January 2015 Review Issue
Master - Dbunk the Myth of Enterprise
ISBN 978-1-4834-2100-1 $TBA
The digital culture is fast, it's furious, and it's unforgiving; especially to those who lag behind: and by 'lag' I mean by as little as months.
It holds great potentials and great cautions, it holds the potential to create a fairer, more equal global community, and it requires of its users (especially those involved in business) a strategic vision that demands innovation and flexibility.
Digital Master is a business guide that takes this culture and its requirements and applies them in a manner different from most linear assessments of either culture or business pursuits, blending the two perspectives to consider not just the changing environments and rapidity of digital pursuits, but how new strategic vision and problem-solving capabilities may evolve from a digital emphasis on traditional processes.
It's almost a makeover of the business environment, is based not on one person's assessments but on numerous professional digital debates and crowd-sourced input, and is designed to appeal not just to managers (too many business titles focus just on this audience when addressing strategic change) but to the business organization as a whole, digital professionals, and others who would take digital mindsets and use them as self-improvement tools.
From what traits constitute a high-performance culture in the digital business world to the impact of big data and social media on business communities, chapters discuss such diverse topics as 'knowledge management' approaches, how audiences perceive value, how to consider cause and effect over traditional prioritizing, and more.
At each step of the discussion, contrast is made between traditional approaches and new business models, offering the opportunity to not just contrast and analyze digital approaches, but construct new short- and long-term avenues for digital success using the unique power of the digital environment.
The primary attribute of Digital Master is its ability to appeal to all level of business reader. Most such books on the topic narrow the focus to a specific segment of business pursuit (commonly, marketing or branding) or a specific audience (typically managers or entrepreneurs). It's rare to see a book that seeks and promotes inclusion at all business levels and is directed not just to leaders, but to workers.The digital culture is fast, it's furious, and it's unforgiving - and part of this unforgiving nature lies in a tendency to direct information to certain audiences while leaving others in the dark. I found Digital Master to be accessible to any interested in innovative approaches, business models, and collaborative ventures - and in a culture and time when business can be exclusive and self-limiting, this is a unique approach, indeed.
Digital Master - Dbunk the Myth of Enterprise Digital Maturity
Rising: In the Tears of God
Double Dragon Publishing
$5.99 USD ebook; $16.99 USD paperback
Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/
Barnes and Noble -http://www.barnesandnoble.
Apple iBookstore -http://itunes.apple.com/US/
Lulu (paperback) - http://www.lulu.com/content/
It's usually not proper to open a book review with a discussion of its cover art, but this case is an exception: a sea-green cover showing a submerged and battered NYPD police car and a large Poseidon-like crown floating overhead draws readers in like no print blurb ever could. That's what you want from cover art - and this is what's lacking in most opening acts, which should ideally begin with a captivating cover attraction.
This mention aside, what awaits in Aquarius Rising: In the Tears of God is actually Book 1 of a projected trilogy - so be forewarned. The setting is the future, when global warming has resulted in the strangest of human adaptations: human-dolphin hybrids ('Aquarians') who built reef cities when human cities drowned under the world's rising waters.
This world is facing a new threat from an enemy with an invisible destructive weapon who leaves no survivors and no apparent purpose for his bloodbath. Only the half-human, half-Aquarian Ocypode the Atavism knows why this is happening - and only he and his companions have any hopes of stopping it.
In a world where adaptation has saved some semblance of humanity, is another major shift required to return humanity to its roots? One scientist thinks so - and he'll do anything to thwart the virus that mutated humanity and changed the world.
Sci-fi and thriller readers can anticipate gripping action set against the backdrop of a world that isn't quite done changing, quasi-humans that aren't quite ready to give up their last vestiges of humanity, and Aquarian survivors who struggle to keep their new world alive.
The reef colonies and their inhabitants are well done, logical, and realistically portrayed as events progress and a loner faces one of the biggest challenges of his life. Especially notable is Brian Burt's care in developing the lives and routines of those immersed (shall we say) in this world. The mark of a great story is always its ability to involve readers in its world, and Aquarius Rising achieves this through scenarios that are both believable and moving: "He didn't want to join his parents. He didn't want to see the way their gaze shifted between his eyes and his deformities, to hear the strain in their voices when they told him how proud they were. Atavisms were emotional exiles from birth: marooned in that genetic limbo between Human and Aquarian, possessing traits of both species. Doomed to be less than either."
Without a sense of purpose, realism, and believability, the entire premise could fail, lost in a sea of description that neither compels nor involves. Aquarius Rising gives close attention to detail, and this is one of its strengths; one that marries the mystery and struggle with insights on how genetic manipulation has created a strange new world, revealing facets of this world: "The jungle of giant kelp stretched from Clatskanie to Juno. No one knew who had created it. Some blamed the Guardians; others claimed that Aquarian biosculptors had crafted it without Human intervention. All agreed on the reason. Urchins and other kelp-eaters had spread through the original forest like a pestilence, chewing through the holdfasts that secured the plants to the seafloor, decimating the rich ecosystem they supported. Someone had decided to give the kelp a new weapon against its enemies: electrogenesis."
As the Redeemers plot and Ocypode becomes lost in the Electric Forest and a world that doesn't track time the same way, all seems lost. And as reef after reef falls to the enemy, exquisitely-wrought descriptions keep pumping up the imagery and action with a solid saga that reveals experiences on all sides of the struggle: "Edmund Bryce stared at his wallscreen as Juno Reef shrieked and shuddered and calcified before his eyes. The sight of another Aquarian colony turned to stone by his invisible army should have filled him with satisfaction. This time, he felt nothing. Drained. Hollow. A man-sized cinder with the rage burned out of it, leaving only smoke and ash."
There are surprisingly few sci-fi novels that delve into possible water worlds of the future, in comparison to those that journey into outer space. Arthur C. Clarke and a handful of others come to mind - but even though Dolphin Island comes close, Aquarius Rising is a beast of another color. Its greater attention to building characters, exploring the motivations of a destructive mind and scientists who have 'saved' humanity by mutating it, and providing a thriller genre overlay that keeps readers involved and guessing actually places it a cut above Dolphin Island and its classic waterworld contemporaries.
Readers who enjoy a hefty dose of psychological drama in their science fiction stories will be the best audience for Aquarius Rising, which creates a believable, absorbing world spiced by the motivations and madness of all its characters.Aquarius Rising: In the Tears of God
Revenge: Book 2, The Other Side
AAA Reality Games Publishing
Young adult science fiction or fantasy is not a new genre; but to see an adult thriller format entering into the picture and merging with science fiction: now, that's a different approach - and one deftly cultivated in Book 2 of Echo's Revenge, The Other Side (which is Part 1 of a projected five-part subseries).
The striking cover art must be mentioned first: a sort of bug-shaped mask inside which human-looking eyes peer out. This and the complex series title alerts readers that the young adult audience intended is that of the mature young adult scifi reader; not those lacking the ability to read into quasi-adult circles. Speaking of which - let's not forget the adult scifi/thriller enthusiast, either: so much goes on here that any who enjoy either genre will find this fast-paced and involving.
First of all, it IS possible to set an instantly-riveting, attention-grabbing scenario with just a few pen strokes, as evidenced by a two-sentence introduction that refers to the material within being from " …files hacked from ECHO-7…this report may vary from earlier reports of the ECHO-7 catastrophe."
Talk about becoming 'hooked': now the reader wants to pursue details of this 'catastrophe', a fitting lead-in to a thriller that rests on the ECHO revenge game series and draws in its players with the story of a game gone awry.
Now, some of the details and plot were set forth previously in Book One, ECHO's Revenge (not seen by this reviewer); but one of the strengths here is that no prior familiarity is required for this sequel to prove instantly accessible and absorbing.
As to its audience: readers should ideally be video gamers (or somewhat knowledgeable thereof), and of course should be readers, too. The story is satisfyingly complex and winding and action fast-paced so that anyone used to the quick twists of a video game will find it a solid read.
ECHO-7 has its own independence and its own purposes. That much becomes clear to one player when he finds that a game assumes too much reality and contains the ability to not just draw him in, but trap him in its world.
The potential of a game that can enter and circumvent reality itself is both fearful and awesome, as its creators soon find out; and as ECHO-7 (predictably) gets loose, like Frankenstein it evolves to become a greater monster than its creators could have imagined, unrestrained by the playing field that was its birthplace.
ECHO-7 follows no rules and adopts all the trappings of a dangerous demon: it can morph, it can change its structure, it can interact with and destroy worlds, and it is machine code come to life in its most deadly form.
