December 2014 Review Issue
Breaking With Dyslexia: Add/Adhd Aphasia Autism Stuttering Hearing & Sight Problems
Lulu Publishing Services
ISBN: 978-1-4834-1504-8 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-4834-1505-5 (e)
Those with dyslexia struggle mightily with school in particular and the world in general, and thus there have been many, many books directed to educators, parents, and others on how to help. What has largely been lacking (until now) is a self-teaching course specifically for people who have problems learning to read. Both children and adults can teach themselves to read after learning the alphabet and the phonetic alphabet.
Dennis Brooks has a workbook for this group - and quite simply, its only prerequisite is for readers to be willing to do the work. Ordinarily that's not asking a lot - but for those with dyslexia, it's a daunting task that requires commitment and hard labor.
His 'course in a book' consists of a combination of approaches that include phonetic decoding, pronunciation drills, visualization and memorization, syllable stress, handwriting, and reading out loud. All this uses phonics to buttress the sounds and images of words, reinforcing basic phonics with 'read aloud' support.
Words are broken down and emphasis provided in bold, while words are presented in large type to help the eye follow and the brain understand.
The concept acknowledges that English-speaking natives with dyslexia have the most problems reading - and it provides a relatively simple process of breaking down and decoding words and converting them to phonics, then reverse 'encoding' spoken words back to visuals. Stress marks for syllables solve the common problem of pronunciation and tone in read-aloud efforts.
Scientists define and analyze dyslexia: they don't often produce remedial approaches. Textbook publishers produce texts geared to a combination of state standards and school reading curriculum. And so teachers are often forced to adapt such materials to the non-reader, whether or not it ultimately works for the dyslexic.
Breaking with Dyslexia offers an alternative that is based on the condition of dyslexia and the shared processes of dyslexic learners, and is a breath of fresh air in the world of forced standardization.
Breaking With Dyslexia: Add/Adhd Aphasia Autism Stuttering Hearing & Sight Problems
It's Not the Cans! The Best Nutrient Balance for a Stronger and Healthier You
Bryant G. Lusk
It's not another diet plan - it's much more. Nor is it a treatise on canned goods and their detriments (although that's included). Instead, It's Not the Cans! The Best Nutrient Balance for a Stronger and Healthier You provides what no canned production will: an in-depth survey assessing how nutrients actually work in the body to promote better health, and a specification of exactly which nutrients work to improve different conditions.
It's not a diet plan in the conventional sense in that its broader purpose is to help readers not only identify nutrient deficiencies that often go undiagnosed, but where nutrients may be found, whether they be in pills or in foods. It also includes the dangers of having excessive amounts of a particular nutrient in a diet: as with all good health plans, the focus is more on restoring balance than overload.
Generally nutrients are covered in school and easily forgotten about by non-athletic, average adults who go to work and come home to lead a life where good health may be taken for granted until something goes wrong; but, in fact, attention to nutrients and understanding of their function and acquisition should be a life-long process.
One would expect that such an in-depth coverage would come from someone already working in the health or culinary profession; but Bryant G. Lusk worked in aviation technology for nearly thirty years, and nutrition was the last topic on his mind for a book - until sudden but relatively small medical issues (racing heart and foot cramps at night) prompted him to consult a physician who found 'nothing wrong' and dismissed him.
Plagued by increasing symptoms, Lusk undertook his own investigation - and his perseverance revealed a lack of potassium and magnesium in his diet. Despite physician tests that said everything was nominal, Lusk undertook his own program - and healed himself.
Thus began an intensive study of nutrients, backed by an expertise in performing extensive research and analysis (albeit on aviation systems). As he introduced nutrient-rich foods back into his diet, many of his underlying health concerns (obesity, asthma) began to vanish as well.
The importance of his investigation for everyone else is stated in a simple opening sentence ("…key nutrient deficiencies that are often misdiagnosed—and never addressed") and with that in mind, readers are invited on a journey to learn more about nutrients and specific bodily interactions, and improve their own health through a combination of diet and supplements.
Obviously, such a process involves a reader willing to make changes and consider new patterns of involvement. The focus on 'how much and how often' isn't an easy one; nor is it as easy as popping a few pills at breakfast or setting in stone a routine that never changes. We're talking lifestyle change here - something that's a pre-requisite for effectively using the information packed into It's Not the Cans - so readers should be forewarned that an effort needs to be made (aside from reading this book) to incorporate its lessons into life routines and eating habits.
No miracles are promised, so readers looking for quick fixes are advised to turn elsewhere. This is a serious nutrition book that requires the attention of readers interested in absorbing its wealth of information on how nutrients actually work and what methods achieve balance. Discussions include synthetic and natural forms of supplements and their pros and cons, the task of gaining enough nutrients from a diet plan whether the consumer be vegetarian or carnivore, and when to be cautious ("Maintaining proper levels lowers the risk for developing diabetes. However, individuals with diabetes may develop unsafe, high-levels of potassium due to impaired kidney function and therefore should consult with their physician.")
It's not another diet plan - it's much more. Nor is it a treatise on canned goods and their detriments. It's Not the Cans packs two punches: understanding the role of nutrients in health, and understanding where they come from and how to restore balance with a nutrient-rich program. It IS that simple - and something health readers tired of weighty tomes, impossible promises, or quick-and-dirty diet plans will welcome as a refreshing breeze of lasting practicality and information in a genre overloaded with unproven 'miracles' and fads.
It's Not the Cans! The Best Nutrient Balance for a Stronger and Healthier You
Labyrinth of Time
Silent Partner Publishing
Paperback $12.99 – ISBN 978-0-9907562-2-4
Ebook: Kindle $3.99 – ISBN 978-0-9907562-0-0
Ebook: Smashwords $3.99 – ISBN 978-0-9907562-1-7
Any good fantasy adventure involves a quest - and a good young adult fantasy is no exception. Such a journey, when fueled with strong characterization and injected with a sense of urgency, can also translate to a powerful read for adult audiences as well - but in order to do so, the tale needs to present the 'bigger picture' above and beyond the usual teen perspective of her/his world - and The Labyrinth of Time achieves this goal with satisfying twists of plot that keep all ages involved.
It all began in 2008 (the origins of this story, not the saga itself) when T.W. Fendley toured Peru and absorbed much of its culture and exotic atmosphere. No ordinary sojourn, this journey was promoted as "a tour like no other", and indeed, a survey of the lesser-known Library of Stone Books of Ica inspired much of the events of The Labyrinth of Time.
One intriguing preface note, before delving into the novel inspired by Fendley's Peruvian trip: "If you Google “Stones of Ica,” you will find many people in the Wiki-universe consider them a hoax. If that’s the case, kudos to the enterprising farmer who shared his fiction by engraving the story on more than eleven thousand stones."
Teen Jade is spending spring break with her grandmother in Peru: not exactly her idea of a great time, until she hooks up with a museum director's son and discovers they share telepathic abilities that allow them access to a past world. Summer just got a whole lot more interesting - but wait, there's more!
The message they uncover from an ancient Earth leads them on an unexpected journey through the Labyrinth of Time in search of a mysterious red crystal that could change the world. Jade's mission is to rescue and restore the Firestone before it's too late.
All this is narrated in the first person, which allows readers to absorb, from a personal perspective, the events which transpire; from Jade's revelations about her grandmother's spiritual beliefs and their unusual origins in heritage and circumstance to her own newfound task to bring enlightenment into the world before the second Light returns to correct the growing imbalance between Earth and the heavens.
Mind you: this isn't a task involving all humans. Jade learns that in such a scenario even one can make all the difference: "If even one person’s vibration is sufficient to join us, all will be spared. Otherwise, this world must be destroyed."
Readers will admire Jade's ability to persevere and overcome against all odds, and in the process the girl that Jade was at the beginning of summer is tasked with changing, also. New bonds are formed, new goals are created, and Jade ultimately finds newfound purpose in life as a result of the choices she must make.
To call The Labyrinth of Time a 'young adult read' may be accurate - but to limit its audience to such would be a shame. Many an adult will find Jade's feisty personality and perseverance in the face of much adversity just the ticket for a rainy day, and will realize that Jade's evolution embraces all the facets of a life well lived: spiritual concerns, a touch of romance, family connections, and struggles with outside forces beyond one's control.
Readers with a touch of New Age spiritual inclination will especially find that the story reaches out and touches them, and while Christian-based readers may struggle with some of the concepts, ultimately it's a thought-provoking, enlightening, and entertaining read all in one package, tailored for teens but holding the ability to reach through time, space and age groups for much wider audience. The Labyrinth of Time keeps its eye firmly on the bigger pictures of life - and that's what makes it a stand out.The Labyrinth of Time
CreateSpace, website, $TBA
Print: $9.99 ebook: $4.99
Andrew has come to the gritty West to find one person: someone who has been ignored by history yet has played a key role in it. But he hasn't come West via the usual vehicles of transport, and this isn't the frontier of textbooks so much as the realm of another world. For Andrew has traveled through time on his latest mission, and his new journey is a blend of fantasy and myth, reality and challenge.
