September 2017 Review Issue
the Amsterdam Red Light to the African Bush
Wharton Reed Publishing
978-0-9987289-0-2 $12.95 Paper; $9.00 ebook
Livin’: From the Amsterdam Red Light to the African Bush relates a common problem: author Frankie Hogan always wanted to travel; but as the years went by, there were always obstacles and problems involved in making the leap. One day he decided to travel in a big way, making an around-the-world journey that eschewed life getting in the way of his plans.
Plenty of travel memoirs tell of people who embarked on similar sojourns; but few hold the tone and adventure of Livin'. For one thing, Hogan's voice is ribald, spicy, and pulls no punches: he tells it like it is, with his streetwise childhood adding a gritty tone of observation to events that proves compelling for readers seeking a "you are here" flavor to the observations: "Egypt. Back in 2011, I had been days away from booking the trip when the revolution hit. Let's just say being white as Casper and an American to boot, I wanted to let tensions die down. When I started to tell people I was headed to Cairo in the spring of 2013, I still collected a lot of someone-just-shit-on-my-lap looks. But the way I see it is, how long is long enough? 2014? 2020? People who want to "give it a few more years" never get there."
It should be forewarned that this narrative style includes coarse language and candid assessments. Readers who seek a staid, intellectual approach to travel should look elsewhere; but those who appreciate a tell-it-like-it-is style will relish adventures which are liberally peppered with embellishments not usually seen in a travel narrative: "Fucking Egypt! I went for my wallet and opened the first flap to find it empty. What could I give him? I searched, and the only currency I found was fifty Mexican pesos. I handed them to him. He slickly inspected them with a look of wonderment and let me through. He must have thought he had scored a ton of dough, when in actuality, I had given him four bucks. But now I can erase bribing a cop from my bucket list. And that's how I left Egypt."
As for the encounters themselves: anticipate a heady mix of true grit, wit, colorful language and observations, and an uncensored view of life in other countries; especially as they relate to meetings with an American traveler. From drugs and hookers in Africa to his impressions of Vietnam ("Vietnam was talked up by every Tom, Dick, and Harry I met who had been there, which encouraged me to get past the limitations of second-hand impressions to see the country and its people for myself. Ha Long, the jungles outside Saigon, and the villages around the Mekong all had an organic allure. But the most surprising aspect of the trip was the vitality of the cities. Hanoi and Saigon both demonstrated a special ambience."), readers awaiting their own epiphany for beginning overseas journeys will find Hogan's first-hand impressions the next best thing to leaving home.
If it's a compelling view of the everyday lives of people, the schemers and scammers of other countries, the underside of daily living, and the underlying impact of travel experience that is desired, the armchair reader could do no better than to follow Frankie Hogan in Livin’: From the Amsterdam Red Light to the African Bush.
Its focus on these facets of societies which are often missed by typical American travelers offers a rare glimpse into the nitty-gritty of real life in a flagrantly colorful story highly recommended for any global travel narrative collection or reader.
Livin’: From the Amsterdam Red Light to the African Bush
Return to Index
Swayze: The Dreamer
Passion Spirit Dreams Press
ISBN 978-0-9894086-3-9 (paperback) $21.95
ISBN 978-0-9894086-4-6 (ebook) $ 7.99
Sue Tabashnik has been an active member of the Official Patrick Swayze International Fan Club since 2000 and has written two prior books about Swayze that focus on the movie Dirty Dancing, so she's in a good position to provide an authoritative biography of the man in her latest effort, recommended for any Patrick Swayze fan and for collections strong in entertainment history.
Patrick Swayze: The Dreamer expands the coverage beyond his entertainment achievements to consider all the roles he's played in life; from that of husband, son and brother to his battle with cancer and his encounters with fans in general and the author in particular.
Interview quotes from publications and peers, numerous color photos from his movies, and Swayze's own reflections on his art and achievements ("I’ve just always had a sense of what the world wants. Right now with this surface, shallow world of reality TV and everything worth believing in being devalued or laughed at, or if you have integrity “What’s wrong with you?” I’ll never stop living my life by those clichés. You know, “Only the strong survive,” “Nobody said it would be easy,” “Back up your mouth” and “Give all you can because it will be returned.”) all contribute to a bigger-picture feel for the actor and his philosophy about life as a whole, lending a compelling intimacy to Patrick Swayze: The Dreamer that is hard to equal elsewhere.
The ideal reader will be a prior Swayze fan; but an in-depth knowledge of the man or his movies is not a prerequisite to enjoying this in-depth survey of his life and works, which pairs his upbringing and life events with the various influences that fostered his belief systems. The inclusion of the evolution of Tabashnik's dream of meeting Patrick and how she came to be an avid fan of not only the movie Dirty Dancing but the extent of his work makes for almost as interesting a story as Swayze's life, detailing the changes her interest in him brought to her own life.
Any Patrick Swayze fan will find this a wonderfully detailed account of not just his life events, but his personality, ideals, and the experiences of a woman who came to document his world.
Patrick Swayze: The Dreamer
Return to Index
Shiva Puri Press
ISBN 978-0-9979960-6-7 (print paperback)
ISBN 978-0-9979960-7-4 (eBook) $.99
Janabai Shepherd continues the vivid futuristic dystopian story begin in Azriel Dancer, the story of a rural community founded after a cataclysm destroyed most of the world. This saga is narrated from the perspective of a farm girl who is the first child born after this event and follows twenty years of her life in the rural community of Shiva Puri. It's a familiar setting for prior fans of the story; but also includes narratives by other community members to round out perspectives and experiences for both newcomers and old fans.
No previous familiarity with the setting is required in order for newcomers to immediately become immersed in Shiva Puri's world or in the experiences of Janabai and her twin sister, Mirabai, who have mutated in strange ways after the cataclysm. Mirabai is born without eyes and seems disabled, while twin Janabi is strangely and exceptionally talented.
The two grow up in a world where technology is rapidly vanishing and moving away from the community's lives and memories, and experience many of the ordinary pangs of growth and youth, from struggles with peers to realizing their individual gifts.
The meat of their story lies in not just survival; but in their ability to thrive in new ways. Amid the new traditions, beliefs, and rituals they foster to help them live revised lives in a strange new world comes a blend of mythology, coming of age story, and enlightenment tale that follows revised rituals and threats that could lead to new battles for this fragile tribe.
It should be noted that Janabai Shepherd is a dystopian survival piece like none other. None of its characters are predictable, its setting is steeped in a blend of mythological influences and real-world struggles, and the apocalyptic event that has changed the world is not only in the past, but is ongoing, affecting all survivors' lives.
As karma invades her life and changes everything, Janabai and her sister find themselves at the crux of change, and readers will discover that the story line's winding surprises call into doubt all the foundations that lend to a predictable outcome in a very satisfying, unique manner.
Numerous stories tell of apocalyptic futures and community struggles for survival, but Bob Jenkins' ability to blend personal experience with bigger community questions and struggles and to blend a powerful saga of monsters, demons and love into an overall coming-of-age story makes for a creation that is hard to define and impossible to put down; very highly recommended, especially for fans of the apocalyptic fiction genre looking for something refreshingly different.
Return to Index
What if you could live forever, in a digital universe? What if digital immortality was available for all - including a ruthless terrorist who has you in his sights? What if the two of you played a deadlier game in this digital realm than any virtual reality adventure could offer?
All this and more make the thriller Not So Dead exceptional. While some sci-fi in the realm of LitRPG gaming novels already have stories based on digital living, what makes Not So Dead something different is the fact that it embeds a firm thriller element throughout, reaching beyond a relatively obscure genre fan set to tweak the hearts and minds of the general-interest sci-fi or thriller reader looking for something different.
Its plot and premise may lie in a digital universe, but the mechanics and story of Not So Dead have their roots in something far greater than formula writing. Just look at the chapter titles, for one clue of this difference - "Spy Vs. Spy," "Rook to Queen Eight," "Quantum State," and "The Rumble Down Under," to name just a few of the many intriguing chapters and twists this story takes.
There are obstacles to this winding investigation in both digital and non-digital worlds ("...based on your login, we know who you are and have programmed in a block against speaking with your digital self. We have done the same for each of us. It’s just too dangerous.”), there are progressions forward and backward in the investigation ("I felt like we were living in that old Mad magazine cartoon, Spy vs. Spy. Don’t know why that came to mind. The war on terror has really been more like an endless game of Whack-A-Mole. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes you’re behind. Despite what Frank said, I had the uneasy feeling that, at the moment, we were behind."), and the fact that the characters have a vivid immediate feel to them in both arenas adds tension and realistic involvement to the plot: "I felt like a little kid being left behind and left out. But on second thought I was happy not being involved in another confrontation. My nerves were frayed like ropes about to snap."
The result is a powerfully-wrought tale of intrigue, terrorism, and threats to immortality that use powerful psychological involvement to keep readers exquisitely on edge until the final surprise. It's a story designed to reach far from the LitRPG/gamer sci-fi audience and into the hearts and minds of the sci-fi reader who enjoys investigative drama and thriller elements to spice a complex read.
Not So Dead
Return to Index
The Peal of the
Beach Glass Press
The release of an 'enhanced edition' of the original 2013 publication Ocracoke: The Peal of the Outer Banks means that libraries seeking lending copies of an expanded edition and individuals who want a keepsake copy will enjoy a 35 percent increase in page size, which allows for the addition of numerous photos and the enlargement of others in a classic which closely examines the history and people of a North Carolina island that has experienced much change over the years.
The book is a winner of the North Carolina Association of Historian's Willie Parker Peace History Book Award, and it well deserves this and other acclaim as it brings together not only local history but a wealth of photos and drawings of Blackbeard, 20th century island life, and more in some 150 black and white illustrations.
