March 2015 Review Issue
The Education of a Traitor: A Memoir of Growing Up in Cold War Russia comes from a Russian Jewish immigrant to the U.S. who was born in Russia in 1951 and moved to America in 1990. It covers the period between these years, when she was an engineer and editor for the Soviet Encyclopedia, and intersperses the life lessons she gained from her family and culture with insights into cold war Russian society and sentiments.
Svetlana Grobman grew up with nightmares dominating her life: not unexpected, since her childhood was fraught with political fears and strife as she grew up in the shadow of WW II where stories of Russian suffering and war dominated her life.
These accounts offered little hope and much to fear: in the movies, for example, main characters always died; and in the stories, sacrifice and death, betrayal and torture, were common outcomes. The Soviet perspective was brutal and is crystal-clear under Grobman's observations: "Heroes died because that was what made them heroes, and traitors died because that was what our justice demanded."
Raised in a culture with such definitive perceptions and little margin for flexibility or positive thinking, Grobman finds any possibility of survival and redemption questionable: "As for the millions of people displaced by chance and misfortune—POWs or civilians—they remained under a cloud of suspicion. How could they surrender alive? Why didn’t they die the way heroes did? If they came back, they were sent to Siberian gulags. If they disappeared in the maze of the world, they were quickly forgotten, as if they had never been born. Everything was black and white, with no nuances and no half tones. History—in our judgment—had mercy for no one, since, clearly, there was no higher honor or a better destiny than to die for our country."
The ideal was to be a patriot for her beloved country. The reality was that patriots wound up dead (survivors weren't considered true patriots at all.) Under a cloud of suspicion circumventing any possibility of survival and redemption, Grobman begins to form her own perspective - and how she does this in a cultural milieu filled with angst and negativity is almost as powerful as the fact that she ultimately achieves freedom from the repressive forces that dominate her culture and life.
Too many memoirs focus on the physical realities of escaping from one's world. Under such an approach it would have been all too easy for The Education of a Traitor to, itself, have become a linear memoir of a flight to a new life. But true freedom involves more than physical distance or escape: it's a vast adjustment that involves confronting and changing one's framework for perceiving reality itself; and it's here that this autobiography shines.
Chapter after chapter traces her growth process, admitting that the author's background has not instilled in her all the tools necessary for such changes: "I do not know much about growing corn. In truth, I do not know much about growing anything…"
From witnessing 'miracles' as simple as a camping trip's amazing sunrise, which adults try to link to political influence ("Remember, children,” Evgenia Vladimirovna's voice breaks the spell. “This is what your country and the Communist Party do for you! You must appreciate that!” Confused, we look at her and then at each other. Is she talking about the sun or the camp?"), to how reading about other places offers one method of absorbing alternative thinking patterns ("The world that stretches outside our window is as white as the one I have just left. But unlike the imaginary world, the real one offers nothing worth exploring, nothing that can match the drama unraveling on the pages of my book, and therefore, nothing worth interrupting my reading for."), this approach succeeds in melding the author's personal influences with wider political and personal growth.
Even more hard-hitting is how her parents must struggle with every facet of her life and her interactions outside the home - even with something seemingly as simple as an art museum catalog: "They are unintelligent retrogrades! If they had had their way, all paintings would’ve been painted over and statues draped in blankets! It’s bad enough that every word in this damn country is censored. Now I have to worry about museum catalogs, too?!” “All I’m saying is that we have to be careful. If she doesn’t understand what can or can’t be taken out of the house, then we shouldn’t have anything around here that can get her in trouble.”
True, the USSR the author describes no longer exists. But that doesn't mean that the influence and specter of its operations don't remain active in the world, both in Grobman's life and in the wider arena of understanding social and political systems and their impact on ordinary lives. And as much as the author's memories are now frozen in the past, they also continue to hold perspective, insight, and influence on the future of both the reader (whether in the motherland or abroad) and the author.
After all - isn't that why autobiography remains an effective genre for describing not just individual lives and experiences, but wider questions of social and political evolution and even survival and freedom itself? Without truly understanding influence, motivation, perspective, and the effects of political systems on young hearts and minds, it's not possible to perceive the real threats to freedom in the world.
And thus The Education of a Traitor may be read on several different levels: either as a coming-of-age autobiography, or as a wider-ranging portrait of personal survival and growth. Either way, it's not about becoming a patriot and dying. It's about becoming free to live a full life. Exactly how this is achieved is the meat of a hard-hitting and involving story that delivers vignettes of change and survival using a powerful voice and a personal perspective that's hard to put down.The Education of a Traitor: A Memoir of Growing Up in Cold War Russia
Author Kevine Walcott was a successful businesswoman living a peaceful life in the U.K. when she decided to connect through social media through YouTube and presented her views of Christianity and ancient Egyptian religions. It all seemed so innocent - until her actions attracted a group of stalkers and bullies intent on bringing her down.
Not only were they unresponsive to her requests to cease their harassment, but they gained access to and posted her private information and life. At this point you'd think the authorities could help, as Kevine Walcott did when she turned to them; but her discoveries of links between her government, the National Health Service and the cyberattacks eventually led to her institutionalization in a mental health hospital - and if you don’t think this could happen to a savvy business woman, Institutionalised demonstrates otherwise.
It identifies antiquated mental health laws and corruptive collusion between government entities, it documents how freedom of religion and thought comes to be linked to mental illness - and is dealt with appropriately - and most of all, it is a specific blend of autobiography and reflection on the interactions between government and health agencies which should be in the hands of any reader concerned about civil liberties.
What sets Institutionalised apart from other accounts of commitment is its attention to exploring these connections. All are presented in the context of the author's personal experience, and there's much greater impact achieved by blending it with an autobiography rather than making it an investigative report, as so many stories choose: "I asked myself How could this be in line with the right to freedom of conscience and thought? I felt violated, abused, and both physically and emotionally sick. I could not understand why YouTube would not close the accounts of these users, especially when they asked to do so."
The wide-ranging focus of this book, with its concentration on investigations, social issues, government/health connections, and the social and political influences on mental health processes sets it apart from autobiographies that primarily are self-centered, and makes it a compelling pick fueled by the author's determination to be a survivor: "I was achieving what many in the Black community never achieved by beating the mental health system, where many of us were victims of discrimination and racist sectioning by the police and those within the NHS. Many of our community leaders believed that many of us in the system were well and being medicated without release, but they were unable to get them released. Unlike others, I had investigated my case and found what I felt the truth was. As a result, I was able to manipulate the situation and stay a step ahead of those I had studied and analysed. Something in me made me determined to survive. As I became more incensed at the injustice and the reasons and circumstances involved in it. I knew I had to live. I had to survive, so I cooperated."
Gripping, revealing, and eye-opening: be prepared for a mental health and social issues survey that offers a hard-hitting analysis of the UK's systems of individual control and manipulation.Institutionalised
of Silence: Repair Across Generations
Martin Beck Matuštík
New Critical Theory
ISBN-13: 978-0988373211 (pbk),
ISBN: 978-0-9883732-6-6 (electronic), $9.99 (April 1, 2015)
Out of Silence: Repair Across Generations exposes two closely-held family secrets to the public eye: secrets that affected the author's identity and perception of himself and which ultimately led to revelations that would re-unite pathways destroyed by regimes and decisions.
It took a shoebox full of diaries and writings to bring this truth to light. This discovery shook the author's long-held beliefs about who he was, his family's past, and its place in the present. And his decision to write Out of Silence serves as testimony not just to his family's struggles and survival mechanisms, but to the process by which secrets revealed come to repair long-broken lives.
The course of charting this process could have been so much different, under a different pen. Here it assumes an immediacy that is rare even in a memoir, with Matuštík focused on capturing the sights, smells, ethical questions, and complicated facets of Jewish relationships to the world.
In the course of the author's journey, underlying prejudices, perceptions, and broader concerns of the modern world are revealed as Jew and non-Jew alike consider the lasting impact of history's influence: "But it would be nice,” I suggest, “if the city placed a memorial plaque here for the Beck family. They were the only surviving Jewish household from Myjava that was repatriated there after after the war.” Apparently Mr. Valášek didn’t know this. “Many different people lived in this house,” he retorts, obviously not sure that he would like to have a memorial plaque to Jews on his building."
Soon the bigger picture comes to light: the stories not just of his own family's survival, but of those who interacted with the Jews in a time of darkness: "The following day, Patricia and I meet with Borsuk and Vrana, sons of the two Myjava partisan families who helped hide the Becks. They confirm the Beck story from their youthful memories. Beckov tells a much bigger story of survival. In 1941 Nathan already knew his family would have to struggle for their existence."
So many accounts have been written about Holocaust survival that one might wonder at the need for yet another, and at its approach. In truth, Out of Silence explores more than one man's family, one family's secrets, and the journey it provokes. It provides a gripping account of the process of discovery and reconciliation not just between generations, but between peoples; and it succeeds in documenting the lasting effects of decisions, choices, and survival mechanisms from past to present worlds.
It's a journey that embraces three generations, five continents, and a cast of supporting characters over the decades. The time span is winding and embraces the period from before the Holocaust to WW 2, the author's birth in the Communist era, and his journey from Czechoslovakia to the US and back, after the fall of the Iron Curtain; and it even includes the author's discovery of lost family connections in Australia.
His is a narrative that brings the personal and the political in line with history and experience, and it's an approach that holds vivid immediacy and meaning for any student of the Holocaust and its presence in today's world. To aid in this study, it should be noted that photography and online resources for teaching are offered at www.newcriticaltheory.com. The book is well illustrated and at 348 pages, it's a solid read.
It stands at the crossroads of theology, social and political analysis, and literature, and handily complements existing works, adding more research than most to elevate it well beyond the 'simple memoir' genre; making it a top pick for any collection strong in history and the psychology of family relationships as a whole: "From all the things you have done in your life, which do you consider to be the most important?” I turned our conversation sharply away from myself. My father thought long and hard. Looking with glazed eyes far into distance, he said something Sisyphean yet at odds with any real effort at speaking. “I do not know; if I knew, then I would not have made such a mess out of my life.” I was astonished by the naked poverty of his truth. What would make him happy? Was there anything he loved with all his heart?"Out of Silence: Repair Across Generations
Private Life of General Omar N. Bradley
Jeffrey D. Lavoie
McFarland & Company
For those not in the know (and in order to read this biography, one had better get up to speed on at least the basics of World War II military history), Omar Nelson Bradley was an American general who rose to the top of his profession on the battlefields of Europe, representing a quintessential American no-nonsense image, whose actions earned him the trust of the top military leaders of the world.
Despite these accolades and achievements, the general-interest reader with only a casual knowledge of events is more likely to know about other names than Bradley's, who deserves far more acclaim than he's received in the past; while the military enthusiast, in contrast, is likely to know much about Bradley's approaches and little about the life of the man who earned his medals.
The Private Life of General Omar N. Bradley researches not just his military achievements, but his personal influences and world, and excels at creating a well-rounded portrait of the personal life of a famous military figure whose background has largely been an enigma. And for purposes of this study, that life doesn't just evolve on the battlefield, but includes major scenes that happen before and after the war as the general moves from civilian to military circles and back again.
Perhaps it's this attention to such movement that makes The Private Life of General Omar N. Bradley a particularly well-done piece: it goes where few accounts would, explaining and exploring the general's off-field decisions and how he lives his life, for better or for worse.
Take Marlene Dietrich, for example. Questions have circled around whether Bradley had an affair with her: questions Lavoie researches and confronts head-on with satisfying candor and authority: "Omar danced every dance, each with a different lady—as was customary—yet still the question remains: Were they just friends or something more? One of Omar‘s more recent biographers, Jim DeFelice, asks the question bluntly: ―Did the general and actress have an affair? He answers emphatically ―almost certainly not, justifying this by pointing out that Omar had missed his wife and daughter ―terribly."
