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General Fiction

Symphony of Sorrow and Joy by Bridget McGowan

threestars

51s71ETQ+vL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Symphony of Sorrow and Joy by Bridget McGowan is an easy-read romance novel about Rachel Trent and Nicholas Keating. The novel begins with Rachel, heartbroken from her lack of fulfilling love in her life and recently failed relationship. Every guy she meets ends up leaving her. Rachel happens to fall in the snow, and is helped to her feet by a handsome gentleman. This man is Nicholas Keating, a famous violin player. As the two grow closer, she is skeptical of him and unsure how long he will be around. Although Nicholas’ talent in music, his Welsh accent, and his caring attitude are attractive to Rachel, she struggles to let go of the insecurity around his long term commitment. The two fall in love quickly, and within a span of a couple months, are meeting one another’s family and exchanging “I love you”. Jean, Nicholas’ sister, does not approve of the two’s romance and does her best to make sure Rachel knows it. Rachel takes on Jean, choosing to confront her about her dislike, and the two are able to have it resolved. As both Nicholas and Rachel’s romance deepens, and Rachel’s trust in Nicholas and his commitment to the long term begins to build. The two engage and marry.

Bridget McGowan offers a solid romance story, but the story lacks depth. The love between Nicholas and Rachel is cute and fun, but the amount of emotional baggage from both characters is breezed over or quickly resolved. Also, the change in character POV is sudden; the book starts out with eighty pages of Rachel in first person, and without warning, switches to Nicholas at the start of a new section. The story then inconsistently flip-flops between the two for the rest of the novel. Nicholas’ sections do not add any background information or any thrill, but rather confusion as to why his POV is included. Overall, this story is well-paced and captures the difficulty of falling in love after many failed attempts and broken hearts.

 

Che’s Last Stand by William E. Dempsey

four stars

William Dempsey’s latest military historical fiction novel follows the adventures of CIA members Mike Stafford and Felix Molina as they work tirelessly to take down communist Cuba in the 1960s. Both veterans in the CIA, Mike and Felix rely on their insider knowledge of Cuba as well as the loyalty of each other and their fellow Americans to travel the world and defend American values against the threat of communism. This adventures revolves around the take out of Ernesto Guevara, a Cuban in charge of spreading communism into Bolivia and the Congo. Mike and Felix continually risk themselves and sacrifice their personal relationships in order to stop Che and his soldiers from gaining influence in regions vulnerable to communism. With action, adventure, romance, and international travel, Mike and Felix triumph over their communist enemies around the world.

William Dempsey combines both historical and fictional characters to create a vivid and intriguing world where the threat to America is very real. The cast of characters provides both humor and depth to Mike and Felix’s journey to bring down Che. The author’s extensive knowledge of the time period and the many military and CIA operations lend credibility and authenticity to the plot. While the main characters do seem invincible, the adventures are sill relatable. The story in general would benefit from stronger female characters. The female characters are one dimensional and only as relevant as their relationship to their father, brother, husband, or lover. They are often passive to the plot but if they had more varied, less traditional roles the plot would becomes more nuanced. History buffs and military adventure readers of all ages will enjoy this fast paced account of the turbulent 1960s through the eyes of two CIA members.

 

The Honourable Catherine by Tom Edwards

5redstars

cathThe Honourable Catherine by Tom Edwards is set in England in the early 1900’s and stretches through to the First World War. The book would work in any time period, however, because of Edwards’ flair for action-packed storytelling and the strong connections he weaves between his characters. The book follows the children of Sir Charles and Lady Jane Chumley—Christopher and his younger sister Catherine, who he lovingly calls Poppet. The title of the book seems like a misnomer, if only because the core of the book explores the tremendous and powerful bond between both of the children (not just Catherine), through childhood and beyond. Indeed, the affection Edwards portrays between Cat and Chris could inspire soft-hearted readers to dial a sibling to share an “I miss you.”

The Chumley children are born in the lap of luxury, and could have easily made them spoiled and bad-tempered, but they are instead completely unpretentious, hard-working and decent. Catherine takes care of her brother as he is ailing with influenza, and it inspires her to pursue medicine and become a doctor; Charles plays war games with his father and sister, and pursues a career in the military. All of the successes that the children earn in the tale are not handed to them; they are because of great bravery, brazenness and general chutzpah that is very much admirable. The great war deals a terrible blow to the Chumley family, but the connection between Catherine and her brother manages to keep hope alive. Cat helps to make a satisfying conclusion for two characters that readers will find very easy to love.

 

The Day After by Jerri Blair

four stars

Beginning in the 1970’s in the wake of the free love movement and on the cusp of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, The Day After by Jerri Blair offers a unique perspective on time, history, and the nature of connection. In setting the stage for the novel, Blair describes the mass exodus of the hippies from their font in San Francisco—landing finally on the descriptions of Katimla—a gorgeous haven in the midst of the Oregon mountains—and the Om Ranch, which occupies the other side of the valley. Ma Bebe, the original settler of the eastern half of the mountain paradise and a “living monument to the pioneer spirit that changed the face of the Western United States,” remains at the center of the Katimla community, as the rest of the cast of characters accumulates around her—the first of which being Sherri and Randy. On the opposite side of the valley, at the Om Ranch, Garrison Kane has set in motion a series of experiments meant to expand human consciousness and tap into as-yet-unrealized metaphysical potential. Along with Garrison and his wife, Jane, the most influential participants in the commune culture of the Om Ranch are Michael and Laika, whose romance becomes a pivotal plot point. Throughout the course of the narrative, which spans from the early 1970’s up until nearly the present day, these characters shift, evolve, and take on unthinkable challenges as they traverse time and space and expand their minds in reasonably impossible ways. Bridging the divide that the valley both literally and metaphorically represents, Sherri and Randy and Laika and Michael explore and experience all of the turmoil, trials, and tribulations that the world has wrought over the past half century.

Because The Day After, whose title refers to an event that occurs on the day after the monumental 2016 election, touches on so many relevant political and sociological happenings that influenced the United States—and the world at large—over the last forty-plus years, its narrative scope is undeniably wide. And yet, its focus is narrow enough, drawing on relationships and tensions between two tiny communities, that the thread never becomes too strained to keep the story engaging and personal. It is in tying together two vastly ideologically different factions of a once very similar movement that the novel demonstrates how peace is possible in the present day, despite rising tensions. The Day After not only gives sweeping overviews of the day’s current events, ranging from popular and influential music to the political goings-on of the moment; it also lets its reader inside the minds of the main characters, devoting full chapters to first-person perspectives. In this way, it further deepens the connection that the reader has to the far-reaching implications of the book. The tale is one of peace, love, and hope for the future—something that hippies on either side of the Katimla valley could no doubt endorse, and it is for all of those reasons that The Day After bears several readings—at least.

 

Goodbye Tchaikovsky by Michael Thal

four stars

thalGoodbye Tchaikovsky by Michael Thal centers on twelve-year-old David Rothman, a talented violin player. When he suddenly goes deaf as part of a family curse, he is faced with the loss of playing music. In shock, David pulls away from the world in anger. However, the bonds David has with his family, particularly his deaf uncle, not only save his life, but help him to adapt to deaf life. David emerges from his shell slowly; he learns American Sign Language with his deaf uncle first, and then transfers to a new school for the deaf. With the ability to communicate, David begins the search for a new passion, one that inspires him in the way playing music once did. Goodbye Tchaikovsky is a coming-of-age novel, as it covers David’s pre-teen and teen years until he heads to college. Michael Thal’s writing comes off the page with honesty and emotion, capturing moments of David’s confusion and anger with precision. Rather than David finding a quick fix to his sudden deafness, David adapts to it, making it an opportunity to grow and thrive. Thal’s use of friendship also adds power to the novel; David loses and gains friends throughout the story, and those friendships inspire and support David as he grows up. David’s friend Glenn shows the most growth in the novel. Their friendship ends when David goes deaf, but rekindles when Glenn not only learns ASL to communicate with David, but also decides to become an interpreter.

Despite the strong aspects of this novel, it falls short in other places. The timeline of the novel feels rushed; David only is in high school with a girlfriend for thirteen pages. In addition, David’s relationship with music is strong, but it hardly impacts him as he continues to grow up. This detail goes with David’s deafness as a family curse; if the curse runs in the family, so should the ability to sign. Overall, Goodbye Tchaikovsky is an excellent, well-paced read, perfect for a person looking for a new YA, coming-of-age novel.

 

Black and White by Ben Burgess Jr

four stars

51Li9ed2kXLBen Burgess Jr. shines a light on a powerful issue within the pages of Black and White. Focusing on four main characters, Burgess tells the story of the challenge of being a black man in what many would likely agree is still viewed as a white man’s world. Lawyers, Ben Turner and Bill O’Neil, are not only pitted against one another within their law firm by being given cases that cause personal turmoil for each of them but they both are involved in interracial romantic relationships. The story doesn’t remain solely focused on the murders and rape that Black and White start off with, but instead includes how difficult it is to be respected as a human being even within one’s own race. In the end, Burgess offers closure for the characters as he wraps up their criminal cases and shares an epilogue. He also includes discussion questions, which is a wonderful feature.

In many ways, Black and White is a great book as it doesn’t try to hide the prejudice that still reigns between races and within one’s own race. For that reason, it is a very important story to have available for readers black or white. However, Burgess misses the mark with development. Jumping back and forth between the present and the past is somewhat confusing and there is too much of the past pulled into the story. Adding depth to the characters can be done without adding in longer scenes from the past. As the story began with the two criminal cases, it would have been better to explore more about the characters by expanding on the original focus of Black and White. Ben Burgess Jr. offers promise as a writer and in his efforts to highlight issues that many would prefer to push under the rug. Therefore, even though Black and White’s story line needs to be tightened up, it is an overall good read.

 

Verklempt: Stories by Peter Sichrovsky

5redstars

verklempt In this engrossing collection of eleven short stories, author and journalist Peter Sichrovsky gives readers a handful of love stories to ponder over. His newest work, Verklempt, explores the identity of many Jewish characters, most of who are caught up in the throes of passion, attraction, disappointment, uncertainty, danger, or bewilderment. The stories are connected in a way that the same kind of overwhelming emotion is ever present throughout the stories’ pages. While the narratives all offer something different, the author’s background and heritage is a noticeable influence on his character’s identities. Issues like The Holocaust and anti-Semitism are tackled, as are current and recent political issues. In the story “Prague” a young Jewish boy’s new romance is threatened by chaos in the city, while in “The Sirens” a family is faced with the terror of staying together during an attack on their homeland. A husband tries to figure out what to do with his failing marriage in “The Love Schnorrer,” while in “The Holiday” three different families try to have an enjoyable time together on a vacation to Greece.

What makes these stories so entertaining and engaging is the fact that the characters in each of the stories are the kind of people you’ve met before. They have to face relatable issues like dealing with the complications of a new love, getting older, struggling to keep their families together, and coping with the boredom that often comes from typical every day life. Even though most of the characters have a strong Jewish connection, they are different ages, emerging from different backgrounds and histories, while showing their true colors in unique and unexpected ways. The author succeeds at painting realistic and raw human emotion, giving insight into the lives of characters who are fully formed, every word on the page in each story holding an immense amount of weight.

 

After Midnight by A. Martin

four stars

midnightAre you the type with a heart drawn around the date of Oct. 31? For the spooky types that love a good scare, A. Martin’s After Midnight is for you. The author serves up over 50 short stories with spine-tingling twists and turns. The wide array of stories and characters offers up plenty of opportunities for the author to show that he knows his stuff—there’s lots of winking references to the master, Stephen King, as well as horror stars like Vincent Price, famous zombies and vampires, and the classic film “Night of the Living Dead.” Martin really hits his stride in his short stories that masterfully mix scary and humorous. Highlights include “Polly,” a tale about the son of Satan that just wants to make it as a writer without dear old dad’s interference; and “Mindful,” where a principal and student bond over their telekinesis, though we find the younger generation is more lighthearted about her skills. Interesting explorations into dark psychological issues also help stories like “Eve of Forgiveness” stand out; that particular tale follows a man that goes crazy and kills his wife, for an online love that it’s not completely clear truly exists.

Oddly enough, the short story format is the both the book’s weakness and strength. Sometimes the stories are a bit too short, and leave the reader wanting much more from the characters. For other stronger stories, the briefness helps the scary or creepy twists land with a punch. To use an obvious analogy, the collection is a like a bag of Halloween candy—there’s some full- size candy bars here, as well as some penny candy. Both are sweet, but we might be heading for the Snickers and Twix sooner.

 

Morpheus by Stan Charnofsky

threestars

morpheusWritten by Dr. Stan Charnofsky, Morpheus introduces Clarence Candle, whose severe mother issues and childhood trauma affects his dreams. Clare begins to date Abby, a woman who is as troubled as he is. Both characters deal with a plethora of issues individually, but bond through their experience of childhood sexual assault. Unlike Clare, Abby uses her pain to lash out at others. This happens specifically in Writer’s Guild, their writer’s group, where they both meet Kentucky Prism, a loud man with an obvious facial tic. Kentucky Prism becomes a highly critical thorn in Abby’s side. He causes outbursts in the writers’ group, and is later accused of burning down Abby’s parents’ house. Clare’s decision to go to therapy is pivotal, and he begins to work through his trauma. He does his best to use his new knowledge to help Abby begin her own healing. His tactic leads Abby to an unsuccessful face-off with her cousin and childhood rapist, Alejandro. That face-off pays off, as Alejandro is the one who saves Abby from an attempted rape by Kentucky Prism. As Clare begins to make amends with his mother near the end of the story, Abby separates from Clare to continue healing herself emotionally. This gives Clare the opening to continue his own journey of healing, and make moves on his new love interest, his stepsister.

Charnofsky’s writing is eloquent and his many allusions to literature show he is well-read. Morpheus stresses the importance of therapy as a way to combat mental health, which is a vital message to give to readers. However, the characters lack depth, with some of their dialogue coming off as flat and out of place. The story shoves too much drama into one hundred and ninety pages; between sexual assaults and verbal outbursts, the true plot is lost. Apart from the oddity of Clare’s sensual love for his stepsister, the story is a quick read, especially those interested in how dreams can shape reality.

 

Logan’s Leap by Wes Barry

5redstars

wesSet in the 1920s and spanning until the Spring of 1970, Logan’s Leap tells the story of Jack Logan from the height of his life as a rich New Yorker to his supposed fall from grace and his resulting life in the west which turns out to be much happier than the hand he was originally dealt. As one of the partners in New York’s most prominent law firm, Jack Logan is voted the most eligible bachelor of the year. He has everything he could wish for – women swoon over him, he owns multiple houses, and his life is seemingly one big party. This all comes crumbling apart when it becomes apparent his partner, William Marshall, was swindling money from their clients to pay off big investments he has made. Briefly escaping to Europe, Jack decides to return to America and face the music, only deciding at the last minute to throw himself overboard close to port. Deemed dead by all the major newspapers, Jack is free to take on the new character of Jack McCall, a name chosen from the painted side of a truck he buys to head West. Once out West he throws himself into the heart of small town America, finding friends in the market owner, Doc, and all of his buddies. Enamored by Doc’s daughter, Jack finds himself on endless missions through the Arizona desert in attempts to woo her and eventually save her from the dangerous Krause clan.

At 386 pages, this behemoth of a book is worth its weight in gold. Barry creates characters that draw you into their lives and whisk you into the Great American West with all its dangers and charm. Somewhat sticking to a classic Western genre, Logan’s Leap has all of the stereotypical gun fights and passionate moments, with a couple extra plot twists thrown in there for good measure. The characters go beyond the genre, with the love interest being played by a multidimensional, intelligent, and daring woman. Barry takes the reader on an unforgettable journey with pages that practically turn themselves. The fast pace of the book keeps you wanting more and Barry more than delivers.

 

Out of the Depths by Antonia Harris

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depthsThis first book in Antonia Harris’ “The Jonson Chronicles” follows Lettie Jonson after she receives word that her husband Bruce has been tortured and wounded while fighting in Afghanistan. After making her way overseas to be with her husband and accompanying him home, Lettie learns that the pain he experienced is far from over. Bruce’s physical limitations and PTSD-triggered outbursts affect his relationship with Lettie. Despite this unknown state of their relationship, Lettie perseveres – she is relentless in trying to understand this new side to her husband and how to love him as she did before. After a trip home to spend Thanksgiving with her family, Lettie and Bruce learn through an outpouring of support and a reminder of faith that, despite their struggles, their love is resilient.

Out of the Depths is ultimately a story of healing in the aftermath of trauma, and of the toll that one event has on a person’s entire family. It is unflinching in its honesty regarding the struggles faced by veterans and their families, while constantly remaining hopeful about their futures. This heart of the book does unfortunately get eclipsed by a lack of scene development, which leads to strained and awkward dialogue and abrupt introductions of new characters and plot threads. The pacing of the novel is also a bit disjointed and jumpy, ultimately distracting the reader from the otherwise compelling characters. Nevertheless, the ideas and themes introduced in Out of the Depths are heartfelt and honest, and will hopefully grow into a strong series.

 

The Malcontent by Bomani Mawuli

threestars

malcontentThe Malcontent by Bomani Mawuli is a novel that follows a man named John Black who finds himself a fugitive, running from the law because of his actions based strongly in the fact that he believes African Americans across the United States are being treated unfairly. The novel follows the continuing struggle of the black community, injustice, and racism that is still ever prevalent in the twenty-first century. John Black, the book’s main characters is one of the individuals who finds himself malcontent, wanting to act in order to bring about justice for his fellow African Americans. Working as a political activist for his cause, he quickly finds himself on the wrong side of the law, eventually becoming a wanted man who police are earnestly searching for. His wanted capture becomes a news story as the police try to find him. On the run, John finds support from his girlfriend and other friends. In the end, the narrative comes to a dramatic conclusion where John has to decide to either turn himself in, or keep running.

The subject of this novel is very relevant in today’s America, where it seems African Americans are constantly being targeted by the police and the media. They are treated unfairly, and often painted in a negative light that is not fair for their actual behavior. Mawuli has crafted a compelling, fast paced story that follows a man on the verge: John Black. The reader will really feel for John and his struggle, and the pages will be turning quickly as we aim to see how everything will end up. The plot of the story is a strong one, but at times the writing is a bit awkward, and the reader is left wanting more. At only a little over one hundred pages, this story could definitely be expanded upon, with more backstory for the characters, and more depth to the narrative itself. Nevertheless, it is an engaging story about one man’s struggle as he fights for what he believes in.

 

Sagahawk by the Sea by John F. Bronzo

5redstars

A historical novel based around the supposed crash landings of aliens in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, Sagahawk by the Sea: A Love Story Changes History is captivating from the first few pages. Though the setting of the book is in the early 1960s, John F. Bronzo has crafted a unique story around what might have really happened in early July of 1947. Yet, Sagahawk by the Sea goes far beyond just aliens, weather balloons, and secret military experiments. The main character, Joe Carr is a fifteen-year-old boy and is worried about passing his Latin exam, but his nearly missing it sets off a series of events that keep the reader turning page after page. Missing spouses, cemeteries, young teenage love, and teenage sleuthing all meld together to create a one-of-a-kind novel.

Sagahawk by the Sea: A Love Story Changes History is a book that will make readers want to read it in one sitting. John F. Bronzo made it easy to envision Joe and his girlfriend, Mary, investigating the secrets held in the neighbor’s office all while falling head-over-heels in love. There are sub-stories throughout, but they all seem to find a way to fit into the story even if they don’t seem to at first. Readers who enjoy a historical novel will love reading Sagahawk by the Sea. Readers who enjoy a sweet teen romance from decades ago will love reading it. Readers who are intrigued by the mysterious nature of Roswell, New Mexico and bright lights over Germany during World War II will find it to be a thrilling read. It isn’t easy to write a story that will reach so many readers, but John F. Bronzo has done just that in Sagahawk by the Sea.

 

Phase by James West

threestars

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 4.55.40 PMThe short novel Phase, written by James West tells the story of a love triangle set in the midst of an office setting, as well as through the eyes of music-making main characters. Readers follow Alison Reilly, who works as a legal secretary during the day, while spending her nights making rocking tunes on her drum set. Her office isn’t her favorite place in the world, and she tries to keep her private life separate from her office life, but when a new coworker named Joan Stevens comes into the mix, Alison’s life completely changes. Add in fellow coworker George Kerns, who is a musician himself, and an unlikely love triangle is quickly formed. It’s not long before George and Alison start making music together, their shared interest in Joan slowly overtaking their minds. Tension heats up as the book speeds along, ending with a powerful and dramatic conclusion that will have readers feeling very satisfied.

Coming in at only a little over one hundred pages, Phase is more of a novella than a true novel, but there is still a complete story here for readers to get wrapped up in. We get to know the three main characters: Alison, Joan, and George, pretty well, but at times it almost feels like the author could have expanded the story and taken the reader on even more twists and turns. The conclusion of the book is satisfying, but comes about rather abruptly. Nevertheless, Phase is an engaging story that has something to offer for readers of all interests.

 

Path of the Avenger by Bob Giel

5redstars

A classic Western, Path of the Avenger tells the tale of Cope Worley, a former town marshal, as he seeks revenge on the man who killed his beloved wife, E.J., in a fatal bank robbery. The story follows Cope and the four criminals involved in the robbery as they travel their separate paths through the small towns of Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. Filled to the brim with shoot-outs and no-good-cowboys (along with a couple of good samaritans for the perfect mix), Path of the Avenger never disappoints. The main criminal, Cholla, represents everything you could hate in a human, all whilst coming across as a well-mannered gentleman. His antics and murders keep the reader wanting more as Worley does what he can to track him down. Every page presents a new conflict you can be sure Cope Worley can work himself out of – just how is the question.

Declaring Path of the Avenger a page-turner is an understatement of great proportions. Giel does an incredible job of portraying realistic characters that draw you into this riveting Western. The familiar elements add comfort to the chase, with whiskey shots and Colt revolvers making the rounds through the pages. The plot line keeps a steady, fast pace which carries the reader on an unrelenting journey where justice is served, if not by legal standards, then at least by moral standards. Through vivid language, Giel places you right at the center of every situation the characters encounter. Pick this book up immediately – I bet you won’t be able to set it down.

 

The Uncivil Civil War by Pat Beck

threestars

uncivilSet on the east coast of the United States during the Civil War, The Uncivil Civil War tells the story of Carl, a freed slave raised by a white family, as he travels to Texas in order to escape the war. With his whole family killed by soldiers except for his infant son, he embarks on a journey that takes him through the Blue Ridge Mountains and across the Mississippi River. As a religious man, Carl miraculously overcomes great obstacles, such as an encounter with a mountain lion, with seemingly little effort thanks to the grace of God. He helps all those he passes on his journey, even finding himself a wife and adoptive son along the way. Riddled with religious connotations, this book reads as a kind of mission trip with Carl converting all those he finds through acts of kindness that play on his seemingly endless list of life skills. The Uncivil Civil War shows what it means to care for others even when down on your luck, and how this eventually helps us.

Although the development of the plot line is interesting, this book is extremely fast-paced and as such creates little emotional attachment for the characters. The characters themselves interact with one another using dialogue that is unrealistically abrupt, often speaking no more than three sentences to one another at a time. The moment they become friends is not something the reader naturally grasps, but is rather something the author informs us of. Characters die without so much as a single tear from others in the book, making it hard for the reader to form any connection to what is happening. With a little more work on character development and perhaps a slightly slower-paced narrative, this book could easily earn a fourth star.

 

Wait Until I’m Dead by Elda M. Dawber

four stars

deadWait Until I’m Dead!: A Novel of Family Secrets is a well-written and uniquely interesting piece of women’s fiction. Author, Elda M. Dawber, takes readers on an strange, but relatable, journey for women who are middle-aged and beyond. Donna Jean (DJ) Brava is a highly respected romance novelist, but she has deep, dark family secrets. She’s come to a point in her life and her career that she believes her fans deserve to know the truth, and it’s time for her to get the dark history of her upbringing off her chest. What she doesn’t realize is that her editor has a secret of his own. That secret could keep DJ’s memoir from being published. Dawber takes the readers along as DJ tries to prepare her family in anticipation of the book being published. Throughout the story, sections of DJ’s memoir, entitled Peeling the Onion, are also shared with readers.

Dawber does a good job hooking readers early on and keeps them wondering if DJ’s memoir will actually get published. Unfortunately, this initial hook leads to slow pacing afterward. There is too much unneccessary fluff around the conversations with DJ’s friends and family members, and bringing the truth to the forefront simply takes too long. On the other hand, the message that Elda M. Dawber shares within Wait Until I’m Dead is a very powerful one. In fact, the title carries a tremendous message in of itself when considering family secrets -sexual abuse, in particular. Wait Until I’m Dead clearly expresses how sharing one’s personal secrets has an impact on others directly connected tot he situation, too. Though the back and forth between the actual story and the memoir within the story can be a little taxing, Dawber’s Wait Until I’m Dead is a book well worth reading.

 

Black Cherry by Henrietta D. Elmore-Smith

four stars

blackThe novel Black Cherry by Henrietta D. Elmore-Smith is the story of Mashé Boston, Rhial Curry, and Eila Wynston and their friendship that lasts from childhood until late into their lives. The only three black girls from their wealthy neighborhood, the bond between them quickly becomes very strong, and their personalities complement each other, drawing them even closer still. Mashé is the main character in the book, and she is portrayed as a strong, independent woman who is a published poet and college professor. The complicated story of the men in Mashé’s life and the near perfect description of her marriage make up the majority of the book, along with telling of Rhial’s pregnancy and Eila’s struggle to find some luck in love. Black Cherry is a moving tale about the trials of life, friendship, the pain of infidelity, and lost love, along with the beauty and joy that life often holds.

The plot of this novel is wonderfully told, and though at times the dialogue seems a bit forced, with each of the characters speaking in an extremely proper manner that few people seem to use in their daily lives, it is for the most part beautifully written. The twists in the plot are interesting and well thought out, from love triangles to chance meetings of past lovers. The book is often riveting, with aspects of danger coming up at unexpected times throughout the plot, all the while being full of moving events that bring the friends and their spouses closer together. The importance and rarity of lifelong friendship is often stressed, and Mashé, Rhial, and Eila make theirs last despite a little drama and competition throughout the novel.

 

Shiloh Tree by Scotty Cain

threestars

shilohBarry Tractor, a fit and young man, responds to an ad in a Colorado newspaper for a “field worker,” but has no idea what he is really getting himself into. As a roughneck, he expects the job to be related to oil drilling, and is surprised when he finds himself accepting a job as a groundskeeper for Jack Goodstein, a wealthy man with a large and pristinely maintained orchard. Randomly, the other members of the groundskeeping team are Barry’s old friends. The more time that Barry spends working for Jack, the more he is ushered, and forced, into a world of trauma, dedication, and camaraderie. Barry begins to acknowledge a life outside of roughnecking and a life where people, even those he has never met, are deeply meaningful. Shiloh Tree offers insight into post traumatic stress disorder, the holocaust, and what it means to overcome obstacles that may seem insurmountable.

Scotty Cain’s Shiloh Tree is a well-written story of two individuals and the way that their lives intertwine and become one. While both have vastly different backgrounds, the main characters find themselves working and living together, with their life paths becoming inseparably combined. While the idea of the plot is moving and inspirational, the plot and dialogue itself lack the zest to really push the reader forward and into true believing. The story is interesting, but written in a way that lacks motivation and the kind of dialogue that makes a story feel real. While the story behind Shiloh Tree is impactful, Cain could easily grow into a second novel that is truly great.

 

To Be The Best: Overtime by H. L. Hertel

four stars

overtimeIn this recent third and final installment of the To Be The Best series, author H. L. Hertel picks the story back up five years after Rematch. When we meet up with our characters again we learn Sean has stayed away from Riverside and is building a promising new career, while Nick stayed close to home and is now in college. When our characters reunite, flashbacks to Nick’s senior season send the reader on a trip down memory lane. Recently bad luck has hit the two of them and a chance reunion might be just what was needed to turn it around. In another story about the competition of wrestling and striving to be the best, readers will jump right back into the series they love and finally learn if Nick became a State Champion.

In To Be The Best: Overtime, the beloved wrestling series comes to an end. Hertel again presents a strong story about growing up, friendship, and the world of high school wrestling. With the focus on Nick and Sean this time, readers will easily fall back into the quick pace of the book as we switch back-and-forth between their stories past and present. New allies and old rivals keep Nick on his toes during his final wrestling season, while Sean must face obstacles of his own at his new job. A time jump and new twists will surprise readers as they find out what really happened five years ago. Hertel is able again to engage readers with short chapters and his reader-friendly prose. Fans who have been waiting for the end of this wrestling trilogy will eagerly finish the book and learn if either character has finally become the best.

 

To Be The Best: Rematch by H. L. Hertel

four stars

rematchIn this second installment of the To Be The Best series, author H. L. Hertel takes us back to the wrestling room of Riverside High School. Only this time, the Castle brothers and coach Sean MacCallister will have to beat tougher and darker obstacles than the first time around. As another wrestling season begins Nick continues his climb to the top and finally out of his brother’s shadow. Ron in the midst of recuperation from injuries is no longer on top and must navigate unfamiliar territory. Sean struggles with consequences of his own injuries and becomes haunted by demons from his past. In another story of sibling rivalry and sport competition the audience will engage with new questions. Will Nick finally achieve the coveted title of State Champion? Will Ron beat the odds and end up back on top of the podium? Will Sean find the stability he’s searching for or will he hit rock bottom?

In To Be The Best: Rematch, the second installment of the series, Hertel again achieves a strong story about brotherhood and the world of high school wrestling. With all of the characters ready to start a new wrestling season, the audience will pick right back up with the characters they met last time. Hertel is successfully able to engage his readers with new obstacles and twists this time around. The author returns with his familiar reader-friendly prose and short chapters to keep the pace of the story quick. High-stakes decisions and high-stakes wrestling matches for the characters will keep the reader guessing until the end at who will come out on top and who will not. This book will leave readers, especially wrestling fans, hungry for more.

 

Felony by Norma A. Wyman

four stars

felonyThis thrilling tale follows a large cast of characters whose lives are all connected more than they could ever realize. Felony is a story about family and the lengths one will go to protect the people that are most important. The novel is centered on Laura Mitchell, a college student who is still reeling from the loss of her parents. Her life then takes another dramatic turn when she is stunned again by the sudden death of her twin sister. Scared of her brother-in-law Max Bertolini and his questionable business practices, she decides to disappear with her newborn niece to start a new life. Six years later, going by Laura McKenzie and posing her niece as her daughter Benjii, the past begins to catch up with her. When Benjii is kidnapped from school, Laura goes out on her own to find her. Realizing it is the only way she will find Benjii, Laura must stop hiding and finally face her past. As the title implies, there is much at stake for the characters in this book, as twist after twist in this complex tale takes them by surprise.

An intricate web of characters in Felony proves just how small the world really is. Time jumps allow us to meet our main characters at pivotal times in their lives before they become involved in the central storyline. Max Bertolini about to repeat history, and Laura Mitchell consumed by loss, each make decisions which set this story on its path. The characters are pushed by their own motives as they get pulled deeper and deeper into the conflict between Max and Laura. Laura Mitchell proves to be a brave protagonist fighting for a happy ending despite all of the loss in her life. Short chapters help readers keep up with the quick pace, though the large cast of characters involved can sometimes make the storyline a bit confusing. The author successfully builds pressure on all sides for our characters and reaches a tipping point with Benjii’s kidnapping. This story of love and loss keeps the audience guessing before reaching the final conclusion.

 

13 Green Dragons by Allan A. Lobeck

four stars

dragons13 Green Dragons by Allan A. Lobeck is a dramatic and moving tale about heroism and death in the Vietnam War. Based on real life battle situations of the author, the story of General Marshall Rooker is told as he first arrives in Vietnam and continues throughout his many missions while he is stationed there. Rooker, known as MC 36, quickly finds that he is skilled at leadership and adjusts to making split-second decisions with the lives of many soldiers depending on his abilities. With too little time for rest, MC 36 and his platoon have several successes with very few casualties, killing hundreds of Viet Cong soldiers along the way. Rooker is promoted twice in a short period of time because of his valiant leadership and asked to lead two different covert missions to rescue prisoners from camps in Cambodia. These missions were extremely high-risk, and amazingly Rooker and his men, known as Marshall’s Marauders, are able to complete them with better results than they could have hoped for. All of the prisoners were rescued and Marshall’s Marauders escaped with only a handful dead and few wounded.

The book 13 Green Dragons gives the reader an insider’s perspective on the daily life of the soldiers in Vietnam, as well as showing the atrocities and the gruesome nature of combat. As the days overseas go by for the main character and his men, their victories and heroism keep the reader looking forward to learning what will happen to them next and hoping that they will survive the dangerous tasks laid out before them. It is a wonderful story about a great leader who remains humble despite his triumphs, and returns home to his family and a new life as a decorated war hero.

 

Heart of Stone by Dakota Willink

threestars

heartOn the surface, Krystina Cole appears to be your average recent college graduate. She is working at Wally’s, the local mom and pop grocery store, while searching for the job that will use her degree and keep her afloat in New York City. However, underneath her smiling exterior, Krys is a different person with her fair share of dark secrets, troubling memories, and a heart that she tries to keep as closed as possible. Then she meets Alexander Stone, a potential buyer for the grocery store, the owner of the successful Stone Enterprise, and a perfectly sculpted model of a man, just reeking of sex appeal and money. As their two worlds collide and become intertwined, they push each other’s boundaries, both physically and emotionally, and Alex begins to teach Krystina about compromise, boundaries, and BDSM. In a sexual arrangement that needs to be so based in trust, it is hard to tell if their relationship will survive the dark pasts that have hidden their hearts away.

Heart of Stone by Dakota Willink is a story of overcoming the past, welcoming the future, and embracing sexuality in all of its forms. While the characters are rather predictable and one-dimensional, their dialogue has a natural flow and their sexual encounters are steamy. Heart of Stone has a storyline and characters that are almost too similar to those of Fifty Shades of Grey, but as part of a series, there is opportunity for growth in both the characters and the plot. If you enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey, then Heart of Stone could be the next book to keep you entertained for an afternoon or give you ideas for your next romp in the bedroom.

 

The Bloodline of Wisdom by Anthony Boquet

threestars

wisdomThe Bloodline of Wisdom: The Awakening of a Modern Solutionary by Anthony “Tony” Boquet follows the complex story of Joe Morrison, a twenty-two-year-old man living in Southern Louisiana in the early 1980s. Shortly after the death of his father, Jules Jr., Joe receives a cryptic message with a map and a key attached. The map leads him to a secluded isle that few would dare to traverse for its varied and venomous wildlife inhabitants. In the midst of the swap, Joe uncovers a series of scrolls and some writing that leads him to the conclusion that he is one in a long line of descendants that can trace their heritage all the way back to King Solomon. In exploring these documents, Joe not only discovers the deep knowledge imparted by King Solomon through his scrolls, he also establishes a close, albeit posthumous, relationship with his grandfather through his ancillary texts. As it turns out, both Joe and his grandfather shared a predilection for pursuing wisdom in all things. It seems only fitting, then, that they would be Solutionaries: the direct descendants of Solomon, who was known for his unparalleled wisdom. Joe delves deeply into the lessons that his grandfather gleaned from his research and draws his own conclusions from both the original scrolls and the wisdom that his grandfather extracted from them many years before. He then allows these teachings to seep into every aspect of his life, in order to better honor his extraordinary bloodline and live up to the stature of being a modern Solutionary.

Written from the first-person perspective primarily, The Bloodline of Wisdom: The Awakening of a Modern Solutionary gives an intimate look into the thought processes of the protagonist, Joe Morrison. From the moment the reader encounters Joe, he or she learns of his inherent goodness, his predisposition for doing the right thing and holding steadfast to a firm moral compass. This moral compass directs him throughout the novel and makes for some interesting insights into the fallibility of human nature. Since this book deals with the subject matter of the bloodline of Solomon, there are absolutely some religious underpinnings as well as overt nods to the Bible. In essence, the novel speaks to the age-old concerns of morality and ethics with a Christian slant. Of course, since it’s fiction, it also has the added benefit of being wildly entertaining, in the same vein as other historical fiction written about clandestine ties to Biblical figures. If only for its sheer entertainment value, The Bloodline of Wisdom is worth a perusal, but it truly demands a deep dive into the questions it raises about moral character and wisdom and the answers it posits. All in all, it serves as a modern fable, fit to burst with nuggets of applicable wisdom for living life better each and every day.

 

Morgan 512 by H.C. Schaffer

four stars

morgan 512A family drama that follows two brothers and their uncle who is a Catholic priest and high ranking official in the Vatican, Morgan 512 is a suspenseful narrative that will have you on the edge of your seat. Paul Morgan has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Lewis, ever since they were teenagers at North Hollywood High School. Lewis was the straight A student who seemed to excel at everything, while Paul was the screw-up, spending a great deal of his time in detention. When Lewis graduates from high school, something happens that changes the entire dynamic of the Morgan family, altering the lives of both brothers, their sisters, and parents. The devout Catholic family is forever changed, and as time goes on, Paul tries to figure out what exactly happened to Lewis, suspecting that he was influenced by their uncle, Father Morgan. Paul does everything he can to learn Father Morgan’s secret, always coming back to Lewis’ graduation, and propelling himself forward into a web of deceit deep in the Vatican as he aims to stop his uncle’s evil plot, which if revealed, would be sure to shock the world.

An intriguing tale of familial relations, religion, secrets, lies, and how brothers can both love and hinder one another, Morgan 512 is a well-constructed novel that keeps readers interested from beginning to end. At the start of the novel, we learn about the Morgan brothers, their relationship with one another, and how they differ. The characterizations Schaffer uses allows both of the brothers to stand out in different ways. While Paul is certainly the heart of the book, Lewis is also fully developed, as are all of the supporting cast. Part mystery, part thriller, part family drama, Morgan 512 has something to offer everyone who is looking for a gripping read, with an ending that is sure to not disappoint.

 

Ruins by Terence Donoghue

four stars

ruinsRuins is the compelling story of a young American man in the tumultuous 1970s who moves to Iran to work at an American corporation. Walt yearns to travel the world, visit historic sites, and meet interesting people. When he lands in Isfahan, Iran, he realizes he has to settle down and make some money in order to sustain his wanderlust. After meeting some Americans who work for an American Helicopter corporation located in Isfahan, he applies for and lands a job with the corporation in their supply division. There he befriends plenty of Americans, however they don’t all share his thirst for knowledge and culture. He does meet a young Iranian professor, Daveed, who, while he loves to share his own passion for his culture with Walt, serves as the leader for a local resistance movement. Walt and Daveed’s friendship blossoms as steadily as the civil unrest in Iran. Even if he doesn’t realize it, Walt is at the center of the clash between Western civilization and the Middle East, and the repercussions of the clash ripple throughout Walt’s life in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

Ruins is an incredibly well-researched look into life for Americans in 1970s Iran. With a gift for vivid and colorful language, Terence Donoghue leaves the reader feeling like they’re walking down the streets of Iran, eating nan and sipping tea. Ruins depicts Iran at a time when the growing unrest threatens to topple the regime and its people. Donoghue accurately portrays the toxic masculinity and patriotism in a way that especially mirrors modern-day culture. However, the book did seem to lack an in-depth look inside the characters’ minds and emotions. Poignant moments, such as when Walt went through a breakup or saw someone die before his eyes, were merely brushed over. At times the language felt contrived, somewhat unnatural. The subplots of Walt’s romantic adventures and other experiences could have been shortened to make the novel more focused. Despite these setbacks, Ruins informed the reader as much as it entertained and will especially resonate in today’s society, where international attitudes seem to mimic those in this novel.

 

The Brownstone: Celtic Whispers by Julie Brown

5redstars

brownstoneLili Wentworth has been through a lot in her life. She lost both of her parents at a young age, then later lost her lover and companion, Terrence. She suffered an injury that derailed her career as a professional dancer, and endured an intense period of self-discovery and conflict, where she confirmed her longtime suspicions that she was “Gifted” in an extraordinary, otherworldly sense. Now, things are finally starting to take a more positive turn in Lili’s life. Yet, Lili is still unsure of herself and her future, and, as things fall in line, she doesn’t know whether she’s being set up for happiness or failure…The third entry in the Brownstone series, The Brownstone: Celtic Whispers finds Lili in good times. The brownstone has recently expanded, both in terms of size and tenants, and Lili’s business endeavors are proving very fruitful. What’s more, her friends and family are achieving major life milestones, including marriage, childbirth, artistic expression, and professional success. But, as everyone and everything thrives around her, Lili finds herself at a bit of stalemate. Her past continues to haunt her; her late father’s prophecy lingers over her head; and her foretelling dreams hold her back from pursuing a relationship with the man she loves. But, Lili is not one to remain idle. She embarks upon a journey, as metaphysical as it is physical, that carries her to unexpected places, where she learns invaluable lessons about love, spirituality, nature, and walking the thin line between desire, morality, and reason.