Be forewarned, however, that this book's pictorial strengths only serve to compliment a treasure trove of text that delves deeply into history; so it's not intended as a pictorial survey with sketchy facts so much as a detailed history embellished with vintage images. Readers of Outer Banks history will be thrilled at this level of depth, which reaches from early history to World War II's surge of naval buildup which doubled the population of the island. The development of ferry routes in the 1950s by enterprising businessmen who saw opportunities in such a system (before the state of North Carolina bought the makeshift wooden ferry system begun by Frazier Peele) and the island's tourist reputation as 'Pony Island' (because hundreds of ponies once roamed the island - even though nobody knew exactly how they'd arrived there) are just a few other stories unique to this island and this book.
Oracoke has become much more accessible in the 20th century, but still remains somewhat isolated despite the influx of tourists. From shipwrecks to hurricanes and exceptional beaches, McAllister's history captures the atmosphere and evolution of the island in such a way that even non-residents and those relatively unfamiliar with Ocracoke will find it a lively, compelling read.
Ocracoke: The Peal of the Outer Banks is recommended for any collection strong in regional American history in general and North Carolina's islands in particular.
Ocracoke: The Peal of the Outer Banks
Return to Index
of the Ice: Ireland Then
John A. Brennan
Escribe Publishing Inc.
Irish author and poet John Anthony Brennan has previously written a book of poetry and a philosophical memoir; but his latest production, Out of the Ice: Ireland Then and Now, represents yet another genre: a history of Ireland that begins in the Ice Age and moves to modern times. One would anticipate that such a survey by an author who has written in other genres might be less authoritative than those produced by a dedicated historian; but the fact is that Out of the Ice offers a different flavor and atmosphere as it details the different cultures that influenced Ireland's development.
First, there's the figure of Cessair, whose early landing in Ireland made her the first major figure to arrive in that country: "According to many of the old writings, the first individually named human to make an impact in Ireland was Cessair, a daughter of the biblical Noahs' son Bith and his wife Birren, who were denied a place on the Ark. Cessair, together with three men and fifty women, set sail on their own. In some versions of the tale, Noah tells them to go to the western edge of the world to escape the oncoming Flood. In other versions, when their people are denied a place on Noah's Ark, Cessair tells them to make an idol to advise them. This idol tells them to escape the Flood by sailing to Ireland. They set out in three ships and reach Ireland after a long, seven year journey."
Various groups arrived and proceeded to leave their footprints on Ireland (the Fomorians, a seafaring pirate group; the Partholonians, a group led by the son of the King of Greece which introduced farming, cooking, brewing and stone-buildings to the island; and a 'supernatural' race, the Tuatha De Danann, charged with "removing the evil Fomorians" who also introduced the storytelling tradition to the nation); all before the Celts (which is where too many histories of the country begin).
John A. Brennan's attention to historic detail and his references to the ancient writings supporting this history lend to a seasoned, logical progression of events that does more than document dates and peoples, but charts what each group brought to the country to help build the Irish culture we know today. This approach offers far more insights than the traditional historical focus on events, delving into the influences and ideas behind the modern Irish psyche.
The story In Chapter three titled “Regicide and New Beginnings” tells of a seminal event, involving three kings and several chieftains and nobles that took place in Ireland during the latter half of the first century A.D., and which set in motion a chain of events that would influence and forever change the political and economic landscapes of Ireland, Britain and Scotland.
Chapter Four, “New World Order” brings us to the fifth century and gives the reader insights into the lesser known story of the roles played by the Pagan high king Laoghaire and his high Druid Lochra and their battles with the Roman known as Patricius and his message of Christianity.
In Chapter five the story titled “The Destruction of Royal Brega” chronicles the account of the first known group of foreigners to launch highly organized, violent raids in Ireland. Most people believe it was the Vikings, who raided Lambay Island in 795 AD. What many people are not aware of is that a century before the emergence of the Vikings, another equally violent group, not from the Fjords of Norway, but from a place much closer to home, beat them to it.
continue with this
foundation of tracing different peoples and what they introduced to
Ireland, from the Normans and the invasion armies that "overwhelmed
the Viking established towns of Wexford, Waterford and Dublin in
1169-1170" to the Scottish Gallowglass: "The
Gallowglass, as they were called, were elite mercenary warriors and
members of the Gaelic clans of Scotland. As Gaels, they shared a common
background and language with the Irish, but as they had intermarried
with the Vikings, the Irish Gaels nicknamed them Gall Gaeil meaning
foreign Gaels. Large numbers of gallowglass settled in Ireland after
losing their land and property during the Scottish Independence wars."
From political and social struggles to individuals and groups who left specific marks on the country's history and peoples, Out of the Ice offers a special approach that few other Irish histories can match, eschewing the dryness of academia in favor of a research-supported but lively pursuit of what makes the Irish who they are today.
With its focus on lesser-known historic events through the centuries, Out of the Ice creates an evolutionary process that is highly recommended for any reader of Irish history who may have pursued other books on the subject, but who here will receive a more thought-provoking blend of facts and cultural insights.
Out of the Ice: Ireland Then and Now
Return to Index
The Way It Was
Ellen Fulcher Cloud
Beach Glass Books
The second updated edition of Portsmouth The Way It Was republishes a classic, enhancing it with new photos, information, and a hardcover edition intended for durable library lending and years of reference that should be in any collection strong in local North Carolina history.
Portsmouth Island was a small seaport which thrived for two centuries, but is now deserted. In 1996, Ellen Fulcher Cloud recreated its history from source materials ranging from letters and personal photos to historical records and archive materials, documenting not only the events that affected life on the island, from wars to storms, but providing (as much as possible) insights into the lives and experiences of island residents over the years.
A new foreword by coastal author Ray McAllister discusses how this out-of-print gem came to be reissued and surveys the author and historian's efforts to preserve local history in this book.
One might think, from this, that readers of Portsmouth The Way It Was would need to have prior familiarity with the island in some way; but the fact is: even those with little knowledge of the island or North Carolina will find it an engaging local history key to understanding the early heyday of shipping in the region, the effects of war (which changed the island's population and purposes), and how this community receded in the face of too many obstacles to its lifestyle after the Civil War: "The days of shipping were gone and there was very little employment to be had. People returned, only to leave some years later to seek employment. There were those who knew no other life or wanted no other life. They returned. They were willing to take their chances, believing that peace and harmony would once again come to their town. Return it did, and year by year the popular declined so that peace and harmony became isolation and loneliness."
story of a small town's
changes and challenges as it faded into anonymity would have been lost
were it not for Ellen Fulcher Cloud's efforts and those of her family
and locals who assured that this edition, published posthumously, would
mean that the experiences, lives, and history of Portsmouth Island
would not die away into obscurity. Portsmouth The Way It Was is
a vivid local chronicle of changing small-town America. As such, it's
highly recommended not just for North Carolina collections, but for any
concerned with keeping regional American history alive.
Portsmouth The Way It Was
Return to Index
to Die: A Medical Thriller
Barbara Ebel, M.D.
Barbara Mary Ebel, Publisher
Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0-9977225-5-0 $11.95
eBook ISBN-13: 978-0-9977225-6-7 $ 3.99
By now, it should be evident that medical student Annabel Tilson's talents aren't confined to the health industry alone; for this is the third time her investigative skills have come into play in a series of books surrounding her dual careers, and it's just as powerfully written as its predecessors, backed by the fact that author Barbara Ebel not only can spin a great yarn, but is an MD, herself.
This lends authority and authenticity to the surroundings and constraints of the medical environment as Annabel comes to suspect that a natural death on her watch may not be so natural after all, and considers the moral and ethical implications of end of life care in both her own life and those of her patients.
This is perhaps one of the single greatest strengths in Desperate to Die: a juxtaposition of real-world medical issues with intrigue in the form of a protagonist who is not herself a natural detective, but a concerned, aspiring medical professional who constantly finds her beliefs challenged by her job.
Readers should expect precise descriptions of medical procedures ("Annabel thought about her gross anatomy class. The bronchus going to the left lung was longer and the right bronchus was shorter. Maybe more important, she thought, was that the left bronchus took an abrupt angle, making it easier for food or an item to take the less resistant path along the right."), insights into Annabel's learning process, and an attention to detail reflective of the author's expertise.
Too many medical thrillers casually set the backdrop for intrigue, yet fail to build realistic descriptions of the medical environment; but Dr. Ebel takes care to build both - and that's part of what contributes to an exceptional story. The depth to which Annabel's commitments enter her personal world are nicely described: "Back in Annabel’s apartment, Nancy showered and dressed first while Annabel read the highlights about acute lung infections and sepsis."
The other piece of the puzzle lies in the progression of Annabel's learning process, which ranges from medical teachings to life lessons about relationships and values. As the riveting saga slowly heats up, newcomers receive an excellent in-depth survey of Annabel's psyche and responses as they are drawn into a slowly-evolving medical thriller operating well on par with Robin Cook and other top-name medical thriller authors.
While this joins other Annabel adventures (which are spin-offs to a related series of Dr. Danny Tilson stories), it's also a pleasure to note this stands well on its own and requires no prior familiarity with either her previous encounters or her father's adventures. (Be forewarned, however: those who enjoy this vivid medical drama will want to read the others.)
Desperate to Die: A Medical Thriller
Return to Index
Meadow Lane Press
ISBN 978-0-9860637-6-3 (sc) $14.95
ISBN 978-0-9860637-7-0 (e-book) $ 4.99
The Rice Thieves begins in New Zealand, where Mike, a newcomer to the small town of Oban, has retired from the Navy and is recovering from an injury. His plans for the next stage of his life are changed by his meeting with Ani, a Maori beauty and with a phone call he receives that drags him into an investigative world that he thought he’d left behind.
As The Rice Thieves unfolds, readers are treated to a series of twists and turns. The plot builds slowly, taking time to create and flush out a myriad of characters and special interests. It evolves into a story about an international intelligence mission filled with corrupt people, money, power, and an Admiral’s passionate focus on industrial/agricultural espionage.