But Lavoie doesn't just take DeFelice's statement for granted (which would have caused most biographers to close a chapter without further ado or investigation), but adds more recent evidence as food for thought, in the form of a recently-discovered document written by Omar's second wife, who expounds on the presence of Dietrich in his life: "Kitty indirectly implied that Omar engaged more than one mistress throughout his lifetime, seemingly including Dietrich. Kitty would certainly know . . . she was one of them!"
Now, readers who pick The Private Life of General Omar N. Bradley expecting the usual rehash of his military life could be disappointed; but after all (as its title warns), this is a focus on his private life, and is not your typical survey of a general's military experiences. As such, it fills in many existing gaps in knowledge about his psyche and personality, making for a satisfying account that will neatly dovetail with any more military-oriented historical approach.
Neither is The Private Life of General Omar N. Bradley a collection of well-known facts: by going the extra mile and probing the truth and accuracy of common perceptions about the general's life, Lavoie assumes the role not just of biographer, but of a biographical investigator: confirming rumors, verifying facts, and linking reports to supporting evidence.It's this attention to detail and verification that sets his book above others, making it a recommendation not for light followers of casual rehash histories, but for dedicated enthusiasts of historical accuracy with a special interest in Omar N. Bradley and his less-publicized, lesser-known personal circles.
The Private Life of General Omar N. Bradley
Deborah L. Davitt
Book Two of 'The Saga of Edda-Earth' is just as multifaceted as its introductory predecessor The Valkyrie; so if it's casual fantasy and quickly-drawn worlds that are sought, move on. Unlike many a fantasy world, the story's time line is long and drawn out - but, in a good way. The action is based upon solid characterization and the focus on various gods at war with one another is injected with living, breathing fire that draws readers in and heats up the action.
Familiarity with the prior The Valkyrie is highly recommended; not for the usual reason (that a reader walking into the world of The Goddess Denied might be lost) but because characterization is so well drawn in its opening act that it would be a shame to walk into the show mid-performance and miss the highlights of its beginning.
Readers with this familiarity will find here all the elements of the prior book are expanded outward, like a big bang. That said, be forewarned that there's quite a wide cast of characters in this play; and so Davitt's opening synopsis of prior action includes bolded names (well-done!) and overviews of each character's importance in the plot. Would that all authors creating such intricate worlds provide such a quick reader's key reminding them of protagonists and their interactions!
This opener alone is quite extensively described, and forewarns of the depth and breadth of activity that follows; so once again: fantasy readers seeking light, fluffy reads should look elsewhere, while those who just can't seem to find enough of the "good stuff" (which translates to well-detailed plots, many characters, and layer upon layer of interaction and action) will find The Goddess Denied just perfect for a rainy day (or a series of them…).
The most powerful aspect of The Goddess Denied lies just in such depth, which is the driving force of a story replete with twists and turns. Prophecy, allies, enemies, and monsters juxtapose with the missing and the injured. Exotic spells (involving boiling the blood in a person's veins), sorcerers and sisters, stolen lives and fragile forms; all are interwoven into a world that is as well-detailed and absorbing as any Tolkien could have developed.
Even more notable are the human touches throughout which keep the characters grounded in reality and the action surrounding them a personal whirlwind of observation and emotion: "She put the pictures on the table, and put a little incense burner between them. Lit the sweet substance, and let herself focus on the twirling, swirling veils of smoke. I believe in you, Kanmi, she said, silently. I believe in you. You’ll come home to me, someday. But know, that for the moment, I’m . . . all right. I’m not alone. It might have been her imagination, but she thought a breath of wind caressed her face."
Goddesses shorn of their wings. Mad gods and mankind. Curses, and legacies denied. All these elements are wound up in a story that is compelling, involved, and well-done: perfect for the fantasy reader who wants more of a literary work than the typical quick read affords.The Goddess Denied
Mystic Of Karl Mind: The Shadow of The Vytos
Jürgen A.D. Graanoogst
ISBN: 978-1-4969-9817-0 (sc) $24.34
ISBN: 978-1-4969-9810-1 (hc) $41.19
ISBN: 978-1-4969-9818-7 (e) $6.99
Take an ordinary man with no extraordinary talents, transport him into another dimension, challenge his long-held concepts of life and its meaning, and send him on a quest, and you have the façade that is The Mystic Of Karl Mind: The Shadow of The Vytos: a read that can best be described as 'spiritual fantasy'.
In such a world, merchant Karl is called upon to be both witness and hero. In such a world, his wife becomes a pawn in a larger game. And in such a world, his attempts to understand are closely linked with a struggle for survival.
The prerequisites for reader enjoyment of The Mystic Of Karl Mind are few, but specific: fantasy readers should be interested in a healthy blend of philosophical and spiritual reflection, and should choose this book for more than its fantasy adventure. Those in it for the deeper meaning will be the most satisfied with a sweeping setting that begins in a small village in Victorian times and moves swiftly between worlds, carrying readers along in an eddy of relentless force.
This is the world of Karl, who lives a life 'without sorrow' but also without challenge; without love but also seemingly without angst - except for some unexpected lapses: "Time is kind but tricky to his mind. Young Karl has many blackout moments – the thoughts of the unanswered questions of his existence. The quest to reflection and awareness shall always have an unexpected turn of events that makes his thoughts spin in surprising directions. Will turning back be an option?"
A poem follows; then another life and another world: the world of Karl as a child. While this is actually the starting point of the story, Graanoogst's choice of opening with Karl's present-day world at the beginning is a clever device that creates a satisfying juxtaposition and contrast of times and invites reader curiosity about what has happened in between.
It's what lies between that is the meat of The Mystic Of Karl Mind: The Shadow of The Vytos: and this seems the appropriate point to mention that readers who eschew an exploration of the mystical in their swords-and-sorcery fantasies; who resist the impulse to become involved in intrigue as well as elements of fantasy adventure; and who seek a singular path to a journey will find the level of complexity here to be a challenge. In other words: if it's pure, entertaining adventure that is desired without the inclusion of deeper perspective, move along.
For the strength of The Mystic Of Karl Mind: The Shadow of The Vytos lies not just in an epic journey (that is part and parcel of the fantasy genre itself) but in the protagonists' underlying motivation, self-discoveries, and spiritual and moral insights; and it's here that the story shines.
So, go ahead. Set foot on the road that explores inner and outer worlds. And take your time: after all, in a superior story, the journey should ideally be as important as the destination - and in The Mystic of Karl Mind, it is: "You think fear is up the mountains?” Ulnir said, gazing at a glowing piece of wood in the fire. “What you’ll find is no fear. Fear will come when you see no outcome, when you feel the darkness clearing your ending. But you will find no fear. The dragon of forge and fire is also of cold and ice. He is the one who forges the Vytos to the Plecten, empowered by the mighty red.”The Mystic Of Karl Mind: The Shadow of The Vytos
Ann I. Goldfarb
Two Cats Press
978-1- 937083-39-7 $12.95
Fans of time travel stories and mysteries are in for a treat; but it's not a new treat for seasoned author Ann I. Goldfarb: The Time Stealer is actually the fifth book in her blossoming series.
That said, no prior familiarity with the others is required to enjoy this fine stand-alone story, which revolves around a college senior called upon to direct a children's play as her final project before graduation. Even the addition of the department head's troublesome teen cousin, Wendell, to the cast isn't necessarily a barrier to her success; but Aeden didn't count on his hacking abilities and his penchant for ferreting out deep, dark secrets. And the formula for her time travel abilities is about as deep and dark as it gets.
In the wrong hands, such a formula could spell disaster - and Wendell's hands are surely among the worst that could touch it, because he's a young man with a mission: finding the lost city of Atlantis.
It's unusual to find science fiction, young adult protagonists, and history blending together so seamlessly; but the atmosphere, politics, culture, and concerns of ancient Greece come to life under Goldfarb's practiced hand and not only link into the other series titles, but create a fine mystery driven by two memorable, well-developed teen characters.
The Time Stealer's ability to juxtapose multiple worlds (the 21st-century world of present-day Boston and a college student with an unusual background and a unique purpose, and one of Minoan civilization renowned for its brutality) is one hallmark of excellence that succeeds in immersing readers of all ages in its vivid story line.
Now, relatively little is known of Minoan culture and so what is historical fact today comes largely from artifacts. Goldfarb's representation of the times does a fine job of blending these facts with fiction to create a well-rounded, believable atmosphere.
Don't expect a light, linear read, here: one of the devices Goldfarb employs is to shift perspectives between the two protagonists. This, and the choice of the first person as a narrative tool, succeeds in capturing the motivations, impulses and emotions of both protagonists as spoiled teen Wendell finds himself trapped in a past world he didn't anticipate and blames everything on Aeden: "What a stupid mess-up. I should be in Atlantis by now, watching the orbs of light in the circular canals, or maybe even finding the gold horsemen in the Temple of Poseidon. And the ships . . . they’d be full of technology that we’d never heard of. Not crescent shaped fishing trawlers. I blame this all on Aeden. She couldn’t even get a math formula right. Because of her, I’m stuck in this room waiting for someone to unbolt the door."
Under a lesser hand the alternating first-person viewpoints might be confusing; but chapter headings clearly point out who is 'speaking', while the tone of voice and perspectives are changed enough to also clarify their authors.
Now, Wendell has taught himself Ancient Greek, which indicates both the level of his commitment to his adventure and his intellectual prowess. And Aeden finds herself stuck in the role of a slave, thanks to her costume error … and she doesn't know Greek, so she's operating at a distinct disadvantage in her search for Wendell.
Hints of action to come conclude each chapter and neatly set the tone of mystery and the task for the chapters ahead: "Sleep came fast. The sound of someone screaming woke me for a second but I wasn’t sure if I actually heard anything or if I had just dreamt it. By the time I learned the truth, it was too late."
Time and again (so to speak) this setup neatly moves readers from chapter to chapter, linking events and providing an ongoing impetus for delving further into the mystery and the convoluted conflicts that evolve between Ancient Greeks and modern protagonists.
Ultimately the two will have to learn to get along both to solve a mystery and return home - and that final link is the crux of the story, cementing a solid historical piece replete with time-travel experience with a series of encounters that represent powerful psychological devices and draws.
Called upon (and challenged) to become resourceful beyond their years, and then to work with one another for successful resolution, The Time Stealer 's protagonists are vivid and compelling characters that succeed in not only their immediate goals, but who ultimately affect the course of history and one ancient girl's life.Will Wendell achieve his dream of seeing Atlantis, or will his life be forever changed? For further details, read the story: it won't disappoint!
The Time Stealer
the Diabetes Wave:
The Fast and
Easy Way to Control Diabetes
Ilse O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE
Ilse O'Brien, Publisher
485 Harbor Side St. #810
Woodbridge, VA 22191
There are so many books on the market about diabetes, one might wonder at the need for yet another. Hasn't everything - including the latest research and options - already been covered elsewhere?
The answer is 'yes' - and it's also couched in caution, because most competing diabetes self-help books are not only far weightier, but far more daunting to the non-medically-trained diabetic who may be overwhelmed with so many new facts (and so much of it sounding conflicting) that it's hard to tell how to actually apply the information to daily routines.
That's where Taming the Diabetes Wave kicks in. Don't let its pamphlet-like appearance (a little over fifty pages, 8.5 x 11 format, no spine lettering) dissuade you: this competes with the best of them and even better, it presents its information using larger print than most, which is easy on an older Type 2's eyes, and more inviting.