The Brownstone: Celtic Whispers by Julie Brown is a rich, multilayered story replete with romance, adventure, suspense, mysticism, and both interpersonal and inner-personal drama. A very touching, soulful tome, it explores, and challenges, the boundaries of life as we know it and ultimately shows that the “human experience” isn’t as cut and dry as we perceive it. As Lili continues to come to terms with her Gift, discovers shocking secrets, and struggles to make difficult life decisions, the reader can’t help but feel concern and worry about her fate. But, with that concern and worry, there comes great comfort. Just as Lili learns a great deal throughout the novel, the reader learns a great deal through her story—and, in the end, both are left with a greater understanding of what it means to truly live, love, and experience freedom.

 

Who Desires Peace by James Emerson Loyd

four stars

loydThe book’s major strength is how it expertly combines both fact and fiction. How the storyline blends real events that occurred during The Great War, with fiction, which depicts many emotions and dilemmas that truly were faced during the war, is very eloquent. This makes it a very interesting read as the base of the storyline is different from that of most other books. For example, the main character, General von Treptow, was created out of the author’s examination of an old 1860s map in his collection. Von Treptow hails from the actual Berlin suburb of Treptow. Along with this, when the author talks about The Verdun incident, he describes it as it actually happened, complete with the inclusion of the real person Sergeant Kunze. Likewise, the female character Estelle is fictional, but what she endured, i.e., her escape from the Germans, is a very typical story of many who tried to flee from German occupied areas during the Great War. Add to this appearances by some of history’s most well known individuals, including Adolf Hitler, back when he was just a Corporal in the Germany Army, and Winston Churchill, who the author does an excellent job of tapping into how the famous British leader thought and spoke. Particularly how Churchill discussed occupation of land on maps as the key to winning a war. He was right, of course, to think in this fashion. The made up conversations Churchill has with those around him feel authentic as if they were actually taken from a transcript somehow made during Churchill’s time.

Another strength of the book would be the strong overall plot. We see the story first through General von Treptow’s eyes, as he recounts his experiences with fighting, dealing with families of those who lost their sons in the War, and engaging in political maneuvers with the French. The story shifts into Treptow’s dealings with Princess Claire, the sister of Prince Max of Baden, honorary head of the German Red Cross. Claire seems to have her loyalties put to question, as Treptow comes to find out. The story also allows us to see things through the eyes of Winston Churchill, as previously mentioned, and his dealings with Treptow and the Germans. The Americans are represented as well, through mostly historical figures like Major George S. Patton, and General John J. Pershing, who was the American Expeditionary Force Commander. As the narrative progresses to the final chapter, Treptow is put in a precarious position where he may or may not be betrayed by those around him, most of all Claire, and the last sentence in the book is a cliffhanger that leaves you wanting to dive right away into the second book of this series! This book clearly entailed a lot of research on the author’s part and it seamlessly blends real historical events with fictitious ones that allow readers to see the first World War through the eyes of a German officer and those around him.

 

Freedom Quest by M S La Voy Sr.

four stars

freedomFreedom Quest by M S La Voy Sr., set in Richmond, Virginia, in 1872, follows the trials and tribulations of three separate families who are seeking better lives amidst the fallout of the turbulent Reconstruction Era. As the novel’s title suggests, the brunt of the narrative centers on these families’ journey on the way to literal as well as figurative freedom. First among the families that readers will encounter on this extended journey are the Brooks. Headed by James and Sally, the Brooks family have two children and a faithful dog they refuse to leave behind on their cross-country excursion. The second family introduced in the novel, the Summers family, is led by Zach Summers, a former Captain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and his wife, Joan. They, too, have two children. The final family, the Adams family, comprises Mr. Mac Adams and Buck and Rose—who had formerly been called Centarosa Contros and Shobuk Contros respectively on the slave ship that brought them to the United States. All three of the families start their journeys full of hope and promise. Along the way, they encounter various difficulties that challenge those notions, but they never dash them. Though they come across many dangerous hazards, they never relent. They forge their paths and find their way to liberty in the end.

Broken up into short chapters that give an intimate glimpse into the lives of the respective families, Freedom Quest explores what it means to be a family, what it means to strive for what you believe in, and ultimately, how far the human spirit will go to feel free. Through the challenges and travels, the novel aims to impart undeniable wisdom, and even though it is set in 1872, those lessons ring universally true to this day. Freedom Quest further examines interpersonal relationships and family dynamics in an historically fictional context. Their joint 1,600-mile westward trip to Colorado Springs delves deeply into some of the most universal human experiences. If family-centric relational dramas set in the exciting post-Civil War years interest you, be sure to check out Freedom Quest by M S La Voy Sr. Its sincere nature and introspective windows into the past and into human nature itself make this novel undoubtedly worth reading at least once. Additionally, this particular novel includes a Twentieth Anniversary bonus book for further exploration.

 

To Be The Best by H.L. Hertel

four stars

bestA short novel that follows two brothers in the heartland of America as they succeed and fail in the sport of wrestling, To Be The Best is a tale about brotherhood, sports, and what it means to become a man. The narrative follows the Castle brothers, Ron and Nick as they navigate the lanes of high school life. The boys grew up watching wrestling matches at Riverside High School, always dreaming that one day it would be them who would be showing their strength out there on the mat, and now, that day has arrived. Ron is a talented wrestler who makes it to the state championships during his sophomore year, gaining recognition from his school, the town, and across the state. Younger brother Nick struggles in Ron’s shadow, trying his best to show his own potential while aiming to escape his brother’s overpowering reputation. The novel follows the two young men as they learn and grow, Ron choosing to take his own path as he tackles obstacles, while Nick accepts the help of Sean MacCallister, the young assistant coach who guides him on his journey, all the while trying to move past his own troubled past.

With brief chapters that result in a fast-paced story that will keep you intrigued, To Be The Best is a poignant coming of age tale that shows how difficult it can be to live in the shadow of your sibling. Even though Ron and Nick have similar dreams, they are very different and go about achieving their goals in rather dissimilar ways. The characters are painted in detail, and it will be easy for readers to relate to both of the boys as they make their way through the novel, overcoming challenges and facing their fears. The writing is straightforward, and at times could use further embellishments to richen the various plot lines even more, but overall the prose is constructed in a reader-friendly manner that pairs well with the narrative. This book is sure to appeal to high school wrestling fans, brothers, and anyone who likes a good coming of age story between siblings.

 

No Greater Freedom by Tom Edwards

four stars

freedomNo Greater Freedom is set in South and Eastern Africa as well as in various islands off the coast of mainland Asia. Detective Steve Konig joins an investigation after weapons have been discovered in a variety of townships around Natal. Rumors are circulating that the nation of Zulu plans to separate from the Republic and become their own independent country. While Steve begins his own investigation into the matter, another detective, Francis Mackenzie, is on a mission to figure out how an illegal poaching operation near Kenya is functioning. Soon the two detectives will cross paths, merging the separate storylines together. While all of this is happening, Pat Ellis, a minister in the government department of Internal Security terrorizes the women around him while forcing his plan of corruption forward. It’s not long before all of the various plot points merge, creating a thrilling and dangerous tale of power, politics, and personal agendas.

Since there are so many different threads that make up the narrative of this book, it is clear that Edwards is a talented writer who was able to successfully plot out multiple storylines, merging them together as the pages go on in an exciting, and well-thought out manner. The author uses very descriptive language to the point where the reader can clearly envision what is happening as if they were watching the unfolding scene play out before them as if it were in a movie. No Greater Freedom is an interesting story that holds the reader’s attention until the bitter end, and it certainly makes readers wonder if there will be more from these larger-than-life characters in the future. The many personalities featured in the book are all rather distinct, which helps the reader keep sorted who as who, as its certainly a complex book with many things going on at once.

 

The Investment Club by Doug Cooper

four stars

investmentTold in sixty, one-day snapshots from the perspective of an aging blackjack dealer, Doug Cooper’s The Investment Club crafts an intriguing story about a colorful cast of characters living and dealing in Las Vegas. Written in pointed prose that sharpens the details of each of the main characters, we come to learn about a self-destructive entrepreneur, a musician turned stripper with a drug problem, a retired New Jersey policeman, a feisty female sportscaster, and a card-counting, former Catholic priest. The novel begins and ends in the El Cortez Casino in downtown Las Vegas, where the fates and fortunes of this rag-tag band align. Unlikely friendships and partnerships spring up between this wily group of misfits, revealing the often overlooked underbelly of Vegas in a refreshing manner many readers will enjoy.

Doug Cooper is an expert storyteller, and like in his debut novel, Outside In, his sophomore effort is full of memorable characters and storylines you wouldn’t expect at the outset. While the pacing is often on the slower side with a great deal of exposition to set each scene, it all feels purposeful as the tension builds to rewarding plot points. It is clear from the striking picture of Las Vegas that the author has lived in the city himself, as the city truly comes alive on the page, even as the reader is taken to locales off the beaten path from the jarring bright lights and crowds of the strip. We get to know each of the main characters, and in a cast of so many strong personalties, that says a lot about how the author executed his story on the page. All in all this is a meticulously plotted novel and we can’t wait to see what Cooper comes up with next.

 

…Can Come True by Darin TaDream

threestars

trueBy day, Red is a regular guy driving a fixer upper car and occasionally working at the lawn mower repair store up the street. By night, Red is Darin TaDream the overwhelmingly successful romance novel writer who is giving Nicholas Sparks a run for his money. Even though Red and Darin are two vastly different people, they coexist in a way that allows Red to remain true to himself, while also allowing Darin the ability to groom and maintain a budding empire. But what are money, fame, and success really worth if there is no one to share them with? Red’s last relationship ended in tragedy and heartache when fate took Jenny from him much too early. But Red’s heart is neither closed nor cold and he formulates a plan for his next best-seller that focuses on Cindy, the high school sweetheart that he loved and lost. The more Red writes, the more he realizes that his love for Cindy remains true and that maybe, with some of Darin’s charm and money, the words of his book could play out in real life. Darin TaDream’s …Can Come True is a story about possibility, hope, and, of course, love. If you have ever daydreamed about what the love of your life would do for you if they had a big bank account and the heart of a romance novel writer, then this is the book for you!

…Can Come True is a quick and easy read that combines every element of a romance novel into one place, sometimes to the point of great disbelief. It is a modern-day fairytale set on the stage of the real world but playing out with no caps on the budget. This fun romp of a novel encourages a little more romance and mystery and a lot less hate and loneliness. If everyone had a Darin TaDream, the world would be a better place. That being said, …Can Come True is a minefield of spelling and grammatical errors which can, at times, detract from the enjoyment of the novel. A careful and thorough edit could easily take this novel from a three to a four.

 

Harold Hardscrabble by G.D. Dess

four stars

dessG.D. Dess’ novel, Harold Hardscrabble, is a story about the life of an average man. Harold is nothing very remarkable nor anything overly bland; he is a just a man who lives his life in the same way that many other men live their lives. In college Harold meets Carol, the woman who will later become his wife and the mother of his children, and, after a time, they fall into some variation of love. After graduate school, they live in a modest apartment in New York City and work jobs that allow them more and more material possessions and upward mobility. While Harold had always imagined himself working and being connected to the arts, he settles relatively comfortably into the corporate job that allows him to occasionally put his feet up, admire the Chrysler building, and drift into a daydream. It is amazing the speed at which the years pass Harold by. One day Harold is a young man, wondering what the future will hold. The next day, Harold is an older man, remembering his youth and the paths that brought him to his current life. But who can really know what the future holds? Sometimes it is just when everything feels the most comfortable that something clicks, like the trigger of a gun, and sends everything spinning in a completely different direction. Sometimes what one thinks is love and a true life purpose just isn’t, and existential exhaustion causes shit to hit the fan with unimaginable force.

Harold Hardscrabble is a thoughtful and well-written observation of the human condition. As G.D. Dess so succinctly describes, “He felt fine when he wasn’t thinking about his life.” Dess paints Harold and his struggles to be very relatable and Harold’s life seems real, though maybe slightly more well-researched and foot-noted than the average life. Many of Harold’s feelings and predicaments are those of the average man. Dess addresses everything from breast implants, to online dating, to finding purpose in a job. Dess pushes members of the modern world to question many things and consider that maybe even something unlikely could come to be true.

 

Revenge at Dealey Plaza by William E. Dempsey

5redstars

revengeA part of the Mike Stafford Novel Series, Revenge at Dealey Plaza by William E. Dempsey begins with the infamous and unforgettable “shot heard around the world.” In Dallas, Texas, on Friday, November 22nd, 1963—in Dealey Plaza, to be precise—Lee Harvey Oswald committed the highest form of treason when he assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Quickly, though, the narrative rewinds to a couple of days prior to this monumental occurrence to trail the incidences that snowballed into the killing of Kennedy. Of course, it should be disclaimed that this is a work of fiction, one that posits (as many have theorized over the past fifty-three years) that Oswald did not act alone. In response to this tragic event, the CIA’s Domestic Operations Division’s Chief David Montoya enlists the expertise of Mike Staffors and Félix Molina to discern who, exactly, was behind the Kennedy assassination. Though Mike Stafford feels a bit weathered by time and his experiences with the CIA, he maintains a hardboiled determination and the dogged stick-to-itiveness when it comes to investigating the three possible culprits: Russia (Nikita Khrushchev), Cuba (Fidel Castro), and finally, La Cosa Nostra (the Mafia). He and Félix overturn every rock and inspect every possible angle to arrive at some interesting conclusions about Oswald’s motives—as well as the reasoning behind Jack Ruby’s subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Beyond the investigation, the novel also gives treatment to Mike Stafford’s personal entanglements.

All in all, Revenge at Dealey Plaza is a deeply satisfying, interesting dive into the enigma surrounding the notorious Kennedy assassination. Fans of historical fiction will delight at the extreme attention to detail that William E. Dempsey pays throughout the novel. The author’s personal experience with the CIA as a liaison has certainly informed his perspective, but clearly significant research has been put into perfecting even the most minute of details both real and fictionalized. Aside from weaving an intricate tale peppered with fascinating facts and realistic embellishments, Dempsey manages to enrapture the reader with his particular style. He paints an incredibly vivid picture and is able to nail down life-like dialogue that’s never stilted or seemingly inauthentic. From beginning to end, Revenge at Dealey Plaza grabs the attention of readers and refuses to let go until the very last sentence in the epilogue. Even if you have yet to pick up a Mike Stafford novel (there are a few that precede this one), you’ll be able to jump right into Revenge at Dealey Plaza and not miss a beat. And if you’re at all interested in well-written historical fiction, then this novel is a solid pick that deftly balances fact and fiction to make the distinction almost indiscernible.

 

Through It All by Madai Romero

threestars

Madai Romero’s Through It All is a work of historical fiction set in the town of Lakewood in the nineteenth century. Quiet, beautiful Sophia Willis regularly sneaks out of her parents’ home at night to meet with Daniel Smith, the mayor’s son. However, Sophia’s father is preparing to select a suitor for her, and if Daniel does not act soon, she will be given to someone else. After informing Daniel of her impending betrothal, he reveals that he cannot offer himself as a suitor because he is already married. Outraged, Sophia returns home and learns that her father has selected Adam Lancaster, a worldly, educated young man with a thirst for knowledge, as her future husband. Although a handsome and popular young man like Adam may seem like an ideal husband, he is a close friend of Daniel’s, has a past with Sophia’s wild and promiscuous sister, and dreams of traveling before settling down. Will the two go through with their engagement? Will can Sophia forget her love for a married man and become a devoted wife?

Although the novel is set in the nineteenth century, it does not appear that the author thoroughly researched the time period. The only things that suggest this is a work of historical fiction are references to long skirts, letter writing, and maids–definitely nothing specific enough to pin down the setting or to immerse the reader in the period. Besides these vague references, the awkward, stilted language also indicates that this is intended to be a period work, however, the author frequently slips into the use of contemporary words and phrases. This anachronistic language is not the author’s only struggle, she also changes tenses erratically, sometimes even within sentences. However, despite these shortcomings, the main characters are complex and believable, giving them compelling interiority. They also have realistic relationships with one another and good character development that drives the dramatic plot. The novel could have used additional editing and research in order to be a satisfying historical drama, but it still makes for an enjoyable read for those willing to overlook these issues.

 

The Other Side of the Wire by Harold Coyle

four stars

wireThe Other Side of the Wire by Harold Coyle intimately examines what it meant to be Jewish during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s through his very realistic, yet entirely fictional portrait of a family caught up in the turmoil of World War II. By following the veritable rollercoaster ride that is nine-year-old Hannah Koch’s life, the novel introduces conflicting questions about the nature of morality—and what truly constitutes a monstrous human. The novel posits that the delineation between right and wrong is not so clearly etched in stone, for Hannah’s adoptive father happens to be Ernst Richter, a stalwart man and, unfortunately, an SS officer. Though Hannah is Jewish, her bright blonde hair and striking blue eyes allow her to “pass” reasonably within German culture as a child of Aryan descent. All seems to be going well in the Richter household, until Ernst finds himself suddenly in charge of a concentration camp in Poland. The transition understandably takes a toll on Hannah, but it also has a lasting impact on Ernst’s wife, Lena. She can barely stand to examine her own reflection in the mirror without delving into depressive introspection. Needless to say, as The Other Side of the Wire wears on, Hannah’s relationship with her adoptive parents becomes more and more strained, until the breaking point at which Ernst Richter attempts to destroy all evidence of his involvement in the concentration camp. Hannah’s forthright bravery pulls her through to the other side, where she is able to redeem her soul by saving that of another.

An engaging, turbulent work of historical fiction, The Other Side of the Wire by Harold Coyle will leave you reeling. It’s beautifully written, concise in its structure and elegant in its word choice. Though it tells the story from a third-person perspective, the language of the novel draws the reader in and truly immerses them in the worldview of its characters. If you’re at all interested in World War II or vivid portrayals of the depth of the human spirit, this novel is sure to meet both needs and more.

 

Daddy 3.0: A Comedy of Errors by Rob Armstrong

four stars

daddyAfter his San Francisco-based website job goes “belly up,” Nick Owen and his family move to Manhattan when his wife Liz gets accepted into an orthopedic residency program. With no work available for the previous computer programmer, Nick has a difficult time adjusting to being a stay-at-home dad to his cantankerous three-year-old twin girls. It doesn’t help that Nick manages to say and do all the wrong things in the presence of the stay-at-home moms (especially the obnoxious Supermom) in his building complex. To make matters worse, Nick and Liz are not getting along. Although there are people who try to point him in a better direction, the last thing Nick expects is to have his marriage tested when he befriends a gorgeous divorcee.

Armstrong spins a Seinfeld-ish story in his debut novel. Set in first person, Armstrong’s narrative includes a colorful array of highly opinionated cast that surround Nick, his featured character. Used mainly as foils to develop Nick’s persona, Armstrong’s cleverly created cast doesn’t reflect the predictable conventional format found in humorous circumstances. In the midst of many minor characters with regular-sounding names, Armstrong incorporates key people with unidentifiable monikers such as Supermom, Nifty-Fifty Wife, Good Heart, and Lion Tamer. It only gets better when he combines his snarky cast to a flurry of uproariously hilarious situational comedy that parents, more than any audience, will appreciate as Nick slowly hones his skills—going from “little grasshopper to Zen master.” Catching glimpses of situational comedy scenes, great examples include the police citation at a Chinese restaurant, the missing Doo-cho-baa (security blanket), the flying egg plate, and the case of the liquid trap during playgroup—just to name a few. Kudos goes to Armstrong for producing a highly entertaining coming-of-age as well as human-interest tale.

 

One Pissed Off Shark by Zack Scott

four stars

one-pissedZack Scott’s One Pissed Off Shark starts with a description of the main characters, “seven friends in their late teens and early twenties. Seven very stereotypical friends.” This group consists of An athlete, his girlfriend, his smart (black) best friend, the fat friend, the “hopeless romantic”/”chronic masturbator”, the sexy, promiscuous girl, and a prudish hipster. After this, the events of the book are further foreshadowed when the reader sees two brothers out kayaking, when one is attacked and killed by the shark. Next, the seven friends set out to go SNUBA diving (a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving). Drinking, hook-ups, and more shark attacks ensue. Meanwhile, the mother of the first two boys that were attacked hires a private investigator to find and kill the shark. The PI acquires the help of her marine biologist ex and a drunken self-declared shark hunter. Who will survive the ordeal?

This shark attack, comedy-thriller attempts to poke fun at common horror film tropes, toying with expectations, while still playing into them. For instance, it employs a “pre-scare” which one character recognizes and labels as such. However, the humor isn’t for everyone, and while the book is clearly meant to be sarcastic, it doesn’t do anything particularly interesting or clever with the cliches it plays with (our final girl is one of the first to die, but this leaves us with almost no one interesting or likable to follow for the remainder of the novel’s pages). The book has a light, sarcastic tone which mostly works, although some jokes fell flat. The author employs a shifty point of view that didn’t always make sense, but demonstrates a good mastery of creating suspense and portraying action and the book is a well-paced, engaging, quick read. There are also some unnecessary racial jokes, ableism, and casual misogyny. Jaws with a touch of irony, you’ll dive right into this book and think twice before diving into the water.

 

Seven For a Secret by Rumer Haven

four stars

sevenAn intriguing tale that twists together the paranormal with a witty rom-com, Seven For a Secret is both a ghost story and a romantic escapade. We follow twenty-four-year-old Kate as she moves into a new apartment, celebrating the freedom she feels as the year 2000 ushers in a new millennium. She decides to take a break from her boyfriend Dexter so that she can explore more of her spontaneous side, quickly developing a crush on her attractive next-door neighbor. However, it’s not long before her plan for romance goes awry, as she learns that her building, Camden Court, was once a hotel in the roaring twenties. Now, eighty years later, Kate is confronted with the reality that many of the hotel’s past guests haunt the halls. One of these supernatural beings happens to be ninety-year-old Olive, whose life ended in Kate’s very apartment. As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Olive holds a deadly secret she’s eager to share, one that links her to a scandalous affair involving a young man named Lon, who brings a whole bout of tragedy to the situation that Kate is forced to deal with, whether she likes it or not.

By pairing the modern-day story with intriguing elements from the 1920s, including ghosts and tantalizing trysts, Haven crafts a spellbinding plot that is sure to keep readers enraptured. Kate is a realistic modern-day woman, whose wants and desires could be considered both strengths and weaknesses. The story unspools at the perfect pace, layering more and more upon the reader as they move along the narrative. The comparisons that are drawn up between how women were treated in the early twentieth century to how they are viewed in the modern era is an especially fascinating element of the book which the author pulls off quite well. By blending genres of romance, historical fiction, and the supernatural, Haven pulls readers into her story with ease, as her talent for constructing such a juicy novel displays itself readily in every chapter.

 

The Lost Love by Mohammad Saeed Habashi

threestars

lostStarting in Copenhagen, and spanning far across the globe to locales such as Tehran and Los Angeles, The Lost Love is an engrossing work of fiction that follows multiple characters on their quests of self-discovery. Arranged as a collection of short stories that share similar themes and ideology, the pieces that Habashi has constructed here shine brightly from the page. While the titular story is about a story within a story, other narratives include tales about turmoil in the Middle East in ‘The Escape,’ while another follows the life of an older gentleman in ‘The Old Man.’ Each story moves quickly from beginning to end, creating easy-to-digest bouts of fiction that readers are sure to savor. By addressing universal themes in locations across the globe, Habashi presents a diverse cast of characters which many readers will be able to identify with.

While the writing is not perfect, and there are times when it comes across as jilted or confusing, the overall structure of the narratives presented here overcome the few parts that fall short. By reinventing his protagonists with each successive story, Habashi succeeds at always surprising the reader, taking his book across the world, all within the span of one singular collection. While the theme of love persists throughout the novel, there are also other philosophies to ponder here, as the reader is forced to contemplate aging, family, friendships, and what it means to call a place your home. Overall, this is an entertaining collection that offers a lot of avenues for the reader to explore.

 

The Long Road Back by Bridget McGowan

four stars

A sequel to We Have Your Son, this novel follows up with the teenage romance between Jeremy and Emma, and all of the hardships they’ve undergone while trying to make their relationship work. It’s senior year, and the two are trying to move on with their lives and build a foundation together, all while aiming to get good grades and have some fun like most teenagers want to. Unfortunately for Jeremy and Emma, life proves to not be easy, even after they thought they’d put the past behind them. Jeremy’s sessions with his therapist continue to increase in intensity, and just when things start to calm down and he thinks he can stop going, he hits another roadblock. Another wrench is thrown into the mix when it’s revealed that Daniel Brannigan, the man who kidnapped Jeremy when he was a little boy, is living nearby. Between this revelation, overprotective parents, the typical turmoil of teenage romance, and the unrelenting angst that often boils up between Jeremy and Emma, it’s no wonder these two lovebirds are finding it difficult to make their relationship flourish in the ways they wish it to.

A thrilling sequel that takes many of the same themes and storylines from We Have Your Son and expands upon them, The Long Road Back deepens the connection between Jeremy and Emma, while throwing new complications their way. By mixing elements of a Young Adult novel with a Thriller, this novel succeeds at crafting a plot line that is constantly shifting and evolving, keeping the reader on their toes as they try to figure out what is going to happen next. While Jeremy and Emma were well developed in the first book, they are even more realistic here. The scenes of Jeremy with his therapist are especially memorable, and paint a complex picture of someone who has to try their best to deal with the demons from their past. This book is sure to appeal to both readers young and old, regardless of whether or not you’ve read the first book in the series.

 

Return to Sender by Mindy S. Halleck

threestars

senderMindy S. Halleck’s Return To Sender is a fast-paced, complicated story about Theodore “Theo” Riley, an Irish-born boxer and Korean war hero turned priest, who must face evil in the form of Genghis Hansel, a serial rapist, murderer, and pedophile, who believes he is on a mission from God. Father Riley is battling other demons as well. He is haunted by the sad-eyed Korean children whom he was unable to save as a prisoner of war, and the loss of his one true love, Andrea Bouvre, who abandoned him while he was serving his country. Theo is also tormented by his promise to his mother to become a priest, as penance for his gentle brother Kiernan’s death and Theo’s revenge on his brother’s killers, at the tender age of ten. Halleck tells a good story, and she builds up almost unbearable suspense over the course of the novel, culminating in a showdown between good and evil, during which Theo must face an unspeakable choice. There is no doubt that Halleck’s story will keep the reader enthralled.

This fast pace almost allows the reader to overlook a couple of drawbacks. First and foremost is Ms. Halleck’s use of stereotypes, especially in her portrayal of Solomon, Theo’s mentor, a wise Native American, who helps raise Theo after his family has immigrated to America. Solomon makes of Theo a true warrior, like Solomon himself. However, although Solomon is a likable and interesting character, he is one nevertheless based on stereotypes of Native Americans, namely the magical, mystical, environmentalist-before-it-was-trendy Indian, the noble savage, whose terse but beautiful wisdom can help save the white man from himself. This stereotyping bleeds over into the other non-white characters as well, such as the Korean Pearl and the Japanese Mrs. Wu, both of whom are filled with the mysticism and wisdom of the Orient in predictable ways. The other drawback is the few, but jarring, spelling errors, such as dye for die, kiddywampus for cattywampus, and tear ducks instead of tear ducts. Attention to these errors, especially a reevaluation of the unfortunate stereotypes at the heart of this novel, could make what is now only a good story into a great one.

 

Lincoln’s Hat: And the Tea Movement’s Anger by David Selcer

four stars

hatHarlan Pomeroy, a highly educated writer, is not a racist. He is in love with and marries Sally Hairston, a free Black. He hates President Lincoln so much that he tries twice to have him assassinated. In his eyes, Lincoln is a socialist who’s ruining the country by opening the floodgates of immigration to Irish, German and Italians to serve as cannon fodder in the Civil War. After Booth kills Lincoln, Pomeroy supports Andrew Johnson against the radical republicans in Congress, which leads to political gridlock, the impeachment of Johnson and the downfall of the South’s reconstruction. Instead of the rule of law, the Ku Klux Klan takes over in a rule of terror that sweeps the southern states with lynching and allows carpetbaggers to perpetrate their frauds. One of the casualties is Pomeroy’s own wife who winds up hung in a Klan raid. Trying to piece together his life after this devastating blow, Pomeroy discovers that you can’t fix past wrongs no matter your intentions.

Tackling the darker side of the human psyche, Lincoln’s Hat delves into the depths of how far you are willing to go for what you believe in. Pomeroy is instantly likeable for his commitment to his convictions while still giving the reader pause when he reveals his intentions. Abraham Lincoln’s assignation was a pivotal moment in America’s history. As such, the author is tasked with convincing the reader that Pomeroy really is a good guy fighting for what he believes in. David Selcer doesn’t pull any punches and gets right down to the business of how to assassinate a sitting president. With deft and insightful accuracy, Selcer chronicles the life of a young man trying to make his world a better place, the best way he knows how. Readers will be drawn into his passion and penchant for depicting a dream of peace and prosperity for all. They will stay for the powerful portrayal of one of the darkest times in American History. Lincoln’s Hat is must read for any historical fiction fan.

 

Borrowed Wings by Ruthie Morgan

5redstars

borrowedA few months have passed since Evan Skylark committed suicide. His wife Billie and their twins Evie and Sunny have temporarily left their sweet abode on St. Cloud Island and are living with Billie’s stepfather in Scotland. Going beyond Billie, Evan’s death affects all those who have had close ties with the young couple; just as Billie attempts to pick up the pieces of her fragile life, her friends (Jack, Felix and Zoe, Jed and Sadie, Dan, and Virginia) are doing the same thing, “each of them trying to live in a tragically altered reality.” While Zoe is concerned about her recent pregnancy and Sadie battles with the idea of marriage, for examples, the greatest unresolved conflict appears to be between Billie and Jack…until Raife—Jack’s brother—comes onto the scene.

Award-winning author Ruthie Morgan spins a tension-filled story in her gripping sequel to Skylark. Alternating character scenes weave throughout Morgan’s plot. Morgan keeps Billie front and center as the principal voice—written in first person, while the remaining cast is set in third person viewpoint. Key to Morgan’s writing style is her attention to human-interest issues and the struggles that accompany her characters as they face their life journeys—particularly without the presence of Evan Skylark. While many themes focus on love in various forms, Morgan’s narrative also draws attention to motherhood—as in the case of Billie and Zoe, and old age—as in the case of Jack’s mother, Amandine. Morgan uses these themes to create tension throughout the bulk of her story. Although her plot has a dystopian feel to it, Morgan manages to lighten it with sensual love scenes and a glimmer of hope. Borrowed Wings is nothing less than a stunning read!

 

The Canterbury Tales by Gerald J. Davis

four stars

talesAn adored classic and, of course, a canonical giant: Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales bears infinite recreation and translation. That’s precisely why Gerald J. Davis has put countless hours of work into researching and translating the tales from Middle English into a more contemporary, accessible dialect. Make no mistake, though, all of that reworking certainly hasn’t stripped the original text of its wit or its caustic humor. The vignettes that Chaucer has painted of the various facets of English society remain as sharp as ever, and Davis has made perfectly sure that none of those biting observations ever gets lost in translation. No summary of the tales would do their portraiture justice, but suffice it to say that there are dozens of short stories that comprise the work, and each is more delightful than the last. From The Knight’s Tale to The Parson’s Tale and everything in between, you won’t be disappointed by this literary smorgasbord.

Few versions of The Canterbury Tales have done the work such justice as Davis’s has. His interpretations of the original language bring it to life in a vibrant, enthralling way. If you’re a fan of Chaucer’s, you really must get your hands on a copy.

 

The Angry Man and the Weaver by Alexander Mescavage and Eunice Taylor

four stars

angryThis modern-day re-imagining of the tales from the Odyssey creates an atmospheric narrative that is both risque and realistic. We follow characters who are modeled after their classic counterparts, as they struggle through life, searching for love, power, and revenge. The authors have clearly studied the original texts thoroughly, pulling out the best parts of each story and weaving them intricately into this new take. Readers who are interested in Greek gods, but have a taste for surprising stories that dole out bites of suspense are sure to find this book an entertaining one.

By taking powerful plot points from the Bronze Age and melding certain ideologies to today’s society, Mescavage and Taylor have crafted a one-of-a-kind tale that stands alone, even though it is modeled after previous works. The characters are both shocking and sympathetic, causing the reader to want to follow along the complicated journeys the authors put them on. With godlike humans and gods who seem far more mortal than they ever truly could be, this book is the perfect blend of originality, combining the old with the new.

 

Lazlo’s Revenge by Glen Hierlmeier

four stars

lazloGlen Hierlmeier’s latest historical romance novel, Lazlo’s Revenge, is the story of one woman’s adventure throughout Europe to uncover her parents’ pasts. Stories of romance, war, and trauma, both physical and emotional, are unearthed as she traces their footsteps back to the World Wars I & II. During her journey, the people who influenced her parents’ lives fascinate Max, a writer and Swiss war correspondent. She follows the life of Lazlo Floznik, who saved her parents and helped them escape catastrophe in Europe by finding refuge beyond the reach of the enemy security forces. Max explores her family roots, in this deeply emotional story tied together by Lazlo’s intense story of love, and that of his father, Miklos, before him. With her research spanning the years prior to World War I through World War II, Max embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

Hierlmeier expertly weaves the complex tapestry of war, love, and discovery. Wartime struggles and pain jump off the page and envelope the reader into the settling dust of destruction created by an encroaching enemy. Through all the fear and uncertainty, Heirlmeier keeps the hope of survival and love alive in his characters. As Max begins to uncover the story of her family’s origin, she discovers the tenacity and sheer will of her ancestors as well as their commitment to each other and those displaced by war. With deft skill often found in good fiction, Heirlmeier masterfully creates a sweeping epic anchored by strong characters. The accurate and poignant historical references are sure to delight any historical reader. The feeling of real life adventure helps this novel break through the barriers of its historical genre to entice readers of all genres.

 

Out of Reach by Jeffrey Millhollin

four stars

Out of Reach opens on a precious scene: a small girl, Jenny, bargaining with her father, Jim Markman, for Saturday morning pancakes and a trip to the zoo. She is clearly the apple of his eye, as he’s quickly cajoled into granting her every wish. Life could not be more ideal for the Markmans in that moment. Tragically, that very same day, young Jenny finds herself at the mercy of strangers who have kidnapped—and ostensibly murdered—her. The weight of this great loss causes Jim’s marriage to fall apart as he throws himself full-force into his work at the District Attorney’s office. Six years after the horrific kidnapping of his young daughter, Jim must confront a high-profile murder case that might just be the most complicated trial of his life. Just as the state seems to be cinching their case against the defendant, a dubious character called Clammer, the lead defense attorney comes to Jim with the most unusual deal he’s ever heard. Clammer knows the whereabouts of Jim’s daughter. Claiming that Jenny is still alive and that his client is the only one who can direct the distraught lawyer to his lost progeny, the defense attorney begs Jim to throw his own case out the window in order to salvage what’s left of his family. Understandably ambivalent, Jim asks for proof, and upon seeing photographic evidence, he is convinced of what he must do. In order to avoid a mistrial that might lead to the DA’s office reopening the case, Jim has to convince a jury to exonerate the obviously guilty man of their own volition. Calamity ensues as he battles for justice, retribution, his family, and ultimately, his own life.

Written by a man who practiced law for over 40 years, this intriguing crime novel reads true to life. Compelling from start to finish, Out of Reach hooks the reader at the outset and won’t let go until he or she has run the gamut of emotions. This book has an addictive quality that is the mark of any great procedural novel.

 

A Patch of Dirt by Richard Lutman

four stars

In Richard Lutman’s gritty western romance, A Patch of Dirt, we are thrown into the world of 30-year-old Joe Oliver, an alcoholic womanizer drifting across the Montana wastes from one ranch job to another, from one bar brawl to another, and from one loose dame to another. After a failed relationship leaves Joe heartbroken, the only break in the monotony of his life comes when Frank Hill, a wounded sixty-something Vietnam veteran, offers Joe an unusual job as a hand on his ranch. Both parties have unexpressed, ulterior motives and Joe quickly learns that there is more to Frank and his young bombshell wife Rita than first meets the eye. His continued involvement with the couple will test the wills, hearts, and charted life courses for all involved.

Lutman styles his novel as an update on the classic hard-boiled western, lading it with old-fashioned machismo, bravado, and gender dynamics, while presenting the male fantasy of a deeply flawed yet irresistible man who can get any woman he desires. Lutman casts these tropes and archetypes in a rugged grey light that brings the imperfections of Joe’s world into harsh relief. It is a raw Americana romance – tapping into the heady literary resonance of booze, sex, and blue-collar emotional violence – where the action passes by in flurries of slaps, whiskey shots, love making, cigarettes, and rusted tractors. While “A Patch of Dirt” may presents us with somewhat contrived romantic dynamics that seem simply to occur rather than to grow and develop, they are nonetheless both compelling and believable, conveyed more emotionally than logically by the sum of Lutman’s detailed scenes. The backdrops of the beautiful, desolate landscapes of a cold backwoods American West successfully infuse the narrative with a brooding, brutal, and melancholy atmosphere, and the entire world is painted with rich and evocative strokes of scenery and feeling. With descriptions full of intoxicating clichés, Lutman spins a tale whose comfortably familiar elements and inviting richness belie the vulgarity and cruelty of the narrative with thrilling counterpoint, adding complexity to the facile generic elements and sugar-coating the bitter pill of the often-bleak story. To convey this chronicle, Lutman opts for a narrative style that verges seamlessly into a stream-of-consciousness exploration the different characters’ perspectives, thoughts, and memories, sculpting a fluidly dynamic and textured romance. The result is a breezy and well-composed read, although the pacing can sometimes feel weird and uneven – the action doesn’t seem to rise and fall over time in a classic arc so much as it jumps up and down in quick bursts. Reading the novel can be like driving rapidly over speedbumps: uncomfortable and a bit challenging, but wild, exciting, and deeply connected to a certain savage abandon that is simultaneously linked to both a zest and disregard for the gravity of life. Although the novel ends with a few confusing moral messages, it is at its core a noble melodrama and a passionate tale of missed opportunities and second chances, as well as a moving meditation on the powers and shortcomings of love. Rigorously well-written, profoundly imagined, A Patch of Dirt has – beneath its chilly and bristling exterior – a warm, tender, beating heart.

 

What the Clocks Know by Rumer Haven

5redstars

clocks

After a sudden breakup with her fiancé, Margot returns to her parent’s home until she is accepted into a London business school program. As two close friends help go through her belongings in preparation for the trip, Margot comes across her brother’s Ouija board. For old time’s sake, the three friends play the game, and to their surprise they make a connection with an energetic spirit that leaves a slew of cryptic clues. Although she makes light of the incident, Margot finds herself thinking back to her grandmother’s brooch that went missing years ago, as well as the mysterious person who claimed to have possession of it. Stranger things occur once Margot settles in London, especially when she connects the clues to a local grave.

Rumer Haven presents a twisted paranormal story in her latest novel. Keeping to a small-foiled cast, Haven features Margot, a young woman whose vulnerable state is intensified by her paranormal experiences. Divided into five sections, Haven gives a glimpse into what lays ahead by opening the segments with plot-related poetry from William Wordsworth (1-4) and Walt Whitman (5). Haven then follows these lyrical works with a first person narrator—a ghost—from the 19th Century before jumping ahead to Margot’s human-related and paranormal experiences. A unique approach to Haven’s writing style is her use of red herrings. Taking advantage of her principal character’s vulnerability, Haven keeps her audience often confused as they are trying to figure out if Margot is suffering from a mental condition, is really experiencing the paranormal, or both. By using this literary tool, Haven is able to not only produce a consistent narrative flow, but also provide a flurry of unexpected character scenes up to and including the story’s close. What the Clocks Know offers paranormal enthusiasts a refreshingly gripping yet keenly deceptive read.

 

Pigeon Blood Red by Ed Duncan

four stars

pigeonPigeon Blood Red by Ed Duncan details the story of numerous characters and their various levels of involvement with the theft of and adventures with a necklace with multiple pigeon-blood red rubies within. As the novel begins, readers are thrown into the stories of two men, Jerry and Rico, as they discover that something has been stolen from them during their time as entrusted transporters of the mysterious package. As the story progresses, readers discover that Robert, a man who is indebted to the owner of this package, has found himself with an opportunity to steal the package from Rico and Jerry. Once Robert successfully escapes with the package, he quickly embarks on a trip to Honolulu, masked as a second honeymoon with his soon-to-be ex-wife. In an adventure of each party attempting to outmaneuver the other, readers are brought along for the journey of lost loves, extramarital affairs, murder, revenge, and greed. In a novel with as much action as love, it is sure to be a story that will fulfill the desires of readers of all ages, genders, and areas of interest.

Ed Duncan’s novel is one with a variety of characters and a plot line with just as many twists and turns. With so many characters within one novel, it is oftentimes difficult to distinguish the characters from each other, and to create stories that both interweave enough to maintain a flowing story, yet maintain enough of a distance from each other to separate themselves as a stand-alone story. In Pigeon Blood Red, Duncan successfully creates stories of each of these characters that are both independent of one another but still interwoven, but seems to somewhat struggle with creating characters that have vastly different voices from each other. Each of the women in the story tended to blend together in personality and voice, as well as the men in the story. Though the men had different backgrounds and motives for each character in theory, the voices that were created for each seemed indistinguishable from one another. When each of the men spoke or acted, their intentions, words, speech, diction, etc. were written as similar to each of the other men in the novel. The plot line of the novel, however, was one that was interesting and detailed, and was able to maintain an attention-grabbing story throughout. This was also true of the story that followed the necklace itself, as the number of characters and their histories and backgrounds blended together in a tale that was reminiscent of those such as Love Actually, for instance. For a story with such a number of elements involved, the tale that was created was one that was both interesting and worth a read.

