-2 $15.95
Digital: 978-0-9991347-2-6 $ 3.99
Orlie Leroy Meskimen's letters home from service began shortly after his arrival at Camp Claiborne in early December of 1940, shortly after he enlisted in the Army. Dear Folks, Love Orlie gathers and reprints these writings, saved by his parents for over forty years and resurrected for posterity by his children when they cleaned out their grandparents' home.
One of Orlie's dreams was to write a book. Although he returned home from war, family obligations interfered with this goal. Yet they led, in a different approach, to his becoming an author in an unexpected way, through these writings.
Transcribed exactly as they were written, the letters describe a young man's evolution from small-town Iowa life to becoming a soldier, a leader, and surviving one of the most brutal wars in human history.
The change in tone in this chronological story is intriguing, from short introductory letters confirming safe arrival at Camp Claiborne to later battles, their aftermaths, and frustrations ranging from unreliable communications channels to losing track of fellow soldiers during conflict: "I don’t think I ever hated anything so much in all my life as I did losing Tom from the outfit. I don’t know just how I will get in touch with him again. I wrote to the hospital I think he is in but I’ll never know for sure if he is there until I hear from him."
It should also be noted that the visual presentation of these letters changes from regular type (when Orlie sent handwritten notes) to typewriter style (when he had the ability to type his letters). This may initially seem a small point, but this visual display captures the changing conditions, experiences, and approaches to communication that soldiers had to adjust to as one of the many conditions affecting their lives and connections to others.
From courtship and relationships conducted from abroad to family affairs and daily concerns, letters move from reflections on battle, love, and struggle to everyday concerns. Each illustrates a slice of life moment that, when taken together, captures the soldier's experiences at home and abroad in a manner few war recaps achieve: "I’ve had lots of letters from LaVonne lately. I believe she’s set on hooking me for sure. She surely talks like it at any rate. She’s a darned good kid – I think an awfully lot of her. Not the same feeling I had for Diane. Guess I really don’t know just how I do feel. It’s been a long time. All my ideas about everything have changed – for the better though, I believe."
The progressive changes Orlie experiences, which will frame the rest of his life, are outstandingly documented in the course of these writings: "Too many people are finicky about religion these days. I have my own religion and no one will ever change my ideas. I’ve seen too much in the past year not to believe. No matter whether a person is a sinner or the best Christian, when God figures our time on earth is up it’s all over. I’ve seen both fall over here. I’m fully convinced that something more than my own battle prowess has been with me – I’ve had too many narrow scrapes for it to have been coincidence."
The result is much more accessible to audiences who want a discussion of the war experience which is immediate, wide-ranging, and moves from family connections at home and abroad to conflicts which cause the soldier to revise and solidify his values, morals, and perspective on life.
Dear Folks, Love Orlie's homespun blend of chatty writings and thought-provoking, life-changing experiences should be in any collection strong in World War II documentaries. It's far more accessible, immediate, and revealing than most, juxtaposing the everyday with wider-ranging thinking and reflections.Dear Folks, Love Orlie
Return to Index
The Godfather of Green
The Godfather of Green: An Eco-Spiritual Memoir pairs two subjects usually seen in different kinds of books: an ecological activist's blossoming and a spiritual follower's journey. As such, it offers an intriguing foray into environmental conservation and spiritualism in an approach rarely seen under one cover.
Readers of both subjects will find Jerry Yudelson's memoir a fine account of his struggle to integrate social, political and spiritual objectives. Yudelson studied meditation and mindfulness practices from two Indian spiritual masters, but these concepts didn't translate readily to the demands of activism.
He came of age during the turbulent 1960s and his pursuits reflected the dual interests of his generation, which sought Eastern wisdom even as they became steeped in political revolts and ideals and social struggles.
He journeyed to a Bombay ashram and absorbed its wisdom and Indian culture, then returned to the U.S., where he struggled to translate these spiritual insights into everyday American life, whether it be business or marriage: "Even though I considered myself Baba’s student, I hadn’t yet assimilated or implemented certain core teachings very well into my life. I experienced too many conflicts such as I had with Ron in organizing SolarCal or in arguments with Elle over personal priorities, such as where to go on vacation. One of Baba’s core teachings is See God in each other. Sounds easy enough, but I had difficulty practicing it consistently, especially with people who (I thought) didn’t have advanced spiritual knowledge. I found it hard to admit that maybe I was the one who wasn’t advanced, or whether I could determine who was a spiritual adept."
This process of blending two very different worlds and ideals makes The Godfather of Green a standout production. As Jerry Yudelson moves through government and private industry jobs and constantly seeks to refine and translate his spiritual ideals into daily life, he becomes more and more involved in political circles that would enact real change.
It's rare to find encounters with political and spiritual figures side-by-side in a memoir, but here, they do. Yudelson uses both poetry and prose to capture these insights and experiences, discussing the challenge of implementing social and spiritual change as it relates to environmental quandaries in particular.
The result is a well-done memoir that holds far more insight and meaning than an exploration of one man's singular life. It charts the rise of spirituality, idealism, and their practical impact on one's environment as it follows the choices that led Yudelson on a life journey that resulted not only in happiness and satisfaction, but a more engaged life that made an impact on those around him.The Godfather of Green
Return to Index
Seduced into Darkness
Carrie T. Ishee
Terra Nova Books
Seduced into Darkness: Transcending My Psychiatrist’s Sexual Abuse is a memoir about the sexual abuse suffered by a vulnerable college student at the hands of her psychiatrist, who carefully manipulated their secret affair using psychology and tactics designed to keep Carrie Ishee dependent and subservient.
Psychiatric codes of conduct prohibit any such relationship, but there are always those who would abuse and use their position of power to dominate another. Carrie descended into mental hell, but the process of regaining her freedom, strength, and mental health didn't begin until after a suicide attempt landed her in a famous psychiatric hospital, there to begin a healing process that would lead her to court to confront her aggressor.
There are many surprising moments during the story where Carrie's course in life is altered by her psychiatrist's suggestions, including a session with her concerned parents, where he advocates a big change in her life: "Well, Mr. and Mrs. Tansey, I strongly feel that Carrie needs intensive psychotherapy,” he said with utter authority and confidence. “And she should take a break from college. Healing needs to be her top priority right now.” The three of us sat there stunned. Leave college with only six months until graduation? Can’t a pill lift me out of this? Or some good psychotherapy? I sat like a flower frozen by a sudden springtime snow."
Under the guise of putting healing first, Carrie is actually guided to a dark place where healing is last. Readers follow her into this rabbit hole of abuse and control, absorb the techniques that lead her to feel powerless and mentally ill, and learn how this man led her to feel both special and vulnerable as she tries to please him and earn his respect.
Religion and family are
strong parts of her life—but
strong enough to lift her up from the relationship that slowly grows
to dominate everything in a secretly insidious manner. When her
psychiatrist explains that his spiritual epiphany may be attributed
to her own explorations in religion, she develops a sense of
heightened connection in a way that continues to ensnare her on a
spiritual level, as well: "Time stood
still. We both
sat in his office basking in the feeling that
God had indeed touched him, and that my prayers and intuition had been the conduit. I realized I might have something valuable to offer the world. What if I’m some kind of healer? What if I can bring him to God, and this is the reason we’ve met?"
As trust is cemented by God but ultimately betrayed, readers come to understand just how a vulnerable, God-fearing young girl can succumb to manipulation and a predatory relationship. Therein lies the crux of both the message and importance of Seduced into Darkness.
Its exploration of the boundaries of professional propriety and how they can be broken provides invaluable insights to others in therapy.
Anyone involved in the healing process, especially young women and men who embark on this healing path, need to learn from Carrie's lessons. It's a hard-hitting coverage of how secrets and secret relationships begin, are fostered, and eventually rise to crisis, offering a blend of powerful lesson plan in a cautionary story for others who struggle with mental challenges and consult professionals for help.Seduced into Darkness
Return to Index
Stay, Daughter recounts the life of Muslim girl Yasmin Azad, who faced different challenges growing up as a Muslim in Galle Fort in Sri Lanka in the 1950s. In her memoir, she provides a rare account of the microcosm of community and evolving social challenges in a changing world.
Her story highlights generational transition points in the Muslim community, providing an engrossing inspection of Muslim religious and social traditions that pinpoints many changes: "And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves. —The Quran. We did not stay in our houses. Not in the way our grandmothers had, or our mothers. We went out a little more and veiled ourselves a little less. Casting off the heavy black cloaks that had once shrouded females from head to toe, we covered ourselves, instead, in flimsy veils. Draped lightly around our heads, the silks and voiles fell casually from our shoulders, and in the minutes it took for us to get from front door to car, a stranger walking on the road could make out the features of our young faces, the curves of slender waists and hips."
From a father facing the "alien trends that were overtaking tradition" to a daughter who grows to question how her relationship with her family is being influenced and is changing, Stay, Daughter delves into the specifics of Muslim tradition and life that other Muslim memoirs only lightly touch upon. Perhaps this is because of Azad's ability to hone in on and capture those moments that create doubt and change, such as this: "...my stomach tightened when Wappah called me to write his letters not just because he got impatient and yelled. It was a reminder of something that I did not allow into full consciousness but was nevertheless there: that few other fathers relied on their children for such a thing. Mothers yes, but not fathers. Not in the Galle Fort anyway. I could read and write this foreign language in ways he could not; I had moved away to a culture he could not negotiate—a culture, moreover, that thought less of him for this inability. Was I in danger of thinking less of him too? If that question sometimes flickered up, it did most strongly during these letter-writing episodes."
Or perhaps it's a concurrent sense of humor that runs like a constant stream through her descriptions, lightening events and keeping readers engaged by featuring both the dark events and lighthearted moments of her life and encounters.
By now, it should be evident that Stay, Daughter's language, focus, and descriptions are more than a cut above the usual memoir of Muslim females experiencing vast challenges and changes to their family ties and faith. Because of her specific and detailed reflections on Muslim belief systems and cultural tradition, Azad's story is a riveting tale contrasting new and old worlds not just at home, but in the schools and on the streets of Galle Fort. All these places come to life under Azad's hand.
Azad takes the time to review generations of attitudes and perspectives, adding solid historical background to her modern-day experiences. She also discusses love as much as the oppression that Westerners use to interpret familial situations in Muslim communities. This latter emphasis, particularly, lends to an understanding of cultural and social changes that offers far more depth than a cursory story could have achieved.
From caste differences (her family belonged to an especially educated tradition) and the impact of colonial traditions on the culture as a whole to the community ties between different Muslims challenged with preserving their traditions in the face of conflicting modern influences, Stay, Daughter is an outstanding example of how a memoir format can be used to promote cultural understanding with thought-provoking insights.
It should be in every collection strong in Muslim community stories and explorations of Sri Lankan society, representing a strong and personal contrast between orthodox ties and the paradoxes which arise from changing women's roles and family traditions.Stay, Daughter
Return to Index
The Good Stranger
Lake Union Publishing
$3.99 e-book, $10.99 paperback, $14.99 Audio CD
Ordering Link: https://www.amazon.com/Good-Stranger-Kate-Bradley-Mystery/dp/1542004705
The Good Stranger opens with Kate Bradley's new job as a national TV reporter just as a massive blackout hits New York City. Welcome to Manhattan. The event may pose the perfect introduction to her job of juxtaposing facts with high drama, but Kate's investigation takes an unexpected turn from disaster reporting when she follows the clues from random acts of generosity that result in a mysterious scavenger hunt through the City.
It turns out the Stranger's acts are somehow tied to bigger events, and every gift comes with its price...a price that may become too terrible to pay as Kate and fellow TV host Scott Jameson deflect threats that escalate into violence.
Dete Meserve's ability to juxtapose idyllic scenes with sudden violence is one of the attractions that keeps The Good Stranger fast-paced and filled with staccato action. Good and bad events serve as bookends to engrossing moments: "This was how I’d always imagined the idyllic wonderland known as Manhattan. Glorious blue skies and puffy white clouds on a summer morning. Smartly dressed people heading to do important work after grabbing breakfast on an outdoor patio bustling with waiters bringing trays of inspired dishes. Then a sudden whoosh of movement and the scrape of tumbling metal. The next thing I knew I was flat on my stomach, hit by a force so hard it knocked the wind out of me."
Time is taken to capture the atmosphere of Manhattan and the personalities and perspectives of those around Kate. This lends a compelling touch to the mystery, keeping readers engaged in a realistic story firmly set in a sense of place as well as purpose: "As we watched the water jump and dance in a carefully choreographed water ballet, the sound of the rushing, splashing water drowning out the city noise, Manhattan felt kind of spellbinding. I could see why people might fall in love with this city."
When Kate's father proposes a remarriage that leaves Kate feeling like he's ruining their family by his decision, readers become engrossed not only in Kate's evolving career and life, but in the choices of those around her.
These subplots add a full-flavored dimension to the story that offsets its intrigue and mystery, inviting readers to care about Kate's life changes and those around her.
The result is a story that's hard to put down—a tale not just of mystery, but of urban life, women's friendships and relationships, and a feisty news reporter who often finds herself in over her head both emotionally and professionally.
This combination is just the ticket for a compelling, well-rounded read.The Good Stranger
Return to Index
Paul W. Papa
978-1734405736 $9.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle
Maximum Rossi: A Las Vegas Crime Noir is set in the 1950s and follows the struggles of a man who came to Vegas to escape his past, only to find it reincarnates in his new world in an unexpected yet familiar way.
In true noir style, Rossi is a hard-boiled detective whose methods and approaches to life and crime have been seasoned by the streets and perps he's encountered and survived.