Under such conditions ECHO is no longer the realm of the teenage gamer, but a force to be reckoned with even in the worlds of non-gamers.
Under such conditions, worst fears are recognized, hunting and survival games come to life, and Luca and other players can no longer laugh at what they are afraid of, or shut off and quit the game.
The AAA Reality Games design team thought they could shut off ECHO-7. They thought they created the rules and they believed they were in control. So does the reader. As events unfold and ECHO develops the ability to dictate, spy on its human creators, and move beyond its programming, shades of Colossus are created - only with higher-tech descriptions, more vivid gaming-oriented action, and a course that leads ECHO on a hunt through a game of its own making.
To limit such a production to young adults would be a shame: any sci-fi reader of any age who's interested in computer takeovers, video gaming, and alternate reality will love The Other Side for its vivid, fast-paced, realistic thriller plot. It's sci-fi thriller writing at its very best, and follows the evolution of an artificial intelligence predator and self-programmed intelligence with many satisfying twists and turns of plot.ECHO’s Revenge: Book 2, The Other Side
Queen of Steel and Fire
Only occasionally does a book's cover art deserve a mention; typically a book proves more (or less) than its cover art, and the art itself isn't that captivating. Not so with Steven South's The Queen of Steel and Fire, whose cover art of a young woman with striking green eyes, a silver space-type suit, fiery hair and a bat-handled sword does more than support both title and content. It all lies in attention to detail, and no piece of Rebecca Weaver's vivid artwork is wasted as she provides what is truly a fitting preface to an equally passionate fantasy.
All the trappings of formula fantasy are present: a young teen forced to the throne too early after the murder of the king, there to become her kingdom's first female ruler; a close-held secret threatened with exposure; and the inevitable specter of a kingdom about to be immersed in war.
These elements have been done to the point of being overcooked and predictable - but what makes The Queen of Steel and Fire a standout not just in cover art but in content is its ability to take a typical-sounding story and make it extraordinarily compelling through a combination of superior characterization and a believable, fast-paced plot.
We open, for example, on the king's death, with his willful daughter convinced that the cause of his demise isn't a weak heart; but something more sinister.
One surprise to note is the prevalence of strong, 'take charge' female protagonists in The Queen of Steel and Fire. It's not just the newly-crowned Claire who is charged with leadership, either: it's also her trusted Crown Guard companion, who must step up to the plate and meet Claire's headlong charge into palace politics, threats and danger.
To complicate matters, Claire's brother teeters on the edge of insanity, there's other competition for the crown that could usurp her position on the throne, and deadly enemies are chomping at the borders, preparing for an unprecedented attack. What more could go wrong?
In addition to its other attributes as a fast-paced fantasy especially strong in female protagonists, The Queen of Steel and Fire can best be described as 'crossover fantasy' in that it will appeal equally to advanced teen as well as adult fantasy readers. And in a genre where male power still rules, it's refreshing to find not just one strong female depicted as a blossoming leader, but those in supporting roles around her.
'Crossover' means that while its protagonist is young, its story line is not - and that lends it the rare ability to equally satisfy both audiences. Many fantasy/sci-fi titles which attempt such really appeal to one group or another - either the protagonist's coming-of-age becomes mired in youthful concerns, or their adult duties belay their age. It's a fine dance between the two to create a story where the protagonist holds some of both worlds, and The Queen of Steel and Fire deftly achieves this through a series of precise steps that skirt around the common pitfalls of YA-attempting-to-be-adult reads.
Yes, here be dragons. Expect vivid descriptions of place that support strong characterization ("The city was noisy and crowded, with a bustling grittiness to it. Ox carts rattled across the cobblestones, and brawny Hynbarrans, all clad in simple roughspun, jostled through the streets. After twisting through a maze of narrow lanes, and climbing the hills that seemed to sprout around every corner, they finally reached the palace. It stood alone on an island, surrounded by a pool of dark water.").
All the trappings of formula fantasy are present; but thankfully, most are unrealized - for within 'formula' lies ennui and rote presentation. The Queen of Steel and Fire is anything but: like the dragons it includes, it breathes fire: the passion of youth, of a determination to rise to the occasion, and of a search for justice and safety.Add vivid cover art and a text that doesn't lag behind and you have what really makes a solid fantasy read: the story of how a youth rises to the occasion to not only assume her rightful heritage, but make a positive effect on her world, growing immensely in the process. And, that's a story well worth reading!
The Queen of Steel and Fire
Car Seller's Guide, 2014
Amazon Digital, $4.99
Car Seller's Guide provides useful
information and breaks it
down into a series of steps that any car owner can readily
understand. Everything from determining how to set a price
that will help
sell the car quickly to what repairs to make prior to the sale,
requirements, advertising a vehicle, and how to handle paperwork
involved in a
vehicle transfer are covered in an extensive review of the entire
The Car Seller's Guide provides a quick, simple process explained in a clear set of step-by-step instructions. The book takes all the basics and breaks them down so that even novices used to car dealers will find it easy to consider all the options, from the pros and cons of trading in one's car to DIY selling.
Take the used car marketplace, for example. A chapter is devoted to analyzing car buyers and how they make purchases, and considers the influence of alternative buying methods (such as auctions and dealers) on the private seller. Another example is vehicle value: more chapters explore how a vehicle's value is perceived, how to take car pricing guides with a grain of salt, and how to handle the test drive and buyer concerns.
If all this sounds like weighty reading, it could be – but it’s not in The Car Seller's Guide. Information is clearly communicated in checklists and bulleted sidebars that condense details and offer eye-catching pause for thought. There is also analysis of the multiple criteria applied by buyers in making a decision is critical information for sellers who want to market their car appropriately. There are even chapters on handling dealer transactions, if the owner prefers not to list and sell to an individual. It's all here and provided in a format that's easy to read, easy to absorb, and easy to use.For actionable plans and resources, The Car Seller's Guide's at-a-glance format can't be beat, and is highly recommended for anyone interested in selling their car, SUV or truck.
The Car Seller's Guide, 2014
9781502797031 $15.95 www.anthonyeglin.com
The Alcatraz Rose joins others in the Lawrence Kingston mystery series (prior books not seen by this reviewer), and opens with an unusual move: a thirteen-year-old begs Lawrence Kingston to investigate her mother's disappearance eight years ago (which seems connected with her botany business) and the clues Lawrence unearths seem to lead to an extinct rose rediscovered growing on Alcatraz Island some 5,000 miles from its last known location.
And so the mystery surrounds not just murder, but history and botany - and that's one of the unexpected flavors that sets The Alcatraz Rose apart from your standard 'whodunnit' genre read.
Another surprise is its atmosphere; for fans of England will find the country's ambiance steeped into every page: thick, delicious, and milky like a good English tea. There are deliciously-described meals and clues unearthed over breakfast. There are clues hidden in books, tendrils of uncertain associations that lead to further mysteries, and an attention to building character and setting which lends to reader connections with protagonists and concern about their outcome.
And, after all, isn't this the ultimate purpose of a good mystery: to not just keep readers at arms-length with entertainment, but to immerse and involve them in the fiber and atmosphere of the adventure?
A rare rose, a child's plea, and a 'cold' case resurrected, all against the backdrop of England's culture and atmosphere - what's not to like?
The casual mystery will simply puzzle and entertain. The superior production will take the time to create a setting and protagonists that are compelling. Such is the nature of The Alcatraz Rose - and the reason why its twists and turns of plot stand apart from the ordinary genre approach.The Alcatraz Rose
Murder and amateur sleuthing is a mainstay of the mystery genre; but less common is the inclusion of humor, a device that sets Community Affairs apart from the majority of 'look-alike' titles and which provides a satisfying diversion from the usually-too-serious job of sleuthing.
The story opens with a first-person reflection on the protagonist's kidnapping, then segues quickly to two weeks earlier, when events began to build. So far, nothing extraordinary. But this isn't just a story of a murder and kidnapping: ultimately it's about feuding neighbors, differing viewpoints, and a motivation that leads to not just murder, but mayhem.
Bonnie is taking an oath of office, and it's time to celebrate her big promotion: an event almost stymied by new neighbors who are moving in and arguing with each other. As Bonnie comes to believe her new neighbor is unstable, she also makes some connections between Lemon Face (as she's impulsively named the woman) and a missing local - and it's then that push really comes to shove in a battle of neighbors turned deadly.