 

Blockade: The Quarantine of Cuba by William Dempsey

four stars

blockadeAfter World War II, the conflict in Korea, and the Bay of Pigs invasion, many Americans, especially those directly responsible for the protection of the United States, are hoping for an extended period of peace. Peace that will allow them time to spend with family and friends, relaxing and enjoying the ways of life outside of the stresses of war. However, as tensions build between the United States and the Soviet Union, and missiles keep appearing in Cuba, it quickly becomes clear that peace may not be in the cards. Blockade: The Quarantine of Cuba is an incisive historical fiction novel that provides insight into the lives of those who protect the United States on board some of the navy’s finest ships. William E. Dempsey skillfully weaves together information from various government sources to create the story of Mike Stafford, the Gunner’s Mate Chief of the U.S.S. Boyington. While many days are routine and uneventful, guarding the Walnut Line and protecting American citizens from the outbreak of war is no easy task.

Dempsey’s characters are likable and his knowledge of history and the inner workings of naval ships is impressive. Altogether, Blockade is a worthwhile novel that reminds the reader of the very real threat of war and what it does to the lives of those involved. As missiles are being sent back to Russian, one can only wonder what would have happened if World War III had begun in 1962.

 

The Dog Healers by Mark Winik

threestars

dogThe Dog Healers is a novel focused on the spiritual and magical powers that Carlos DeMarco applies to soothe and heal dogs. In the beginning, Mark Winik shares this story from a first person perspective, but the main character, Marco, is really not the main focus at all. Winik starts off the novel with a story of a young girl, Isabella, running away from home due to her uncle attacking her and her puppy. A few chapters in, the reader will begin to see what happened to the missing girl. Unfortunately, the story line is a bit disjointed. The story seemed to be about Marco wanting to learn more about dog healing, but it jumped to a story about Isabella, as a grown woman, and a horse, Tango, she was working with. Though she was quite successful, this experience led her to only want to work with dogs, which was her true passion. It is somewhat difficult to stay connected to any characters, other than Isabella, because Winik doesn’t keep them in the story for long. As readers move through the novel, they continually encounter new characters while many others are almost disappear. There ends up being twists and turns with an somewhat interesting ending, and readers learn a bit more of Isabella’s childhood and her journey towards dog healing, but not enough to make it a page turner.

Overall, Mark Winik has a good message throughout The Dog Healers around the spiritual and transpersonal connection to animals, and showing honor and respect to others. However, there is little point to Marco and his desire to hunt down Carlos. Approximately, ninety-percent of the story is about Isabella. Carlos becomes involved with her, but still his presence in the novel is quite minimal. Unless readers are interested in therapeutic massage for animals, it is likely they will lose interest early on in The Dog Healers. There is nothing to keep them interested in what happened to Isabella when she went missing. As mentioned earlier, this is a very slow moving story with a number of unimportant details. It is descriptive, but not overly interesting. It certainly carries the message of treating animals with love and honor, which is a wonderful message to share with the world, but to keep readers interested it needs some work.

 

Told from the Hips by Andrea Amosson

5redstars

hipsTold from the Hips: Short Stories by author Andrea Amosson is a not only a collection of short stories, but is also a collection of stories of womanhood, sensuality, emotion, and difficult pasts that have been “collected” from these individual characters at various points in their lifetime and experiences. The stories include those of a young woman visiting her parents in Copenhagen, her eyes opened to the loss of culture and their pasts in exchange for the coordination and safety of a home in Europe. Another story examines Rhizomatica, a woman who is explained not in terms of appearance or visuals, but rather in by her personality, her emotions, and her actions. “Ananuca – Chachacoma” follows the life of a young girl through her time to an older woman. As a girl, Ananuca grows to discover the power of her sexuality, eventually finding herself married to a young officer. Though the man seems stricken by her beauty, he disappears, leaving the young woman with a baby and a lack of sustenance. The various stories that are told throughout this collection create the images of women of all ages, yet who are able to show their strength through their endeavors and their determination. As is a common theme throughout the collection, the stories told “from the hips” embrace and display womanhood.

Andrea Amosson creates a collection of short stories that each work well on their own to create their own solid tone and feeling, yet that work together to create a theme of powerful, strong, unembarrassed women. Each story tells its own tale in a short time, creating both a full, stand-alone story, yet one that leaves readers yearning for more. Each character in the story has a voice and personality that is distinct from each of the other stories, allowing for readers to make distinctions between the characters and separate them within their mind. The women in these stories also each appear to have varying backgrounds and histories, allowing both the author to tell the individual stories and the readers to understand the differences between them. Additionally, the language that is used throughout the collection is one of educated, proper English, while also maintaining the culture of the author and of the characters of Hispanic and Latino backgrounds. The incorporation of this element into the stories helps to bring readers into the world of the characters, as it is one that they likely both have and have not experienced. As is the opening line in one of the stories, the “story isn’t easy to tell” — but it is one that Amosson does her best through her writings to convey to readers.and it is a goal in which she succeeds.

 

Betrayal at Bahia de Los Cochinos by William E. Dempsey

four stars

betrayalA harrowing tale mixing history with creative invention, Betrayal at Bahia de Los Cochinos outlines, on a grand scale, the invasion of the Bay of Pigs. Fred Schmidt, captain of the U.S. destroyer Jaffey, takes front and center in William E. Dempsey’s novel as a protagonist tormented by agonizing political and military decisions. The story revolves around the historical event of the CIA’s work to uproot the communist Fidel Castro. In order to oust Castro in Cuba, the CIA trains and equips a brigade of Cuban exiles. The Jaffey offers up a trio of its own personnel for the invasion, and the plot is launched. What seems like an airtight and covert plan rapidly dissolves into chaos when Schmidt and the Jaffey are ordered to cease their involvement and all military action is canceled by the president. Abandoned by their own ship, three men face the social, political, and literal wilderness of Castro’s Cuba. On April 17, 1961, the brigade of Cuban exiles named La Brigada de Asalto waged war on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs. Dempsey’s Betrayal at Bahia de Los Cochinos offers a vivid look at the men behind the action and the possibilities behind their unspoken adventures and sorrows.

Betrayal at Bahia de Los Cochinos is undoubtedly a novel of considerable density. It spans a large number of events and happenings, stretching from end to end of the Bay of Pigs conflict. Thus, reading Dempsey’s novel becomes a commitment, and one that history buffs will eat up without any hesitation. The content is packed with naval references and lingo, making it a pleasure for military enthusiasts as well, although readers without a previously-established fondness for history or the military may find certain sections dry and hard to swallow. Nonetheless, the text serves its purpose and, with creative gusto, fills in the questionable gaps in the reporting on the invasion of the Bay of Pigs.

 

24 Frog Lane by Jo-Anne Southern

four stars

Bea Hyska has no idea the life that she is saving when she adopts a baby girl that she finds abandoned in a box. In 24 Frog Lane, The Early Life of Eugenia Sztuka of “Keeping Mum,” Eugenia Hyska is to become a character like no other. Hard headed, determined, loyal, and often unintentionally hilarious, Eugenia quickly becomes a force to be reckoned with, an individual in her own right. Although Eugenia drops out of school to work in one of London’s button factories and support her aging mother, she remains quick witted, smart, and ahead of the curve– except in her singing abilities. Through her dedication and doggedness, she becomes a well-paid and trusted employee at a used clothing store and the wife of Alfie Sztuka. While Eugenia’s life appears to be a journey from rags to upper-middle class, Alfie’s despicable brother, George, presents obstacles, downfalls, and hardships that no one could ever anticipate.

24 Frog Lane by Jo-Anne Southern is a fun tale of love, thievery, determination, and, quite simply, making and living the life that you want. Eugenia is a character so realistic that she seems like a friend you might call up on the phone. Her flaws are just as genuine as her positive character traits and her dreams are like those of most other girls her age. At times, the story seems to go on for pages about one single idea, but isn’t that the way life is? Eugenia reminds us to value the things that we already have, but to never stop reaching for our even bigger dreams, even if they may be a tad unrealistic.

 

Queenie by Raymond Greiner

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queenieRaymond Greiner’s Queenie begins with Korean war soldier Samuel as he leaves Korea and waits out his last few months of his duty in a base camp on the west coast. With little family to go back to and no love for any of them, Samuel surprisingly hears from his Uncle Jake in Alaska, who is becoming old in age and unable to care for his property. Jake offers Samuel his gold claim and hopes that the few fond memories that the two have are enough to entice Samuel to overtake Jake’s claim and to live out his foreseeable future in the home that Jake has built for himself. Anxious to escape the life that has surrounded him in recent years, Samuel accepts and moves to Alaska. Jake and Samuel begin to work together to maintain Jake’s claim, and Jake teaches Samuel the lifestyle that is necessary in such a desolate yet beautiful land. Early on in his time in Alaska, Samuel discovers six abandoned wolf cubs and takes them in to be his new team of sled dogs. Not only do the wolves work to perform their duties (and happily so), but the wolves also unknowingly save the lives of every person that they have touched throughout the story. A drunken, hopeless neighbor Philo turns his life around with the love of Queenie, the leader of the pack. Jake is given new ambition and motivation to live out his winter in the cabin on his land. Samuel meets Angel, a beautiful, native, local woman who takes a liking to the wolves and especially to Samuel. Throughout the story, we see how the lives of these individuals are intertwined and how their bonds have become stronger through the presence of the wolves.

Raymond Greiner’s story is one that is full of heart and emotion, yet one whose story could be further developed to engulf and present these emotions more fully. The progression of the story is one that is too fast-paced for a narrative and plot line that has the potential to be developed into one that is longer and one that would capture its true passions and sensations. Additionally, the writing itself could be further developed in order to portray these full emotions. The narrative of Samuel is efficient and captures his emotions, but the dialogue of each of the characters needs to be developed into clear voices for each of the characters and into dialogue that feels more natural. The dialogue that exists in the story seems more like narrative and explanations than it does dialogue that would be held between two people. As a reader, it was often confusing whether Samuel was narrating his thoughts or whether he (or any other character, as all characters seemed to have the same voice) was speaking his dialogue. That being said, the story that was told was one that allowed readers to develop a connection with the wolves in the story and still managed to interest readers into the development of the plot line.

 

Family Snapshots by Bridget McGowan

four stars

snapshotsIn many ways, Family Snapshots by Bridget McGowan is a novel where traditional family values meet the modern stresses of growing up. Set in a small town in Wales, the story follows the youngest son of the proud Keating household. Even at four years of age, Nicholas Keating wants nothing more than to be a musician. At once precocious and naive, he quickly shows promise in piano, voice, and his beloved violin. Getting from four to twenty-four with his musical dream intact is not an easy feat, yet Nicholas faces it all with tempered inquisitiveness, reason, and a healthy dose of wit. An unusual life suits an unusual boy, and the path of a musician tests Nicholas’s strength of mind. At the core, the bonds of family are always there as support, even when life does not go as planned.

Author Bridget McGowan weaves a picture of a boy’s coming of age structured around music. Though his actions have simple motives, Nicholas is a complex and ever-evolving character. Having two older sisters and a famous musician for a grandfather meant Nicholas had a lot to look up to, but also a lot of help growing up. On top of that, the father’s even-handedness is reminiscent of other great literary dads such as Atticus from To Kill A Mockingbird. With family on his side, Nicholas tackles difficult life lessons in sexuality and more. Using language natural to the Welsh families along with some phrases in Welsh, the writing lulls you into its comfortable pace. Still, while the changing obstacles of the everyday keep things interesting, the novel as a whole lacks a central conflict. As a result, the ending feels a little abrupt and lacks satisfaction. Nevertheless, Family Snapshots is an alluring and timeless story of the work it takes to follow your dreams.

 

The Quandary by Jo-Anne Southern

four stars

The Quandary by Jo-Anne Southern is a fast-paced narrative about Canadian Gail Montgomery and how she recovers from the death of her British husband, John. Set in England beginning in 1959, Southern’s novel explores not only the burgeoning women’s movement through Gail’s character but also the tension between changing social mores and the stagnant behavior of England’s upper crust. The novel opens during John Montgomery’s funeral, a tragic event that wreaks havoc on Gail’s family. In their traditional marriage, John handled all of the finances, and Gail is left with no money, and soon, no home for herself and her three children. Gail struggles to keep her family together and her children in school and takes a job as a server at a local pub. Gail’s older children are mortified by their reduced circumstances and even accuse their mother of squandering their father’s money. The truth, however, is that John’s finances are complex and he seems to have hidden money from Gail, who meets many setbacks trying to recover it.

Just when it seems that Gail will have to move back to Toronto, she meets Geoffrey Haslett, a wealthy and successful lawyer. Soon she is visiting Geoffrey’s estate and meeting his mother, Jill, who soon proposes that Gail marry Geoffrey in order to help her financially and to help Geoffrey professionally as well as to provide Geoffrey, who is impotent, with an heir. Under pressure from her own persistent financial concerns as well as from her snobbish and pretentious older children, Gail agrees to marry Geoffrey. She quickly realizes the mistake she has made. Not only is she lonely, in her sexless marriage, but Jill attempts to control every aspect of Gail’s life and that of her children. Gail eventually must decide whether the financial comfort her marriage brings her is greater than her own need for independence. Southern provides a fascinating character study in Gail Montgomery, even if the character is not always the most sympathetic. Furthermore, Southern spends a bit too much time detailing the horrendous behavior of Gail’s mother-in-law and Gail’s children and not enough time exploring Gail’s quest to find John’s money. Nonetheless, The Quandary is an excellent and entertaining read, which will keep the reader hooked from beginning to end.

 

Chakana by W.E. Lawrence

four stars

chakanaIn a smashing text lively with adventure, romance, and history, Lawrence outlines the story of Kate Rhodes and her tomb raider-style excursion to Peru. Opening with a harrowing rescue by Kate of the Scottish James Fleming in 1934, Lawrence sets the stage for a fast-paced and thrilling story. Lawrence then implants his audience into the present, six years after James returns to his homeland for World War II and Kate becomes a sharp-shooting police officer. Chakana’s plot really begins, however, with Kate receiving a mysterious Incan artifact in the mail from her brother, along with a message that indicates his run-in with trouble in Peru because of it. After consulting a local university professor and discovering the breathtaking potential of this artifact, Kate and the professor embark upon a journey to track down her brother and uncover the truth. Along the way, Kate encounters old friends, new enemies, and an insidious plot implicating the entire Second World War.

Chakana is written for modern audiences looking for a slap-bang adventure brimming with intrigue and romantic tension. In this regard, Lawrence’s novel excels splendidly. Its simplistic style of narration makes it an easy read and highly accessible for a wide variety of audiences. However, it does rely a good deal on previously-existing tropes and clichés common to this type of genre. Much time is spent developing a plot that revolves around criminals, treasure, and escapades, and very little is reserved to dwell on character development or interesting new forays into the genre. Regardless, the book offers a drama that most people will heartily devour and which will have those people wondering where the time has gone after they’ve done so.

 

The Moral Line by Vanessa Bogenholm

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moralAfter being rejected and left alone, Alexandria finds herself going down a moral line. Slightly desperate for money, she takes a one-time ‘job’ as a paid for companion by a not so attractive but very nice wealthy man. Is being paid to be in the company of men really such a bad thing if it feels good and maybe helps someone feel better about himself? She falls into a world of clients that are wealthy, powerful, successful men with fancy cars and country club lifestyles. She sees the fragility in all of these men, the loneliness, and need for acceptance that is part of the human condition. Alexandria becomes ‘Catherine,’ a high-end escort with a beautiful laugh who finds the goodness and attractiveness in all men, falling in love with all of her clients just a little.

Vanessa Bogenholm has created a seemingly unlikely heroine in Alexandria. Her obvious self-loathing echoes the feelings many women have when they have been repeatedly rejected by one they love. Alexandria’s reinvention of herself as Catherine and subsequent extracurricular activities is a beautiful rendition of the deepest, darkest day dreams of many. Unable to fulfill those fantasies ourselves, we fall instantly for Alexandria and her struggle to find herself again. Alexandria’s emotional depth is riveting and allows Bogenholm to delve into a world where women are objectified and used, in a unique way. She gives her character the ability to see through the crass and ugly side of escorts to what the clients and escorts are really feeling. Her in-depth character study is evident in the complex levels of her characters. If you are looking for an engaging and emotionally fulfilling read, Vanessa Bogenholm has nailed it with The Moral Line.

 

The Year Mrs. Cooper Got Out More by Meredith Marple

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cooperThe year is 2014, and an underlying current of malaise is stirring behind the closed doors of residents in the small and quaint Maine town of Great Wharf. To name a few examples, Mallory Cooper is afraid to go outdoors, Dr. Jim Beall has intimacy issues, Jean Trent is still trying to get over the sudden death of her husband, and a couple are still searching for their daughter who has been missing nearly fourteen years. While the above-mentioned cast and a flurry of other town folk dealing with their problems, darker situations arise when a murder and a series of mysterious accidents occur.

Meredith Marple’s debut novel is reminiscent of Peyton Place minus the anticipated sordid secrets. Indeed, Marple’s tightly knit cast is shrouded in secrecy of one form or other. Yet her well-defined characters, for the most part, are made up of decent individuals at different stages in their lives—all holding on to unresolved issues. Key to Marple’s third person narrative is the incorporation of a supportive and foiled cast to help shape fifty-five-year-old Mallory Cooper, her featured character. Also of interest is the way Marple interweaves the cast into her plot. While constantly alternating character scenes, Marple periodically sprinkles in what she refers to as “epistolary” excerpts from an “unpublished manuscript” titled Runaway Legacy. The letters, which focus on the parents of their missing daughter, initially appear to be out of plot context until the disclosure of a surly yet flirtatious character. Slowing tying in the complexity of her cast and their varied situations, Marple convolutes her story even more while building to its apex by throwing in an out-of-the-blue murder and a handful of bizarre accidents. Kudos to Marple for creating a fascinating and engaging read!

 

The Quest for Integrity by Jaswinder Singh

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questPurshottam Gill is determined to address a growing problem at Amlawar Clock Tower. As the new manager of this Bank of the Nation branch, Purshottam not only learns that there has been a high turnover of managers, but also that political corruption has been a major cause of the Indian bank’s dilemma. Standing firm in his belief of transparency, Purshottam slowly builds integrity back into the branch by ridding corruption one honest handshake at a time. But when upper management circulates a false complaint against him, Purshottam is unaware of what he is truly up against.

Rising author Jaswinder Singh writes a fictional story that does not veer far from the truth. Covering two decades in the latter portion of the 20th Century, Singh offers readers a vivid picture of the power and deceptive grip the political arena has on banks. Set in India, Singh opens his third person narrative in the present time (Purshottam Gill’s new branch manager position) before delving into the past. Deftly portraying Gill’s unquestionable veracity–a man who is moved by the starkly diverse and deplorable economic conditions of his environs, Singh quickly shifts over to the story’s background. Incorporating a few distinct literary elements, Singh devotes many chapters to key characters. Whether innocent, devious, or innocent-turned-devious, each character plays principal roles in the evolution of bank corruption. Singh keeps his audience engaged by alternating character scenes within and between chapters, including rich dialogue that reflects Indian culture, and weaving in a flurry of unexpected scenes. Powerfully written, Singh aptly states: “This novel expresses the strong view that we must stop considering corruption as a value and recognize that through it, we are only torturing each other.” Kudos to Singh for creating an eye-opening debut novel!

 

The Author or The Characters’ Short Living Story by Facundo Raganato

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authorWhen the characters of The Author or The Characters’ Short Living Story find themselves together with no memory of what happened to them before, the stage is set for an adventure in the mind of the talented author. It’s a creative (and very meta) narrative twist. The author introduces himself to Lisa, Violet, Henry, Leo, Kimberly, and Joe, who are understandably confused about their roles in the author’s mind games. He encourages his characters to make the most of the mysterious upcoming conflict for the sake of the Reader. Although angry with the author over his meddling, they continue to travel to each new setting in search of their past, with the Author always one step ahead.

Although it’s a befuddling premise, Facundo Raganato allows the character’s continued confusion to explain the story’s dynamics in an organic and entertaining way. As Joey frowns into the mirror, the Reader discovers his dark eyes, “comically uneven” hair, and thick brown jacket for the first time with him. Likewise, we learn of Lisa’s “discipline, strength, and confidence” and that what Henry lacks in muscle, he makes up in intelligence. Raganato simultaneously weaves in a commentary on both reading and writing. “It’s interesting how in literature, the meaning of a character can affect the story of how it is lived. But, since the story is lived by the Reader, all the infinite meanings we all could derive are just different views of the same room,” he writes. The characters travel from one scene to the next, intent on escaping destiny as dictated by the Author and the Reader. As the story winds down, the antics amp up and the ending is perhaps too dramatic for the rest of the book. The underlying love story that has been growing gradually suddenly explodes into a slightly melodramatic but still satisfying ending. While the narrative itself, rather ironically, can feel forced at times, overall it’s a nicely executed exploration of what it means to be a Reader.

 

A Search for Love by Lee Dorsey

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searchPart love story, part self-discovery narrative, part suspense, Lee Dorsey’s newest novel A Search For Love has it all. The story follows twenty-eight-year-old Matt Matthews who is a successful DJ living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Eventually as his career thrives, he goes on to become a famous television personality in New York City. While Matt has found it rather easy to succeed in the professional realm, his personal life has not really followed suit. He longs to be in love more than anything else, but his luck with women is lacking to say the least. He goest out with a lot of different ladies, each one of them presenting something to keep him interested, causing him to fall for them as he wades through a pool of sexual encounters. The problem is that none of these relationships turn into anything more. When he finally does find a woman he thinks he can spend the rest of his life with, it is all ripped away from him, as she is sent to jail for perpetrating a dangerous Ponzi scheme. When the love of his life finally gets out of jail, she flees the country, causing Matt to wonder if he should drop everything and go after her, or decide to give up once and for all.

The novel is a pretty easy read, and those who pick it up will find the pages turning easily. At the beginning of the narrative, it seems like there are so many different female characters coming and going that it can be difficult to keep track of who is who, but that’s sort of the point, as Dorsey shows just how fluid Matt’s life is with all of these different women. The story really picks up in the middle, and barrels on until the final page. At times the writing is lackluster and uninspiring, but the story at its heart is an intriguing one, and Dorsey succeeds at keeping it interesting by always offering up twists and turns. If you’re looking for a complicated tale of sex, suspense, and romance, then this just may be the book for you.

 

Elsie Street by Gabriella West

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elsieAfter refusing to kick out two men on a date, Dave is fired from his job as a bartender. His girlfriend Janine gets him a job as a museum security officer, but things don’t start off well. Dave’s new boss, Mike, thinks that Dave is gay and as it turns out, he might be right. Dave is haunted by memories of his college roommate, Matt, with whom he had a brief sexual relationship. Although Dave is questioning his sexuality, he feels that he has lost his opportunity to experiment. However, while working a special event for the museum, Dave meets an attractive young patron and drives him home to Elsie Street. They plan to see each other again in a month. Before they part they kiss passionately, but Dave declines Aaron’s invitation upstairs. When Dave tells Janine about Aaron she is neither surprised nor upset. The next time that Aaron and Dave meet they have sex and confess to one another that they are in love. They also talk about their difficult pasts and family lives. When Dave goes home, he admits to Janine that he is in love and she asks him to move out. He then moves in with Aaron. Shortly after this, Dave runs into his old roommate Matt. Matt is about to get married, but wants to see Dave before the wedding. When Dave tells Aaron about the encounter, Aaron suggests that Dave and Matt could have sex. Although this temporarily complicates things for Dave and Aaron, their relationship survives the turmoil.

The author uses casual language and cliches, the end of the story is very sudden, and the relationships portrayed are unhealthy and unrealistic. For instance, although Dave and Janine have an open relationship, Dave does not have other partners and is clearly uncomfortable with Janine having other partners. However, he does not feel comfortable communicating this with her and feels betrayed. Also, Janine has sex with Mike, leaving Dave in an uncomfortable work situation and Dave and Aaron tell each other that they are in love after only the second time they meet. Despite its shortcomings, West’s Elsie Street is an fast-paced, steamy read that demonstrates that it is never too late to reevaluate your identity and find happiness.

 

The Brownstone: Troubled Waters by Julie Brown

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brownLili Wentworth’s life was already the definition of ruined, and she had hoped to start picking up the pieces in Sri Lanka. In The Brownstone, she has lost everything she knew and loved. Now in The Brownstone: Troubled Waters, all she wants is her life back. The last thing she needed was a group of people, some strangers, some dear to her, telling her she was Gifted. She has been her whole life, and not just with any ordinary Gift either. Being born extraordinary comes with as many confusing avenues to navigate as it does dangers. Soon, she is discovering that she no longer has a clear idea of who she is, and what to make of her life. As she struggles to trust the companions she must lean on for guidance, Lili has some decisions to make. Does she deny her dreams and fight the compulsion to help others when she still cannot help herself, or does she listen and learn, as her father may have once done? Can she open her heart again, only to find someone else has taken over it? And when disaster strikes, will her injured legs be steady enough to withstand it?

In this second installment of the Brownstone series, Julie Brown writes Lili as she moves past her most vulnerable stages. Lili is still the compassionate and light-hearted woman she’s always been, evolving with each change she is put through. When the world continues to beat her down, she does not roll over and allow it. There are many lessons to learn: those of healing, those of self-love, and then how to bring out that inner strength to love others. Lili’s story reminds readers that when one path closes, a million more branch out. Her character is woven with complexities that mirror real life — it is no walk in the park to move on. Each supporting character is also fleshed out to give credence to their message. Beautifully crafted, the story gives Lili options beyond what she thought she was meant for. There is no replacing dancing and loving Terence, but surrounded by those that care for her, she wonders about one doctor that is more than sweet on her, and someone waiting for her back at the Brownstone. Troubled Waters is a moving tale of transcendence and survival with grace. Readers may take the steps to find peace alongside the story, just as Lili is saved.

 

Shoes in the River by Madelyn Rohrer

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shoesWith Shoes in the River: The Story of ‘Feather,’ Madelyn Grape Rohrer examines life in China from the early 1970s through 2004, through the lives of the fictional Ming family. Their existence in a small village changes drastically over the course of 32 years, as they navigate personal trials against the backdrop of a country that is negotiating between its ancient heritage and the dawning of a modern era.The book’s title is based on the ancient Chinese practice of dispensing with one’s shoes once a great emotional burden has been lifted from the wearer. Shoes are thrown into the river to acknowledge the difficulty that has passed and greet the future with optimism and happiness.

As the reader follows the Ming family into the 21st century, they experience the most human of struggles. The old Chinese regime is forced to make way for more modern practices, and the Mings struggle with the transition. Should they embrace new technological advances as they become available in their rural environment? Will the economic and political structure of their nation hold fast, or crumble as the future comes knocking? And when, if ever, will their personal heartbreaks and triumphs finally allow them to throw their shoes in the river and welcome what is to come with open arms? With sharp and emotionally poignant writing, Rohrer creates a fascinating combination of personal journey and political examination, as the Mings come into their own while China emerges as the world power it remains to this day.

 

Whispering Pines by Elliott Foster

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pinesA family saga that spans generations and unspools tales that readers of all ages are sure to relate with, Elliott Foster’s Whispering Pines: Tales from a Northwoods Cabin is a fantastic novel that aims to reveal the essence of the human spirit. As stated in the introduction of the book, the story starts and ends in 1993, in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Four generations of the Travis family have gathered in order to celebrate the eightieth birthday of their beloved matriarch, Isabelle. The family shares stories with one another at the rustic cabin set on the lake in the Chippewa National Forest, talking of everything from fishing, cooking delicious meals, and making love. The book is broken into three parts, as three different members of the family, one from each generation, recount memorable moments from the past. We follow Isabelle, her daughter Ruth, and her grandson Eddie, as they reveal secrets that have been previously hidden deep within the woods that surround them.

Books are more than just the words their pages contain, and Whispering Pines is the perfect example of a book that is well constructed in all its parts. The cover is beautiful, and perfectly sets the mood for the content that is included within. The pages are nicely formatted, the interior of the book just as pleasing to the eye as the jacket that holds it all together. And then there is the story, that has clearly been edited carefully. While the narrative focuses mainly on the three characters from whom the stories are recounted, there are a wide variety of supporting characters present that the author has carefully fleshed out, making them come alive on the page. Told as a sort of family history, spanning across time and space, yet still always moving in a linear fashion forward, this is the kind of book that you’ll want to cuddle up with, as you come to know the Travis family as intimately as your own.

 

The Illegal and the Refugee by Ian Tremblay

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ianThe Illegal and the Refugee – An American Love Story by Ian Tremblay is a romance novel that tells the story of two young lovers struggling with immigrating to the United States. Taking place in Mexico, Cuba, and contemporary America, this story is full of tragedy and triumph, with surprises coming frequently amongst the pages. Offering strong and resilient Latino characters to follow, Tremblay’s novel creates a heart wrenching tale that is sure to stick with readers long after they are done. The narrative follows Maria Torres, a smart student at college in Mexico City who is actively campaigning for the social issues she believes in. Trouble arrives when her beloved Eduardo decides to try his luck at illegally entering the United States. Maria does not want him to do this, but she is unable to stop him, and once he’s gone from her sight, he seemingly disappears from the Earth. Maria goes after him, retracing his footsteps and crossing into the US herself through the Arizona desert. She ends up in Los Angeles, an illegal immigrant herself, desperate to find him. Meanwhile, in Havana, Cuba, Ernesto Rodriguez has just sent his lover Yaneti to America, only to never hear from her again. After a while he follows after her, narrowly surviving a treacherous sea crossing. He washes up on a beach in Florida, a refugee, with no idea where he should go from here.

The stories of Ernesto and Maria run parallel to one another, as their situations are similar, yet different in many regards too. As they try their best to adapt to their new circumstances in the United States, while also continuously searching for their missing loved ones, a natural catastrophe elsewhere in the world sets the stage for their meeting in Miami, where the two longing lovers come to know each other. As included in the book’s description this novel “is about letting go of the past, the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity and of deep, unconditional love,” and from the story that Tremblay has woven so intricately together, we couldn’t agree more. His characters are fully developed and relatable, at times frantically dealing with chaotic circumstances they are unable to control, other times putting themselves in danger on purpose, all in the name of love. The story deals with the real life issues many Latinos have faced in coming to America. It is bound to appeal greatly to the Latino community, but it will also appeal to a wide audience due to the engaging story lines that Tremblay has so carefully constructed.

 

Ogbuefi — Endless Chase by Henry Chikwuji Edebeatu

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In a small and underdeveloped town in the area of Nigeria, Olise has but one desire and that is to claim the ancient and prestigious Ogbuefi title. Very few men aspire to this position since, as farmers struggling to make ends meet, the title requires that a man is “financially capable of providing as many cows as possible for his clansmen to dine and wine with him.” Regardless, Olise pursues his dream at the expense of his wife and children, even though there have been a handful of mysterious Ogbuefi deaths. The situation becomes convoluted when an Ogbuefi and his wife are viciously murdered and the perpetrators are still at large. Henry Edebeatu shed’s light on a traditional African society in his moral-to-the-story themed debut novel. Narrated by Akala, Olise’s son, Edbeatu portrays a teen who is not only describing a series of events that take place in his local hamlet, but also recognizes the foolishness of leaders whose unfortunate ruling powers hurt more than help the townspeople. While Edbeatu’s plot is set in a small town in the Niger Delta, it could easily represent many other African countries since, as Edbeautu poignantly points out, “it spells out simply and without ambiguity, the plights of some individuals, who because of traditions and superstitions beliefs, suffer untold hardship in their quest to rise to the top, in order to massage personal ego and satisfy vain human ends.”

Edebeatu’s narrative reads like a folktale. Characters are lightly developed and plot focus is placed on cultural aspects of a Nigerian community that are replete with daily routines, burial rites, proper salutations, as well as a flurry of African idioms—to name a few. Because of the heavy cultural attention, the nuances of traditions steeped in a patriarchal society may be lost in translation. Obviously not earmarked to reach a wide audience, Ogbuefi—Endless Chase is nonetheless a perfect addition for African culture aficionados and to historical African literature collections!

 

Triple Score by Kerry Freeman

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tripleTriple Score: A Character Study, written by Kerry Freeman, has one main character at the core that the story really is all about. However, there are a ton of characters that are touched upon throughout the story and the main protagonist, Marie Arnett, fades into the background during much of the book. Freeman writes of four young friends, three boys and one girl, growing up together and even engaging in orgies with one another in their teens. The three young men are found dead together with no evidence of how it might’ve really occurred. Freeman jumps forward to Marie searching out a husband just weeks after the death of her best friends – one of which was apparently the father of her unborn child. Twenty years later, another trio of young men are found dead with no evidence, but Marie and her daughter seem to be connected as they were her daughter’s friends. It happens yet again twenty years later. And, once again Marie was connected to the boys. In the end, the sheriff discovers the truth, but not due to his skill. Instead, the murderer comes forward via a letter and admits to the crimes.

Freeman’s subtitle is A Character Study, but there is so little depth to any of the scenes let alone any of the characters that there is nothing to display a study of any character or personality. The story, though interesting, is so far fetched that a reader is highly unlikely to feel engaged with it or the characters. Early on, there is a graphic and crude sexual occurrence, but those type of scenes never seem to show up again in the story. Only giving a few paragraphs on various characters, now and again, with jumps of two decades at a time leaves readers lost and confused as to what is really going on. There is just no way to connect to the characters and feel any emotion toward them. Freeman’s Triple Score: A Character Study fails to score as high as it aims to.

 

The Kinsman by Gardner McKay

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kinsIn this beautifully written novel, author Gardner McKay uses a most unlikely idea to bring together a country divided. Charlie “Jib” Rutlidge has recently flunked out of Yale and is wandering the world in search of meaning. While visiting Rwanda he sees first-hand the horror of the genocide that took place there. Jib soon realizes his calling is to rebuild and reunite Rwanda, though he doesn’t yet know how. Then one night he dreams of boats sailing on Lake Kivu and he knows instantly he has to help Rwanda win the America’s Cup. What follows is a story of redemption, of bringing together two peoples who have hated one another for hundreds of years, all with the help of sailing.

One of the greatest strengths of this novel is how the author can put forth something unlikely and make it seem completely natural. Revitalizing Rwanda single handedly with sailing is not an idea many people have, but in this story it seems the only rational choice for Jib. This believability carries through to all aspects of the novel. The characters are vibrant and deep, instantly feeling like friends and family. One can almost imagine having a conversation with Jib’s Aunt Pearl over drinks in Manhattan. The only weakness of this novel is the density of the sailing language. Not many casual readers will know terms like sewerman, tactician, or twelve-meters. Use of this language lends credibility to the story, but also interrupt the flow of otherwise lyrical prose. This minor issue aside, The Kinsman is a fantastic novel and should be enjoyed by sailing aficionados, history buffs, and anyone in search of a compelling read.

 

Silkie by David Rothgery

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silkieStephen Mollgaard has a somewhat normal life. As a college English professor he maintains his house, his divorce, his seizure medication, his bike. He lives his life inside the safety of the box, inside the safety of the lines, but also inside of a filing cabinet containing newspaper clippings, poetry, and past student files. In this filing cabinet Stephen recognizes the irregularities, the unfairness, the absurdity, the horror, and the other worldliness of…the world. In a way that Stephen cannot pinpoint, the moments contained in his filing cabinet connect him to something larger, something more meaningful than his drive to work, his lunchtime sandwich, and his time spent watching the news. When Silkie Sanders appears out of the rain, Stephen’s life is opened to new possibilities, new paths, and, perhaps, a re-invigoration– a reminder of what it means to be alive and human. Stephen comes to realize that there are two worlds. The first world is the one that we expect, the one that we see every day, the one that we grow up and are told to belong to. The second world is hidden a little farther under, a little deeper down. This second world can be ugly, awful, and hard, but it could also be the purpose for living, it could be where all beauty really comes from. Silkie, of this second world, will change Stephen’s life.

David Rothgery’s novel, Silkie, is one of the best pieces of contemporary writing that we have read in the past few years. From his superb writing, it is obvious that Rothgery is very well read and this narrative he has constructed is, quite simply, utterly captivating. Silkie does not shy away from the ugliness, cruelness, or confusion that our modern world breeds. Instead it seeks to remind us that all it takes is one thing, no matter how small, to completely transform us.

 

Days Gone By by Jerry J.C. Veit

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daysCaleb, a young man with his life ahead of him, has shut himself away from the rest of the world. After a fatal accident four years earlier that led to the loss of his cherished nephew, he was left unable to walk without a cane and suffers from an intense case of agoraphobia—the fear of being around other people. As the fourth anniversary of his accident and nephew’s death passes, Caleb finds himself in the midst of past family, friends, and loved ones offering him a chance to change his future.

Jerry J.C. Veit’s Days Gone By, a play in three acts, brings a new twist to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The author delightfully updates the story for modern times, but also reinvents it by creating a more human Scrooge and delving deep into his insecurities and fears. Veit has removed any extraneous detail from his dialogue which takes some getting used to, however it creates not only a Harold Pinter-esque feel to the play, but also lets the reader get to know Caleb and his family much faster. All of the characters are well fleshed out and the relationships between them have been fully developed, leading to a complex story. Veit’s attention to detail in characterizing and character relations lends this piece to be utterly believable which gives the reader an opportunity to experience all of Caleb’s grief, shame, fear, and pain which are contrasted with the supposedly-joyful holiday season. Days Gone By offers compelling new characters in a seemingly-old tale that will keep readers thinking about the story long after they’ve stopped reading.

 

The Broken Road by Beth Burgmeyer

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Expert horse trainer, Dana “Coop” Cooper, has a successful career and fiance–until she is thrown off a horse and sustains serious injuries, leaving her paralyzed, numb from the waist down, and alone. While in rehab, she meets Renn, a fellow patient who reaches out to Coop and eventually helps her get back on the horse. Coop also meets Renn’s best friend and business partner, Matt. During her recovery, Coop and Matt gradually begin to develop feelings for one another against their better judgment. However, Coop is about to move away with her mother and Matt must go to his grandfather’s ranch in Wyoming to be with his sick grandfather. Although he is repulsed by her condition, Matt asks her to go to the ranch with him and she agrees. While in Wyoming, Coop begins to recover physically and emotionally. One day Matt takes her riding out to the Broken Road, one of the old roads west. He tells her that the road was supposed to be cursed, but his great grandparents took it anyway even though everyone else thought they were crazy. He says that this is similar to how Coop has lived since her injury. Coop is happy at the ranch and feels that she has found where she belongs with Matt and his grandfather, but they have to go home. Back in Iowa, the couple has a misunderstanding and Coop isolates herself and refuses to take care of herself in an attempt to end her life. Eventually, she regains her sense of purpose and realizes that she can open herself up to vulnerability again. The two make up and move to Wyoming with Matt’s oldest son and get married.

The title of the book is probably intended to be a reference to the Rascal Flatts song of the same name. Although this a bit cheesy, it works in that lyrics of the song fit with the plot and the book and the song share a similar audience. However, it should also be noted that there is already a book with this same title (a travel book by Patrick Leigh Fermor). The best thing about the book is probably its handling of Coop’s injury. The author is unflinching in her descriptions of the realities of being paralyzed and doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex and disability. However, the novel does get a bit unnecessarily drawn out. This story probably could have ended after Matt and Coop go to Wyoming the first time and done without certain plot points (such as a drug addict sister and a runaway son) that don’t contribute much to the story, except for melodrama. However, the ups and downs do keep the reader engaged and turning pages. Ultimately, Beth Burgmeyer’s The Broken Road is a good, if predictable, tale of romance and redemption that touches on some current social issues pertaining to disability. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but to the right reader it’s sure to thrill.

 

The Agreement by A.P. Guzzardi

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agreementWhen 18-year-old Emma literally runs into a handsome hunk outside of her mum’s high-end hair salon in Melbourne, Australia, sparks fly and a fire is ignited deep inside her. She simply can’t stop thinking about the guy, and finds herself feeling things she’s never felt before. She’s still a virgin, and is innocent and naïve, and once her “white-hot hero” walks out of her life, she’s afraid he’ll never walk back in. But then he does, and Emma immediately realizes that this twenty-something stud, Ryan, is the man of her dreams. The only problem is, he’s the man of another woman’s dreams, too—and, that other woman just so happens to be twice his age, married, incredibly wealthy, and more than a wee bit insane. A rare breed of cougar, Eleanor holds tight reigns over her young buck, as expressed in a strange contractual “agreement” binding them both, and come hell or high water, she isn’t about to let go. She’ll do whatever it takes to keep her boy toy around, even if it means getting her hands very dirty in the end. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that Eleanor doesn’t know about, and as Emma is helped by some unexpected sources, Eleanor’s selfish, sinister plans are threatened, and could very well come undone.

The Agreement by A.P. Guzzardi is a fast-paced, fun-filled first-time romance bursting with sex, suspense, and a slew of surprises. With explicit, yet tastefully handled, love scenes throughout, and unexpected twists and turns around every corner, it will have both your pulse and your mind racing, and will leave you thinking more thoughtfully about the true meaning of independence, friendship, and family. Along with exploring Emma’s budding sexuality and evolving relationship with Ryan, it also touches upon other tender topics, including parental involvement (or lack thereof), adultery, homosexuality, promiscuity, unwanted pregnancy, and much more. That said however, The Agreement is by no means a heavy read, but rather a perfect poolside (or bedside) novel that’s sure to appeal to fans of women’s literature and romantic fiction alike.