The details are presented using large, full-page color diagrams and easy charts complimented by bulleted text and headliners which address the daily concerns of diabetics, from 'What's On Your Plate?' to 'What is Good Control' and 'Medications'. Knowing how food reacts in the body, how medications affect sugar levels, and the pros and cons of various choices is key to taming what O'Brien describes as a 'wave' of up and down sugar levels - and this metaphor is both accessible and an appropriate description of what the diabetic struggles with daily.
There are many facts here which simply vanish in weightier presentations, from the fact that vigorous exercise can actually increase sugar levels temporarily, making it necessary to test an hour or more after such an effort, to how (and more importantly, when) to introduce appropriate snacks in the diabetic diet.
My husband has been a diet-and-medication-controlled diabetic for 20 years and you can bet he's read just about all the books on the market. Most of them are loaded with facts that simply don't make sense when applied to one's daily life.
That's the beauty of Taming the Diabetes Wave: it holds unparalleled accessibility - and that means a diabetic can actually read, comprehend, and more importantly, apply its tips to daily life.
Librarians looking to acquire this for collections may find its lack of spine (and thus, spine lettering) and slim appearance relegates it to the pamphlet file - but it would be a shame to bury it there. Taming the Diabetes Wave deserves to be on display, where it will attract an audience of diabetics who tire of weighty, confusing approaches to the subject and who just want clear, simple, easy access to information that requires no special educational background to immediately apply to daily routines.Very highly recommended!
Taming the Diabetes Wave The Fast and Easy Way to Control Diabetes
Annoyed Voter's Guide to 2014 & 2015
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing/CreateSpace
9781502761552 $9.99 ($4.99 Kindle)
How do we make the political process better, in America? By probing the current quicksand that is the American way; and by using the 2014 midterms as a starting point for considering what will happen in 2015, and how to change it.
So be advised: the prerequisite to not only appreciating but successfully using this book is a prior interest in (and basic familiarity with) the American political process and a willingness to see that process analyzed and turned upside down for the purposes of a very candid coverage in The Annoyed Voter's Guide to 2014 & 2015.
Anthony Wilcox is no outsider to this process. He's been an active Democrat involved in state and federal politics and is a political blogger, and so he can offer an insider's perspective on what is wrong with the system and, more importantly, how to make it right. But he speaks here as much as a fellow voter as an insider, so don't expect the usual hype or analytical approach so many seem to adopt when speaking of these processes.
Indeed, Wilcox's contentions are in-your-face honest, pulling no punches and providing a refreshing assessment with a new voice that calls a spade a spade: "I think it’s the truth when people claim that everyone involved in politics, practiced in its many ways, has that one moment that they can look back to, which served as their motivation for getting involved in what basically amounts to a big, egotistical, and yes, even important, fight over who gets what."
This is not to imply that The Annoyed Voter's Guide to 2014 & 2015 is a series of personal rants: far from it. Chapters adopt a chronological and methodical approach as they analyze elections of the past and processes that need to be not just outlined but critiqued and provide a state-by-state 2014 election analysis before moving on to the possibilities and pitfalls of the 2015 season.
Using potential primary candidates and how they promise to face the latest issues to calls for action, Wilcox's voice is always strong and effective in its analysis of individuals and political choices alike: "Mike Huckabee – Huck went from being a feel-good candidate in 2008, to just another run-of-the-mill hack with a Fox News show afterward. Not sure if he’s serious about 2016, but he does fill a constituency voice for the Party’s Southern Christians."
Ultimately, this is a book for the annoyed voter who hasn't given up yet - and it makes its case for continuing to work for change: "Once we as citizens give up on politics, a system designed to serve our interests, there aren’t a whole lot of other levers we can pull. It isn’t hard to become cynical with how today’s system works, or how it fails to. But ultimately, we are the only people with the power to make things better."
It's the perfect book to give that questioning individual who is leaning towards giving up on the system, offering not just analysis but keys to working on real change, which always comes from within.
Annoyed with the system? Don't give up, get clever. The Annoyed Voter's Guide to 2014 & 2015 is the perfect starting point.
How To Cope with Death, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement:
Helpful Tips from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Veronica Semenova, Ph.D.
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00RCUVRVW $5.94
Learn How To Cope with Death, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement: Helpful Tips from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is intended to supplement - not replace - therapy; but in its capacity as a co-counselor it offers a powerful adjunct to the process of recovery, and is recommended for any going through the process who choose behavioral change as their method of choice.
Chapters take five common parts of this process and expand upon them, applying CBT concepts to the routes of grief and bereavement (two different things, as this book explains) and considering what happens when the progress of either fails.
One satisfying aspect of this handbook is that it explains that there is no singular path to resolution, but many choices in grieving and bereavement. Grief varies between young and old, in different cultures and religions, and between individuals. It can depend on levels of existing dysfunction, interpersonal relationships, and more - and part of the role of the CBT therapist is an educational one as well as that of guidance.
With its roots in CBT concepts, this book is solidly grounded in applied psychological theory, so readers should best have some entry-level understanding of the discipline, because passages get technical and specific in their discussions of the grief process and the therapist's role to handling them: "The most common CBT interventions used in the treatment of complicated and problematic grief responses include flooding, imaginal exposure to grief causing stimuli, cognitive restructuring, behavioral activation, learning of health-protective behaviors (getting enough rest, nutrition, exercise), the attribution of personal meaning to the loss, distinguishing “letting go” from forgetting the deceased. In patients, who are chronically grieving or somehow “stuck” in the grief process, CBT is helpful in identifying the underlying distortion."
Despite its occasional descent into psychological jargon, Learn How To Cope with Death, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement offers an overall clarification of CBT's approaches to grief, outlines a combination of theory and practice, and serves as an excellent home reference and supplement to an overall CBT therapy approach, providing an overview of the subject and insights on the kinds of positive results therapists seek in the course of their work with the grieving.
Why choose this book over others on the subject, and why read it if therapy has begun? Quite simply because having a 'road map' to the objectives and basic theory will serve as a invaluable guide to the overall course of action - and because Learn How To Cope with Death, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement's specific focus on CBT methods allows the reader to understand its specific approaches and their underlying beliefs.And in the world of psychology, 'redundancy' is not a bad word, but one key to creating new, healthier patterns of recovery and interaction.
Learn How To Cope with Death, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement: Helpful Tips from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Amazon Digital Services
Readers might recognize Alex Siegel's name: he's the prolific author of some fourteen books in the supernatural thriller Gray Spear series (all of whom this reviewer has read), and his new series is second in the Seams in Reality series (a prequel was presented earlier, with the above title's series opener).
Cracks in Reality continues the saga, presenting the confrontations of a sorcerer and thief who has one ultimate goal: to become the greatest sorcerer on Earth, no matter what the cost. How to achieve that goal? By breaking into the Vault, a U.S. Army desert fortress that's one of the most protected places on the planet and which contains the most dangerous secrets of sorcery.
Imagine a dream that's forged in the fires of potential disaster: a venture so dangerous and impossible that Blake's plan for robbery takes on new levels of creativity. Imagine that the forces working against him (and those would be two teenage genius apprentice mages and their instructor), who stumble on his intentions, have very little time to prepare - and seemingly fewer abilities to confront him.
Then imagine that a renovated missile silo equipped to survive the end of the world, a memory-wiping spell, and a trickster who has more than a bag of smoke and mirrors up his sleeve will be part of the obstacles confronting these inexperienced but multitalented teens.
Siegel's talent lies in several areas; not the least of which is his ability to depict smoky, dark, foreboding atmospheres that draw in reader and protagonist alike.
It's unusual to find an apprenticeship interrupted to pursue a course of murder - but then, a world-changing master sorcerer must be stopped at all odds. It's unusual to find a new young sorcerer's skills tested through the brutality of a trial that involves truth sorcery and mental manipulation.
And it's unexpected to find that the approach taken by the apprentices and their instructor will prove to have a world-changing impact. Andrew and Charley's first major mission would be the pinnacle for many a more experienced sorcerer: for an apprentice, a major assignment seems an impossible challenge.
How they meet that challenge, turn things around, face moral and ethical tests along the way, and continue to fine-tune and hone their abilities makes Cracks in Reality an even more absorbing read than its predecessor - and a very highly recommended new series either for prior Gray Spear fans or for complete newcomers to Siegel's fast-paced, magic-tinged worlds.Cracks in Reality
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00RZU6VNS $2.99
In Betta Ferrendelli's third book documentation of the sleuthing prowess of one Samantha Church, there's a surprise: the local mortuary may be involved in the sinister crime of harvesting dead body parts, dismembering corpses to sell body parts on the black market - in itself a seeming incongruity, because most who know about organ harvesting know that time is of the essence; and by the time a body arrives at a mortuary, it may be too late for profits. Or, is it?
As Sam and her young mortuary worker friend Abby begin their investigation, they discover plenty of opportunities for illegal activities, plenty of motivation, and a deadly method that involves not only the dead, but the living.
And that's just the beginning of the story, because the real mystery lies not in the presence of the operation, but in revealing who is behind it - and this shrouded perp is a deep, deadly secret.
As with other Samantha Church mysteries, Dead Wrong is driven by passion and strong characters as well as its murder premise. Moreover, it excels in the unpredictable; and in a genre replete with formula writing where twists and turns are a matter of course, this is really saying something.
Readers follow Samantha down a winding road of deception and intrigue as it's discovered that the bodies haven't always departed willingly, and as a Care Center's actions defy its name.
At some point it's not going to be enough for the perps to scare Abby off the trail. They're going to have to make her disappear. And to do that, they'll employ methods that have been working exceptionally well - until Samantha came along.
It's hard to skirt the edges of Dead Wrong without giving away its many surprising turns. One such dose is its probe into not just Samantha's persona or Abby's motivation, but the thoughts and concerns of a host of characters who dance around them, with death and its meaning always omnipresent: "It pained Helen to think about what would happen when it was her time to die. Often after talking to Mary-Louise, she would lie in bed at night, thinking what death would be like for her. It would come for her certainly, snarling through gritted, pointy teeth, reaching for her with its long, slanted shadow and its long, bony fingers. It would grab her and quickly yank her from this world, dragging her down into darkness, so cold that ice would form immediately on her hands and feet. No, Helen never believed hell was the inferno everyone else talked about. Not at all. She believed it was a cold and desolate place, where the only thing to eat was ice cream served from one of those ice cream trucks that drove around the same block playing the same tinny music over and over and over."
It's passages like these that keep Dead Wrong an impressive mystery, with its focus on the funeral industry and its attention to emotional depth and detail that keep even the bad guys human and believable. After all, in an exceptional mystery, it's the living and breathing who are left holding the bag and moving on with their lives - and so Dead Wrong offers satisfying turns where, even in death, there is life and new promises, setting it apart from your usual 'whodunnit' read.Dead Wrong
Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security
Joe S. Davis
Creative Publishing Partners, LLC
No ISBN $3.95
The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security is novel about terrorism at work on foreign soil, presents the perspectives of terrorists at work, and at first glance seems to tie into the blossoming genre of work surrounding terrorism which this reviewer is going to deem 'terrorist fiction' - most of which focus on the efforts of agencies and individuals to thwart a growing plague of terror.
But wait, there's something different going on here: this isn't an outsider's perspective and story so much as an insider's series of revelations, it's set on foreign soil, and it poses the specter of international business involvements in the terrorist process as a way of examining not just personal motivation, but financing and economic connections.
In fact, the more one reads through The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security, the more one realizes there's something different going on here; particularly in contrast with other terrorist fiction approaches that take place from the perspectives of outsiders combating terrorist activities.