As Bonnie discovers more connections between Lemon Face (a.k.a. neighbor Lyla) and Polly, the wars escalate as each woman sees in the other an enemy able to destroy her happiness.
Now, the humor that permeates the plot isn't your slapstick affair: it surrounds the give-and-take of protagonists and is deftly portrayed in conversations, more often than not: "He answered on the second ring. “Speak to me.” “That’s a rude way to answer your phone.” “Well, well, well, if it isn’t the whore who lives next door.” “And I’m talking to the prick who was hit with the Entenmann’s stick.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “It means you’re cruel and overweight. It also means you’re not too bright, being that I had to explain it to you.” “Hey. That wasn’t nice.”
There are also little comments that provide whimsical and fun moments in an otherwise-serious sequence of events: "Not long afterwards, I heard the fine dining arrive—bread and water through a doggie door."
The well-rounded blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, observation, and amateur sleuthing involves neighbors, murderers, and hospital personnel alike in a journey that is anything but ordinary.
Unlike many a murder mystery protagonist, Bonnie doesn't aspire to gumshoe crime-solving: she's already a busy mother with a career, a loving husband, and a lot going on in her world. She simply falls into the role of investigator - but, what a role it is!
Community Affairs is aptly named because many members of the community engage and interact in the course of ordinary and illicit affairs and their potential impact.
Nobody knows who the killer is. And Bonnie is about to break the case wide open - if she survives.
It's detective writing at its best: adding a dash of humor to the mix to create not just comic relief, but the personality and whimsy lacking in most stories of amateur sleuths. And that's what makes Community Affairs not just a standout, but a top recommendation.Community Affairs
Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton
It's relatively rare that a single-line title pretty much sums up the story line; but such is the case with The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton, the saga of a detective who encounters not one but many loves in his life, and who finds himself on a whirlwind path of romance that ultimately leads him in the wrong direction. The story line is as much about his position and the various reasons why one love and then another don't work as it is about his constant pendulum-like swings between love, loss, and devotion to his job as a New Brunswick constable.
After several thwarted relationships that leave him with three boys, he becomes as immersed in work as ever - but life is about to hand him romance connected with his job when he's charged with hunting down Livia, a fugitive charged with murder who has escaped to Venezuela.
The path towards a staid life is thus interrupted as Stephen finds himself on a journey far beyond his usual police work, making connections he wouldn't have believed would sync with his ideals and morals in life. As he explains his life to Livia, bonds are created which seem to further fly in the face of what he has held important in the past: "Later on, I took them flying with me. Parenting was a rewarding job. I was a warm father, but strict where the law was concerned. I wanted to raise law-abiding citizens. I drilled into them they have to obey the law, even when they disagree with it.”
Now, laws of romance and laws of the land are two very different things. One has logic and rules; the other often rejects them. One comes from the heart; the other from a series of imposed sanctions and objectives that stem from an interest in control and social order more than the processes of emotion.
So Stephen finds his blossoming relationship with Livia more than he would ever have anticipated, and when Stephen enters a situation where Livia must care for him, true purposes and personalities evolve.
It should be noted that your typical romance reader who anticipates light passion will find The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton something different: it combines elements of thriller and detective worlds into its overall focus on love, and it creates a complexity between romance and ethics that is a delightful dance between emotion and moral insight.
Yes, there's a crime/mystery to be solved - but deeply embedded within the process of detective work is an attention to personal feeling that is not usually evident in mystery/detective sagas.
Yes, there's romance - but Stephen's attitude towards his job and its importance underlies all his approaches to love, and it takes a major mind shift to accept a potential pairing with a wanted criminal.
It would have been all too easy to create a steamy love situation between the two characters and have passion drive their connections, but Rene Natan doesn't take the easy way out. Her story is as much about tribulation as it is about love, after all, and as Stephen probes Livia's background and comes to understand her logic and rationale, he discovers in her not only a possible partner, but the key to a mystery that has shadowed her life.
Solving this mystery may mean, however, that he loses her for good - for her own good, as well as his motivations for solving crimes.
And this is the heart of the story, which is an unusual, powerful blend of romance and detective writing that is recommended for readers who enjoy works in both genres.The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton
Harry Monmouth is in retirement due to his wife Alex's serious illness, and is involved in a desperate struggle to save her life; so what outside influence could possibly change his decision to lay low and help her? Only one that could affect not only their chosen home of New Hope, but the world beyond.
One of the delights of Lucifer's Promise is that it begins like a Big Bang of intrigue, opening with the singular challenge of a couple facing a possibly-fatal illness but rapidly expanding outward to embrace an equally deadly force that could affect mankind itself.
As events move from Harry's home to his community and beyond, readers are drawn into a story line that's far more than its opening concerns about a town sports player's questionable activities and accusations of corruption.
If this were all that was involved in Lucifer's Promise, it'd become another of your predictable investigative mysteries - thankfully, it's not.
For in this case 'Lucifer' is right up the hill, and his plots and foray into genetic engineering holds startling ramifications for everything Harry holds dear in life.
Scenes move between narrow portraits of sports and individual lives to this bigger picture, with first-person observations of Harry cementing all the action as he becomes unwillingly drawn away from his wife's situation and into an even deadlier scenario. And because Alex's own survival depends in part on genetic engineering, this fine line between good and evil is not a clear call for Harry to make.
This is one of the devices that gives Lucifer's Promise such an intriguing twist: the protagonist/hero himself relies on the very thing that could save or destroy lives - and so there are no clear answers, no clear evils, and no singular path towards redemption.
As the story progresses, the college becomes entwined in the political and ethical concerns of the School of Human Enrichment, which brings both promise and danger to New Hope's college and community.
The scientific possibilities of thinking beyond the genetic box are presented in a series of encounters that slowly involves Harry beyond the usual scenarios: "We believe one person can re-live the memories of another person. It’s what I call temporary gene substitution.” He fell into huckster mode. “Think of that. You could experience the Battle of Hastings in the mind of William the Conqueror. I could walk on the moon. All we need is the right DNA.” As the promise, potential, and future use of genetic manipulation is explored, Harry comes to realize its dangers as well as its promises.
And, that's the crux of the story: is Lucifer's Promise about evil, or good? Is it about manipulation or unethical or moral principles? Ramifications of the scientist's work even reach into the areas of privacy and civil rights: "The idea, of course, was monstrous. Whatever prophylactic use it might have, gene substitution was just another term for mind reading. It would allow anyone to snoop into another person’s life, the ultimate surveillance tool. All that was required, as Ender said, was the right DNA."
But the best is yet to come: murder, payback, litigation, miracle cures and their consequences … all these embroil Harry and Alex in a truly dangerous game where nobody is the victor and everyone faces the fires of transformation.
Alex's serious illness is about to move from the personal to the political and beyond - and Harry may be helpless to stop events from unfolding and enveloping his carefully-constructed world.
Lucifer's Promise isn't a mystery or detective story per say, though plenty of elements of the thriller genre are embedded in the plot and fans of genetic or medical mystery reads, in particular, will be delighted with the way this investigation goes: "We’ve set ourselves apart from a world we still have to live in. The world will survive. I’m not sure we will.” She stopped. “Steiner said he could create life. What comes after that?”
It's not so much the mystery that holds attention, as these larger observatiuons of how mankind is manipulating his environment, whether for good or evil - and how ordinary individuals such as Harry and Alex react to the possibilities and dangers of this manipulation.
Fans of Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, and the like will thus find plenty to admire in Lucifer's Promise, which successfully crosses genres. Adventure, mystery, and higher-level thinking: it doesn't get better than this, for a reader who looks for more than mere entertainment.Lucifer's Promise
Peter Gilboy, Publisher
Novels don't usually open with the perp's unerring perspective as police converge on him, arresting him and demanding to know what happened to 'the girl' while informing him of his right to remain silent (…and these conflicting instructions are why the protagonist laughs at the irony - a move which is, naturally, misunderstood by the cops).
Novels don't often use a police invitation to spill 'what happened' as the opening salvo in a story of deadly consequences and challenging decisions. Most of all, they rarely hold the capacity to prove uniquely gripping, in just a few paragraphs of first-person observation ("But if I had told them the truth, they would have thought it an invention, or that I was simply deranged. I imagine them now spinning their own bleak versions of what happened to Madeleine, as if it can be summed up quickly like one of Grimm’s Tales.")
But, such is the nature of Madeleine's Kiss, which defies the common label of 'thriller' or 'mystery' but takes both elements to an entirely new level in a production that displays the rare capacity to be riveting and eye-opening in its very first chapter, when other novels are busy setting the scene and creating psyches.