 

The Syndicate: Phantom’s Revenge by Joseph Sharp

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In The Syndicate: Phantom’s Revenge, Phantom is a respected agent at The Syndicate, a secretive, powerful, bureaucratic entity that controls most governmental and big business operations. He excels at his job, has a beautiful family, and is skeptical of The Syndicate’s sudden decision to pair him with Ghost, a hand-to-hand combat expert with a temper, and a secret. When Phantom’s wife and daughter are suddenly and mysteriously kidnapped, the two agents realize that the only way they’ll be able to complete a mission with as impossibly high stakes as this one will be to work together. This story treads on familiar ground, but manages to keep the reader hooked with a steady supply of intrigue, action, and most importantly, revenge.

Joseph Sharp has a visceral, exacting writing style that is particularly well suited to the number of fight scenes, which he peppers generously throughout The Syndicate. However, much as his ability to make his sparring characters feel immediate and fully present works in his favor when they’re in action, it seems that he may have prioritized scenes like these over the narrative at a whole. On the same note, we found that these gratuitous fight scenes were often the only ones that possessed this sense of immediacy. Ghost and Phantom’s banter is amusing at first, but quickly becomes repetitious and tired, and many of the crucial plot points, like Phantom’s wife and daughter’s kidnapping, are glossed over, it seems, in order to get back to a spat between Phantom and Ghost. The dynamic between Ghost and Phantom is tried and true (they come from very different places, though their differences are what ultimately bring them together and allow them to succeed as partners, etc.), but as the fighting between them overpowers the other plot points, the focus on their relationship keeps us from getting to know any of the other characters as well as we know them. The Syndicate: Phantom’s Revenge is a rollicking foray into the dangerous, compelling world of spies and secret agents, double-crossers and mob bosses—you’ll be hooked from page one.

 

The Flock by Chris Sauter

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flockA suspenseful page-turner that will keep you guessing from beginning to end, Chris Sauter’s The Flock is an engaging and tantalizing read that will stay with you long after you finish it. Cole is a somewhat strange and unattractive teenager who has undergone a lot of hardships in his life. The fact that he is gay and often feels like an outcast is only one of his problems. When he meets a handsome boy named Joe in his art class, he decides to do whatever it takes to get Joe to be with him. When his actions ultimately lead him to starting a cult with himself in place as a leader known as the Prophet, Cole begins to realize that he’s getting in over his head. Nightly seances with a group of teenagers conjuring spirits quickly turns into a sort of religion with prophecies and strict rules. At first it’s fun, and Cole can tell that Joe and the others really believe he has the power to communicate with spirits and prophesize what’s ahead. Really, Cole is just making up things as he goes, astounded that people are looking to him for answers. The narrative shifts back and forth from Cole’s time as the leader of the cult, to present day where he is a middle aged man suffering from a debilitating hearing loss. The two timelines eventually converge as present day Cole is reconfronted with the cult he thought he had left behind, realizing that The Flock will never truly let him go.

What makes The Flock such a memorable read is the fact that you can never really decide whether or not to trust Cole as the narrator of the story. He is the epitome of the anti-hero, as sometimes you are cheering for him to succeed, while other times you will feel aghast at what he has done. There are many themes present that readers will be able to relate to, the desire to belong, going to great lengths to get someone to like you, making up lies to get what you want, only to find your plans stretching out of control and blowing up in your face. The fact that Cole is gay is definitely a very integral part of the book, and Sauter does a great job of making Cole’s struggles poignant, even though at many times the scenarios presented are somewhat cringeworthy. There are many scenes throughout the novel that are both surprising and alarming. Nevertheless, the book has a heart, as Cole truly never tries to cause anyone harm, no matter how twisted his actions may appear at times. By combining elements of religion, relationships among teenagers, abuse, psychological trauma, and the winning elements of a thriller, The Flock is the kind of book that you will want to tell your friends about.

 

Trip Around the Sun by Joseph D. Colby

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In Joseph D. Colby’s Trip Around the Sun, thirteen-year-old Trip travels from California to Missouri with his family in 1926. Along with his hard-working farmer parents, his spunky sister Ellen, and his impressionable brother David, Trip journeys across the southern United States. The trip is the brainchild of Trip’s father, who is looking to reunite with his parents back east after a 30-year separation. At each stage of the crossing, the reader learns more about Trip, his family, and life as a migrant in early twentieth century America; from the very first chapter, the reader sinks into this past world, a world in which leaving your family and not coming back for 30 years is nothing strange. As the landscape changes and the family makes its way east, Trip endears himself to the reader, bringing a personal touch and a spark of humanity to the American theme of migration for the sake of a better life.

Colby’s writing instantly draws the reader into Trip’s understanding of his surroundings, his relationship with his family members, and the journey he makes from one version of home to another. The author uses Trip’s voice so effectively that the reader has no trouble diving back into the specific challenges that come with being thirteen years old. Trip’s personal migration accompanies the family’s physical movement from west to east, while his father is making a return to what was once familiar. The specifics of the rugged, sparse historical setting make this more than just another coming-of-age story.

 

Jihad for Dummies by Ian King

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Ian King’s Jihad for Dummies refuses to delicately step over issues of controversy and vehement debate. Instead, King creates a space in which controversy lives and breathes, thriving in his characters and throwing caution to the literary winds. King’s novel focuses on the massive confusion surrounding religious ideals and the paths people take that lead them to commit heinous crimes in the name of a faceless deity or philosophy. Jihad for Dummies follows the intersecting lives of different Pakistani, English, and Somalian characters, all of whom represent conflicting ideals and ideologies. King pushes the boundaries of political, social, and religious dialogue, taking on the stereotypes surrounding Muslims as well as the activities that reinforce them, and going even further by interweaving the harsh realities of sexism into the tale. Characters seemingly unrelated suddenly find themselves meshed together in unexpected ways in Jihad for Dummies, ways that are sometimes terrifying, sometimes encouraging.

King’s novel is undoubtedly coarse. By coarse it is meant that the language and images used represent grotesque realities which may turn the stomachs of more delicate readers. For the staunch reader, King’s diction is likely to be perceived as refreshing and brutally honest. King has a style of writing that persistently pursues the politically incorrect and the morally ambiguous. You might read Jihad for Dummies purely for entertainment, but you may find yourself walking away from the story shaken and pondering political and philosophical questions that may have not occurred to you organically. King’s characters may lack supremely complex development, and his portrayal of the female mind may feel a little flat, but the general genius behind this timely and unapologetic novel is undeniable.

 

Poetic Justice by Sandra Bonsell

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Comprising twenty chapters that are split evenly between “His” and “Hers,” Poetic Justice aims to treat the issues of nationality, tourism, and ultimately identity as a whole. The alternating chapters, all in first person, allow the reader to organically come to know the stories of Sun Wren Richards, a retired Native American artist from Wyoming, and Angelo Lopez, a young Costa Rican boy. Sun’s story begins with an impromptu trip to Costa Rica, which leads her to buy property and start a bed-and-breakfast in the gorgeous, dense jungle. Angelo’s story begins in his turbulent youth, following him through bouts with alcoholism at an early age, the death of his brother for which he blames himself, to his eventual placement at a military school in the States. Angelo rises through the ranks, finding himself more and more involved in top-secret operations. Sun and Angelo’s (“His” and “Hers”) stories intersect when Angelo—now in his mid-to-late forties—decides to stay at Sun’s peaceful resort, aptly named Casa Quetzal de Paz. The more time they spend together, the more they each become embroiled in shady, multinational crime dealings. Drug cartels, Russian spies, arsenic-laced swimming pools, and point-blank assassinations: nothing seems to be off-limits.

Poetic Justice is truly a roller coaster from start to finish. It’s a fairly quick read, despite its considerable length. It takes the reader captive from page one, through sharp twists and turns, and refuses to let go until the very end. Some may find fault with its characterization of women, and the novel does tend to gloss over some issues that could stand to be addressed in a more real way, but all in all, it’s worth reading if you’re a fan of fast-paced novels set in foreign countries.

 

Donald’s Cross by Joseph Todd Emerson

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donaldReligion, same sex marriage, protest and politics slam against each other in a tangled mess of conspiracy, hidden agendas and supposed righteousness in Joseph Todd Emerson’s book, Donald’s Cross. This story follows a young man still in high school, Donald Ross, as he cames face-to-face with big questions about life and right and wrong. His friends are more focused on teenager issues and games and drugs, but Donald wants to know what life is really about. For that matter, as a preacher’s son, he starts praying to God on how to seek justice. Donald expects God to give him the answer, but he does finally take action on his own and joins an effort to make positives changes in his local community and potentially the world. Emerson portray’s Donald’s mother as a stereotypical preacher’s wife pressing her son to overlook his responsibilities at school and his teenage concerns to show more adult level respect and support of his father. Yet, Eric, Donald’s father, seems more open to Donald’s method of support and coming of age thoughts and questions. As Donald expands his personal self he expands his circle friends, too.

Overall, Donald’s Cross reads like a typical after school special from the 1980s filled with Christian beliefs from both sides of the same coin. The story has a powerful message, but the plot is very predictable. Those against same sex relationships pitted against those who support love, and in this case it happens to have two preachers and their sons truly at the core. Though Joseph Todd Emerson wrote the story fairly well, he fell short in really expressing the depth of most of the characters. Readers get only a shallow peek into the emotions and personalities of the characters other than Donald and his father, Eric. There is a lot left on the table that could have been explored on a much deeper level. There is little to keep readers turning pages or to hold their attention. And, in the end, the story, unfortunately, wraps up in way that is far from surprising. Though Emerson’s story, Donald’s Cross, will spur controversy as well as inspiration for some, others will be left feeling empty and unfulfilled by this simple storyline.

 

Evidence of the Journey by Todd Board

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Evidence of the Journey, by Todd Board, is a collection of eight stories woven from Board’s philosophical bent and complex inner dialogue of thought. The stories, conceived separately but somehow each intertwined into a cohesive whole, range greatly in their subject matter. An elderly and dying woman with a difficult decision about her beloved ranch dominates one lengthy story, while another ruminates over the thoughts of man named Arthur in the throes of a subtly depicted conversation. Another follows Daniel, a ferryman in the San Francisco Bay. Each story exquisitely melds humor with paintings of memorable landscapes of nature serving as backdrops for the complicated ideas that are proffered by Board’s main storytellers.

The language of Evidence of the Journey is likely to off-put readers not interested in having the way that they perceive the world potentially altered or drastically changed. Board speaks to a somewhat narrow audience with his scholarly diction and his in-depth monologues that preclude more intricate or intriguing plot lines. Having said this, Board’s collection of stories is masterfully welded with his perceptions of often-ignored issues in today’s society, both tangible and intangible. His humor is quiet and strikes at unexpected places, leaving the careful and capable reader thoroughly tickled at times. Board’s views are like the glue that binds the collection together, which would rapidly unravel without his expansive descriptions of the inner thoughts of his characters, which reflect those views. Some readers will find Evidence of the Journey to be an overwhelmingly dry piece, while others will find it a fresh breath in the dusty air of modern literature.

 

The Rockaway Boys and Maggie by Don Kellin

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rockawayDon Kellin’s The Rockaway Boys and Maggie: A World War II Adventure Novel is the 1943 summer coming of age story of Donny, Ben, and Maggie. As a hot summer slowly fades into a temperate fall on Rockaway Beach, these three young friends go looking for a little fun, a little excitement, and a little something to get their minds off of the troubles of World War II and the impending school year. Eventually they come up with a genius idea: to do something that matters for their families and for the war effort…while maybe having a little fun along the way. Their plan is to sift through the sand under the beach boardwalk in order to recover change that was dropped from pockets during the busy season. Then, exchange the money for stamps or war bonds. But when they discover something that could indicate a significant Nazi presence on the east coast, their lives are changed forever.

Kellin’s writing is honest and easy, but also driven– a reflection of the mindsets of Donny, Ben, and Maggie as they set out on their adventure. Dialogue and plot flow seamlessly together and leave the reader rooting for America, for innocence, and for the young heroes that every reader can see a bit of themselves in. The Rockaway Boys and Maggie can be enjoyed by audiences, both young and old and could easily become an American classic.

 

Never Harmed Again by Glenn Rice

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neverGlenn Rice weaves a spellbinding tale of love, mystery, and heroism in the second installment of his Sandstone Ridge romance series, Never Harmed Again. The story opens with Dart Olsen entrenched in a battle in Afghanistan, his military Marine service having called him and a friend, Braxton, to the war front. There, Dart and Braxton meet tragedy and misfortune, but ultimately escape with their lives after performing deeds of tremendous bravery. Dart loses an arm in the process, but gains his life in return. Back in Sandstone Ridge family members and beloved friends await Dart and Braxton’s arrival, all of whom possess dramatic love plots of their own, filling the pages with colorful dialogue and moments of suspense and joy. However, the events in Afghanistan have changed Dart, and Never Harmed Again combines his rollercoaster love story with Bridgette and his PTSD with Bridgette’s own troubling past. This past involves an abusive ex-boyfriend who is slated to be released from jail, and who is now bent on unleashing havoc on the love-saturated community of Sandstone Ridge.

Sandstone Ridge itself, with its country cowboy flavor, is the perfect stage for Rice’s characters and love affairs. Readers will find the people in his story relatable and humorous, with light-hearted dialogue throughout keeping what could be a morbid atmosphere more accessible and enjoyable. However, the story itself is rife with typical melodramatic clichés which may turn more critical readers off from the relatively shallow plot structure. Most of the novel is filled with back-and-forth conversation between love-bound couples with occasional scenes of subtly-handled sex. For readers looking to set down the TV remote and trade their favorite soap operas for a paper novel, Never Harmed Again is the perfect transition piece, easy to pick up and less easy to put down.

 

Triple Save by Glenn Rice

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tripleButch and Jared Olsen are the kind of boys that every mother wants to have– honest, trustworthy, caring, and genuinely big-hearted. They take what life gives them and try to make it better. Even when their father is incarcerated for a rape that he did not commit, they take the slander and the taunts that come with being the son of ‘Ricky the Rapist’ in stride. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt, especially when the taunts are coming from Courtney Iverson, the most beautiful girl in school, the girl who used to be one of Butch’s best friends. When Butch later saves Courtney from drowning, he is torn between hate and adoration, and when his mom suggests a move, he jumps at the opportunity. Eventually, Butch changes his name to Chet, hoping to leave the bad memories of his past behind while he begins a fresh future. However, the world has a funny way of teaching love, forgiveness, and acceptance and Chet has no way to know what his future may hold. Triple Save will have you believing in true love again.

Glenn Rice’s novel, Triple Save, is a fun romance novel that will have you forgiving even your worst enemies. Rice reminds us that everyone has their own story, their own burden, and that it is our decision to take the time to discover those stories or not. Well-written and well-edited, the only thing that Triple Save would really benefit from is a less cheesy title and one less mention of the author in the novel. If you are looking for a feel-good story, that makes you want to live your life to the fullest, then look no further and enjoy getting to know the Olsen brothers in Triple Save!

 

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A toburyuching tale that will pull you in from the beginning, Bury My Heart At Jones Beach written by Francis John Balducci, is a beautiful tale. The journey that Balducci takes you on, alongside a man who suffers from amnesia, is simultaneously heartwarming and frightening. Tahmin, who comes to be known as Pale Moon, only remembers his life from waking on a park bench on Jones Beach. Only in his dreams does he recall a woman and a child who seem to have been important to him. Tahmin is soon embraced by more than one family and eventually joins Big Feather’s family and is given the name Pale Moon. Due to his heroic deeds his true identity is discovered, but there is a great deal of trauma that surrounds this discovery. Morals and one’s own values come into play for not only Pale Moon, but for those from his former life. In the end, a powerful choice is made and changes everyone’s lives forever.

Francis John Balducci shares a compelling story in a very quick and easy read within the pages of Bury My Heart At Jones Beach. It is easy to become very emotionally attached to Tahmin and his plight. As a reader, you will likely feel as though you are truly walking beside him. You can sense his angst when one group of people carelessly and selfishly make choices that will have dire consequences for others. There are deep and profound aspects of life to ponder in Balducci’s tale of Tahmin/Pale Moon. It is a story that you won’t want to put down until you discover what the outcome will be for Pale Moon and those who care so deeply about him.

 

With Angel’s Wings by Stephanie Collins

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angelsBased on the true story of author, Stephanie A. Collins, the fictional tale, With Angel’s Wings, will grip a reader’s heart from the first few paragraphs. Within just a few lines Collins transports readers into Laura’s journey into young love and new motherhood. Laura’s hopes and dreams are representative of many young girls, as well as the shock and utter exhaustion that often comes along with young marriage and being a new parent. Laura and Kevin struggle to save their marriage from the very beginning, but choose to strive forward making a true effort. Once their second child is born, they realize that their marriage is far from the only humongous challenge they will face during their lives. Hannah, their second daughter, is born with several heart defects and other health issues. The story takes the reader alongside Laura as she travels the perilous path with Hannah fighting for her tiny little life. Not surprisingly, having a child with special needs adds additional stress to an already precarious marriage. Collins keeps readers turning pages anxiously waiting to learn the outcome of Hannah’s health as well as what direction Laura’s marriage will take.

Stephanie A. Collins has done a fantastic job in this heartfelt fiction. With Angel’s Wings truly seems to have angel wings. In fact, the beauty and eloquence that this story is written with feels as though angels held Collins’ hand as she wrote it. Readers will feel the love that Laura has for her children and others in general as they move through the story. The frustration and the overtly straightforwardness of some of the doctors and nurses will make readers want to envelop Laura in a hug and let her know she isn’t alone. Collins simply has the beautiful ability to pull readers in and truly help them feel the characters, even the characters such as Kevin, that they may not care for. An absolute must read, Stephanie A. Collins’ With Angel’s Wings is a moving fictional story of struggle, fear, deep love and joy…and triumph.

 

Mirage by D. L. Teamor

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mirageD. L. Teamor’s novel Mirage spans an extraordinary number of years, traveling across barriers of time, race, and gender to paint a portrait of the “mirage” that is the difference between colors of skin. Mirage begins in the era of American slavery, planting its readers into the story of a woman afflicted by her status as a slave and the lecherously amorous affections of her white master. This is where the tale begins, and it spirals out through generations of couples resulting from that one initial beginning, making its way so far into the future that “Martin King” makes a brief appearance. Teamor takes on complex and sensitive topics of the stereotypes and injustices inflicted upon not only those of a darker skin but also those of the feminine gender. Mirage refuses to shy away from difficult subjects of racism and sexism throughout the decades and instead tackles them headlong through her powerful and single-minded female characters. The story evokes devastating scenes of violence, tearful scenes of romance, inspiring scenes of integrity, and haunting scenes of heartbreak to carry the readers along a heart-wrenching and ultimately optimistic and thought-provoking ride.

Teamor offers a look at race with her Mirage that muddies previously distinctly drawn lines, blurring boundaries that once could get a man or a woman killed for being on the wrong side. A powerful statement about the science behind race and the emotions behind racism, Mirage is a useful text in the study of modern work on the culture behind racism. However, it perhaps could be observed that these are not new studies. Many texts have handled the same or similar subjects before, with equal or greater complexity. Additionally, the characters that Teamor proffers serve primarily as archetypes for her philosophical viewpoints, never developing a deeper life or demeanor of their own, the successful result of which could have heralded a more commanding and stimulating text.

 

A Discerning Heart by Patty Lesser

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heartA Discerning Heart tells the story of a lowly, misunderstood fisherman, shunned by the villagers of his close-knit community and desperate to forge meaningful connections and perhaps, even, find love. We quickly learn that Dim Jim, as the town calls him, will go to the most treacherous means to make his dream of acceptance a reality. With no family to speak of, no respect from his peers, and no prospects for the future, Jim sets out on journey to prove to those who doubt him the most that he is capable of greatness. However, his plan takes a spectacular turn when he shipwrecks on a desert island. He finds the journals of a long-gone, long-feared pirate among the wreckage and empowered by the dead man’s words, crafts a plan of revenge. Jim eventually makes his way back to the village, armed with the identity of Captain Frank Paxton, and a host of other secrets from his years on the island, ready to make the villagers sorry they ever wronged the poor fisherman Dim Jim.

This story has all the trappings of a great adventure tale—from mythical creatures and fabulous buried treasure to long lost love and embittered rivals fighting for power. However, the sheer amount of time it takes for the action to pan out keeps the story from supplying the reader with any sense of intrigue or mystery. The time that Jim spends on the island is certainly crucial in setting the scene for the events that pan out over the course of the rest of the novel, as he amasses power over the village under his assumed pirate identity, but its central focus in the first half of the story keeps the pace stagnant at times. Furthermore, Jim’s motivations, from his reasoning to abandon his seemingly happy life on the island to his later characterization as increasingly cruel and power-hungry tend toward the superficial, which keeps this potentially moralizing story from teaching the reader a lesson they can hold on to, and cheapens an ending that otherwise could be a lovely, tender conclusion to a tale chock full of unexpected turns.

 

Waiting for the Green Flash by Bob Guess

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41kSe+38ccL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Until recently, Elden “Choppy” Spencer was an officer in the Marine Corps who was as much renowned for his wit as he was for his physically aggressive, results-driven attitude, the combination of which made him no small shortage of friends and enemies among the Corps. But when a life-changing accident results in Choppy being cut loose from the Corps, he decides to make a fresh start for himself in a beachfront Californian town outside of San Diego. Soon, Choppy becomes acquainted with the numerous characters who live together on the narrow street he comes to call “the Row.” There’s Lara, a recently divorced and fiercely argumentative – not to mention attractive – teacher; Hugh Spicer, a retired baseball scout and the group’s unofficial ringleader; the Steroid Brothers, who live next door to Choppy and can frequently be seen chugging beers between workout sessions; and numerous others. But even a neighborhood as quaint and sunny as this one cannot escape the horrors that plague the human mind. As Choppy struggles to assimilate into his new community, a series of increasingly brutal crimes puts the denizens of the Row on edge. Choppy and the others must now come together and protect the fragile paradise they’ve created, or else risk watching it fall to pieces around them.

Waiting for the Green Flash is both a careful character study on a variety of intriguing specimens and one man’s journey of self-rediscovery. Guess’s cast comes alive in a way that brings the beaches and environs of California surging to life around readers and will threaten to sweep their feet out from under them with the simple but effective beauty of the novel’s narrative.Flash is not only a story about the indefatigability of modern man – it is a powerful testament to the gradually eroding but irreplaceable influence of community in Western society.

 

The Last Eucharist: A True War Story by Ian King

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A delightfully macabre blend of the sardonic and the inane, the intellectual and the absurd, the beautiful and the revolting, The Last Eucharis: A True War Story by Ian King takes an impressive and memorable stab at the Vietnam War, politics, and mankind as a whole. Irreverently handling coarse language alongside of scenes involving haunting sexual encounters and oftentimes heartbreaking violence, King constructs a style all to himself, blending serious philosophical and political points with slap-stick humor and a great deal of flatulence. The Last Eucharist follows Sally Graham’s illustrious and ill-fated pursuit of the mystery behind the history of a Vietnam veteran vaguely identified as Thomas. Not knowing the cosmic consequences her determination would wreak, Sally follows the lie-littered trail of Thomas all the way to Vietnam itself, where adventures and relationships await her which she could never have foreseen.

King’s work is not for the delicate reader, nor for those with a sensitive gag reflex. The introductory section involving the entry of Thomas as a character is rife with foul language, perturbing sex, and cheeky treatment of religious doctrine. That is not to say that the journey, while it might leave you feeling dirtier than before, isn’t worth traveling. King effortlessly meshes critical discourse on complex topics involving American politics, the Christian religion, war criminalities, struggles of the handicapped, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- to name a few. With a cynical voice powerfully backed by scenes of trauma, dishonesty, and horror, King raises questions of the deepest nature while simultaneously impertinently laughing at the importance we place on them. In The Last Eucharist readers are in for, while not necessarily a pleasurable tale, certainly one to stir the mind and the soul.

 

Built to be Boundless by Robert F. Schatzman

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boundlessIsaac, Eli, and Lucas Wright are not your typical brothers. While they do wrestle and roughhouse; play make believe games and go on make believe adventures; and occasionally cause some usually harmless mischief and mayhem, they are each also a part of something so much bigger and cosmically grander that calling them ‘typical’ would simply be an understatement. While each brother struggles with his own inner turmoils and demons, they also struggle against a physically and emotionally abusive father and a community that often does not see where they fit in. The brothers often find themselves feeling like outsiders. When Eli is struck by a car and killed, the family is thrown onto a new course that no one could have anticipated, but that is a part of a bigger story. In Robert F. Schatzman’s second novel, Built to be Boundless, one receives insight into the vast capabilities of the individual as well as the secrets of the soul and how these pieces fit together in the universe.

Schatzman’s characters are compelling and their stories are tragic– it is difficult not to become deeply involved in their lives. However, Schatzman’s writing, while thoughtful, elegant, and honest, can also be rather self-indulgent and over the top. At 333 pages, many of which extol the beauty and mystery of the universe, Built to be Boundless is a time-consuming undertaking that may be best enjoyed on a very open weekend. If you are looking for something heart-warming and easy to read, keep this one on the shelf for another time.

 

Celluloid by Holly Curtis

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Holly Curtis creates a story in Celluloid that surrounds a character who is a lover of film and all things reminiscent of them. In Celluloid, Jimmy Clifford begins his journey as a depressed, angry film shop owner in his late twenties, desperate to find something in his life to increase his happiness. Clifford visits Laura, an employee at his local pharmacy, and plays cards regularly with his small group of friends – activities of a man who should be content. When one friend shares with him the news that Clifford’s favorite local theater, the Crypt, will be demolished, however, he has finally reached the straw that would break him. Angry with his community, society in general, and with the new property developer, Clifford becomes determined to save the theater with one grand idea: host a cabaret at the Crypt. To successfully complete his mission, Clifford must find seven acts in two months. Searching high and low, Clifford finds musical guests, comedians, mimes, recruits his friends and family to complete his set list, and even finds a romance along the way. Some acts drop out due to “artistic differences,” others attempt to bribe their way in, but in the end, a complete list is created and the night proceeds flawlessly. Whether or not the cabaret saves the theater, though, is another story…

Holly Curtis creates a successful story, not only with the plot line, but in writing style as well. The characters of Celluloid all are able to stand alone, each with his or her own distinct voice and characteristics. Readers are also easily able to understand Jimmy Clifford and from where his thoughts, feelings, and emotions are stemming. When Clifford learns of the probable destruction of his favorite theater, Curtis has so successfully created the environment that readers are immediately upset along with Clifford. Readers are along for the ride for the ups, downs, anger, and glee that Clifford experiences, and Curtis is easily able to convey these emotions and situations. One slight downside of the novel, though, is that the entirety of the story is almost self-contained with these two months. Most of the novel revolves around Clifford obtaining acts for the cabaret. However, due to the entertaining nature of the acts and the relationships that have been built between Clifford and these individuals, the story is still enjoyable to read and immersive throughout.

 

The Horse Angels by Mark Neihart

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The Horse Angels by Mark Neihart is a realistic story about a small family of equestrians. The tale starts by showing readers a glimpse of the strained relationship between the mother and father of a preteen girl. Anne, the mother, had just lost a competition, and her lack of anger management is very apparent as she fires a trainer that her husband recommended. Her daughter, Sam, is then introduced as she witnesses her mother’s rage. The story then switches focus to the husband/father, Simon, as he prepares for his own competition. It’s shown that he has a lot of faith in the horse he’s riding, whom he has a deep connection with, and is very confident that he will win the race. There’s an unexpected plot twist which will take readers on an emotional roller coaster. Then, there is a time skip as chapter two begins, this time focusing on Sam’s training with a horse of her own. Anne tries teaching Sam her own training methods, but Sam feels a connection to the horse similar to her father’s, which starts a conflict between mother and daughter.

The Horse Angels is filled with descriptive imagery that will transport readers directly into the scene taking place. Horse lovers and equestrians will love this tale about a girl growing up with a love for riding. The author shows how important horses have been in human lives, and will make readers want to start horseback riding as well! There were some instances where the author would put too much emphasis on a point, making it hard to focus on much else, but overall, it is a wonderfully written tale that nearly anyone can enjoy.

 

Becoming Famous by Natalie Scott

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Natalie Scott’s fast-paced Becoming Famous takes the reader into the whirlwind life of Bebe Barkely. Bebe is a former championship horseback rider, down on her luck in New York City, estranged from her family and recovering from the loss of her horse and the love of her life. Bebe doesn’t stay down for long, and with the help of immensely talented hairdresser Antonio, soon creates a new life with the intense but talented painter Blue, whose predilection for collecting strays leads Bebe to a life-changing friendship with Kelsey, an Australian transplant and wannabe actor. Bebe regains her confidence thanks to boxing lessons with the gruff, but kind Roccho. Soon, Bebe is making a life for herself in New York. A tragedy leads Bebe to Los Angeles where she connects with Shorty Wiseman, a cynical but well-connected talent agent. Bebe quickly finds acting work and re-ignites her love life with Dan, a director with a quick temper, who is a perfect fit for the fiery, fun, and fearless Bebe. Just as everything seems to be working out for Bebe, a senseless act of violence derails both her life and her ambitions. Bebe tries to outrun her problems by ditching everything and running off to Bali, but soon learns that she has just taken her problems with her. Upon her return, Bebe’s professional life takes off, though her personal life is in ruins. Bebe comes dangerously close to losing everything and readers will not want to put this book down, until they know exactly how Bebe becomes famous.

Bebe Barkley is an engaging character, and the reader is quickly drawn into her world. Scott’s witty, rapid dialogue mimics the speed with which Bebe’s life changes. However, this fast pace sometimes causes problems. For example, some of the characters and plot lines could use more development and there are places in the story where the timing is unclear. Despite these few drawbacks, Bebe’s adventures will only leave the reader wanting more.

 

Leap in the Dark by Emmanuel Ngwainmbi

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Leap in the Dark provides a unique perspective into the African experience in America combined with a fierce secondary romantic plot. Emmanuel Ngwainbi writes knowledgably about Tito, a young African who has completed his studies at a university in West Africa and who travels to Mississippi to pursue a Master’s degree in the United States. Full of bright ideals and innocence about the American way of life and the freedom American citizens enjoy, Tito arrives in Mississippi with barely a penny to his name and no plans for housing. Quickly submerged in an utterly unfamiliar climate, both physically and socially, Tito struggles with his preconceived notions about America and the realities that await him there. He finds himself enmeshed in a romantic relationship with a white professor at his university who takes him under her wing, and the path of their love affair travels colorfully alongside of important discussions of race, political science, and history, as well as vivid events of violence and danger.

Ngwainbi creates a rich atmosphere in which you feel yourself identifying with the young Tito, who is filled to the brim with dreams and who is also unaware of the sometimes brutal conditions that black people in the deep south face. Alternating intensely passionate sexual sequences and highly intellectual dialogue, Ngwainbi manages to blend university discourse with the language of love, educating his audience as well as stimulating their more romantic side. More critical readers, however, may find the plot devoid of more complex details and the intellectual dialogue tedious and hard to wade through. While there is a plethora of historical and cultural information offered in the text which may grab some curious readers, others will find themselves sifting through what feels like one of the university lessons Tito himself faces in the story. Overall, Leap in the Dark offers an illuminating look into one man’s culture shock and the resulting consequences of being immersed in the unfamiliar and an oftentimes unfriendly atmosphere.

 

Naked in the Swamp by Mohammad Saeed Habashi

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Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 12.25.38 PMComprised of twenty-one short stories, Naked in the Swamp is short on depth. Mohammad Saeed Habashi shares a wide variety of characters, storylines and types of fictional short stories in this compilation, but there is little to grab or keep a readers attention. From the get-go in Stars of the Port, the disjointed feel to Habashi’s writing is glaringly loud. This first story displays what one can expect through the rest of the book as the scenes are hard to follow and they leap from one timeframe to another without coherence. The story entitled, Naked in the Swamp, is particularly disappointing as it is the actual title of the book, too. In this story, a woman has finally arrived to a new place with her young child apparently safe and sound. Then she begins to “fantasize” about another situation. However, at the end of this story, as her daughter finds her lying flat on the ground and most likely dead, there is little to no transition in the story as to how this happens. Finally, the author incorporates the idea of the swamp in the last line, “She was a lonely, helpless girl who was drawn in the life swamp.”

Though Mohammad Saeed Habashi’s stories may offer an opportunity for a reader to ponder deeper concepts around each story, there is often so much confusion and unimportant, unnecessary pieces dropped in that one is not apt to keep turning pages. Also, Naked in the Swamp is written in English, but clearly English is not the author’s first language. This leads to further challenges as there is a language barrier. A number of phrases or words simply don’t make sense in the way it is written, such as “pair of bikini.” If these stories were to be rewritten with the guidance of an editor with English as a first language, Naked in the Swamp might have potential. The way it stands, Mohammad Saeed Habashi has failed in his attempt to share fascinating fiction. Instead, Naked in the Swamp will only pull a reader’s interest slowly and painfully under the deep murky waters…not to resurface.

 

Forbidden Love by Jay Mora

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Forbidden Love by Jay Mora is a romance novel about a love that has survived the test of time, through many different lifetimes. When Carmine Basie experiences a spiritual connection with a teller at a local bank, he begins a journey into his past that he never knew was there. After recovering from alcoholism, Carmine’s brain is now more susceptible to his memories of a past life with the bank teller. Despite his long term marriage and family of his own, he becomes very fascinated by the bank teller and cannot help his attraction to her. He begins to have mysterious dreams, which then leads him to seek the help of a clairvoyant. Under her hypnosis, Carmine is able to travel through his childhood memories which reveal a spiritual journey that is very captivating, causing the reader to turn page after page.

Readers will be pulled into the storyline immediately, and will be eager to find out if Carmine can convince the bank teller of their previous lives together. The story gets even more interesting when we learn that the bank teller is engaged to be married. Forbidden Love is an especially interesting and unique romance story. This book will appeal to readers who are interested in the concept of reincarnation, and the possibility of having past lives. The narrator, Carmine Basie, has a lot going on in his life and he makes for an interesting character. Once readers pick up Forbidden Love, they will be pulled into the life of Carmine as he fights for the love of his many lifetimes.

 

The Angel’s Lounge by Kane Lesser

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loungeA man broken by life, a man broken by repeated blows to his ailing body. In Kane Lesser’s The Angel’s Lounge, an Irish-American rock star comes to grips with a rather disturbing past, and while a heightened sense of drama persists, there seems to be a lack of identity for the reader to grasp on to, much like the central figure himself. Told from a third-person, subjective viewpoint of a doctor playing father figure to a troubled musician named Breck Stewart, the narrator takes a Tarantino approach by producing events from the singer’s homeless teenage years to later bouts with physical violence and drug-use over the course of several decades. While Dr. Richmond “Sandy” Alexander retains a neutral position to the specifics of Breck’s personal life, the reader come to know more about the musical prodigy’s sexual tastes and less about his wife and eight children. Then again, the narrator barely addresses his own personal life, leading up the startling event that leaves Breck fighting to survive.

Entertaining as Kane Lesser’s The Angel’s Lounge may be, one might be left scratching their head upon the final page, searching for a more fully realized setting beyond the one in which the entitled main characters live. The “persona” of Breck Stewart becomes clear through stories from his loyal buddies, but just when Lesser seems to offer more insight as to the singer’s often troubling effect on others, Breck once drifts to the dark side, surrounded by “friends” whom already seem to envision a potential romantic relationship (or straight-up sex) before the man can properly recover. And when the plot reaches a boiling point, The Angel’s Lounge suddenly becomes an erotic thriller featuring a descriptive sexual encounter complete with cum jokes. Unfortunately, the narrative seems to be leading to exactly that, given the lack of characters from the real world or more thorough explanations in regard to the never-ending plot to destroy (or bed) Breck Stewart. Ultimately, the narrator spins quite the tale, leaving one to question his elitist take on the events. The Angel’s Lounge will entertain most readers, and the author clearly has talent, but the submitted manuscript could have received another look, considering the inconsistent use of commas throughout (and numerous spelling mistakes).

 

The Angel’s Revenge by Kane Lesser

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The Angel’s Revenge by Kane Lesser is a novel about Breck Stewart and his group of friends and family. The book begins with Breck and one of his closest friends Robbie traveling in Europe and spending time on a yacht on the Aegean Sea. The pair have to cut their travels short when Breck sees Al at their hotel, and knowing that he is dangerous, they quickly return to the yacht. There they discover that the captain was murdered, so Breck and Robbie head back to Chicago where they have to deal with the kidnapping of their friend Jean Phillipe. They assume Al is behind the kidnapping, and Breck and a team consisting of Robbie’s uncle and several others set up a plan for Jean Phillipe’s safe recovery. The novel is filled with sex, drug use, murder, the discovery of long lost children, close friendships, and twisted family ties.

Though throughout the novel the characters’ reactions to events are somewhat overly dramatic, the things that happen are intense- such as several murders, people getting wounded, the kidnapping of Jean Phillipe, and Breck being reunited with two of his children. At one point toward the end of the book Breck finds out who his real father is and that he might come after him for his money, but nothing ever comes of this information as the book ends. Also, Breck has six other children besides the two that he comes back in contact with, and since he never meets up with the others the novel feels a little bit incomplete. Despite this, the book keeps the reader engaged by being filled with action and several complicated and well-developed relationships with his friends Rufus, Nobel, Sandy, and others that are fun to read about.

 

Licking the Taboo by Paul Salvo

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William Lang Jr., a liberal journalist from New York City, is in desperate need of a change. Recently divorced and suffering from a mid-life crisis, 41 year old William is tired of being brought down by his friends, Peg, his man eating ex-lover, and Janet, a man loathing lesbian. The story begins with William pitching his his next journalism project to Peg and Janet. For his latest gimmick, he will relocate to a rural, conservative New York town for one year, in order to discover what it means to be an American. Between the snarky remarks from his friends, and his boss’ rejection of the piece, William can’t catch a break. He becomes even more determined to prove that this experiment will reveal a story worth telling. He decides to cut himself off from his life in New York City and head to Littleton, New York and live as his conservative alter ego, Jack Stone.

Paul Salvo’s Licking the Taboo is a fiction piece about stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Readers will be instantly drawn into the thought process of William, the main character, who’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude is refreshing and nonstop entertaining. The author successfully shows the audience the true nature of his characters through the narrator’s confessional reflections. Although controversial at times, William’s conversational tone makes him a believable narrator that readers will fall in love with after just the first page. The story takes an unexpected romantic turn that adds an interesting conflict in the second half of the book. The love story that unfolds is both sexy and endearing, and makes this book a steamy pleasure. Licking the Taboo is a book about seeking new perspectives and finding love in an unexpected place. It is a well written and engaging read.

 

The Amended Family by Steve Ausman

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familyThe Amended Family by Steve Ausman is a book about, as the title suggests, a pretty complicated family. John Murdock writes screenplays and lives in Los Angeles after moving there from his childhood home in Iowa. He visits a doctor after feeling run down, and after his follow-up visits and recovery, she asks him out on their first date. As it turns out, his amazing and beautiful doctor Elizabeth is actually already in a relationship with her amazing and beautiful roommate Catherine. John discovers that he cares very deeply for both women, and while he is initially shocked by their request for him to be the father of their child, he quickly warms up to the idea. Soon the trio are introduced to another couple, Anna and Margaret, who also want a child and like the idea of a handsome and caring man like John being the father. There is a third female couple that becomes part of this family of beautiful, kind, and caring people named Jana and Tran. They also want a child with John. For the most part and with very few hard feelings or jealousy, with the exception of Anna (who ends up leaving the family behind), all of these women and John manage to become a happy and loving family.

Though the relationships described in this novel are very unconventional, each character is portrayed as being a good person with solid family values and strong morals. John and all the women are also painted as very loving and caring, and the book only alludes to sex and has no swearing. The nature of the family that this group forms is described innocently and sweetly, and though the novel gets off to a slow start, by the middle of it the reader becomes intrigued with the complex family dynamic and all of the pregnancies. Though the story does seem pretty unrealistic, it is lighthearted and the goodness of each of the characters is truly heart-warming.

 

Pianist in a Bordello by Mike C. Erickson

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pianistMike C. Erickson’s novel, Pianist in a Bordello is a politically-focused novel that, surprisingly, does not have the same effect as an Ambien. Richard Milhous Nixon Youngblood, fondly known as Dickie, has spent his life living up to his impressively ridiculous name. From kidnapping and yellow submarines, to sexual encounters gone awry, to his disappearing-reappearing-potentially magical father, Dickie has just about done and seen it all. When he decides to run for office and make a difference in the world, his decision to put all of these stories and experiences into an autobiography seems dubious at best and down right stupid at worst. After all, how can someone be honest in politics? Or at least, how can someone be so honest? As one of Dickie’s friends so astutely notices, “…most idealists end up as footnotes in forgotten tomes in the basements of libraries.” The real question is, will Dickie will be one of those idealists?