This epic journey is a common device of novels that range from pure fantasy to stories of contemporary struggle; but it offers a difference, here, right from the start, leading readers to believe the West of mention is set in this world - then offering a myriad of clues that indicate that, in fact, it is in another world entirely.
Underlying the saga of Andrew's mythic journey of self melded with a greater purpose is the representation of a true hero who tackles an impossible assignment with courage and passion. In the process of such an exploration, readers can anticipate a highly charged, visually revealing novel packed with engrossing imagery: "A faint jangle of alarm rang in his head. His skin prickled, as it always did when Luck was about to swell up into a lightning-filled cloud of Peril. Jagged and electric, Peril often proved undodgeable. And Luck, if there was such a thing, was invariably bad."
How does Andrew go about making an impossible search through time and history to identify this special person? And what if there are others also questing with different purposes in mind: to destroy those who would make pivotal decisions changing the course of events? The mechanics of such a search are well outlined as others jump into the fray with different objectives in mind: "I’m looking for something. Someone. The obstacle. The impediment. The great obstruction. Maybe several someones. I’m not sure. Their histories are not here, or altered. By knowing the histories of everyone else, perhaps I can piece together the shape of the world and find their history in the hollow places. If I know where there are gaps, I will know where to look.”
From a girl who has lost a father who is possibly "the last hero", whose powers of restoration have been stilled by her loss, to the search for searchers themselves, The Least Envied holds many twists of perspective that keep readers engrossed and on their toes: "Her father had been a hero, the last hero, and she had lost him. She’d become bitter, misanthropic, and ventured out by herself for the singular purpose of being alone. Maybe if she had the chance to save a hero, a hero worth saving, she would come back. Even though coming back would expose her to those searching for her. To find her, he realized, he needed to find those whose mission it was to search for her."
In a world where 'home' can be through in door leading to any time and place, one man can make a difference, one boy can alter events, one girl's courage can change everything, and one song can, ultimately, tie everything together.
In the process of creating doorways and searching through time, Andrew could ultimately find - or lose forever - the one thing he doesn't expect from his lonely journey: love. And that's the greatest lure and attraction of all.
Readers shouldn't pick up The Least Envied expecting it to be your usual time-traveling fantasy. Those who view it as an epic, mythical journey in the manner of the best of new age authors and heroic figures will find it an amazing juxtaposition of fantasy and hero myth: brought to life, entwined, and ultimately more powerful because of these unusual connections.
The Least Envied
Scarlet Ambrosia: Blood Is the Nectar of Life
There's a relatively new but rapidly-expanding genre on the market called 'urban fantasy', that has as its older sibling the vampire novel, born of Anne Rice's first book decades ago and now a genre in its own right. And then, there's the classic vampire struggle between darkness and light - a struggle that immerses unwitting victims, vampires, and survivors in a world dominated by blood lust.
With so many vampire novels on the market today, one could wonder at the need for yet another; but Scarlet Ambrosia is a vampire story of a different color, seasoned not so much by the drama of blood-letting as by the more universal themes of self-discovery, human nature, and redemption. Ultimately this is what makes or breaks any genre; especially one such as the urban fantasy or vampire story, which too often tends to eschew self-examination in favor of high drama. And this is just one of the reasons why Scarlet Ambrosia stands out from the urban fantasy genre crowd.
Sure, protagonist Devon's outward battle is against an ancient evil vampire, Egon Schiller - but, it's also against himself. Devon is no stranger to the dark forces within him, after years of therapy - but the darkness he's confronting now proves far beyond his wildest dreams.
Scarlet Ambrosia's inner light shines forth: a light that starts with Devon's inner world and expands to embrace the wider concern of disappearances on the city streets.
This part is predictable as Devon confronts an undercurrent of blood lust and vampires in Miami's underworld. What is less predictable is his foray into the drug world in search of evidence that will support an international investigation into one of Egon's illegal activities, fostered by his encounter with the sly, alluring Mathilde, who harbors her own secret agenda.
There's a suggestion of romance between Devon and Mathilde that's evident from their first encounter but which is suppressed in their growing focus on greater goals, which are developed as the quest progresses, as evidenced in Mathilde's statement: "Vanderling fears what Schiller will do every day he roams the earth more than he fears what might happen to us if we fail.” “It’s ironic how Schiller’s existence can matter more in the scheme of things than yours or mine,” he said. “When we first met, I told you I could handle Egon. That was another lie to help you feel more secure in your new situation."
There is acknowledgement of the forces of light and darkness that occasionally rise up, unfettered, to try to take over individuals and the world. And as Devon becomes involved in kidnapping and worse, he finds all facets of his life are called into question with a series of decisions that reach out to affect even his relationship with his beloved parents.
As lies, secrecy, and murders build, Devon finds himself paying for the bad decisions of others, and must come to admit his own inner nature before he can make a proper decision on honing his skills for either greater good or evil. The web of lies builds and threatens to immerse everything Devon holds dear, eventually spilling over into something greater than he's ever known.
Scarlet Ambrosia is not your usual vampire story. Its intrigue, romance, and thriller writing are all wrapped up in a bigger picture. It offers much food for thought in the course of following Devon's evolutionary process and decisions, and it's not a light-hearted romp through a vampire's realm, as so many such novels provide.
As such, it's especially recommended for readers seeking more depth and undercurrents of philosophy in their literary choices. How does a protagonist not become the evil he fights in the process of battle? The classic vampire struggle between darkness and light just assumed a new cloak of complexity, here - and wears it well.
Scarlet Ambrosia: Blood Is the Nectar of Life
Sceadu, Your Shadow Holds a Secret
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00NVCV0I0 $3.99
Nine-year-old Matilda has a problem: her shadow has been growing - and she hasn't. What happens when something grows unfettered? It eventually consumes - and that is what happens to Matilda. End of story? Not on your life: it's only the beginning!
Sceadu, Your Shadow Holds a Secret holds unusually captivating cover art - a looming, evil mask/face - and is slated for young adult audiences despite its pre-teen protagonists. That's a good thing; because between a scary cover and a fantasy based on an end of the world prophecy that looms as a possible reality, the story line is recommended for mature teens into adult readers.
Can children embark on an epic, world-saving quest that involves confrontation with monsters in another world? It's a scenario done relatively often in young adult and adult reads (and sometimes in a less complicated manner in titles for pre-teens) - but don't let its frightening countenance and complicated-sounding story line fool you. Sceadu, Your Shadow Holds a Secret is also a pick for selected mature pre-teen audiences as well, though it does open with some trappings this audience doesn't usually receive, such as the specter of a mysterious man who has special interests in a ravaged world: "The man could feel the ivy swaying gently behind him on the ruins, part of a world where time no longer had any meaning. But it did to him. He pressed his taut fingers against the crumbling plaster. When would his wait be over? He raised his hand once again, almost mechanically, but stopped. Would the old fool even find the building? Or had he changed his mind? Perhaps he was lying dead in a gutter in some dirty alley. No, the man thought fiercely. The money would bring him here. It would mean at least a few days booze."
The device that ultimately proves the most successful, setting Sceadu apart from other fantasies, is the juxtaposition of children working within the context of a very adult world.
Dialogue often includes slang and local lingo ("Jest took me a few swigs,” the old man mumbled, swaying like a reed. "To give 'ol Marcus the guts to break in."), offers an inviting black and white map, and introduces young Matilda, a girl with a problem: "It was her shadow, trying to drag her into itself."
One is reminded of the young protagonists of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, between the vivid descriptions of setting, the focus on young hearts and minds confronted with the growing evil of a very adult world, and an adventure quest undertaken to thwart its life-changing influences. Perhaps this is the heart of the proper audience for Sceadu: with those Bradbury fans who have not seen a satisfying young protagonist's ability to reach into adult hearts through a maze of horror since The Halloween Tree.
As the story proceeds, all the trappings of high fantasy are present: imps, faeries, kings, goblins, and a growing circle of young people determined to meet prophecy head-on and thwart deadly forces against all odds.
From King Resolutus, who moves ever-closer to his evil goal, fueled by a band of loyal goblins and a host of dark forces, to how Steve and Patrick ultimately underestimate their foe and confront a shattered crystal ball's secrets and promise of help, Sceadu is an action-packed adventure steeped in myth, reality, and the fine lines that separate these worlds.
Can an ages-old prophecy inevitably lead to dark times? Can the creatures of Sceadu claim another world? Or can a band of determined children beat them back?
Though billed as a young adult read, Sceadu, Your Shadow Holds a Secret will easily reach into adult circles as well (despite the ages of its young heroes and heroine), and promises as thrilling, unpredictable a read as any an adult fantasy.
Sceadu, Your Shadow Holds a Secret
Deborah L. Davitt
Amazon Digital Services
The Valkyrie (The Saga of Edda-Earth Book 1) is a long, epic fantasy, suitable for readers who like their stories sweeping, their protagonists believable and compelling, and their fantasy worlds well-detailed and intricate. It's based on two historical concepts: what if Rome never fell, and what if magic was a real part of human experience?