What really happened to Madeleine? The reader's about to find out - and there's not a wasted line in the entire process: "But what happened to Madeleine is too terrible and too wonderful. Even the Brothers Grimm would not have risked putting it to the page."
The 'terrible wonderful' aspect builds and builds. From the start, the protagonist offers a series of emotionally-charged observations that takes the form of his own description of an avalanche of circumstance: "If this was a children’s story, I could say that it began at some indefinite time in the past, an unspecified day and month and year. Once upon a time. But it was on a Wednesday morning in April just last year. Yet every loss has its roots somewhere even further in the past, like a hard-packed snowball gathering mass as it descends a snowy and treacherous incline. Until. Until the avalanche, of course."
At first there's the crystal-clear day, the snow of setting, character, and events laid out before the viewer, sparkling and fresh. But from the beginning there are more than light rumblings of warning that this won't be your usual thriller or mystery read: the precise (yet ominous) observations of the first-person narrator make that clear.
One of the devices Peter Gilboy wields with effectiveness and precision is that of contrasting reality with perception. Thus, a witness stand testimony is the perfect platform for contrasting what really happened with what was perceived - and misinterpreted: "The eye sees, but the mind interprets. It didn’t happen like that at all. I walked with Madeleine to my car and opened the door for her. For some reason, she slipped right then. I stopped her from falling, caught her as she fell backward toward me. After she was in the car, I had to push the door hard. It’s an older Ford Taurus and the door sticks, both of them actually. I always have to slam or push hard. That’s what the so-called witness saw."
Allegations, accusations, misunderstood events and re-enacted possibilities: all these are the ultimate elements of intrigue all too often ineffectively wielded in the interests of linear plots and characterization. Madeleine's Kiss, however, stands outside of these approaches: events are narrated with a surgeon's precision as the landslide of incredulous events threatens, looms and begins to fall - silently at first, then with a rocket's roar and speed.
It's hard to do this plot justice without revealing too much. And (especially with this work) 'spoilers' would ruin the author's intention to have the avalanche work its powers in an evolutionary pattern until an unsuspecting reader turns to find it full in-face, with nowhere to go.
This reviewer loves a good surprise. And nothing has surprised more than the revelations of Madeleine's Kiss. For more, you'll just have to put skis on and hit the slopes. Its attention to character, detail, and twists of psyche virtually guarantee that thriller and mystery readers can't be disappointed.Madeleine's Kiss
Murder Mystery Press
978-0-9847825-4-3 (paperback) $14.95
978-0-9847825-6-7 (hardback) $16.95
978-0-9847825-5-0 (ebook) $2.99
Once again: striking covers are not usually noted in the context of a review because, let's face it, cover art may sell a book; but it's usually all too lacking in an e-book production. Not so with A.J. Harris, whose simple two-word title is enhanced by a vivid cover portraying a church in the background, a beautiful woman's sideways look at the camera, and what looks to be a priest carrying a cross in one hand while his head is buried in the palm of the other.
Add vivid colors, sharp presentation, and the ability to provide an uncluttered image supporting just two words of the title and you already have a draw. Now, for the meat of the matter: the story and its presentation.
Set in 1951 California, Revenge Revancha is about wealth, a Mexican-style adobe mansion overseen by a middle-aged Mexican matron, a series of murders surrounding famous artworks, and a ward who is fingered as prime suspect.
If it sounds like there are so many characters that the story line could become confusing, that is not actually the case, here. Where other authors might fail, A.J. Harris succeeds in deftly creating portraits of each character's unique attributes which makes them memorable and sets them apart from one another.
One way this is done is by creating atmosphere, which is just one of the methods Harris uses to enhance scenes and action: "Rabino’s home took on the welcoming warmth of the Friday evening Sabbath with the fragrances of freshly-baked challah, chicken soup and beef brisket. The dining room table was decorated with Rachel Rabino’s Belgian linen, fine silverware, and English china reserved for the once-a-week dinner. A pair of polished brass candlesticks that had been in the Rabino family for over a century awaited Rachel’s lighting after she put on her prayer shawl."
It should be noted that this kind of description is exactly where many murder mysteries fail; but it's the very act of creating ambiance that lends the characters three dimensions instead of two and reinforces not only surroundings, but motivations and backgrounds.
As for the murder itself, it moves from a singular event to one which embraces the incentives of an assassin, the compromises of a seasoned detective who finds himself falling in love with a possible perp, and the complications of romance which rears its not-so-ugly head even in the face of life-threatening danger.
There's also much history involved as part of this background build-up: California, Spain, the Spanish Civil War, and the protagonists' heritage. Once again: key to recalling events (and making sense of them) is the story's sense of place and history. Harris takes the time to build up both where others would gloss over with a few hasty paragraphs on the way to focusing on the mystery piece - and this results in a satisfying depth and involvement on the reader's part as events slowly come to make sense against the backdrop of past, present, and future.
As family connections as well as background are explored, readers are treated to characters that come alive - including their motivations for making and keeping secrets: "Gruenwald continued, “The colonel confided in me alone; he trusted no one else. His secrets weigh heavy on my heart. He made me take an oath of silence, but now that he’s gone, I can tell you his sordid secrets.”
At some places romance seems the last thing that will come to fruition as scenarios of death emerge and winding puzzles come undone with some unexpected revelations.
Without imparting spoilers, suffice it to say that in the end, nobody is safe from being considered a suspect; and the real murderer's motivations and identity will change worlds.
Revenge Revancha is the kind of murder mystery that stands out from typical genre approaches. It takes the time to build mood, character, and background, it pops attention with a colorful, eye-catching cover that wastes nothing in its attention to detail, and it provides a fast-paced plot that sends strings of intrigue in all directions, then deftly reels them in.
In conclusion, it's the perfect murder mystery for those who appreciate depth and intrigue over easier 'whodunnits' holding one-dimensional characters and settings.Revenge Revancha
Author / Publisher: John W. Mefford
Author website: http://www.
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.
Wicked Greed is Book Three of the 'Greed Series' (the prior books have not been seen by this reviewer), so newcomers who pick up Wicked are coming in mid-series. Normally that would be a red flag: it's usually difficult to enter a book mid-series without the background setup that allows a clear transition into the latest developments. Not so with Wicked, which holds its own independent story that ties in with (but doesn't lean on) its predecessors for strength.
A sick, twisted psychopath sends some wrenching emails to news media across the South, catching the attention of reporter Michael, who wonders if it's just sick musing or a warning of things to come. The answer lies in a series of twisted murders indicating that the promise was only too real.
How can a serial killer's motivations become linked to hijacking and politics? How can Michael's growing love be threatened by events within his job? And will his courses of action threaten everything he holds dear in his life?
The focus here is on greed and manipulation at its highest levels, on psychological illness at its most deadly incarnation, and on what motivates one man to kill and another to heal. It's at once a thriller, a murder mystery, and a novel of psychological complexity: add a healthy dose of wrenching soul-searching and it's evident that the story line is not for the faint of heart.
This is not to say that it's unduly violent: John W. Mefford wields his wicked and good characters alike with professional precision, and as reporter Michael hones all his investigative skills to track down the very few clues dangling in a closed case with virtually no evidence, he finds himself on a fox hunt (so to speak) that reels him into danger like a fish on a line.
It's a wide net that needs to be cast, as is usual with a murder (but in this case, the net expands to a country of some one million people - not your usual local case), and as Michael finds himself transfixed and transformed by the search and its many dead ends, he slowly comes to realize what greed and wickedness truly are.
Now, Wicked Greed holds many strengths: its characters have the ability to hone sensual images for good or bad, its heroes can in fact be murderers themselves, and its social and law enforcement struggles are often linked to business and political interests. For some readers anticipating the simple story of a serial killer and a reporter's investigations, this net may be cast too widely for the simpler plot they were anticipating.
But those well seasoned on the complexity of the thriller genre will easily find devices used here, in the course of solving a mystery, that cross genres and incorporate the best of many worlds. And so you have the elements of a mystery/detective story opening the book, capturing its prey (the reader), then reeling in the catch with a serial killer's motivations, spicing struggle with outside elements that bring in wider and wider world connections, ultimately blending a reporter's personal and professional journey with larger conflicts.