Politics tend to be boring, but not when Dickie Youngblood is involved. While Erickson does use the characters in his novel to reveal some of the less positive aspects of the political climate in present-day America, it is in a satirical, face-palm kind of way, not in a shove-it-down-your-throat-and-you’ll-like-it kind of way. Erickson’s writing is exciting, fun, honest, and so well-written that you’ll find yourself wondering where his next novel is.

 

She’s Gone by Joye Emmens

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goneIn She’s Gone, Joye Emmens creates a novel filled with characters, love, confusion, discovery, and remorse, all rolled into one. In the novel, we follow Jolie, a high school teenager living in 1969 during the age of the Vietnam War, politics, protests, and drugs galore. As the story opens, Jolie finds herself protesting the drilling of oil in the oceans, which only opens up her love of protests and fighting for what is right. At rallies and protests, Jolie has fallen for an older guy named Will. Fresh from college and enraged by the war, Will involves himself in politics, writes manifestos, wishing to create a revolution and a movement that will create equality throughout the United States. Trouble arises, however, when Jolie’s father discovers that she has been present at these rallies and protesting the very things that he works and fights for. Ruining her last chances at freedom, Jolie is punished to attend a Catholic school in order to reform her rebellious ways – but this plan does not sit with Jolie. Will and Jolie devise a plan to extract her from her home on the morning of her first day at her new school, and they begin a journey throughout the U.S., aiming for freedom and justice. Throughout the novel, we accompany the two as they remain on the run, keeping their identities secret. Readers discover with Jolie and Will the lives of hippies as they bounce from commune to commune, living with others and learning to share all that they own. In a time of a cultural and political revolution, Jolie lives through these rough situations by building relationships, establishing herself as an independent woman, and through her own self-discovery.

Joye Emmens creates a thorough world within She’s Gone, establishing characters with clear backgrounds, motivations, and relatable worries and desires. With so much involvement in the characters, it is easy for readers to be sucked in to the story, grabbing the attention from the earliest chapters. Throughout the novel, readers experience with Jolie her concerns with her situation, her doubts about Will as an older, admirable (yet sometimes unstable) leader, and her relationships with those she encounters along the way. In this way, Jolie is well-developed and readers are able to back her decisions and her thoughts. The emotions that are felt by Jolie and echoed in the readers as the novel continues – for instance, when Jolie is surprised by the sudden appearance of police in a subway station, demanding her age and whereabouts of Jolie, we are instantly worried that she will be discovered and that her plans for escape will be foiled. The relationships are also well-developed throughout the novel. Each relationship that Jolie maintains is distinct from one another, just as relationships are in our own lives. A voice that is distinct, let alone relationships that are unique from one another, is an accomplishment that not every author is able to achieve. The only lacking element of the novel is one of a clear plotline. Though the novel progresses seamlessly, there is a difficulty in keeping the end of the novel in sight. Throughout the story, readers are able to see what the current situations and issues are and that the current plotline involves solving these issues; however, it is difficult to see where the story will be able to continue once these situations are resolved, as there is no clear goal to the storyline. Other than Jolie’s imminent return home, there are few other lights at the end of the tunnel. Overall, the story that was created was one that was rich in character development, in language, and in depth, and one that is recommended for all readers.

 

Rock Rewind by Edward Murphy

51vNKUN7t2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Jack “the Ripper” Lynch has had to give up on his dreams of becoming a rock legend. Now, with a family of his own and a boring but decently compensated job vying for so much of his time, Jack just doesn’t have the ability to make his dreams a reality anymore. When tragedy strikes a member of his family, Jack’s quiet life heads into a tail spin, putting everything he’s worked for at risk. But then Jack meets a stranger at the local diner who promises him a chance to do things over again, forcing him to decide, once and for all, what really matters to him in life.

This novel is a classic rock lover’s paradise. Much of the story is devoted to Jack’s love of music and how he uses his musical talents to help the people around him. Numerous famous bands like KISS, Aerosmith, Queen, and Van Halen put in appearances throughout the book as well. Despite a great premise and an intriguing lead character, the first half of the book feels largely stakes-free: Jack and his band achieve fame almost overnight; everyone loves them; everyone is kind to them. It feels like there is a lack of opposition, a space that some slightly villainous or self-interested character could have filled nicely. Not to mention that Jack is an unbelievably good-hearted person, which makes it difficult to relate to his story at times. Jack never once yells at another character, or does something selfish or stupid, or even makes a mistake. Unfortunately, this detracts a bit from the novel’s believability and draws the reader constantly out of the action. Yet even though the story is flawed, Murphy manages to make clever use of Jack’s knowledge of future events to highlight how tempting (and dangerous) tampering with time can be. In the end, Rock Rewind remains an immensely entertaining journey with a surprising – and satisfying – twist ending.

 

Everybody Has a Story by Audrey Lewis

storyEverybody has A Story: This is Ours is a collection of short narratives depicting life events, family memories, and experiences. The stories include Lexi’s mom, a woman who is striving to understand her daughter who seemed detached since birth. Abigail whom is recalling her childhood nanny and the important lessons Chamele taught her. The stories also include a young woman being taken from her family, and another sister now grown trying to create a new relationship with her brother. A few stories are of women finding beauty in unlikely places and realizing the true value of the meaningful things in her life; as well as the story of Claire, a woman and her “girls night out” that ends in an interesting way.

Some of the stories such as “The Closet” cut deep into the dark inner workings of the human mind. Lexi’s Mom struggles to understand Lexi and to connect with her, but at the same time fears her. How can one fear and love their child at the same time? When readers find out what Lexi has been doing with bugs, it brings about an “oh my” moment. Other stories such as “The Perfect Load,” were heartwarming and very touching. The way Lewis describes feelings of one sister striving for an adult relationship with her older sister was exquisite. It is as if she reaches down into her soul to pull out these emotions and memories. The way she tells each of these stories gives the feeling that she is sitting beside her readers regaling them with the stories orally rather than written. Lewis does a wonderful job describing the faults and weaknesses of human behavior such as in “Fading Forest” with how Megan’s dad treated her and Jeffrey as well their mother. In contrast to how she deals with the frailty of human behavior, she also has excellent command of the strengths and good aspects of life as readers see in “If Only You Could Hear Her Sing.” The narrator goes into a nursing home expecting one thing and comes out learning so much more. Between each story are short poems and artwork, which help set readers minds up for the next story; almost like cleansing the palate in a taste testing. Audrey Lewis does a phenomenal job with this collection and leaves her readers wanting more.

 

The Scales of Justice by JB Heart

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scalesA melodrama rich with hard-boiled elements, JB Heart’s The Scales of Justice tells the story of the new “Florida Hurricane,” Harris Robertson. An assistant district attorney in Orlando, Harris is charming, enterprising, straight as an arrow, and dedicated to justice – but his world turns upside when a dangerous new case lands in his lap, just as an impossibly seductive new intern pops up in his office. As Harris delves deeper into the case and falls deeper into love with the object of his obsession, the body count rises and he tumbles into a rabbit hole of corruption and sin that threatens to upset everything he knows about his orderly life, and possibly end it.

A classic sort of legal mystery thriller, The Scales of Justice is appropriately shadowy and intriguing, balancing informed legal procedure with illuminated glimpses into an urban underbelly of crime, sadism, and backstabbing. The novel smolders with a dark southern flare, touching lightly on heady themes such as rape, racism, misogyny, incest, and vengeance in a world where blood is thicker than water and as potent as wine. But a counterpoint of pious romance, comradery, and family drama – highlighted by fun banter and character dynamics – is what really shines through. The grim and grisly aspects mix with this chaste melodrama to create a sort of teetotal noir where sodas, pizzas, and soft rock replace the whiskeys, cigar smoke, and fedoras; this manages to ground the novel despite its flair for dramatics. The story is meticulously plotted and composed, but is so intricate that it can become a bit convoluted at times, with poorly delineated scene changes and progressions creating an awkward pace – and yet the novel is rarely surprising. The narrative constantly reveals the goings-on behind the hero’s back, diminishing the sense of mystery and keeping the reader up to speed in clumsy ways – we always know whose side everyone is on, even if Harris does not. Heart has a penchant for explaining rather than showing; saying (or heavily winking at) what things mean rather than letting us discover them for ourselves. Attempts to create character can also become annoying rather than endearing – the protagonists’ constant flirting, easy moralizing, facile spirituality, traditional virtuousness, and heavy repartee can feel cheesy and become grating. And yet the novel’s spirit is so earnest, its dramatic arc so solid, its world so full of fascination, that readers still may find themselves on the edge of their seats. Even if it’s a journey into the already-known, The Scales of Justice is a sultry, beguiling, and gripping ride.

 

The Silent Fear by JB Heart

fearMark Robertson is a topnotch attorney who wins every case he is assigned, regardless of what side of the bench he’s on. He has a beautiful wife, adorable son, and a house decked out with the finest things money can buy. He drives a Jaguar, wears fancy suits, and regularly dines in the high-rent district. He’s got it all…but he wants more, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it. But Mark’s ambition comes at a cost, and it repeatedly puts his family in grave danger. How far will Mark go to make his dreams come true, and how many cruelties must his family suffer in the process? The Silent Fear by JB Heart is a deep and disturbing novel about how determination, greed, and addiction can destroy a beautiful life and cause even the most powerful men to crumble under the pressure of their vices. Not for the faint of heart, it depicts severe physical, verbal, and psychological abuse and includes instances of adultery, excessive drinking, blackmail, and other subversive behaviors. In the end, it is a story about surviving these things, rather than succumbing to them, and it tells a tale based more in love than in hatred.

That said, however, The Silent Fear features one of the most despicable characters this reviewer has ever encountered. Mark Robertson is smug, overzealous, and way too full of himself. He says, thinks, and does unfathomable things, especially when it comes to his wife and son. His views on parenthood and marriage are disgusting, and the way he acts when he’s drunk will make you cringe. In other words, JB Heart does a stellar job creating a character that’s truly loathsome. But, unfortunately, some of the impact of this character, and this story, is lost because of mechanical errors and poor stylistic choices. The text is full of run-on, multi-topic paragraphs that rush through the storyline quickly and haphazardly; and the dialogue often seems unrealistic, and is confounded by improperly placed, or absent, quotation marks. Taking its strengths alongside these weaknesses, The Silent Fear is a little hard to read, both for flaws in its writing and the sensitive nature of its content—but as hard as it is to read, it’s well worth it.

 

Port of Refuge by Garrett Dennis

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portGarrett Dennis’s Port of Refuge is his second novel in his Storm Ketchum series. This novel picks up with Storm Ketchum, “Ketch,” showing off his new houseboat and his lover, Kari, who is moving in with him. Everything seems to be in perfect harmony. However, when Kari’s aunt passes away and a will is found giving all her assets to a Wiccan coven, things become weird. Something seems off. Ketch’s sleuthing bug bites again, and he finds himself thrown into a world of the Dark Web, hitmen, witches, and drugs. However, it appears Ketch may have bitten off more than he can chew this time. The coven’s High Priestess, Samantha, is sly and ruthless. She will stop Ketch at all costs from figuring out what the coven’s true motivations are. Thus ensues a showdown of intellect and persistence.

Dennis is brilliant with his descriptions. He beautifully describes the Outer Banks area, not only detailing its physical beauty and peacefulness, but also delving into the history of the area. Whereas some authors can become a bit tedious in the details, Dennis’ information is interesting and adds to the story –similar to John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil does with Savannah, Georgia. Although it would be helpful to read Dennis’ first novel in the series, Port Starbird, this novel can easily stand alone. There just might be a few finer points and background details that are missed if one reads this novel first. Port of Refuge is an enjoyable read with an excellent pace.

 

Lady in Red by E.V. King

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lady in redLady in Red is not what you might expect at all. E.V. King has written not only a romantic and erotic tale of joy and sorrow, but of pleasure and pain. Through the main character, Estelle’s, inner turmoil and tendency to lead a quiet, wallflower like existence King hits home for those who live similarly – viewed as average looking and who behave accordingly. This story depicts how societal beliefs and expectations play a powerful role in the choices that most people are willing to make. Estelle and her lover Milo face issues from an apparent difference in age to their preferences in the bedroom. King doesn’t make everything crystal clear within the story though. Instead, the reader has to pay attention and allow his or her imagination to flow, so that the gaps can be filled in. The lovers go their own ways until years later when they reconnect and choose to forgo what society says they should or shouldn’t do. With an illicit and erotic affair they lie to those who trust them most, so they can indulge in their fantasies of submission and control.

Even though Lady in Red is well written, E.V. King’s storyline is not for the faint of heart. Caution should absolutely be used when reading King’s tale of Estelle and Milo. There is explicit sexual activity and foul language. However, the most concerning aspect of the Lady in Red is the violence and control that these two characters thrive on in their relationship. From Milo choking Estelle during sex to constantly calling her degrading names to her being excited over his full and total control King makes it clear that their relationship is not one that would be considered normal. If one can look past the physical violence and what many consider verbal abuse, the message of being true to oneself and not succumbing to what is said to be normal will, hopefully, ring through loud and clear.

 

Ghost Town Truck Stop by Barbara Paulding

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Ghost Town Truck StopIn a small Montana town, Katie O’Connor works at the local diner and gas station, which caters to big-rig truckers stopping in for a quick bite or nap before heading back out on the road. Katie meets a variety of men and women during her workdays, but she has never met someone like Rob Townsend, a spirited and kind divorcee who uses humor to cover up his painful past. Soon after arriving at Ghost Town, a blizzard descends upon the buildings and trucks, forcing visitors to extend their stays and leaving others in peril, stuck in their vehicles on the open highways. As Katie and Rob explore the possibility of a relationship, they begin to realize that not only has the bad weather prevented people from leaving the town – but it has trapped a dark presence in with them.

Paulding’s story, though inarguably moving, sometimes even verges on the poetic. Certain scenes – the prologue, for instance, where one character regards the fleeting and unknowable beauty of nature – exhibit an attention to word choice and sentence structure that borders on the musical. But while the writing itself is particularly powerful, the story and characters suffer from deep flaws. Katie’s niece, Jennifer, is an artistic ingenue whose sexual abuse as a child has left profound marks on her life today. Sadly, she feels more like a prop than a person, trotted out so that Katie can exhibit tender, motherly emotions, and so that the antagonist in the story has a mark to pursue. Perhaps Jennifer would have seemed a bit more believable if we had also been given details about her interests outside of art, or information about her friends, or any number of small things that make a person unique and tangible. Another issue was the inclusion of too many characters in the story. The focus of the narrative is on Katie and Rob, though there are also chapters told from the perspective of Rob’s son, his ex-wife, Jennifer, an old friend of Katie’s, and a handful of others. Again, certain characters felt written in to serve the story’s protagonists, as in the trucker trapped during the storm that Rob must rescue; otherwise, they did little to expand the plot or themes. Had the book been given a little more room to breathe – maybe as few as fifty additional pages – it more than likely could have blossomed into a near-perfect novel. With more narration, we could have gotten a greater sense of the characters and their separate plights, in a manner that the book’s current format does not allow.

 

I Was a Champion Then by Alfred A. Meyer

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championI Was A Champion Then: Twelve stories about quiet injustice, small rebellions and restless hope is an intriguing compilation though, at times, a bit confusing. Christopher Paul Meyer discovered a collection of his father, Alfred A. Meyer’s, writings that had never been published. Christopher selected twelve of them – mostly penned in the mid-1960s – and did what his father wanted for so long. He published them. As the editor of I Was A Champion Then, Christopher shares insight into Alfred and his life-long desire to be a writer. He did have some success during his lifetime, but never achieved the bigger fame he worked so hard for. Now, Christopher is trying to give him that chance by sharing some of the writings in this book. It is a mixed collection of short stories including stories with a focus on sports, stories of racial bias, stories that hint at rebelliousness and more. The stories are not connected and do not, for the most part, carry any common threads. Yet each one, if you take a closer look at it and the time to reflect upon it, has compelling depth. At the beginning of many of the stories, Christopher shares a brief editorial to give the reader a bit more information around that particular selection. Each story can be read quickly and easily, but if you do that you will miss the profound message that is seemingly in between the lines. One example is On The Bridge. In this one page story, a milestone has seemingly been met. With some bridges no longer available as the main character mentions high school ending, he or she is on the bridge to adulthood and new beginnings. Reflecting back the character suggests it could have been different. What do you suppose this means for his or her future?

There is a heartwarming feel to the book if for no other reason than that of a son editing and sharing his father’s dream. I Was a Champion Then is well written and offers the reader a door to go inside and explore his or her own past, his or her own views, and his or her own future. Read these stories more than once because if you don’t, you may feel confused and lost. Give them a chance to touch your heart and soul. Alfred Meyer’s writing style is one that will make you stop and think. His style flows gracefully so that you may see and feel in a way you may not have considered before. His eloquent and colorful descriptions will make you want to read the next story. By editing and publishing Alfred Meyer’s writings, Christopher Meyer has created a beautiful book of nearly poetic reflection and shared a gem that may, otherwise, have been lost forever.

 

Helena’s Vendetta by Mario Fenech

helenaHelena’s Vendetta is a novel primarily about the main characters Edward and Helena. The book begins by divulging the history of Edward’s family and childhood, but most of the story revolves around Edward as a young man and his relationship with Helena. Edward is wealthy man, whose money was acquired from an inheritance given to him through his father’s criminal organization. Edward is unaware of his father’s unlawful activities and believes his wealth came from a successful real estate business. Helena is also wealthy, but feels her life and money to be constantly threatened by her abusive stepfather Dominic. The novel has many twists in the plot, and whether or not the young lovers Helena and Edward will end up together is just one of the questions the reader hopes to see answered as he or she finishes the book.

This book is particularly fun to read, and because it remains so interesting the whole way through, the holes in the plot aren’t as bothersome as they could be. Part of what makes the story fun are the same things that make it implausible, such as simple disguises or a change in hairstyle making characters unrecognizable to other characters who know them. Things like a secret passageway that Edward remembers conveniently right when he needs one, and the way Helena fakes her death also make for fun and interesting reading despite not being very realistic. Towards the beginning of the book, both Helena and Edward are portrayed with an innocence that makes them extremely endearing characters, and throughout the story the reader wants to discover what their fate will be.

 

The Gathering by Beth Burgmeyer

Ever since her mom married Cal, 20-year-old Summer Blackburn has just wanted to escape from her miserable life in small-town Montana. With her mom severely depressed and unable to even leave her bed, Summer is forced to take care of the house and watch over her younger siblings. On top of that, Cal is not only abusive, he also happens to be county sheriff. Summer knows if she ever wants to have a life of her own, she has to do it now. After a run-in with Cal, Summer decides to leave everything behind and make a run for it, changing her life forever. Her only plan is to make it to the Rainbow Gathering, a spiritual forest gathering where hundreds of people meet each year for guidance and support. With only a backpack to keep her safe, Summer’s journey is cut short when she is sexually attacked by a group of local men alongside the road. Defenseless and screaming for help, a boy named Logan and his dog, Lazarus, help her escape and the two create an instant bond like nothing they have ever experienced before.

The Gathering by Beth Burgmeyer creates a wonderful story of friendship, young love, and second chances. As Summer and Logan’s relationship intensifies, as does the connections between other relatable characters. While these develop, the reader can observe that things, and people, are not always what they seem. After Summer runs away, Cal immediately sends out a county-wide search for his missing step-daughter. The tension increases in the story when we find out he has posted notices throughout the surrounding towns with Summer’s face on it. She becomes worried that someone at the Rainbow Gathering may recognize her and report her. Summer knows she can’t go back to her life at home and relies heavily on the support of her friends she meets at the Gathering. However, the tension Burgmeyer effortlessly creates in the first half of the novel quickly wanes in the later half. It becomes easy to forget why Summer is at the Rainbow Gathering at the first place as the focus shifts to what Summer and Logan plan to do after the gathering. Sadly, the Rainbow Gathering eventually comes to an end, but not until Cal suddenly finds Summer after a tip and demands she return home – without Logan. Armed with the power of love, Summer and Logan manage to conquer it all, but not without a fight. The Gathering is an intoxicating read filled with incredibly deep characters, emotional drama, and thematic elements that are relatable for readers of any age.

 

Bevenab’s Twenty-First Year by Steven Ferrill

Bevenab, a young woman living in Thailand, has just turned twenty-one. She works ten-hour shifts at a grueling factory job where she carefully covers up her natural beauty, hoping to avoid the predatory attentions of her overseer. The small sum she earns there is enough to buy her family a proper breakfast each morning – and little else. Even so, the family’s luck seems to turn when Bevenab’s brother, Lek, finds a job of his own aboard a fishing boat, which promises to pay handsomely if the men can bring back a proper haul. Bevenab herself enters a beauty contest and, if she wins, it means she will finally be able to quit her demeaning job at the factory. But luck has a way of going sour, and the family’s bright future might be in greater jeopardy than even they realize.

According to the author’s notes, Ferrill has made a total of seventeen trips to Thailand over the years, which explains how he is able to communicate both the country’s appeal and danger with such studied skill. The accumulation of all those trips allows Ferrill to write about Thailand and its people convincingly and confidently. Bevenab’s personality is particularly entertaining, and her plights create a narrative so immersive that readers will have difficulty acknowledging the need to come up for breath. The only issue with the story – and a minor one at that – is the characterization of its cast, which sometimes seems to rely on standard archetypes, rather than the creation of fresh faces. For example, most of the male characters fall into two camps: either the irredeemably villainous or the infallibly virtuous. Few are shown to demonstrate the complicated moral map that human beings are, in fact, known to possess. Nevertheless, Ferrill’s novel remains a compelling one, and we look forward to reading his future works.

 

Whispering Pines by Elliott Foster

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 9.40.02 AMWhispering Pines: Tales from a Northwoods Cabin takes place in September of 1993. The Travis family have come together to celebrate the birthday of their matriarch; Isabella Travis. Different members of the family share touching stories about growing up, hunting and fishing, and other antics they have gotten into in the past. The narration is shared by Isabella, her daughter Ruth, and grandson Eddie. Each story unravels memories long forgotten. It all begins with theories of how Lake Dunbar was created and progresses to how the family found their way to Whispering Pine, the family name for their cabin. It’s a fantastic story of building life, making new friends and memories, as well as the changing of traditions to adapt with the times. It is a story of family, faith, and above all, love.

The novel opens with exquisite descriptions of the history and landscape of Lake Dunbar. Readers are able to imagine the giant foot shaped lake Foster describes. The first segment depicts life in the small town Isabella lived in and then how her time was spent at Lake Dunbar which required them to hunt and gather. Foster captures the hardships and emotions the family had to endure such as Stella’s death after her appendix rupturing and Sam’s early death from a heart attack. One of the elements of the novel that was very well done was the different viewpoints. The novel is broken up into three parts, three different generations talking about the family, and reminiscing on their lives together. While each section is from another perspective, the fluidity and tone of the novel remains the same. One can almost picture a soft smile on each narrator’s face. It seems as though Isabella and Ruth had grand ideas of adventure and leaving the area, where as Eddie wanted to preserve the memories he had growing up. This shows how things can change; Isabella and Ruth wanted to travel away from where they grew up and away from the lake altogether. While Eddie realized the beauty and importance of the area where his family started their legacy. Foster has created a compelling story about family, and the places that shape who we become.

 

Dark Sun, Bright Moon by Oliver Sparrow

Dark Sun, Bright Moon written by Oliver Sparrow takes you on a very ancient journey to the Andes and the Peruvians. It is beautiful, complex, intense, and downright outside the box. From the very beginning, the author shows you how different the cultural beliefs of the Andean people were from the belief systems of modern day by describing a sacrifice of seven elderly pilgrims. This first example, expresses a beautiful willingness and acceptance of death. Quickly, the story moves into how there is a group that is working towards wiping out a number of other human lives and communities. There is a constant state of war, if you will, over varying religious beliefs. A young woman, Q’ilyasisa, is unknowingly the heir to the yachaq’ legacy. She has to help put an end to those communities that are trying to destroy the others. Eventually, she will accomplish this feat, become Mother Moon (Mama Q’ilya) and establish the groundwork for the creation of what most of us know as the Incan Empire.

Sparrow recommends in the preface of Dark Sun, Bright Moon that you very likely may want to start reading the book by flipping to the back and beginning with the appendix. If you do not do that and if you do not pour over the thirty-plus words in the glossary, which is shared within the preface, you may discover that you are very confused as you read the story. The appendix gives you an overview of the culture and belief systems during the time frame Dark Sun, Bright Moon is set in. Sparrow calls it “the Andean World View,” and it is quite different from what the majority of people experience today. With a great number of pictures included in the book and the appendix, Dark Sun, Bright Moon offers not only an interesting and unique fictional story but an opportunity for you to travel back in time. Sparrow has crafted a well-written tale that will draw your attention while at the same time expand your cultural and historical perceptions.

 

Twisted by Marjorie Brody

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twisted coverOne night during her freshman year, fourteen-year-old Sarah Hausman attends a school dance that will forever change the course of her life. Bruised and humiliated by a group of drunken boys – and betrayed by a classmate she thought she could trust – Sarah decides to lock away the secret of what happened that night to protect herself and to save her family from embarrassment. But secrets have a way of revealing themselves beyond even our control. Judith is a high school senior with the perfect boyfriend and a host of college offers to choose from, but plans begin to go off track when her boyfriend receives some unexpected news. While Sarah and Judith struggle separately to overcome the problems that fate has unfairly placed before them, events are in motion that will bring the girls together – though whether it will mean their saving grace or their mutual destruction remains to be determined.

Marjorie Brody comes to writing by way of psychotherapy, and she commands her characters with a smart and sensible application of her knowledge of the human personality. To portray the plight of a teenager, especially one coping to manage her emotions in the wake of a traumatizing experience, requires a master’s dexterity – but Brody certainly pulls it off. For one, Sarah’s relationship with her mother felt particularly viable, the mother-daughter bond tested – and ultimately strengthened – by the unspeakable acts committed against a young woman. There are things that are never easy for a family to go through, and sexual violence is chief among them. And, as if a compelling story and true-to-life characters weren’t enough, Twisted sets off several firecrackers toward the end that will bowl over even the most well-balanced readers.

 

Tiggy Tiggy Touch Wood by Madelyn Grape Rohrer

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3642600This collection of ten short stories and folktales features scenes and characters that meld Celtic mythology, Christian spirituality, and Irish history to create truly contemplative and animated fiction. In the title story, a young brother and sister breathe new life into their town by spreading the game of Tiggy Tiggy Touch Wood (upon which football, tag, and hide-and-seek are based). In ‘Bess and Roy,’ two newlyweds are separated from each other in the wake of the Japanese bombings at Pearl Harbor – but serendipity brings them back together. The story ‘Ah, Chocolate!” offers a humorous look at the many wonders and miracles heaven holds in store for us, which thankfully includes chocolate! In ‘A Different World,’ a young father finds his prayers for a miraculous display of God’s glory have been answered, though now he wishes they hadn’t. A POW of WWII is able to escape captivity thanks to a Monopoly set that holds the key to his freedom in ‘A Well-Kept Secret.’

Jumping between the past and present-day, these stories bridge both time and culture, producing a well-balanced blend of entirely fictional tales and stories that are based on true historical facts and the lives of Rohrer’s close friends. Likewise, the inclusion of both traditional-style folktales and modern short fiction keeps this collection exciting and innovative through to the end. Heavily influenced by Christianity, many of the stories feature a strong religious element and positive messages that will undoubtedly be a source of comfort to troubled or saddened readers. Rohrer’s stories signify a departure from contemporary narration and a return to the classic storytelling methods of past generations, the result of which is an astonishing anthology that resonates with a life force of its own.

Poka City Blues by A. L. Gibson

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.08.27 AMA. L. Gibson has penned an intriguing fictional story in Poka City Blues. Written from the perspective of Sedelia, a black woman in her mid-70s, you are taken on a chilling journey through her life experiences. She recounts a number of tales from childhood through her current life. Being born and raised in the Deep South in Loachapoka, Alabama, she writes of being dirt poor, picking cotton, her “skirt-chasing” father, the Ku Klux Klan, rape, murder and more. Your heart will go out to this character. You will get to see a very hard life through her eyes. Mind you, she is not shy or quiet though. She is a spit-fire and refuses to keep her mouth shut more often than not. Sometimes, this works strongly in favor, but not always. Be prepared as her inner anger pours forth at many of the horrific experiences she has gone through and the people that caused them. Gibson allows Sedelia to show you how strong love and honor is from start to finish. Sedelia was taught by her mother to honor and respect herself, and in a perplexing way it appears that those who tortured, abused and harassed Sedelia, her family, her friends and her community taught her to honor and respect others as well.

Poka City Blues is written in a way that makes you feel as though you are sitting at Sedelia’s feet or having a cup of tea with her as she tells her stories. Gibson doesn’t have her speak with a strong dialect, but her speech is vernacular. Reading Poka City Blues will give you a taste of what it might have been like to grow up in the Deep South in the 40s and 50s, and Sedelia continues right up through modern day. This was certainly an enjoyable read.

 

Mercenaries of Panama (Shada) by Lee Dorsey

mercenaries_of_panama_shada_cover_art__47976.1421773771.1280.1280Shada Amiri is a young Iranian woman with a troubled past and insatiable desires. When Shada was a girl, her parents were abducted by the government and she was sent to live with her aunt. It was around this time that Shada met Agrajeeta, a member of Al Qaeda whose passion for the cause convinced Shada to become a terrorist herself. After completing medical school, Shada resumes her involvement with Al Qaeda – but is soon apprehended by a group of formal Navy SEALs known as “the Company.” Shada is given a simple choice: either join the Company and continue to do what she does best – mainly, killing – or resign herself to a quick and senseless execution. Opting to live, Shada is assigned work with the Company, her missions taking her to all points of the globe. But Shada soon learns that leaving the Company is not as easy as joining it. When a series of revelations leads Shada to reconsider her new employers, she decides to plan her escape. Staying alive is going to take everything she has – and more.

Mercenaries of Panama is a fast-paced, cinematic thriller with a colorful cast of characters, but even amidst such company, Shada herself shines most brightly of all. With a skillful hand, Dorsey paints Shada with layers of layers of appeal: there is her seductiveness, of course, as well as an edge of danger; her idealistic nature, which others seek to contort to fit their political agendas; and there is her very understandable need for human compassion and connection. Though the narrative is sometimes heavy-handed – chiefly, in the number of gratuitous sex scenes featuring Shada and an ever-changing buffet of lovers – Shada’s story will undoubtedly connect with readers on a visceral level, and in her struggle for freedom, one can find room both for entertainment and contemplation.

 

Zenox by Alex Walker

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Alex Walker’s Zenox is the third book in his Toltec series. The timeframe of this story encompasses the ending of the Civil War and the years shortly thereafter. Confederate President Jefferson Davis selects Colonel Robert Patterson to lead a mission in which he will hide a secret confederate treasure worth millions. Within the Confederate treasure cache, Patterson discovers an odd coin and a thin metal sheet with symbols and hieroglyphs. Not knowing what they mean he takes them along with him and his team as they escape to Brazil. Years later when Patterson requests a pardon from his homeland and asks to return, President Ulysses. S. Grant is unsure if Patterson’s tale of a hidden confederate treasure is true or false. President Grant calls upon Simon Murphy and Elijah Walker, as well as archeologist, Professor George Scott to retrieve Patterson and his “band of ‘homesick’ rebels.” However, simply fetching a few former confederates from Brazil is far from a simple journey. In fact, Simon intuitively brought along the zenox, a communication device that is not of this world. The story and the mystery kicks in once they find Patterson and he shares the strange coin and sheet. Simon and Elijah recognize the sheet as being similar to the logbooks aboard the Toltec and the Cuzco. Patterson proceeds to share a secret offer he has for President Grant that is “far grander than the Confederate treasure,” but first they need to go on a very dangerous journey to find it. As expected, they encounter vicious tribesman and not everyone survives during these encounters. The native tribes aren’t the only ones try to stop them though. And, yes, the zenox comes to life as well, but what information is it transferring and to whom?

This Indiana Jones type journey is a page turner and filled with amazing information let alone the suspense. Even though this story is the third in the series it could be a stand alone. Walker does a good job of incorporating important pieces from Toltec and Cuzco, the first two books in the series, in case you haven’t read them. Alex Walker has crafted a well-written, fascinating and suspenseful series where historical fiction and science fiction meet.

 

Portrait of Stella by Susan Wüthrich

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 9.30.07 AMAll Jemima wanted was to get a passport for her business trip, only to find out her birth certificate was forged, and the authorities have been brought in on the case. After speaking with family and friends of her mother’s, Jemima struggles to piece together stories of her mother’s past to find out her own past, and identity. She travels across the globe seeking answers to questions about the mother she thought she knew. Little did she know her journey would take her to destinations across the world. She learns of the hardships her family endured and faces some of those hardships herself. The answers she seeks throw her world upside down, more so than it already has become. Along the way, she makes numerous ties in different cities and builds relationships with new friends who will stay into the future, and some who do not. Portrait of Stella is a whirlwind tale of deep family history and finally discovering one’s own heritage.

From the beginning of the book until the end, this story holds the reader captive. It pulls readers in quickly by tugging at the heartstrings. It builds up the excitement and desire to know what happened to Jemima’s parents, and why her birth certificate was forged. Never does one think it would become the tale that it does. It ranges on so many different topics, but does so in a way that it does not seem like too much information. Just when one thinks they have it figured out something new is revealed which changes the whole course of the story. The telling of the story through the eyes of different characters was a wonderful element. It added a depth to the story which might not otherwise be present. The author develops characters that readers can relate to. The character of Jemima is astounding, although some of her actions do seem out of character for what readers know of her. The other characters compel the reader to continue and learn more about them. Susan Wüthrich does a phenomenal job at bringing all the elements of the story together. She brings out various different emotions from happiness to sadness and pain. It is easily one of those books that can be finished in a single night.

 

Bottomless Dreams by Ryan Power

fivestars

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.36.44 AMBottomless Dreams by Ryan Power is a collection of 25 short stories that, quite frankly, can’t be summarized in one paragraph. Not only are there 25 plot lines, 25 settings, and 25 casts of characters, but there are also scores of psychological themes and dozens of metaphysical quandaries set across several, often concurrent, genres. In other words, there’s a lot going on in this collection, and it’s pretty awesome. Bottomless Dreams tells very real tales alongside the fantastic, carrying readers around the globe and across the universe, through the past, present, and future, to explore the inward and outward bounds of the human condition. As per the stories themselves, they speak of surfers, old men, and coming-of-age children, as well as of beasts, werewolves, witches, and others. But what the stories speak of is not nearly as remarkable as what they speak to, which makes Bottomless Dreams, at the bottom line, a prime example of literary fiction. Isolation. Fear. Pride. Conviction. That’s what these stories are about, and then some. Power presents a buffet of themes and topics, dishing on everything from parenthood, masculinity, and absurd rites of passage, to the sanctity of life, enlightenment, and familiar questions about life, death, and religion. Plus, there’s a little sex, drugs, and jazz tossed into the mix, and the pages are scattered with original artwork—25 title pages for each of the 25 stories, as illustrated by interior artist Court Dheensaw.

All told, Bottomless Dreams by Ryan Power is a one-of-a-kind, somewhat strange experience. Many of the stories deal with “messed up” things, but do so in a way that’s insightful and illuminating. Power’s writing is also rather exceptional, full of powerful words, phrases, and devices that effectively communicate his messages and fuel further thinking. That said, however, be aware, Bottomless Dreams is not, by any means, a poolside novel. It’s neither a quick read nor a light read—but, it’s definitely a good read, and it comes highly recommended.

 

Detroit Ghost: Tennis Life by Richard Daley

Richard Daley’s Detroit Ghost: Tennis Life expands the story of Mickey Dryden, a kid from the mean streets of Detroit who has grown up to be a dazzling and charismatic tennis player. Mickey’s moves on the court are rivalled only by his moves in the bedroom, and he leaves a trail of broken hearts wherever he goes. That is, until he meets Alessandra Tessini, CEO of Tessini Sports. It is love at first sight for both of them and soon Mickey and Alessandra seem “as if they had been together and a happy couple for years.” Soon, Mickey transitions from bad boy tennis pro to gifted marketing executive for Tessini Sports. Mickey has never been so happy – until Alessandra is killed in a plane crash and with her, all of Mickey’s hopes and dreams. Mickey’s grief over Alessandra’s death is so extreme that he begins forgetting their time together, a coping mechanism a doctor labels “dissociative amnesia.” With the help of his manager and Alessandra’s friend Diane Gottfried, Mickey begins to come back from the depths of his grief, but he is never quite the same. Diane helps Mickey return to tennis and he becomes an instructor at a country club.

Mickey’s charm and outsized personality, even when dampened by his grief, cannot be contained for long, however, and soon Mickey is using all of the skills he learned working with Alessandra to achieve success. Although the story sometimes suffers because of poorly integrated narrative asides and often lacks coherent secondary character development, Daley’s fast-paced and beautifully detailed narrative will keep the reader wanting more of Mickey’s story, a character so well drawn and nuanced that he seems as if he must be real.

 

From the Ashes by Lillis Lish

ashesAfter a fire that seemingly destroys her life, Marie Maxwell struggles to raise her two young children Laurel and Todd on her own. Now that her beloved husband Joe has died, she is forced to abandon the life she previously lived. As they begin to move from place to place, Marie and her children become squatters, taking refuge wherever they can find shelter now that her world has come crashing down around her. As this mother and her children learn to rebuild their lives in this unconventional way they befriend an unusual cast of characters including a woman named Fiona who is hiding from a dangerous Russian mob, Martha, a lost heiress who came from a wealthy family, and Rosa and George, relatives who have been displaced by society. Eventually, Marie finds balance in her life again, as she embraces a new love and becomes a successful ceramist. Unfortunately, her children are still tormented by the past, as they continuously have nightmares about their dead father. As a terrible secret is revealed about Joe’s past, Marie has to once again strive for peace, wondering if she will ever be able to find it.

A book that is largely told through the conversations the characters have with one another, From the Ashes by Lillis Lish is a heartbreaking book of one woman’s sacrifice in order to protect her children in the best way she can. At times gritty and realistic in its plot, the author has built up memorable characters that will stay with the reader even after the book has ended. Women will be able to relate to the character of Marie, who loses it all in a freak accident, her house, her husband, and the life she’d previously lived. Even when things get tough, she refuses to give up. Needless to say, readers will be rooting for Marie and her two children to find happiness once again. A fast paced read that often surprises, From the Ashes is an engrossing tale of one woman’s quest for a harmonious life.

 

Stashes by PJ Colando

The book Stashes by PJ Colando is the story of Jackie and Steve, and also of their son Brandon and his wife Amy. Steve runs a micro-dairy in Michigan while Jackie works at the local school. The couple decides to take a break from their lives and travel around the United States in an RV. Brandon and Amy had some serious financial problems and lose their house, so they agree to move into Steve and Jackie’s house and take over the dairy business during Brandon’s parents’ travels. Amy is the vice president of the local bank, and uses her power there to take a large portion of Jackie and Steve’s money, nearly causing them to completely run out of funds for their trip. Further complicating matters, Amy comes up with an idea to start a business selling cookies- but cookies baked with marijuana. As the story unfolds, financial, legal, and relationship problems are resolved in unexpected ways.

The author of Stashes uses an interesting technique in switching narrators, and in doing so the reader gets a better feel for the personalities of the characters, primarily Jackie and Amy. The book is filled with clever turns of phrase, which add to the story and keeps the reader engrossed in it. Because many people occasionally dream of travelling the country in a similar fashion to Steve and Jackie’s trip, Stashes is even more entertaining. Amy and Brandon are a bit frustrating to read about since they seem to keep stumbling into financial and even legal trouble, but as the book concludes things seem to end in a satisfying manner.

 

A Moment of Time by Jilaine Tarisa

momentA Moment of Time by Jilaine Tarisa is a novel that combines elements of the investigative thriller, medical mystery, and relationship drama. We follow Justice Department attorney Caitlin Rose as she investigates a vaccine preservative that appears to be having negative affects on the children it is administered to. To make matters more complicated, her boss, Neil Morton, has personal interests tied to the drug, as he’s been lobbying on behalf of this very pharmaceutical company behind the scenes. With the drive and fire that her reporter mother instilled within her, Caitlin is determined to find out the truth, no matter what the cost. Eventually, Caitlin is pressured into traveling to Ireland, where she meets up with her old friend Kimo, and it’s not long before she is forced to re-evaluate her life, as she contemplates her understanding of religion and the world at large.

At nearly five hundred pages, A Moment in Time is certainly not a short book, and Tarisa covers a great deal of topics, as her heroine Caitlin traipses through the uncertainties of womanhood. The central plot has a lot to grab the reader’s attention, but there are many parts that are rather dense when it comes to the sections about sermons and world religions. We found the parts that focused more on Caitlin herself and her journey for justice to be the most intriguing, as she was a protagonist that we feel many women will be able to relate with. She has complicated relationships with men, is often unsure of her self and her motives, but always strives for what she believes is right. If you are looking for a book that covers a lot of ground and builds up a strong female main character, then this could certainly be the book for you.