The scene opens with a kidnapping and in the process of describing such, probing the atmosphere of Jamaica (both uptown and down home) and setting the scene of kidnappers assigned to a particular task; but soon the perspective of small-time kidnappers assigned to a particular task changes as further chapters introduce investigators who range from novice to seasoned; each with their own ideas of how to proceed: "If you’re trying to rescue someone and their captors are trying to kill one or both of you, you can’t take that split second to theorize his motive. It’s hard for a professional to be analytical about how his actions will be judged by a group of evaluators later who most times have never really been in the path of a bullet or machete. You have to make judgments based on experience and be prepared to correct even your own judgment to keep yourself alive and complete the mission the best way possible. But most importantly, stay alive!"
It's especially notable to find cultural observations tucked within the pages of action, because these economic and social facets are what ultimately contribute to the blossoming of terrorist activities in the world: "What was apparent in Montego Bay was that a middle class subdivision could be located next to a slum which might have a five star hotel as its neighbor also. Developments and condos were built as land allowed, not with ideas of urban planning. The dollar was king in Montego Bay and if a corporation could house tourists adjacent to a slum and make money by enclosing all the tourist features just for their quests, that’s the way it is done."
Relationships between victim and kidnapper, male and female, investigator and perp, racial issues and opportunity - all are well-drown against the backdrop of Jamaican society, almost as if the focus were upon a bigger picture than a singular plot and its outcome.
And this focus is what sets The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security apart from many other terrorist fiction approaches. It won't delight those looking for simple action, singular events, and linear thinking about terrorism's roots. It will prove a superior, action-packed adventure for readers interested in absorbing this bigger picture of not only events, but the social, cultural, political and economic forces behind them.
Complex? You bet: the twists and turns are relentless and energetic, and they don't stop with political observation but weave in the hearts, minds, and motivations of individuals with these larger concerns.
It's no easy task simultaneously presenting the criminal's perspective and the investigator's side of matters: it's two opposite sides of the same coin that must always be balanced for equal perspective.
That Joe S. Davis achieves this dance - and does it well - is evidence that The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security will appeal not just to the casual reader of terrorist action thrillers, but especially to those looking for more complex insights into the entire structure of terrorist activity. Thus what opens as a simple kidnapping evolves into something much more and, like a butterfly emerging, takes wing into the complex realm of bigger social and political issues and, ultimately, the values that drive them.The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security
Study in Detail
A Study in Detail represents an unusual genre blend of romance, murder mystery and comedy - and it's the latter piece that sets this apart from most other genre crossover titles and lends it a special atmosphere, recommended for romance and mystery readers seeking something different.
Quiet outdoorsman Paul is fielding his troublesome wife quite well, until Marta goes missing and circumstantial evidence points to him as the murderer. Now, Paul is anything but an investigator - and this is anything but an ordinary case; especially since a hidden message in his artistic wife's last painting indicates that she faked her death so that her works will become famous.
And so the drama and comedy begin as Paul finds himself on the lecture circuit discussing his not-dead-wife's life and facing down a series of increasingly-impossible events, from a $5M life insurance policy she took out before her 'death' to a casino that claims she owes them big time.
Now you have three investigators dancing around trouble and stepping on one another's toes: poor Paul, the casino enforcer, and a suspicious insurance investigator; all of whom have their own reasons for questioning Marta's demise. Add in a new age woman who believes she has been sent on a mission to help Paul and you have a truly unlikely cast of characters cast together in a charade of events: a game that has all contestants circling their chairs while music plays in the background, and wondering who will be sitting when it stops.
On the face of it, A Study in Detail is a mystery, but the tongue-in-cheek humor creeps into even the most staid of encounters: "It's good coffee," I said. "Really, excellent coffee." "Not for someone from Portland that knows their coffee…Right now I'll bring you a nice up of herbal tea like your girlfriend is having." I started to ask for warm dishwater instead."
And Paul's form of 'moving on' is anything but simple as he uncovers puzzle after puzzle and comes to realize he never really knew his wife at all.
The dialogue throughout is fresh, original, and witty: "Everything comes so easy for you, doesn't it, with that James Bond confidence and the Robert Redford environmentalist thing and that little boy smile that can charm the pants of a-off a some body with pants that need to stay on." and the twists of plot will keep even the most seasoned mystery reader thinking. Protagonist interactions take the form of a series of stumbles, falls, and encounters that just keep on getting crazier.
The result is especially recommended for enthusiasts of the romance and mystery genres who seek stories that are a cut above your average whodunit approach: something with meat to it, and a game that only end with the last left standing.A Study in Detail
to Deep Cove
Grant T. Reed
Amazon Digital Services Inc.
Asin: B00J1KUXH0 $2.99
Welcome to Deep Cove is billed as a mystery, it centers on a new P.I. who has just earned his credentials and is eager to delve into life's mysteries, and it promises action and intrigue, opening with two full-color, good-sized maps placing events in geographical perspective.
What isn't evident in either the title or subtitle ('Vellian Mysteries, Book 1') comes forth rather quickly as a surprise which mystery genre readers don't often get: a dragon sidekick. Moreover, this isn't your usual dragon figure, either: a humorous tone is adopted as soon as P.I. Garrett is introduced (which isn't in the very different atmosphere of the first chapter, either - so be forewarned), and this humor is yet another pleasing surprise promising that Welcome to Deep Cove will be anything but a standard genre read: Inside the main room a small green and orange dragon – no more than half Garrett’s size – reclined in his leather chair, his feet planted on a desk, an open newspaper occupying his attention. “Disgusting, Merle. I told you not to sit like that. I can see your baubles,” chastised Garrett.
So, to bill it a 'mystery' is simply too pat and easy: any attempt to fit Welcome to Deep Cove into the standard 'mystery' genre would be as incongruous as saying Tanya Huff's vampire-tinged investigative sagas were 'detective stories' in the traditional sense. And thus genre mystery readers should be either flexible enough to absorb something that's truly a crossover, or should look elsewhere for their standard formula whodunits, because Welcome to Deep Cove is in a class of its own, which makes it deliciously, virtually indefinable.
Fantasy fans will want to pick up the story for its inclusion of not just dragons, but ogres and all manner of creatures that commonly appear in fantasy writings - but this group will come to expect and appreciate this story's intrigue and approach of a good mystery.
Mystery readers (as already mentioned) should be prepared for many fantasy elements interspersed with humor: Grant T. Reed easily represents all these facets in his story and they work together well to create a powerful plot greater than the sum of its devices.
And most of all, readers who actively seek humor in mystery and fantasy works (which is all too rare these days) will find it in droves in Welcome to Deep Cove … but once more this story thwarts tradition, because humor-seekers shouldn't expect a nonstop series of side-splitting comedy, either: there's plenty of dark, vivid action happening that neatly juxtaposes any comic interludes with an intense story line and character concerns: I was trained by my masters to be a warrior and to kill when necessary. I was more than adequate at it.” His voice shuddered and he went to the door. “Every time I cut a man down or slipped a knife between an opponent’s ribs, it felt like a small part of me was dying with them. I pray to God every day that I never have to kill again, but if you ask me if I would kill to protect Merle or someone else close to me, then the answer is a resounding yes.
Illegal trade commodities, a prison escape, Garrett's struggles to get his new, non-lethal business up and running - all these subplots add to and enhance the overall feel of Welcome to Deep Cove, which is fast-paced but not neglectful of character development, steeped in mystery but not so serious as to leave out the dragon, and filled with unpredictability.
So take a dose of Christopher Moore, mix in a P.I.'s personality and struggles with a dash of fantasy ala Tanya Huff, and flavor the pot with a talking dragon (shades of Anne McCaffrey! Perhaps the strongest part of the story lies in Garrett's interactions with Merle), and there you have it: a quasi-mystery and fantasy blend that is ripe with intrigue, investigations, and action.
Welcome to Deep Cove
Harvard Square Editions
How does a teacher come to find himself teaching English in China? It begins with a childhood bedtime story about one Gookoosh, who "…left his place of birth, and journeyed far to find naboob. Soon, he came to a place, a very strange place, with a strange language and strange customs, and everything was crowded together and built upon itself." - or so narrates Frenchie, who believes he'll have plenty of time to pass on his oral traditions and tales to his young charge.
Fast forward to a train journey to Beijing, where it's evident that a now-adult Michael is living out the very story of Gookosh. He's journeying via train into the foreign land of China and observing the cultural interactions between fellow travelers who are as strange to him as the circumstances of his travels.
He's no stranger to trains - but the purposes of this journey are explicitly different than his sojourns of the past, and expressed early on in the course of his directions: "Though he'd ridden trains one summer in America, a few years back, the purpose of those travels was to express his feelings to loss, and to develop self-identity as a way to cope with loss.
It was pragmatic, something necessary. However train travel in China was different. It provided ample material for his stories. He had only to use his creative instincts and, since he had no idea of his fellow passengers' lives or their relationships to each other, his imagination could and would run free. And, the changing landscape could always be used as a backdrop. Train travel in China was a creative endeavor for Michael."
And it's here, at a glance, that the nugget and foundation of Anomie are apparent; because through Michael's eyes and perspectives comes the impetus for understanding loss, recovery, and other worlds.
Detached, alone, and far from support systems, Michael is becoming a living ghost in his own world and an observational presence in another: all the result of a terrible accident that leads him to detach from his university job and life in general.
With great loss comes the opportunity for transformation. It's the process of getting there which is the crux of real change - and it's this process which is explored in Anomie, though Michael's encounters. From expats and Chinese citizens to new semesters, new beginnings, and new relationships that begin and end with eye-opening cultural awareness, Michael is a leaf in the wind of chance and change, bound by his roots and blown hither and yon by his decisions on how he'll live his life.
In the end Anomie is a microcosm of how a close inspection of an alien world can serve as a cathartic impetus towards recovery. More than a story of a university professor's Chinese encounters, it's the personal saga of a man on a mission to find his legacy, recreate his story, and come full circle to a place he truly can call 'home', with all of its connections.
Readers who want a philosophical, accessible, and involving read that uses the character of a displaced American professor in China to explore these transition points will find in Anomie an exploration of the connections between individual and society, all wound up in the microcosm of one man's life and bundled into a story that seems light, but quickly moves into the depths of darkness and out again.Anomie
Author ~or~ The Characters' Short Living Story
Harvard Square Editions
No ISBN $9.99
It's rare to find a book with a cast of characters (six) who embark on a spiritual journey together; and rare to find these protagonists so diverse in their perspectives and needs - but The Author ~or~ The Characters' Short Living Story is such a story, and is a recommended pick for readers who want to follow along in a search for truth and wisdom.
Much like Carlos Castaneda, Joseph Campbell, or other mystical travelers, The Author provides the questions (in the form of its characters and their struggles) and documents the process of questioning, observation, analysis, and spiritual awakening.
Each chapter is a part of this process, with the Author's own brand of observational style translating ideas into events: "A big bang of millions of questions pondered and twirled in their minds as each of them thought independently, separately, uniquely; . . . creating. . . And this is it; this is the moment. My dear Reader, This is the red color of the unbitten apple. This is precisely where we will come back later on together and ask ourselves . . . is ignorance bliss? . . . This, my dear Reader, is where I wish to be . . ."
This quote is just one example of this process: if it's not an embracing feel that is desired from a fictional narrative, then move on. The tone and chatty portents continue deepening as the band of six make their uncertain journey and uncover truths about their own life or death status, the presence of fear and the promise of transformation, and, most of all, the influence of choice in such an environment: "It’s the way you see it.” Kimberly said, turning to the graves, “We can make snowmen or throw snowballs with this amount of snow . . .” She smiled into the frowns of the characters, “He wants us to be weak and afraid . . .” Kimberly whispered, staring at the path with her soggy eyes."
Keep in mind, these are characters exploring not just a strange new world that has tossed them all together, but how they are made and unmade, with an omnipresent Author adding elucidation upon all: "…you all make up my face in this story, like brushed colors reflecting through your eyes, as if the sound of a melody harmonized each other in every moment that has passed, as if the sculpt of a body moves gracefully in dance, as if life’s purpose were just to live and relive so one would feel alive . . ."