One doesn’t expect rice plants to be at the center of international intrigue but the development of a engineered strain of rice with potential to yield tenfold that of existing strains unfolds into a engrossing tale of theft and bribes and murder. CIA intelligence efforts and advanced spy operations keep the story supercharged with action as the story barrels down on a revelation that could affect hundreds of millions of people.
The Rice Thieves creates a strong interplay between personalities and economic and geopolitical issues. The author takes the time to effectively build tension. The Rice Thieves demonstrates the dangers of international special interests in revealing how a simple, basic product development can go awry. Thus, it should be cautioned that readers should expect an array of characters and a slower evolutionary process than some other story lines. It's a process that will methodically carry them from 'simmer' to 'boil' without the high-octane action that hastens too many tales to a premature conclusion.
The result is an epic thriller that spreads its plot over a global arena. It is highly recommended for fans that enjoy stories of scientific dangers and intrigue mixed with a diverse array of characters whose interactions and involvements in agricultural espionage hold lasting ramifications not only for particular nations, but also for the entire human race.
The Rice Thieves
Return to Index
They Were Young: A Sam
Steven W. Horn
Granite Peak Press
978-0-9835894-8-8 (cloth) $27.50
978-0-9991248-0-2 (paper) $16.95
978-0-9991248-5-7 (ebook) $ 4.99
When They Were Young is the third Sam Dawson mystery in a series, but prior familiarity with its award-winning predecessors is not required in order to enjoy this vivid, stand-alone saga revolving around a photographer who is simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of a child's murder while juggling his complicated personal and professional relationship with girlfriend Annie.
Wyoming and Nebraska form the backdrops for this story, which opens with the grim discovery of a child's body, frozen in the wilderness, and moves back and forth from investigator Sam's experiences and perspectives to those of Annie, who has rented a broken-down ranch house in the Wyoming wilderness against his advice, and who is the editor and new owner of a small publishing house.
The long, sometimes-stormy road of their personal and professional relationship is nicely summarized in the beginning, setting the stage for events to come: "Above all, Annie believed in Sam’s artistry. His photographs were more than pictures. They spoke volumes to the viewer— each image a story with a beginning, middle, and end. But something besides his visual images caused a light feeling deep within her and a shortness of breath. She had made the mistake of a lifetime when she pushed him away eight years before. What had seemed insurmountable at the time, she now viewed as insignificant, considering all they had been through. She thought it funny how time and experience can change one’s perspective."
It should be noted that readers expecting a 'whodunnit' mystery may receive more then they bargained for in a read which not only considers a murderer and a changing relationship, but the paths of investigation and introspection which make for real change and create transition points from otherwise-stuck characters.
Events that affect these choices are bigger than either Sam or Annie's perspectives, which are well detailed here as a preface to exciting changes in their lives, and Steven W. Horn takes the time to craft these points and build logical emotional and event-driven stepping stones between them, leaving no reader behind.
Having the dual viewpoints of the two main characters creates interesting interplays of psychological inspection that are succinct and revealing throughout: "She tried not to think about the embarrassing confrontation at the coffee shop. She was angry with herself for hurting Sam again. The fact that he was visibly upset spoke volumes about his feelings for her. Yet he refused to act on those feelings. Lately he seemed withdrawn and edgy, always cynical. She could not determine if his disappointment and frustration were with his or her career. Perhaps neither, she reasoned."
Can a child's murder and the investigative efforts that evolve from the case create new options for Sam and Annie's stalled relationship? While this story is intended for high school readers and above, it's the new adult and adult mystery reader with more than a light affection for psychological depth who will find When They Were Young a powerfully done story that is as compelling for its relationship struggles as it is for the mystery that sends Sam on the most challenging quest of his life, which threatens to change everything.
With exquisite tension and attention to detail, When They Were Young is very highly recommended both as a stand-alone psychological mystery and as a continuation of Sam's life and challenges as he fields a stormy road to an ultimate, impossible choice.
(While the book will be released on October 26, 2017, it will be available for pre-sales in hardback, paperbook and ebook by mid-September.)
When They Were Young: A Sam Dawson Mystery
Return to Index
Page Publishing Inc.
ISBN 978-1-68409-431-8 (Paperback) $15.95
ISBN 978-1-68409-492-9 (Hard Cover) $33.95
ISBN 978-1-68409-432-5 (Digital) $ 9.99
Nyla and Junaid are classmates attending a small school in the mountains of Pakistan in the 1990s. Their friendship, which evolves into love, and their coming of age is one story; but the real heart of the evolutionary process documented in Becoming lies in its wider-reaching story of how young people in a different culture share experiences common to the rest of the world's emerging young adults.
From kindly matron teachers and their educational challenges in reaching very different students to how the golden rule is imparted to struggling kids barely passing not only in class but in their relationships to the world around them, Becoming charts individual courses that intersect, collide, merge, or are changed by circumstance and psychology.
The first difference to note in this coming-of-age romance is the strength of the female character, Nyla, who at times fights both her own heart and cultural traditions. Unlike the characters of many women who become helpless in the face of love and its circumstances, Nyla is an empowered, complete individual in her own right, seeking more from life than love and commitment.
Junaid's love for this independent, feisty young woman may defy some of his own cultural traditions, but he too has spunk and determination; and when they confront an emotionally unstable but creative young peer who views their blossoming relationship as a negative force in his life, the three find themselves entwined in a complicated series of encounters that test not only their experiences, but their different backgrounds.
The world of Pakistan's hill country comes to life as the story evolves. All three characters grow and change from their encounters, and readers are treated to in-depth realizations woven into a story line which comes from different viewpoints.
This brings us to the second notable difference in this coming of age romance: the author's ability to create full-faceted characters from the intersection of different personalities from peers to adults: "As she passed back the graded essays to the students before the closing bell, she said she would ask for the two best essays to be read aloud by the respective authors. It amazed her to see a glint of hope in the eyes of Junaid, and she looked away wondering what he imagined was the worth of his miserable effort."
From differences between friendship and love and the process of growing one from the other to handling peer jealousies, attractions, and interactions gone awry, the psychology is deftly and nicely done, fully exploring different characters' feelings and their sources: "He did feel left out and more than a little jealous that another man, a good-looking man, knew Nyla well enough to keep her occupied with interesting memories. Nor was it lost on him that he himself had been introduced as her “friend” and not her boyfriend."
The result is a lovely story recommended for mature teens and new adult audiences alike; especially those who want their characters complex, their cultural and social encounters well-developed, and their evolving love to include the influence and realistic angst of peers and adults alike.
Readers of coming of age stories set in other countries will relish the struggles of Nyla, Junaid, and others who strive to evolve in many ways, and will find Becoming a lovely read packed with atmosphere, depth, and detail.
Return to Index
Kasva Press LLC
Trade Paperback: 978-0-9910584-7-1 $14.95
What do a family ring and a last wish closely held by a dying woman in 16th-century Fez, a Spanish researcher charged with finding out a long-hidden truth, and a journey through modern romance and Inquisition-era events have in common? By Light of Hidden Candles pulls all these disparate forces together in a story that blends history, a purpose from the past, and the evolution of a modern relationship into its web of intrigue with a tale that is especially vivid for detail-oriented readers of historical fiction and ancestry quests.
Such an audience will relish the fact that Daniella Levy's story is steeped in both the present-day atmosphere of Spain and its past tumultuous history, weaving a healthy dose of real events into its plot as it follows two characters whose genealogical quest turns into personal journeys into faith and understanding.
One satisfying note to the story line is that Alma is not a professional researcher, but a student learning the ropes. She's also Jewish, and well aware that any relationship with a Catholic boy would cause issues with her faith and her family. But Manuel Aguilar holds skills she needs, and so she both acknowledges and sets aside any prejudice in favor of a greater goal which becomes even bigger than she'd imagined: "Of the eight of us, I was clearly at the greatest disadvantage. If I ever did manage to get to a point where researching the archives would be in the realm of possibility for me, I would be working at half the speed of the other students...If I could get him to help me…And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. He was a Spanish speaker. His Spanish, in fact, was probably closer to medieval Castilian than anybody else’s, because he was actually from Spain. And if he could read archaic scripts like that on his first try, he’d be reading them like his own handwriting by the beginning of next semester...On the other hand…I bit my lip, feeling guilty about the fact that I even considered the fact that he was Catholic a reason to hesitate."
Another important feature is that the story is narrated from the alternate perspectives of Alma and Manuel, who each have their own religious and cultural reasons for embarking on this particular journey together. This provides a satisfying set of insights throughout as both of them consider their different heritages and how these perspectives affect their research project's evolving surprises.
These two have different ways of seeing the world, and their faith and dialogue embraces both Jewish and Catholic philosophies as events unfold. There's also a modern flavor to their interactions as their discussions consider some of the spiritual beliefs each struggles with: "I had struggled with that question before in the past—about unbaptized babies and such; and we believe that God has mercy on children, and we come up with other ways to squirm out of the problem; but the fact is that there really is no satisfying answer—at least not that I know of—in the Catholic faith. It’s simply one of those things you live with, and I’m sure there are struggles like this in Judaism too. But it had not mattered to me nearly as much before I actually sat in front of someone I care about, who I believe absolutely does not deserve an eternity of suffering, and contemplated the question.” “So actually, about that…” I pulled out my phone, opened my browser app, and handed it to him. He gave me a confused look. “Have you ever heard of Karl Rahner and the concept of the ‘Anonymous Christian’?”
blend of historical
quest and modern-day confrontation is lively and well done as they also
encounter the people and challenges of unfamiliar places: "What
do you think you are doing?!” I whirled around her, shoving myself
between her and the gang. “I’m going to give those cretins a piece of
my mind.” She tried to step around me, but I gripped her by the upper
arms, planting her firmly in place. “What are you, crazy?!” I exclaimed
in a hushed voice. “This isn’t America! You can’t just march over there
and ask them to please stop spraying offensive graffiti!”