 

Gospels From Life by Felix Guerrero

four-stars

Gospels from Life is a short philosophical novel by Felix Guerrero that follows a young boy named Leonard as he grows up and experiences all of life’s trials and tribulations. The pace of the story moves at a nice steady rate even though it is short enough to be considered a novella. Leonard loves to go fishing down by the river with his brothers even though his parents do not permit them to do so, thus they must go in secret. When his teacher encourages him to follow his desires and dreams, Leonard strives for what he wishes for, giving him the courage to stand up for himself and move forward with his childhood. There is a strong philosophical overtone to the entire manuscript, as the introduction to the book explains that all human life is guided by founding principles ingrained within culture and practices that do not always align with the spirits that surround us.

Even though the focus of the story is on young Leonard, the author offers a lot of inspiring anecdotes that can be applied to humanity at large. If you are the kind of reader who likes books that make you think and ponder about the meaning of life, then this is the kind of book you would enjoy. It is a sort of fable that offers morals through the experiences that Leonard goes through. That being said, the title of the book is somewhat misleading, as it is not overly religious in nature. The dialogue between characters can sometimes be jarring, and does not always come off naturally as if two people are speaking, but overall, the characters do have a lot of heart.

 

Developing Minds: An American Ghost Story by Jonathan LaPoma

four-stars

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Luke Entelechy needs a job. An aspiring writer with only incomplete projects to his name, Luke is invited along to a teacher recruitment event in New York City with his friend Billy. Teaching isn’t exactly what either of them wants to be doing – high effort, high stress, low returns – but both boys need to start making money. And fast. Billy lands a job at an A school in Miami, ranked as one of the best schools in the country by its students’ test scores, while Luke finds himself teaching social studies at a nearby F school, the very opposite of the academic spectrum. What follows is a poignant, engaging, and oftentimes light-hearted look at the many shortcomings of the American education system and the numerous heroic men and women who sacrifice countless hours to keeping their students in school.

Developing Minds offers a frighteningly accurate depiction of inner-city schools as seen through the eyes of a rookie teacher. Success in teaching is increasingly less about talent or knowledge and more about maintaining classroom order and keeping calm in the face of insubordination from one’s students. LaPoma has created a relatable, yet deeply flawed, character in Mr. Entelechy whose misplaced creative angst develops into a desire to positively impact his students’ futures. Pervading the story is a highly effective cloud of tension, which looms over the school where Luke teaches but soon expands into all aspects of Luke’s life, illustrating how the harsh demands of teaching in inner-city schools can come to affect a person’s relationships, his home life – even his very happiness. Buoyed by his friendship with Billy and emboldened by the many challenges his job presents, Luke seeks to survive his first year of teaching and help his students grow into adulthood, all while attempting to figure his life out and untether himself from the disappointments of his past. Developing Minds is a full-bodied work of fiction that will ring true with both students and teachers and provide a point of hope in an industry that has become increasingly profit-minded and complex.

 

Woodfiber Dreams: Coming of Age Tales by James Stark

four-stars

In Woodfiber Dreams: Coming of Age Tales, author James Stark has compiled a series of thirteen short stories. They focus mainly on young children, men and women trying to help their families survive during times of fear and intense struggle. Set during the Vietnam War, the Korean Conflict, and World War II, these stories offer you an opportunity to see into the experiences and the mind’s eye of those youths who battled through the tedium of daily life just to stay warm, keep food on their tables, and stay safe from physical and emotional harm. Within just a few pages Stark has captured the uncertainty that these fictional families faced head-on. These are stories that can reach right in and grab your heart. You may even be able to imagine your grandparents or other ancestors having lived similar moments in their lives.

Well-written and thought provoking, Stark’s Woodfiber Dreams: Coming of Age Tales, makes you realize how vastly different our lives are today than during times of war. We particularly enjoyed “Sammy’s Tale” as it truly expresses just how impactful life during those times could gravely affect a little boy or girl’s childhood. Yet, as we read Mike Wapnewski’s Spring Awakening and One Girl’s Life we realized that Stark shared more than just the viewpoints of traumatic war time childhood. He shared what it must have been like for young adults trying to find their place in a world filled with upheaval. These are not stories to be read quickly and dismissed. Instead, James Stark offers you an opportunity to take a deep dive into life just a few decades ago if you are willing to open the window to your heart and allow his short stories to feed your soul.

 

The Outlaw River Wilde by Mike Walters

fivestars

While out biking, Mitch Wilde is unexpectedly hit on the shoulder by an arrow that mysteriously disappears into the distance. The bizarre occurrence pales in comparison to when his best friend Jack is in need of medical attention after being attacked by another one of these unexplained arrows, and then Jack begins uttering unintelligible verbiage. As if that isn’t surreal enough for Mitch, the oddity of recent news reports reflect the bizarre disappearance of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Further information from Mitch’s recluse neighbor Jasper indicates that there are UFO sightings near major Oregon lakes. When Mitch asks Jasper to accompany him on a photo shoot job, Mitch has no idea what is in store, especially when Jack shows up out of the blue.

Mike Walters’ debut novel offers an apocalyptic twist with the past. Inspired by his captivation of the History channel’s Ancient Aliens, “his love of Native American culture and passion for the Pacific Northwest,” Walters’ third person narrative zeroes in on Mitch Wilde, one in a handful of men whose macho image is a facade for their dysfunctional background. But amid the machismo atmosphere, Mitch and others begin to witness eerie sightings of Native Americans of the Old West. Walters uses a variety of tools to keep his plot moving, such as slowly but deliberately introducing his tightly knit and well developed cast. Walters also alternates chapters primarily between Mitch and his various relationships and strange encounters, but also other character scenes. Good examples are Jack with his odd behavior, and Mitch’s nemesis, Constable Robert Gunther, who most likely has more vindictive plans in the works in Walters’s upcoming sequel entitled Still Wilde in the Outlaw River. In the meantime, The Outlaw River Wilde will keep readers who enjoy a story with an eschatological bent highly amused.

 

Obscuring the O by Suzanne Keslar

four-stars

In Suzanne Keslar’s Obscuring the O, the three O’Malley kids are New York’s very own Kardashian-like family. They spend money, they start drama, they look perfect, they live extravagantly, and they party. However, when the family becomes embroiled in some drug trafficking charges, the O’Malley’s are put into protective custody and moved out of the city. For the youngest daughter, Darby, it is the end of the world as she knows it– less shopping, no partying, and lots of whatever happens when you live on a farm. However, for Tiernan, life out of the spotlight while living in the suburban New Jersey apartment of her bodyguard, Robert Archer, is a breath of fresh air. It is a chance for her to actually be herself instead of the person that the media thinks she is and portrays her as to the world. It also affords her a much needed opportunity to struggle with her growing secret– an unborn baby. Keslar’s characters are beautifully written, far more than page deep and they will have you wanting to read just one more chapter before bed.

Obscuring the O is about far more than privilege and money. It is about making the life you want for yourself by making yourself into the person that you want to be. It is also about family and proving the old saying that we cannot choose our family wrong. Tiernan O’Malley and Robert Archer both appear to be living their dream lives, while on the inside they are longing for something different. Taking a chance and acting out of character may be scary and lead you in unexpected directions, but sometimes it is the only way to get on the road that you want.

 

Divine Roosters and Angry Clowns by Frank Crimi

four-stars

Major league baseball scout Riley Knight is in search of an once-in-a-lifetime pitching prospect when he finds himself stranded at a remote mountain diner with a collection of nutty eccentrics after a gigantic solar storm destroys electrical power grids worldwide. Cut off from the rest of the electricity-deprived world, the group finds themselves forced to rely on each other with laughingly absurd results. Their situation rapidly becoming unstable, the town of Jericho becomes their only hope for survival. But the road to Jericho is fraught with peril that only the bravest of them may survive. While perceived as a safe haven, Jericho may not be the paradise of tranquility desperately sought by the unlikely band. Riley and his companions will have to band together and face ridiculous obstacles to survive this new world.

Riley Knight is an unlikely hero in an unlikely situation. Crimi has skillfully captured his vision of the post-apocalyptic future with humor and over-the-top comedy, all of which takes the reader on a delightful journey through the genre that has captured the imagination and interest of so many. A world without electricity could hardly be called the end of days, but it certainly provides an interesting perspective into how the human psyche would react to the sudden widespread plunge into the dark ages. Crimi’s fantastical world plays up the basest aspects of human nature and exploits them with humorous results. Readers will identify with Crimi’s exaggerated characters’ reactions and wonder how they themselves would react if faced with the same circumstances. In the starkly portrayed landscape of the end-of-the-world genre, Divine Roosters & Angry Clowns proves to be a colorful burst of comedy and satire.

 

Battersea by Robert H. Nieder

four-stars

Twenty-year-old Mathias Kamau-Barrett is blessed with The Sense, the same gift his mother possessed. Sensing that Mathias is supposed to spend time on Battersea Island to help the black families (the Gullah) from losing their homes because of exorbitant tax assessments on their properties, the Duke University student takes off for the Georgia coast and quickly becomes acquainted with the islanders. Fărnăz Űsman, a paralegal working to help the families get over the hurdle of State zoning issues, recruits Mathias’s educational prowess to do legal research at the University of Georgia’s Law Library. Mathias’s research is not only met with opposition, but a mysterious set of circumstances – including a death – occurs on the island. The Sense guides Mathias to believe that racism is the motivating factor behind the force to remove “an indigenous population.” Whether or not Mathias can prove that is another issue.

Battersea is the sequel to Sense of a Hummingbird. In his second novel, rising author Robert H. Nieder opens his third person narrative with Mathias’s traumatic birth, the death of his mother (Bridgette Kamau), and the commitment of his once hate-filled white father (Bill Barrett) to raise Mathias in the spirit of his beloved wife. Fast forwarding to 2014, Mathias has to come to terms with the fact that racism is not dead when he gets involved with the islanders’ legal problems. Although Nieder’s characters and plot are a work of fiction, he adeptly incorporates a real issue that once plagued the Gullah and the sophistication of racist groups of this day and age. Nieder keeps his story moving by alternating between various situations involving Mathias and the notorious inner workings of racists. Although Nieder’s plot doesn’t offer too many surprises, readers will be rooting for Mathias as he utilizes his gift in the battle of good over evil.

 

Hot to Trot by Linda Cousine

four stars

Linda Cousine’s sharp wit and bluntly honest writing truly come to life in her novel about the immensely interesting life of a fifty-something ex-super model. In Hot to Trot, Lexi Taylor seems to have it all: rocking body (underneath all of the Spanx, of course), gorgeous husband (if you ignore their divorce), and the fabulous job that makes her a millionaire (if you ignore the substandard quality of the product). As Lexi is getting ready to really enjoy her money, her husband, and the years that are supposed to be some of the most relaxing and meaningful of her life, she quickly discovers that being an ex-super model millionaire may not be as easy as it seems. Cousine touches on everything from the meaning of life, to motherhood, masturbation, and merkins in a novel that will have every reader laughing and shaking their head, all while rooting for Lexi to make the right choice.

While Lexi Taylor is a likeable character with many character flaws, she can, at times, be a bit much and a bit unbelievable. Okay, at times she can be way too much and very unbelievable! That being said, Hot to Trot is so much fun, while also being an insightful look into a life that is far from being over, that it does not matter that Lexi is over the top. Lexi’s story is about growing and finding herself and it just so happens that those things are much better done while wearing double heeled stilettos and designer brands, don’t you think?

 

Follow the Rain by Firouz Hejazi

threestars

In the book Follow the Rain by Firouz Hejazi, Fred, his brother Jimmy, and Jimmy’s girlfriend Ashleigh are headed to Mobile, Alabama to be closer to Ashleigh’s parents. This is the story of the adventures they have along the way and how a young girl they call Jabaala comes to be a part of their journey, impacting all of their lives. As the group travels south toward Mobile, Fred meets several women that he considers sharing his life with, as well as a few other interesting and colorful characters along the way. When they reach the New Orleans area, they are forced to stay in the Super Dome because of terrible weather. It is during their stay there that Fred crosses paths with a little girl who has no parents around to look out for her. Fred gives her the name Jabaala and makes the decision to take over as her guardian.

The most difficult part of reading this book is that it seems most every sentence has some sort of misspelling or misuse of grammar. While in the book it is explained that English is not the first language of the narrator, it becomes somewhat tedious to read and filter through all the mistakes. The characters are all likable and the plot is able to capture attention despite this, but it is a shame how much the poor grammar ends up detracting from the story. The reader does find themselves truly hoping that Jabaala is able to become a permanent part of Fred’s life by the end of the book, though, and it is an uplifting and captivating read.

 

The Epitaph Negotiation by William Eisner

threestars

The Epitaph Negotiation is a collection of short stories by William Eisner that examines human reaction under stress. The 16 stories feature characters in a variety of stressful situations, from attempting to decide on what should be written on a dead man’s headstone to a man attempting to fall in love with a woman in hopes of replacing his deceased wife. Other stories include a new boss brought in to close a business, a drug dealer looking for forgiveness, and an old man’s retirement party. Many of the stories are connected – there are often two or three stories featuring the same characters but showing different viewpoints or times in their lives. The one common thread throughout the entire collection is the undesirable situations each character finds themselves in – it may not represent stress in the most used form, but each character is certainly under some form of distress.

The Epitaph Negotiation features some very interesting characters. However, at times it was a frustrating read. It was confusing at times to realize which stories went together and there was little flow between stories. Endings and beginning both felt choppy. As a reader, it would have been delightful to read fewer, more developed stories – perhaps all featuring the same character set. However, many of the stories in The Epitaph Negotiation were still fascinating and well-worth reading. The variety of ways that humans react to stress and outstanding circumstances is an intriguing topic to read about as each individual tends to have a different version of exactly how and why. The first story, told from multiple points of view, is a great example of this. Overall, The Epitaph Negotiation is a good read for those interested in human emotions and reactions.

 

Mud Marbles by Tolar Miles

four stars

There is no doubt you will be immersed from the beginning into a feeling of old southern charm. You will, perhaps, quickly and easily be taken back to your own childhood when the adults unexpectedly ask you to help them with something. Tolar Miles writes Mud Marbles in a first person style, which allows the colorful memory of the main character to flow smoothly and steadily. As the main character begins to reflect back upon those early childhood years, the reader discovers how the Montgomery family held great love and respect for Miss Mincy, and how she had a large impact on their lives. However, there were family secrets. Some of these were uncovered more easily than others, and maybe not all were that secret to begin with.

After reading Mud Marbles, I was left with this image of a southern style plantation house. The scene kicking off in Cotton Tree, Alabama and the pea-shelling circle near the beginning may have done that trick from the get-go. No matter, the story continued with a sweet southern touch throughout. The sense of real life crisis shows up now and again as well. With a possible touch of humor and the potential to grab your heart, there are scenes such as having to rush off to save Grandpa because he is out driving his scooter around on the highway! If you would enjoy stepping back in time and get a sense of sweet southern charm with a touch of humor, reflection and family secrets, then very likely you might enjoy Tolar Miles Mud Marbles. It is slow paced and has a laid back feel just as if you really could step back into the old south.

 

Twin Flames by Tanja Kobasic

5redstars

The second novel in The Untapped Series, Twin Flames by Tanja Kobasic builds on the story of conjoined sisters Scarlett and Jade Jennings who were introduced to us in the first novel, Vanishing Twin. Having survived a tumultuous childhood, the sisters are now best-selling authors living comfortably in Las Vegas, Nevada. The tranquility does not last for long though, as Scarlett’s relationship with Sebastian, an illusionist performing in the city, takes a turn to the dark side, as his supernatural powers begin to lead him towards dangerous aspirations. The twin sisters who are unable to be separated from one another physically begin to divide emotionally, as Jade is concerned for where her sister’s heart lies deeply in love with the treacherous Sebastian. A tale of good versus evil filtered through the lens of an intangible, complicated love, Twin Flames is a riveting piece of fiction unlike anything else you’ve ever read.

For a book about a famous pair of sisters who are conjoined, you would think that this story would be farfetched and hard to believe, especially with the supernatural elements of magic that are added into the mix, but author Tanja Kobasic has made the world of the Jennings sister’s into a believable one, regardless of all of the unusual instances that are occurring throughout the book. From her writing you can tell she is really dedicated to her characters, and carefully constructs plot points that are both surprising and satisfying. Even though this is already the second book in the series, and a great deal of ground has been covered, we’re sure that Kobasic will have more engrossing stories to follow in the still unfolding Untapped Series, and we can’t wait to read them.

 

The Last Thing Before the Apocalypse by Peter G. Mackie

four stars

Dreams, reality, travel, love, mental illness, sex, drugs, and more combine in the stories of The Last Thing Before The Apocalypse to give a glimpse into the lives of the many various characters. We follow along as one man relives his life in his dreams and another lives his life on the streets of Berlin. One recounts a speech heard, while someone else travels through Europe. Peter G. Mackie drops us in the middle of a dreamlike and mysterious world where anything can happen.

The Last Thing Before The Apocalypse is a collection of ten stories that span countries and decades. They are written in more of a conversational style which is good in many ways, but detrimental in others. Good because it helps the flow and it really help you feel part of the story, but it also makes it difficult to really set the scene at times and sometimes you feel like something is missing; like some details were left out. The stories are entertaining and easy to read once you get used to Mackie’s writing style. He is clearly talented, and you can tell he put a lot of heart and thought into what he wrote. There are many different themes and storylines in this book, but a major one that runs through almost all of them is the topic of mental illness, how it is perceived, and how it has been handled throughout time. This is important because it shapes the characters in the stories and makes them who they are. The Last Thing Before The Apocalypse is a great book to have if you want a quick read that will entertain you and make you think. The different characters and themes keep you interested, and the author’s writing makes you feel involved.

 

Gagged and Bound by Nick Jones

threestars

Gagged and Bound, described by author Nick Jones as being full of over five hundred original gags including puns, one-liners, and dad jokes, includes a variety of content that will be sure to make you laugh. While some jokes are more miniature stories that go on for a few pages, others are brief one liners that deliver their wit quickly. There are even illustrations that offer up jokes to the reader through their artwork and composition. This book would best be used as a gift to a lover of comedy, or used as a coffee table book to entertain guests. Jones succeeds in offering a wide variety of content, covering such topics as bar jokes, family jokes, jokes about animals, occupations, men and women, and much more!

 

Although there are a lot of entertaining jokes in here, they don’t seem to be organized in any particular way. Many will find this to be amusing, as you never know what kind of joke is going to come along next, but for some readers, it may leave them wanting more. The book could be improved by sorting the jokes into categories or sections, allowing the reader to find the kinds of jokes that they find the most comical. We’d also love to see the entertaining illustrations by Tiffany Sheely come to life in color, as they are only presented in black and white here. All in all, this is a very funny book, and could be even better with just a few minor tweaks.

 

What Solomon Saw and Other Stories by Mary Dean Cason

5redstars

A fantastic collection of eleven short fiction pieces, Mary Dean Cason’s What Solomon Saw and Other Stories guides the reader through a tenderly-woven patchwork of tales that focus on key moments in the lives of a colorful array of woman characters. Largely set in the American Carolinas, the stories also fly us from New York to Chicago to California, and even across the pond to a Europe in the throes of WWII. Gleefully swinging somewhere between the genuine whimsies and kitchen-sink-realisms of life, Cason’s tales cast a generous gaze that offers nuanced glances on race and class, gender and sexuality, religion and community, childhood and parenthood, death and new life.

Each of the stories in What Solomon Saw is a gem on its own, possessing a wholeness of vision and an interior strength that make it worthy of adoration – this reviewer’s personal favorite was the stupendously beguiling “Rich as Pluff Mud”, but there is a cohesion of something-freshly-startling and something-warmly-familiar in each piece that makes it valuable and lends it a unique flavor. Strung together, Cason’s stories resonate sonorously with each other, and across the multicolored narratives a singularly powerful voice and generous perspective irresistibly emerge. Adapting itself to the needs of each story, Cason’s writing navigates a fine balance between literary elegance and fluid speech, and is always purposeful and clear-eyed. There is a wonderful economy here – Cason never tries to give us too much, but lets the stories build and blossom, allowing the reader to grow and learn and evolve with the tale, participating in a wondrous filling-in of intriguing blanks. Each piece pulls us into its world and moves forward with ease; by turns witty, tragic, thrilling, and sweet, they always unfurl with qualities that engage us directly. What is most poignant about What Solomon Saw is the way that it succeeds in capturing the elemental magic and existential significance of every-day scenarios; each story smacks of authentic and compelling truths beneath its slice-of-life descriptions, and then culminates in moments of subtle philosophical beauty – reading them feels like a journey not only in space and time, but also through the elasticity of the human spirit.

 

Water Lessons by Chadwick Wall

5redstars

Jim Scoresby should’ve listened. He should’ve listened to his father, should’ve listened to the news, should’ve listened to his friend. That’s all he could think about while he and his friend, an older jazz musician named Freddy, were stranded on his roof during Katrina. Wishing he had grabbed Freddy and evacuated, he watched as everything he knew and loved disappeared before his eyes- including Freddy. In the aftermath, Jim runs from the destruction, roaming around New England for a while. Loving life in Boston- with a great job and a beautiful girlfriend- doesn’t change the fact that he still feels part of him is missing and broken, and he wonders if he will ever get it back.

Chadwick Wall has written a beautiful and emotional book that follows a man on a search to find himself and who he is after Katrina. Page one of Water Lessons will draw you in, and each page keeps you invested in the story. Wall really takes you inside the mind of Jim and lets you see everything he sees and feel everything he feels. You can tell Wall put a lot of thought and heart behind everything he wrote. He also uses adjectives and descriptions in a powerful way. It really helps take you deeper into the story and takes the story to another level. Wall takes you right into Katrina, and into the turmoil that swirls in and around Jim as he tries to cope. After everything Jim has been through picking up the pieces is hard, but it winds up being harder to do than even he expected. He is a battleground of emotion, and the way he reacts to different situations is something we can all relate to in some way. Wall made Jim very human with human emotions; even Jim doesn’t understand why he reacts the way he does sometimes. The journey of self-discovery he goes on takes him to the very edge of his sanity at times, as he fights to become the man he feels he should be. Water Lessons is a powerful and emotional read.

 

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

four stars

Confronting the issue of homosexuality and Christianity head on, The Door of the Heart focuses on the journey of protagonist Tammy Sloan after her son bullies a gay student at his high school. The wife of a conservative Texas politician, Tammy begins to reexamine her values after the incident blows up in the media, and embarks on a mission not just to view queer issues through a loving Christian perspective, but to become an active participant in positive change. A generous look at homosexuality through a Christian lens, Diana Finfrock Farrar’s novel interweaves multiple story lines that feature endearing characters each confronting the consequences of homophobia and demonstrating a need for the understanding and the embracing of the queer community, especially in the heart of Bible-belt reactionaryism.

The Door of the Heart is a magnificently compelling read that is hard to put down, although it often functions more like an essay than a novel; while its strong themes lend it great potency, it struggles to avoid being dry and straightforward. The characters can seem to be the embodiment of the themes that they represent, and therefore don’t always respire as naturally as a reader of fiction might like. The moral framework is very clear cut, which makes it feel more like propaganda than a balanced look at all of the socio-political and religious issues at play. Many details seem so literally connected to the exploration of the book’s themes that Tammy’s world can feel contrived. This results in a novel that is a bit too much about ideas and not enough about the characters and the situations that convey them to the reader. By the time we leave Tammy behind, there are story arcs and characters that seem undeniably thin or lost – but, really, this is because we can’t help but wonder how some of the friends we’ve encountered along the way are doing on their own various journeys, as there are some truly moving portraits of friendship and family. Ultimately, the drawbacks do little to mar what is otherwise a fantastic novel. If the narrative voice lacks a bit of personality, the writing is overall tight, lucid, and meticulously composed. If the metaphors are heavy-handed, they are also strong and deeply resonant. If characters can get overly didactic in their speech and inner musings, they learn and evolve well, too. If the arguments are repetitive, some inspired details glisten with the richness and warmth of everyday life and a harmonious balance is achieved between these and the rhetoric. If you wish the novel could let us make our own inferences instead of connecting the dots so much, you still get very caught up on it; it really gets under your skin and forces you to think and feel. In the mouths of her characters, Finfrock Farrar’s arguments are convincing and compelling; there is a lot to make the reader angry about injustices and to stir them out of complacency and compel them to action, fueled by powerful and intense moments full of genuine feeling and pathos as well as insightful examinations of the intricacies of human emotions and relationships. The book is incredibly well researched and informed; the subject matter is handled with delicacy, respect, and maturity, and the reader cannot help but be struck by how fully it brims with compassion, thoughtfulness, and goodwill. Although The Door to the Heart is very much for a Christian audience, it absolutely has a wide appeal and it is difficult to imagine that it couldn’t melt the iciest of hearts and achieve the good work of opening minds and arms that it sets out to do.

 

A Digital Carol by Adolphus Writer

threestars

A Digital Carol is a modern day twist on Charles Dickens’ extremely popular story, A Christmas Carol. Adolphus Writer attempted to take Dickens’ story and transform it into a story that fits a digital world. He tells a tale of Eliz Benjamin Ezer, a man solely focused on gaining more and more acquisitions of companies and properties. Writer has Ezer have a right-hand man, Rob Cratchit, whom he treats like a lowly, slave-like employee just as Scrooge treated his employee, Bob Cratchit. In A Digital Carol, it seems that Ezer doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions. Of course, he ends up facing his old partner Marley, but this time he isn’t a ghost. Rather he is some sort of computerized digitization. It seems as though Writer’s story is exceptionally similar to Dickens’, but you will be surprised by the interesting twists and turns that come about with a futuristic feel.

Adolphus Writer has a unique concept in rewriting the basic storyline of Dickens’ famous tale with futurist twists. However, A Digital Carol starts off rather slow. The character and scene descriptions lack excitement. It was a challenge to develop an image in my mind’s eye of the scenes and of Writer’s characters. The initial plot was so like Charles Dickens’ story that my mind tried to recreate those scenes in my mind instead of the modern day story that is A Digital Carol. If one can get far enough into the story to discover the vast differences, then he or she just may enjoy this inventive distortion on a famous story.

 

Skylark by Ruthie Morgan

four stars

An intoxicating blend of exuberance and tragedy, luxury and hardship, adoration and resentment, liberation and imprisonment, sex and longing, Skylark charts protagonist Billie May Skylark’s ascent into womanhood against her passionate relationship with lover and husband Evan. Ruthie Morgan’s first work of fiction, this accomplished novel pairs the modest Kansan heroine with the devastatingly handsome, brilliant, and troubled Irish artist/architect, and thoughtfully examines the complex dynamics of their intense relationship over the course of several years. Narrated largely by Billie herself, the novel whisks us from bustling London into a romantic adventure to enchanting Paris, homey Ireland, meditative Scotland, and the paradisiac tropics. Looking unflinchingly at the ups and downs of love and family life, the novel metes out pleasure and pain in equal measure in a thoroughly delicious tale of a strong woman’s voyage into love, loss, and redemption.

Rich with both a spiritual beauty and a human ugliness, Morgan’s novel is always lovely. The well-observed dynamics allow for a wide breadth of emotion, captivation, tearjerkiness, and edge-of-your-seat tension. The darker depictions of obsession, addiction, and depression ring true and bring a depth to the narrative without bogging it down with too much gloominess. While it doesn’t offer any particularly fresh perspective, the insight it provides on so many aspects of life – from birth to death – is formidable and adds flourishes of poignancy. Much of this is thanks to the way that Morgan adeptly taps into the elemental powers of her imagery and symbolism. The metaphor of birds and wings – of freedom and flight – is a particularly strong one; if a bit insistent and heavy handed at times, it always feels fitting and honestly inspired. There is a wealth of thematic resonance in Billie’s journeys, and a soulful power in Billie’s observations and the multifarious, intriguing milieus in which she alights. The novel is both steamy and dreamy, and Morgan’s writing is suitably sultry and lush. The eloquently conversational and thoughtful tone engages us directly; it is warm, fun, and exciting. There are moments, however, when the voice can be a bit awkwardly acrobatic and heavy – the narration becomes stilted and situations feel contrived or underwhelming beneath the indulgence of the language and the luxury of Billie’s romantic life experienced vicariously. There are times, too, when the storytelling could benefit from a touch of nuance or a more knowing tone when dealing with matters that the reader may already understand a bit better than the characters. On the other hand, background characters can really want for detail; their plot threads often feel ignored and could be enhanced with the sacrifice of some of the repetitive passages that crop up as Billie or Evan wander through some of the same musings anew. Billie is just so earnest and her voice is so real, we can’t help but want to experience her world, her past, and especially her friendships even more deeply and more intensely than we are ever able to. However, Skylark remains a formidable and well-executed undertaking, generous in scope and emotion. While it may be a tad clichéd, it hardly ever feels dull. As a first work of fiction, Skylark is knockout-wonderful and a terrific promise for what Morgan can deliver.

 

A Patch of Blue by Sharon Mikeworth

5redstars

A Patch of Blue, written by Sharon Mikeworth, is an adventure-filled, enticing novel that is sure to attract readers of all ages and interests. Protagonist Carrie Sinclair’s story begins when she follows her husband of sixteen years (along with a mysterious blonde) to a motel room one afternoon, finding something that will change her life forever. After discovering her husband has cheated, Carrie decides to take advantage of both her newfound freedom and her two sons’ summer plans, and embarks on a two-week journey to an island resort in Fiji. While out on a day trip to snorkel in the open ocean, Carrie finds herself overboard on the return trip, without a soul to have noticed her disappearance. What follows her open sea experience is an adventure in itself, and she finds that she must face demons of many forms: predators, physical exhaustion, dehydration, and, most importantly, her own thoughts. A Patch of Blue is a story that tackles adventure, a budding romance, and the struggles of marriage, family, and relationships – truly a novel with something for everyone.

Sharon Mikeworth created a novel in A Patch of Blue that fosters the “can’t-put-down” feeling that all authors yearn to achieve. The novel opens with Carrie’s discovery of her husband’s infidelity, quickly throwing readers into the action and the reeling thoughts of its protagonist. When Carrie is thrown overboard and lost at sea for days, the writing keeps the attention with the worry of what will become of the life of our leading lady. During Carrie’s stay on the island, Mikeworth handles the narration of the events with a realistic voice of what would likely happen to the average person if put into Carrie’s situation. Carrie learns to survive based on her knowledge of modern TV shows, along with the common knowledge learned regarding basic survival skills. As Carrie’s time after her rescue unfolds, readers are able to experience what it must feel like on the other side of so many similar stories that are on the news today: an initial ignorance of the widespread story, the inevitable necessity of escape from the media with their bombardment of questions, and the shock after a sudden appearance in the spotlight. Sharon Mikeworth’s story is one that will stick with readers long after finishing, providing astonishment at the probability, along with inspiration from the perseverance of Carrie Sinclair.

 

Vanishing Twin by Tanja Kobasic

5redstars

A riveting novel that focuses heavily on the themes of good vs. evil and what it means to be sisters, author Tanja Kobasic has created an engrossing read with the first of her Untapped Series: Vanishing Twin. Telling the story of conjoined twins Scarlett and Jade Jennings, sisters who are fused at the pelvis, the narrative is rich from the very beginning. Even though the sisters had a troublesome start to their lives, not only because of their physical state, but due to being born to a Bulgarian teen with a drug addiction, only to be raised in a shoddy orphanage, eventually the sisters find good fortune after being adopted by an American couple. Nowadays they have written a bestselling novel and travel as motivational speakers. It is because of their semi-level of fame that they meet Sebastian Cole at one of their events. Scarlett finds herself extremely drawn to this dark and mysterious man, who works as a grand illusionist in Las Vegas. Supposedly possessing demonic powers, Sebastian may not be all he seems, but that doesn’t deter Scarlett from trying her best to follow her heart after him. The only problem is, she has a sister that she can’t get rid of, and Jade is not pleased with her sister’s wishes.

What’s so great about this novel is that Kobasic has created a world in which everything appears to be real. Conjoined twins of course are a natural occurrence, but the way in which the Jennings sisters live their lives is unmatched in our society, since we really have no famous conjoined sisters writing bestselling books in today’s marketplace. Comparisons to the Tattler sisters who are currently main characters on this season of American Horror Story: Freak Show are bound to come up by any reader who also watches the show, and this is a good connection to make, as both sets of sisters are conjoined, and both wish to be rid of their respective sister for their own personal gains, whether it be for love, money, power, or all of the above. Although the Jennings sisters share one body, they certainly do not share the same mind, as Kobasic has developed each of the characters fully, in a way that makes it easy for the reader to distinguish the two. With a strong cast of supporting characters, the only thing upsetting about this book is that it ended too soon. However, with a planned series in the works, we’re sure that Kobasic has a lot more thrilling stories to share about Scarlett and Jade.

 

Stealing a Summer’s Afternoon by AJ Sidransky

5redstars

If you read one book this year purely for pleasure and the enjoyment of reading, choose AJ Sidransky’s, Stealing a Summer’s Afternoon. Sidransky’s novel is the perfect combination of humor, mystery, and good-natured law breaking. In Stealing a Summer’s Afternoon, Elliott Serlin finds himself questioning his place in his family, as well as in life in general, after losing all of his money in the most ridiculous Ponzi scheme ever. When Elliot then discovers that he may also be losing his comfortable, if boring, bank job, he knows that something has got to give and that he needs to get fast money from somewhere and by any means possible. Through a series of coincidental events and a partnership with his best friend and lifting partner, Elliot begins to plan a heist that could potentially save his bank account, his marriage, and the financial situations of many of his friends. Breaking the law has never seemed so practical and so sexy.

Sidransky’s novel is fast-paced, well-written, and downright enjoyable, while still boldly and frankly emphasizing how depressingly important money is in today’s society. Maybe money cannot truly buy happiness, but without money it is next to impossible to be happy. Elliott’s journey into lawlessness also highlights the importance of relationships and friendships in life, after all, what is money without friends to help you steal it and then spend it? Elliott’s antics and adventures will leave you laughing, cringing, and perhaps even considering your own spur-of-the-moment million dollar art heist.

 

Henry First by Basil Lawrence

5redstars

While Henry First, is, at its core, a story about a culinary chef who is desperate to win a cooking competition, the multiple layers that author Basil Lawrence has added to his narrative make it something special. Offering a realistic and unapologetic view of the restaurant industry and those who work within it, this novel displays a world in which no one really seems to understand why things are the way they are. A tale of excess, whether it be through the ingredients Henry uses, or through the capitalism, corruption, and greed that is present throughout the world that seems to keep degenerating, this novel is satire at its best. Not only that, the author brings about a great deal of humorous anecdotes and plot points in his writing, that keep the reader laughing from page to page. Although the title character is arguably the most fascinating, there are plenty of supporting characters who add to the mix, where the fast paced storyline shows just how unforgiving people can be towards one another in order to get what they want.

Basil Lawrence has a unique writing style, and a comedic flair that works wonders throughout this novel. One is never bored while reading his narrative, as the story has few dull moments with all of the intriguing and inventive plot points that Lawrence has littered throughout. By using references to real life history and also to literature, the author has created the kind of book that makes the reader feel as if they are perhaps smarter than they actually are. A joy to read, a book that brings about plenty of laughs, and a well constructed story from beginning to end, Henry First is the kind of book that we’d like to discover more often.

 

Control Switch by Leana Delle

5redstarsS51LOOde11DL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ince high school, Candace Bradford has been offering advice to anyone who would listen: stop procrastinating, start exercising, remain calm in tense situations. Now that she has a just-released book on the market and a radio show airing weekly out of Chicago, people are definitely listening. It seems that thirty-something Candace has achieved her single greatest dream in less time than she could have imagined. But despite her bright future, Candace’s success comes with a price – at the very moment when her career is poised to take off, she comes under the hold of a strange illness, the ramifications of which could tear her carefully constructed world apart. Candace makes a quick decision that could save her life while simultaneously ruining her marriage to Ross Simpson, a hunky, hot shot lawyer with a severe competitive streak and a burgeoning workload of his own. In an effort to protect Ross, Candace lies about her health, preventing him from having any influence in her decision-making process. Ross becomes irate when she finally fills him in on the situation, walking out on their already-troubled marriage. Even so, Candace can sense that there is more to Ross’s reaction than he is letting on. The real question is, can Candace keep her crumbling career together long enough to figure out what he is hiding?

Control Switch is an unerringly enthralling read that rolls out a well-written narrative and addresses key social themes at the same time. First, there is the issue of being a successful female in a male-dominated work environment. Delle’s protagonist is adamant that she have control over her own life, but sometimes that right is unfairly hoarded from hardworking women. Second, Delle writes about a convincingly troubled marriage that ails because a couple feels the need to fight over things like finances and the relative success of either person’s career. With a unique premise and engaging conflict, Control Switch asks tough questions that deserve answers.

 

What Is Found, What Is Lost by Anne Leigh Parrish

four stars

Anne Leigh Parrish weaves an interesting tale of a recently widowed, senior citizen in her story, What Is Found, What Is Lost. The main character, Freddie, recently lost her husband after his tough battle with cancer. Parrish peaks the reader’s interest by introducing a strange man into the story, and Freddie’s daughter returns home with one child and tells her mother she is pregnant with another. The story moves along at a decent pace while jumping back and forth to give the reader more details about Freddie’s past, as well as further insight into her deceased husband, Ken and her daughter. The story carries a theme throughout around God. Freddie, born to a religious zealot, has strong disagreements with religion. This view is interwoven throughout the story. But, what does the mystery man from the beginning have to do with the story, and what happens with Freddie’s daughter and the pregnancy? As the reader moves through the story, they will also discover key components that focus on Freddie’s upbringing and how they might have had an impact on her adult life.

What Is Found, What Is Lost can leave the reader a little lost at times. Jumping back and forth between dates and quite a few characters can lead to a bit of confusion. What is the importance of all the extra details? Parrish does share a number of questions for discussion at the end of the novel. This added aspect to the book makes it easy to use this book within a book club. It is well written, if you can keep the abundance of characters ordered within your mind, and the narrative offers a variety of topics to ponder and discuss.

 

This Time by Melissa Abbott

5redstars

coverEarly one morning in nineteenth century England, Lady Natalie Dowling is out on the pond gathering water lilies – her mother’s favorite – for a birthday surprise. But as she reaches out for a flower, her small boat capsizes, sending Natalie down into the water, weighed down by her bulky garments. Just then, Maxwell Westbury happens to be riding by in his carriage, and he stops to save the poor woman from a painful death. As the young pair’s bodies meet, a spark runs between them: is it merely the rush of having escaped a near-fatal accident? Or is it something more? Unable to banish the alluring woman from his mind, Maxwell is drawn deeper into Natalie’s dark past; his own father forbids him from pursuing a relationship with her, without telling Maxwell why. Despite mounting opposition, Maxwell and Natalie fall irrevocably in love, their romance setting off a chain of events that will follow them both for the rest of this life – and into the next.

With elegant, lacy prose, Abbott presents a stunning period romance that shines in its originality and execution. Her principal characters, though plagued by dubious and disastrous events, retain an innocence that contrasts strongly with the novel’s dark undertones; readers can’t help but be drawn in by the suspense and impending chaos of Abbott’s tantalizing tale. This Time stands apart from the crowd thanks to its unique premise: love will follow two souls from one life to the next, guiding them toward each other. But, as in real life, romance is never that easy, and Maxwell and Natalie’s battle against a mysterious foe proves to be a wholly entertaining story.

 

The Maynwarings: A Game of Chance by Digger Cartwright

four stars

Carson City in the 1800s was a legendary place and the perfect backdrop for a story about the Wild West, as several westerns have established. Once again, thanks to Digger Cartwright, we find ourselves planted at a cattle ranch outside this city in the newly formed state of Nevada. Following the stories of the Maynwaring family and their power struggles in this western frontier town, Cartwright weaves an affective web of danger, politics, and intrigue. Barron Maynwaring is the patriarch of a prominent Carson City family. His cattle ranch is the largest one in the area, as he serves as U.S. Senator for the new state of Nevada, and his family members are all respected members of the community. The family is generally known to have wealth, power, and honor with a fantastic work ethic. Barron helped to build Carson City from its founding. Essentially, the Maynwarings are the perfect western frontier family. Until a mysterious, high powered business man rides into town, buying up real estate left and right, and threatening the power structure in Carson City. The Maynwarings are faced with the challenge to retain their good name and assets, and rid the town of this menacing stranger and his men.

The Maynwarings: A Game of Chance is filled with plenty of horse riding, cattle driving, gun fights, and saloon drinking for the quintessential Western lover, but it’s also extremely well written. While most of the time the characters and situations border on clichéd Western frontier scenarios, there is no denying the talent that Cartwright has for telling a story. He possesses the perfect balance between descriptive detail and historical accuracy. While the character profiles were a bit tired, the reader will find the interpersonal relationships very entertaining.

 

Conversations on the Bench by Digger Cartwright

threestars

diggerDigger Cartwright’s Conversations on the Bench starts very slow and quite dry. This fictional story, based on actual events, kicks off in a fancy country club where Mr. Cartwright had been invited to a symposium. The reader is left to wonder what this is all about and just where the plot is headed. The two men, who invited Cartwright to the symposium, wanted to make a difference in the world. Eventually, after a continued rendition of their visit and a round of golf, one man, Robbie, asked Cartwright to write a motivational book about the other man, Sebastian’s life lessons. He wanted the wisdom of those lessons to be captured and shared with the hope it would help someone else. This particular conversation was the initial spark for Conversations on the Bench.