This ethereal, observational tone is not for everyone. If a quasi-spiritual set of insights wrapped in an experiential voice and fueled by a journey aren't desired, it's time to move on. Ultimately, The Author is about knowing oneself and developing fully into one's being.
And there's much, much more: couched in the guise of fiction, The Author ~or~ The Characters' Short Living Story may prove difficult to easily categorize, but one thing is certain: those on a similar life journey will find it compelling, reaching out from darkness with inspirational light. Will the characters meet the Reader? That remains to be seen…The Author ~or~ The Characters' Short Living Story
Bygone Era Books
Release date: May 4, 2015
$21.95 paperback/$4.99 ebook
Ellis O'Donovan has bad feelings about his ancestral home, Ireland, because his parents were forced to flee the English to their new home in America. Aside from his name, he has no intention of returning to the "old country" - but when his mother insists on returning to Kilpara, her old estate home in Ireland, to die, Ellis has no choice but to help her achieve her last wish.
That doesn't mean he has to sojourn to Ireland and enjoy it, or even stay: far from it. Ellis intends to stay only as long as his mother's needs require it. At this point readers can only suspect romance will enter the picture and cause a delay; but there's actually much more in the form of unexpectedly strong family ties and a willful daughter of the enemy.
Narrated in the first person, Kilpara assumes an immediacy that incorporates the sights, smells, and feel of the mid-1800s both in America and in Ireland; and this is one of its many notable attributes: "The horses galloped harder, necks straining, nostrils steaming, and hooves grinding against rain-soaked surfaces. I leaned away from the window to avoid loose muck hurled against the carriage sides. We entered the long avenue, careening around the final bend that brought us face-to-face with Stonebridge House, its stone turrets rising up to rival springtime mountains in the background."
Nothing says "you are there" more than using the first personal to capture experience, and seeing countryside and events through the eyes of a passionate protagonist who has spent too much of his life rejecting his family, and who now find himself in the thick of it.
Nothing says "unexpected" more than a reluctant journey that winds up reinforcing not just a sense of heritage, but family ties that have long been avoided.
Nothing says "intimacy" more than shared family experiences that expose long-held secrets and inject much-needed understanding into the mix of angst and pain that permeate one family's world: "Aunt Sadie muffled her hands inside the wide berth of her habit-sleeves and looked at me for a long moment. “I don’t know how much you know, Ellis. I will share with you that Ann has hidden her childhood fears deep inside her where they can't hurt. Some memories were just too painful to bear."
And nothing says "captivating" more than taking all these disparate ends and weaving them gently into the protagonist's own psyche and concerns so that Kilpara's draw becomes a pull not just on the narrator, but the reader as well.
Kilpara is a 'historical novel' only in the sense of its setting and times: the rest is a personal journey. Yes, it holds romance (no spoilers here; the suspicion was aroused early on before the steps of Kilpara were even reached). Yes, it holds unexpected changes, new relationships, beginnings and endings.
But it also holds the promise of atmosphere (something many modern novels seem to omit in the haste for action) and within this atmosphere, readers will discover the real strength of Kilpara: its ability to delight the reader with the tastes and texture of another time: "All I could think about were those many years at Stonebridge when Thanksgiving meals were filled with laughter and by stories told around the table and music played long into the night. Mother and Father would share a nostalgic gaze for their disavowed homeland, mixed with contentment and gratitude for their other blessings in life. Murmurings of holly, plum pudding, and cooked goose stirred thoughts of Christmas throughout Kilpara cutting through the barrier that kept us numb."
Herein lies its real strength, making it a recommended pick not for 'romance readers' or 'historical novel' enthusiasts, but for those who usually eschew either genre for its lack of "you are there" intimacy, presented in abundance in Kilpara.Kilpara
Giants and Other Men
Of Giants and Other Men is a novel that operates on two levels, and will thus appeal to two different audiences.
On the one hand, it's a sweeping epic covering some 50 years of modern Nicaraguan history as seen through the eyes and experiences of ordinary people experiencing war, death, conflict, and social change. Peek's focus on the nucleus of a family and how it's affected by these events creates the perfect macrocosm of experience that narrows the lens even to a father/son relationship and the divided interests of a father who promises his child that he'll have a future role in war while a mother shuns the violence creeping into her very house.
That politics and conflict could so easily become part of family life is deftly captured from the start: "Don’t go,” she said. “If you go now you will lose your son. And you will lose me.” “I don’t want to lose you. Or my son.” “Then don’t go. It’s simple, and it’s in your hands.” “Why do you ask me to choose?” he said. “Why can’t you accept that I need to do this? That I cannot stand by idly while our country and people are being plundered?”
On the other hand, it's the story of a father's expectations for his young son, his murder, and his son's struggle to grow up to be all that his father wished him to be - but without the man's guidance in his life.
Did his father wish him to seek revenge, to become immersed in violence himself, and to participate in a country's gut-wrenching struggles even at the expense of family; or did he wish for something more?
This question lies at the heart of Of Giants and Other Men, which is no casual read and is portrayed vividly, with all its complexity.
Even when he becomes an adult and faces love and conflict, Tomás finds his world transitional and uncertain, laced with ties of the past and challenges embedded from not just present-day events, but future goals: "Do you remember this, Tomás?” she said. He took the buckled print from her, held it at arm’s length. A small boy was sitting on a chair, dressed in a sailor’s outfit. His eyes did not look at the camera. Instead, he looked up at the woman standing next to him. She was tall, wearing a chiffon stole that had been draped across her shoulders. Her gaze lost itself beyond the camera’s eye. In love with the camera, he thought, always in love with whomever was not in the picture."
Tomás is living life as a spectator, straddling the line between hard decisions and being a witness. All this is about to change, and the choices he makes - which stem from childhood experience and perception - hold the possibility of changing the world.
Of Giants and Other Men is actually a sleeping giant, in and of itself. It promises much, evolves its plot slowly and carefully, and is steeped both in Nicaraguan culture and setting and in the psyche of a young boy who grows up in an uncertain world of doubt, consequences, and danger.
Tomás's journey illuminates these struggles and choices using the evolution of a protagonist as its focal point, solidly immersing readers in the politics, psyche and heritage of a nation under fire from within and mirroring Tomás's process as well.
The result is satisfyingly complex, recommended both for readers already familiar with Nicaragua's culture and politics and for absolute newcomers who will find these facets easy to absorb in the process of understanding one boy's growth and journey toward and within manhood in a country where 'right' and 'wrong' translate to Sandinistas and Contras.Of Giants and Other Men
This first book in a trilogy presents the work and character of Claire, a hydrologist whose latest project is analyzing water samples to assess the environmental impact of a mine. Not in her job description is discovery, when she stumbles upon the journals of an Irish immigrant who details his struggles for survival in the harsh new land that is the American dream.
But the saga doesn't open with Claire's world; it starts with a forward from the 1846 Cork Reporter documenting the suffering of masses in Ireland due to the potato famine and considering the politics, schemes, and dilemmas that arise from it ("We repeat our question: what is the number of dead we must first count over before food will begin to be distributed?") before fast forwarding to the future of Claire Longley's experiences.
This neatly sets the stage for what is to come: a thought-provoking intersection of worlds when Claire's present-day concerns unexpectedly and directly collide with the past.
The journal format opens with a presentation in italics: a fine method for clearly differentiating between one Daniel Conner's 1847 life and times as narrated in his journal and Claire's present-day era. So many novels that juxtapose past and present do so without clear delineation between the two, leaving their readers helplessly stuck in a time vortex: not so One of Three, which is satisfyingly clear throughout.
As Claire absorbs stories of struggle that begin in the Old Country and continue in the new, she imagines herself in the miserable world that is 1800s Ireland, muses upon "…what a world this has become and what a world it must have been.", and finds in Daniel's life a cathartic drive to uncover some connections between her involvement in the mine project, her life, and the past.
She feels compelled to keep reading Daniel's journal, discovering within it more nuggets of sadness and strife, and finds her process of attempting to understand the ground-water flow system and the mine's future impacts upon it actually has a direct relationship to her attempts to understand Daniel's life and times.
As each chapter heading clearly states its setting, whether past or present, readers are able to effortlessly follow along, whether it be from Claire's perspective or that of Daniel. Both walk similar paths, albeit in very different times. Both hold confrontations, questions, and challenges that, if properly addressed, will change their lives and choices. And both find themselves confronting missing loved ones, political machines, and strange journeys to foreign places they cannot control.
If this story were narrated simply from Claire's adventures, without regard to Daniel's journals and experiences, it would hold nowhere near the depth and associations that lend it the complexity to surprise and delight novel readers seeking something less linear. The fact that a stranger's journals can prove so cathartic and link so easily to events over a century later, makes for an intriguing element. Chapters neatly explore missing persons, political outcomes, and interrupted flow systems, and in the process Claire comes to realize she has more in common with Daniel's approaches to life and adversity than she'd realized.
Two different worlds collide; two different perspectives coalesce, and the resulting exploration makes One of Three a vibrant story of what has and has not changed in 160 years, steeping readers in two seemingly-different worlds and brewing up a tea complex associations that, in the end, point out (among other things) the need for an understanding of history and patterns of repetition in order to truly move forward.
This saga of family, loss, and reconciliation will thus delight fiction readers who seek a complex blend of historical, social, political and personal insights: not recommended for light leisure readers, but for those who enjoy a story replete with food for thought.One of Three
Upon the Land
ISBN: 978-0-9931248-0-8 (Print) $12.00
ISBN: 978-0-9931248-1-5 (Kindle) $3.99
ISBN: 978-0-9931248-2-2 (ePub)
Sail Upon the Land tells of four generations of driven women who each face a life-changing decision over the course of an eighty-year time frame, and its lively story of different disasters and accompanying choices succeeds in drawing readers into a sweeping saga replete with struggles for survival.
This is evident in the first few pages, where Damson faces a rapist who turns from innocent love to a dangerous adversary in a heartbeat: "The jovial man who’d wooed her so passionately every evening for the last three days was now a heaving rapist in the shit-scented dark. They were miles from anywhere. She was alone. If she sank beneath the water hyacinth bound with the straps of her sodden rucksack stuffed with stones, who would ever know?"
There's a fine line between charming masculinity and bullying; a dangerous point between dream and reality where possibilities are blown apart in the aftermath of truth: "Ronny had constructed what she now realised were idiotic air castles so subtly in the drought-stricken garden of her mind: of dropping out, moving in and running the Vhilaki Guest House with him, making it a big success. Maybe even turning the Hunting Lodge into a smart hotel. He had such plans, seemed so civilised, so educated, so familiar. He’d hinted at her continuing her medical studies in India, maybe opening a charitable clinic. She’d lapped it up."
So despite being warned by others who perceive Ronny for his true shallowness and danger, Damson falls into his arms - and into a mess… because it's India, where women have no ability to call rape and prosecute… because she was flirting with Ronny and is in an isolated area with few support systems. And because she escapes, new possibilities are born for new generations.
It's this flow between generations which is the powerful draw of Sail Upon the Land, which deftly captures and weaves together the results of actions, choices, and positive and negative life experience. It follows Damson's 1980s disastrous romance and moves neatly between generations and experiences, from her grandmother's 1930s world to her mother's 1960s world, World War II, and modern times.
Under a different approach this multi-generational exploration could have become confusing; but the fact that chapter headings include not only protagonist names but eras means that there is no hesitation; no cause for mixing up the different times and women. And in a saga that flows between such eras, that's important.
action and reaction, and evolving relationships connected by family and
patterns: it's all here in Sail Upon the
Land, especially recommended for readers seeking
protagonists and linked family connections.