The result is a special recommendation for audiences who enjoy thought-provoking blends of spiritual examination, interpersonal interactions and growth, history's effects on the present, and the experiences that bring ancestral history to rest in a compromise that follows two very different new adults in their strange and revealing journey.
By Light of Hidden Candles
Return to Index
Evolved Publishing LLC
Slavery is legal in the Kingdom of Kuldaire, and is an embedded system that forms the foundation of a healthy economy successfully run for a quarter of a century; and so slave Barloc has not only known no other way of life; but there are no alternatives, choices, or rebellion options for his position in this society.
It doesn't seem as though there will be any precedent for a new set of rules in his lifetime; but when he's sold to a new owner in a batch slave transaction, he's in for a surprise. Lord Harbor offers his slavers something only the King can approve - freedom - and thus Barloc's experiences with unprecedented freedom will not only alter his future, but his world.
Kingdom in Chains is unexpected in many ways. The prospect of an engrained slave system including a lord who offers an alternative in defiance of the norm, the interactions between slave Barloc and this changing world, and the challenging battles the group is charged with fighting under Lord Harbor's rule sets the pace for a fast-paced story line filled with battles and uncertainty for Barloc as he slowly absorbs new rules and his road to eventual freedom.
Lord Harbor's actions form the heart of a siege involving the King, slavery, and the very foundations of society; and he's trained Barloc well. He learns to harden his heart in the face of war, to hone skills that lead to a bigger goal than personal survival, and to absorb the progress and routines encounters that pit leaders and soldiers against one another in struggles that supersede individual experience for the sake of greater goals.
If Barloc succeeds in shedding the shackles of personal slavery, can (or should) he return to it to effect real changes in his world? If there's something worth fighting for beyond his personal freedom, should he join those who stand at the forefront of revolution?
The progress of a man who moves beyond individual experience and responsibility to address the greater good makes for as involving a story as the physical battles and the philosophical and political conflicts between rulers. Readers who look for fiction that juxtaposes conflict and confrontation with a protagonist's personal evolution will find much to like in a story that presents Barloc with an unexpected cause that drives his life and future.
Kingdom in Chains is highly recommended as an invigorating pick for any who would read of other realms and the forces that stand between freedom, self-actualization, and social change.
Kingdom in Chains
Return to Index
Angel’s Leap Pty Ltd.
ISBN: 978-0-9876222-2-8 (pbk) $20.00
ISBN: 978-0-9876222-0-4 (epub) $ 9.99
Mary Poser: Butterflies and White Lies As Bollywood Comes To Nashville tells of a dutiful Southern daughter who pretends to fit into her mother's world, but who secretly holds a penchant for differences and adventure which are hidden from her family and even herself. It seems unlikely that a girl from a strict Baptist household would even meet, much less fall in love with, a Hindu Indian man whose very different world collides with hers on so many levels, but Mary Poser's illusions about life, carefully constructed in a rigid environment, are about to be shaken.
Before this event, her descriptions of her life are exact and revealing: "I’ve jumped through every hoop my family, my friends, and even my boss have told me to jump through. Everyone tells me I’m so cookie cutter perfect, I’m starting to think I was born in a cake tin. I’ve always got a smile on my face no matter how fake it feels. If I dressed any more ‘country,’ they’d stand me on the Nashville turnoff to wave to folks as they drove into town." This approach allows readers to absorb her character and perspective at the cusp of its greatest changes, drawing followers into Mary's evolving personality and world.
The immediacy of Mary's emotions is one of the strengths of Mary Poser, which draws novel readers with a blend of candid observation, self-inspection, and poignant honesty about the realities of Mary's efforts to live up to expectations: "I put in four years’ hard labor with Mr. Right despite his distracted behavior. Mama and Daddy were so proud of his emerging singing career. I felt like such a failure to them for not holding his attention long enough for him to put a ring on my finger. Despite this, they still label me as their “good girl.” Bless their hearts. I’m just not as good as I’d be if I were married. No one ever tells me I’m a source of disappointment. But I sure feel like it sometimes. Am I the only one who’s struggling to keep it together?"
But Mary's character isn't the only strong point in the story. Angel A directs her attention to building a powerful supporting cast as well; including the portrait of a righteous Baptist woman holding together a traditional household while observing the failings of the outside world from her kitchen: "That girl!” Mama said angrily as she glared at the kitchen door. “She hasn’t had a boyfriend since her accident, and I don’t see any on the horizon. How can she hope to get a man lookin’ like that?” “She’s got good legs, and she’s showin’ ’em off, Mrs. Poser,” Chloe said soothingly. “There are a lot of leg men out there.” “One look at that spiky black hair and raccoon makeup and they’re scared off, and that’s certain,” Mama said. “I do declare I’m worried for her. She makes herself up queerer than a three-dollar bill and dresses like a hussy. She’s piddlin’ her life away at that store, resentin’ her church duties, and spendin’ the rest of her wakin’ hours in her room listenin’ to the most depressin’ music I’ve ever heard. How’s she gonna find a man? How’s she gonna get herself a good husband, her own home, children? How is she ever gonna be happy?”
With crisp dialogue capturing the connections and clashes between cultures both within and outside of American boundaries, Mary Poser is a winning story of a girl who seeks to redefine what she wants in life outside of the society that she's long operated in, and is an engaging tale of cultural conflict and conundrums. All this is spiced with live and realistic characters whose lives, thoughts, and dreams convey an immediacy and life that encourages readers to not only care about them, but to become immersed in their quiet desperations and romantic entanglements.
Readers who relish multicultural stories, Southern roots, coming of age tales, and a powerful female protagonist who figures out how she can gain real happiness will find Mary Poser a completely engrossing read: vivid and hard to put down.
Return to Index
Teenager Mike was blinded in a botched suicide attempt, but now he's living in the dark in a different way. He believes much of his life is at a dead end - even more so than the despair that led him to pull the trigger to end his life - but when he's recruited to a center determined to help teens who have been blinded, he finds his life on the edge of a different kind of change.
Mike was one of the lucky ones: he managed to get his sight back - but not his soul. Each of these five teens has been blinded in acccidents. The last thing on any of their minds was entering the world of competitive swimming. One man becomes determined to lead them to success - and all five face life-changing decisions as a result of this intervention.
In one way, Nightdivers is a tale of ambition, accomplishment, and rising from the depths of despair. Young adult to adult readers will appreciate the perspective of teens who form new goals for their existence, led by a man who was once lost, himself, and who is still finding his purpose in life after a failed marriage and too many odd jobs.
When Dan pushes Mike to move behind his barely-existing comfort zone to help others, he does so with the knowledge that Mike, too, needs something different in his life - something that takes a convincing argument to see: "...here’s a good reason to come out anyway. You know what kind of place these kids are in right now. They’re scared. They feel lost, and they probably don’t think much of the road ahead considering their circumstances."
Surprisingly few young adult books address the rigors of competitive swimming, much less the additional challenges faced by young people with disabilities who must gain additional tools in order to be competitive and successful in a sighted world.
Mark Mathis outlines these tools, the process of getting and using them effectively, and even more importantly, the process which leads from despair to a positive perspective about life's opportunities.
The five teens aren't the only ones growing during this adventure: so is Mike, who finds himself forever changed by his endeavor.
Nightdivers accurately details the worlds of both competition swimming and adjusting to blindness with a finesse and realism that incorporates street language and experiences, angst and hope, pain and despair, and the process involved in personal transformation. By adding the overall effects of a team-building program into the mix, Nightdivers produces just the kind of novel that stands out from the crowd, blending personal struggles with a story of how team spirit and goal-oriented success is fostered.
It's a highly recommended read for any interested in tales of opportunity and change; especially for those who like insights into the mechanics and specifics of competitive swimming.
Return to Index
Regrets in Paris
Jim Tacon, Publisher
No Regrets in Paris is a wry observational novel about bad decisions, bad luck, and a thread of disaster that seems to follow every move made by protagonist Mike, whose seemingly solid life is thrown into chaos by a series of circumstances not always out of his control. With a good job and a steady girlfriend, what could go wrong?
Murphy's Law begins with a phone vibrating with too many messages during a business meeting. When Mike finally has time to check, he's treated to a breakup notice via text. And the sad fact is: he hadn't even registered the many warning signs leading up to this startling event: "The realization that my girlfriend of almost two years has distanced herself without me even realizing it is sobering."
As more bad decisions follow on his part, from an experiment with cocaine to leading a wild new bachelor life that constantly seems to blow up in his face, readers are treated to a roller coaster of angst and irony as Mike circumvents challenges created in part by his association with freewheeling buddy Shane, who constantly leads him in questionable directions.
A trip to Paris could change all that when Mike meets an incredible woman there and is forced to not only confront his past actions, but his future possibilities. What could go wrong?
It should be mentioned that this book is, in turn, bawdy, ribald, hilarious, romantic, and edgy. Mike is not the kind of heroic protagonist that wins everything his heart desires, in the end: he's more of a good boy gone bad who is trying to find his way in life and with women, and this theme will especially appeal to new adults likely to relate heavily to Mike's struggles and efforts. Those he encounters along the way can be just as edgy in their actions: "Not content with insulting their way down the line, the Scotsmen raise the stakes by mooning the crowd."
This is a good opportunity to mention that all the descriptions in No Regrets in Paris are crisp, contemporary, and fun: "Before I can offer my opinion on the selfie, we embrace against the setting sun, the moment captured forever. Or at least until someone steals Annette’s phone. After photo bombing some other couples, we continue on our way."
Will Mike reach the love of his life with the appropriate gestures; or will he once again face a failed romance? Against the backdrop of his romantic growth and overtures to the lovely Annette is the atmosphere of Paris and the efforts of a young man looking to grow new purposes and relationships in his life, against all odds.