This book is cleanly written, but leaves the reader without much motivation to turn the page even at the point of being a third of the way through the book. There seems to be little substance to the story, and the majority of it is simply dialogue between the characters. However, if the reader can hang on he/she just might finally discover the motivation that Robbie wanted to come through the pages as his conversations with Sebastian are recounted. Sometimes, you, the reader, must be patient if you want to find a diamond in the rough. Cartwright’s Conversations on the Bench just might be one of those moments, and one of those stories.

 

The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle by Jedah Mayberry

Grand Prize Winner – The 2014 Red City Review Book Awards – General Fiction

5redstars

An ambitious novel of excellent literary quality, The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle is the kind of book that you can get lost within. By combining elements of a family saga with a coming of age story, author Jedah Mayberry has constructed a searing tale of love and loss, all the while offering up philosophical anecdotes that fit right into the story, causing the reader to reconsider notions they previously believed they understood. The narrative takes place in the town of Preston, Connecticut and introduces us to the lives of three generations of the Hopkins family, including the quick-tempered Grandpa Tuke, the selfless mother Dottie, the unhappy father Chester, and their two sons, Langston and Trajan. When a horrifying accident destroys the balance that the family has come to know, each character is forced to deal with the dilemma of how to overcome such a sudden and unrelenting change. The focus of the book rests on the shoulders of Trajan, the younger brother who must now learn to survive the difficulties of growing up and becoming a man without much guidance from anyone else. Through changing relationships with old friends, coming to know the intimate world of women, and the danger of an ominous drug ring that looms over the area, by the time the final pages of the narrative come to a close, Trajan is no longer the same boy we met at the beginning of the novel.

Beautiful in all aspects of its construction, The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle is a triumph that takes risks, and succeeds in all it sets out to do. By no means a simple narrative, Jedah Mayberry has written an account that meanders and sways, pulsing like a river rushing over a cliff. Through his complex ideas and reflections on everyday life, Mayberry is able to ground the story by keeping his characters vulnerable. The reader will truly care about what happens to each member of the Hopkins family, even if some of them don’t necessary deserve a happy ending. Littered with strong supporting characters, this novel never slows down or lags, as it continues to take the reader on a journey of a young man discovering himself as he finds what he believes in. The prose contained here is delicately fluid and poetic, just as the dialogue is raw and realistic. With a crisp and creative interior design, coupled with a breathtaking cover that foreshadows the juxtaposition of both the focused and blurred contents inside, The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle is a wholly original and satisfying read.

 

A Wicked Wicked Man by Beryl Byman

5redstars

An epic tale of betrayal, A Wicked Wicked Man is an engrossing account of historical fiction that tells the story of a friendship gone horribly awry. Set during the fifth century in the land of Persia, the novel follows two boys, Haman and Mordechai who promise one another to be friends forever, until a terrible lie sets off a chain of events that forces them down a path where only one will succeed. By beginning with the hanging of Haman at the gallows, this narrative starts off by grabbing the reader from the very start, offering shocking language and bringing forth revelations into the psyches of these characters before we even understand what is actually going on. After this harrowing scene is teased before us, we go back to Haman’s birth and follow him throughout life as he grows. Haman faces many dilemmas throughout the course of the story which he must triumph over in order to become the man he is meant to be. He is eventually appointed Grand Vizier, a position of great power, which causes him to be pulled in multiple directions as his conflicting loyalties battle for his attention.

The tense tone of this novel is woven through prose that is executed beautifully to create a story that will pull the readers in, and not let them go until the very last page. Beryl Byman has created a fully original story, one which uses biblical roots to its advantage to create a piece of fiction that seems both real and otherworldly all at the same time. There are a great number of characters within the book, but Byman accomplishes a difficult task by keeping them separate and distinct from one another, especially since the majority of the names used are ancient ones that most readers won’t be familiar with. Another factor that causes this book to shine is how well it is organized and put together, chapters start off strong and end that way too, with cliffhangers frequently pulling the reader along. The cover is expertly designed in a both engaging and haunting way. All in all, A Wicked Wicked Man is a stellar novel that is sure to entertain.

 

The War Comes Home by John Hansen

four stars

Former Golden Gloves boxer and Army medic Roger Hitchcock returns home from Vietnam to a very different America than the one he left. His hometown population has ballooned in size while he was away and he finds the police force needs to expand. With a solid option available, he jumps at the chance to serve his neighbors. Like his fellow veterans who pin on the badge, they find that when they left Vietnam, Vietnam didn’t leave them. They go from being called ‘baby killers’ to being called ‘pigs’ yet they do what they did before, serve and protect an often undeserving public. The drug craze of the early seventies takes a heavy toll on the Boomer generation, and the social fabric begins to unravel. This book is a collection of stories filled to the brim with nail biting action, romance, and intrigue, which are all based on actual events.

The first installment of The Bluesuit Chronicles is a compelling start to what is sure to be an epic saga. As the characters try to reintegrate back into society they are faced with coming back to a society that has no regard or respect for the sacrifices they have made to protect their country. Fiercely loyal and patriotic Roger struggles to find his place and cope with everything that happened in Vietnam and come to terms with what his new life is like. Told from a first person perspective, the author dives straight into the human aspect of the events in Vietnam and how they are affecting the soldiers coming home. This poignant portrayal of one man’s transition into civilian life is a powerful reminder of what every soldier must go through upon their return from active war zones.

 

A Diary With a Difference by Martin Line

As far as book titles go, some are fitting to the text they serve, while others are misleading in some way. The title of this particular piece, however, is both at the same time. A Diary With a Difference by Martin A. Line consists of not one diary, but two, and each stands out as ‘different’ for what it covers, what it conveys, and how it is told. The main voice in the novel is that of a young woman named Judith Thomas, who receives two books from her parents. One is a diary of blank pages, which she sets out to fill—and the other is a copy of a seventeenth-century testament written in Welsh, which her father asks her to translate into English. The testament was written by one Jane McCarthy, whom Judith’s father believes to be their ancestor, though Judith is somewhat skeptical of this fact. So too she is skeptical of doing the translation itself—that is, until she undertakes the task. As Judith works on the testament with the aid of those in her Welsh language class, a centuries-old saga of hardship, controversy, and desperate measures unfolds. At the same time, Judith’s life begins to take on new shape, and her once bland existence is spiked with some challenges of its own. From witchcraft, civil war, terrorism, and untimely death, to romance, familial integrity, divine gifts, and much more, the tale of these two ladies, taken together, carries readers throughout history and recent current events, across a veritable landscape of human emotion, experience, and thought.

Harrowing, yet hopeful with each turn of the page, A Diary With a Difference is a completely captivating chronicle that’s sure to enlighten readers as it entertains. Alternating between the past and present, great detail and care are given to the unique circumstances and concerns of each woman—and, in the end, the novel speaks as much to our collective history as it does to that of the characters whose stories are told. A considerate, clever tome, A Diary With a Difference’ is highly recommended for anyone looking, quite simply, for a good read.

 

Is It Scary? By Aysha Al-Rowaished

Diana comes home to her childhood town to try to begin her life anew after losing her husband. Little does she know, the demons she thought she had left behind dead and buried, are very much alive. Diana is a newly widowed mother of three girls who are adjusting to living life in a small town. Janet and Sue are dueling teenage sisters trying to find their stride in a new school with new friends. The youngest, Whitney, is on the cusp of becoming a teenager and is constantly reminded of her youth by the other members of her family. Strong willed female characters are a staple in this story. Amidst all of the turmoil between the girls and the teenage angst they display towards their mother, something sinister is growing in their new home. To combat its affects the girls move to their grandmother’s, two houses down, leaving their mother to battle her demons alone. This proves disastrous. Tragedy strikes the already grief stricken family and the demons that come to haunt them threaten to completely destroy everything.

Is It Scary? By Aysha Al-Rowaished is one of those stories that catches you in the beginning and holds you until you get to the end. The story line was interesting and the writer made the plot believable. The characters were sufficient to tell the story, although they did seem somewhat superficial and lacked depth at times. The writing style was different and lent an authentic, genuine air to the story. The author chose a unique approach that allowed her to articulate her views without being overt.

 

Family of the Year by Ken Swarner

5redstars

Family of the Year is a story about the Murphy family and their business Murphy Pallets and Honey Baked Ham. Jon Murphy III, the main character, is a married father of four who is unhappily working for the family business. Jon works with his father, mother, two brothers, and two brothers in law in the corporate office of the pallet business, and then goes home to his wife Lucy and his kids. Jon has a somewhat strained relationship with his brothers and father, and his mother is an alcoholic. His children Chris, Emily, Craig, and Trevor get average grades and don’t excel in extracurricular activities, but are rambunctious, social, and funny. When Jon’s daughter Emily wins a school essay contest about the Murphy family and their business, Jon feels a mixture of suspicion and pride. As it turns out, the essay, which could potentially win state and national awards, is mostly untrue.

The book Family of the Year is sometimes sad, often funny, heart-warming, and full of ups and downs as the story unfolds. It is very well written and the characters come to life on the page, as the reader grows attached to them. Though the book deals with some heavy topics, such as death, injury, rape, and murder, it somehow manages to remain humorous and fun to read. It holds the interest of the reader the entire way through and there seems to be compelling events on almost every page. It is an excellent book, and hopefully we will be reading more from the author in the future.

 

Hard Reign by DC Geiser

four stars

51SgKqtNBsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Damian Stone has battled his whole life against the demons of his past. The product of a young, misguided mother and an emotionally abusive father who skipped out on the first few years of his childhood, Damian has been pushed to his limits – and now he’s taken things into his own hands. During a tour with his hard rock band, Damian meets the mother of his future son, Tristan, though circumstances tear the family apart and Damian his robbed of the ability to be a father to his child. When Tristan his killed in a car crash, Damian truly hits rock bottom and depression clouds his vision so that taking his own life seems to be the only way he’ll see his son again. But when family intervenes, Damian may just have been given a second chance to live again.

With clarity and articulate writing, Geiser’s story perfectly captures both the pains and pleasures of having a family. Once that great love has been found, it can feel like agony to have it suddenly wrenched away from us, which explains why Damian finds himself losing consciousness on his bathroom floor, bereft and hopeless. Hard Reign uses a well-crafted split narrative that jumps between Damian’s current state while also telling the story of his life: his beginnings at home, travels with the band, and his family’s own start. Strong musical themes make this a great choice for rock lovers, and young fathers will enjoy the main character’s connection with his son.

 

The Red Scarf by Babette Hughes

four stars

Set in 1936, Babette Hughes’s The Red Scarf tells the story of Kate Gold, the young widow of Ben Gold, a vicious bootlegger known as the “Jewish Godfather.” After her husband’s murder, Kate meets and falls in love with FBI agent Adam Fairfield. Their relationship is interrupted by the murder of Adam’s friend and fellow agent Gary Gettlemen by the Levines, a Jewish mob family. Gary had been undercover for two years in an attempt to bring the Levines to justice but was instead murdered after his true identity was discovered. Kate volunteers to use her credentials as Ben Gold’s widow to infiltrate the Levines and bring them to justice for Gary’s murder. Kate risks her relationship with Adam to put the Levines behind bars and to help Sol Levine’s wife, Miriam, escape her abusive husband and his equally dangerous mother, Edna.

Readers will be swept along by the fast-paced and surprising story, as Hughes has created interesting and engaging characters. Kate, of course, is a delightful character, and the reader will root for her through the whole story and enjoy watching her character grow and develop as the narrative continues on. Hughes’s secondary characters are equally interesting, and readers will enjoy interactions with Sam Bernstein, a former employee of Kate’s dead husband, whom Kate hires as her bodyguard and driver. Although some of the story’s plot twists will require an exceptionally large suspension of disbelief, The Red Scarf is an entertaining and interesting story, made all the more enjoyable by Hughes’s often poetic writing style, which brings this fascinating historical era to life.

 

The Diary of a Good Luck Charm by Angelica Daniele

The Diary of a Good Luck Charm is a true account of a love story filled with deceit. This story jumps around a good deal and leaves the reader confused, but it is coming from the author’s heart and her painful experience. Focused on the story of a twenty-something female dancer and college student, the reader should expect to see things from the first person perspective. An independent young woman, who had been so entranced in her career and education, had ignored her romantic life for many years. Stepping outside of her normal tendency to maintain strict order and responsibility in her life, she met a man who she eventually fell in love with. This is one of those times when the saying “love is blind” really turns out to be the truth. No matter how many times Angelica’s lover lied to her she continued to open her heart and cast away as much doubt as possible. She loved him and continued to give and give. The reader will be forced to wonder how long the author continued to be sucked into dealing with this, or they will ask themselves if she finally figured out how to walk away from this naïve love and relationship filled with lies.

In this book, it is as though the author, Angelica Daniele, was writing in her diary. The title, The Diary of a Good Luck Charm, seems quite fitting on the one hand, yet contradicting on the other. The good luck charm seems to contradict what she experienced overall. Upon writing down as much of the experience as she deemed appropriate, Daniele opted to share this story with the world. This means she has opened herself to other’s judgments. A potential reader must be willing to read a story from only one person’s perspective – a seemingly angry and hurt person. Reading this story, it is important to remember not to place blame too quickly on others – the deceitful boyfriend or the inexperienced girlfriend.

 

The Hat by Babette Hughes

Kate had always been a grownup. Her runaway father and alcoholic mother saw to that. Not one to back down, Kate learned to rise to every challenge. She fought her way through school while working to keep herself and her mother alive. So when the Great Depression hits it is the worst possible scenario for everyone, but for Kate it means the end of the dreams she had worked so hard for, a chance to go to college and be a writer. When Ben Gold walks into her life at the exact moment she is fired from her job, it seems like a godsend. She didn’t realize until that moment how much she needed to feel taken care of for a change. The girlhood fantasy of being saved and swept off her feet by a charming, dashing man is just too good to pass up. Kate soon finds out that just because something smells like a rose, doesn’t mean it is one. Inexplicably drawn in to a life of intrigue, murder, and betrayal, Kate attempts to find herself in the darkness encroaching on her sanity. Tragedy strikes, ripping away the veil of her life as Kate begins to see her world for what it is, a façade covered by a web of lies.

A beautiful and well-crafted story, The Hat will make you think and re-examine your own life circumstances. It is a grab you by the heart strings and wring out your tears kind of book. In short, it is well worth the read and Babette Hughes is a very talented author who we look forward to following to see what she comes up with next.

 

In Search of Samhain by Michael Darkgarten

What is life? What does it mean? What is the point? These are all questions that run through the unnamed main character’s head. Taking the long drive from Minnesota to Seattle is just the beginning of his journey. Samantha Hainie was a green-eyed beauty. She managed to work her way into his heart and soul, and losing her devastated him. Not understanding why things have to happen the way they do, he is full of sadness and anger. He barely wants to continue on, but he made a promise; one he intends to keep. She never wanted to be buried…the thought of it disgusted her. No, she wanted her ashes spread in the water of her favorite place, Leo Carillo State Beach, on the day of her birth. So off he sets with his RV and their German Shepherd Sammy, off to Seattle to start his trek down the Pacific Coast Highway to Samantha’s final resting place, but as the days count down to October 31st, he begins to realize this trip may have been more about him than he realized.

In Search of Samhain: Journals of the Cosmic Vagrant is, in many ways, a coming of age story. You learn about the main character’s history, his life, his love. You also see how broken he is after losing the love of his life. Michael Darkgarten wrote his main character well-you learn everything about him (except his name), and you really feel his pain. You also feel his joy in remembering his life and realizing that everything happens for a reason. You know when he manages to find his peace and understanding in the end. The story is very good, but at times the writing feels disjointed. It is almost like two different people wrote the book. There are a lot of adjectives; the descriptions Darkgarten uses help paint a perfect picture in your mind, but there are also instances when he uses too many and it distracts you from the story. It does make the book hard to read in places but once you get through some of the tough parts, the rest of the book is enjoyable. Darkgarten takes you on a journey of discovery and reflection. His character is dealing with emotions we all have felt at some point in our lives as he faces the same problems we have all faced. It is nice to watch the protagonist come full circle and find his peace. It gives you hope and reminds you there are better days ahead.

 

Bits n’ Pieces: Musings of an Oklahoma Girl by Freda Lattimore

Bits n’ Pieces: Musings of an Oklahoma Girl by Freda Lattimore is an honest and heart-warming story about the twists and turns and ups and downs that one country girl’s life takes her on. Charletta Chastain prefers to be called Charlie and isn’t necessarily your average Oklahoma country-girl. While Charlie does ride horses, enjoy the outdoors, and spend a good amount of time with her mom, she also has a painful and sometimes mysterious past. Even though Charlie’s father died many years ago, when she was in the sixth grade, Charlie continues to emotionally deal with his death and consider how it has shaped the person that she has become. As Charlie’s relationships with her family and her friends deepen and she begins to consider what it would mean for her to have a steady boyfriend, she realizes that she doesn’t necessarily need to be completely controlled by the events of her past and upbringing, and that she has a future full of varied opportunities.

Bits n’ Pieces is an engaging and fun read that also carefully touches on sensitive topics. These topics are important for young adults to consider because death, drug addiction, poverty, eating disorders, and love are all real, poignant parts of most people’s lives. Charlie is a complex protagonist that Lattimore uses to the story’s advantage, as we see her grow in many different ways over the course of the narrative. If you enjoy stories set in the south that focus on women and how they deal with the struggles that surround them, then you are sure to enjoy this book. Freda Lattimore’s down-to-earth writing is relatable for any teenager and creates a picture of Oklahoma that seems marvelously real.

 

Silencing the Women: The Witch Trials of Mary Bliss Parsons by Kathy-Ann Becker

7197cvrMary Bliss Parsons was born nearly four centuries ago, amidst a tumultuous period for Great Britain. The monarchy’s grip on everyday life was so tight that, famously, groups of religious refugees travelled overseas to the New World, where – it was thought – colonialism would afford individuals more freedom, if not necessarily more comfort. The Parsons family was Puritan, and heavily abused by the British government, so they had no choice but to join the exodus from England. Arriving in Massachusetts, Mary and her family were given a plot of land bordering the American wilderness. And, while this wasn’t a huge departure from their old life, since farming had been the family’s livelihood back in England, even the most mundane chore became a Herculean task on the frontier. Food and supplies were more difficult to come by, and animals and Native Americans were constant threats to the colonists’ well-being. If that weren’t enough, imagine yourself as a teenaged girl trying to navigate her way to womanhood, while fighting off the paralyzing fear of dying from hunger or random attack! Yet despite all the uncertainty and hardship of life in the wilderness, Mary experienced true beauty: finding her own voice, becoming a member of the community, experiencing the natural wonder of untouched field and forest – these were things she earned in the New World. But, as Mary would soon learn, good things can turn rotten in only a small moment. After the witch hunting craze struck Massachusetts, Mary found herself at odds with friends and neighbors, one of the countless girls accused of practicing dark magic. Relying on her faith in God and her own family to see her through her trial, Mary bided her time in prison. But would mere faith be enough?

Becker started this story after learning she was a tenth generation descendant of Mary Bliss Parsons. She and her parents engaged in countless fact-finding missions to uncover Mary’s tale, and Silencing the Women is the wonderfully moving result of both Becker’s passion and hard work. Arranged in passages which alternate between Mary’s past – at home in England, and later in the New World – and the present – mainly, Mary in prison – Silencing the Women is a well-researched and especially well-written homage to the many men and women who eked out rude lives during the beginning of our country’s history. This story will appeal to fans of historical fiction, American history, gender studies – really, the list goes on! Hopefully, Becker will continue to unearth other stories, finding their hearts and bring them to avid readers everywhere.

 

Save Thy Brother from the Sky by Sam C Eggertsen

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Sam Eggertsen’s science fiction novel Save Thy Brother from the Sky is a thoughtful and well-written story about one man’s journey to find himself and learn his purpose in a world where he is, quite literally, an alien. Through this simultaneously confusing and enlightening journey, Loring also seeks to fill the emptiness that he has felt all of his life, the emptiness that has come from not knowing his history or having a family. In order to know who he truly is, Loring must dig deep into the secrets of his past and bring to light mysteries that had been forgotten, or purposefully hidden, generations before.

Eggertsen’s novel touches on difficult topics such as prejudice, discrimination, and the controversial concepts of determinism and fate. Humans, Raxians, and other alien life forms are all subject to prejudice and discrimination, as well as the discomfort and loneliness that comes from being viewed as an outsider, one who does not belong. Eggertsen urges the reader to reconsider what it means to be different as well as the ways in which these experiences can redfine and shape the course of a life. Eggertsen also discusses ideas of determinism and fate and the ways in which these concepts can both free and imprison individuals. While Loring may not realize it at the time, his journey will change far more than just his own life, it will have ripples throughout the entire universe.

 

I Choose You by Charles A. Bush

I Choose You by Charles A. Bush is a passionate, capturing story of true love and two people who truly choose to make their relationship a priority. Emily Robertson is a focused Yale medical student who, having lost her mother to cancer at a young age, is determined to be the best doctor she can. Jude Macavoy is your stereotypical British playboy soccer player whose life is devoted chiefly to the sport, partying, and women. These two opposites’ worlds collide when Emily’s friends surprise her with a summer trip to England. Although their relationship begins with a rocky start, eventually Jude and Emily fall in love and force each other to grow as individuals. Jude pulls Emily out of her shell, challenging her to live in the moment; while Emily centers Jude, allowing him to find calm in his otherwise overwhelming life. With the summer drawing to a close, Emily and Jude face the challenge of making their love endure despite distance, careers, school, and the temptation of an easier relationship.

Charles A. Bush does a wonderful job at bringing together two completely different characters and making their love story believable. The reader becomes invested in the characters’ relationship, cheering them on and encouraging them to face down the odds that are stacked against them. He captures the highs and lows, the euphoria and difficulties, the confidence and uncertainty of a romantic relationship. Although there are a few times when the dialogue becomes a little cheesy, it does not detract from the overall story line and may even appeal to some readers’ sentimental side.

 

The Exit Man by Greg Levin

Greg Levin seems to channel his humor vicariously through Eli Edelmann, his sardonic and quick-witted protagonist in The Exit Man. Eli, a little jaded and a lot fed up with his current position running the family party store Jubilee, has his life quickly changed when he is approached by Sergeant Rush, an old friend of his father who makes of him an unusual request. It seems Mr. Edelmann, recently dead of terminal cancer, failed to come through on a final promise: a promise to help Mr. Rush, who is suffering from severe emphysema, to die. It is to be a death by helium, an apparently painless way to go. Who better to ask than the guy who runs the party store? And so, after briefly battling with the more obvious legal and moral implications, Eli fulfills the old man’s request…but he doesn’t stop there. Instead, he becomes the Exit Man, a self proclaimed hero helping the terminally ill to go out with dignity. Of course, there’s inevitably a girl and a little bit of intrigue, too.

Levin presents us with a very interesting, complex concept, rich with potential for insight and good social commentary. Much of the prose acts as Eli’s stream of consciousness as he consistently battles the psychological effects of his new past time. There are many points on the page that generate genuine laugh out loud humor. The story moves quickly, running through most of the predictable conflicts. The lengthy, rambling dialogue and underdeveloped characters ultimately leave the reader wanting and a little weary. Still the topic, despite its canned presentation, is novel enough to act as a light read.

 

Revolt! by Jeanette E. Alsheimer and Patricia J. Friedle

revolt-jeanette-e-alsheimer-paperback-cover-artDeirdre Foster isn’t the least bit afraid of danger. Both empathetic and brave, Deirdre is determined to help out her ailing neighbors in Boston after the British land on American soil, the tension – and hunger – escalating with each passing day. Sneaking food to people in need, Deirdre has already placed herself in harm’s way, but she must also confront severe opposition from family members and friends who would see her assume a less dangerous role in the rebellion – say, sewing sweaters for the militia. Her lifelong friend, David Tremont, also seeks to aid the rebellion, but he perhaps has other motives as well in seeking Deirdre’s company. Could he be wanting to take their relationship to a new level? And how exactly can one be expected to pursue romance when bombs and guns light up the night? Set in the few crucial years leading up to the American Revolutionary War, Revolt! shows how even the slightest actions, whether noble or otherwise, can tip the scales and win a war.

Revolt! is a welcome addition to the annals of historical fiction, infusing a well-documented event in American history with energy and creative vision. With this third book in their trilogy, Alsheimer and Friedle have turned up the heat on their protagonists, lending heightened drama (and passion), while also fueling a fast-paced and entertaining narrative. This series has done for the American Revolution what Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean did for the early period of transatlantic expansion, though, admittedly, here a greater effort has been made to keep the characters and events in line with their historical context. If you are new to the series, we recommend starting with the first two books: The Trouble with Tea and Path to Punishment. You won’t find a more original or informative series on today’s bookshelves.

 

Guitars and Gardenias by Sierra Ann Hill

guitars

To Matson Daley, renowned country singer and pop culture celebrity, there isn’t anything that provides quite the same rush and release as making music for a rowdy crowd. Handsome and talented – and with an A-list actress as his girlfriend – Matson is well versed in the seductive power of music – but he isn’t quite used to being seduced himself. Leah Hayes is a retired music business executive with early-stage Parkinson’s disease. Beautiful and independent, she’s made a good show of hiding her illness with medication and poise, but it can’t help but make her nervous about starting a new relationship. And then she sees one of Matson’s music videos while flipping through television channels; instantly, she can feel an unexplainable connection between them. After attending one of his shows, the pair becomes acquainted and strikes out on a romantic path together. But no matter how much fun she’s having, Leah knows that she’ll soon have to divulge her secret and possibly end up with a broken heart. Yet, she isn’t the only one harboring secrets. Matson’s past holds a few more surprises than country music and acoustic guitars – surprises that could end up irrevocably hurting Leah.

Reminiscent of music-driven television shows like Nashville, Guitars and Gardenias is a feast for the senses. The writing is top notch, with a hint of ironic humor simmering beneath its surface. Not to mention that this represents a welcome departure from the traditional romance novel. Leah is certainly sexy and successful, but she’s also the victim of a very real disease, the exact cause of which is still unknown. Hill provides an accurate portrayal of a woman struggling to both protect herself and keep her heart open to love at the same time, and the debate surrounding her condition can easily be applied to other illnesses like cancer or HIV. In the end, Guitars and Gardenias strikes a very clear chord with readers, encouraging us all to follow our hearts and listen to the music that surrounds us every day.

 

Sense of a Hummingbird by Robert Nieder

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Billie Barrett is a shrimper out of Edgewater, Florida. He grew up on the docks, going from boat to boat, helping out wherever he could. He grew up tough, and he grew up mean. Billie didn’t trust many people, and he liked even fewer. He was a racist and a bigot in the truest sense and he was proud of it. The only thing Billie cared about more than himself (and his drugs) was his boat Ol’ Sally. When he and Perry, his deckhand and friend, went out for Rock Shrimp one day in November, Billie had no idea that everything he thought he knew would disappear. Bridgette Kamau is proud of her Gullah heritage. Every chance she gets, she comes home from school and gives her time to her community. As a student at the University of South Carolina she is on track to become the lawyer she has always wanted to be, so she can help the people of her island. But after her mother breaks her leg Bridgette decides to take some time to come back to St. Helena’s Island to help nurse her back to health. Little does she know that that decision will put her on a collision course with a man full of hatred and rage. And, somehow, she must be the one to save him.

Sense of a Hummingbird by Robert H. Nieder is a good book. The characters are well developed and you find yourself drawn into the story. You keep reading because you want to know what happens and where everything is going to lead. The writing, however, does make the book hard to read. The descriptions Nieder uses help to make the book come to life, but they also sometimes distract you from the story. There are also times where the story becomes a little muddled, but if you can get through it all I really think you will enjoy the book. Overall the story is interesting, and the characters are fully developed and engaging. Although at times there are tough parts to get through, if you push on through the narrative, you will be glad you did in the end.

 

The Next Life by Jeremiah Blackwell

What happened? This is the main question circling Lucas’ mind. He has awoken in the middle of a catastrophe. Buried alive and barely clinging to life, he manages to claw his way out, but what he sees makes him almost wish he could crawl back into the hole. There is devastation everywhere. Everything has been burned and flattened. He seems to be the only living thing for miles. How is it possible that he survived? Lucas isn’t sure, but he knows he has to move if he wants to keep it that way. Besides trying to figure out what happened, Lucas must also try to fill in the holes in his memory. He knows his name, his favorite car, and other random pieces, but the main part of his life is blank. He doesn’t know his parents, he doesn’t know where he grew up, he doesn’t even know where he is. He knows there has to be a reason why he is alive, and because of this, he feels that he is meant to do something great. Now all he has to do is figure out what that is.

The Next Life is one of those books you have a hard time putting down because you want to know what happens next and you want to know what everything means. So if you pick this book up make sure you have plenty of time to finish it! The amount of detail included within the narrative makes you see everything vividly as you read about what Lucas is experiencing. You also find yourself drawn into Lucas’ plight immediately. You get to go on the journey with him as he tries to discover who he is and his purpose in this life. The Next Life is full of the little things that really stick in your head and make you think about it a long time after you stop reading. This book is a true journey- not just for Lucas, but for the reader as well.

 

Love Code by May Koliander

In May Koliander’s Love Code, we follow the story of mid-twenties character Evangeline. In what starts off as a wild, erotic dream, Eve wakes up wondering what the fantasy means for her life and her future. In an attempt to follow the dream’s foretelling, Eve sets off on the adventure of a lifetime: crashing parties, driving convertibles, and searching for her soul mate. It’s not all fun and games though – with the scrutiny and mind games of her sister, an apparent love triangle, and even a deadly diagnosis, the tale turns into a prioritization obstacle. What will come out on top: Eve’s well-being, or her love? Or are the two more intertwined than she ever thought before?

Love Code draws in the reader immediately by throwing them right into the action. When it finally becomes clear what is happening in the story, readers are just as consumed with figuring out the meaning of the dream as Eve is, creating a story that is difficult to put down. The characters in the story are well-developed, yet continue to undergo changes throughout the novel; a true sign of character development. With the fantasy of a strong, powerful man, riches galore, and a romance that all readers wish upon themselves, it’s hard not to fall in love with this book. Readers may find themselves rooting for all of the characters at once, which leads to the lack of a dull moment anywhere throughout the story!

 

Mi Puta by King Author

A novel that explores the themes of love, power, eroticism, and self-sacrifice, Mi Puta by King Author (the author’s pen name) is an intense story about how our drastic actions affect not only ourselves, but the people we care for the most. The main character is a French woman named Ni’al Reagle, who functions both as the protagonist and the antagonist. She has an impressive career in the fashion industry in San Francisco, as she is the founder of Reagle Designs, an international fashion house. She also has two adorable children, and a wife who loves her. Seemingly, she has it all, but as the power and corruption take her over, leading to sexual escapades that consume her completely, her life starts to break apart as her wife, Alexandria learns the truth. While Ni’al is more of an intense character who is always going after what she wants and not thinking twice about, Alexandria is a more gentle soul, compassionate and dedicated to those she loves. The dichotomy of these two women eventually causes them to clash as Ni’al’s behavior spirals out of control, causing her to lose more than she ever thought possible, as tragedy comes to claim her soul.

Mi Puta, which literally translates from Spanish to English as ‘my bitch’ is a whirlwind of a book, in case you couldn’t tell from the synopsis above. The author aims to tackle quite a lot in her narrative, and while the story is definitely an interesting one that keeps the pages turning, sometimes it feels as if there is too much going on in order for the reader to keep track of the action. I applaud the way the lesbian characters are so strong and sure of themselves, as this book is an entertaining addition to the list of erotic LGBT books that are out there. The book ends rather abruptly, but from the ‘to be continued’ message on the last page, it seems that we may not be completely done with the character of Ni’al Reagle, or she with us.

 

Pride of Love by Kevin Dwyer

Pride of Love by Kevin Dwyer is a powerful story about hope, love, and the importance of embracing your true identity. Jesse Coleman seems to be floating numbly through the life that he shares with his mom, but when he is brutally attacked and left for dead with the word FAG etched into his back, everything changes and many of his emotions finally rise to the surface. In order to cope with the devastating event and the subsequent acquittal of the suspected attackers, Jesse and his mom move to a new town and begin a fresh start. As Jesse goes through the process of grieving and coping, he meets Jaden and Liz, two individuals with their own painful secrets. Through these relationships Jesse begins to realize that he might not be as alone in his feelings as he once thought he was. Then, as Jaden and Jesse’s relationship becomes more intimate, Jesse begins to discover that love, and a pride in that love, may still be possible for him.

While Dwyer’s writing is choppy and fragmented at times, it is easy to feel the passion and purpose that he has brought to his novel. Jesse’s story of hope and new beginnings is one that can be appreciated by all. Dwyer’s message of acceptance is also extremely poignant– while we may live in the twenty-first century, this does not mean that racism, sexism, and stereotypes no longer exist. In fact, they are evils that must continue to be fought and spoken out against so that every individual can feel a pride in their identity.

 

Entering Electric Value by Reed Fauver

Entering Electric Value by Reed Fauver is about a man who embarks on a short road trip with his wife. He meets with a former love interest of his, while his wife stays in the car, and both realize that they’re better off apart. He then runs into his former best friend and realizes that they’re not the same people anymore, despite having known each other for over 30 years. He leaves abruptly as he can sense that his former best friend is unhappy with his presence. Throughout this road adventure, he describes his wife by talking about how she is always eating food, and finds it repulsive. Overtime, he learns to realize that he does love her.

This story is easy to read in one sitting. It’s perfect for someone who has limited time to read regularly. Some may find it difficult to follow at some points, due to punctuation and grammatical errors. However, it is worth reading, if you’re interested in stories about human relationships and what it means to be a person. We’ve all experienced the loss of love and watched friends disappear overtime. It’s an easy to relate to story, that will appeal to many readers.

 

Voyage to the World’s End by Malcolm Pate

The world is flat, or so the Zenetic society theorizes in Malcolm Pate’s novel ‘Voyage to the World’s End.’ David Penhallion, a man with ambition and hopes of one day commanding his own ship finds himself as a first officer on the Griffin, whose mission is to discover if the world is flat. During the course of the novel, David suffers a great tragedy, finds love, and conquers evil. With his friend Richard, and the mysterious apparition of the Grainman, David overcomes setbacks and brings justice to himself and loved ones. Meeting friends along his journey, such as Captain Horatio of the Griffin, and Elizabeth, a widow, brings different perspectives to the novel and modesty to the storyline. At the end of the novel the world seems just a little bit bigger to David and his voyage partners.

Written in past tense and first person, ‘Voyage to the World’s End’ feels like a diary. Changing which character narrates the story gives the story a great sense of depth and various dimensions to explore. The story is adventurous and unique, but lack of description and dialogue between characters limits the depth of illustration. When the main characters are on the voyage, it is exciting because they are consistently interacting with each other and the pace is fast. However, Pate’s transitions between passages are somewhat clunky and do not contribute much to the plot. He makes a splash of creative ideas, incorporating giant crabs, lions, and a whirlpool. His work does fall somewhat flat in character development and pacing though. In the end, ‘Voyage to the World’s End’ needs more detail to fully set sail.

 

His Sins by Sylvia Behnish

th_1426906811Alexander and Lena are young emigrants from Scotland whose dream of starting fresh lives in America were laid to rest with Alexander’s father, a miner who met an untimely end. After the funeral, the couple find themselves without the funds required to move overseas, and their increasing discontentment leads to a deep enmity between them. Terrified by a future cut short by the same fate as his father, Alexander lashes out at his family. It is into this unloving environment that Elsa and her brothers are born, curious and intelligent children who quickly pick up on their parents’ unhappiness and begin to internalize it. Eventually, the young family moves to Canada, where Alexander is freed from a life spent digging down through darkness and delivered instead into another sort of servitude. Life in North America, it turns out, does not guarantee a person wealth or happiness. As Elsa ages, her story picks up where her parents’ leaves off, and we begin to observe the obstacles that a young girl, bruised by a bad family history, must overcome if she wishes to undo all her years of emotional abuse and pain. Otherwise, Elsa has little chance for a fairy tale ending as her parents.

His Sins is a serious work of fiction with a powerful message. Through well-told scenes and dialogue, Behnish opens up a Pandora’s box of anger, regret, and depression that engulfs her characters and nearly drown them. But there is also that last, vital ingredient, the one that remained at the bottom of the box after the others had left: hope. Elsa threatens to repeat her parents’ mistakes after marrying a man who is as bitter and angry as her father, but instead raises her own daughter to be confident and independent and uncompromising. While Elsa’s childhood was traumatic and best forgotten, Behnish shows how all experiences, whether positive hurtful, shape a person as she grows into adulthood. Even the deepest wounds can begin to heal if one is strong, patient, and maintains an open heart.

 

Freshmen Fifteen by Jasmine Sheffield

Jasmine Sheffield’s Freshmen Fifteen is a fun coming of age story that digs deeper into what it means to be a young black woman entering the college scene in the modern day. When Laila and Tanya graduate high school they feel nearly invincible, as if their lives will turn out exactly like the plans that they have created. However, when Laila’s boyfriend is arrested and her plans to lose her virginity are thrown to the wayside, some of Laila’s naivety is lifted and she begins to recognize the gravity of the decisions that she makes. When Tanya discovers that her plans have also been thrown off by her unexpected pregnancy, the two girls truly begin to realize that there are some decisions that can never be taken back, and choosing to have sex is one of them.

While Freshmen Fifteen can sometimes verge on being overly cheesy and a little unrealistic, it is a truly fun read. Sheffield’s descriptions of Lee University and the college parties that happen there will excite younger minds and bring feelings of nostalgia to older ones. Sheffield’s novel also passes along a positive message to young black girls, that their bodies belong to no one but themselves, that college can be a part of their future, and that they should embrace the type of person that they are, no matter what. These positive messages combined with Laila’s desire to have sex with the right person in the right way make Freshmen Fifteen a book that should not be overlooked. Honestly, it is refreshing to read an intimate scene where a condom is used because safe sex should be portrayed as sexy more often.

 

The Convict and the Rose by Jan Sikes

They say true love conquers all – and the couple in ‘The Convict and The Rose’ really puts this notion to the test. He’s a honky-tonk-hero country musician with a sharp tongue and a lot of miles under his boots, and she’s a naïve former go-go dancer nearly two decades younger than him. But the differences in age and experience between Luke Stone and Darlina Flowers are the least of the obstacles they must overcome – if their love is to survive, it’s gotta get past hundreds of miles, a forty-foot wall, and a fifty-year prison sentence, among other things… When Luke is sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary to serve time for his supposed involvement in a bank robbery, he urges Darlina to go on with her life, and tries to find reason and hope to go on with his. But no matter what pits and peaks they experience in their own separate lives, their love for each other remains constant and steady, and the connection between them only grows stronger with time – and so, too, do they. Both Luke and Darlina undergo major transformations as their stories unfold, and, in the end, they’re much better off than where they began.

‘The Convict and The Rose’ by Jan Sikes is a story about love, perseverance, and finding harmony in life. From the first page to the last, it shows two underdogs climbing to the top, and it’ll have you rooting for them – and their reunion – the whole way. Do they ever get back together? What trials and tribulations do they experience while apart? To answer these questions right now would spoil the surprises in a compelling love story you’ll definitely want to read for yourself. And, as compelling as it is, it’s also based in fact. The characters and storyline were inspired by real people, circumstances, and events, and the text is rich with photographs and excerpts from actual letters, interviews, and original poetry and songs.

 

The Indios by Gloria Javillonar Palileo

the indiosThroughout history, there have been countless cases of unfair treatment against certain populations around the world (some more severe or widespread than others). Gloria Javillonar Palileo’s “The Indios” illuminates one of those cases, and it’s perhaps a story you haven’t heard before. Sprawling across the last three decades of the nineteenth century, Palileo’s debut novel for adults follows young Placido Mendoza, one of the Indios, or native peoples, of the Philippines as he attempts to navigate an increasingly turbulent time during his country’s rebellion against Spain. Part of Spain’s subjugation of the Philippines was to bring over secular priests to control the local religious communities, and as a priest in training, Placido’s life is deeply affected by this. After witnessing the public execution of one of his closest friends and mentors, Placido’s life is placed in peril and he is forced to flee the city, returning back home to his family’s estate. But trouble follows Placido even there, and the conflicted young man is helpless to prevent the lives of his friends and family from unraveling around him. Soon, Placido will have to decide how to respond to the growing revolution: he can either flee from it, or join it.

“The Indios” feels very reminiscent of other historical novels set during periods of revolution. (Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables especially comes to mind.) The characters here are fully fleshed, the setting both raw and realistic – at times you can almost feel the heat and humidity of a tropical evening bearing down on you. We are provided, as readers, a lens into what may have once been an unknowable event; if you weren’t there, you would have missed it completely. Thankfully, though, skillful writers like Palileo have begun to brighten these dark corners of our global history, and we are all the richer for it.

 

And I Wish I’d Asked Why by David Hall

David Hall’s And I Wish I’d Asked Why is a collection of eighteen amazingly compelling short stories. Set in modern day England, these stories contain a hugely varied assortment of characters and personalities. Ranging from gay college students to aging war veterans and just about everything and everyone in between, these diverse characters draw you into their stories and urge you to understand, or at least consider, the complexities of their lives. Each character and story is so unique; however, as you read you also discover that sometimes the motives that keep us going (or potentially hold us back) can be the same. Perhaps, we may not all be as different as we once thought.