And, after all - in a genre replete with too-easy wins, predictable story lines, and works that catch and release too quickly, it's the bigger picture of world-changing events that is the ultimate draw, and the greatest strength, of Wicked Greed. And, it's a pleasure to say that this series addition requires absolutely no prior familiarity from its new readers to stand well alone, on its on merits.Wicked Greed
Woman in Black
Savina Thompson is on a mission of investigation… that's why she's reluctantly impersonating a call girl: to help a detective solve a mystery that has kept his investigation at arm's length. But her mission is about to become a lot more complicated; not only because a new speech emulation program is enabling her to pull off the switch so far, but because she is also becoming more involved in the detective's already-complicated personal life.
And this is the tip of the iceberg: Savina's participation in Operation Woman in Black also pulls her into a love relationship with a man she's supposed to be keeping at bay - and as a woman who enjoys her freedom, that alone is proving a challenge.
As a series of traps are set - and sprung, by a too-clever adversary who almost seems to read minds and whose inside connections thwart police operations at every turn - Savina's ability to pull off her call girl alter-ego Clara becomes increasingly challenging, drawing her into a deadly game replete with many characters, many possibilities, and conflicting alter egos.
Conrad struggles with casting a net that constantly shows up empty and lacking, while Savina and Denis find themselves on the wrong side of a confrontation that can only end badly.
On the face of it, The Woman in Black is a mystery. It's also a thriller and a novel of psychological suspense, as each protagonist has lot to win - and a lot to lose - in a complex game that is revealed in bits and pieces, chapter by chapter.
Like a good game of chess, moves and countermoves result in each side holding key pieces - but not the ability to make the winning move that will definitively end the standoff.
And that's what makes The Woman in Black so compelling: in the end, it's all about the standoff. The unpredictability is what counts - and what makes this story such a winner. It's rare for a seasoned mystery/detective reader to say one can't quite see it coming until the end - but it's the case here, and the winning gambit that makes The Woman in Black more than a cut-and-dried case of investigation, romance, or crime.The Woman in Black
The Best Kind is women's fiction and is set in Newfoundland, an area the author knows well, having grown up in a small fishing village on the Burin Peninsula. From the very first paragraph it's evident that this story circles around strong women, faith, and family ties: "My grandmother has lived her entire life following every rule and regulation that the fellows behind the scenes at the Vatican make up as they go…On this dirty old Newfoundland morning, she’s worried she has fooled something up along the way, which is about as likely as the sun beating down here in Hurt Cove for ten days straight is."
Part of what 'shines' in this novel (and perhaps the device that earns its billing as a 'women's fiction' piece) is its descriptions of connections between females: "A lot of people can rhyme off the Bible word for word, but not many live it like Nan does, waking every day intent on being and doing good. Though the Catholic guilt and fear drilled into me since before my baby teeth came in are firmly rooted to my core (despite my legendary attempts over the years to dislodge them), I’m mad enough this day to curse at Him, consequences be damned."
Reflections on society, religion, and family are the threads that explain and connect - and the same ones that draw in readers with a tight, compelling story of generations living out torment and passing wisdom to the next.
Time fluctuates between the present and grandmother Hannah's life experiences, with stories documenting hard times, people scraping by, and curses and cures: "One time, Daddy had to bring me in his dory down to Bay of Bottoms to see this woman with cures. It was on account of this whooshing noise I kept hearing in me head. When it roared so loud I used to get right dizzy. Come to find out it was the worst kind of infection in me ear. It was like I didn’t know if I was coming or going with the pain and the queer old feeling it give me. That’s exactly what I feels like now."
Two very different voices are satisfyingly written with attention to dialect and the observational experience that clearly separates these two contrasting lives, even if the chapter headings didn't cement this effort by placing dates and names so that there's no possibility of readers becoming confused.
All these facets entwine in a survey that probes connected experiences with men and romance: "You often hears tell of people saying that in times they walks around in a fog. It’s going handy on to three weeks since me and Billy got married and I can't even face the fog that’s after coming down over me, little alone up and walk around in it. Instead of waking up from a nightmare in the mornings, I leaves a dream world to come to hell on earth. Every single night I dreams that it’s me and Roland that got married and is waiting to welcome into the world the dear little life taking root inside me. For the first few seconds I'm awake, the warm, blissful feelings from the dreams is right there just the same as if they was part of me real life. Then, in no time, the brutal ugliness of what I’ve been done pretty near murders me in the bed."
Turning forty brings with it connections, revelations, and shared family history. It offers opportunities for redemption on several fronts and it also affords a chance for confessing pain, shame, fright, and anguish.
In the end, what makes The Best Kind a compelling women's novel isn't the emotion: it's the juxtaposition of generations of women who each find their own paths amongst men, belief, and obligation.
The ending is inevitable: it's the journey involved in getting there that is the real story; told with the back-and-forth swing of past and present time and an ability to reconcile decisions and pain with newfound positive momentum towards a better future.
Add the Newfoundland dialect, culture, and touch and you have a work of 'women's fiction' that's truly a standout because of these disparate ties and because the voices involved speak from a woman's perspective.The Best Kind
on the Ground
David D. Tracey
No ISBN, Publisher, $TBA
Boots on the Ground begins in Afghanistan, where a group of soldiers daily face combat and death. In their lives there are life-threatening attacks and honors - but most of all, there's a camaraderie that only emerges in the direst of situations that are born in challenge and strife and evolve to become the closest of life-long bonds.
But Boots isn't about Afghanistan so much as it's about the aftermath of returning home and facing a different kind of combat - one that tests these relationships years later, when a new life-threatening challenge is presented that pits two allies against one another in a new arena of adversity.
Though the preface sets the tone for an Afghanistan influence, the bulk of the story is set on U.S. soil, where these 'boots' have come to rest. (Well, perhaps not 'rest'; because in returning home lies a whole new set of complexities and confrontations.)
First of all, don't expect the characters or their concerns to be staid or predictable. There's not just ex-military involved, here: there's a busy call girl, a bar, and a developing 'fight club' with impossible odds that involves protagonists in a truly dangerous game that is ultimately as dangerous as Afghanistan.
There are plots and subplots, confrontations and dangers, and there's sex and the motivation for finishing a book; one which can be traced back to wartime angst ("Skip doesn't mention the two other reasons he has for wanting to finish the book himself - the two innocent worshipers he mistakenly killed in Afghanistan…").
When you have a fast-paced story that embraces elements of ex-military recovery, financial pursuits, motivations for corruption and redemption, and a variety of life-threatening forces at work, you have a story that is packed with diverse elements and approaches to life which are represented by different protagonists and their viewpoints and influences.
In the end Boots on the Ground is about moving full-circle to get out of the woods of not just danger, but moral corruption. It's about fighting to stay alive even on one's native soil, and about turning the forces of evil into something good.
It's complex, it's changing, and it's unpredictable: exactly what readers seek in a good novel - and recommended for those who don't want their novels falling neatly into too-predictable formula writing.Boots on the Ground
Eye of the Needle Press
ASIN: B00MRPKZ2O $3.99
With a title like The Deer Effect, somehow the reader anticipates a story about hunting - but this couldn't be further from the truth. And billed with the catch-all 'novel' phrase, it's uncertain (from either title or cover) what to expect - which is, plain and simple, NOT a hunting saga or 'Deliverance' type of tale, but a story of murder and grief.
The protagonist finds his dead wife's body next to the carcass of a fawn, and the rest of the story assumes 'whodunnit' proportions as Rod embarks on a quest to find her killer and uncover the truth.
Death is the draw here; but unlike many a murder mystery, it isn't the end-all focus but an introduction that involves a wide cast of characters in an investigation that leads to some unexpected conclusions.
Ultimately everyone is challenged with coming to terms with Hannah's death, no matter what caused it; from hubby Rod to the family dog. As grief winds through the story and changes lives, and reflections on afterlife and meaning come to the forefront, it becomes even more difficult to 'type' this novel.
It doesn't follow the usual course of a murder mystery because there's heavy emphasis on grief, the process of recovery, and a nefarious spirit's involvement in matters (yes, there's even a ghost…).
It doesn't follow the usual progression of events that would lead into a psychological novel about grieving because there's an element of mystery surrounding the death, which requires close investigation from different angles until, at last, an unexpected truth comes out.
And The Deer Effect doesn't provide the predictability of a story that uses a singular literary device to achieve its purposes: the fact that the protagonist becomes unwittingly involved in a search for justice while simultaneously fielding messages from his dead wife makes it a contrast in not only realities, but perception.
The only 'constants' in such an exploration lie in setting and place: readers footpad through psychological woods that hold more than a touch of emotional insight in them: "…the death of a family member had a way of lobotomizing a person’s soul." Such an arena holds a fine line between sanity and insanity; between drowning in loss and rising to find new meaning in life - and a better understanding of possible afterlives.