Also in classic noir style is Paul W. Papa's method of describing the action, which jumps into a scene with the sights, smells, and sounds of daily living and crime's quick injection into it: "I was two eggs into a three-egg omelet when my breakfast was interrupted by a man who slid into my booth across the table from me. He wore a gray broadcloth sack suit, loose at the waist with narrow shoulders. His shirt was white and his collars button down. He sported a striped, straight-point tie and the wisp of a white handkerchief tucked into his top pocket. The man brought two goons with him. One was just shy of a mountain, the other a molehill."
The 'fat city' enamored Rossi, but it's about to test every investigative skill he's honed back in Boston and throughout his life. Paul W. Papa's sultry blend of description and noir action brings readers right into the interplay between P.I. and perp with a style of action that is edgy, compelling, and steeped in Las Vegas culture and atmosphere.
Papa's ability to capture this sense of place, time, and purpose drives the story, keeping it fast-paced, realistic, and thoroughly involving. Fans of Dashiell Hammett and classic hard-boiled detective noir fiction will readily recognize all the trappings of the genre in this story's approach and descriptive choices, but Papa's ability to add the feisty, determined, gruff personality of Rossi into the bigger crime picture is what sets his story apart from many who delve into the hard-boiled mystery genre.
Massimo "Max" Rossi is no ordinary struggling detective, but the seasoned son of mob "fixer" Boston Rossi. He's in the perfect position to be the chief suspect when a rival Chicago hit man is murdered and his girlfriend kidnapped. Caught up in a struggle between police and Vegas mob forces which have ties to other cities, Rossi finds that the break he was seeking in Vegas, trying to get away from his family's influence and lifestyle, only draws him into more danger from all sides.
From descriptions of gambling and bluffing to his realization that he's the patsy in a game being played by a wide range of special interests, Rossi finds his every move and decision challenged. This leads to what he does best—problem-solving—but on a scale that places his life constantly at risk.
The cat-and-mouse games, revelations, intrigue, and gritty determination of a protagonist who only wants to leave the dangerous playing field, but can't, creates a compelling, thoroughly engrossing noir mystery that's hard to put down. Good character development, a fine sense of place and mystery, and Vegas gambling backdrops craft a story that sizzles.
Paul W. Papa has not only thoroughly researched his subject, but weaves Vegas history and culture into the kind of hard-boiled mystery that is supercharged with the protagonist's personality, choices, and observations. The result is a compelling probe into an investigator who only wants a different kind of life...but can't get one.Maximum Rossi
Return to Index
William Barrett Burton
Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC
978-0-9889048-4-2 $14.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle
Ockham's Razor is highly recommended, edge-of-your-seat reading for detective story enthusiasts who enjoy strong female leads. It introduces pharmamaceutical scientist Dagney Hamilton, whose research uncovers a new approach to thwarting obesity. When her employer quashes the results and cancels her project, Dagney suddenly faces adversity not just from an unexpected career change, but a string of murders that begin to eliminate everyone associated with the project.
Her pursuit of justice takes on a personal touch as Dagney uses her past skills as a decorated police detective to follow the clues that wind through business, political, and crime special interests alike.
Why would a promising new approach to curing obesity result in such a massive retaliatory response? As Dagney and fellow detective friend Mark Stone pursue the perps behind this murder spree, they uncover deeper connections to the politics and money behind drug therapies that challenge her new career path's moral assumptions.
Ockham's Razor is especially strong in peppering succinct social observations about bigger-picture truths and thinking into its mystery: "Dagney would soon learn how little privacy the digital age offered."
As partner Mark also pursues the cases related to InVaō Pharmaceuticals, they both tread on dangerous ground as they draw ever closer to a startling truth that holds the power to challenge both of their lives and careers. Are deep cover operations being conducted by black ops out of InVaō? Since the military is probably not involved, it's increasingly evident that Dagney has stirred up a hornet's nest that will stop at nothing—even murdering a planeload of people—to achieve its objectives.
Even the FBI gets involved...but whose side are they really on?
Readers looking for a well-written, involving mystery that moves from murder to business, political, and social issues embracing moral and ethical dilemmas as well as corporate greed and subterfuge will find Ockham's Razor a top pick for many reasons.
Its characterization is wonderfully done, its cast of characters supports the action and clarifies the story line, and the spotlight on Dagney's efforts is strong and centered on her personal challenges as well as her savvy investigative background and rocky career moves. The story neatly concludes with a refreshing new revelation while leaving the door open for further Dagney escapades.Ockham's Razor
Return to Index
Once is Never Enough returns wannabe spy James Flynn to the limelight in a new standalone adventure and satisfying sequel to You Only Live Once. Think James Bond, but with the added flamboyance and mental inspections reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
As the story open, Flynn is now "cured." Heavily medicated, he's put on fifty pounds and lost all his confidence now that he no longer thinks he's a secret agent. He's living in a halfway house for mental patients and working part time at Hot Dog on Stick.
An old enemy after revenge plunges him back into his delusion and a brand new adventure. Once again he believes he's a Double-O working for Her Majesty's Secret Service.
He and hospital orderly, Sancho, uncover a mysterious new plot as they play a game of cat and mouse with another unhinged super villain. This makes for an intriguing set of insights into the nature of delusion, reality, and a world spinning out of control.
The exquisite juxtaposition of mental illness insights, intrigue, and adventure create a tour de farce which is thoroughly engrossing, often hilarious, and replete with psychological insights.
Readers looking for a blend of intrigue and comedy in a story of psychosis and real-world threats will find Once is Never Enough creates an outstanding multifaceted blend of action and fun designed to keep readers engaged and guessing to the end.Once is Never Enough
Return to Index
Picture a character who is a little like Nero Wolfe and Socrates put together: a literary analyst who uses a blend of bookish and criminal inspection to solve his cases. The Philosophical Detective introduced the blind poet genius Jorge Luis Borges and followed his intricately detailed cases, which revolved around not just literature, philosophy, and criminal affairs, but his association with Nick Martin.
Readers who appreciated his engrossing introduction in the prior book will welcome Borges's return, while newcomers will discover that no previous familiarity with his character or exploits is necessary in order to appreciate this rollicking romp through literature and the streets of New York alike.
As Borges confronts an investigation into family history that reveals a missing heirloom ring connected to Solomon, suicides and death threats, and murder, he and Nick find themselves unraveling the difference between fact and fantasy as they navigate danger using Poe's detective stories as a formula for understanding the murders of Bernhard Netzer, Dr. Peter Netzer and Colonel Richard Gimbel.
It should be cautioned that The Philosophical Detective Returns is not a casual, quick read. Bruce Hartman takes the time to detail these literary adventures, quoting from various books and drawing connections between them and the investigation at hand.
One might expect such passages to be weighty and to perhaps impede the story, but they are one of the strengths of the tale, adding depth, insight, and a literary flavor readers will relish: "For Borges, as I had to learn over and over again, it was impossible to separate life from literature. Sooner or later everything he thought about took the form of a story. A murder involves three stories, he told me later—the victim’s story, the murderer’s story, and the detective’s story—each of which has a beginning, a middle and an end. The victim’s story and the murderer’s each has its own cast of characters and its own plot, which overlap at one critical moment. The detective’s story begins where the victim’s ends. Its only purpose is to reconstruct the other two stories and find the point where they converge. And the narrator is the godlike intelligence who grasps these stories in their manifold divergences and weaves them together into a coherent representation of reality. And all of this, Borges told me, was invented by Edgar Allan Poe. The great mystery, he said, was why? Why did Poe invent the detective story?"
As a series of conundrums test even the genius-level mettle of the two (and other detectives, as well), mystery and detective fans will find Bruce Hartman excels in crafting the kind of intrigue that is unpredictable, involving, and multifaceted.
The interactions between Borges and Nick add a complex, involving flavor to observations and encounters. In his role as the documenter of events, Nick assumes a level of responsibility for interpretation that affects his choice of emphasis and representation: "In the event that I ever wrote the story down—which is what I’m doing now—I would control the narrative, which to some extent was the narrative of my own life. I didn’t have to come across as dim-witted. No matter how the case turned out, I’d be able to make myself look smarter, wittier, more prescient than I really was. I could manipulate events and appearances so that I, and not Borges, would get credit for the brilliant insights, the witty aphorisms, perhaps even the solution to the crime."
The result is not only a thoroughly satisfying continuation of the philosophical detective's adventures, but creates a supportive, involving stand-alone read that newcomers and old fans will equally relish. The Philosophical Detective Returns is highly recommended for classic detective story enthusiasts who look for complexity and intellectual challenges in their characters and stories.The Philosophical Detective Returns
Return to Index
Pool of Life
AIA Publishing, Australia
Liverpool P.I. Jack ‘Flash’ Gordon’s business is in trouble. The drop in income and threat to his career is somewhat mitigated by a strange case in which Sarah Gladwyn, threatened by a stalker, wants Gordon to become involved not only in protecting her and mitigating the threat, but in addressing the stalker's obsession with her family's history and politics.
This is far more than a case of individual obsession. Somehow, events evolve in complexity and danger to where Gordon is attempting to mitigate not an individual conundrum, but a terrorist threat to Liverpool's water supply.
Technology and business changes aren't the only circumstances that stymie Jack's pursuits. His emotional connection to death, adversity, and even the plights of strangers keep him less strong than he imagines his job would benefit from: "He hated how he always wore his heart on his sleeve like this. In his line of work, you were supposed to be the tough guy. It wasn’t as if this kind of stuff didn’t happen all the time in a city with a waterfront like Liverpool. The going gets tough? No, you don’t get going, you jump in the water. Like that other girl all those years ago."
The emotional overlay Gordon brings to his investigations and life encounters is one of the factors that sets Pool of Life apart from other P.I. stories of investigative challenges.
Jack is well used to the politics and problems which plague Liverpool: "Jack didn’t respond. In Liverpool you often heard conspiracy theories involving the people in power." But perhaps he's too familiar with these issues, because he misses some important clues and finds himself in a quagmire revolving around Oliver Gladwyn’s business activities.
There's also Melanie Gibson, who appreciated his help until she stumbled upon information that would indicate Jack Gordon is perhaps not all that he appears: "She’d always taken Jack Gordon as a pretty straight guy. Okay, there was all that Flash Gordon and Jumping Jack Flash stuff, but he’d given her a job in her hour of need and had been the total gentleman when she rebuffed his advances. But if even a small percentage of what they were saying on the website was true, then he was just another bullshit merchant."
With not only this case but his career and reputation on the line, Jack must employ all of his investigative savvy to rescue not just one woman and her family, but an entire city.
From a soldier recovering from PTSD to wild parties, jealousies, stormy relationships, family connections, and disappearances that lead to murder, Jack has his hands full juggling more than one dilemma.
These draw readers into a case replete with quirky, strong personalities and changing relationships that keep readers on their toes. The dialogue and encounters excel in interactions designed to keep readers both guessing and immersed in the lingo, atmosphere, politics, and influences of Liverpool's residents in general and Jack's life in particular.
The result is a rollicking good thriller that juxtaposes intrigue and murder with a detective's own personal evolution in a story that will keep readers engaged right up to its unexpected conclusion.Pool of Life
Return to Index
St. Francis of Dogtown
Floppinfish Publishing Company, Ltd.
978-0-578-52462-7 $12.95 Paper/$4.95 Kindle
St. Francis of Dogtown is crime fiction at its best and opens with Special Process Server Francis X. Lenihan on the job, driving the streets of St. Louis while recording a monologue on the unique nature of his profession, prepping for an upcoming talk to a class at the community college: "As I say, the job is not normally one perilous situation after another but it does have a component that is not at all pleasing. That component is frustration. Frustration is part and parcel of the job. People not coming to the door or lying to your face. Driving fifty miles to find no one home, driving to another town to find that the address they gave you is non-existent. You have to be super-persistent to overcome the frustrations encountered in this job. Today is no exception.” An exception does evolve in a dramatic series of encounters with those trying to evade service.
In a quiet rural subdivison Francis walks into trouble in trying to serve a paper on a dead woman. There's nobody home, just as the "caretaker" had told him, and he leaves his card on the door. Before long, homicide detectives are at his door in St. Louis. Francis helps the police all he can, but they need more. If only he could sort through his beer-soaked memory and recall the vanity plate on the muscle car he saw. His desire to help the homicide detectives investigating a suburban woman's death reveals some surprising auxiliary strengths in his profession, lending a different, more effective approach to crime-solving than those who professionally investigate for a living.
Armed with a special dogmatic technique and an ability to confront obstinate personalities, Lenihan's brand of questioning runs him afoul of the detectives on the case. LaRocca, in particular, finds Lenihan a nuisance and a problem: "I think he’s involved in this. He knew about Jackson before we did and he didn’t say a word. I’m not saying he’s in with the killer. I’m saying he’s acting on his own or someone hired him—and I have a hunch who—to dig into this separate from our investigation and he’s found out some things. Long and short, he’s withholding information pertinent to a criminal investigation, and you know the consequences of that.”
As crime connections, hijackers and housebreakers, and kidnappings evolve, Francis finds his abilities challenged by both sides, in more ways than one. The temptation to return to the quiet comfort of an Irish neighborhood bar, there to steep himself in drink far from the streets of despair and danger, is juxtaposed with a steely determination to follow through to the end, in typical process-serving form.
Wm. Stage excels at crafting the culture and atmosphere of St. Louis's Irish neighborhood and takes time to cultivate and grow not just different personalities, but the many kinds of forces that reside there. His attention to detail and description are wonderfully cemented by the process server's modus operandi and approach to life, adding a refreshing twist to the criminal investigation portion of the story. As petty criminals become prey in their own mileau, a series of deaths and confrontations between them keep readers guessing about who will be left standing in the end.