With just these two simple ideas, Davitt's story is off and running as it presents the world of an alternate 'Edda-Earth' where both circumstances are true and where all gods only imagined in our world are real.
Against such a backdrop is, predictably, the specter of war - and also within such a scenario dance a cast of characters who represent interplays between magic and science: Trennus, the son of a king; valkyrie Sigrun, scientist/magician Minori; and a cast of military, spiritual and political figures steeped in the aura of ancient Rome - but with a difference.
All believe their world is about to end: but is that a final ending, or a transition? The two concepts intersect as desperate times produce desperate people who even consider human sacrifice as a method of keeping the lions at bay.
Be forewarned: this is no light, easy read. It takes a few chapters to fully absorb a cast of characters with different names and purposes, and a setting that is at once quite different from our world yet replete with similarities, right down to the blue jeans: "His female companion might have been Cimbric or Frisian. It was certainly possible; the greater metropolitan area of Ponca was situated between the provinces of Nova Germania and Novo Gaul, and in the close vicinity of several smaller petty kingdoms. The woman had tossed her cloak beside her in the booth, revealing a brown leather bodice currently worn without an undershirt. She’d laced it tightly, showing the clean strength of her long arms and pale skin. But like the man beside her, she also wore blue jeans. No earrings, which could be pulled or twisted or torn from her lobes by an assailant."
Within simple conversations are a wealth of insights into setting and characters which neatly set the stage for future motivation, actions, and reactions: "Everyone in existence is an egotist. Figure out what a given woman’s interested in, and adopt her concerns. Just don’t talk about magic to a non-mage. You’ll confuse them and make them feel inferior and angry. It just never goes well.” He went out of his way not to talk about his work with his own wife. She knew he was a technomancer. She knew he was a Praetorian. Past that, his work didn’t come in the front door. There were reasons why there were so many collegia for magic practitioners. Magic that hadn’t been state-sanctioned or controlled by the priests, centuries ago, had gotten sorcerers and summoners persecuted, until they’d banded together, and managed to convince society to give them the respect due to all professionals—such as doctors and magistrates—and equal rights under the law."
As protagonists travel into different lands and interact with different peoples, the story creates several winding plots that intersect and then move apart like a living, breathing entity reflecting the flow of life: "1955 had fleeted by, as if propelled by wings. At least three more trips to various locations to meet with Chaldean and Median envoys—always different people, so as to throw off detection. As a result, Livorus noted that he constantly felt as if he were starting the negotiations from scratch every time he met with someone new."
Readers who look for sweeping sagas embracing political, historical and social change will welcome Davitt's approach to creating a more complex set of scenarios than the usual fantasy story offers. Think 'Tolkien' when placing her works into a similar category; because her attention to details of place, time, and the politics behind confrontations is just as well-wrought.
By including demons, gods, and more within her story, however, Davitt's story takes on a decidedly more complex approach as it builds an alternate timeline of events supported by appendixes of information on world geography and more.
The Valkyrie is world-building at its highest level: as such, its readers shouldn't be ones looking for a light fantasy adventure, but those who root out the few Tolkien-like epics in the fantasy genre, there to live amongst gods, monsters, and brave adventurers who traverse a dangerous world with purpose, courage, and visions of creation, recreation, and change.
It's this audience who will love what Deborah L. Davitt has achieved with The Valkyrie - and who will await further developments.
A Dead End in Vegas
Dave is about to go to the airport to pick up his wife, who has been in Phoenix for a week at a teachers' conference, when he gets the phone call: it's the Las Vegas police - and she's been found dead in a casino hotel room.
Tragedy often comes in 'threes', and thus what follows is a virtual onslaught of deaths and discoveries that rock Dave's world as his wife's death shatters other lives and, like a house of cards, causes more falls in return, from a terrible accident to a best friend's marriage cracked apart by grief.
As Dave comes to find out about his wife's secret life, her passion for an Internet stranger, and the illusions of his own world, he becomes increasingly involved in a hunt that comes full-circle to probe his family, friendships and psyche.
Two families find their hopes, dreams, and illusions entwine and spark deadly connections. Two families discover that one woman's choice will change their lives forever. And two families test the brink of possibilities and versatility as a loving husband seeks revenge, a loving friend seeks answers, and spouses find that nothing is predictable - not even love and commitment.
If you're expecting a light 'whodunnit' type of mystery filled with entertaining twists, then A Dead End in Vegas might not be your cup of tea. Its intent is to wind emotional impact and high drama into its saga and it packs this into chapters steeped in tones of inevitability and despair as readers learn just how deeply poor decisions affect every life involved: "I guess Tricia lied a lot that day. But how could I have known? Yes, she seemed different, a little distracted. But in my wildest dreams, I never would have guessed she was running off to Vegas in two days to meet an Internet lover, or that she had an artery problem in her heart that would kill her in a week… She was turning herself inside out for him, and the bastard never even showed up. It burned me up inside, made me hate the guy with a passion. Whatever the reason, bogus or not, he should have gotten there. He should have made the effort. Tricia was worth it, so worth it."
Irene Woodbury's use of the first person is to be commended: through best friend Sally's eyes and impressions events sparkle and come to life; and observations, motivations, and emotions are clearly explored.
Also to be commended is a story line that weaves an intricate dance between personalities, change, and observation. It's almost as if A Dead End in Vegas intended to shock, amaze, and awe by probing with a surgeon's skill each facet of a character's rationale for living on without Tricia in their world: "The success of his scheme fired Dave up and infused him with new vigor. As I listened to him that night, I feared he would revert to his old, vigilante ways. Sure enough, over dinner at Marigold the next week, Dave shocked us with an even more brazen plot to wreak havoc on Al Posey’s marriage. In a quiet, methodical tone, he informed Mike and me that he was now thinking of going to Vegas himself to seduce Al’s wife."
It's all about making sense of a world turned upside down (which any reader will relate to) and formulating a new plan (even a new persona) to handle this changed world: "Not much. Just lying here thinking about Mike and me, Mike and her, what I did right, what I did wrong, and how and when it all started.” “Sounds familiar,” Dave admitted. “That’s what I did when Tricia died and I found out about her and Daggett. You keep trying to find some answer, some way to make sense of it, but you never quite do."
As seems inevitable with all good reads, the ending arrives all too soon. It feels abrupt: like the reader's been led down a garden path of complexity only to have everything snap to logical attention within a few short chapters. But that can be said of many a good book where readers might wish for as long and drawn-out an ending as in the rest of the book. Sometimes it's just hard to say 'goodbye'.
Pair gritty psychological depth with an investigation of illusion and what this does to everyone in a circle of love and you have a gripping narrative that is recommended not so much for light 'whodunnit' readers, but for those unafraid of getting their hands and thoughts 'dirty' with wrenching emotional twists and considerations of romance, appearances, and, ultimately, a different kind of love.
A Dead End in Vegas
Black Rose Writing
9781612964157 $16.95 http://www.blackrosewriting.
Murder, terrorism, unfair death: all these often beget thirsts for revenge; and so the cycle continues. Such is true with Fallon MacEwan, the hero of Fallon's Orphans, whose lover has been killed by Islamic terrorists; so when an Orthodox Christian group places the opportunity for revenge in his hands, he gladly enters into a hitherto-unknown world of battle and espionage.
And that's just the opening act in a nonstop battle that centers around an inexperienced vigilante group's determination to bring justice to the world by tackling terrorist groups the government can't handle. Its members are all orphans - and that's both a literal and a figurative label; because the one shared attribute between them is their sense of loss and conviction that they're doing the right thing by crushing a dangerous enemy who kills innocents in the world.
And here's where things get interesting; for the real war against terrorism isn't fought with guns and artillery, as the enemy well knows - it's fought with hearts, minds, and an ingenuity which takes into account local customs, concerns of villagers mired in poverty, and local pictures. Thus Fallon's band of orphans plan their attacks on terrorism alongside the targets themselves: in an Indian village where a small sit-in has the potential (with the right financial backing) of becoming a media sensation; in Egypt, where a mother and daughter team play out a dangerous game, and even in Paris, France, where enemies threaten to uncover a deeply held secret.
It's truly an international setting, it's truly a wide-reaching force competing on many levels, and at each turn of the page these different worlds and their concerns come to life through touch, smell, and visual description: "Dinner was simple, with phuchkas, or bite-sized balls of potato, chickpeas, onions and spices, along with rice mixed with small bits of lamb and cucumber in a yogurt sauce…The temperature at nine o'clock had dropped into the low eighties and was comfortable. The smell from the tanning factory continued to be disgusting."
Most stories of terrorism and espionage don't take the time to properly build atmosphere. Most don't take into account the hearts and minds - not just the artillery and fighting power - of ordinary people. Not so Fallon's Orphans, which is meticulous in its attention to setting as well as plot, and to creating insights on how terrorism really works in worlds replete with poverty.
Another 'plus': there's no traditional 'bad sect' here, as one might anticipate: just insights into what influences good and bad choices in the world: "…he deplored the tactics of the people who own and manage the tanning factory to take over the village. "Killing people for financial gain is not the way of Allah," he commented."