Vivid, immediate, and fun, No Regrets in Paris blends well-done dialogue and realistic scenarios with a sense of action and discovery that will keep fiction readers involved to the very last page.
No Regrets in Paris
Return to Index
W & B Publishers
Harry Monmouth watches a brightly-burning fire in a town he thinks is ultimately doomed ("Sooner or later, this village – bastardized, like the Post Office, by the College’s ruthless growth – would be gone, leaving behind a gulag dedicated to what now passed for progress.). This opens a story which introduces a lonely life, with Harry's wife dead and his children scattered. The possible arson deftly portrays this world while a phone call introduces the title of this book, The Order, a college secret society comprised of male undergraduates and faculty.
Harry's staid, dull, and isolated existence is about to change as he re-enters The Order after years absence and becomes immersed in a political conundrum that could change not just the evolution of the town, but his own life.
From issues of gender confusion and a feisty young woman's determination to get to the bottom of some shady dealings to Harry's reluctant involvement in a series of events which would seem to require the services of the police more than a secret society, social and political entanglements evolve that lead Harry on a chase through historical facts and present-day associations.
When a Governor's guerilla warfare against the college raises questions about the objectivity of historical record and issues of equality in campus politics, Harry becomes immersed in matters that eventually lead to the courtroom and to a viper's nest of dubious associations and assumptions. With issues of betrayal, honor, and ownership emerging, Harry finds himself in the middle of a brewing controversy with no obvious solution.
Readers of novels which excel in blending historical detail with legal and political insights will relish this saga of a quiet man called from virtual retirement to enter a lion's den of community controversy. In a world where only the past is urgent, how can Harry move into a revised vision of his future?
Thompson's ability to
spin a yarn that moves beyond an individual's life into the
ramifications of social and political process and past injustices will
have readers on the edge of their seats as Harry struggles to preserve
the one fragile piece of history he can control: his own life.
Return to Index
978-1-943258-46-8 (paperback) $16.95
978-1-943258-49-9 (hardcover) $27.95
Book 2 in the Asunder Civil War Trilogy continues the story of love-wrenching forces that tear lives and minds across the country in general. In this case, the turmoils of war are especially powerful in the hearts of abolitionist and spiritualist Cyntha Favor, Southern supporter Sara (who finds herself defending unarmed Cherokees during an attack by soldiers who brand her a Yankee), and Lucas, who has reluctantly bestowed freedom to his best friend Abram in hopes of keeping their friendship, only to see him leave.
As Sara is rescued by a Negro, Lucas' search for Abram seems futile. Generals and soldiers plot strategy and counterattacks and a host of characters find themselves embroiled in a struggle for survival even as their nation splinters.
Perhaps it takes a trilogy to adequately describe the extent to which the Civil War destroyed lives, purposes, and belief systems - certainly, in the case of both Splintered and its predecessor, Asunder, this process is well described in all of its complexity in a tale which moves beyond troop movement and generals' decisions and into the lives, motivations, belief systems and struggles of those affected by the all-encompassing conflict.
One surprising and fine facet of this account is the resourcefulness of all involved. Cyntha's ability to spin a fine story when she's stopped by soldiers on the road, the efforts made by siblings parted - sometimes forever - by the war ("Paul sat alone. 'Just me,' he said. In his weariness and sorrow, he slumped in the chair into a fitful sleep. In his dream, he was racing away from wolves, knowing all along that the wolves were devouring his brother."), and the decisions made by a host of characters operating well outside of their comfort zones makes Splintered a riveting saga that's hard to put down.
A good trilogy should expand the characters and actions beyond what any single novel could do. The Civil War certainly deserves such an approach, and such a wide-ranging focus on different lives. Splintered takes its place strongly beside its sibling and continues a riveting story based on true history.
Watch for Book Three to pick up where a surprising endgame concludes Book 2.
Return to Index
Elie Jerome, Publisher
Unplanned Destination is set in Haiti and, as such, incorporates many observations about Haitian culture that lend to a greater understanding of that world; including events surrounding the 2010 earthquake and its aftermath; one of the central happenings in the story.
Leito, the protagonist, observes his world in the first person as an earthquake hits and challenges his ability to not only stay alive, but to rescue others. Although his entire family has survived, this is only the beginning of a journey that began in 2007 which has led him to this point.
The next chapter uses the third person to describe an outbreak of violence that destroys a neighborhood and many families. People facing grief and horrible pain question the reason behind the seemingly random gunfire, which boils down to gangs and illicit activities.
"C’est la vie, (that’s life)” the neighbor said before he sighed and patted Claude’s shoulder." But is it? What refuge does innocence and youth have when violence is all but condoned by those who should be protecting the citizens of Haiti? "Houses built right next to houses, no road access in those slums, and lack of intel made handling that conflict an impossible task for an underpaid and unequipped police department. The cops took a step back and watched the two gangs kill each other. The cops felt there were no innocent victims here. The victims were all accomplices, either by implication or by not sharing information with the police."
As the undercurrents, influences, magic potions and weapons, and beliefs of Haiti's peoples swirl around victims and survivors alike, readers are drawn into a cultural environment that juxtaposes political and social strife with romance, evolving connections, and the destinies of very different individuals who strive to become something more than their surroundings.
Friendships and conflicts within them, shame, revenge and murder permeate a storyline where Leito, Ronald, Claude and others face their own encounters with destiny and the best and worst Haiti has to offer these young men. Do they live in paradise, or hell? What influences shape an assassin or a gang member, and what demons evolve from life's pressures and decisions, returning time and again to haunt the narrator? Are new beginnings truly possible?
Readers seeking a potent story packed with insights into Haitian culture and society will find Unplanned Destination relates a powerful journey that weaves its way from gang interactions and murder to magic, offering a realistic taste of the country's passions and pleasures that few stories can equal.
Return to Index
ASIN: B073DDV32P $0.99 ebook
At first The Writer's Bloom seems to revolve around a writing reality show that involves its contestants in a competition for success; but in actuality, it offers more than this. The plot thickens to include a scientist's experiment with a strange opportunity to relive (and possibly revise) lives, and so the fifteen participants who enter this talent event find themselves embarking on quests through parallel worlds.
The replica world they've entered can help them find their heart's desire and ambition, or it can point out the way to faith, light, and something bigger than protagonist Saanvi could ever have imagined. Her foray into this strange new universe leads readers into a lively chronicle of self-examination, higher purpose, and mystery as she attempts to answer the question "What do you call living?" An "adventurous nightmare" evolves as Saanvi learns new lessons she's charged with sharing with the world - if she can figure out the wisdom from the replica universe relates to the rest of her life in the 'real' world.
Writers often get lost in their stories. But in this case, Saanvi can't afford to wander, and she and those who have experienced this unusual quest are charged with bringing important insights to light: "I talked a lot about ‘The Pursuit’; that pursuit of a dream would add meaning to our lives, that every second of following my dream would be a moment of revelation with self, with life, and that pursuit of a right thing always entails pursuit of happiness. But, I missed a very important thing. Did you wonder what would constitute your dream? What would the ‘right’ thing be? How would you decide your pursuit?"
Don't forget that The Writer's Bloom is a competition - one involving revised lives, new abilities, and new possibilities which could prove bigger prizes than what had initially been promised.
Fiction readers who enjoy solid doses of philosophical, moral and ethical, and spiritual reflection in their pieces, with a dose of sci-fi added in for good mix, will find The Writer's Bloom an extraordinary piece which does an excellent job of synthesizing all these facets into its unusual tale. It's rare to see inspirational fiction and sci-fi intersect so effectively; but this is well achieved here, with the story of a scientist whose ultimate goal is to pinpoint the purpose of life itself.
The Writer's Bloom
Return to Index
Power of Spiritual Assets for Resilience
to Trauma and Stress
Daniel D. Maurer
Mount Curve Press
9780997328608 $16.95 Paperback, $6.95 Ebook
Endure draws important connections between spirituality and handling trauma, gathering real-world stories of resilience told by those who turned to their belief systems for support in times of crisis.
The focus narrows these topics even further to discuss how belief systems affect the recovery process, explaining how faith lends not only support but an ability to process and respond to disaster and come to terms with life in the face of inconceivable circumstances.
Author Daniel Maurer features his own story as he shares how faith and self-inspection contributed to his recovery process and a journey that led him to interview individuals around the world from diverse belief systems, documenting the moments when all hope was lost and the circumstances surrounding when hope was regained.
From those born into poor families who faced flights from oppression and who still suffer ("I consider that God perhaps did not save us so much from the death in Syria, but needs us to endure more trials, more suffering, here in Greece. For what, though? I don't see any answers.") to accounts of how small acts of kindness provide encouragement, these stories represent very singular accounts of life struggles and the process of finding meaning from faith in the most dire of situations, emphasizing the idea of the transformative powers of faith and the notion of how spiritual assets can be collected and employed throughout life, much like a savings account.
The term 'assets' is typically used in a business sense; but here it becomes a powerful psychological tool to encourage positive change. How can positive change be achieved from death, disaster, and life challenges? In documenting exactly how others have gathered and employed their spiritual assets, Daniel D. Maurer succeeds in presenting a satisfying blend of memoir and an inspirational spiritual guide that shows how to flourish from virtually anything.
Endure is highly recommended for spiritual self-help readers interested in both self-inspection and applied religious processes.
Endure: The Power of Spiritual Assets for Resilience to Trauma and Stress
Return to Index
The Fearless Path
Plenty of self-help books on the market advocate spiritual awakening, success, or elements of both; but few can claim the perspective and approach of The Fearless Path: What a Movie Stuntman's Spiritual Awakening Can Teach You About Success, a survey that comes, surprisingly, from a movie stuntman whose spiritual awakening led to a revised vision of the world and his place in it after climbing a remote mountain.