Detective story readers who like their tales steeped in a blend of history, culture, and action will find St. Francis of Dogtown fits the bill in producing a story that captures love, danger, and controversy in a town Francis loves, which is filled with Irish flavor and ribald encounters.St. Francis of Dogtown
Return to Index
The Will to Die
Z Squared Media, LLC
Paperback: 978-0985957674 $17.95
Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Will-Die-Suspense-Thriller-Pollitt/dp/0985957670/
Amazon eBook Link: https://www.amazon.com/Will-Die-Joe-Pulizzi-ebook/dp/B07ZL26ZVD
Book Landing Page: https://www.joepulizzi.com/the-will-to-die/
Will Pollitt's deceased father was a liar. And his lies not only killed him, but lead to a series of deaths in Will's small town that threaten to leave a blossoming legacy long after his demise. All this challenges his son to investigate matters far beyond his abilities.
This suspense thriller dishes out high-octane intrigue at its best, from vivid descriptions narrated in the first person through Will Pollitt's experiences to Will's growing involvement in his father's funeral business and his revelations about what that really means for the small town's survival.
Will moves from thinking that his father didn't have many secrets to wondering if he ever knew the real truth about his family's heritage. Readers embark on a rollicking series of revelations about the real cause of Will's father's demise, gambles taken (literally) by both father and son, and revelations about his father's racism and its ongoing impact on the town's psyche and values.
At each step of the story, Will uncovers a new truth about his father and about himself in a powerful series of insights. These evolve over the course of a threat to the entire city that embraces behavior analysis, IT developments, and the ultimate price of a mission to transform the urban environment.
As a death in the family moves into murder mystery territory and beyond, suspense readers will relish Will's many discovers about himself, his family, and the precarious future of his small town. Will can't even save himself...so how can he save a whole city?
The Will to Die excels in nonstop action and revelations, creating a slow, simmering buildup of purpose and events designed to keep readers on their toes and guessing. Joe Pulizzi teases out the suspense with the deft manipulations of an expert, slowly building the story of how a funeral home director becomes mired in danger well beyond his experience and ability to handle.
Characters, motivations, and plots are all believable and well done, but most of all, they reach out and grab readers with an attention to detail that makes for a story hard to put down, infinitely changeable, and riveting right up to its unexpected conclusion. This approach pits Will against not just a dangerous adversary, but the values and processes of his own life.
The Will to Die is very highly recommended for its satisfying, just-right blend of personal motivation, intrigue, murder mystery, and techno-thriller, all rooted in powerful psychological cat-and-mouse games.The Will to Die
Return to Index
/ white pill
Greg Hoetker, Foreword by Ken Calvin
978-1-734-1079-4-4 $20.00 Paper/$5.00 PDF
BLACK CYANIDE / white pill is a novella that moves through the decades from 1920 to 2020, presenting an unusual structure of one-page vignettes for every year to present its story in a succinct, digestible manner.
It stands at the crossroads between fiction and memoir, being neither one nor the other but a conglomeration of both as it tells of a narrator whose mother was born a slave, giving birth to a mulatto son at age 60 whose skin was so pale, he could 'pass'. That son grew up initially nameless in Chicago.
From early spiritual and social inspection to the cementing of values and goals that both refute common sentiment and return to his roots, these vignettes follow the struggles of not just black and white America, but those whose lives lie somewhere within an uncertain ethnicity.
BLACK CYANIDE / white pill is narrated in the first person and so excels in following matters of the heart; dreams formulated, interrupted, and revised; and the experiences of contrasting, clashing black and white societies from the perspective of one who lives on both sides.
As the now-named Amos Sideways tends the garden he chooses over violence and interacts with Cady Flake, who observes that he will sooner or later "explode" due to dreams deferred and emotions set aside, readers receive a stark, thought-provoking survey of social challenges and racial strife from an unusual perspective.
From fishing and gardening to growing violence in America from 9/11 to Oklahoma, Amos faces the fallout of black and white relationships from a special vantage point, experiencing time's "relentless march" and a body which is aging and changing.
"Everything dies. But not everyone lives." This note from his friend is only one of the influences that keep Amos increasingly engaged in new relationships, friendships, love, and an evolving focus on American social and political changes: "I walked towards Capitol to protest the Iraq War. I had never marched for anything before. Not for Martin. Not for Vietnam. For some reason I felt it. Maybe it was Cy. They later said it was the largest global protest the world had ever known."
As Amos reaches his nineties and past and present begin to coalesce in his mind, readers remain immersed in a progressive journey that follows his transformations, influences, and the racial and political sentiments that have rocked a nation and sparked ongoing change.
The author is especially adept, at this juncture, at summing up such personal and political transition points, comparing ideals with realities: “I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents.” “We have never discriminated, and never would.” “That idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists.” “You don’t want to live with them either.” “That spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice.”
“No blind people are going to live in this building.” “That creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon.”
“Bring Back the Death Penalty! Bring Back the Police!”
“A creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written.” “They don’t look like Indians to me.”
BLACK CYANIDE / white pill's focus on mercurial racial relationships, social and personal change, political awareness and more, as narrated over the decades by an observer who becomes a participant in America's transformation, creates a thought-provoking and astute examination replete with struggle, insight, revelation, and growth.
Readers seeking a literary survey of changing racial relationships will find BLACK CYANIDE / white pill absorbing, thought-provoking, and hard to put down.BLACK CYANIDE / white pill
Return to Index
The Broken Shade
Bent Briar Publishing L.L.L.P.
When she became a cocktail waitress at a men's club in order to earn a few extra dollars to help in her home renovation, Freja O'Connell didn't suspect this innocuous job would open the door to new realms. But strange encounters can evolve under the oddest of conditions, and The Broken Shade reflects this experience as Freja explores a strange new world and considers her revised place in it.
The first strength to note here is Michele Poague's employment of atmospheric descriptions: "September heat radiated through the window glass where I was holed up at my sister’s house, discussing last summer’s discovery of the Titanic after seventy-five years at the bottom of the ocean. There is an eeriness to raising the dead, be it an old ship or my love life."
These contribute to an approach that takes time to describe not just action, but Freja's observations of and feelings about her course in life and the usual turn it takes. There's also a salty sense of humor in the background of many moments as Freja adjusts to her new role working in a strip club and the special challenges it brings to her sensibilities and objectives: "Dealing with drunken men wasn’t new to me, but the added testosterone of a man surrounded by naked women was more of a challenge. The occasional shot of whiskey helped, but I noticed my tips went down when I imbibed. Not because I made less money; more that I tended to drop it on the floor. I only know this because Ginger retrieved it for me on several occasions."
From the mechanics of her DIY remodel job and the complexities of facing home invaders and possible ghosts to struggles with a libido that responds to an unusually sexy man, Freja's Colorado sojourn brings with it promises and otherworldly encounters that continue to hold a sense of fun as a spirit entity observes her rebuild struggles: "Julianne stood in the loft, watching me. It would have been extremely convenient for her to have been more than fog at that moment. “You appear to be in trouble.” “You don’t say.” “Is there some direction you can give me?” I thought about it long and hard but couldn’t come up with a damn thing. I tested the balance and weight of the bathtub. Nope. If I let go, it would slide the rest of the way down the stairs."
Between the lessons learned from her new waitressing position (which holds elements of old, familiar routines while introducing new challenges), those learned from her acceptance of Julienne Parker in her house, and others which stem from her evolving house renovations and romance, The Broken Shade excels in creating an evolutionary story that is thoroughly engrossing.
A jazzy note plays throughout the story, which is set in 1986 and incorporates the flavor of music, intrigue, and love. Readers who like their romances tempered by engrossing life dilemmas with a dash of the supernatural added for good measure will find The Broken Shade a powerful and fine story of bittersweet endings and new beginnings.The Broken Shade
Return to Index
Rob Couteau describes Doctor Pluss as "...fiction based on actual dialogues with schizophrenic patients, diabolically 'sane' psychotherapists, and well-meaning yet unerringly destructive social workers. It chronicles the descent of an eccentric, sardonic, and witty psychiatrist into what appears to be a state of complete madness."
His intention to metaphorically and realistically portray and contrast the madness of psychiatric process as well as its patients is powerfully wrought in a story about patients "surviving this holocaust of forgetfulness." During this process, their identities and personalities are lost in the institutional morass of a center purported to excel in rehabilitation, but which actually contains many ethical and personal challenges to the new psychiatric resident at the Walt Whitman Asylum for Adults, Dr. Pluss.
It's a place of rage and despair, of ambiguity where hope and horror run close together, and daily gives Dr. Pluss pause for thought about his patients and his role in their lives: "In her own unwitting way, Pluss mused, Evelyn personified the dual aspects of the godhead: horror and joy; awe and fascination."
Novellas typically are hard-hitting but often artificially succinct in their brevity. Often, one is left wanting for more. The best of them (of which Doctor Pluss is one) excels in taking this succinctness to its most logical conclusion, creating slices of life which are narrow enough to receive full-bodied flavor as the plot and characters develop.
One does not wish for more in Doctor Pluss. It's complete unto itself, exceptionally well developed, and emotionally compelling, connecting metaphorical description with experiences that often challenge the traditional roles of doctor and patient, linking them in unexpected ways.
Each patient has their own special struggle with perceptions and illusions that influence reality. Rob Couteau's descriptions are often long and detailed, demanding a slower, more contemplative reading style than is usual in novels in general and novellas in particular. These long sentences are packed with description that grabs heart and mind: "It was tragically convenient to blame her uncontrollable obesity and fierce primal appetite upon this crazy cat of the fleshy sphinx, this lazy Egyptian feline entombed within, lost in a drifting, timeless time of metempsychosis and crocodile gods, of the loopy eye of the ankh – the cross with a teardrop on top – mystic symbol for who knows what. Into the loop one entered and never again returned, adrift with the sacred crocodiles and lost in a thick bed of reeds asway in a warm, mosquito breeze, the muddy Nile lapping you along to your mother’s teat which is the grand fan of the delta: lush black earth of Moses and Nefertiti and Alexander and Akhenaton, all had wet themselves in her deltoid lap – let me wash you clean with my dirty waters and raise your material soul to a vast glittering realm of death, death, death – great Egyptian fantasy that delivered us to Hades, where we left this paltry life of the living and gladly marched to the everlasting realm of the deceased."
Run-on sentence, or beautiful metaphor for a mental condition? Couteau is not afraid to push the literary boundaries of convention in pursuit of a different form of descriptive truth, bringing readers along in a rollicking ride through schizophrenic experience that ultimately questions the foundations of reality and perception from both sides of the therapist's couch.
His interpretations and descriptions of the schizophrenic experience are particularly astute, astonishing, and evocatively described.
When Pluss vanishes, a ripple of effects on doctors and patients alike threatens to change everything. A regression process takes place that questions both convention and traditional roles.
Readers who choose Doctor Pluss are in for a treat. It's like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on steroids: a thought-provoking examination of sanity, insanity, and the crossover process that leaves readers thinking long after this therapeutic slice of life is consumed.Doctor Pluss
Return to Index
Fractal Moose Press
Paper: 978-0-9730395-8-0 $15.99
Ebook: 978-0-9730395-9-7 $ 4.99
Author website: http://www.chandrakclarke.com
Echoes of Another. A Novel of the Near Future is set in near-future Toronto where idealistic young scientist Kel Refferty's new invention, which can promote effortless high-performance activity in humans, proves a danger when it falls into the wrong hands. Predictably, this group views the process as a means of changing and controlling the world.
Faced with a terrible threat to the positive future she'd envisioned from her creation, Kel is prompted to recover her stolen prototype, entering a dangerous world of competing powers far beyond her ken.
As chapters move between Kel's observations, her assistant Meike Bergholtz's efforts, and society's drive for experiences that lead them ever further on paths away from humanity itself, readers are treated to a technological thriller that incorporates social and ethical dilemmas into its story line. This creates a fast-paced series of encounters that runs from bar scenes to lab experiments and beyond.
Chandra Clarke's ability to paint a futuristic overlay into this story makes for an engrossing blend of thriller and hard sci-fi that will delight readers looking for crossovers that pepper social issues and developments into the story line.
She's especially adept at synthesizing experiences with the sparsest language possible to deliver the biggest impact, as in the scene where a technological implant received in a bar seemingly goes awry, delivering some unexpected results: "She needed more money. More of this. More alive."
Readers may not anticipate the philosophical inspection added into the mix, but this further enhances a story that traverses popular culture and changing threats to Kel and Meike's world, values, and purposes.
Echoes of Another. A Novel of the Near Future is unpredictably familiar in many ways, yet futuristically surprising in others. Its tension and exquisite dilemmas on the parts of individuals and society as a whole will linger in the mind longer after the story's concluding year of surprises.Echoes of Another
Return to Index
The Elizabeth Walker
Mason Alley Publishing
978-1-7322945-2-3 $4.99 ebook/$14.95 Paper
Jake Travis returns (for the seventh adventure) in The Elizabeth Walker Affair, this time confronting an old friend's visit and odd request to act as a go-between in his rekindled romance with former beau Elizabeth Walker.
There are many initial problems with this plan, not the least of which is that Andrew is in the midst of a divorce and was never really a close friend. So Jake turns down the opportunity to fall into a quagmire and, in so doing, finds himself stuck in unexpected and different ways, trapped in a strange affair that tugs at his ex-military experience and heartstrings alike.
There's something compellingly honest and human about Jake's character and approach to life that draws readers into the thriller with more than a casual dose of psychological inspection. This is nicely paired with high-octane action.
This marriage of psyche and danger permeates all the Jake Travis adventures, but is especially seasoned and well-developed in The Elizabeth Walker Affair, which excels in not only a fast pace, but an added dose of humor juxtaposed with Jake's innate tendency towards "hard opinions and quick judgments."
When Andrew turns up dead, Jake pursues leads (including Elizabeth) for answers. Each thread he pulls leads in a seemingly different, more complex direction. From a rendezvous gone wrong to a distant relationship that suddenly assumes an unprecedented importance in his life, Jake uncovers a host of strange situations that seem to lead nowhere.