As Fallon manages his team, he comes to find romance and also the certainty that in the process of actively addressing evil in the world, he has actually found and formed his 'family of choice'. And their success or failure holds the potential to change the world for better or for worse.
Fallon's Orphans provides the depth and attention to detail that's lacking in many modern stories of terrorism. It's action-packed, but its attention to motivation, logic, and larger concerns than killings makes it a standout among thriller genre reads - and highly recommended.
The Laced Chameleon
Francesca Dumas is a New Orleans belle who leads the lavish life of a lady of high society, until her love is shot dead and she declares revenge. Her determination to find his killer changes her life of parties, riches and high society and brings her into a world replete with danger - but this is only a piece of the real story in The Laced Chameleon.
The novel is set in 1862 New Orleans during the Civil War, when the Union Army occupied New Orleans, and delves into the social and racial structure of the city by presenting the life of a 'quadroon' (a person resulting from biracial sex, with three white grandparents) who moves in the world of rich white men. In an arranged union between women of color and white men in antebellum New Orleans, Francesca is the product of such a union, and her place in society and her abilities to move within it are strictly regulated.
Through her eyes and the author's attention to historical detail readers are treated to insights on the intricacies of such a world.
But it's not just a historical novel, though its setting is firmly rooted in historical fact - it's a mystery, as well, and Francesca proves a fitting investigator of a murder.
Part of what makes The Laced Chameleon such a well-done approach is that Francesca's world is vividly portrayed. She doesn't just fall into the role of an investigator - she's pushed in. Her skills at surviving her world will serve her well in her new role, because life just got a lot more complicated.
And the attention to small details - such as the appearance of monies bearing separate images of George Washington and enslaved black cotton pickers, or the question of what kind of currency - Confederate or Northern - is acceptable payment - are little points that serve to reinforce the bigger picture of 1800s New Orleans.
Facing a mortgage from her father, a notorious gambler, and the possibility that her lover's murderer is the same man who stole her friend Emily, Francesca has even more reason for pursuing the truth; only the truth proves not as simple as tracking down a single killer nor uncovering a singular motivation for murder, and her choices at every turn hold implications for independence, changed status in society, and a journey that will change her world.
It's rare to find a historical mystery so well-grounded in the flavors and atmosphere of the antebellum South, and one which so thoroughly injects New Orleans atmosphere into every chapter. This backdrop strengthens the character of Francesca, her life, and her purposes and helps identify the source of her tenacity, creating a believable, living protagonist whose concerns and approach to life is well grounded in the politics and social mores of her times.
The characters she encounters are equally believable, equally logical in relation to the society atmosphere of the times, and are powerful adjuncts to Francesca's world, which is overrun by Union soldiers, lawyers, high society and politics.
From links between deaths of friends to the involvement of policemen and doctors, this is an engrossing saga that depends on one woman's cleverness and ability to delve into close-held secrets and associations for answers that will ultimately return her life to a semblance of normality.
Any who look for a historical murder mystery that's more than light reading will find The Laced Chameleon a top, winning recommendation.
The Laced Chameleon
Music & Mayhem Press
978-09847235-7-7 Print: $15.00 ebook: $2.99
Website page for the book: http://susanfleet.com/
Ordering link-Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/
To call Natalie's Art a 'mystery' would be to do it a disservice, though mystery is certainly one of the elements of its story. To call it a 'thriller' would be too vague: there's no international intrigue involved - but there are plenty of twists and thriller-style devices employed that would certainly appeal to fans of this category. But to deem it a 'psychological suspense drama' - now, that's a much more accurate descriptor; though even this doesn't begin to scratch the surface of complexity that is Natalie's Art.
Natalie's Art is actually Book 5 of the Frank Renzi series (prior books not read by this reviewer) and it's evident early on that there's far more involved than a singular plot. If this sounds like a challenging read, be advised: Natalie's Art is not for the reader of light whodunits or espionage tales, but for readers who enjoy psychological depth and complexity.
The saga of Natalie's involvement with a ruthless art thief whose ultimate plan is to use her to steal a final, priceless piece before he kills her takes a different approach than your usual mystery or thriller and presents events from the viewpoint of a young woman who inadvertently falls into an association with a deadly character and a dangerous career.
Detective Frank Renzi is no stranger to danger - he's tackled homicides in prior books. But he is also a dark warrior, fighting demons of his own - not your usual cut-and-dried investigator, but a personality of his own right whose checkered background leads to both his gritty powers of determination and, sometimes, his downfall. The lasting effects of his prior investigation of Natalie are revealed in the first chapter - "It had been two years since Natalie Brixton shot him and he was still having flashbacks." - giving readers a compelling reason to read on and find out why.
Natalie is involved in heists right up to murder, which is her moral Maginot line: "Stealing a painting was one thing. Murdering a man in cold blood was another." Her entrapment in a world of heists demonstrate that there is no honor among thieves, and no easy way out from a chosen path of crime. As a series of double-crossings evolves, Natalie comes to realize that two thieves have placed her in the middle of their very dangerous game.
Who is really in control? The driver holding the steering wheel keeps changing between Natalie, Detective Renzi, Gregor, Nicholas, and others - and that's part of the real appeal of Natalie's Art: nobody is clearly in charge for much of the story line. Where are the stolen paintings? Who will die? Can Natalie truly be free from the directions she has chosen in her life? There are many questions in Susan Fleet's Natalie's Art: so many that at times strings of intention seem to fly in all directions. Surely there are too many to neatly mop up at story's end?
The real tests of a superior thriller, mystery or novel are enough characterization to make protagonists feel real, and enough compelling, unpredictable twists to keep readers interested right up to the end. Natalie's Art embraces all these facets and steers readers directly to a logical, yet surprising, conclusion. And that's fine art, indeed.
The Women of Skawa Island: An Adam Saint Book
What can three women, shipwrecked on an island, have to do with world security and the actions of a powerful man entrusting a staggering secret to someone else? Plenty, as former Canadian Disaster Recovery agent Adam Saint is about to find out in the hard-hitting international thriller The Women of Skawa Island.
Saint is used to having high level resources at his beck and call - but, not on this mission.
He's used to the support of an international intelligence agency with all the bells and whistles that come with it … but all that’s gone.
And he's used to professional abilities that streamline his investigations and result in swift resolutions - but, not this time.
Add the unusual family sidekicks of a sassy sister and a misfit nerd nephew with a penchant for computers, then open the story with a Titanic-like shipwreck scenario in which the inhabits of a cruise ship party on in placid waters while the klaxons chime warnings of disaster and you have a gut-punch opening and scenarios that dance around one another like boxers in the ring.
Descriptions throughout are tightly woven and intricate, imparting a 'you are there' feel: "The passengers’ chatter, growing increasingly rapid and agitated, was drowning out the ship’s incessant alarms. As they passed their shipmates, Darren was reminded that most spoke a language he’d never heard before. Until this minute he hadn’t thought it was a big deal. Now he wondered if understanding each other was about to become the biggest deal ever."
When a mysterious order from Australia for all ships to take cover interrupts festivities, chaos abounds, leaving readers to wonder: what would you do if an Earth-changing cataclysm or terrorist attack were to strike while you were far from home?: "A cataclysmic event has been forecast, and this event,” Smith continued, “is massive in scale, with the potential to affect every continent on earth.” “Let’s go home! I want to go home!” someone cried out, quickly followed by others. “We can’t go home,” Smith responded firmly. “All we can do…all we can do is hide and hope for the best."
Scroll forward to the first-person story of Adam's investigation of an increasingly-bizarre secret. Who is behind it? CDRA’s new head honcho, Shekhar Kapur? Or the most powerful woman in the world of clandestine operations, Maryann Knoble? With high-level hacking and deadly games being played at every level, from interpersonal emotional to high-level intelligence, and you have a plot fueled by passion, emotion and the drive for excellence and power: all ingredients for hard-hitting action.
As Adam's probe reveals an unimaginable atrocity in the South Pacific world the three women call home, his conflicting vision of himself as healer/saint and high-order investigator collide. The women of Skawa Island are about to start talking - and when they do, their revelations will cause widespread destruction, leaving Saint standing alone against an overwhelming enemy who will do anything to prevent that from happening.
It's one man - and his sidekicks - against the world; and at the heart of it all are three women with a long-held secret to tell.
The Women of Skawa Island does what any good thriller should do: builds intrigue around character motivations, paints a path that eventually becomes crystal clear but throughout seems mired in moral and ethical issues, and, in the end, comes full circle as it addresses family ties, responsibilities, misconceptions, and warped purposes - all packaged in a cloak of unpredictability and fast-paced, well-wrought action.
What thriller reader could ask for more?