The Stupidhead’s Relationship Guide: A
Susan Paulson Clark
ASIN: B00SG0LIXO $2.99
It's romance at its best, it involves two very different people who harbor differing reasons for avoiding love, and it centers around two very different individuals: one recovering from divorce, and the other unused to romance.
Belle is a business owner. Vince is a football coach. Both are gun shy, both are independent and strong, and both are survivors.
Sometimes survivors have more to overcome than personal adversity. Sometimes the inclination to be unyielding, and unwilling to take new risks after romance has proved so devastating in the past, is even more challenging than the original relationship's lasting impact. Or perhaps it's because the fine art of re-creating a new life and facing down past demons results in something so loved, so good, that there's a basic unwillingness to rock the boat of recovery by taking new risks.
One of the delights of Supidheads is that it's not without its underlying angst. The course of the past moves relentlessly through the present and a realistic atmosphere, which keeps the protagonists from appearing too good, too complete, and too perfect: "It was important, though. The confrontational girl, Belle, had nailed it. It felt so good when girls called him, complimented him, wrote him notes, asked him out. He never did anything technically wrong, but then again he didn’t give any thought to how he might hurt someone else. All his work at the orphanage had been fine and good, but it didn’t make him a perfect person.
Where other books take time to point out ways in which characters are fragile and needy before they even enter a relationship, the two protagonists here have their strengths in place. All that's needed is a reason for them to let down their carefully-construed guards - and that's one focus in Stupidheads.
The fact that Vince has assumed full-time parenting adds a interesting twist to his story, as do his interactions with the social worker: "He hadn’t seen her since the night she brought Tye over, and now he began to imagine he’d been on probation and she’d take the child back. He smiled in spite of his nervousness and acted as fatherly as possible, making sure Tye had a napkin and drank his milk."
Because of this attention to realistic description and life events, Stupidheads (more so than most romances) seems like something likely to happen to anyone. From the daily encounters and separate events that absorb each protagonist's life to how they blend their worlds, the setting and story line reflect probable circumstances and reactions - and thus, there are no jarring flights of impossible fantasy, and no limits to the careful, logical progression of Vince and Belle's relationship. Both of them worry that it might not work out: for instance, Vince has the following thoughts: "But each subsequent kiss after the first one would never be quite as exciting. You’d have a fight, all couples do. Things wouldn’t always be exciting or easy. If you stayed together, sometimes you’d take each other for granted. If this were true, inevitably, Vince would come down with a thud, and when Belle saw the real him, she’d crash, too."
But just when you thought it was a predictable path, Stupidheads takes a turn in a different direction. It's no mean feat to pull off a careful buildup of story line, then give it a wrench. But that's life - and that's Stupidheads, the perfect example of a novel reflective of life's ups, downs, slings and arrows; an examination of how people survive - or not - and how they move on from stupid mistakes that can change everything in one moment of impulse.
So to bill Stupidheads a 'romance' in the traditional sense, even though romance is a big part of the story line, would be to do it an injustice. It's really about life's unpredictability and its choices. The rest is up to the protagonists - and up to the reader - to follow with bated breath.The Stupidhead’s Relationship Guide: A Novel
in the Treehouse
Charlie Milner and Johnny Cotter are longtime friends, meeting in kindergarten and growing up together: Up in the Treehouse begins with this early friendship - but if the reader believes this story will revolve around childhood buddies, they'll be in for a shock, for it starts off warmly and innocently and then moves into darker realms of adult concerns.
Joseph Hirsch takes time to portray this evolving childhood friendship, and that's a big plus when noting that while the tale moves well into adulthood, it's based on many of the experiences and encounters of these childhood friends. Without this well-spent time, the saga could have become lost and dry: with it, Up in the Treehouse depicts a logical sequence of events and emotions as protagonists interact with each other and their world, face down bullies, and find their problems in childhood to be similar - but bigger - as adults.
Building forts, experiencing 'battles', confronting other kids, and discussing everything from horror movies to sex: it's all part of growing up - and part of evolving patterns that will translate into adult experiences later on: "The feelings, the joy that sprang from his breast as a little kid when he thought of Halloween or Christmas had to be muted, not by time, but by what time had done to the people around him, the boys he shared this high school with, who might sense his private happiness, ferret it out, and call it weakness, call it gay."
As adult concerns slowly come to light (love, possibilities of marriage, and the feeling of being invincible in one's abilities and perspective, a carry-over from childhood fascination with power), they then coalesce in a changed story line and before the reader knows it, horror and violence has entered this bigger picture.
It felt safer and more comfortable learning about the boys' evolving connections. It felt logical and progressive to follow their moves from childhood to adulthood. It's about to get more uncomfortable and, sadly, more realistic as violence and revenge become a driving force that changes their lives.
Bullying. Violence. The uncomfortable move from the innocence of childhood to the realities of the wider world. These are what Up in the Treehouse is all about. If you want a read that considers the origins and motivators of inhumanity, there's no better place to begin than with childhood experience - and no better novel to follow this progression than Up in the Treehouse.Up in the Treehouse
Harvard Square Editions
Upper West Side Story began over Thanksgiving dinner when a relative expressed glee over the prospect of some black 'disadvantaged' children being admitted to his children's school, providing them with an opportunity to better know 'the other side of the tracks'. The author wondered what would happen if the roles were reversed - if his white kids were to enter an all-black school - and thus the nucleus of Upper West Side Story was born.
The title is simply brilliant: it sets the stage through precedent, referring to and building upon a classic story but providing a different twist. The author wondered if society could truly adopt a colorblind vision; and thus was born the novel she presents here, grown solidly on the roots of American social and racial reality.
The premise is simple: a liberal, Upper West Side white family is changed when their son Max's black best friend Cyrus dies in a school field trip accident, affecting not only two families and their close relationship, but sparking a fire in two very different communities.
In one terrible October moment when everything changes, two mothers find their friendship, their grief, and their families assume political overtones as events spiral out of control and evolve quickly from individual processes to community interactions.
The first thing to note about this process is Pashman's attention to dialogue and racial observation; both of which are cutting edge and pull no punches in their first-person revelations: "Then Louis said, “Cyrus not gonna let no snowflake beat him, no way. He not no friend with no wimpy-ass neither. No way!” Louis and those other guys speak perfectly good English but when they hang out in the schoolyard, they start talking black. Black kids in the Special Enrichment Program are always checking themselves out to make sure other black kids don't think they're turning white just from being in our class. And that's pretty bizarro because only four kids in our class actually are white."
In part due to her protagonist's chatty first-person observational tone, readers are readily drawn into events and the emotion driving them - and, it's this attention to emotion that fuels the fire of prejudice, grief, reconciliation, and ultimately redemption.
It's hard to find a novel so candid in its portrayals; so hard-hitting in its examples, and so realistic. The dialogues parents and children share over poverty, loss, racial prejudice and observation, are shining examples of what transpires in many an American home to explain the incongruities of not only racial interactions, but the effects of poverty: "When his father left the table, his mother drew a chair up beside him. In a weary voice she said, “They’re poor people, Stevie. That makes them very angry. They’re so angry they do silly things like wreck a perfectly nice bike that they could enjoy. The older boy didn’t get much money either. It’s a child’s bike; what could he get? They do these things because they’re angry.”
Crime and punishment, truth and lies, divided communities and divided lives: it's all here, bound together by friendship, loss, and a boy's experiences which lead him to form a bigger goal in life. Upper West Side Story is the kind of novel that reaches out and grabs you with familiarity - and once you begin its journey, you can't quit. It's that compelling.Upper West Side Story
Mater V. 1: The Midwest
Original Clyde Aidoo
Real Print for Real People
ASIN: B00IR6EYG0 .99
One might anticipate a novel from the title Alma Mater V. 1: The Midwest, and such an expectation would be far from reality. One might believe the writing would revolve around a school setting: this anticipation might come a little closer to the truth.
What is unexpected is to find that Alma Mater is actually a poetry collection … not just any collection, but one centered around the university experience, both social and political. It's here that Alma Mater stands on its own, apart from any poetry gathering that comes to mind; for author Aidoo has taken each major university of the Midwest and sought to capture its experience in poetic form, and this makes it an intriguing approach for any with affection for higher education and free verse poetry observations.
Poems are divided by state, then college, and represent a wide diversity of cultures and perceptions within the college presence. Take 'Michigan State', for example, with its admonition to 'go forth' and its focus on Spartan beliefs and approaches: "There is magic in this storied center. With a rich basketball tradition, we have hoisted 13 Big Ten/ championships and two national championships./We tried to send out a raven to tell the world of our conquers,/but/Our Magic killed The Bird./Fear the Spartans./Take heed of the army going down the downtown strip."
Then compare this description with that of Nebraska U: "There are visions of greatness in the Cornhusker chambers,/Bolted in the annuls of the Nebraska Coliseum,/Forever the Mecca of the Volleyball Mausoleum,/In our sold-out crowds we were a family of strangers."
From the flavors of games and college pride to how students assembled from across the country grow within the university structure to absorb new values, live new lives, and reflect each institution's pomp and circumstance, Aidoo doesn't just capture each college's unique psyche: he provides a structure and means through which outsiders can understand how a college's psyche 'gets in the blood'.
It was hard for the author to 'put those times away'. Here, in these writings, he has pulled them out and captured them. As collegiate jewels, frozen in time, they await the attention of free verse poetry readers with an appreciation for the college environment and an interest in immersing themselves in each exciting atmosphere that is the university experience among different Midwestern institutions.
Mater V. 1: The Midwest
might anticipate a science fiction or fantasy saga from the evocative
title In the
Hands of the Immortal Weaver; but
in fact its subtitle ('Poems
and Belonging') clearly defines its genre and
its approach before
one even cracks the pages, providing a hint of the powerful forces the
is about to unleash. The
story begins with 'Where the Story Leaves Off': at night, when " the soul peeks out/from under
the hood of this body"
and after singing through a realm of darkness, segues neatly into the
that opens with a new approach in which "We
honor the day by being conscience/of the moments it gives us./Grace is
floating/in the wake of appreciation." Browning's
free verse is a progression that documents just how that honor and
consciousness is discovered and felt, carrying readers along on a tide
evocative observational pieces and admonitions: "Be one who gets down/on their
knees/—pushing against the walls—/never assuming that things are as
they appear." Now,
it should be advised that the enchantment of these pieces lies not in
ability to dictate, command, or compel; but in their slow evolution of
Under Browning's hand the methods, feel, and purposes of her two themes
(sacredness and belonging) unfold like a butterfly - they aren't beaten
readers with overkill methods so many poetry collections adopt, and
on a quiet sense of rebirth that doesn't involve catastrophic
"You need not
remake the old/in order
to gather what/is precious and begin anew." So
many poetry collections centered around rebirth and, yes, even
approach their subjects with a mallet of force, enveloping readers in a
storm of angst. While In
the Hands of the
Immortal Weaver offers up the power and force,
it does so with a
delicate observational hand; not with a hammer. And
that's the beauty of this particular collection: its approach to
the body serves as a vehicle for educating and changing the soul, and
delicate weave of emotion into the mix of spiritual revelation and
"The soul is
the power source/that
fuels the organic machine through which we can/experience the
approach invites inspection, the slow and careful drinking in of
make the night restless and "the days
frustrating", and ultimately, a better
understanding of the
processes called spiritual transformation, change, and
takes a real weaver of words to accomplish all this through trails of
concurrent pain and joy that lead to a definite destination, lending
suffering and offering keys to the nature of happiness. L.M. Browning's
collection is especially recommended for free verse readers who would
about the evolutionary process of change without the forceful approach
many a work on the market. Reconnaissance Poems
inspired by other poems aren't a rarity: indeed, they are a typical
poets; because to read others' works is to become inspired to create
It's been said that the majority of poetry readers are themselves
Amy Nawrocki carries this thought to a higher level in giving voice to Reconnaissance:
a mission to probe the
influence and presence of other works and to drink deeply of their
with the idea of filling one's writing soul with the inspirations of
how to translate this tall drink of water into one's own works? Ah,
where the beauty of Reconnaissance
comes in; because like a good investigative mission, it's all about
translation, and (ultimately) crafting something new and different from
pursuit of this style of happiness. Many
a good book opens with a map to its contents, pointing out its likely
direction, and Reconnaissance's
map is 'Guided Tour', which tells of a circular journey through the
life and back again: "Memorize
loose-leaf pages,/note important dates with precision. Mention/the
name and explain the heritage…" One
strength of the poetic structure Nawrocki chooses lies in its capture
dates, times, moments, and most of all, these atmospheres. In such a
poet becomes a chronicler of life as well as the poems of others: a
captured here and there by observational pieces about readers,
writers alike whose lives are more than a folio of interconnected
however famous they might become: "On
the reverse, the message that would escort/Shelley’s poems to an
where/a man had decided he no longer craved her smile:/lots and lots of
she wrote in haste, crossing/t’s so that the ink missed their
and/congratulations. His wife would have the child." It's
not just about looking at poetry in book form, either: Reconnaissance
investigates all kinds of
poetic structure, all methods of delivery, all wellsprings of
all facets of life's intersections and investigations. Take, for
honeymooner's opening of Paris
like a flower: "The
us:/pucker and blow of dizzying lips to trumpet/after trumpet, wet
reeds; a slow trombone slithers and hands skim the wood torso/of an
bass, leaving the bow behind/for the kinesthetics of the body." Bryon.