Part autobiography, part self-help guide, and with more than a dash of spiritual reflection and self-awareness, The Fearless Path charts an unusual path towards success that takes the foundations of the author's early work as a stuntman and translates it into the kind of gritty determination that leads to overall success in life.
In combining what transformed his perspective on that mountain with the lessons learned from his daredevil life before that point, Curtis Rivers provides a road map to the methods of his journeys; not just the course itself. This approach allows fellow pilgrims to understand the process of real change: "...you attract into your fabulous life the things you think about consistently. With enough thought, with enough intent, the feelings push through from your weak conscious mind to your infinitely powerful subconscious mind. Once the seed is planted in the fertile soil of your subconscious mind, you must water the seed, you must take action, but the thought will become reality, as sure as spring follows winter."
Without the autobiographical elements, The Fearless Path could all too easily have become a lecture. By including his "you are there" experiences both on and off the mountain, Rivers provides readers with a real opportunity for understanding the transformative process itself - and that is a gift highly recommended for biography readers, those on spiritual paths, and those seeking to translate self-help or spiritual concepts into daily living.
The Fearless Path
Return to Index
Inspired Discourses presents reflections on God and greatness in a collection filled with references to Islam, tributes to caliphs, and insights on Islamic perspectives of life's tragedies and events, and is an especially recommended, inspirational pick for followers of Islam already well versed in its foundation concepts.
The first thing to note about these reflections is their special admonitions to Muslims to better understand not only the spiritual foundations of Islam, but the historical, social and political impact of its presence in their modern lives. Readers should thus expect discourses that offer insights, enlightenment, and much food for thought about a range of events and issues which create new understandings of Islam's active presence in the world (i.e.: "The appointment of Abu Bakar as caliph wasn't through elections/but was simply taking a pledge or an oath of allegiance/To consider it as a modern voting process/is ignorance to Islam's original sources/Were the first four rightly guided caliphs politicians?/ If yes, they wouldn't have earned such reverence/They were men of the highest standard of excellence/who never desired societal status or prominence ...").
This is not to say that spirituality isn't a key component of these discourses: the faith-based survey incorporates this at a basic level ("A Muslim should believe in goodness's eventual victory/Although it's in contradiction with the present history/God lives in both serial time and eternity/The glorious Quran affirms its possibility..."). It is a tribute to Aadil Farook's approach that these insights take on wider applications and meaning as they trace the history and impact of Muhammad and his followers in the world, providing verses rooted in historical facts, spiritual evolutionary processes, and individual pursuits of God: "Many companions were enlightened by Muhammad's radiant aura/Yet none was granted as much supervision as Ali Al-Murtaza/At 10, he was mature enough to accept Islam/Who knew what wonders lied in his palm/He grew into a man of innumerable shining traits..."
By now, through just these few examples, it should be evident that Inspired Discourses cannot lay claim to being a 'poetry collection' per say, but is a series of lyrical discussions and tributes that outline some of the most deeply-held tenants of Islam, showing how different people reflected and fostered the growth of Islam in the world. These tributes don't limit themselves to ancient history, but include reflections on modern individuals, as in the poem 'Junaid Jamshed: 1964-2016,' about a famous Pakistani pop star who devoted his life to Islam. Written after his death, it reveals the icon's impact, through his music and presence in the world, as a reflection of Islamic faith: "The world may remember you as a musical icon/But preachers will mention you as Iqbal's falcon..."
But, why write such a treatise? What motivates the heart and mind of the author to produce these reflections? Appropriately, this question is answered in 'My Autobiography', a personal reflection that remarks on those who have "stabbed in my heart" without motivation, who have made fun of his poetry, and who have attempted to thwart an artistic and spiritual journey. This piece should ideally be at the opening of this collection because it powerfully and succinctly captures the drive behind producing both this and a prior gathering: "For me, there is no art for art's sake/But a higher purpose I won't forsake/How many English Poets have chosen Islam as the aim of expression?/How many people write for years without a word of appreciation?/The laymen consider me firing empty guns in the dark/But scholars claim my works possess a special spark."
If all poetry collections - particularly those which held deeper reflections about life and spirit - were to include such an opener, they would be more clearly understood and appreciated by their audiences right from the start.
The purpose is clearly crafted in this revealing introduction: "My contributions to Islamic Thought aren't for the masses at all/But for thinkers who crave for Muslims to rise after their fall/For some people, religion does turn them into celebrities/But for me, it's a thankless job with no support or ease..."
Even more revealing is the inclusion of a Q&A interview with the poet/author, which hopefully will conclude the effort and which also sums up the many perceptions and contentions of Islam which were outlined throughout the collection:
"Q. If there would have been any prophet after Muhammad, who would it be?
Q. What is the most absurd error?
A. Understanding Quran without reference to Sunnah.
Q. What is the biggest delusion?
A. The aspiration of bringing a revolution in the society without bringing a change within one's own self."
The result is a commanding, authoritative collection which is 'neither fish nor fowl' - not strictly a literary poetry collection; but incorporating the best strategies and powerful language of free verse into a wider-ranging celebration of and tribute to Islam and those who have walked its path to change the world as well as their own hearts and minds.
Very highly recommended for those with prior background in the faith who seek a blend of inspiration, history, admonition, and explanation all packaged into a lyrical tribute that virtually sings of human efforts to embrace God.
Return to Index
James G. Ward
Greenleaf Book Group Press
New Directions: Successful Strategies for Career, the Workplace, and Personal Growth offers employees a different approach to viewing their careers and work lives: considering one's career as a series of new directions rather than a singular goal or set course.
Most workers who stay employed will transition at least several times in the course of their lives. New Directions points out that this healthy and inevitable process of change can be anticipated and managed through periodic self-assessments and revised game plans, showing job seekers how to network, stay connected, and keep current and strong in their résumés and strengths.
There are some usual approaches to job hunting that are covered in most career advice books - networking, handling interview questions, how to search for the right position - but this isn't just another job hunter's guide. Its purpose is to move beyond 'how to land a job' advice to help workers foster new attitudes about work and career for better workplace habits and job transition advance planning.
Like everything else in life, a positive outcome is influenced by a combination of attitude and proactive planning. New Directions documents how to meld personal growth objectives and processes with career management in a guide that advocates actively seeking out and honing new directions throughout one's working life, whether it be in one's existing workplace or in pursuing a replacement position.
No worker should be without this book, which pairs advice with vignettes and first-person opinions to make for a lively, engrossing advice guide.
Return to Index
Our Game Too: Asian Pacific
Americans in Major League
Dr. Billy W. Simpson & Dr. Jennifer Simpson
Elevation Book Publishing
978-1-943904-11-2 (hc) $26.95
Our Game Too: Asian Pacific Americans in Major League Baseball comes from an avid baseball player, enthusiast, and "baseball dad" and his wife (also an enthusiast of the sport), who provide an important chronicle in the history of the sport. Their account details the history of diversity in the sport with a focus on Asian Americans, filling in many gaps not commonly addressed in other accounts of racial issues in baseball: "While Robinson helped pave the way for all minority baseball players, the color barriers that existed for players of Latino and Asian backgrounds followed a very different timeline. Before 1947, MLB teams looking for talent would sometimes turn to Latino or Native American players who were light-skinned enough to be deemed “acceptable” by the baseball establishment, or at least acceptable enough to be overlooked as violators of the color barrier. While some light-skinned Latino players were permitted to play in MLB, the darker skinned players were forced to play in the Negro Leagues."
This history of Asians and Asian Pacific-Americans in Major League baseball is accompanied by vignettes and discussions of player experiences, adding an extra, personal dimension to the perspectives and focus of these players.
The survey of on how various Asian and Asian Pacific players slowly challenged the sport's prejudices through their extraordinary playing includes statistics and descriptions particular to the baseball environment, so fans who have the methods and science of baseball well in hand will find this a lively discussion: "Murakami would return to the Giants again in 1965, going 4- 1 in forty-five appearances (almost all in relief), with an ERA of 3.75 while picking up eight saves. Murakami had certainly proven his ability to pitch successfully at the Major League level in the United States, and to many MLB fans, this bolstered their opinion of the Japanese Pacific League, which had been considered by many Americans to only be at a mid-minor league level. Murakami’s success caused them to rethink that notion. The positive change Murakami’s success brought about regarding the way Japanese leagues and players were perceived by Major League baseball cannot be overstated."
As readers review the achievements of generations of players who came from different roots, from Thailand to Hawaii to Vietnam, the authors comment on the growth of diversity in the sport, document obstacles and successful outcomes which have propelled Asian players into the spotlight of baseball history, and make a case for initiatives that encourage young players to enter the field and make their marks on what began as a traditionally Anglo sport. Color photos of players in action pepper the biographical sketches of key and up-and-coming players, adding high-quality visual embellishment to an already-powerful survey.
Other books have toppled the barrier for black players: it's about time the same happened for Asian and Asian Pacific baseball greats. Our Game Too's blend of biographies, baseball statistics, diversity efforts and lively descriptions of players belongs in any collection strong in not just baseball history, but in civil rights and cultural inspections of American society.
It's very, very highly recommended.
Our Game Too: Asian Pacific Americans in Major League Baseball
Return to Index
Postmodern Deconstruction Madhouse is a short story collection that is not for the faint of heart, but for readers who enjoy complex, multi-faceted scenarios, diverse and intriguing characters, and big words that will send a number of readers searching out their definitions.
Two of these seven stories represent two facets of the book's title, in different parts; where the others take widely different approaches in providing idiosyncratic and strange stories that each involve unexpected endings that somehow set the stage for the next story without holding obvious threads of connection.
Take the introductory 'The Fizz Notorio,' for example. Eve Patricia accepts an introductory job after graduating from college that challenges her with notions of business proxemics (look it up) and brings her to a dalliance with a man twice her age.