The Women of Skawa Island: An Adam Saint Book
9780988719118 (e-book) 9780988719101 (print)
B00KO9E9O0 (Amazon ASIN)
$3.99 (e), $16.99 (p)
You can tell a lot about a book by its opening: some open with a whisper, some with a hint, and some with a bang. Aurora Affair is definitely in the latter category, presenting a hard-hitting introduction that not only invites, but compels the reader to dive in for what promises to be an invigorating swim: "The universe punished me for doubting its powers by arranging a special demonstration. It dropped me, blindfolded and hamstrung, into a room with locked doors, and gave me four weapons: my paints, my doubts, my figure, and a library. Then it said: “If you can find the right door and open it with the right key, then you can have your heart’s desire. Oh, by the way—There’s a psychic lunatic running around out there. If you can free yourself before the sands in the hourglass run out, then you can prevent him from corrupting a critical mass of humanity and plunging the world into a new dark age. Have a nice day!"
Many times you can tell what a novel will become by its first sentences, too - but be prepared for something different here, because Aurora Affair embraces elements of paranormal romance, supernatural mystery, and modern fantasy; yet refuses to neatly fit into any formula writing structure for these genres.
How does psychic power work and how does an ordinary protagonist completely unfamiliar with such powers find that they've come to define her life? Madeline believes her new life as an artist will take unexpected paths as she moves away from her supermodel career into the comparatively staid world of the arts. What she didn't expect is a rise of her long-denied supernatural abilities when a call from her twin immerses her in a completely different world with new challenges and demands.
It doesn't matter if one believes or not when facing a whirlwind storm of confrontations and psychic attacks, and Madeline is in this position as she fields unknown enemies, an ex-lover, and a growing power that demands she choose a fitting mate to stand beside her in an evolving war.
In a world where bad dreams don't vanish come morning and a power circle's confrontations force a desperate plan, Madeline finds herself taking charge, taking control, and making some big mistakes in the process. At the center of these storms of confrontation lies doubt: something Madeline struggles with throughout a process that gives her too many choices and too much potential for disaster: "… if Raoul was the source of our psychic troubles, and jealousy drove him, then how did the two connect? Could jealousy alone really take one beyond normal physical limitations? I had long been jealous of Blanche; and Julia—among many—had long been jealous of me. Yet none of us had gone off the deep end. How ferocious did one’s feeling have to be?"
One might expect this emotionally-charged saga to be replete with psychological confrontations and focus, but one big strength of Aurora Affair lies in its ability to step back and smell the roses - or, in Madeline's case, to reflect on the remarkable beauty and events that lie in her path. Her observations of her world pepper the story line and carry readers into a realm of believability and involvement that too many other novels neglect: "Nobody on the planet knew where I was; I could afford to absorb the moon-washed landscape, reminiscent of the lake I’d stood upon to watch the northern lights. No show tonight but still a flat-bottomed bowl embraced by hills and forest, as bright as midday but as if a blue filter hung over the sun. All the colors were there, just more intense and richer, nigh impossible to mix in paint to capture the eerie contrasts."
In a story of karma, the power of love, and the strength of adversity and change, one central point shines: the power of shared effort: "Mere days ago, we had no options. By accepting your influence, I broke our enemies’ boundaries—and yours, and my own—and opened new possibilities. And gained worldwide attention, without destroying anything. We can’t jeopardize that. So many people are watching, waiting, listening . . . and their reaction will start the domino chain that will bring peace and enlightenment for all.”
And in a dangerous world where Madeline is just beginning to test the powers of love and the possibilities of different worlds, it's a connection that holds not only her world together, but offers the reader of Aurora Affair new possibilities as well.
That Aurora Affair continues its mercurial path throughout, refusing to create predicable events or patterns and challenging its protagonist and reader alike to consider the possibility of latent abilities, is tribute to an approach that doesn't just invite readers to take the plunge into another world, but compels readers to drive right in and keep on swimming to a satisfying conclusion that ties all loose ends neatly together and leaves the water as a winner.
Martin Roy Hill
Amazon Digital Services
One doesn't usually associate 'Army' with 'extraterrestrial investigations' (outside of Roswell, that is), but Eden makes this connection and provides a snappy set of circumstances that revolve around an Iraqi sandstorm, a desert secret, and an ancient temple investigated by an unwitting army patrol just beginning to understand that a hidden burial chamber poses more danger than the war itself.
Eden is a novella that takes the usual trappings of a thriller - military confrontations, a centuries-old secret, and cultural clashes - and adds a healthy dose of von Däniken into the mix, with a difference. If ancient aliens really had a hand in human evolution, what's to say that something wasn't left behind to spark further changes?
This is what Captain Adam Cadman and his group of soldiers is about to discover in a secret that not only challenges them but which brings an alien perspective into the sequence of events: "These creatures have no concept of anything but the dirt under their feet. How can you teach them about the origins of the universe?”
It's about the stars, the future, and a decision that will not only change the world but take generations to justify. It takes Adam and Eve's familiar story and adds a twist that may offend solid Christian belief systems, but which will delight any who enjoy a unique turn of plot.
Eden can't be said to be a spiritual read in the usual sense of the word, but it incorporates some of these elements. It's not a standard 'thriller' in that the pace is not relentless, but pragmatic and thoughtful. It's not an 'alien story' in that a far bigger picture evolves, and it's not even a military novel - despite the gun-aiming soldier on its striking cover. So readers anticipating a standard 'genre' read and who seek to place Eden in any of the above boxes will find this novelette defies easy categorization.
Ultimately, it's about how the 'truths' of modern day evolve from a combination of myth, daring decisions, and hope. So, if it's a thought-provoking story with an alternative twist that is desired - and if readers aren't so grounded in Christian belief that they can't be entertained and enthralled by quite a different interpretation of events - then Eden will prove the item of choice, standing well apart from any ordinary genre read.
The First Noble Truth
C Lynn Murphy
ASIN: B00M4YR0R6 $3.99
The first sentence of a book can set the tone for the rest of the story and often lets readers know, in advance, whether the tale will be exceptional or mundane. Take The First Noble Truth as an example of this phenomenon: its introductory sentence - and those that immediately follow - is a powerful portent of things to come: "My father arrived late to my conception. His day had been difficult. His patient was dying. The young man had called the night before, apologizing for the disturbance. My father, a great reader of men, had smelled death over the phone."
It takes a while for one to realize that this story is actually being told from the viewpoints of two very different women: Japanese rural teacher Machiko, whose compulsion to self-injure reflects deeper traumas in her life, and that of Krista, whose life holds equally somber tones of danger and pain.
To further emphasize these differences, one story is narrated in the first person and the other in the third person. This approach succeeds in cementing the characters and making transitions between their lives a smooth and easy read. The unifying link between their experiences is suffering - and this is narrated in chapters packed with insights and impressions that are not easily solved by conventional processes of healing, recovery, and logic.
With slow precision C. Lynn Murphy deftly tells their stories (or, more accurately, lets the protagonists' lives speak for themselves), building reader interest and involvement with each chapter and allowing circumstances and settings to 'leak' through emotional responses.
The successes and failures of psychotherapy are specifically and soundly documented as each character faces her demons: "One session, he asked her to keep a diary…Machiko found that when she kept track of the number of hairs, the times of day, the length the urge lasted, she was ashamed. Humiliated. Why should she record her failures for someone else to read? Why should she make them real? She told Dr. Nishi that the journal didn’t work."
Contrast this with Krista's contemplations: "There is no intervention. There is no divine plan. There is no cosmic balancing act. I looked out the window. Everything was clear." for a sense of just how differently the two protagonists perceive and handle their similar adversities and personal struggles.
That these worlds will collide seems inevitable. That these women will come to know each other and, through this knowledge, will find the way to healing and resolution is one of the many pathways The First Noble Truth takes in its long, winding journey to psychological and spiritual recovery.
Is it easier to pretend? Easier to deny? Easier to self-destruct?
Two women, two different cultures, and two different lives intersect in unusual ways in The First Noble Truth. Their parallel paths will change both their lives, and provides readers with a course that ultimately charts the shared end result of their journey in a read recommended not for light leisure pursuit, but for those who seek the gems of literary brilliance in the trappings of everyday lives.
The First Noble Truth
Amazon Digital Services
Amidst cultural turmoil and strife, the promises of enchantment in everyday life are often lost, warped, or repressed. America in the 1970s was such a decade: an era of war protests, bell bottoms, afros, and muscle cars, among other things. It may be a decade long past; but it comes to life with an unusual dual focus on muscle cars and memories in Metal Horses, a nostalgic reflection on love and identity amidst social disorder.
But protagonist Jason isn't the one doing the reminiscing; he's just an ear attracted to an aging woman who holds some answers to his past and owns a mysterious car in a shed, which he unwittingly finds to be the vehicle for not only car culture insights and an American obsession, but his own roots.
As his unwitting comment about his father unlocks long-barricaded doors in fifty-something Ruth's heart, Jason finds far more than he bargained for as he listens to a saga of love, redemption and loss: a tale immersed in America's muscle car community.