With six prior books to the Jake Travis series, a newcomer might anticipate that The Elizabeth Walker Affair would require prior familiarity with these stories. It doesn't. While his various confrontations are equally compelling, and though they enhance and expand Jake's psychological profile and character here, The Elizabeth Walker Affair is a satisfying stand-alone story. It requires no experience with Jake's adventures in order to appreciate his struggles, courage, ethics, and his latest involvement with Andrew Keller, who nearly stole a man's fiancée, was involved in a peace coalition that confronted the NRA's rule over Tallahassee, and paid for it with his life.
There are many possible choices for who would have wanted to murder the "Sofa King of Sarasota." As events move from past to present, from Lizzy's involvement with Andrew to the choices that lead to this deadly conclusion, readers receive a vivid, multifaceted, changing story designed to keep them guessing about its outcome up to a satisfying bombshell conclusion which questions choice and freewill and their ultimate impact.
Emotionally charged to envelop readers from the start, The Elizabeth Walker Affair combines the best elements of romance, mystery, and thriller formats and is a top recommendation for readers of all three genres.The Elizabeth Walker Affair
Return to Index
Guesthouse for Ganesha
She Writes Press
Guesthouse for Ganesha is an unusual story of magical realism that blends Hindu mythology with modern-day dilemmas. To achieve this, it tells of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha's visit to 1920s Köln just as Esther Grünspan leaves her native Poland for a new life in Germany.
The story of the strange union of a jilted, grieving teenager and Ganesha opens with a fervent dance with the elephant god which leads to Esther's arrival in Germany, hardened and alone after her love, Tadeusz’s, public rejection of her at the alter.
Judith Teitelman writes with a lyrical, evocative hand from the start, drawing out Esther's emotions, the wellspring of her newfound determination to forge a new life in a strange country, and her youthful ability to reconcile the pains of the recent past with an analytical determination to move forward: "In the only way anguish can be subdued, if not entirely vanquished, Esther never stopped moving during those first self-exiled months. She couldn’t. She could not allow herself to sit idle, not even for a few minutes, for if she did, memories of him, of them, of what was, would deluge her mind. Emotions that she now strained to destroy or deny ever existed would take over, and she would be rendered helpless, powerless, as she had been and as she promised herself she would never be again."
She gains employment and lodging and begins to learn a new language, but the real darkness in her heart from foregoing love and community threatens to end everything until something changes on "...a bitter Friday twilight with the promise of snow four months after Esther’s arrival in this city."
Intoxicating colors from a strange, makeshift stand grab her attention and lure her into a bizarre, captivating world overseen by an elephant-headed man who holds the ability to transcend time and space.
As Esther embarks on a dance through life with this strange deity, she must confront the rise of Nazism coupled with the responsibilities of motherhood which forces her, once again, to consider abandoning everything familiar to build a new conclusion to a story that is speeding towards inevitable, predictable disaster: "A scene must be shaped; a story must be developed; a tale must be told with the barest of information, as though this place, their lives, were part of a play, a scene in a production, and tonight were the culmination. The story’s sad but banal conclusion. No questions could be left to ponder; their whereabouts never questioned. It must appear as though everything—absolutely everything—had been left behind."
Facing a dangerous future, Esther finds herself planning a different kind of journey: "This exit was different from the preceding two times, for in each of those instances, Esther had been running away from all things known and familiar: the first, to secure her soul; the second, to save her life. Now, she headed toward the indefinable, a place beyond description—an enigma of choice."
Spiritual, socially astute, politically chilling, and psychologically gripping, Guesthouse for Ganesha is the kind of novel marketers hate and readers love because it challenges simple categorization. Its evocative descriptions, connections between Jewish experience and Hindu beliefs, and exploration of how Esther at first grasps her life with both hands to control it fully, only to find it slipping from her clasp with greater promise than she could have envisioned or created in her dreams, makes for a fully engrossing story that is hard to put down.
Neither a Holocaust story nor Hindu legend, Guesthouse for Ganesha blends elements of both with an exceptional attention to vivid detail and transformation that results in a thoroughly unexpected, delightful dance through life.Guesthouse for Ganesha
Return to Index
Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC
978-1945181757 $15.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle
The Latecomers is a story that may be all too familiar to many Americans today. Maggie and Charlie Latecomer are in their sixties. They are both celebrating newfound freedoms, confronting their limitations and aging process due to kids who have moved far away and retirement that is forced upon them sooner than they'd anticipated. These events propel them on a different path from fulfilling dreams, leading them to question life's meaning.
Have they retired, or been "reinvented as artists"? Trains of thought include finances (shaky), children (loving but distant) and health (good). Life is filled with love, but it's about to get more exciting rather than drawing to a quiet close.
Like so many, they embark on a journey of self-discovery in later years. Unlike most, they find some of the answers when they discover a mysterious book filled with logographs which points the way to a very different future than they ever envisioned.
The Latecomers paints a fine portrait of a loving couple set to be satisfied with their life decisions, then adds questions and explorations into the mix as Charlie decides he's missing something that Maggie can't help him fulfill and plans an exit that leaves her hurt and wondering. Maggie's love "lets him go where he needed to go," but sometimes she can't follow—especially when it's a choice that depends on his exit to help him feel "fully alive."
Charlie's restlessness has to do with a longing to know what will happen to him in his last stages of life. When he meets an unusual woman during his retreat who promises him the kind of friendship and support which goes beyond romantic entanglements, Charlie receives yet another piece of a puzzle that continues to grow throughout The Latecomers.
One satisfying note to this story is that it's a literary work that embraces elements of psychological tension, art, magical realism, and philosophy. It doesn't neatly fit into a particular category, but dances between being an end-of-life saga, a romance, and a fantasy, incorporating elements of all these themes without becoming a singular production.
Readers begin with a conventional-seeming tale that takes the time to explore their lives, but will be surprised by an approach that builds upon this foundation to journey into unexpected arenas of love and discovery.
As Charlie's life becomes entangled with Ebba yet remains firmly connected to Maggie, he contemplates going home and moving forward with her.
"When people spin out, when they snap, is what follows truly a choice?" Charlie and Maggie's contemplations about life, loss, grief, moving on, and love separate them, then bring them back together in a different manner. This ebb and flow of emotions carries readers on a tide of revelation that probes lifelong commitments, the end of life, and the beginning of something new.
As the story expands and evolves beyond Charlie and Maggie to involve other aging friends and their lives, readers receive a powerful, unexpected story that surveys issues of aging in America, the special interests of pharmaceutical companies, and a mysterious book that holds the power (and threat) to change everything.
There is much to recommend in this unusual, outstanding read. From its exploration of too-familiar challenges in the lives of aging Americans to its unexpected injection of moral and ethical questions and the process of going after the biggest question of all (life's purpose), literary readers who enjoy strong contemporary stories of transformation have much to relish in The Latecomers.
Its incorporation of mystical and philosophical elements places it a step above the anticipated story of an aging couple's conundrums and changes.The Latecomers
Return to Index
Out of the Basement
Out of the Basement tells of Michael Tanner, who is on a book tour for his unexpectedly successful new release Bruce and Buddha: How Rock and Roll and Ancient Wisdom can be your Guide. At forty-five years old, he's well versed in his own habits and issues, including sleeplessness and nightmares which appear to stem from the stress of touring, but actually hold their roots in something much deeper.
As insomnia prompts him to consult his own book and review its words of wisdom, Michael embarks on a journey through Bruce Springsteen's music and Buddah's revelations that "...cut through the false dichotomy of individual or community concerns."
Michael's self-examination, confrontation with demons and nightmares, and the possibilities of love evolving alongside an effort to include honor and truth in the promotional drive for his newfound career coalesce into a story that is marked by one step forward (into his evolving new life) and one step backwards (into the nightmares that grip him off-hours).
Michael's road trip and author appearances prove the perfect backdrop for him to confront his life's purposes beyond the success of his book and its concepts. As he gives talks and considers his options with Sara and others, Michael finds his growth process continues on an upward trajectory even as his nightmares take hold and impart a different kind of message.
His speeches are passionate examinations of this process, linking literary acclaim and inspection with personal evolution: "Words have power. But only so much. They’re not omnipotent. Words without action eventually ring hollow. They become bitter reminders of shattered dreams and halfhearted efforts. Of our failures. “The key, therefore, is combining great effort with our words in the pursuit of goals and dreams. It has been said that the whole point of, um, the spiritual life, for want of a better term—and of spiritual words—is to bear fruit in your life. There should be some manifestation of certain words in your life."
Michael is often at a loss, even given the lure of booze and his attraction to others. His spiritual discussions with others eventually lead him to revelations that hold much meaning for his future as a writer and his self-discovery process: "We don’t always understand why we go certain places or reach out to certain people. Sometimes we just need to surrender to our present circumstances and see what’s what.”
As he probes the real connections between music, pain, and spiritual meaning, Michael moves beyond personal limitations and fears and into a realm that embraces his own revelations about ancient wisdom, modern music, and the small victories of friendships, growth, and insight. All these keep his world rocking and changing.
Out of the Basement is not an easy story to categorize. Its blend of spiritual, cultural, and psychological inquiry will attract a unique audience interested in philosophy and spiritual growth alike. These readers will find Michael's journey and questioning reflects not just a road trip or a departure undertaken in mid-life, but a longer-ranging quest for satisfaction and answers.
As he descends into a personal abyss of angst, readers travel with him down the rabbit hole and back again in a story of self-discovery that is intriguing, psychologically and spiritually astute, questioning, and thoroughly engrossing.Out of the Basement
Return to Index
Pamela Carr is a study in contrasts between two very different lives: Priscilla Preston, a struggling would-be actress who lands a coveted part in a film overseen by despot Morton, and recent immigrant Anna Andrzejewski, who aspires to succeed in Hollywood despite the shadow of her past.
Screenwriter Lyman faces his own recovery and struggles, but becomes involved in the lives of both actresses as he finds himself investigating a possible murder and the the transformation of Anna and Priscilla, and with Morton, who is not only Priscilla's lover but is implicated in the death of her husband.
A complicated web of deceit, career struggles, changing notions of freedom and adversity, and castmates who find themselves on opposite sides of a complicated equation ensues, involving readers in personalities that meld, clash, and struggle to achieve their goals.
As Pamela Carr grows and changes, so Priscilla and the investigations whirling around her lead to personal revelations about love, divorce, connections, and fragile emotional states that result in breakdown.
Readers navigate the press, the perps, and these changes in a story that considers causes of death and the influence of Morton Blackwell and men like him on women's lives. The links between different forms of abuse and the #metoo movement are strong, creating revelations that give much pause for thought in the course. This, in turn, translates to a thoroughly engrossing production that grabs attention and doesn't let go until the persona of Pamela Carr and alter ego Priscilla are thoroughly explored.
More than just a Hollywood story of aspiration, murder, and control, Pamela Carr crafts a story of second chances and ways in which strangers become key players in each others' lives. It's a gripping read that challenges traditional genre definitions with a multifaceted story that's hard to put down.Pamela Carr
Return to Index
Marc Ziller meets social worker Lauren after his suicide attempt and their encounter changes both of their lives in Social Work, which explores their relationship against the backdrop of a psychiatric hospital in New York City.
From the beginning, Thomas Duffy excels in an approach that explores social worker Lauren's hopes, motivations, beliefs and psyche as much as patient Marc's life. Lauren's worry about Marc's size and her vulnerability being alone in a room with a suicidal stranger she really doesn't know provides a realistic introduction to her first encounter to him, reinforcing the idea that this story will be realistic and psychologically astute.
As Marc recovers, begins to date, and relies on Lauren for life advice at difficult moments, he begins to consider the type of life and partner he needs to pursue: "He was lonely and didn't really want to date someone with a high profile career. He wanted someone who could relate to his loneliness and understand how he felt hopeless at times regarding his life. While he knew being with an employed woman was sensible, he yearned for someone who could understand what he was going through."
As their professional encounters develop, he comes to acknowledge the distrust and fear that he faces from being truly vulnerable: "He felt if he shared his opinions and feelings with Holly that she'd want to stay as far away from him as possible."
The reasons why he's afraid to open up in his intimate relationships with different women he encounters in the course of this story are also the same reasons he can't fully allow Lauren into his world before he makes some bad decisions along the way.
As Thomas Duffy carefully charts dialogues and conversations, readers interested in psychological fiction are drawn them into Marc's world, choices, and the relationships he both pursues and keeps at arm's length. The detailed dialogues between Lauren and Marc reinforce the process of becoming a positive person, able to view life's opportunities without fear and with patience rather than a sense of urgency.
The challenges of daily living are explored as Marc navigates new jobs, new women, a new therapist, and new ideas as they relate to the progression of his independence: "Marc's dreams in contrast with reality seemed to be cruel to him. He would have dreams of love, success and happiness but would wake up in a small apartment with a pile of past due bills by his bed. He had to fight to get himself up the next morning and to get himself to his job."
Any reader interested in lives of quiet desperation and psychological profiles which capture emotions and reactions rather than artificial high-octane action will welcome Social Work's engrossing exploration of two disparate individuals who operate on different sides of life, but come together for a common cause.Social Work
Return to Index
978-0-9972110-4-7 $18.00 Paper/$3.99 Kindle (Part I & Part II sold separately)
If star-crossed lovers were to come to life in a story, it would be in Susan's War, because the romance between Catherine and Henry moves from a loving affair to a turbulent confrontation due to Henry's former fling Susan's vindictive actions. This sequel to Catherine's War is a fitting tribute to the strength of its predecessor, expanding their relationship and building on a love that is accompanied by much strife.
The couple has already overcome many misunderstandings and adversities to be together, but Susan's special form of retribution shakes their foundations and at least seems to make headway when her latest scheme convinces Catherine that Henry is not what he seems, posing a heartbreaking truth she needs to flee from.