Wingate's writing style is evocative and compelling: "This one moment, feeling these purest of pure emotions, was worth more to me at that second than any length of a lifetime in heaven. That's what I believed then, and that's why I touched Bobby again. It felt like static electricity when I laid my hands on my dog. And that became my future memory. The one I could always reach for."
Connections between people, pets, and life's circumstances unfold like an origami crane with exquisite details laid bare until at last the entire pattern is on the table - and the originally-anticipated plot is erased.
Forget about hunting, deer, and woods survival. Enter a world where grief serves as the catalyst for change and where death opens the door to other worlds.
Such is the world of Rod and those around him - all changed by Hannah's death, each looking for answers, and all wound up a satisfying story that is haunting until its final resolution.The Deer Effect
for the Perpetual Diet
Paperback price: $15.95 eBook price: $3.99
It's not a diet plan per say and it has little to do with nonfiction but Rules for the Perpetual Diet is a novel covering ten days in the life of a diet-obsessed twenty-something woman who perpetually struggles with weight gain and loss. Sound familiar? Well, don't get too comfortable: the familiar is about to be turned upside down as Amy's opening line snags attention: "Kat is dead. I am not. What I am is hungry. And majorly pissed off…"
In a few lines Burns has captured what all too few novels manage to grab: reader attention. And that attention continues as Amy plans a trip to France in an effort to avoid thinking about food (really??) and finds herself in a new world both strange and familiar at the same time.
Rules for the Perpetual Diet is replete with humor: "I had thrown the tea and the muffin into the trash can and now—how is it possible to want food at such a time?—I could eat a cow, an elephant, a house, the planet."
It's also replete with the culture of France, the agonies and connections of family and relationships, and one feisty woman's interactions with life: "If I were here with William I wouldn’t have got my purse stolen. I wouldn’t have barfed up my breakfast in the street in front of the Café de la Poste. I wouldn’t have been stalked by the Sacré-Coeur biker jacket guy. But I wouldn’t have met Margaret either. I wouldn’t be sitting here, inside a real French apartment, the guest of a real Parisian resident, digesting oysters and slugging back Montrachet in the middle of the day."
As readers move through the story, one surprising facet is uncovered: its ability to subtly but insistently insert the elements of a diet plan and insights into self-image, motivation, and food obsession within the course of a winning story of Amy's struggles.
Threads of humor make for wry observations and fun moments that take serious encounters and turn them on end: "…news flash—you can’t lock self-storage lockers from the inside. This is probably the first thing that people who try to live in them learn. I experimented with jamming the mechanism with a toothbrush but it didn’t seem secure, and neither did a shoe, and neither did a two-pound sack of elbow macaroni, so I ended up moving the entire collection of boxes. Then I sat down and waited for morning, staring at my protective wall of food. I will donate it all to some worthy charity soon. Or, better yet, throw it out. Why should people who need to take charity have to eat crap?"
The story is about food and obsession - but it's also about Amy's discovery of her self outside of food, love, and life's slings and arrows. It's about her breakthroughs of what she needs in life and what she needs to lose - physically and figuratively. And, ultimately, it's about baggage and change. Woven within the story of her personal revelations is - yes - insights on diets, how they work, and why they don't.Any female reader struggling to understand rules of engagement and dieting will welcome this unusual blend of a fictional story, a feisty, believable protagonist's journeys, and the underlying purpose and realities of dieting and weight loss that all combine to make for a fun, vigorous read.
Rules for the Perpetual Diet
What does a diary from 1916 have to do with present-day events? Plenty; especially if it's written by a high school student during a period where the world is entering war (the first world war, that is!)
Red Star Diary of 1916 was found by Rena Corey in a flea market in 1993 - but the story didn't stop there. It was a bit of luck that its buyer specialized in antiquarian documents and took a shine to Bill Noxon's story, using the few clues it contained to track down its author. Her discovery of Bill Noxon's life apart from his diary adds to his teenage reflections to create a complete picture and involving account of his life and changing world.
Unlike most histories of World War I, Red Star Diary of 1916 doesn't come from a journalist, a military fighter their family, or anyone associated with media, politics, or society. It's from a comparative outsider who evolves from his concerns of daily living and his move from city to the country to take in the wider, evolving world.
Just as Bill stands at the threshold of change, so does the world; and as he begins to embrace the idea of this wider world, so readers follow the evolution of World War I events and impact with a far greater personal perspective than most accounts of the times can offer.
If you've read a lot of World War I history, you know that it's a fairly singular subject. Most approaches concentrate on historical events and don't capture daily life in a diary format; and most come from adults, not from teen observers. And Red Star Diary of 1916's maker was deceased - so Rena Corey's first task was to recreate his words and life as he would have, creating a factual, textual documentary and avoiding the usual tendency to produce chapters in favor of the more personal approach of the diary's original format. Quotes from Bill's diary are thus interspersed with Corey's words to round out and tell the entire story, and her additions appear in italics to clearly differentiate her voice from his unedited reflections.
Add a wealth of period illustrations (photos, handbills, postcards, maps, advertising, and more) and you have a unique presentation powered by the unusual collaborative efforts of a young boy's words and an antiquarian document enthusiast's attention to recreating vivid history from a single youth's diary: "…there was a fellow giving out the "Call" a Socialist paper in opposition to military training. It made my blood boil & I felt disposed to beat up a couple of them. That's all that was discussed in school. Socialism. Nearly all Jews belonged to it. I had an argument with one Jew who thought he knew everything about it."
Vivid, immediate, and personal: very few other stories of World War I hold the intimacy and perspective of Red Star Diary of 1916, making it a standout recommendation not only for readers of the subject, but those interested in the process of re-creating history from original writings and antiquarian works.Red Star Diary of 1916
978-0993764622 $15.00 Paperback
ASIN: B00POSPGYS $4.99 ebook
One of the most beautiful forests in the world is also the most deadly, harboring a reputation for suicides that indicates that more than trees is growing deep in the Japanese woods of Aokigahara. You'd think that would be the last place where a thwarted group of mountain-climbers would choose to camp; but in fact when one of their members is found hung in a tree come morning, the group decides that further investigation is required.
And so the predictable (up to this point) horror of the "suicide forest" unfolds. At this point, everything changes and what seems a conventional horror story turns into something more satisfying, with twists and turns of plot that keep readers guessing.
It's ironic that the story begins with a decision not to hike Mount Fuji because weather conditions might make it too dangerous when, in fact, there's a greater danger lurking at tamer elevations.
It's ironic that members of a private teaching company would find themselves absorbing life-or-death lessons at the hands of a force greater than their belief system. And, it's Jeremy Bates's use of the first person to explore these scenarios of horror that successfully, completely involves readers in events as they unfold. Through Ethan's eyes the forest and its possibilities come to life, and through his investigations the horrible truth evolves.
Now, many horror accounts use the same kind of formula writing: unsuspecting (or curious) victims poke at a known danger until, one by one, they succumb to some dark magic, or a monster. If you're expecting that kind of breezy horror, move on: Suicide Forest isn't like that. It's about heroes and about atrocities committed in the name of heroism.
It's about legacies and impacts of decisions, and it's about a reign of terror that has its possible roots in the supernatural (or, does it?)
Most of all, it's ultimately about love - and about nightmares that keep victims screaming long beyond the event (or any revelations about its realities.) It's about reclaiming power and wielding it. Expect scenes sometimes gory and startling - this is no light read.
Suicide Forest takes all the elements of horror - gore and bloodshed, psychological ties that bind, and a group of fairly normal individuals who themselves absorb some of the horror they confront - and turns it around so that, in the end, one doesn't quite know where the true horror lies.
It's difficult to dance around premise and outcome without revealing spoilers, in this case. Suffice it to say that Suicide Forest takes any preconceived notions of 'horror' and turns them on end.
And, ultimately, that's what the seasoned horror enthusiast really looks for in a good horror story: something that seems to lead in a predictable direction, than takes the concepts of 'good' and 'evil' and adds an unpredictable twist.Suicide Forest
Year in Oman
Matthew D. Heines
Another Year in Oman: Between Iraq and a hard Place is the second of a three-book series that describes the author's life in the Middle East and once again offers a powerful perspective, continuing the saga begun by Heines' venture into Oman post-9/11.