Metal Horses holds the potential for appealing to a primarily- male audience, with its car focus - but this is offset by the reflections of a woman. It holds the potential of being mired in 70s politics and social change - but it doesn't stay there, because this outer layer of time and place is merely the coat covering the psyches that interact with one another and fulfill dreams for different reasons: "When I was in Nam, I dreamed of owning a ‘55 Chevy. I made a pact with myself that if I lived, I’d have one. I don’t need to drive it, ’cause you see, I was able to fulfill that dream. I had buddies who didn’t get that chance.”
The fact that Jason's father Andy was at the heart of a culture Jason is only beginning to understand - and that his death in a crash has left Jason with many questions only a strange former flower child woman can answer - makes for a story that winds around muscle car culture to arrive directly at matters of the heart.
The Vietnam War drove rebellion into the hearts of the young and those who were threatened with the draft. It painted stark differences between right and wrong, moral and unethical behaviors, and it drove a wedge in the heart of the American public that some say remains unhealed today.
Metal Horses doesn't seem like a coverage of such events since its opening chapters revolve around cars - but, ultimately, it's part of a wider legacy that Jason has inherited - and one which is America's bequest, as well.
And in the heart of revelation comes the ultimate goal - freedom - as Jason's discoveries change his perspective of who he is and where he's come from, and why the truth has been such a close-held secret for all these years: "Andy never told you about the past. In some lives, it’s too great to bear. So people just forget.”
Can cars be enchanted, and can lives be charmed despite turmoil and change? Metal Horses is a testimony to the lasting effects of good and bad decisions, and is recommended far beyond the usual reader of either hot rod stories or novels of 1970s America.
A Noble Paradise
No ISBN, Publisher, Website $TBA
The curtains part and the scene opens in a hospital waiting room, where an anxious man's anticipation of a positive verdict is stifled by the appearance of a clergyman. The picture on the wall is one of happy children: a stark contrast to the reality hinted at which surrounds his own. And the clergyman's expression - one of compassion and pity - shouts out the news as surely as if they had announced it over the hospital PA system.
All this is deftly achieved through innuendo, expressions, and description of background: devices that James Crawford employs with a practiced hand (powerful ones that too few authors seem to know how to properly wield.)
The next chapter fills in many blanks, returning to a happier period in David's life when his family was together and a sports game and work life envelopes them all in a blanket of comfort and routine. It's happiness with a difference, for although the parents work together, they are divorced, and David is a single parent.
The story progresses as the support David provides to his kids is clearly outlined, from juggling job requirements and dental appointments to turning down inappropriate dating opportunities and creating a stable home life filled with joy and fun. Routines are emphasized (David's daily alarm clock opens with Fats Waller's 'Ain't Misbehavin') on David's part, while his ex only resents anything she has to do: "…sometimes I’d like to tell him, ‘You wanted the kids and you get the child support. If you think you can handle it, then handle it.’ You know? That’s what I’m sending him seven hundred dollars a month for. It’s not fair to have to pay that kind of money and still have to run them around to the dentist, the doctor, the school programs, the hockey practices, or whatever.”
As Kim gets some bad advice from her manicurist regarding how she can work the system to get one of the kids and more money, Crawford uses her character to outline many real-world problems with the court system and child protection efforts: "But what if he fights it,” Kim said, “and it turns out the accusations aren’t true? Couldn’t you get in to trouble?” The manicurist shook her head and smiled. “That’s the beauty of it. The worst that can happen is you don’t get what you want. No one’s going to come back and investigate whether you lied. The court dockets are too full for that. What’ve you got to lose?”
When Kim trumps up charges to get the kids, David finds himself facing not only a selfish ex, but a dangerous game indeed: one that holds the potential of, once again, destroying the family he's only just put back together after the divorce.
It's the kids who ultimately suffer in any conflict between parents: this is explicitly portrayed in a series of encounters that places them directly in the middle of an evolving court case that seems to have no end and no handy resolution: "Kim, you stupid, selfish bitch, what have you done? What guilt trip have you laid on our little girl? And to what purpose? As he thought about how Breanna had been acting the last few days, how she must have been struggling with guilt and dread, struggling all alone, his heart broke for her."
A Noble Paradise is at its strongest when detailing all the dynamics of the family's interactions, from an ex's perspective and motivations for lying to broken children and broken lives.
More so than most novels about single parents, divorce, or children stuck in the middle, it offers poignant perspectives from different sides while retaining its ultimate focus on the kids. Add a disaster and the unusual possibility of recovery from an unexpected direction and you have a timeless story made fresh and new by a series of expertly-woven interplays between characters, all cemented by a father with selfless devotion to a family fragmented by divorce and contention.
A Noble Paradise
Passing Through Perfect
Bette Lee Crosby
Bent Pine Publishing
Poverty may be color blind, but prejudice is not…and what heals one man can tear the heart from another. Passing Through Perfect is not the kind of novel that excels in pat answers, simple characters, and calm progressive events - and this is evident from the first paragraph, which opens with a punch and just keeps on emotionally slugging: "When the heart of a man gets pulled loose he starts dying. I started dying a year ago, and I’m still working on it. I ain’t going all at once; I’m going piece by piece."
Benjamin Church opens the story in 1958 with a heart-felt review of why he's dying. But it's not so much a physical death as a spiritual one: he's lost Delia, his love, and the story of this loss makes for a powerful saga in Passing Through Perfect, which goes back to 1946 Alabama where war is ending and Benjamin is returning home with little news of his family's situation.
Benjamin's marriage to Delia was not without its controversy, right from the start: it's a union that causes some to chafe and others to accept them, and it survives birth, death, and the storms that threaten to shake its foundations, until one particular loss changes everything.
When Benjamin comes to realize what his son Isaac is telling him about the tragedy, which is firmly rooted in prejudice and man's inhumanity to man, he embarks on a dangerous journey of confrontation and revenge that exposes the raw underbelly of Southern prejudice running in all circles, from the common man to local law enforcement: "The sheriff recognized Benjamin. He’d done work for Missus Haledon, and he’d done a good job. He painted their back fence and repaired a broken window in the storage shed. He was blacker than most but known for being polite, unlike the smart-mouthed coloreds who lived on the far side of Bakerstown."
Be forewarned: this is Book Three of The Wyattsville series. This reviewer has not read the prior books, either - so also be advised that prior familiarity with the series is not necessary (though, it likely will be desired, after reading this continuation of the saga). This is Southern fiction writing at its best: spiritually infused, warm, and family-oriented - an atmosphere which permeates every chapter with descriptions firmly routed in family tradition and the South: "As he sat at the kitchen table and drank a glass of sweet tea with his daddy, her ghost slid in alongside of them. It was a sadness neither of them wanted to speak of."
Sadness, broken connections, painful memories, and the birth of tolerance in the face of bitterness: all these are powerful themes that course through Passing Through Perfect and lend it an emotionally-charged feel.
Any interested in Southern atmosphere and family ties injected with a dose of spiritual reflection will find this a powerful, moving read.
Passing Through Perfect
The Space In Between
Dutch Venture Publishing
ASIN: B00N778O0Q $.99
While, for categorization's sake, The Space In Between is best described as a 'paranormal romance', don't let that assignment fool you: it's much more, and readers anticipating a breezy, light, supernatural love tale might find themselves quite pleasantly challenged by a story line that defies quick and dirty categorization or a fast leisure read.
This is partially due to its setting - Wales - and the fact that in such a wild and woolly world, woods wiccans and mysticism practically oozes from the trees and the long history of a people with close ties to the land.
It's also due to the efforts of Jen Minkman to provide more than the usual one-dimensional protagonist too often seen in 'paranormal romance' stories: for Moira is Welsh through and through and represents many of her people's real personas, from her bilingual ability to speak Welsh at home and English outside of it to harsh language, as evidenced in the very first sentences, which may prove startling to those anticipating circumspect speech: "Just work, you miserable thing!” Moira angrily slammed down her fist on the wheel, taking a deep drag of her cigarette and almost choking on the smoke. Halle-fucking-lujah – this was all she’d needed after a long, shitty day."
While this might put off some readers, it will be a breath of fresh air to those who will immediately perceive that what follows will be anything but predictable and smooth.
When a dark, handsome stranger enters Moira's world as she's in a trance at a Halloween wiccan ritual, she at first believes he's an illusion - but after he returns again and again, she slowly becomes convinced that her dreams and nightmares in fact hold an element of truth and a reality that eventually runs headlong into her own world.
Between an accident, struggles with new ADHD medicine, wiccan rituals, and falling in love with a man who is literally of her dreams, Moira has her hands full - and so does the reader, as satisfying twists and turns of story are presented in a labyrinth of events combining supernatural and real world influences.
The addition of Moira's struggle with ADHD is perhaps one of the strongest pieces of the story, curiously enough. It lends an authenticity and a vulnerability to the main protagonist that's not often seen in your standard paranormal or romance story, and it invites readers to learn more of yet another world: that of the ADHD sufferer and their choices: "Patrick put down his knife and fork and shot her an incredulous look. “Tell me you’re not serious. Moira, don’t be ridiculous. You’re like a pinball without those pills.” “Yes, I am serious. There must be other ways to control my ADHD. Ways that don’t make me feel like shit all the time.”