The psychology of this older man's success is exquisitely described in just one example of the language Peter Quinones employs to supercharge his stories with extraordinary descriptions and thought-provoking insights: "Men of limited force and power in the Johnson have to assess, from their own individual vantage point, how this will impact upon a relationship with any given woman – not with women in general, in archetype or Platonic Form, but very specifically with this woman here or that one over there. Harshwine of necessity had made himself a master of the process by his middle forties. He’d learned that he could pack a wallop with a cornucopia of women through showmanship and spectacle – he didn’t need Viagra or Cialis."
As readers move through Harshwine's dazzling 'arsenal of seduction' and smart, twenty-four-year-old Eve's attraction to his jazzy lifestyle and approach to the world, readers become immersed in her experiences through descriptive phrases that are succinct, unexpected, and deliciously tantalizing: "In spite of, almost in defiance of, the ferine weather she felt not at all chilly. The steam in the apartment blasted through the pipes with the sensory vigor of a stalking leopard."
Where does postmodernism enter into this scenario? It lies in a sexy whisper on the street that excites Eve with its intellectual depth - the same excitement readers will feel as they move through a strange world replete with Chinese fortune cookies at every turn, an odd character named Prockahoon, and a journey through harsh streets that leads to a complete and final surprise.
Contrast this with the surprising format and contents of the first segment of the title story 'Postmodern Deconstruction Madhouse (1)', which contains a hundred "explorations of the one sentence short story" that challenge readers with a range of scenarios, from "She told me “I like Abstract Expressionism, foreign films, and Ornette Coleman” – I subtly gazed around the room, looking for an exit." to "Polly Jupiter spent the summer laying around the pool, mixing vegetable juices in a blender and moaning fatalistically about fatalism." This is just one example of just how diverse this collection is, in its approach.
The philosophy of deconstruction forms the basis of many postmodern ideas today; but much discussion of this has been limited to thinkers. Deconstruction typically examines binary oppositions and contrasts their differences; whereas postmodernism embraces skepticism and outlines social influences on ideals of knowledge and truth.
These short stories add psychological depth into an already-complex picture, but portray scenarios and characters with a steady attention to twists of tale, irony, and details that readers won't expect. Despite the sprinkling of big words, the stories remain quite accessible to average audiences - but in all fairness, it's the above-average readers with some prior, light experience in the mechanisms of irony and observation who will gain the most from these delightful vignettes which capture the diverse perspectives of a range of intriguing characters.
Deconstruction Madhouse is especially,
highly recommended for short story enthusiasts seeking the depth of
philosophical and psychological inspection combined with social
Postmodern Deconstruction Madhouse
Return to Index
Taste of Bridge
Master Point Press
There are plenty of bridge books on the market which largely discuss strategy and playing approaches for those who already have the basics of the game well in hand; but A Taste of Bridge is different, appealing to the bare-bones newcomer with no prior familiarity with the game. What sets this apart from other introductions is its process of synthesizing bridge into six easy lessons, which were developed and tested on thousands of students at the nation’s largest bridge club.
From this, potential players should discern that their first venture into the world of bridge will be easier than with other guides. Unlike competitors, it's a beginner's course that has been "tinkered with, kicked around, and field-tested for over thirty years. It has introduced thousands to the game. The course is fun and it works!"
The key word in this description (and in A Taste of Bridge) is 'fun,' and this is emphasized throughout the course, which opens with a quick reminiscence of playing a childhood card game called War, a "game of tricks" much like bridge.
As basic terminology is explained, formal and informal methods of picking partners reviewed, and bridge 'tricks' covered, readers enjoy black and white images peppered into a lively discussion of the game's objectives and intricacies: "Look at the cards again. Couldn't you have guessed right away that South would win the trick, simply because she happened to hold the highest card? Yes, but it isn't just South who wins. North wins as well, because North and South are partners."
As simple terminology and the basics of the game evolve into more complex topics, readers are treated to vigorous discussions that clarify the underlying meaning and fun routines of bridge.
Plenty of introductions and advanced strategy guides to bridge are on the market; but if new players seek an energetic survey designed to add fun into the game, then there's no better introduction to turn to than A Taste of Bridge, which offers fine insights in an accessible, entertaining manner.
A Taste of Bridge
Return to Index
Treasure Hunt: Follow Your Inner Clues to Find True Success comes from a businessman and investor who takes an unusual approach to success: recognizing and using "inner clues" to identify overlooked opportunities. This is unusual in an industry which eschews feelings in favor of logical approaches and assessment processes; but as Treasure Hunt shows, there is a method to this madness - and, it works.
Chapters deliver on their promise of treasure as Rizwan Virk shows readers how to understand and apply the latest ideas of quantum physics to provide new avenues to understanding work and satisfaction, and how to gain the most from both pursuits.
From clues provided by "big dreams" to developing the kind of personal 'Book of Clues' that actually can be introduced to and respected in a board meeting, chapters outline a process that involves a bit of challenge on the part of a typical business reader: to lay aside presumption and routines contrary to the intuitive process to allow these possibilities to be seen, recognized, and applied in a concrete fashion.
And lest the business reader think these processes run counter to business pursuits, Rizwan Virk advises: "After all, most of us have careers that require working with other people and convincing them to go along with us if we have a hunch or clue that we think should be followed."
Whether these clues come from self-examination, big dreams, or intuitive access is irrelevant: what is key to success, here, is the method of recognizing, assessing, and applying them - and in this, Treasure Hunt excels.
It's a shame that many non-intuitive business folk likely will consider this title 'too new age' to consult, because there are indeed a wealth of treasures, here. The winners of this hunt will be those open to different approaches to tapping into one's hidden powers - this audience will discover the treasure lies not so much in the end result, but in the hunt and process described so methodically and specifically by Rizwan Virk in a book that promises many rich results.
Return to Index
in Lilacs: In
the Aftermath of the
9781946124036 16.95 (paperback); $9.95 (kindle)
The setting takes place outside of Hamburg, Germany, after World War II. Fourteen-year-old Daniel has barely survived various concentration camps and he's in a field hospital still struggling to survive and recover. How can a young adult on the cusp of death recover from devastating physical and psychological wounds?
More so than most accounts of post-World War II, An Epiphany in Lilacs offers a powerful survey of post-traumatic stress syndrome and the lengthy and challenging process of healing from wartime atrocities, as seen from a young man who is on the brink of adulthood; yet still a child in many ways.
The choices he makes at this point are poignant and reflective of the experiences of Displaced People ('DPs') who occupied these camps and found their lives and world in shambles, with no clear path to reconstruction in the face of chaos and confusion.
While all these sound like adult themes, the special pleasure of An Epiphany in Lilacs is Iris Dorbian's ability to reflect the perspective of a juvenile as he struggles to gain a new lease on life with revised perspectives and fresh goals. That the story line carefully refutes popular myths (such as those that most Germans were Nazis) only enhances its lessons and stories of courage, diversity, and how one not only survives but grows from world-changing devastation.
As the story adds characters and focuses on their different approaches to healing ("Just as Daniel needed to talk about the past to help him move on, Silka preferred to think about today and the future. That was how he chose to heal and from one survivor to another, there was nothing wrong about that."), young adults receive important lessons that personalize the World War II experience on all sides in the aftermath of war.
As Daniel confronts how his experiences have conflicted with his values and changed his approaches to life ("It made sense given their history that stemmed from way back before the war. And yet, underneath his immature bravado and petulance, Daniel was an insecure and scared kid. If his mother were here, she would no doubt take him to task for being so uncouth and uncivil toward Wolfson."), he tackles the foundations of his heritage, his missing family, and his belief systems, bringing young readers along for a thought-provoking survey that will raise many questions suitable for classroom discussion.
An Epiphany in Lilacs is not only a tribute to the DPs who physically survived the war and were challenged to mentally recover and take a new road in life; but is a powerful survey of the roots and concepts of Zionism and the long path one teen takes to rediscover meaning in his world.
It's highly recommended as not only an intrinsic addition to any teen reading The Diary of Anne Frank and similar nonfiction stories, but for classrooms looking for discussion materials specific to the experiences of Displaced Persons in the aftermath of the war.
An Epiphany in Lilacs: In the Aftermath of the Camps
Return to Index
Girl Who Saved Ghosts
The Unbelievables Book 2
Beckett Publishing Group
Book 1 of 'The Unbelievables' young adult supernatural timeslip mystery series introduces protagonist Kat, a high school student at McTernan Academy assigned the daunting task of investigating a grisly murder and a family puzzle. But Kat didn't just conduct her research in libraries: she spent her summer in a castle and traveled back through time in an effort to solve the mystery.
After all this, in Book 2, she's looking forward to a normal, drama-free year at school; but she can't ignore the pleas of a young ghost who begs for her help, and soon she uncovers something even ghosts are afraid of - an evil Dark One who wants to contribute to Kat's demise.
As supernatural encounters turn into horror and immerse Kat in a deadly dilemma, she finds she can no longer work with either the spirits or her abilities, yet finds herself drawn into their world in a strange new way that defies her attempts to survive.
As Kat learns she must find a new road between working with ghosts or rejecting them, she also discovers that time is the one thing she and Evan and helpful ghost Toria need more of - and probably don't have.
The Girl Who Saved Ghosts provides quite a different set of dilemmas and moral conundrums surrounding a girl's association with spirits and the price she pays for it, making for a sweeping blend of action and thought-provoking insights that crosses genres between a mystery, a supernatural thriller, and a timeslip saga. The dual story of ghost Toria's life and dilemma is a satisfying adjunct to the contemporary Kat's world, and is nicely and seamlessly injected into the plot to add an extra degree of intrigue.
The Girl Who Saved Ghosts's primarily audience will be young adults who like unusual stories of ghostly encounters; but adults who regularly dip into the YA category for leisure reads and who seek multifaceted stories will welcome the different approach and strong character of Kat, who finds her longest-held beliefs challenged by a force that goes beyond the spirit realm she's become familiar with.