At this point the U.S. is about to invade Iraq, and Heines is the only American in the region - so he's viewed with undue suspicion and faces the additional challenges of being involved in a clandestine relationship with an Arab woman and struggling with a very different culture.
Like My Year in Oman, this book is neither 'fish nor fowl' - it's not a travelogue; so don't anticipate that direction. Neither is it strict autobiography: there's a lot of cultural observation and history that would be lacking in a more egocentric production and it's this cultural interaction that forms the backbone of Heines' experience and story.
It's about Muslim faith, cultural values, the interaction of Arab countries with the rest of the world, and how Heines' decision to live in Arabia succeeds in changing not only his life, but those around him.
Expect more details about Omani culture than were provided in the first book, expect more rich viewpoints of male and female lives and how they are changed by Muslim faith and politics, and most of all, anticipate a deepening romance set against the backdrop of protests and heightening tensions in the Middle East.
Most accounts of the region come from relative outsiders. Even reporters who have extensively traveled throughout the Middle East and who have more in-depth background in the region's political turbulence don't have the personal associations that Matthew Heines develops in the course of working and developing a love relationship in Oman.
Another Year is about adventure and romance - but more importantly, it's about one average American's understanding of the underlying forces that drive Muslim culture and heritage, offering a rare opportunity for understanding based not on so much on history or politics as upon personal interactions.
And that's a rare perspective, indeed - especially in a post-9/11 world which too easily equates 'terrorism' with 'Muslim' and negates individual matters of the heart.Another Year in Oman
Time in Saudi
Matthew D. Heines
Now, Killing Time in Saudi Arabia demonstrates perfectly the reason why some books written as a trilogy should be viewed as 'one', read in order, considered as a unit, and stronger as part of a package production. For without the background provided in My Year in Oman and Another Year in Oman (which documents the author's experiences from 2001-2003) this third book would not feel nearly as rich and fulfilling in background, setting and sentiment as it covers eighteen months of life from 2004-2005, when some of the heaviest fighting of the War on Terror occurred - right under the author's nose.
In Killing Time in Saudi Arabia Heines has left Oman and taken a job as an English teacher, training national guard officers for the Saudi Arabian military. Amidst the backdrop of educational progress are the uncertainties and threats of war: gunfire erupting and changing lives, drives through the streets of Riyadh, reflections on life, death, and independence ("…I had become a person who was somewhat in control of his situation…I suddenly realized that the act of buying a car had changed in one night, my entire Saudi Arabian experience.")
New reports of gunfire, killings, and terror are a very effective conclusion to every chapter, documenting daily life in the Middle East and placing the author's experiences within the context of a wider world's troubles and a culture's psychology and wonders.
This isn't just about serious life-threatening moments, as readers might expect: there is much humor to be found in cultural misunderstandings - as when Heines believes he has contracted to tour a camel farm and gets something far different: "The worst thing I thought could happen was a terror attack. I had been concerned about being killed when I should have been concerned about being embarrassed and humiliated. "I did everything I could to make it clear that we wanted to see a camel farm," I explained. "I must have asked him three different times…Wouldn't you just assume that a camel farm would include camels?" It's one thing to fail to arrange to see camels. It's quite another to bring a group of eager tourists along for the ride: a group interested in the trappings of culture, not the culture itself: "With few exceptions, most of the group was not interested in Saudi culture at all, which made my appearance in Saudi clothes just one more bizarre detail in an increasingly bizarre story."
Against the backdrop of love, war, tourism and teaching, the gaps between West and Middle East are highlighted. Under Heines' deft hand these cultural interactions and misunderstandings come to life and ultimately serve to provide a better understanding not only of Middle East atmosphere and culture, but of the psychology and perspectives of ordinary people living in a very different world.
A series of misadventures and ironies emerges; even more so than in the two Oman books - which is unexpected, because by Book Three readers would anticipate that Heines has likely penetrated the Middle Eastern veil and is settling in. Nothing could be further from the truth: he's now in a different region and his understanding is still uncertain, his grasp of politics and peoples still tenuous, and his experiences greatly different than in the comparatively isolated medieval town atmosphere of Oman, with its very different world.
Again, humor is embedded in every chapter; so if you don't want quirky observations and tongue-in-cheek wry remarks, look elsewhere … though that would be a shame, because this approach is what lends all three books a personal, interactive, intimate perspective lacking in most other accounts of the Middle East: "…except for the threat of a large-scale attack by a battalion of terrorists, car combings, or random acts of terror, I had little to fear."
Another difference between these books and other Middle East accounts is that Heines always seeks to think - and act - outside the box. Thus, he often arranges for expeditions beyond his teaching objective and his comfort zone: "…we made plans for yet another expedition into the far reaches of Saudi Arabia with the Riyadh Rovers. With no map, and no GPS, all I knew six days later, was that we were somewhere in the north, near Kuwait."
His expeditions, as with his teaching goals, are all about breaking through these boundaries of comfort, and bring readers along for the bone-rattling jeep rides and cultural encounters introduced by romance and experience alike.
Some might fault Heines for including romance in every book. Some might look for more background history, or more cultural insight, or even more teaching encounters (if the reader intends on teaching abroad and is seeking pointers) - but that's not the objective of this trilogy.
Its purpose is to profile the author's cultural encounters and his immersion in foreign lands and perspectives, and it's here that this trilogy shines.
It's life in the middle of war, life in the middle of cultural incongruities, and most of all, it's about reaching out of one's familiarities to grasp for more. Individually each book in the set stands alone as an engrossing saga. Taken together, they form the nexus of a cultural investigation not undertaken in your usual Middle East books written by commentators, observers, and military personnel.
Any who would truly understand the region and its psyche would do well to enjoy the combination of rollicking adventure and cultural insights that permeate all three stories, defying the usual labels of 'travelogue', 'teacher's experience', 'romance' or 'social analysis' to embrace elements of all four approaches.Killing Time in Saudi Arabia: An American Experience
Year in Oman
Matthew D. Heines
My Year in Oman: An American Experience in Arabia During the War on Terror should be read by any who have an interest in Middle East culture and affairs in general, and terrorism and education in particular. It's that important, and comes from the perspective of an American teacher, ex-paratrooper and writer who taught in the U.S. before challenging himself by accepting a teaching job in Oman.
One of the delights here is Matthew Heines' exploration of his own pre-conceived notions about what Oman will be like, in contrast with its reality. Not only does the country little resemble his imagination, but his experience there is something he couldn't have prepared for. (In fact, before he left for his new job, he couldn't even definitively identify Oman on the map!)
How many teachers would travel to a land they didn't know in pursuit of money and a challenging new position? How many would rent their own cars at a strange airport in the middle of the night and head off into what looks like a desert when they are stranded at the airport? And how many would fall in love with a beautiful Indian girl while on a two-week vacation, only to run into the secrecy that often permeates Indian society and relationships?
Layers of intricacy and cultural encounters come to life in a story that is far more than a travelogue. In fact, readers who come to My Year in Oman might be disappointed in its lack of 'fluff': there are no insights on where to stay, what to eat, what to do. This is autobiography and cultural inspection at its best and, as such, is a recommendation not so much for the armchair traveler as it is for those passionate about other cultures, other worlds, and thinking outside the box of the familiar travel or work pursuit.
Matthew Heines had many choices in his career. He chose to accept something different - and then, to share these insights in a powerful book that moves beyond autobiography into the realm of truly experiencing life and all of its swings.
Heines writes that "Humans have occupied Oman for the last ten thousand years. Archaeologists have uncovered settlements near Muscat that date back at least that far."
Given that this culture is ancient and its position in the region is central, it's a no-brainer that My Year in Oman should be considered for any reader interested in Middle Eastern culture and peoples.
Any who pick up the book expecting an entertaining travelogue will be in for a treat: it's so much more, and packs in the depth and attention to detail that doesn't just entertain: it educates. And, after all, that's where Matthew Heines's passion really lies.My Year in Oman
Pyramids Floods: Did Noah's Flood Destroy Atlantis and Damage the
The premise of Atlantis Pyramids Floods (a condensed version of the author's Atlantis: Ten Tribes of the Americas) is simple: people have been searching for Atlantis ever since Plato's original reference, and have been searching for evidence of the Great Flood since its first Biblical appearance.
But what if the two events are connected? What if the Flood was prompted by a cataclysmic event that also took out Atlantis? What if that same flood damaged other relics in the area, so that the evidence of both disasters is staring us right in the eyes?
So many speculations about Atlantis and the Great Flood rest on new age thinking; but to place Atlantis Pyramids Floods entirely in the realm of speculative thinking would be to do it a grave disservice, for this book uses archaeological evidence as its foundation and focuses on that evidence.