Above all, Moira's humanity and very real concerns come to life: "Opening Google, she stared at the search box and hesitated for a few beats before typing in ‘alternative treatment ADHD’. And then she scolded herself for even hesitating. Why would she? She could stop taking her meds tomorrow and try something else. She could leave her Metallica posters on her walls for the next ten years if she wanted. She could do whatever came to mind, and she wouldn’t have to be afraid of doing things wrong. All of sudden, the burden she never realized she’d been carrying had fallen away completely."
And, after all - isn't this the heart of a good romance: the ability to care not just about the protagonist's evolving love for others, but her evolving love and acceptance of herself? If there's any doubt about Moira's ability to think clearly despite her ADHD, these are dispelled in a story that chronicles her struggles, achievements, and ultimate revelations both in paranormal and 'real' worlds.
For categorization's sake, go ahead and call The Space In Between a 'paranormal romance' - but really, it's so much more. It's about finding amazement and personal power in life, and about making choices that lead to new connections. Add in the Welsh cultural insights and you have a 'paranormal romance' that's a cut above your usual love story.
The Space In Between
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00OYBV18G $3.88
Marriage between a man and a woman typically translates to very different perceptions of how life will be shared: at least, it certainly is that way for Erica, who thinks her marriage to the older, wiser Mitch will lead to a passionate and lazy life.
How she could think that the quiet, intellectual Mitch will give her zestful love and an rich life is a puzzle; but when the inevitable disappointment happens, Erica is prompted to take a young lover - and when she does, life becomes even more riddled with questions, challenges, and conflict.
Billy McCoy is a master at creating romances that sparkle with passion as well as disappointment. The foundation premise is stated early on as Erica engages in an intellectual debate: "I think," said Erica, playing with the scarf she had taken off, "I think there so many kinds of love." and it's one that remains supported by events that play out from her decisions based on this ideal.
Another premise: something that is so prized and coveted can also become something one dares not dream of: "Love," she repeated slowly, in an inner voice, and suddenly, at the very instant she finished the buttoning her coat, she added, "Why I don't like the word is that it means too much to me, far more than you can imagine," and she glanced into his face."
Don't expect a linear read, here: from Marcel's descent into a dangerous world to Erica's amazing capacity to deny the impact of her choices until it's too late, and intellectual debates between key protagonists, 10,000 Promises assumes many guises and offers up many unexpected moments: "The slow drifting apart of her marriage, alarmed Erica; it was as though their once happy life had taken a route for which she didn’t understand, strange and dark, where she lost her bearing."
It's almost as if characters operate in two worlds: one of dreams, and one of uncertain realities; in the process finding that one world undermines the other and inflicts pain and illusion into the process of making life-changing choices.
And that's one of the strengths of 10,000 Promises: its ability to neatly wind up the worldviews of three very different protagonists who circle one another much like planets held in place by the sun's gravity.
Also intriguing is the process whereby characters build their illusions of character to justify their lives and choices: "For a long time, Erica told herself that she had tried being the good wife, pushing aside her life to satisfy Mitch; and feeling like a non-entity when she tried being fair by asserting her little hopes and dreams, and when Mitch balked she relinquished all her wants for his."
Some minor editing changes would make for an even better presentation, so this could benefit from a professional editor's touch. This note aside, 10,000 Promises is a solid, involving piece of women's literature that attracts with a succinct, involving story.
It's Your Party - Make It Epic
Robyn C. Scates
No ISBN, $TBA
http://www.robynscates.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Socrates once said: "The unexamined life is not worth living" - and even in his time, he found that too many don't actually live their lives; they merely exist. There is a difference, as Robyn C. Scates also points out for more modern audiences in It's Your Party - Make It Epic.
This reviewer wonders how many people will fall into this book accidentally, while searching for a title on how to throw a better party. And, of those who anticipate a party planning guide, how many will find its words resonate with feelings already being felt or considered?
No matter why it's chosen, It's Your Party is fruitful reading for any who would inject a sense of joie de vivre and purpose into life. It's a blue print of just such a process, and bypasses the usual admonitions from self-help and spiritual circles to cut to the chase of what constitutes a life worth living.
The first chapter begins with the basics of how to examine one's life: a concept that should be simple but which, in fact, is often the first barrier to identifying and tackling reasons why life often feels chaotic and out of control. It asks whether readers allow others to steal the joy from their lives, it invites a closer look at how one chooses to spend time (and, with whom), and it reveals how to hone in on what is desired from life, and how to get there.
The groundwork has been laid: proceeding chapters explore the 'how to get there' piece with practical advice that goes beyond admonishments to consider not only how to get to a difference place, but how to address the challenges of doing so - such as letting go of toxic relationships that are limiting at best and deadly at their worst, how to let go of emotional 'baggage', and how to accept nothing less than authentic, supportive relationships and approaches to self and world.
It's this juxtaposition of the fine line dividing both (and, most importantly, how to get there) that's the heart of It's Your Party and the foundation of 'a life examined'.
Now, this could have been achieved in the form of philosophical and psychological admonitions. The fact that all approaches receive examples from real life and the author's own growth process makes for a much more powerful and accessible formula than other self-help 'change your life' titles offer: "After a while, I noticed that sleeplessness and incessant mind chatter seemed to coexist on those endless, restless nights. In an attempt to determine where all the mental noise was coming from, I decided to create a master to-do list, writing down all my commitments and responsibilities. After writing for several hours without even coming close to completing my list, I realized that my many duties were haunting me in the worst way. It was simply overwhelming. I noticed that most of the items on the list were favors I had committed to."
From learning how to recognize miracles in life to mirroring in one's life the kindness and compassion of the Divine, Scates provides a virtual road map to freedom and more effective living - something Socrates, with all his philosophical insights, never achieved.
It's all about direction and throwing the kind of party that makes everyone want to come back for more. It's Your Party is more than a simple road map: it's a celebration, in and of itself, injecting enthusiasm and clear insights into a process too often muddled by complexity in competing books that use Socrates' approach but leave their readers in the dark about the process itself.
It's Your Party - Make It Epic
Spirit Tale Nine: A Miracle Is On Its Way
Rabbi Sipporah Joseph
Barnes & Noble: http://goo.gl/nKmfR7
Messianic Yeshive (MYTTI): http://goo.gl/yiM53v
Ganxy (E-Book version): http://goo.gl/3hs6cA
Spirit Tale Nine: A Miracle Is On Its Way is Book Nine of the 'Spirit Tale' series of fables - but you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate these stories.
It's Channukah, and time for the Festival of Lights. Family members are gathered to celebrate (and a welcome prologue neatly defines their relationships and connections to one another, leaving nothing to puzzle.)
From why the men choose to honor their women by serving the meal women have so carefully prepared to miracles of marriage affirmation, family connections, and an aura of happiness that permeates all, Spirit Tale Nine successfully captures and embodies the essence of celebration and neatly defines the basic concept of miracles as "… unexpected pleasant events that defy all logic and reasoning.”
In this case, the miracle of family is explored as each family member considers their blessings in being part of a supportive, close-knit system…but as always with Rabbi Sipporah Joseph's approach, there's a story, and Yonathan uses family experience to provide yet another fable offering enlightening insights into the wider meaning of 'miracle': "…we indeed do not always recognize miracles when they present themselves. Sometimes they even irritate us before we begin - perhaps only slowly - to understand their hidden meaning and lesson,” Yonathan stated."
Now, one might not expect a story about miracles to be connected to "true freedom" - but all of the Spirit Tales hold wider implications, and that is one of their strengths.
A short song introduces the story of 24-year-old professional actor Nathan Rubylionstein, who along with his Jewish troupe reflects on gatherings, celebrations, marriage, the way of the Torah, and the roots which led to his success.
Insights for readers take the form of a series of discussions and debates between protagonists which brings to light such diverse considerations as evolution and different Jewish perceptions of miracles and life: "Not all Jews are religious, John, which by definition gives rise to a plethora of views on biblical narratives in general, including Genesis. “By the way, Zalman, could it be that those Jews who do firmly believe in the theory of evolution concerning the origin of human beings, do so because of a tangential subject - reincarnation?”
When disaster strikes and a Voice once again speaks to Nathan, he comes to realize new truths about his path in life the meaning behind world events: "The Voice: “Look at the chess game, Nathan!” “All these pieces have their part to play, just like you. Life is a game of chess. Can you name the pieces?”
How can there ultimately be revelation and happiness even in the face of a disaster and Nathan's possible demise? Survival of the spirit is even more important than bodily safety, and as Nathan embarks on a surprising journey, so those around him are changed.
Spirit Tale Nine: A Miracle Is On Its Way is about all kinds of miracles: the miracle of God, life, the spirit, and various forms of survival.
Its prologue and epilogue are perfect introductions and conclusions to the story's wider meaning, and though Rabbi Joseph's inclusion of family member ages on every paragraph is somewhat disconcerting at times, the overall story is beautifully done and easy for any reader to digest.