Nawrocki. Evocative image-trackers, succinct capturers of atmosphere,
a series of interconnected lives and purposes. Drink deeply: this free
wellspring is vivid and thought-provoking - and quenches the thirst for
One might anticipate a science fiction or fantasy saga from the evocative title In the Hands of the Immortal Weaver; but in fact its subtitle ('Poems of Sacredness and Belonging') clearly defines its genre and its approach before one even cracks the pages, providing a hint of the powerful forces the reader is about to unleash.
The story begins with 'Where the Story Leaves Off': at night, when " the soul peeks out/from under the hood of this body" and after singing through a realm of darkness, segues neatly into the next poem that opens with a new approach in which "We honor the day by being conscience/of the moments it gives us./Grace is found floating/in the wake of appreciation."
Browning's free verse is a progression that documents just how that honor and consciousness is discovered and felt, carrying readers along on a tide of evocative observational pieces and admonitions: "Be one who gets down/on their hands and knees/—pushing against the walls—/never assuming that things are as they appear."
Now, it should be advised that the enchantment of these pieces lies not in their ability to dictate, command, or compel; but in their slow evolution of process. Under Browning's hand the methods, feel, and purposes of her two themes (sacredness and belonging) unfold like a butterfly - they aren't beaten into readers with overkill methods so many poetry collections adopt, and they focus on a quiet sense of rebirth that doesn't involve catastrophic approaches: "You need not remake the old/in order to gather what/is precious and begin anew."
So many poetry collections centered around rebirth and, yes, even spiritually, approach their subjects with a mallet of force, enveloping readers in a Mach-10 storm of angst. While In the Hands of the Immortal Weaver offers up the power and force, it does so with a delicate observational hand; not with a hammer.
And that's the beauty of this particular collection: its approach to probing how the body serves as a vehicle for educating and changing the soul, and its delicate weave of emotion into the mix of spiritual revelation and change: "The soul is the power source/that fuels the organic machine through which we can/experience the ineffable truth."
This approach invites inspection, the slow and careful drinking in of questions that make the night restless and "the days frustrating", and ultimately, a better understanding of the processes called spiritual transformation, change, and revelation.
It takes a real weaver of words to accomplish all this through trails of concurrent pain and joy that lead to a definite destination, lending meaning to suffering and offering keys to the nature of happiness. L.M. Browning's collection is especially recommended for free verse readers who would learn about the evolutionary process of change without the forceful approach of so many a work on the market.In the Hands of the Immortal Weaver
Poems inspired by other poems aren't a rarity: indeed, they are a typical pleasure of poets; because to read others' works is to become inspired to create your own. It's been said that the majority of poetry readers are themselves poets. But Amy Nawrocki carries this thought to a higher level in giving voice to Reconnaissance: a mission to probe the influence and presence of other works and to drink deeply of their approaches with the idea of filling one's writing soul with the inspirations of others.
But, how to translate this tall drink of water into one's own works? Ah, that's where the beauty of Reconnaissance comes in; because like a good investigative mission, it's all about discovery, translation, and (ultimately) crafting something new and different from the pursuit of this style of happiness.
Many a good book opens with a map to its contents, pointing out its likely direction, and Reconnaissance's map is 'Guided Tour', which tells of a circular journey through the cobwebs of life and back again: "Memorize a few loose-leaf pages,/note important dates with precision. Mention/the children by name and explain the heritage…"
One strength of the poetic structure Nawrocki chooses lies in its capture of these dates, times, moments, and most of all, these atmospheres. In such a world the poet becomes a chronicler of life as well as the poems of others: a process captured here and there by observational pieces about readers, subjects, and writers alike whose lives are more than a folio of interconnected words, however famous they might become: "On the reverse, the message that would escort/Shelley’s poems to an upstairs room where/a man had decided he no longer craved her smile:/lots and lots of love, she wrote in haste, crossing/t’s so that the ink missed their intersection, and/congratulations. His wife would have the child."
It's not just about looking at poetry in book form, either: Reconnaissance investigates all kinds of poetic structure, all methods of delivery, all wellsprings of influence, and all facets of life's intersections and investigations. Take, for example, a honeymooner's opening of Paris like a flower: "The collection captures us:/pucker and blow of dizzying lips to trumpet/after trumpet, wet saxophone reeds; a slow trombone slithers and hands skim the wood torso/of an upright bass, leaving the bow behind/for the kinesthetics of the body."
Bryon. Shelley. Paris. Nawrocki. Evocative image-trackers, succinct capturers of atmosphere, and now, in Reconnaissance, poets enjoying a series of interconnected lives and purposes. Drink deeply: this free verse wellspring is vivid and thought-provoking - and quenches the thirst for inspiration.
Paul A. Zecos
ASIN: B00S8SPLTQ $1.00
Spirituality is replete with metaphors, innuendo, and quite frankly, puzzles. In its search for the 'ultimate Truth', it often defies the boundaries of science, skirts the edges of faith and believability, and often refutes common sense; but its greatest limitation is a scatter-gun approach that often focuses excessively on scientific, Biblical or experiential evidence without considering their interactions.
Consider The Deliverance as a Unified Theory of Life containing new evidence proving the prophecies of the Prophets and Jesus Christ. Consider it a Christian approach to life, illuminating the grand scheme of things; then apply its concepts to today's major world issues, from terrorism and women's issues to seeing the value and importance in opposition.
It will quickly become evident that The Deliverance advocates more than spiritual understanding and cohesiveness: it forms the vision of a 'New Independent State' (which also can be perceived as a state of mind as well as of societies) that eschews violence, the presence of a military government (or citizens), and actions that support structures of angst.
There's a lot to like about The Deliverance. Among its strengths are an attention to social order and political as well as personal change, a series of links between spiritual and scientific worlds, and a call to not arms, but unity and uniqueness through righteous action - the driving force of not only Biblical stories, but the author's purpose in creating The Deliverance.
Add an impressive, select bibliography of '100 Recommended Books' ranging from archaeology and physics to world religions, biology, philosophy and even fiction and an examination that rests solidly on the concept that "…only the Christ Jesus is Absolutely Right" and you have a thought-provoking survey believers in God will find challenging and satisfyingly wide-ranging, all in one.
Lightfoot and the Time Warp
Dr. S. Henshon
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00R58NOEE .99
Andy Lightfoot is a novice when it comes to time travel, and he lives with grandparents who are experienced time travelers and who believe that the dangers of such travel are minimal - even though his own parents were lost, and even though "only one in a million people get lost during a time trip."
Despite the family heritage, he's never gone shopping in the Paris of yesteryear; never confronted a dinosaur or gone adventuring. But like others in his family, he's slated for greater things, and when he receives an acceptance letter from the Jules Verne Time Travel Summer School - let the adventures begin!
As Andy enters the school and pursues the mechanics of learning about fashions in past world, how to convert currency across time, and more; he discovers new worlds and opportunities. But his education is about to take a darker turn when he also confronts an unexpected evil force and comes to realize that the everyday dangers of time travel are far more than even his experienced, accepting family believed possible.
Andy Lightfoot and the Time Warp is time travel adventure at its best. One would think that with so many time travel stories on the market, this one would hold little new - but add the experience of a summer camp, a group of feisty kids who (much like Harry Potter) are just coming into their own skills and abilities, and a series of surprises and you have a journey even the most experienced timeslip reader will find engrossing.
Part of the reason why this is especially true in Andy Lightfoot is the protagonist himself. His character is well drawn, and the background leading to his parents' disappearance is provided well before Andy appears on the scene, which makes his life and times more compelling in light of a stolen time machine, a timeline out of sequence, and a boy who misses his parents.
From attention to detail about the makeup and challenges of the time travel camp to questions about the consequences of changing the course of events, there's a healthy dose of philosophical and ethical inquiry woven into the overall story of Andy's journey that makes for a more complex, believable story than competitors tend to offer.
Add in a competition, dangerous time rides, and some intriguing new concepts (such as that of floating cemeteries, to name only one) and you have not the usual timeslip saga, but a thoroughly engrossing (and, yes, unpredictable) story powered not just by scientific possibility, but by one boy's loss and passion for discovery.
Middle school to adult readers will find Andy Lightfoot and the Time Warp a gripping, involving tale; much like the old Danny Dunn adventures, but on steroids.Andy Lightfoot and the Time Warp
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B0074PTDWK $12.99 print/$0.00 ebook
Book One of a dystopian young adult fantasy, Arena One: Slaverunners, is set in New York in 2120, when a second civil war has all but wiped out the city and left its few remaining survivors living in gangs with a favorite pastime: the death sport at Arena One. Their challenge lies in finding new victims outside the city for their spectator sport of bloodshed.
Speaking of 'outside the City', that's where teen Brooke and her younger sister survive: up in the Catskills, alone, and keeping a sharp watch out for the marauding gangs of kidnappers working for Arena One. It only takes an instant for disaster to strike when Brooke relaxes her guard and her younger sister is kidnapped.
Her (predictable) efforts to journey to the city and rescue her sister is practically a suicide attempt, given her violent world and all its challenges, but along the way she runs into Ben, another survivor whose brother was also kidnapped for the Arena, and together they join forces in an impossible rescue mission.
So far, so predictable: shades of The Hunger Games permeate a story centered around two courageous teens determined to buck all odds in an effort to regain their loved ones.
But the true strength in any story lies not so much in its setting and events as in how the characters come across, come alive, and handle their lives - and it's here that Arena One begins to diverge from the predictable and enters the more compelling realms of believability and strength.
Now, be advised: there is a LOT of attention given to explaining methods of viewing this world and handling it; to the point that some readers expecting staccato action and high-powered transition points closely woven together might find the plot plodding or too well-detailed. But in many a story this attention to detail serves the greater good later on, leaving little to wonder and few glaring gaps to fall into.