(It should also be noted that because this is part of a series, it also includes a cliff-hanger paving the way for more books. Readers who appreciate Kat's encounters in these two books can look forward to more adventures.)
The Girl Who Saved Ghosts The Unbelievables Book 2
Return to Index
The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts
The Unbelievables Book 1
Beckett Publishing Group
Kat is a girl who deliberately ignores ghosts not because she doesn't believe in them, but because she's had way too much experience with them in the past. Unfortunately, her determination to ignore them isn't working; especially when she visits a ghost-ridden island that makes it impossible for her to turn her back on these haunting encounters.
Kat's story involves not just ghosts, but time travel, love, a murder mystery, and the kind of ghostly encounter that turns possession into an idea that can be used by both Kat and her ghostly pursuers: "There hadn’t been any warning. No sense of a ghost emerging. If she was a ghost. I wondered for a moment if maybe she was a spirit who had somehow managed to suck me into the moment she was doomed to repeat. But she wasn’t like any of the spirits I’d known. They were weak, and she definitely wasn’t weak. And I wasn’t just in her reality—I was her."
Compelled to investigate an 1886 murder mystery involving the disappearance of newlyweds on their wedding night on the small island of Acacia, Kat and her research partner Evan find themselves confronting ‘unbelievables,’ as they not only journey into the past, but tackle a mystery which literally takes over their lives.
There's so much at stake in her actions; not the least of which involves becoming an 'unbeliever' in the presences that have always been a part of her world: "You have to stop believing in us. You have to deny that ghosts exist. You have to refuse to let them into your reality.” Push them all away? They'd been by my side all my life." And if she does succeed in becoming an unbeliever, what will happen to the ghosts she's helped all her life?
Timeslip genre reads typically involve some form of mystery and an effort to return to one's own timeline; but an added dose of complexity and supernatural encounters in The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts sets it apart from most other young adult timeslip adventures. The complexity lies in a host of characters, including ancestors that interact easily with Kat, and who hold special interests and purposes that contribute to the story line. While this approach may stymie those who expected a more linear, simpler production, these special interests add depth to the story.
And while the intended audience is young adult, given the protagonist is a high school senior, The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts should not be ignored by adults who look for supernatural thrillers that are well-drawn, multifaceted, and compelling - especially those who choose YA tales for leisure reading. All ages will readily be attracted to Kat's encounters and conundrums, and will find its characters nicely detailed, its tension well drawn, and many underlying currents relating to belief and altruistic efforts.
The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts The Unbelievables Book 1
Return to Index
Kathleen Quigley Caputo
Hado Bear, Inc.
Hado Bear's Secret will reach kids ages 4 and older with a picture book story of a stuffed polar bear who lives in a gift shop and waits for somebody to buy him. Many kids pass him up for other kinds of toys, so Hado Bear is lonely and feels unwanted. Why isn't anybody buying him? Eventually someone does buy him, and he goes home with a new family; but when should he tell them his big secret?
Gorgeous, colorful illustrations by Melanie Hall accompany a gentle tale that invites adults interested in read-alouds to choose this for young children. Such interaction assures that the more ethereal message in the story can be discussed and absorbed by this audience: "Aunt Donna, do you remember telling me about ‘Hado’ ? You said our lives are all made out of something that we cannot see. It is our life energy. Energy is always working inside of us, always in motion. That’s why our heart beats and why we can breathe and do all the things we do. The Japanese have a word for that invisible life energy, the word is Hado.” “That’s right, Janine,” Aunt Donna answered. “Just as a mirror reflects what we look like back to us, our thoughts and words are reflected back to our life energy, our Hado. Our good thoughts and words make our Hado strong and happy, attracting good things to us. Meanwhile, our negative thoughts and words can make us feel weak and sad.”
One doesn't expect such a contemplative tone in a children's picture book; but that's one of the exceptional features of Hado Bear's Secret: an opportunity for adults to open a discourse on the power of positive thinking to an age group that usually doesn't receive such messages in a simple enough form to be understandable or compelling.
Hado Bear's Secret isn't really about the bear's special ability - it's about his special, encouraging message which should be an intrinsic part of any youngster's growth, helped along by this book. It's a powerful, uplifting message indeed; backed by the force of a stuffed bear who is different, special, and who imparts a key message about love and acceptance to his new family.
Hado Bear's story is highly recommended as a standout for children and parents who would choose a picture book for its message as much as its entertainment value and fine visual presentation.
Hado Bear's Secret
Return to Index
Black Opal Books
ASIN: B073QB9BRW $3.99
Myth and Punishment charts a mission undertaken by a preteen East Indian girl, Adina, who has long been told the family legend of how a family jewel was offered to the Hindu gods in exchange for her birth. The other family jewels were sold off; so even though she had an inheritance, she needs to find the single largest, missing jewel if she's to have anything for her future. Resentful of the circumstances which have led to her broken family ties and the squandering of her birthright, Adina embarks on a quest supported, in an unusual manner, by her laptop computer and her connections to the gods. An unusual blend of mythology, high technology, and quest results.
It's difficult to immediately peg the reader of Myth and Punishment: Adina's meditations, search for a missing family heirloom, and interactions with various gods contacted via her laptop all seem to be higher-level thinking and action than a story directed to pre-teens. Indeed, more advanced young adult readers will be the likely audiences of a narrative which delves into the realms and mythology of Shiva, Ganesha, Kali, and the creation and avatar stories of India.
There's also a healthy dose of humor to the tale as Adina contacts not only these gods but her mother, via laptop, and learns about truth, lies, victims, and whistleblowers.
All this is heady, higher-level thinking for twelve-year-olds; but perfect reading for teens ages thirteen to fifteen who will appreciate not only the depth of attention given to Indian culture and mythology, but the moral and ethical dilemmas Adina faces in the course of her journey.
As miracles and myths blend during Adina's exploration of her heritage, her culture, and the missing jewel in her life, she absorbs not only Hindu traditions, but new insights about the meaning of fights for equality as experienced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, struggles for justice, and the meaning and impact of failed attempts at meeting goals.
It's unusual to find such a thought-provoking juxtaposition of meditative reflection, history and culture, and social insights in a young adult read, but Myth and Punishment does a fine job of exploring the evolution of a cause that affects not only one girl's family, but her world. Young adult readers seeking stories well infused with Indian myths and their connections to modern life will find Myth and Punishment compelling and thought-provoking, offering a degree of social, political and psychological insights not usually seen in young adult fiction.
Myth and Punishment
Return to Index
Off the Hook: A Christmas
John Arvai III
Light the Lamp Publishing
Kindle - 9780997941739 / $2.99 https://www.amazon.com/dp/
Paperback - 9780997941708 / $14.99
Hardback - 9780997941715 / $15.39 (Ingram Spark, wholesale); $21.99 (retail on various sites)
Any child who has ever wondered why there are ornaments on a Christmas tree, along with parents seeking refreshingly original read-aloud holiday stories, will find this whimsical tale of "hooked helpers" who hang out disguised as ornaments by day, only to spring off their branches as holiday helpers by night, makes for an entertaining, fun read.
Who, after all, fixes the tree lights, or makes sure the tree stand is stable? Who activates the tree's secret star topper to guide Santa to the right house? Some may say it's Dad; but in this case, it's helpful ornaments. So what happens when things go awry one Christmas, and the beacon vanishes - does that mean Christmas can't come?
Off the Hook is a holiday adventure tale that will delight picture book readers and their read-aloud parental helpers for two reasons: its color drawings are exquisitely detailed and well-done, and its story line is far different than the usual holiday giving approach to Christmas.
As the adventure unfolds, kids learn that the ornament brigade is actually replete with renegades in the form of homemade ornaments determined to make their presence known, instigating a struggle for control of the tree and a snowy expedition made on toy shovels.
The delight of Off the Hook lies in its creative approaches in a plot that is refreshingly unpredictable. The uniqueness of John Arvai III's approach has not gone unheralded: to date, Off the Hook has enjoyed recognition from a wide range of national awards, winning the Grand Prize at the Holiday Book Festival, 2017; the National Indie Excellence Awards, 2017; Honorable Mentions as Foreword's INDIES Book Of The Year, 2016, at the Los Angeles Book Festival, 2017 and again at the Hollywood Book Festival, 2017; and enjoying 5 Stars as a Readers' Favorite, 2016.
The result is an attention-grabbing, fun story that all ages will appreciate as a delectably original, creative new Christmas tale.
Off the Hook: A Christmas Ornament Adventure
Return to Index
When two twelve-year-old children, Lucy and Paddy Hendricks, inadvertently run afoul of a well-laid plot in The Pirate of Janaconda Island, adventure begins and danger looms - but Lucy and Paddy aren't anticipating an action-filled summer. They feel they are being banished to a boring island with little to do on a "crummy rock heap in the middle of nowhere."
This changes when the kids experience a near-accident as soon as they arrive. Add a creepy old mansion that is to be their new home and the option of using a boat and suddenly a boring summer becomes exciting. As their anticipation of boredom turns to a series of adventures, threats, and intrigue, Lucy and Paddy go caving, become involved in a real-world treasure hunt, and face secrets that tie their house to a present-day mystery.
Advanced elementary to middle school readers will appreciate the intrigue and mystery which permeate this realistic story of two kids who find more trouble than they'd bargained for when they embark on a treasure hunt that places them at odds with other searchers.
Dialogue is well done, adult interventions and actions juxtapose nicely with the siblings' efforts, and young readers will become immersed in a series of puzzling clues that are riveting and keep readers guessing until the end.
Unlike some treasure-oriented mysteries for kids, Warren Firschein rounds out his story with adult purposes and perspectives and a realistic approach where the kids don't always act independently, but have steady interactions with parents and outsiders alike.
The result is an engrossing mystery highly recommended for kids who live for tales of treasure and intrigue.
The Pirate of Janaconda Island
Return to Index