All that's required is an interest in moral questions, spiritual reflection and a fable format which takes one man's life and examines its underlying meaning. Readers who love parables, fables, and especially Jewish-based stories will find Spirit Tale Nine: A Miracle Is On Its Way stands well on its own in addition to supporting the series as a whole.
Spirit Tale Nine: A Miracle Is On Its Way
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00O2BBLJW $4.99
Alethea is a young athlete destined for good things when a car accident claims her abilities and changes her path in life forever. Now she's crippled, her Olympic dreams are part of a past she'll never regain, and she's facing down nightly monsters and the possibility that her crippled body yet holds some superpower.
As Alethea comes to discover the nature of these monsters and her latent abilities, she becomes cognizant of the fact that a greater struggle than recovery or disability is in store for her; one which places her in the position of a possible savior, pitted against impossible forces.
Alethea is a young adult novel - but it would be a shame to limit its audience to this age group (despite cover art clearly directed to its younger audience): really, it's a pick for all ages with its spunky protagonist, saga of adversity, and journey into supernatural realms.
The path between active, spunky girl and one disabled in body and spirit is a predictable one, and one that's been covered before. Alethea, however, is a notch up from your usual story and adds monsters, supernatural elements, and a mystery to the recovery process.
As Alethea's world becomes increasingly unstable, even the reader is led to question - along with the protagonist - what is real and what is not: "Every night, Alethea had nightmares about her imprisonment and capture. During the day, she would spin little fantasies in her head where she escaped sooner and with her parents, or even better, where she stopped them from being captured. Starting out, these little fantasies were simple things, like the one about dodging the blow that knocked her out and then fleeing to safety and calling the cops. But of course, Alethea’s fantasies grew progressively more heroic, until eventually she imagined overwhelming their abductor with a display of superhuman strength."
An intriguing concept - that evolving strength can be associated with heroism - weaves into the story of Alethea's evolutionary process as her life changes from that of an Olympic hopeful to a girl who struggles to either save the universe or preserve her sanity. It's increasingly unclear what is real and what is illusion, and Alethea depicts the inquiry process as a strange world of special abilities evolves.
Is everything that happens being controlled by a force greater than one could imagine? Alethea questions everything - and in so doing, carries readers on a powerful journey in the arms of a protagonist who is realistic, poignant, and feisty all at the same time. Does this sound like a creation just for young adults? Not!
The Magic of Clam Flats
P.O. Box 823, Yarmouthport, MA 02675
9780966924022 56 Pages $5.99
Anne Rosen's fine drawings deftly illustrate Irene Paine's written adaptation of Jim Wolf's oral story, which is steeped in Cape Cod traditions and atmosphere, and is set in the 1930s Depression years. Be prepared for a fine picture book story capturing this setting; but also be forewarned: children should have either good reading skills to absorb paragraphs of detail, or parental read-aloud assistance as they explore the world of clam flats and why it was an oasis during the Depression years.
Eight-year-old Nate lives in Wellfleet, and has two younger sisters and two even younger brothers. His father is a fisherman, carpenter and clam digger and his mother is in charge of everything else. Every morning Dad heads off to fish and clam and the family does well - until one day a nor'easter storm sneaks up on them all and the father is lost at sea.
Care is taken to explain the scenario fully: weather prediction in those days, for example, was not as reliable as today; and as the family struggles, Nate is called upon to fill much of his father's clamming duties.
Everything seems predictable in the first chapter; but the glory of The Magic of Clam Flats is that there is, indeed, magic in the air, and it assumes the unlikely form of a talking crab who takes a liking to Nate and engages him in a magical secret that only takes one word to spring to life.
As Nate and his new friend Pokey make some amazing discoveries together, hope shines forth and offers promise not only for Nate's family, but for the entire Cape. Throughout his experiences, the ocean atmosphere and setting of Cape Cod are richly presented, much like a steaming bowl of clam chowder on a cold day.
The lively tone and unexpected turns of story make for a satisfyingly unpredictable tale that will especially attract any reader who enjoys a good magic story backed by strong characters and a dose of realism. But ONLY a dose: the magic is a delightful injection of whimsy and ultimately dictates Nate's choices and perspective, carrying readers upon a tide of adventure and insights that will delight pre-schoolers, early readers, and parents who read aloud to their children.
The Magic of Clam Flats
C. Behrens, Publisher
149 Greenway, Montvale, NJ, 07645
9780692295199 $6.99 132 pages
Savanna's Treasure features lovely black and white line drawings by Kim Johnson and offers a story in some ways classic for children's books, covering a friendship between animals and people who discover that their unlikely association can change their world.
While the story line may be classic for a young audience, it's, in fact, a different approach because such tales are usually limited to the very simple picture book age group - and Savanna's Treasure is directed to those beyond the easy reader stage.
Lessons on friendship, perseverance, endurance, and handling adversity and surprises abound as the animals face down everything from poachers to pirates. Pair an overall powerful story line with fine drawings and you have a winning tale.
Be forewarned, Savanna's Treasure is about surviving adversity - and being an animal on the African plane, this includes a degree of violence - tastefully depicted, but present nonetheless: "…her grammy was struggling to get up while two poachers tried to remove her tusks."
These darker moments are more than offset by lovely images: "…two of the elephants lifted their trunks in her direction. Bahiti touched their trunks gently. “If you breathe into their trunks, they’ll remember your scent forever,” Madame Ardhi told the ranger."
As with any read (but especially true in a children's book), it's the protagonists that capture attention - and C. Behrens does a fine job of creating personable creatures that are engaging and fun.
The 'glue' of any story is how its characters are depicted, how they react to one another, and how they bond: Savanna's Treasure is all about these connections and how they play out in the world, and this lends to a fine read that takes an adventure story format and weaves it into something far greater than simple entertainment. Kids with good reading skills (likely, in grades 2-4) will relish this enchanting saga.
Scarlet and the Keepers of Light
Brandon Charles West
Manor Minor Press
2064 Cedar Lane Road, Palmyra VA 22963
Publisher e-mail: email@example.com
978-1-942024-03-3 $12.99 246 pages
If your puppy suddenly grew to become twice the size of the biggest dog and began talking, wouldn't you suspect something was wrong? And if you stumbled on a prophecy that indicated that you were to play a key role in a bigger picture, what would you do?
Scarlet and the Keepers of Light presents just such a dilemma when Scarlet Hopewell discovers that her world is anything but ordinary and predictable. Her perception of reality vastly expands when the barriers between magical and non-magical worlds is breached - but that's not the end of it; it's the beginning of a very dangerous game indeed - one that's centered around Scarlet's decisions and choices.
Be forewarned: there are more books coming - and so, as usual with series titles, there is no neat wrap-up of events at the book's end. Don't let this warning prevent you from embarking on its amazing journey, however: as with any good slice of cake, the promise of more just makes the first bite sweeter.
What makes this so enticing is that Scarlet and the Keepers of Light is all about the 'bigger picture', in so many ways. Scarlet had no idea the world was so large, or that her place in it was so special. She's about to find out - and, so is the reader.
Now, this is directed to a younger audience of pre-teen into teen readers. But the inclusion of many insights into her family and influences are what sets Scarlet and the Keepers of Light apart from your usual light fantasy read - and this is an essential ingredient: without it, Scarlet would be just another "child goes on epic quest' read. With this added flavor, it's much more.
One doesn't ordinarily anticipate the inclusion of ethical and social concerns in a quest directed at young adult and preteen audiences. One doesn't ordinarily anticipate the sweetness of world-expanding vision in a light-sounding story about falling into another reality. And one doesn't tend to believe that the first bite of cake will prove so satisfying that it should be devoured slowly, lest the pleasure end too soon.
It's a fairytale and the story of a young protagonist faced with impossible worldviews and changes. It's about a family in turmoil. It's about finding your path through danger and out the other side. And don't expect light reading, here: there are specific notes on the psychology and interactions between families and protagonists which add depth and insight, tying together the entire odyssey: "Visions of his mother filled his mind, and the creature faded away. Now she was all he could see. She was smiling at him, trying to act happy and brave, but he knew better. She was lonely. It was her people’s way to accept fate and make peace with it, but she couldn’t accept such a life for her son. She had taken him and run, and in rebelling against her people’s beliefs, she’d lost the man she loved."
It's these injections of insight and psychological connection that succeed in adding a layer of depth to the story that elevates it beyond a mere children's fantasy adventure story.
As Scarlet learns how to communicate with plants and nature, how to confront rising evil, and the best way to enact positive change, so readers of all ages journey forth with her as she discovers the source of power, good, and evil: "Because you can’t speak to what isn’t there. You create your light from within you, you said, but it is not so with nature. I cannot create the crops—I can only ask them to grow or move or spread. I can only ask the insects and the birds to carry seeds to fertile soil. I cannot create the seeds or the birds. Do you understand?”
The result is an engrossing saga packed with insight and adventure but, most of all, grounded firmly in the earth of family ties and nature. And this is Scarlet and the Keepers of Light's greatest asset: one that will reach beyond its intended young audience into adult circles.
Scarlet and the Keepers of Light