When Catherine takes flight, however, it's with unexpected consequences that bring her into a new family situation with a very different potential for romance far from Henry's ability to connect with her.
Has Susan won her war, after all? Can Catherine and Henry's love survive a battle in which Catherine's own memory works against her and Susan's own relative participates in creating an illusion of the past that never existed?
Denise Micka's romance is a standout in the genre for several reasons. The connections between Catherine and Henry are beautifully portrayed from the beginning. Their very different personalities, the underlying motivations behind Susan's hatred and her own personal drive for vengeance, and Catherine's evolving spunk as she stands up for what she believes, only to be shot down for her courage, is exquisitely presented.
Readers who look for not just life-changing events but underlying psychological motivations and explanations for choices and actions will find Susan's War excels in all these areas, creating a story that is compelling, unpredictable, and hard to put down.
Historical romance readers who look for clean, wholesome descriptions of blossoming love and interpersonal relationship tensions will find Susan's War more than a cut above the ordinary. Catherine's many challenges and struggles create a book that is thoroughly absorbing and very, very highly recommended indeed.Susan's War
Return to Index
The 10 Greatest Gifts We
Give Each Other
The author of The 10 Greatest Gifts We Give Each Other: A Memoir on the Magic of Marriage Vows was a divorced single mom and first grade teacher living in a tract home and struggling to make do when she met the unlikely love of her life, Steve Vannoy. He was an affluent globetrotter who lived a wealthy lifestyle more than a cut a above hers: "His house reminded me of The Addams Family mansion, a gabled monolith, set apart from surrounding homes on top of a foothill ridge, which offered a commanding view of Denver. Nearby houses—palaces, really—begged for apologies due to their sheer size, sporting waterfalls and coiffured lawns."
From nearly the beginning, it's evident that this couple is mismatched in more ways than one. Experience, social standing, and many other things would seem to indicate this is not a match made in heaven...but a sense of humor and determination on both their parts creates a foundation based, surprisingly, on marriage vows that they struggled to make into a living promise. As an award-winning educator, Barbara Lynn-Vannoy learns that the goodness she brings out in her zany classroom has real potential with an unsuspecting man.
This promising debut is the heart and soul of a memoir that is an unexpectedly fun, delightful read. Stories of marriages are not usually replete with elements of irony, let alone hilariously vivid moments juxtaposed with seriousness, as when Steve sings his marriage proposal to a jet-lagged potential bride who falls asleep before the punch line.
Barbara's descriptions capture these moments, offering fun observations and reflections with a blend of sassy description and chagrin: "I popped my eyes open. My dream—was real. In front of me, I saw Steve, his eyes welled with tears, a man unable to utter the next life-changing lyric. In front of him was a woman who snapped to attention like a matador facing a charging bull."
Within these fun encounters are serious lessons about marriage and staying dedicated to keeping its vows. This focus often imparts succinct revelations about the process to offer much insight: "When you see someone’s sacredness, everything changes."
As the author and her husband decide to revisit their vows, displaying them in a prominent place and reconsidering their meaning in light of changed events and spiritual insights, readers are given more than a romp through lives newly entwined. A generational story of family in the making, a Renaissance mother-in-law who can't be tamed, it's a revealing probe of the heart of commitment, flexibility, love, and life's realities.
The vows themselves become more than promises, but guideposts for living a better life together. Realizing that they had just spent two years practicing only the first vow, they move through the list and provide accompanying revelations about each vow's intention, ultimate meaning, and impact on their marriage.
Readers undertake this journey with the couple in a rollicking journey that includes not just world travels and shared experiences, but an evolving sense of spirituality, acceptance, identifying different kinds of values in life, and creating revitalized connections. This encourages them to add a final vow to a space intentionally left blank for that shared purpose when the other ten were originally crafted.
With a sharp eye for detail and vivid prose, Barbara Lynn-Vannoy is at once revealing, fun, serious, and wise. The 10 Greatest Gifts We Give Each Other is a gift unto itself for a wide variety of readers—aspiring teachers, single moms, caregivers—and will make an ideal wedding shower present to any couple joining hands and lives.The 10 Greatest Gifts We Give Each Other
Return to Index
The Big Book of Small
Presses & Independent
Grand Canyon Press
Paperback: 978-1-951479-19-0 $20.99
Kindle: 978-1-951479-04-6 $ 9.99
The Big Book of Small Presses & Independent Publishers is packed with listings of small presses, contests where book publication is one of the prizes, university presses, and others accepting works from authors. It should be the reference of choice for would-be authors who don't want to self-publish, but who find themselves stymied by the lack of an agent.
Marylee MacDonald avoids the pitfall of listing vanity publishers (those who publish for a fee) and features a wide range of presses who publish in all genres of fiction and nonfiction.
It should be noted that these listings are alphabetical, not segregated into genre. But lest an author think they have to read every description to arrive at a list of, say, romance publishers, it should be noted that the 'find' search approach in the e-manuscript works fine for skipping through the listings to locate publishers accepting work in a specific genre.
Each listing includes an assessment of the submission process, contact information, a web link for writer's guidelines, and special notes about what a cover letter should ideally hold to attract them. Listings also include company history (where available) and any special notes about the publisher's philosophy, backlist, and interactions with authors.
This isn't the only book to provide lists of publishers (Writer's Market is the most extensive such reference, for one example), but it's been well-researched to include publishers especially open to new authors and manuscripts, who have a reputation of doing good work.
As a basic reference of publisher contacts in the small-to-medium press world, The Big Book of Small Presses & Independent Publishers can't be beat. It holds all the basics necessary to appeal to authors who eschew self-publishing and agents, and who want to approach that segment of the publishing industry particularly willing to work with new authors.The Big Book of Small Presses & Independent Publishers
Return to Index
Bucking the Artworld
Tide: Reflections on Art, Pseudo
Education & Theory
Michelle Marder Kamhi
Pro Arte Books
Paper: 978-0-9906057-3-7 $18.00
Kindle: 978-0-9906057-4-4 $ 9.99
Epub: 978-0-9906057-5-1 $ 9.99
Publication Date: May 15th, 2020
A collection of essays representing more than three decades of writing and speaking on the visual arts, Michelle Marder Kamhi’s Bucking the Artworld Tide: Reflections on Art, Pseudo Art, Art Education & Theory expands on the author’s prior critique of the contemporary artworld in Who Says That’s Art? A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts.
This volume again shakes the foundation of today’s art establishment, challenging its basic tenets. Kamhi devotes particular attention to the field of art education—from grades K–12 to museums and universities—documenting the alarming extent to which it has adopted what she regards as the artworld’s dubious assumptions and practices.
Highlighting the glaring disparity between old and new forms of artistic expression, Kamhi points to fundamental differences in how (and whether) the viewer can understand and appreciate works on their own terms, without “expert” explanation. In so doing, she makes her case for what qualifies as genuine art, and for reconsidering whether much of the work promoted in today’s artworld instead belongs in another category, such as anti-art or pseudo art.
From her reviews of exhibitions (some dismaying, some inspiring) to her deconstruction of purported new forms of art, Kamhi pulls no punches. This is certain to disturb readers who believe that any attempt at artistic expression should be considered worthy.
It is crucial to note that Bucking the Artworld Tide does not deal in vague generalities. Kamhi offers countless references to particular works and artists that support her contentions about the true nature of art. For example, she argues:
“One of the most absurd and destructive notions in today’s artworld is that of so-called 'conceptual art.' It is an entirely spurious category, which falsely implies that earlier art did not deal with ideas. In contrast, [philosopher-novelist Ayn] Rand correctly understood that all works of art, properly speaking, embody ideas. A telling instance of truly and profoundly conceptual art is a work by the seventeenth-century French painter Nicolas Poussin entitled Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion.”
Kamhi then explains just how the imagery in Poussin’s painting represents complex ideas related to heroism, injustice, and life’s tragic disparities.
On the role of metaphor in art—a topic that has attracted much attention in art education and elsewhere—Kamhi argues:
"[Art education professor emeritus Arthur] Efland wrongly suggests that metaphor is, or can be, as central to the visual arts as it is to literature. True, images in art should not be viewed merely literally: they should, as Efland argues, be regarded as embodiments of meaning beyond the concretes represented. But the primary means by which they convey such import is directly representational and mimetic, not metaphoric. In fact, metaphor is rarely involved in painting or sculpture. In contrast, it is fundamental to the literary arts (as to verbal expression, in general) because literature employs the abstract medium of language. Metaphor lends sensory immediacy and concreteness to verbal expression."
In that context as well, Kamhi cites examples to buttress her argument. In addition, her website offers a complete list of links to all works cited in the book.
In a multi-faceted analysis of her view of the nature of art, as contrasted with modernism and postmodernism, Kamhi offers the following insights regarding the role of emotion:
“Contrary to postmodernist theory, emotion has always been deemed a crucial factor in both the creation of art and the response to it. But equally contrary to modernist notions, it cannot be expressed directly in abstract form. It must be suggested through objective forms. Centuries ago Chinese poets and sages wisely spoke, for example, of the need to 'embed feelings in an object.' Every genuine work of art represents something the artist cared enough about to have gone to the considerable trouble of representing it. Whether a direct interpretation of observed nature, or an imaginary re-creation of reality, every true work of art reflects what its maker regarded as worth remembering or reflecting upon.”
Thanks to numerous insightful analyses like the foregoing—coupled with her vigorous critique of the contemporary artworld, buttressed by ample scholarship, extensively footnoted—Bucking the Artworld Tide constitutes a worthy successor to Kamhi’s prior book. It merits a place in any collection of books of interest to visual artists, art lovers, and art educators.Bucking the Artworld Tide: Reflections on Art, Pseudo Art, Art Education & Theory
Return to Index
Build Your Dream
Special Introduction by Erik Cortina
Copyright Bunker Hill Press
The first question to answer about building a barndominium is...what exactly is a bardominium? Quite simply, it is a barn-style structure converted into a living space. This concept represents the latest in home building trends for those who wish a luxury rural lifestyle in a well-constructed home that differs from the usual condo or home layout.
Build Your Dream Barndominium is for the homeowner who wants something different...something unique, durable, flexible in layout, and spacious.
Author Don Sloan was initially attracted to this concept, but found that most websites were written by builders with a particular focus on how they would construct such a structure. There was nothing on the market for a potential owner/builder to contrast all options for a building that incorporates a solid 'back to the country' feel. Therein lies the importance of Build Your Dream Barndominium, which walks novices through the process.
Unlike websites that plug specific contractor services or 'barndo' designs, Sloan's goal is to save a fortune by acting as his own general contractor, building his own bardominium. And unlike other alternative housing trends such as the tiny house, a barndominium promotes spacious living, which will attract those who don't want to live in a tiny domain.
Most books about housing adopt a singular approach to their subject, but Sloan provides a host of internet references to educate those who may never have heard of the word 'bardominium'. All information needed to make any kind of decision is included, from its various construction options and definition to who issues insurance, finding a lender, cost comparisons with other types of structures, and in-depth tips on the process of converting an existing barn into a house.
From deciding whether to become an owner-builder to selecting floor plans, owning such a home debt-free, and understanding county codes and zoning laws, Build Your Dream Barndominium is the perfect item of choice for both newcomers to the idea and those who have long dreamed of retiring to the countryside in rustic but elegant comfort. Color photos of interiors and exteriors abound and illustrate the different construction methods.
Build Your Dream Barndominium's clear coverage of all the opportunities and options makes it a top recommendation for anyone interested in learning about or solidifying their knowledge base about the special approaches and benefits involved in building a barndominium.Build Your Dream Barndominium
Return to Index
Compiled by Lucy Little
Modern Vaudeville Press
Circus Games is for educators and organizers working with youth, who are encouraged to adopt, adapt, and share these strategies for engaging play. Unlike most general books of games, this collection is designed to be adaptable by collective participants and includes space to add notes and variations on their themes. Adaptations are not only encouraged, but a website link is provided for sharing them to others working with youth.
As for the games themselves, they are designed to be used for a variety of skill sets, age ranges, and groups, and include specific educator tips on timing that encourage games to be introduced as icebreakers, teaching group interactions, cooperative skills, and successful conclusions.
Most game books focus on methodology and omit the underlying goals involved in learning the game. This collection represents the opposite approach, emphasizing teaching opportunities and community-building activities and providing specific approaches to reinforcing these lessons through each game's structure.
Take, for example, an intriguing 'Friends & Enemies' exercise. "The goal of this activity is for participants to try to get their shield-person in between them and their bomb-person. Participants choose who in the group is their “enemy” or their “bombs” and who is their “friend” or their “shield” without telling anyone. At the end of the round, the participants get together and try to guess who was who." It's a 15-minute, 10-person group exercise that builds awareness, cohesion, and conclusions with a discussion of perceptions, insights, and feelings that encourages participants to not only bond, but understand.
Another good example is 'The Scarf Made Me Do It', in which, "...each participant in the circle is given a turn to improvise a motion or action using a small scarf/fabric, which the whole group then has to mimic for a few seconds, before passing the scarf to the next participant." This game encourages creative use of objects, can be used as a precursor to teaching scarf juggling, and encourages improvisation and imagination.
Each game holds far more than building skills. They simultaneously build interactive skills and community. In a world replete with competition and community-challenging strategies, this makes for a healing standout that uses circus games and skills as an avenue for positive social engagement and change.
While its likely audience will be youth and teachers interested in circus themes and abilities, its true value lies far beyond the game or circus structure alone. Thus, Circus Games is highly recommended for any adult working with youth with the objective of building not just better skills, but better relationships.Circus Games
Return to Index
Deep Living with the
Dr. Howe-Murphy, EdD
Paperback: 9780979384738 $32.95
Ebook: 9780979384745 $ 9.95
Deep Living with the Enneagram: Recovering Your True Nature explores personal growth and self-help strategies, blending spirituality with psychology using the Enneagram model for enlightenment and as a tool for fostering change.