Chapter after chapter maintain that Atlantis is not a myth, they focus on the bigger picture in telling the story of its rise and fall, and they provide solid scientific evidence charting not just the popular stories of Atlantis culture and the Flood, but how a cataclysmic event affected the whole of the Egyptian area, why Atlantis was actually Egypt's oldest colony, why the new information presented here changes views of both events, and how they dovetail.
It's in the latter approach, which involves putting together pieces of what initially seems an unconnected puzzle, where Dennis Brooks shines. Chapters point out high water marks that remain in Egypt today, use the work of well-known archaeologist Robert Ballard to provide contentions of what really happened, and link the words of Plato to actual observations of evidence that can easily be seen today.
From old writings to new technology (such as Google Maps), past and present blend in Brooks' efforts to pair the works of well-known ancient writers with the works of respected contemporary scientists and thinkers from Ballard to Brasseur de Bourbourg, who translated much of the histories of the ancient Americas.
Most Atlantis discussions begin with a few 'scientific' facts (largely unsubstantiated) and then move rapidly into a realm that can only be described as speculative fiction. Not so with Brooks, who remains firmly rooted in evidence and facts, and who attends to weaving his theory around what is known; not venturing into the dangerous arena of what can't be proven.
While new age readers who already have a 'belief' in place about Atlantis will be the most likely readers of this work, no audience should expect that it will be a simplistic presentation. Brooks packs his book with authoritative references, quotes, and footnotes and even provides a section of extra study references for those who would move beyond his title.
While new age readers who are commonly attracted to Atlantis accounts will be the most likely audience for Atlantis Pyramids Floods, it's more than evident that the buck shouldn't stop here: scientists researching Atlantis will find that this book is a research-based discussion that takes original stories and pairs them with solid science; and amidst the plethora of Atlantis fantasies, that's really saying something!
Atlantis Pyramids Floods: Did Noah's Flood Destroy Atlantis and Damage the Pyramids?
Here I Come!
Terry John Barto
1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403
ISBN: 978-1-4969-3509-0 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-4969-3512-0 (e)
Ordering Link: http://www.amazon.com/
$15.15 32 pages
Welcome to Gobbleville, a town literally run by turkeys - and welcome, picture book readers, to the world of Anamazie Marie LaBelle, a marching band majorette who, encouraged by her mother, dreams of becoming famous.
And it looks like she's on her way, because she's a finalist in the 'Gobbleville’s Got Talent' show, and everything is moving on course to fame - until someone else wins.
Anamazie and her mother are more than disappointed until a talent scout solicits her to become part of a film for Gollywood Pictures. So, it's off to the movies and a real studio: and mother and daughter are elated.
There's a lot of underlying humor in this picture book production which will delight adults pursuing read-alouds as well as kids reading on their own: "Then Anamazie waited outside on a bench while Henrietta roosted in a tree….Anamazie twirled with joy. Henrietta fell out of the tree."
Mattia Cerato's large-size, full-page color drawings are fun embellishments to the story line, while its gentle progression avoids the usual ominous atmosphere so many books today seem to feel compelled to inject. It's a pleasure to see success and hard work celebrated for what it is - and Gollywood, Here I Come! is all about achievement and pursuing goals with parental encouragement and support.
Those used to how elements of angst and struggle reach even into early picture book grades will appreciate this positive, upbeat, encouraging story of a mother who encourages her daughter and the success that follows their joint efforts.Gollywood, Here I Come!
Motherless Child Project
Janie McQueen and Robin Kar
Burning Sage Publishing House
The Motherless Child Project presents a powerful story told from a teen's perspective and tells of teen Emily, who has grown up without her mother and is long used this absence in her life. But it takes a school project, which she tailors around her experience of being motherless, to really bring her feelings to the forefront, and her journey is the subject of a story investigating why her mother left.
Motherless children have been the subject of many a book (including many a teen novel): so what makes McQueen and Kar's story different?
Does Emily want a life that's a big lie? Emily's not sure where she's headed when she undertakes her journey; but one thing is certain: she's driven by the absence of her mother as much as by other influences in her life, and can no longer ignore that gaping hole in her world.
Much of her life up to the point this story begins has been one of comfortable ignorance. Now she's venturing into the realm of investigation and filling in the blanks and, more so than other books on the topic of motherless children, The Motherless Child Project documents this process of discovery and what it does to a child's psyche and self-image.
Chapters flow smoothly as Emily progresses, bringing readers along for an Olympic effort as revelations are made, emotions assessed, and realities contrasted with belief and illusion. Long raised on a "steady diet of lies", Emily is ready to confront the facts; and within that process lays transformation.
Another satisfying aspect of this novel is its focus on how one girl's journey creates a new, interconnected community: for Emily's Motherless Project isn't a singular study: it's one that embraces the experiences of all motherless children - and one that will change all their lives; not just hers.
It's satisfying seeing one girl's angst and journey connecting a community together. It's unusual to find the outline of this community (and how it evolves) so smartly portrayed in the course of following a teen's other concerns, from relationships to music. And, it's about how one song can change a life, redirect it, and hone in on one's hidden feelings.
All this is carefully orchestrated, like a minuet of emotions and characters: "Right now it was tempting to wish I’d gone to our church on the morning I went with Macy and heard “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” But I had heard it, and now I had to make good with Dad. He hadn’t challenged me about the baby clothes thing. I was definitely swinging back and forth with the new and disturbing information I was finding."
In the end everything Emily hold dear will be called into question: family, safety, friendship, and the very reason for living.
To say that The Motherless Child Project is a book about change and self-discovery would be doing it an injustice: it's so much more. Through Emily's eyes the entire process of transformation is displayed, analyzed, and revealed, with all its aches and pains. Through her actions readers are treated to insights on responsibility, community connections, and, ultimately, the lasting impact of decisions.
Any teen reader looking for a powerful, compelling story - especially those who are motherless themselves, whatever the reason - will find The Motherless Child Project a powerful saga worthy of attention and acclaim.The Motherless Child Project
Tale of the Wulks
Fifty chapters in three parts shows that The Tale of the Wulks is no casual affair, but a powerfully complex creation as it provides a story of evil let loose on the world and the efforts of humans and magical forces to thwart it. But that's not the remarkable thing about this saga: what is truly notable is that this detailed, winding story was written by a teenager with autism, and its hero, Rilk Wulk, is a fifteen-year-old with autism himself.
He is on the side of good forces as they battle evil; and in Green's scenario, autism is actually one of his assets as he uses his special abilities and perceptions to best advantage.
It's evident from the story's depth, consistency and details that Green has read a lot of Tolkien and other epic writers and has not only absorbed these tales, but put them to good use. But in addition to the usual fantasy trappings of dwarfs and elves are the lesser-known brethren of magical beings, the Wulks, who are indigenous to the U.S., hold no surnames, and live as one clan.
Forced to evacuate their California stronghold, the Wulks go into hiding, establish a new, isolated village, and seek peace and tranquility for their world. Their refusal to accept otherwise will become the force that, in 2014, will come to a head under the leadership of popular Rilk, who claims members of both worlds as his close friends.
Rilk's visions and abilities are pivot points in his life, and the plot unfolds from his autistic perceptions, which lend understanding and provide an extra element of depth to the tale: "It seemed unjust to strike down an enemy when his only fault was his involuntary ignorance. As an autistic, Rilk did not have it in his heart to do violence to those who had borne him no threat. Autism causes people to be more sensitive toward the important things in life. Morality was of the utmost importance, and the idea of killing in cold blood was unthinkable."
It's these (many) moments of awareness and perception that make The Tale of the Wulks stand out (and apart) from the typical teen adventure or fantasy: "You were born a Wulk, and a Wulk you will stay. Everyone has his or her place in the universe. Your place is to defeat the Dark Lord of Maldon. Sometimes, the greatest heroes are among the innocents they defend. The police save the cities, the armies save the nations, and you shall save all of mankind. The forces are at work; time is moving. Every man is entitled to a peaceful life, and every deed that he does is only a chapter in his great story."
From politics and war to emotional and physical challenges and pulls towards darkness, The Tale of the Wulks is always spiced with insights - and as time moves in and out of 'normal' for Rilk, his steady focus on friendships, peace, and virtue will prove his greatest strength.
The Tale of the Wulks would be an epic adventure even without the added insights from an autistic teen's perspective. By including them, the story shines.
The Tale of the Wulks