Take this (long) passage for example - and keep in mind that three years have passed since society fell apart: "If there’s one thing I regret, it’s leaving so hastily. I guess I’d assumed I’d find some clothes up here, that maybe a clothing store would still be open somewhere, or even a Salvation Army. That was stupid of me: of course, all the clothing stores had long ago been looted. It was as if, overnight, the world went from a place of plenty to a place of scarcity."
In dystopian novels of woods survival with settings that take place over decades and have nary a mention of how clothing is obtained, it's refreshing to have this small piece of the world explained here and in subsequent paragraphs outlining what Brooke has done to keep her world together.
There are other similar small bits of explanation throughout that tie the whole thing together but keep the action moving along well enough to satisfy all but the thriller genre reader (and those won't last long enough to appreciate the fact that attention to detail in the beginning picks up a few chapters later as the action really gets going).
It's lucky that Brooke is a Marine's daughter, taught to be resourceful and strong. It's lucky that she encounters strangers willing to join in on her cause, even if for their own personal motivations. And if it comes across as somewhat unbelievable at times, given her extraordinary resilience and strength in the face of impossible odds, chalk it up to the kind of feisty female protagonist that is proving a popular draw for young adult female readers, these days.
There's nothing wrong with going a bit overboard when it comes to empowering females with a little too much resiliency and resourcefulness; especially in a dystopian fantasy setting where the impossible (the end of civilization and the quick reconstruction of something less civilized in its place) has already happened.
There's nothing wrong with offering a twist on The Hunger Games that assumes its own original form after lurking about like a transformed werewolf.
And there's nothing dull and plodding about Arena One, either: despite its attention to detail, it builds a believable, involving world and is a recommendation not so much for general fantasy readers, but for those who enjoy dystopian novels, powerful female characters, and stories of uncommon courage.Arena One: Slaverunners
ISBN for Hardcover: 9780986342332 -- priced at $24.99
ISBN for Softcover: 9780986342363 -- priced at $15.99
ISBN for .mobi (Kinde): 9780986342370 -- $5.99
ISBN for .epub (all other ereaders): 9780986342301 -- $5.99
What a curious title! What could this book be about? The opening lines seem to have little to do with rural living or a murder mystery perhaps involving wool: "Mr. McCloud's Pings and Things was one of many clever little shops along the old main street. Its door was large and red, its ceiling was arched and high, and its perfume was a neat combination of mothballs and overripe bananas. It was a narrow, dust-filled shop, crowded with the largest wheels and the smallest cranks, extravagant masks and strange, warping mirrors…"
But, that's the beauty of Beware the Sheep: straight away, you've uncovered the magic in a book that sounds like one or two possibilities but turns out to be something different - and in a world where everything is boxed, labeled, and fairly evident, this is a winning feature indeed. For there's magic involved here, from a teen protagonist, Livi, who (predictably) enters a magical world that tests her abilities and which (unpredictably) values individuality over conformity to an epic adventure (predictably) that turns into an unusual call to lead a world (unpredictably).
The twists and turns of Beware the Sheep are simply delightful: you may not always know where you're going, but the adventure lies as much in the journey as in the action - a fact many authors forget, but which M. Lewis-Lerman keeps firmly in mind as a character and setting evolve that will reach beyond teen readers well into adult fantasy enthusiasts.
It takes a 'valiant heart' to trudge a dusty road with an unlikely trio of young adventurers who find themselves on the cusp of change. It takes a vivid imagination to create 'downward growling trees', and a lively pen to create a heroine out of a girl who is loyal to her friends, but who can 'barely shoot an arrow'.
And it won't take an exceptional reader to immediately become absorbed in this story: through clever characterization, descriptions that draw the reader into other worlds, and an attention to detail which is more compelling than complex, all ages from middle school into adults will find Beware the Sheep satisfyingly original, powered by its delightfully-vivid scenes that come to life: "Livi followed the mooncalf with her eyes as he moved easily through the fiery wood. With every step the creature took, he left behind a cool, iridescent hoof-print where there once was fire. Around them, the pulsating had become weaker, as the forcefield was compromised by the mooncalf’s game."
Compelling characters, well-done atmosphere, unpredictable plot - what more could one ask for, from a fantasy?Beware the Sheep
Heroes: The Story of the Secret Service
Jack L. Roberts
Curious Kids Press
ASIN: B00OXAOP72 $4.95
This history of the Secret Service and its members comes with an important difference that schools will find intriguing: it's published with Common Core English/language arts objectives for reading informational text (grades 3-8) in mind, which means it's perfect for classroom assignment and use. Not too many books on such a subject can claim this added value.
And in the course of creating classroom discussion questions at each chapter's conclusion which encourage critical thinking and analysis, many an adult will find Unsung Heroes: The Story of the Secret Service an intriguing discussion of a branch of service that too rarely receives its own recognition, providing an approach that non-government employees and non-political readers can easily absorb.
The history opens with pre-Civil War events, then is arranged by assassinations of Presidents, from Lincoln and Garfield to Kennedy and the Secret Service agent who took a bullet for the president, Agent Tim McCarthy, who believed he was "just doing his job" by standing in the line of fire for his executive officer.
In the course of painting a history of the concept, enactment, and evolution of the Service, Roberts pays close attention to the individuals who built the agency, their interactions with various Presidents, and changing Service policies. It's these added attractions of personal insight that keep the text lively and intriguing throughout: "But Lincoln never liked the idea of having guards around him all the time. During his presidency, he often refused to accept protection. Even when there were men guarding him, he would try to slip away from them. “If somebody wants to take my life,” he would say, “there is nothing I can do to prevent it.” (Today, a law says that the president cannot refuse Secret Service protection.)"
A timeline, source notes, vintage photos throughout, and glossary of terms also adds to the value of Unsung Heroes, which stands out as a U.S. history that many an adult reader will find clear, intriguing, and worthy of attention, even though the text and its accompanying chapter exercises are clearly written with classroom assignments in mind.Unsung Heroes: The Story of the Secret Service
Jeff Altabef and Erynn Altabef
ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622533135
ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-313-8
$14.95 Paperback $3.99 ebook www.EvolvedPub.com
The theme sounds simple: sixteen-year-old half-Indian Juliet just wants to be a normal teenage - but she can't, because she is the Chosen, with all the powers and responsibilities that come with the position. Her abilities to hear voices and see visions have always troubled her and her grandfather Sicheii's words have been puzzling and unhelpful.
All this is about to change in Wind Catcher, the first book of the 'Chosen' series that takes Juliet's troubled world and ramps it up to a whole new level when she discovers a series of lies has shrouded her true purpose in the world.
On the face of it, the plot sounds familiar: teen angst, epic quest, self-discovery, supernatural forces, even Native American influences. But as with any story, it's all about how it's handled and, especially in the case of teen stories, it's all about building characterization and creating a compelling adventure: both keys to attracting and retaining young adult readers.
And Juliet's dilemma holds these facets in droves.
First of all, her family is loving yet not united in its perception of the non-Indian world and its powers: "Your mom is headstrong. She puts too much faith in white medicine. It’s better to look deeper into the state of someone’s spirit than treat symptoms, but that’s not the intent of this story.”
Neither is it united in its interactions: her mother and grandfather have a prickly relationship and Juliet is often caught in the middle, captivated by his stories and reality which are often negated by her mother's responses: "I raced to the kitchen and asked Mom about his story. She bristled. Their relationship was best described as a seesaw, one end frosty and bitter, the other warm and loving. They argued often then, the seesaw tilting firmly in the frosty direction. She told me he had made up the story and for me not to worry about it. I wasn’t sure what to believe."
This latest instance, however, holds far more implications for her life than any conflict between parental units, because it pivots on whether her life has been a series of lies - and Juliet suspects the truth is something far more than has been presented to her.
As she becomes involved in her school's story of her kidnapping, designed to alter unusual facts about her experience, and comes to believe Sicheii has involved her in something dangerous and deadly, she's ever on a quest to find the truth at the heart of these deceptions and half-stories - and that's the pulse of Wind Catcher, which revolves around this journey and its constantly-changing paths.
As with any epic, the protagonist faces some difficult decisions: in this case, decisions that have immediate consequences: "You have a decision to make, a side to take. If you choose poorly, they will all die a horrible death…Trust me; everyone you care about will meet a grisly end. Choose wisely and a world of riches will be yours, and they all will live.”
As she confronts the mysterious Seeker and at last faces what seems to be the truth, Juliet comes to know the motivations and concerns of everyone involved in her process: "Truth is a tricky thing. Some people think there are absolute truths that are always correct. That’s foolish. Truth depends upon your perspective. My truth might be different from Troy’s, which may be very different from Katie’s. Who knows what the Seeker’s truth is? I’m not sure I want to know, but finding out his truth is the only way I will survive this."
But this story is not only about Juliet finding the truth at last (though much of its plot revolves around that): it's about what she'll choose to do with that truth once she uncovers it.
Many young adult books revolve around young adult decision-making processes, but the joy and excitement fueling Wind Catcher is that Juliet's search for truth doesn't end with its emergence, but with the bigger picture of what she'll choose to do with it. That's the heartbeat of a powerful saga that fully immerses readers in all the possible scenarios that can stem from one's choices in life - and the reason why Wind Catcher stands out from the crowd. (It's obvious others are coming to believe this, also: Wind Catcher has won the Awesome Indies Seal of Approval and a Mom's Choice Award.)
It's the heartbeat of a powerful young adult adventure steeped in Native American legend and tradition, fueled by a feisty female protagonist who refuses to take the easy way out whether it comes to belief, truth, or love, and who faces down kidnapping, betrayal, and an ultimate choice. Add in a growing circle of supportive friendships and you have a story that is vivid, engrossing - and (so you'll be forewarned) ends in a cliffhanger, ready for Book Two.Wind Catcher
Wolf at the Gate
Mark Van Steenwyk
Mennonite Worker Press
2420 11th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55404
Paperback: 978-0-9862333-4-0 $16.99
Hardcover: 978-0-9862333-0-2 $23.49
Ebook: 978-0-9862333-1-9 $8.99
Ages 7-12 will relish the fantasy adventure that is A Wolf at the Gate: but don't let the story's intended age group fool you. It sports a healthy dose of food for thought in the form of a perceived animal-devouring wolf threat and presents not a classic story of a wolf's dangers, but what actually proves to be a sheep in wolf's clothing.
Couched in the guise of storytelling are many elements: the parable of good blending into a perceived evil's form, a retelling of the legend of Saint Francis and the Wolf, and the meaning of violence and love in a questionable world where nothing holds clear answers and presumptions are usually wrong guesses.
First, the illustrations should be mentioned: they are lovely embellishments to the story line, blending a black and white peppering of images throughout with pages of woodblock full- color images that render Saint Francis, the wolf, and other creations as appealing entities.
Gentle accounts of wolf and human interactions create a lovely interplay between characters and a saga that is appealing and compelling throughout: "Some of the naughtiest children would pull her fur too hard. Even then, Sister Wolf wouldn’t growl but simply remember the scent of that child and never let them ride on her back again."
The teachings are clear as the story unfolds: there are choices in how to react to the world - even a violent world - and there are courses of action that reinforce the overpowering meaning of love without allowing for personal sacrifice and vulnerability.
As all ages read A Wolf at the Gate, these underlying and powerful concepts become clear, marking its territory with stories of outlaws, noblemen, and a determined wolf's efforts to bring peace to her corner of the world against all odds: "It wasn’t much; wolves can only carry with their mouths, but she hoped it would keep the men from attacking wealthy travelers on the road."
The result is a Saint Francis legend like none other you're familiar with, told not from the usual viewpoint of the Saint but of the wolf, who tries different ways of interacting with the world before finding one that ultimately works best.
Adventures and travels blend with accounts of little acts of kindness and courage to create a compelling fable that all ages will enjoy in a story of promises and hard lessons learned in the forest of life.A Wolf at the Gate