The Enneagram can explain not only behavior and patterns of choice, but life's progression. It's traditionally been used as a personality identifier by those who promote self-awareness, but Dr. Howe-Murphy offers a different, transformational approach that supports users in integrating a deeper connection with themselves in their daily lives, and which has the potential for greater positive impact in the larger social environment.
Personal change and evolution isn't approached from the perspective of 'repair' so much as taking the next step to alter one's responses to life in a completely unexpected way. In effect, this forges a new way of perception and response that results in revised, revitalized relationships to oneself and others.
Self-love is at the root of this different approach, but so is building on the reader’s inherent capacities for coping with fast-paced social change, new ideas, and new demands made both internally and externally.
As these requirements for daily living can foster destructive patterns and reactions, individuals may come to feel trapped in circumstances they subconsciously helped tailor for themselves.
Deep Living appears in an expanded, revised edition that embraces bigger-picture thinking. The author states her objectives clearly from the start: "The expanded purpose of this revised and updated edition is twofold: first, to provide ways to build on our innate though often unrecognized capacities for developing a strong core foundation to serve as an anchor in today’s uncertain times; and second, to enhance awareness that our personal level of presence—freedom from compulsions of the habitual self and receptivity to new ways of being—makes a difference not only in our own lives but to the well-being of others and the planet."
This objective is achieved in chapters that survey the Enneagram's applications in everything from the mechanics of expanding one's awareness about choices made in life to identifying one's gifts and circumstances when one is approaching life in the best, healthiest possible manner.
From detriments to being attached to one's personality's narrowed focus to identifying core beliefs, coping strategies, and underlying motivations and messages, Dr. Howe-Murphy identifies the processes and qualities that lead to growth-inducing change.
The only real prerequisite for the successful use of Deep Living isn't a prior understanding of the Enneagram model—that's thoroughly introduced, here. What is required is a reader who is truly motivated to self-analyze, understand bigger-picture thinking, and apply the Enneagram's teachings to their lives.
This audience will find that the charts, discussions, and numerous examples point the way towards a more engaged, positive, involved, and emotionally and spiritually fulfilling lifestyle. Deep Living will thus serve as a blueprint for fundamental transformation on a new level. It is highly recommended for personal growth readers who want psychological and spiritual change better entwined in and aligned with their daily lives and choices.Deep Living with the Enneagram
Return to Index
The Fifteen Percent
The Fifteen Percent: Overcoming Hardships and Achieving Lasting Success begins with the author's own success story building one of the largest criminal defense firms in Southern California by the age of 30. But his success didn't stop here: Giles left the legal profession to become a successful serial entrepreneur, as well.
The Fifteen Percent represents both his autobiography and his road map for success, examining why some people are resilient, creative, and turn hardships into learning opportunities for success while others cave under life's blows and retreat into failure.
Other business people have written similar-sounding blueprints for success, but The Fifteen Percent differs from others in its discussion of a wider-ranging phenomenon than a singular success story or the foundations of its evolution. Giles discusses the "fifteen percent" of people who succeed against all odds, using examples from his life and those of others to define and explain the skill sets that are common to this group of achievers.
From acknowledging that opportunities exist in life in multiple ways and rejecting the messages that obscure or deny the equal opportunities available to all to retaining faith in one's ambition against naysayers who would attribute it to selfishness or singular ego drives, chapters survey all the processes that lead to success. More importantly, they also highlight both internal and external messages that inject doubt into the success formula.
Terry Giles cultivates a refreshing perspective honed from self-examination and honesty, delineating these patterns, messages, and the types of thinking that can lead to complicated and negative situations: "...I've learned the hard way that I get into the most trouble after a string of successes...Thinking you are bulletproof is ignorance, and ignorance is fueled by arrogance."
Candid, sometimes self-critical, and always filled with insights and lessons designed to support the upward path to achievement, The Fifteen Percent is especially refreshing for this special brand of self-examination, bigger picture thinking, and specifics about the psychology and methodology of success. This approach encourages creative, positive thinking—often, against all odds.
Entrepreneurs will be the most likely audience for this message, but it should not be neglected by anyone who would cultivate a better life philosophy, and actively pursue it.The Fifteen Percent
Return to Index
Hidden Paths to the
George M. Santamarina
AMDG Publications Inc.
9781733451604 $15.95 paper/$9.99 ebook
Hidden Paths to the Creator fills the gap between science and spirituality with a survey of the many scientific findings that would point to the existence of a Creator, using simple language to explain and synthesize complex scientific processes into an easily-accessible discussion anyone can access.
The central issue is: can science either prove or disprove the existence of God? The explosion of recent information from various scientific disciplines have muddied those waters and this question, but George M. Santamarina strives to make his text informative and concise as he evolves a refreshingly different approach to questions created with the faithful believer in mind.
Chapters cross disciplines and incorporate both the microcosm and macrocosm of scientific thinking, from the microscope to the telescope.
From factors that contribute to the development of life on Earth to discussions of different forms of evolutionary processes and the role God plays in all of them, readers receive a survey that moves between disciplines, offering many quotes and reflections on scientific research as it incorporates scientific insights into the God/science question.
From the formation of proteins and the requirements for life to flaws in common theories of "proven science" and inherent assumptions in evolutionary theory, Hidden Paths to the Creator goes beyond dispelling illusion, perception, and illogical paths of process to draw important connections between scientific findings and evidences of God in many different disciplines and manners.
The result is a slim, succinct, information-packed survey that will enlighten and encourage those who believe that a dual belief in God and scientific investigation should support one another.Hidden Paths to the Creator
Return to Index
Income Sharing Programs
Amazon.com Services LLC
Ebook: ASIN: B082N2CWBB $9.99
Income Sharing Programs For All is a business book designed for entrepreneurs who would use an income sharing program to attract and retain customers, and surveys the mechanics of what it would take to put one together.
These ISPs are typically utilized by self-employed individuals who want to cultivate an additional income stream without working another job. Income from this type of arrangement is directly connected to client numbers and sales figures, and so requires an active business environment. That said, members of an ISP needn't be connected to the business, while income relies on both direct and indirect referrals.
Entrepreneurs interested in setting up such an income stream not only receive step-by-step coverage on how to organize and implement such a program, but will learn from the numerous case history examples of successful individuals from different business pursuits. These range from a home-based beauty business and a school instructor to students, self-employed drivers, and new college grads facing significant debt.
Each of these examples builds a successful ISP, navigating many obstacles to formulate a concrete effort that results in measurable financial rewards.
From reference journal examples for bookkeeping to examples of income distribution reports, financial donors and how they are registered, and attracting new members to expand the pool, Igor Stukanov provides the specifics and examples necessary for aspiring ISP entrepreneurs to create their own vehicles for financial return.
Anyone interested in the ISP's attraction, especially small businesspeople, will find no better starting place or primer than Income Sharing Programs For All, which clarifies and defines the process and idea of creating a successful income sharing program.Income Sharing Programs For All
Return to Index
Logo Design Theory, 2nd
A. Michael Shumate
The second edition of Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works connects the dots between identity, branding, and logo creation, going beyond the fine arts approach of creating a visual attraction that embeds an underlying business message to consider the ten best visual techniques that translate to a superior design.
Logo Design Theory isn't a review of killer designs. It's a consideration of the underlying principles that separate top-rung winners from the mundane, and explores underlying myths about the source of creativity, historical snafus in logo design theory and teaching, simple techniques that can transform an ordinary logo into something unique and special, and how identity images translate close up, at a distance, or in different sizes.
Logos by the great logo masters of design are used as examples to illustrate each of these concepts, with discussions including not just what makes a logo great, but what contributes to its failure or lesser value.
Designers may be surprised at some of these principles, such as the discussion of essence which revolves around the identity design question "What can I remove? How can I simplify it, reduce it? How can I show the essence of this subject?"
A good logo is a symbol that holds ongoing visual, psychological, philosophical, and cultural connections to create desirable associations in the viewer. As much as it is an art form, working with space, color, and balance, it also is a set of principles that reflect long-term business identity.
A logo shouldn't be a flash-in-the-pan. It should last the lifetime of the projected business, continuing to effectively reflect and promote its basic image. Logo Design Theory's ability to break down common problems into Seven Deadly Sins teaches designers better approaches to style and composition, keeping in mind the purpose of constructing a contemporary identity that lasts.
Abundantly packed with color and black and white logo examples that reflect these ten basic principles of branding design, Logo Design Theory should be the basic go-to primer introducing the topic to any designer who would either enter the foray of production or better absorb the basics of why logos work and persevere, or ultimately fail to deliver their underlying messages.Logo Design Theory, 2nd Edition
Return to Index
The Magdalene Lineage
O-Books (an imprint of John Hunt Publishing)
Paperback - £13.99, USD 21.95
Ebook - £6.99, USD 10.99
Books have been written before about The Divine Feminine, but The Magdalene Lineage - Past Life Journeys into the Sacred Feminine Mysteries holds a different focus than most, seeking to integrate the spiritual concepts of The Divine Feminine and Sacred Masculine with the traditional religious portrait of Mary Magdalene.
Two thousand years of subjugation have virtually buried Mary's real story. Past life regression techniques here combine with research to reconstruct Mary's life from six to sixty, placing it in a broader context of the evolution, representation, and growth of The Divine Feminine in spirituality.
No Christian or spirituality reader should be without this analysis, though it should be noted that staid, traditional thinkers who don't accept regression concepts will likely find too many barriers in place to readily consider the ideas of this remarkable survey. And that would be a shame, indeed.
The Magdalene Lineage is no casual biography, but a journey that links Biblical lives to God’s greater purpose. That Reena Kumarasingham is both a regression therapist and a researcher lends to a blend of academic authority and personal involvement that enriches and enlightens. The Magdalene Lineage focuses on Mary's life through her eyes from before, during, and after her association with Jesus, then follows the lasting impact of her teachings and life through the experiences of Sara, the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus.
By tracing the changing presence and nature of the feminine in Christianity, The Magdalene Lineage crafts a journey that blends new age techniques and concepts with traditional Christian knowledge and beliefs to create an expanded history documenting the separation of the Feminine and Masculine.
Because this event has resulted in innumerable suffering over the eons, it's important to define, understand, and address on more than one level, if peace and solidarity is ever to be achieved. This makes The Magdalene Lineage a far more important revelation than any traditional analysis or biography could achieve.
It's a remarkable, astute analysis of the evolution and lasting impact of the schism between two worlds, tracing significant events in Mary and Sara's lives as it uses the interview form of regression therapy to consider daily lives and broader implications of decisions and choices that create the roots of anguish in today's world.The Magdalene Lineage
Return to Index
Writing Through the Muck
G. Elizabeth Kretchmer
Dancing Seeds Press
Print: 978-0-9961038-8-6 $14.95
Digital: 978-0-9961038-9-3 $4.99
The concept of wellness journaling isn't a new one, but what sets Writing Through The Muck: Finding Self and Story for Personal Growth, Healing, and Transcendence apart from other how-to or self-help guides is its focus on using writing to heal from physical as well as mental trauma.
This approach is not just for writers and those used to putting pen to paper, but encourages non-writers to explore the cathartic healing process that can come from 'writing through the muck of life'.
Chapters provide concise instructions, easy exercises, and a wide range of writing formats. There are even graphic visualization exercises. They also pair such writings with the kinds of analysis, criticism, and growth opportunities that come from sharing and interactions with others, using other writings as examples. For example, in the chapter about managing your inner critic, readers are introduced to Tara Brach’s work and then prompted to write a love letter to self in which they start by acknowledging and embracing their self-judgment: "Those first two parts of the letter are the mindfulness that Brach wrote about. You acknowledge the criticism, and you embrace what should be embraced. You even show gratitude for the relationship you share with your inner critic. Next comes your commitment to a healthier future together, written with the compassion necessary to honor your mutually acceptable intentions. And this is key. Being on the same page with your inner critic can be as difficult as being on the same page as your co-parenting partner, but it’s just as important. If you can’t be on the same page, then at least try to line up as closely as you can. By the way, if you find it difficult to recall an inner critic moment, you’re not off the writing hook. It might be that you’ve built up such a solid defense system that criticism can’t filter in. If you find yourself blaming others for all the obstacles you encounter rather than accepting your share of responsibility, this could be what’s going on. If so, you might sneak outside your personal fortress and peer back in through the arrow-slit windows."
From how to capture visual images using words to using non-human voices to express pain, G. Elizabeth Kretchmer offers a variety of insights, approaches, and tips to help non-writers and writers hone in on the types of journaling processes that translate to new revelations, growth, and change. This reviewer especially enjoyed and appreciated the wide-ranging scope of Kretchmer's coverage, which makes it especially recommendable to fellow writers seeking a multifaceted approach to creativity.
Extensive footnoted references to science, research studies, medicine, literature, and more back up the contentions and history presented and create a firm foundation for this book.
Writing can be a powerful anecdote to life's challenges, if employed consciously and deliberately. Kretchmer uses examples from many types of writing to demonstrate just how this is achieved. Writing Through The Muck is highly recommended for anyone who would turn to the written word for better understanding and personal transformation.Writing Through the Muck
Return to Index
A Boy Called Preacher
978-1947796355 $11.99 Paper/$19.99 Hardcover
A Boy Called Preacher will reach 8-12 year olds as well as older reluctant readers with the story of Johnny "Preacher" Wilcox, a boy who struggles to be the man in his family when his father leaves them. Running a farm is a lot to place on a twelve-year-old's shoulders in 1943 during war, but Preacher also faces the usual friendship conflicts and coming of age with too much confusion and too little adult guidance.
As the story progresses, young readers will find Preacher a believable character whose encounters with everything from a grumpy tractor repairman to his former friend capture life's ups and downs and, most especially, the challenges given to a precocious, determined boy who has little support in his life.
Belaying the serious subjects touched upon is a sense of whimsical childhood fun that influences Preacher's encounters with peers and adults alike. Preacher does not operate in isolation. His best friend, Earl Floyd, and his dog Deke, provide many fun moments and both enhance his life and fortify him to deal with its pleasures and pain. Preacher has lots of farm work to do, but Earl Floyd doesn't understand why he can't go fishing. They have a close bond of friendship sharing numerous adventures, including turning in jackrabbits for the War Effort, until their friendship is threatened.
Artistic, compelling line drawings accompany and enhance the story line as Preacher navigates his new responsibilities in a world where his mother is harried and his little brother needs his help. He has too many things he needs to do—the mystery of a trap set in the walnut grove and a stranger asking questions about his father, among other worries.
A Boy Called Preacher is steeped in World War II community atmosphere, fun characters, adult grudges, and children trying to fill the shoes of missing parents. Preacher is determined, realistic, and filled with quiet courage as he navigates these adult concerns to learn some hard lessons about trust, friendship, and changing interpersonal connections.
Young readers will enjoy this realistic first-person story of a young man struggling to do the right things for himself and his family, and will find the mysteries wound into these events offer many compelling insights into small town life and secrets.A Boy Called Preacher
Return to Index
The Day We Went to the
Linda Stephen and Christine Manno
Hardback: 978-1-647030-03-2 $19.95
Paperback: 978-1-647030-02-5 $11.95
E-book: 978-1-647030-04-9 $ 4.99
Book web site: www.TheDayWeWentToThePark.com
Amazon author page/book link:
The Day We Went to the Park is an origami picture book for ages 3-9 that offers the unusual pairing of colorful origami pictures and a rollicking rhyme that explores a community park.
Author Linda Stephen studied Japanese art extensively. This contributes a unique approach to illustrations crafted from hundreds of handmade Japanese papers and more than 1,000 origami paper sculptures.
Teachers interested in promoting outdoors-based educational opportunities to the very young will find The Day We Went to the Park the perfect read-aloud introduction to this experience. As its fun rhyme reviews the sounds (gravel crunching underfoot), creatures (squirrel), and insects to be found outdoors, kids will enjoy the rollicking rhyme's encouragement of an inquisitive attitude towards nature: "Now, let’s watch the inchworms scale that purple feathery flower./Did you have any idea inchworms had that much power?"
Any adult who wants to engage a youngster with promises of fun and delightful discovery to be gleaned from a trip into the great outdoors will find the artistic representations, enthusiasm, and observational invitation in The Day We Went to the Park to be just the ticket for cultivating an early appreciation of nature.The Day We Went to the Park
Return to Index
Marjory Kaptanoglu, Publisher
Ebook: 978-0-9994492-3-3 $6.99
Softcover: 978-0-9994492-4-0 $12.99
Gravenwood is Book Two of The Conjurer Fellstone series, and continues to explore the dilemma conjurer Tessa faces in trying to cure her mother of the delusion that she is a bird.
It seems wise to consult one with greater powers, but an appeal to the lord of the next realm, Blackgrove, results in further troubles when the lord takes her loved ones hostage and demands Tessa locate and bring him the powerful Gravenwood artifact in exchange for their lives.
Now she has multiple, growing problems, including fueling the power of a despot who plots to control everything. If he has the Gravenwood, this will happen. And Tessa is not yet a real conjurer, so must face magic with a different kind of spirited force that requires her to reach beyond her abilities into dangerous new realms.
While prior readers of Dreadmarrow Thief will be the most likely audience for this second book, newcomers should not be deterred by the presence of a predecessor. Gravenwood is designed to be both a stand-alone production and a supportive addition to the series, and achieves both with excellent descriptions and surprising moves.
Tessa is captured and has an opportunity to escape—but without her friends. This creates a dilemma that she must overcome for a bigger purpose: "You have to go. For your mother’s sake. Calder too. If you’re taken prisoner, you won’t be able to help any of us. One of us escaping is better than none. If it were me, I’d take the chance so I could return and save you all later.”
An added complexity is that Tessa is not certain she has conjuring powers. Much of her life involves testing herself, assessing the results, and wondering about any abilities that could be enhanced by a magical object.
As she assesses these possibilities, she is also forced to confront moral and ethical questions revolving around using magic to solve problems that include life or death situations: "Where was the line? If I was going to be a conjurer, I could not stop halfway. It would be all or nothing."
As Tessa grows not just into her abilities but into the realization of what magic will bring to her life in terms of meaning and focus, readers are drawn into her life's many challenges: "The idea of conjuring, the thought of having the power of life or death over someone, caused a warm sensation to radiate through me."
Her quest becomes far more than a search for ability, but a test of her place in the world and the morals and ethics which define it. As she and her companions search for the elusive Gravenwood and consider the changes it will bring, they encounter family secrets that slowly begin to reveal some of the origins of Tessa's uncle's purpose and drive.
Gravenwood is a young adult fantasy that is full-bodied, engrossing, and hard to put down. It combines the best elements of a quest story with a survey of personal powers, family heritage, and a young woman's evolving place in the world.Gravenwood
Return to Index
Her Dark Matter Necklace
Paperback: 979-8606867424 $15.00
Ebook: B084DGX6L8 $6.99 Kindle/Free on Unlimited
The last thing Midwest orphan Alice Blair expected was to be accepted into an exclusive high school, but when an unknown benefactor encourages her to apply, promising her a very different future than what life has given her to date, she enters a puzzling world in Her Dark Matter Necklace.
The necklace referenced in the book's title refers to a gift from the school's headmaster—one which affords her the extraordinary ability to enter the dark matter universe of Thronos in her dreams. Tasked with bringing beauty into her world, Alice discovers herself increasingly challenged by and connected to a world she'd never known existed. As she attempts to integrate this newfound dream world with her school life, Alice struggles to either prove or disprove her dreams.
One doesn't expect the addition of San Francisco Bay Area culture, a Russian spy who sees promise in a professor's research, and discussions of dark matter in the universe and different laws of nature to coalesce with Alice's dream and journey, but Robert Albo deftly weaves these facets and more into the story to make for a strong blend of visionary sci-fi, coming-of-age story, and encounters not only with other worlds, but other cultures and countries.
A killer, Russian intrigue, and different kinds of journeys move Alice from "just being a kid" into adult pursuits and contribute to a story that is captivatingly unpredictable and unique.
Her Dark Matter Necklace doesn't end up where it opens, as a work of metaphysical or fantasy exploration. Instead, it diverts into other genres and grabs the highlights and lessons from the best of mysteries, stories of political entanglements, the hard science of science fiction, and a girl's maturity to create something entirely different.
If the objective is to bring beauty into the world, how can Alice handle so much adversity in the process? Alice's bold journey and call to action skirts the edges of supernatural and religious inspection, providing a multifaceted tale that is realistic, engrossing, and hard to put down.
While its intended audience is young adult, Her Dark Matter Necklace will reach well into adult circles with its mercurial, intriguing story of passion, purpose, and a mission.Her Dark Matter Necklace
Return to Index
Misadventures of a
Laurie Smollett Kutscera
Blue Whale Press
978-1-7328935-3-5 (hardcover) $16.99
978-1-7328935-4-2 (paperback) $10.00
978-1-7328935-5-9 (ebook) TBD
Misadventures of a Magician's Son will reach middle grade readers with the story of Alexander Finn's connection with magic, first through his famous father, who taught him much, and then with his father's real magical legacy, which emerges after his death.
Alex's story of grief is typical: his father's demise leads him to be uprooted from everything familiar when he's sent to another state to live with relative strangers. He resists all attempts to help or change him until his discovery of a strange set of magic cards (his father's bequest) introduces yet another revelation into his life and imparts challenges to his twelve years of wisdom.
Fine pencil drawings throughout by Laurie Smollett Kutscera emphasize the fact that Alex, too, is an artist, supporting the storyline with drawings that provide compelling visual embellishment.
Alex is not shy about performing his magic tricks in public, but he is tired of being mocked. A competition demands that he set aside this teasing in favor of a professional approach to a contest that challenges his abilities, and he steps up to the task: "Determined to put his fears aside, he took a deep breath, flicked his wrists and launched into a series of fans. Not a sound could be heard except for those of the cards gliding through his fingers. In rapid succession, they flew and snapped and spun at Alex’s command. One after the other, they popped open like bursting fireworks and then just as quickly, disappeared. The cards moved so fast it was as if his fingers had a mind of their own."
When his determination and skills transforms a skeptical audience into a cheering crowd of supporters, Alex discovers within his magical training and ability a different kind of courage that embraces an unusual band of supporters that only a magician could appreciate.
Laurie Smollett Kutscera weaves a strong story of personal struggle and achievement into a tale that takes some unusual twists and turns as Alex continues to learn about the magic of human emotion, recovery, and resiliency from his unusual mentors: "Isn’t it possible everyone would appreciate you for who you are?” What could have been a singular story of a boy's special talents thus evolves into an unusual exploration of the roots of magic, ability, and support systems that come into play when loss changes one's familiar life patterns.
Alex is forced to constantly reassess his perspective, mission, and relationships. Middle grade readers thus receive a powerful story not just of magic, but relationships between magicians and their art.
Readers who choose the book anticipating a dose of magical encounters will not be disappointed, while those who like interpersonal relationships, intrigue, and growth as subplots in their stories will find Misadventures of a Magician's Son holds an action-packed touch of all three to keep readers guessing about Alex's future and incredible adventure, right up to the end.Misadventures of a Magician's Son
Return to Index
The Omicron Six: The
Next Generation of Superheroes
978-1676824961 $14.99 paper/$9.99 Kindle
Also available through Ingram
The Omicron Six: The Next Generation of Superheroes tells of a friendship between disparate children who each have their own special needs issues—and special superpowers. Cooper is supported by loving adults, while Coupe has been abused and is on survival mode. Both have cultivated strengths and independence apart from outside influences, but more importantly, both begin to acknowledge the presence and strength of the other as a possible ally in a noisy, confusing world.
The Omicron Six: The Next Generation of Superheroes provides the initial lure of being a superhero story, but actually, it's much more. Endy Wright probes the emotions and motivations of his young heroes and considers the world which continually challenges them in many ways. This approach imparts psychological depth and a component of self-discovery that goes beyond the revelation of superpowers to probe the evolution of close connections that begin with shared adversity.
Coupe is a quick healer, a generous person, a trickster, and the victim of sexual assault. As his relationship with Cooper begins to unlock both their barriers to let in a few adults who want to help them both, their connection gives rise to another superpower.
Those who choose The Omicron Six for its promise of superhero action may initially feel disappointed because the story is about a different kind of hero, not a caped flyer who saves the world, nor even a Harry Potter who comes into his own powers.
Both kids are in the process of realizing their abilities to interact with the world and save themselves while making a (for them) rare connection with another person. This is the heart of a story that revolves around hidden secrets, special abilities and disabilities, and a healing process that could destroy everything.
It's a superhero story on steroids, holding different forms of action, bad and good guys, and encounters that defy the usual image of a superhero as being a relative loner who doesn't let anyone in on his secrets.
An evil man is jailed after getting away with abuse with the help of well-meaning adults such as the police chief. As the boys become freshmen in high school and continue their long journey towards adulthood, missing pieces begin to come together. Their discoveries continue to push the boundaries of good and evil and normalcy and abnormality, drawing teen to adult readers into a series of close encounters with extraordinary circumstances.
As the lure of a 'safe place' away from well-meaning community and parents draws Coupe and Cooper from relative safety into a different kind of danger, the two must hone new abilities to survive.
Multifaceted, peppered with social issues and fantastic scenarios, and representing a gem far beyond the usual superhero clichés, The Omicron Six: The Next Generation of Superheroes cultivates a blend of social inspection, superpower evolution, and psychological draw to keep all ages thoroughly engrossed in an unexpected saga that involves the creation of something that may ultimately destroy them all.The Omicron Six: The Next Generation of Superheroes
Return to Index
Melissa Sue Walker
Running Hills Press
978-1951673000 $7.99 print/$2.99 ebook
Parents of kids who are reluctant to use the potty will find a good motivator in the fun read Potty Professional, which begins The Secret Skills of Margo Pargo series for the very young.
Here, baby Margo uses a chatty, confiding voice to a friend (the reader) to explore what happened to her the day before, when she got potty trained.
Margo has thought of herself as a growing "big kid" with many abilities...but using the potty isn't one of them. She wears a diaper, so why should she bother? But there are several motivations for ditching the diaper. The only real obstacle to success proves to be her overprotective mother, who thinks she's just a baby too young to learn to use the potty. Potty Professional thus takes an unexpected turn as little Margo explores these obstacles to success and her methods for overcoming them.
Lovely drawings by Winda Mulyasari compliment the process whereby Margo assesses the kinds of skills that demonstrate she's growing up and becoming more capable of caring for herself in some very basic ways.
While this encouraging primer doesn't advocate a trick or method that suits all young readers or their parents, it does provide both audiences with an encouraging, positive viewpoint about different developmental timelines.
Kids and parents who use Potty Professional as a read-aloud guide to success will find its message may revolve around potty training, but embraces higher-level thinking about growing abilities and changes they bring not just to kids' lives, but the adults who care for them. This different approach encourages acceptance and growth, and is very highly recommended reading for the young and their caregivers.Potty Professional
Return to Index
Selah's Stolen Dream
Hastings Creations Group
9780997088380 $12.45 Paper/$3.99 ebook
Today is the day dreams come true in Selah's Stolen Dream, Book 4 in the Dream Horse Adventures series. Today is the day thirteen-year-old Selah will show her horse Sweet Dream at the biggest horse show in Texas. She imagines her horse will become a big star, widely recognized as a winner. But her dreams turn into a nightmare when Sweet Dream is stolen and everything changes.
The opposite side of this adversity lies in ten-year-old Emma's experience when an unexpected deal at a horse auction fulfills the biggest dream of her life.
As an underlying subplot, Selah suffers from anxiety, and Emma has a hearing issue. These disabilities contribute complexity and a realistic feel to the story of two very different girls who find their lives paralleled in unexpected ways.
While the story at first centers upon two horse-crazy girls and how they pursue their goals, it evolves into a set of moral and ethical concerns about subjects ranging from sharing and ownership to unexpected connections in life.
Emma hates groups and clubs and never fits in...but Velvet (aka Sweet Dreams) changes this. Selah's other interests fall by the wayside, in contrast, as she spends all her time trying to find her horse. Dream was a big part of her and she didn't even have the closure of a goodbye, so she pursues all possibilities well beyond the time everyone thinks she should be moving on.
Her investigative prowess leads to a truth that continues to challenge her. Who really owns this horse? What happens when something much coveted and loved by two different people is indivisible?
Selah's Stolen Dream is especially powerful not just because of its attraction to readers of horse stories and farm girls, but because its underlying message about compassion and sharing teaches kids lessons broader than those of achievement and ownership.
Its compelling dilemma will thoroughly involve middle grades, but will also reach advanced elementary readers with a lively, emotion-powered story that is hard to put down. Selah's Stolen Dream trots well beyond the girl-loves-horse scenario, and is reminiscent of some of the best of Dorothea Lyons' classic horse stories for youth.Selah's Stolen Dream
Return to Index
The Witch Princess
Starlmp/Mesii Developments, Inc.
The Witch Princess excels in gorgeous full-page drawings by Adrienne Silva, who brings to colorful life the story of a young princess who is also a witch, but who can't get any of her subjects to acknowledge her powers. Everyone views her beauty, but they don't think of her as a powerful wielder of magic.
When she decides to convince a group of children by demonstrating science disguised as a magic spell, the children react in an unusual way.
Young readers may not anticipate the Girl Scout theme woven into this fantasy, but Desirée's story is about more than witches and magic. The Witch Princess reviews the nature of magic words, drawings, magic's connection to science, and the types of behaviors and perceptions that differentiate witches from princesses.
Kids with good reading skills or adult assistance will relish this tale's progression, which also includes healthy insights on female empowerment as its young females adeptly handle scientific processes and investigations.
All ages will find The Witch Princess far more than just a story about a wannabe witch or princess. The underlying messages about strength, courage, and achievement are solidly embedded into the tale of a girl searching for her real identity.The Witch Princess
Return to Index
Mercedes M. Yardley, Editor
Crystal Lake Publishing
9781644693108 $13.99 Print/$3.99 ebook
Arterial Bloom injects the 'literary' piece into the horror genre with works that excel in well-crafted surprises, powerful senses of place and character, and works that stand out from the crowd. Contributors to this anthology are diverse in their approaches, plot development, and themes, and so under the general 'horror' umbrella there is no unifying purpose other than to gather works that are truly exceptional.
Take, for example, Linda J. Marshall's 'Kudzu Stories'. In the hot, stifling heat of summer, Jenny can hear the kudzu growing (it's an invasive species known for its lightning-fast development, but here, that attribute assumes new forms). The meat of the story lies not in kudzu's reputation for astonishing expansion, but Jenny's magical connection with it, which leads to some deadly surprises and a strange interpretation of love.
But, note that this promises kudzu stories, not a singular production. Kudzu thus plays a role in the dark purposes and perceptions of not just Jenny, but Clarice (married to suffering war veteran Roy) and Trish (who lives on the wrong side of the levee in a house on stilts).
The atmosphere of the South is captured by poetic references to kudzu and the weighty feel of a night in which "...that old alligator...goes boom all night long. It thinks it's singing." (Or, is the kudzu making that deadly noise?)
Another example of the literary prowess of each of the contributors to this blossoming anthology is Dino Parenti's 'Blue Was Her Favorite Color'. Abby is mourning the loss of her little brother, whose birth cost her mother's life, as well as the death of her mother, Larissa. Her father lets her cope in her own way, which involves bringing flowers to the gulch that washed Justin away from their home. The watchful father observes this ritual and acknowledges its value for his daughter, but there's something deeper at work in this story, which evolves from a quiet tale of a broken family's recovery to a dark account of barbs cast from beyond the grave.
When the concerned father decides to investigate just where his daughter is going, a truth emerges which is frightening and deadly.
Each story excels in the unexpected. Each provides powerful plot, solid character development, and, most of all, a sense of place that reaches out and involves readers in the hidden corners of the mind, soul, and often supernatural encounters between human and nature. Dark and haunting black and white illustrations throughout further capture the atmosphere for visual impact.
For a horror anthology that represents back-to-back literary prowess and diversity, filled with stories that are brooding and beautiful, Arterial Bloom more than fits the bill.Arterial Bloom
Return to Index
Dead Lions Don't Roar
Tolu A. Akinyemi
ASIN: B074V2VFZ5 $10.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle
Given the numbers of modern readers who are experiencing radical social, political, and psychological changes in recent years, inspirational collections such as Dead Lions Don't Roar assume an even greater importance and promise for helping individuals examine and confront life's daily struggles.
Dead Lions Don't Roar is a poetry collection that, quite simply, embraces and promotes life. Whether it's addressing financial issues, mother-in-laws, or domestic violence, it organizes works by symbolic entreaties which demand that readers "...find their own roar as individuals and take the walk of glory while we are here."
Each section holds poems with a particular focal point. 'The Deads', for example, focuses on situations, people, and dilemmas that suck the life from people; 'The Lion' profiles life-affirming qualities that serve as models for emulation and achievement; 'The Don'ts' profile habits and perceptions that are negative barriers to living which need to be identified, addressed, and overcome; and 'The Roars' takes the collection's lion theme a step further by lending it a passionate voice.
The poems are free verse accomplishments designed to carry readers through waves of emotions and different life realizations stemming from them.
From times in which demons must be exorcised to achieve sleep and thwart depression in 'Moments' to the loss of love explored in 'Who Will Wake Me Up?' and a tribute to the author's beloved mother in 'My Mother', these pieces are succinct, hard-hitting. They often point a way out from the clutches of angst, depression, and life-disavowing habits.
The overall impact of Dead Lions Don't Roar is that of a passionate entreaty to embrace life. This message, delivered in a series of poetic reflections steeped in Tolu A. Akinyemi's life experiences, provide important lessons on better living in a digestible form that poetry readers will find inspirational and clear.Dead Lions Don't Roar
Return to Index
978-0998897806 $24.55 Print/$9.40 ebook
Deciphering Shakespeare’s Plays: A Practical Guide To The Twenty Best-Known And Enduring Works is a manual for students and enthusiasts of the Bard, and comes from a performing arts journalist and drama critic who revises and expands a 2008 publication, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Shakespeare’s Plays.
More than just another interpretation of Shakespeare's language and meaning, Cynthia Greenwood's survey delves into the history of drama, stage production, and London theater in the 1590s. It considers not just the plots and intentions of each story, but how actors and directors make choices in staging and performing Shakespeare's plays.
It's packed with interpretations of famous soliloquies and discussions surrounding the original script versions, as well as highlights of stage performances throughout history that illuminate Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies, and histories. These illustrations paint the bigger picture of his time and offer approaches that playgoers might consider before delving into individual plays. This full-faceted exploration provides literature and performing arts students with a powerful background necessary to gain a better understanding of Shakespeare's intentions, influences, and the changing nuances of stagecraft over the centuries.
From a study of how Shakespeare's playwriting evolved to blend prose into poetic structures to his part ownership in the Globe, as well as the a heady Elizabethan theater business that cultivated a lively interplay between audience and performance, readers receive far more than another recap of Shakespeare's literary prowess.
It would have been all too easy to narrow the focus to Shakespeare's time, but Greenwood follows the trail of changes in Shakespearean drama into the modern era. Her account surveys notable screen productions in a chronology that also looks at our understanding of controversial plays that have challenged directors trying to remain faithful to the Bard's approach, while also addressing, say, sexism in plays like The Taming of the Shrew, which today invites hostile audience reactions.
Opening chapters that offer a general historical, sociological, and political analysis of Shakespeare's life, times, and playwriting career are followed by specific segment-by-segment analyses of his major works, leaving no stone unturned.
Readers (especially college-level students in literature and the performing arts) seeking more than a casual investigation of the Bard's ongoing relevance, impact, and meaning in past and present stage works will relish this outstanding survey.
If only one book were to be chosen for a collection that desired to include an analysis of Shakespeare's works, stagecraft, and times, Deciphering Shakespeare’s Plays should be the item of choice. It's technical, analytical, yet lively enough to make for thoroughly absorbing reading to many different levels of Shakespearian and actor enthusiasts.Deciphering Shakespeare’s Plays
Return to Index
The Stargazers blends poetry and philosophy in a strong collection of half formal, half free verse emotional observations designed to pull the heartstrings and pique philosophical interest.
It should be warned that these range from quiet moments of eroticism to complex slices of life. Take, for an example of the latter, 'Horace: Carmina 1.9'. From aging to anticipation, James McKee admonishes readers to pause for thought: "Come, my convivial friend, close out the cold,/and let the fireplace never want for wood;/uncork that twenty-five-year-old/single malt. Two fingers: that's good./Forget all the rest, let what is to be/be: not long will this violent wind, that thrashes/to a vaster violence our sea,/trouble your cypresses and ashes."
Astronomical observations often pepper these reflections, connecting the microcosm of human experience to the broader telescoping lens of astronomical inspection, as in 'A Very Short Trip to a Very Dark Place': "They’ve left their city/cloaked in a blaze/that cottons its sky/like breath on a pane,/for this least-peopled place/in a thousand miles,/their blind on a starfield/no wastelight will hide./...Where the simmering wake/of the Milky Way floats,/a gold like San Marco’s/in a blue like Van Gogh’s/limns without lightening the opaque uncolor/that joins their silhouettes;/then a noise, and it’s over."
The return to ordinary life is surprising and well done, and is a repeated theme in reflections that often come full circle in delightfully unexpected ways.
James McKee is no newcomer to publication. Most of the poems in this collection have appeared in magazines. 'A Change of Sky', for one, provides a series of compelling images from another world: "Far down a slope of drone-prowled sand/scabbed with outcrops,/a sea—/yes, the Dead one—/flares back at the sky like a sheet of pitted steel."
The stark contrast between these alien images and his presence as an outsider comes full circle in a story that moves towards familiarity and home when the bus arrives: "I hear the heave and grind of my bus lurching up the switchbacks./Any minute now, the doors will open with a hiss and a clunk,/a gush of air conditioning and Mid-Atlantic English will blur the/desert glare..."
There's frequently a sense of struggle to these discoveries, as in 'El Cortito' which captures migrant fieldworker experiences against the backdrop of a prejudice which was deemed banished, only to re-emerge in new generations and new countries.
There's also a sense of intense, artistic inspection that creates a running stream of scholarly references. These are explained in a welcome glossary of notes. James McKee's decision to include these notes at the collection's conclusion lends perfectly to an understanding not sullied in the original works by footnotes or explanations that would have interfered with the structure, presentation, and underlying feel of each poem.
Philosophical, metaphorically powerful, and emotionally compelling, The Stargazers is an excellent representation of human experience and meaning that will appeal to free verse and formal poetry enthusiasts looking for heartfelt literary expressions.The Stargazers
Return to Index
A View from the
Paper: 978-0-5785-9169-8 $14.95
Ebook: 978-0-5785-9173-5 $ 8.69
A View from the Borderline gathers short stories that have appeared in such diverse places as The Saturday Evening Post Online and E-Magazine which run the gamut from love stories and slices-of-life vignettes to fairytales about mayhem and poker plays. The connection between them lies in a literary hand that deftly captures ironies and experiences with the fullest-body experiences in the shortest period of time.
Each short story excels in characters with a sense of place and purpose, even if those descriptions don't always lie in the human realm.
Take 'Attack of the Poker Face', for one example. Here, a rare and unexpected afternoon off leads the narrator to discover his that wife Camille is seeing another man. Confronted, she avidly denies his perception. The only "tell" that she is lying is the same twitches and tells from poker. Or, is it? Can his prowess in poker and his years of beating Camille at the game really translate to solving a relationship crisis?
Then there's 'The Durschlag Twins', who are the precocious scourges of their neighborhood. The protagonist in this tale "...nearly flattened the girls and their little rag toys." Again, an undertone of grotesque humor spices some of the descriptions and lends a tone of irony to the descriptions as a panicked mother accuses him of carelessness: "I was, in her words, driving at a madman’s clip—in reality, almost fifteen miles per hour. Any slower and I might as well have pulled out a leash and walked my car home."
Or, take 'The Doberman Affair'. Freddy Haskin likes dogs, in general. His wife does not...and, again, the humor seeps out of even the serious experience of a dog bite: "Freddy knew the story well—a poor little girl reaches down to pet a pretty doggie on the top of its head, and it suddenly snaps at her like a whip. The next thing you know, she’s got puncture marks and blood leaking out of her hand. “You don’t get over a thing like that,” Donna said many times. “No, you don’t,” Freddy would respond in kindness. But the truth was, there comes a point when a person has to rise up and transcend life’s great injustices. Gandhi tried to teach the world that, and he was also a great animal lover."
Each story excels in a quiet, idiosyncratic slice-of-life presentation which comments on interpersonal relationships and small strifes, such as (in this case) the neighbor's new Doberman pinscher, which is "...now changing the layout of Freddy’s happy campground.
Charles Souby's superpower lies in his descriptive hand and paradoxical satire as he creates close inspections of ordinary lives challenged and changed by small adversities.
Readers who enjoy succinct stories that linger in the mind long after their reading will find A View from the Borderline just the ticket for an engrossing literary pursuit.A View from the Borderline
Return to Index