Hall’s writing is often dark and deeply cynical, but his use of details that another author might overlook makes his writing fascinating, engaging, and fresh. It is particularly interesting to consider that David Hall also writes children’s fiction under another name. Hall’s writing in And I Wished I’d Asked Why feels so comfortable and confident, that one would never guess he had pursued other audiences and writing styles. This is great news because if dark and sometimes twisted stories are not what you want to spend your afternoon reading, then Antony Wootten may have written something that the whole family will enjoy!

 

Twisted by Lola Smirnova

Sex isn’t always sexy, and, let’s face it, sometimes it’s a hassle. But for the girls in this raw and revealing novel, that’s okay, because with the hassle and the ugliness comes something more important: money. “Twisted,’ written by Lola Smirnova, tells tale of three sisters who leave the downtrodden economy of post-Soviet Ukraine in search of opportunity, hope, and an escape from an otherwise inescapable cycle. Narrated by Julia, the youngest of the three siblings, it carries readers deep into the belly of the sex industry and explores the guttural circumstances, situations, and responses these “entertainers” deal with daily. Neither for the faint of heart nor the conservative thinker, it graphically depicts the girls’ sexual encounters, from what one would consider “normal” activity to the most absurd, scandalous, and depraved deeds imaginable (though many scenes are beyond even the most ambitious of imaginations). As the story unfolds, so too does the nature of Julia’s character, which, beneath the cloud of empty sex, good drugs, and bad luck, is surprisingly strong, resilient, and aware of her social, political, and moral surroundings, even if numb to her own internal feelings. This numbness, however, turns to painful pins and needles as ‘Twisted’ winds to its conclusion, and when the book closes, so much more is left open – not just for Julia, but also for her sisters.

To be sure, despite whatever genre into which sellers or librarians would cast this title, ‘Twisted’ is by no means erotica or sexually-stimulating fiction. It is not meant to serve as fodder for anything but long, hard thinking and is much deeper than it is dirty. Although it may, at times, offend some of your higher senses, it speaks to basic drives that we all have somewhere inside us and reminds us that, with every choice we make, there are consequences. I highly recommend ‘Twisted’ to open-minded readers who aren’t afraid of a little blood, sweat, and semen. It’s sure to shock and surprise you, with both its storyline and its literary value.

 

My Missing Puzzle Piece by Kristin Hoepfl

When it comes to matters of the heart, there are usually three sides to every story: what he said; what she said; and what really happened, which is usually somewhere in the middle. In ‘My Missing Puzzle Piece,’ author Kristin Hoepfl delivers a roller coaster romance uniquely told from all three of these perspectives. The story follows the all-over-the-place relationship that develops between a young PR/HR entrepreneur named Elle and a handsome hunk named Trevor, who owns a landscaping business that’s being sabotaged from the inside. Trevor hires Elle to help him get to the bottom of things and find the saboteur before there’s any further damage to his business. The two had worked together before, but their outward behavior toward each other was somewhat hostile, even though each was secretly smitten with the other. This time around, however, they clear things up after they cross paths outside of the office, and they begin seeing each other socially. As they get to know each other, the hot and heavy attraction between them builds and boils over, leading to explosive sex and a volatile relationship that’s complicated by the investigation they are conducting. The two primary suspects each have a link to the couple, and when an orchestrated ploy uncovers who’s behind the debacle, it drives a wedge between Elle and Trevor. Though the wedge seems immovable at first, they struggle to move it and move forward toward a future together – and, with each turn of the page in the final chapters, this reader was left on the edge of her seat, wondering if they could do it.

Although the narrative can be unrealistic at times, and there appear to be a few gaps in the storyline, all told, ‘My Missing Puzzle Piece’ is an interesting work of romantic fiction that incorporates elements of cozy mystery and erotica in all the right places. It’s fast-paced at times and deliberately slow at others, giving it a rocky rhythm indicative of the nature of the relationship at its center, which is sexy, sweet, and sure to stimulate your senses.

 

Time and Again by Crystal Bennett

The theme ‘love knows no bounds’ is laced throughout Crystal Bennett’s romance novel Time and Again. This heart-wrenching story follows Melanie Chapman and her relationship with a mysterious man from another place and time. Laden with sexual tension and drama, the book takes several twists and turns. Melanie and the man of her dreams look for support from their friends and family, having to adapt and accept truths along the way. The supporting characters contribute more depth and realism to the romance. They also add stories that reveal the strength, resilience, and love the characters have towards their family. Although the overall story is passionate in nature, danger looms over it. Bennett reveals what hatred looks like and the risks her characters will go through to reach true love.

Time and Again is a novel for those who want to read about passion and romance becoming more sensual and heated as time passes. Every experience between Melanie and her mystery man is unique and crafted with detail, providing vivid visuals to readers. After the first five chapters where characters brood over their past and long for a better future, this forty-eight chapter novel moves quickly. Bennett’s writing strengthens as the novel progresses, using quicker transitions and making each scene more action-packed. Readers need to suspend reality when it comes to Melanie’s reactions towards situations in the beginning of the novel, but later chapters compensate for this and are more natural. Overall, Time and Again is a gripping dramatic romance novel.

 

Hancock Hill by Peter Silverman

Time is on the side of Peter Silverman. The author’s second novel, Hancock Hill, is a superbly written, emotional powerhouse that will lead some readers to experience the silent cry. The setting is 1950s America and Alex Dunhaigen, a high school senior, has one thing on his mind: sex. Getting it in. Unfortunately, the young man experiences the horror of premature love and the psychological trauma that results when one gets “too close.” In the case of poor Alex, a little innocent sledding changes the course of his life and regret tortures his mind throughout his collegiate years. One woman. One sled. One perfect night. Alex cannot forget…even while he develops a device that could change the world.

Peter Silverman’s heartbreaking tale cuts deep with each comedic, yet heavy chapter. The author introduces various cultural themes in the 14 chapters of Hancock Hill, specifically post-war life in America and the racial tensions of the 1950s. Alex balances on a line of past regret and the unknown future. One may find Silverman’s early text somewhat problematic as the narrator references “cock” and “ass,” only to follow with words like “buttocks.” The writing is honest and hilarious, but Silverman’s voice takes on the tone of a sexually frustrated teenager one-minute and an old man the next. Ass or buttocks? Thankfully the author also moves on from clichés like “one more cigarette” or “one more drink.” The intellectual badboy i.e. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. Fortunately for Silverman, the ass/buttocks conundrum is only a minor problem in Hancock Hill. The author brilliantly conveys the tension experienced by Alex during sexual romps and the psychological warfare that ensues. Silverman keeps the focus on what Alex desires with his female companions, but can’t necessarily have, and how that affects him in the moment. Alex contemplates the idea of the future, yet is still torn about a gal he spent four hours with in high school. Hey, we’ve all been there and know how it feels. Silverman understands his characters in and out, and the thorough detail allows for one paint a mental picture as they read. That’s what it’s all about: presenting a story that one can identify with. Peter Silverman gets it done with Hancock Hill.

 

Finding Philosophy by Greg Damico

Who said that academics can’t have a little fun? Greg Damico’s archaic narrative of a post-graduate student, Finding Philosophy, offers a glimpse into collegiate nerd culture and an honest look at self-realization. Tony Greco is hopelessly devoted to philosophy, however the witty intellectual is more of a Brewhouse Lecturer than a true academic, but that’s youth. Let a guy relax, right? However, Greco finds his life in shambles after a series of disastrous events and must locate his inner Aristotle in order to overcome his irrational fears. The future can be frightening, especially when you don’t know your place.

The prose of Greg Damico is smart, stylized and on point. The exposition on philosophy becomes a bit esoteric at times, but helps round out the likeable main character, as one can imagine Tony Greco talking philosophy at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some Google celebrities, Tony Googles Descartes. The author shines in the middle sections when he drops the “Intellectual With A Bottle” clichés and dives into the mental turmoil of Greco. The average reader may not fully identify with Aristotle, but will connect with TG’s feelings of self-doubt and personal loss. Finding Philosophy is a brisk read and probably worth a second look due to the philosophic gems introduced by Damico. Although the characters slowly take shape, a little more development would have been beneficial. We want Finding Philosophy II! There is much more to learn about Tony Greco.

 

Color Me Green by M.C. Wade

Color Me Green by M.C. Wade is the story of one man’s journey through the United States Marine Corps during the time leading up to the Vietnam War. Ryan Webb of sunny San Diego joins the Marine Corps directly after his graduation from high school. While the rest of his friends are out partying, meeting girls, and generally wasting time before moving on with their lives, Webb is jumping straight into his basic training. His almost constant drilling mixed with a newfound respect (or fear) of authority challenges Webb to become more than he has been. The more time that Webb spends in the Marine Corps, the more he changes and develops himself. He makes new friends, he makes new enemies, he gets embarrassingly drunk, he travels across the world, he falls in love, he earns respect for his superiors, he hates his superiors, he gets drunk, he gets really drunk, he has fun, and he feels alive. Although there are times that Webb finds himself desperately wondering what he is doing in the Marine Corps, the stories that make up Webb’s experiences make it clear that it is where he has always belonged.

Color Me Green reads like a collection of short stories. Each story is a step on Ryan Webb’s journey from being a boy who doesn’t know who he is to becoming a man of the United States Marine Corps. While much of Wade’s novel is fast-paced, engaging, and hilarious, it also matches the pace of life, and life simply isn’t always fast-paced and engaging. At over four hundred pages, Color Me Green is a commitment to read and may, at times, prompt the age old marine question to pop to mind, “What the fuck did I do now?”

 

The Surfman by David M. Schroeder

surfman-david-m-schroeder-paperback-cover-artJack Light has a secret – her name is Elizabeth. In David M. Schroeder’s The Surfman, Jack is one of the brave men who patrols the East Coast as part of the U.S. Lifesaving Service. One evening, during a routine patrol along the beach, he comes across Elizabeth’s waterlogged and nearly lifeless body, washed up on the shore in the dead of night. Jack’s first reaction is to bring the young woman to his patrol station and to alert his superiors of a possible shipwreck, but Elizabeth Harrison is clearly frightened, warning him that “the men” will be after her, and that Jack’s life is now in danger, too. So, for the first time in his entire career as a surfman, Jack decides to keep the woman a secret from his colleagues, for her own safety. But Elizabeth’s captors are not far behind her, nor do they believe – as Jack suggests – that she is dead, or swept out to sea. Jack and Elizabeth soon realize that though they barely know each other, their lives have become hopelessly entangled. Without trust, neither of them will survive this voyage.

There’s a passage in The Surfman that quite aptly summarizes the novel’s appeal: a philosopher tells his student that you can never step foot in the same river twice; the student corrects the teacher, saying that you can’t step foot in the same river even once. The mark of a great novel is that it holds different pleasures for different readers, and here in The Surfman, we find a story at the crux of several different genres: romance, adventure, historical fiction. What’s remarkable about Schroeder’s novel is that it employs narratives from several characters’ perspectives to weave together a compelling tale of loyalty, trust, freedom – and, of course, love. This is the perfect summer beach read: light but meaty, and brimming with originality and rich description.

 

Port Starbird by Garrett Dennis

Garrett Dennis’ Port Starbird has everything that a fun, summer weather novel should have– adventure, romance, beautiful beaches, guitar playing, underwater excursions, and, of course, murder mystery intrigue! Storm Ketchum is a retiree who is discovering that life after your career may be even better than the crazy days of your twenties. After settling in Avon, North Carolina and purchasing the house of his realistic, fiscally responsible retirement beach dreams, Ketch is ready to live out the rest of his days quietly. However, his life takes a stressful turn when his home and habits are threatened by Bob Ingram, the dirtiest real estate mogul in Avon. In an effort to avoid Ingram’s threats of eminent domain and save his home, Ketch becomes the secret detective that his parents had always hoped he would be. With his faithful canine sidekick by his side and the good-looking Kari in his bed, Ketch begins a journey that will bring secrets to the surface and make him into a different man with a different view of the world.

Dennis’ novel could not be more of an enjoyable read unless you were receiving a massage while reading it. The storyline is engaging and Dennis’ characters are so well written that you almost want to invite them to your next barbeque. Port Starbird should find a home on every shelf and become a yearly reading ritual.

 

The Déjà Vu Experiment by J. G. Renato

TheDejavuExperiment2-187x300The Déjà Vu Experiment is best compared to Paul Coelho’s novel The Alchemist, which is really philosophy dressed up as fiction. Experiment is narrated by John Galt, a character from the eminently influential “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, who tells of his lifelong journey of self-discovery and mental wakefulness. Galt comments on the hypnotic effect reality has on human beings, eventually leading us to navigate our lives on auto-pilot, much in the same way that people driving along the highway arrive at their destination without any recollection of the ride itself. How did we get here? And where is “here”? These questions – and more – are examined in Experiment through the lenses of physics, logic, art, music, literature, and religion, which conspire, says Renato, to create what he terms “gaps” in reality, fleeting moments during which the mind is sharp enough to pierce the fabric of our existence and catch a glimpse of the larger picture behind.

J. G. Renato’s The Déjà Vu Experiment is a fresh-minded exercise in metaphysical thinking that challenges its readers to invert the way in which they view the world and, ultimately, climb to a higher, more peaceful plane of consciousness. For example, in a discussion of what it means exactly to be human and to have a soul, Renato quotes C. S. Lewis as saying, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Many of the ‘Aha!’ moments in philosophy arrive when readers are forced to flip-flop their traditional lines of thought, and this story is rife with them. Experiment feels a bit like a voyage into outer space: it is only when we look back upon the world, falling silently beneath us into the vast, airless void, that we can truly recognize how forever changed our lives have become.

 

A Perfect Start by Genelle Coleman

This steamy piece of short-form fiction centers on the budding romance between Georgia Jacobz, a recent college graduate who works at a child care center, and her coworker, Scott, a handsome, seemingly unattainable man who also happens to be a private investigator. After more than six months of working together – and ignoring each other completely – Scott asks Georgia out on a date, and she readily accepts. Soon, though, suspicion wins out and Georgia confronts Scott about his real motives in dating her. After all, why would Scott suddenly decide to ask Georgia on a date after working with her for over half a year? He reveals that he is a private investigator hired by Georgia’s mother to investigate a possible threat to her life. At college, Georgia had a brief, albeit deeply dissatisfying relationship with a young man named Josh, who turned out to be secretly videotaping the couple during their sexual encounters together. Georgia exacted her revenge, embarrassing Josh in front of his friends before breaking of their relationship altogether. Now, Scott believes that Josh may be responsible for sending a threatening photograph of Georgia to her own mother. Together the fledgling couple digs into the past and attempts to track down Georgia’s ex-boyfriend, all the while exploring each new sexual and emotional aspect of their blossoming relationship with each other.

Genelle Coleman’s “A Perfect Start” is a fun, easy read that would be perfect for passing time at the beach or on a sun-dappled park bench. Coleman captures perfectly in her story the awkwardness and excitement that marks the beginning of most new romances, and her protagonist, Georgia, is a lovable blend of humor, sarcasm, and modesty. Not to mention that the erotic scenes between Georgia and Scott are on par – and perhaps even surpass – much of what you’ll find in modern romantic fiction.

 

The Great American Adventures of Modern Big City Railroading by Eric B. Barnes

The Great American Adventures of Modern Big City Railroading by Eric B. Barnes is a tale that initially seems as preposterous as its title. Told from the point of view of Danny, an out on his luck investigative journalist, the story has the structure of a circus, even being punctuated by infomercials and commercial breaks. Led on a journey by Circus Larry, also known as Laurence James Turdburger, Danny and his other journalist pals discover the mysteries and wonders of the big city railroad. While told from a humorous point of view The Great American Adventures of Modern Big City Railroading is also a very poignant piece that urges the reader to take a step back from their everyday lives and appreciate the big city life that is available to them. When did society become so fast-paced and habitual that people could no longer exit a train at a stop that was not for some predetermined errand? When did people become so self-centered that they could no longer find fellow public transit passengers to be funny, if not down-right entertaining?

If you are a person who prefers the solitude of your gas guzzling car and the sultry sounds of the sweet, smooth jazz that you probably listen to, then it is possible that The Great American Adventures of Modern Big City Railroading is not the book for you. If you are a person who is disgruntled by vomiting college students, opportunistic rappers, and the occasional space invader, then again, it is possible that The Great American Adventures of Modern Big City Railroading is just not the book for you. However, should you find yourself to be even remotely curious about the people and places that whiz by the windows of your car or train, then perhaps you should take a few minutes and let Circus Larry help you to discover if the big city railroad is the place for you.

 

Dan Granger Reborn by Stephanie Hensley

Addiction is a powerful thing, especially when love is mixed with substances. Stephanie Hensley’s erotic and train-of-thought noir is an eye-opening tale of celebrity, self-destruction and passionate love. Dane Granger is a movie star known throughout the world and must deal with the brutal truth about an old flame along with a recent tragedy during a trip back home to Indiana. Old wounds are opened up with a simple bite of the lips, and the intriguing but disturbing life of celebrity Dane Granger is revealed through a personal, and often devastating, narration of a life approaching disaster.

Stephanie Hensley has a unique voice in the world of literature with her character Dane Granger, and the fiery, vulgar voice of Granger will have you laughing out loud and biting your nails as the events unfold from Indiana and New York City. Hensley does a solid job of focusing the story on the personal life of Granger, however a few more character details about her rise to fame would have been helped the reader understand her perspective. To the credit of the author, the plot often takes surprising turns and offers a gritty inside look at the life of one whom appears to have it all. Hensley doesn’t always effectively communicate why Granger is so irresistible, aside from being a womanizing movie star, but small details emerge from page to page in the shocking character study. Most importantly, Hensley raises questions about how society reacts to tragedy from a variety of perspectives.

 

The Canary with the Broken Wing by Alonza Williams

Randi Lewis, a hard working employee of Brockington Capital Management, is trying to work her way up the corporate ladder while also taking college courses at night. Randi is trying to find what everyone in life is looking for: the perfect balance between work and home life and finding love with the little time she has for herself. The only problem is, Randi feels obligated to help her little sister overcome a terrible depression which has almost taken her life. George Evans, an Analyst at Brockington Capital Management has paid his dues. He has worked at Brockington since high school, and put himself through college while still being part of the Brockington family. This is George’s time to shine! As the youngest person ever to be promoted to president of this branch of the company, will George’s time be stopped short? Will George’s new found love put an end to everything he has worked hard for? These are the questions Alonza Williams explores in his novel, The Canary with the Broken Wing.

This book is tells the story of great loss in a family and how that family struggles to support each other through difficult times. Though this story is slow to start, it does keep you interested in the characters and you find yourself hoping for the best outcome for them. There are some parts of the story which seem unrealistic, such as a member of management dating an employee. In a corporation as large as “Brockington Capital Management” it should be known that dating your subordinate is unacceptable. The story ends somewhat abruptly and leaves you wondering what could have been, but the journey that gets you to this end is still a suspenseful page turner nevertheless.

 

The Second Key by Cheryl Holdefer

Cheryl Holdefer’s, The Second Key made me want a glass of wine and a big, warm dog to snuggle up to. This novel is a wonderful work that pushes the reader to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of their own life and ask, “what am I doing here?” and “what does my life mean?” These questions can be really big and can sometimes have answers that we do not like or understand, but the story that Holdefer tells about Rachel reminds us that while the path in front of us may not be as sweet as we like, it will eventually be as smooth and as balanced as the Cabernet Franc of the Lotus Winery. Rachel, a widowed army wife with two young children, struggles to reconcile the confusing secrets that she learns about her deceased husband as well as the secrets of Michael, the high school crush who manages to steal her heart a second time. Rachel’s journey of self-discovery is both painful and laughable at times, but allows her to create a world that she can not only live in, but enjoy, grow through, and find fresh love in.

The Second Key is a story of rediscovery and of claiming the life that you want to have. The reader comes to love Rachel for her rash decisions and her willingness to open up her heart to the world. While Rachel may, at times, seem to be over the top with her feelings, she also seems like the friend that we all have who just needs a gentle prod in the right direction to get back on track. Holdefer reminds the reader that life is short and precious, and can go in rather unexpected directions just when one thinks she has it sorted out. While parts of The Second Key remind the reader of the impermanence of life, parts of the novel also impress upon the reader of the richness and goodness of life that keep each and every one of us waking up in the morning. Sometimes just having a dance with the person that you love can make the sadness of a life thrown off-track melt into another time. At the end of the day, best friends and family members will not give up and love will not be defined as a charm on a necklace.

 

Victoria’s Run by Cheryl Holdefer

Cheryl Holdefer crafts a tender tale of love, pain and family in her emotional novel Victoria’s Run. The titular character is a competitive runner and her intense dedication was learned at an early age after a family tragedy. When one experiences pain they may choose to run away, however Victoria chases after a new dream, literally, and figuratively as well, once she learns about all the madness of young love. Her world is large and expansive, much more so than a typical teenager, and it’s her worldly education that ultimately leads her to success, children and a sense of security. However, there is a poorly hidden secret that Victoria must address before she can move on to the next phase of her life. Victoria’s Run is a story about various kinds of love, each important in their own way in how we are shaped as human beings.

Holdefer displays an outstanding sense of how to create empathy for Victoria, but also points out her flaws that will leave the reader shaking their head at times. It’s not hard to feel like Vic is a personal friend and she is certainly not perfect. Holdefer forms a strong bond of family and friendship around her lead, which makes for heartbreaking moments when Victoria reflects on the pain of her past. She seems almost oblivious with her children at times, but only in the sense of how they see her. It’s the mutual love and respect that helps Victoria conceptualize new dreams and a brand new sense of self. The only question is whether she can come to grips with her love life. Cheryl Holdefer’s writing is gentle, so gentle that she uses the adverb “gently” a few too many times. Despite a few areas of purple prose, Holdefer’s words are smooth, realistic and enlightening.

 

Outside In by Doug Cooper

9781626340046Put-in-Bay is an idyllic island community marooned in Lake Erie off the northern edge of Ohio. It’s also (sort of) home to twenty-eight-year-old Brad Shepherd who, until quite recently, taught at a secondary school in St. Louis, Missouri. But Brad’s life is thrown into upheaval when tragedy strikes his classroom, putting a premature end to what had promised to be a rewarding and fulfilling career in education. Cut loose, without a job and without a sense of direction, he decides to meet up with some old friends. Over the course of a single drug- and alcohol-fueled summer they help shake Brad out of his overwhelming grief and self-doubt, encouraging him to let go of “Mr. Shepherd the teacher” and just enjoy his youth. And, while life on the island is perhaps a bit more ambiguous than he’s used to, Brad has to admit that his new, free-spirited life could turn out to be a whole lot of fun.

Outside In, the debut novel from Doug Cooper, probably isn’t what you’re expecting. There are plenty of coming-of-age tales clogging bookstore shelves, but this one – which reads like a blend of The Catcher In the Rye and Bret Easton Ellis’s The Rules of Attraction – is less about finding yourself than it is about rediscovering yourself. Brad’s life as a teacher was marked by monotony, early mornings, late evenings, grading papers – not to mention daily standing in front of a room full of young people who would rather be anywhere but listening to Brad speak. Now that all of this been torn away from him, Brad is forced to reexamine how he – and others – view himself. Is it really all that exciting being a straight-laced, well-adjusted guy? Isn’t life supposed to have a little more spontaneity than the typical 9-to-5 work schedule will afford? Ultimately, Outside In is the relatable tale of one man’s quarter-life crisis that will resonate with readers of all ages.

 

Destinies Divided: A World War I Romance of the Chinese Diaspora by Mee-mee Phipps

Destinies Di-1. a WW1 romance

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Zhou Yu is a Chinese-born tile merchant seeking to expand his enterprise into new territory. Leaving a wife and child behind in China, he strikes out for New Zealand where he weds a Maori native named Horowhai. At the heart of this story live their three young children, the offspring of a Maori mother and a Chinese father. Eddie, the eldest brother, is thoughtful and quiet, seeking harmony in his family’s household above all else. Emily is bright and warm, and she understands much more about the world around her than normal girls of her age. Their younger brother, Alex, is even more reserved than Eddie. He has inherited a great deal of their mother’s look but less of their father’s, making him an outsider among his own people after the children return to China to pursue their education. Ultimately, Zhou Yu is forced to reconcile the two halves of his family, asking his first wife, Yung, to watch over his children while he continues to conduct business abroad. As Horowhai begins to lose her hold on reality, increasingly haunted by a traumatic event during her childhood, Yung’s position as mother to Horowhai’s children grows more and more demanding, which leads to an inevitable airing of violent emotion between Yung and her husband.

“Destinies Divided” is aptly named, since much of what this novel has to say is about the difficulties Zhou Yu’s children face as they grow into adulthood. They are the products of multiple worlds and continually ostracized by their peers after every turn because of it. Likewise, Zhou Yu’s destinies are divided between his two families, and, while his problems are admittedly the primary result of his indiscretions, the manner in which Zhou Yu goes about repairing his relationship with Yung is truly thought provoking. Set against a steadily shifting backdrop of prominent events throughout the world – political rebellion and upheaval in China, the advent of motorized technology, the birth of a bustling international trade route between Asia and North America, “Destinies Divided” is a masterfully devised work that explores the very nature of family, home, and fate.

 

Time of Grace by Gabriella West

Best Book of the Month – February 2014

Set in early twentieth century Ireland, Gabriella West crafts an exquisite and heart wrenching tale in her debut novel ‘Time of Grace.’ The story follows Caroline, an English girl who is traveling to Ireland in the year 1916 to become a governess at Lady Wilcox’s household. Shy and reserved, Caroline takes the position because it is one of the few opportunities available for a woman like herself. At the estate, she quickly comes to know Grace, a beautiful young maid servant whose lust for life is both enticing and surprising to Caroline, who has never before been enthralled in such a way with another woman before. It isn’t long before their friendship blossoms into romance, a strict taboo not only because they are both women, but because they also come from separate social classes. Caroline cannot help herself from falling in love with Grace however, even as she watches her become impassioned with the idea of Ireland gaining its freedom. The novel builds itself up towards the Easter Rising, an important moment in Ireland’s history, which serves as the climax of the narrative, forcing the reader to wonder not only if Caroline and Grace will be able to continue their relationship, but if Ireland will be able to persevere as well.

This novel is both moving and thought provoking, as the narrative succeeds at placing a story about a same-sex relationship in the distant past during a turbulent time in history with relative ease. Caroline and Grace are both fully imagined and realized characters upon the page that any reader will be able to relate with, as their desires and passions are described in such rich detail. West has a great ability of weaving in historical facts into her story, placing her characters right in the thick of a real life event. The juxtaposition across gender roles, class status, and sexuality causes nice boundaries for the conflicts that occur throughout the story. The novel balances the facts, fiction and romantic elements in a superb fashion. Although the book is relatively short, coming in at just around 260 pages, it is full of tantalizing plot lines and moments that will stay with the reader for a long time to come.

 

Flowers and Stone by Jan Sikes

A fictionalized account based upon the author’s own true love story, ‘Flowers and Stone’ tells the story of naïve nineteen year old Darlina, and the reckless man she falls for. Rebelling against her overbearing parents, Darlina begins working nights as a dancer in a club. Eventually she meets and begins to develop feelings for Luke Stone, who is a womanizing singer and leader of a band. In time, Luke falls for Darlina as well, and the two begin what is bound to be a tumultuous relationship, not necessarily because of their affection for one another, but because of the choices they make, and the complicated circumstances that result from their decisions. This is an engrossing and deep love story which thrives in the rambunctious and lively land of Texas in the seventies.

The narrative that takes place in this novel is realistic and raw, which makes sense due to the fact that the characters of Darlina and Luke are based on real people. The archetype of Darlina is based on the author herself, while Luke is based on her late husband Rick. The writing is passionate and progresses from chapter to chapter, the story flowing forward in an upbeat and absorbing way. There is a great deal of depth and emotion to the storyline and the characters, causing the reader to root for the two lovebirds, even when things go wrong. The setting in Texas during the early 1970s is portrayed in a glaring light, shedding colorful ideas about what it was like to live in such a place during this time. Thus, the backdrop of the story is ever present, but the real shining glow emerges from the tale that Darlina and Luke twist together through their riveting love affair.

 

He & She by Wayne Clark

This novel, written by Wayne Clark, is about a man on the edge. His advancing age, his insecurities about himself ,and his sexual desires all compound together to cause him to act on an urge that he previously wouldn’t have imagined himself capable of going through with. Past the age of fifty, the main character is a translator who no longer takes joy in adapting written works into different languages, just as he no longer finds any happiness in his hobby as an amateur musician. As his world around him darkens, he explores remote websites on the Internet, eventually finding an image of a startlingly beautiful woman who may be the solution to his woes, even if that means she will have to dominate him in order to give his life a new meaning. Coming to terms with this new world of sex and desire, he has to contemplate if he has wanted to be in this kind of situation all along, as the dominatrix begins taking control of him, as ‘He & She’ embark on a dangerous ride.

This novel succeeds in getting the reader to sympathize with the main character, even though his name is barely ever mentioned on the page. Clark uses the narrative to explore how diverse and intricate sexuality can be. The BDSM scenes are raw and realistic without being too much for newcomers who haven’t read erotic books like this before. The story builds upon itself aggressively, never veering away from the gritty conclusion that barrels ahead as the final pages come to an end. All in all, this is a delectable novel about a man exploring his unknown sexual fantasies at the price of possibly losing his true self along the way.

 

Stolen Skye by Nina Loard

91eqASGFEGL._SL1500_Evelyn Skye is a bit lost. Twenty-six years old, Evy has no father and only her barely-there mother – who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of potential suitors for her daughter to meet – to guide her. Not to mention there’s a huge chunk of Evy’s young adulthood, the nearly two years she spent doing God knows what in Europe, completely missing from her memory. Now, just when things look like they’re finally clearing up for Evy, she loses her job, too. But Evy soon learns that sometimes the things we’ve lost have a way of coming back to us. One fateful night at the local bar, she encounters a man who appears to know a lot about her for being a complete stranger. Or is he? Whether she likes it or not, Evy is a part of a bigger mystery involving the handsome stranger she’s just met and a colorful crew of jewel thieves back in Europe. But Evy’s past doesn’t without consequences, as she’s about to find out. The truth is out there, and it’s coming for her.

‘Stolen Skye,’ the first novel in the Skye Trilogy, is a fantastic debut from new author Nina Loard that’s brimming with emotion, a fabulously paced story about discovering what you want in life and being brave enough to pursue it. What’s more, ‘Stolen Skye’ starts strong and only gets better as more of Evy’s tumultuous past is illuminated. You’ll meet the entire line-up of fun and sexy characters that Loard has written into existence here, and Evy herself is a fully realized character with believable actions and a lively personality that’s both lovable and admirable. If you’re looking for romance with a bit of bite to it, or adventure coupled with emotional depth, then this is the obvious choice for you. And look for the second novel in the trilogy, ‘Broken Skye,’ to come out soon!

 

Richmond Road by Miles Hughes

Best Book of the Month – November 2013

Sitting next to his grandson who lies in a hospital bed due to a coma brought about by a recent suicide attempt, George Bender decides to explain the story of his life to the young man who remains in silence beside him. While his grandson had aimed to give up on life, George still holds on to the memories that both delight and haunt him. ‘Richmond Road’ by Miles Hughes then takes us back, as George’s tale begins in the early 1900s in New Zealand. When his father dies he is forced to enter the high-risk stakes of gambling in order to provide for his family, but it isn’t long before he is taken to prison as a result of his erroneous ways. While George is locked away, his brother Daniel is called off to the Great War, and by the time George is released and Daniel returns, his brother is a different man, shell shocked from the horrendous events that he witnessed out on the battlefield. As George recounts these stories to his ailing grandson, he is forced to come to terms with the guilt he feels over the tragedy that befalls his brother.

This novel contains many literary elements, making it a joy to read as the descriptions Hughes offers are painted in such elegant ways. George’s story is told not as a straightforward life tale, but rather as a narrative that unfolds due to him telling the story from his own perspective, a touch that creates an urgency in the words he shares with his grandson. The story has both amusing and distressing components that are delivered in a well-paced trajectory, so the words on the page never seem rushed or overcomplicated. The characters, especially George, are fully developed and human to their core, causing the reader to both sympathize and identify with them. Richmond Road is a fully imagined and engaging novel that will speak to anyone whose family has been faced with hard times.

 

Dreaming of Elephants by Karen Berry Powell

‘Dreaming of Elephants: The Yoga of Love and Forgiveness’ by Karen Berry Powell is a multifaceted book that combines genres into one informative fiction narrative that is both an enjoyable read, as well as a helpful guide on topics such as yoga, self-help, and parenting. The main character, Adeline, is a woman struggling to take control of her life path. She tries to guide herself in the right direction, just as she has guided her children before her. Throughout her journey, Adeline’s knowledge is shared with the reader, as she offers techniques to her students in her parenting class, (which is a sort of self-help section.) Further into the book’s pages a style of therapeutic yoga called Yoga of Love and Forgiveness is introduced, which offers a source of healing energy of love and forgiveness that filters into the body of the individual who is practicing the routine.

Although it may appear that there are too many different elements contained within this book, Powell has constructed it in a way that is easy to follow, benefiting the reader most of all with the words she writes. If you are looking for a book that has the ability to guide you to a better, more balance and relaxed life, then this would be a great read for you. While all of this information could have been revealed in a more traditional self-help kind of book, Powell has chosen to take this creative approach instead, interlining Adeline’s story with what the author refers to as “proven, effective life skills.” All in all, the book succeeds in what it has set out to do, enlightening people through the use of new parenting skills, yoga, and a self-guiding light.

 

The Ming Admiral: A Chinese Odyssey by Mee-mee Phipps

Set in the distant past of 14th century China, ‘The Ming Admiral: A Chinese Odyssey’ by Mee-mee Phipps is a spellbinding tale about a boy named ZhengHe who faces many hardships and adversaries along his journey to fulfill his dreams. The story is rich with accurate historical facts from this period in Chinese history, which grounds the story in a realistic and pleasing way. The details about the Chinese elite, such as the emperors, admirals, and soldiers who fill the pages cause the story to have a certain sense of urgency, as the oppression they so often impose upon the characters fighting to get by gives a significant emotional weight to any instant in which ZhengHe succeeds.

Since this story is so rich in Chinese history, names, places, and events, this is a wonderful read for anyone who is a lover of Chinese culture. Even if you are not familiar with much about the Chinese, Phipps has written her story in such a way that is accessible to anyone. Her passion for historical fiction shines through the narrative, as you can tell her research about the facts present that serve as marking posts in the story are thoroughly thought out. The book is a little bit dense, as there are many characters to keep track of, but each are described in such a way that you will be able to remember them. ZhengHe grows throughout the narrative, falling in love and losing himself, only to find his true calling once again with the help of his master. All in all, this is a wonderful book that is a true testament to the author’s strengths in writing such a well-organized and complex tale in the genre of Chinese historical fiction.

 

Bones of My Brother by J. Frank Dunkin

This novel succeeds in creating an enjoyable story about love, and the family ties that not only bind us together, but shape us more than anything else. ‘Bones of My Brother’ by J. Frank Dunkin tells the story of two couples, John and Evelyn who live in Alabama during the middle of the twentieth century, and Price and Joy whose story takes place in Minnesota during the century’s final years. This engrossing family saga delves into the seemingly parallel lives of John and his son, Price and explores their dreams, successes, failures, loves, and even the secrets that they’ve hidden deep within. Both men have to struggle in order to move forward in their lives without the darkness of the past creeping up on them as they try their best to forget about their regrets, striving to do better. In the end, this novel is a gripping tale about the disappointments we are faced with in life, and how we work to redeem ourselves, finding our humanity as the wonders of this world guide us along the way.

The characters in this novel are flawed, but they are still the kinds that the reader will be rooting for. Dunkin describes the souls contained within in such a lovely way, developing their desires as the pages continue to turn, the complexities of who they are, and why they do the things they do never getting lost in the background. The sadness of the story is interspersed with moments of happiness, and a few lines in the book will even elicit laughter. The setting of the Deep South is shown in an intricate and delicate light, while still revealing its charms and wonders. Since the author himself grew up in Alabama, it is obvious that this is a place he is very fond of. All in all, ‘Bones of My Brother’ is a great read that will remind you of your own life, and how the ties to family and the ones we love the most is what matters at the end of the day.

 

13 Ways: Illustrated Stories by TD Whittle and Sandra Peterson Ramirez

Each one starting with a picture, ranging from shots of nature, people, and buildings, the sixteen stories included in ‘13 Ways: Illustrated Stories’ by TD Whittle and Sandra Peterson Ramirez are brief poignant perceptions into the world that constantly surrounds us. The images featured at the beginning of each narrative serve as a leaping point, from which the two authors take as inspiration to weave within the story that follows. The tales vary in genre, with everything from surrealism, suspense, comedy and science fiction being present, but they flow together in a pleasing and interesting way that causes the reader to reflect upon the stories and compare them to one another. All of the pieces included within this book can easily be considered touching and memorable, but the real gems are Taking Flight and Side Effects, one story to represent each of the authors’ major strengths.

It is obvious that the two authors featured in this collection have different ideas and writing styles, but they both succeed at capturing the imaginative spirit with the words they write on the page, constructing phrases that evoke enthralling emotions. The stories are written with care, and you can tell that both of these authors really take pride in crafting an entertaining story, regardless of how long it is. Some will make you laugh, others will make you cry, and all will make you wonder about this life and why things are the way they are. The writing is easy to get through and is a real pleasure to read. If you enjoy short stories, then you will definitely take pleasure in reading ‘13 Ways: Illustrated Stories.’

 

Crocuses and Blackbirds by Margaret Montrose

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Crocuses and Blackbirds is the first book of The Golden Path Quintet, a series of romance novels written by Margaret Montrose. This story, which is quite long, as it totals almost a thousand pages, portrays the journey of a troubled young girl by the name of Julie, who is searching for her place in the mysterious mess of life. When she comes upon the Cathedral, things start to finally fall into place for her, as she is led towards the perplexing Ellen MacAlister, who reveals the kinds of secrets that Julie has never known. Although the novel starts out with Julie being described as a mixed up teenager, as the story progresses she finds inner strength and her true sense of self. She inspires others and shows them how to reach milestones and successes they never thought possible. As the story winds down and Julie finds her knight, another journey seems likely imminent as the new world is changing and transforming into something reflective of what was once old.

While it is clear that Montrose is a very talented writer, this book would be better if it was scaled down, as its immense page length can be rather overwhelming to a new reader of her work. Her metaphors and similes are often beautiful, and the tale she has to tell is a remarkable one, but at times it is almost as if she is trying to accomplish too much with this first book of her planned five book series. The best part of this book is the characters, as they are strong and interesting, their very foundations carrying the narrative along in page turning fashion. The world that Montrose develops is richly accented in lush tones and hues, which fully immerses the reader within the realm where the action takes place. All in all, Crocuses and Blackbirds is a highly imaginative tale, but it could have been enhanced if it’s grand scope had been limited on a more manageable focal point.

 

The Sol of Jupiter by Thaddeus J

Turner Michaels is a young marine who has always known that he is gay. During the beginning of his military career he meets Jace Sozio, who he can’t help but feel attracted to. As time progresses and the two young men become closer, Sozio also starts to feel an undeniable connection to Michaels, the kind of bond that transgresses friendship and seems to stand for something more. Neither one of them know how to react to their feelings, which are complicated even further by their current surroundings, as active members of the United States Armed Forces. Michaels and Sozio face the dilemma of admitting the truth to one another, which is even harder to do because of the fear of rejection they may receive from their fellow military officers. In the end, the two men must decide whether or not to follow their hearts, or keep their affection for one another a secret.

The Sol of Jupiter by Thaddeus J is an all-absorbing novel set within the confines of what it’s like to be gay while serving as a member of the military. While Michaels himself has long accepted the fact that he is a homosexual, his emotions are problematic when he finds himself falling for his close friend Sozio, who hasn’t ever admitted to preferring the same sex. This book could be called the military version of the movie ‘Brokeback Mountain’ as there are many similar themes present here. Instead of cowboys, the two main characters are marines, but the struggles they face are very similar to those of the two men in the film. Thaddeus J creates a well developed and thought out novel that faces tough questions with grace. His characters are the kind of men we’ve all met before, and the dilemma that Michaels and Sozio face, of being hesitant to admit how they truly feel because of their sexuality, is a subject that is constructed in an all encompassing and engrossing way.

 

By Proxy by Katy Regnery

This romantic novel that takes place in a small town in Montana during the holiday season is intriguingly sweet for a variety of reasons. In ‘By Proxy’ by Katy Regnery, the unusual love affair of the two main characters, small town girl Jenny Lindstrom and hot shot city boy Sam Kelley, unfolds in a lovely and unique way, as they take part in a double proxy wedding. As these two lonely souls, who seem at first as if they are opposites, stand in place for two other supporting characters so that they can marry, they themselves quickly find they aren’t too different from each other. Their emotions take over, and it isn’t long before Jenny and Sam are falling in love.

This romantic tale is a delightful read due to the uncommon circumstances that lead to the meeting, and eventual passion that develops between the main characters. Its strength progresses from beginning to end, as Regnery causes both Jenny and Sam to grow and improve, forcing them to let go of their fears and reservations, so that they are able to offer the best version of who they can be to the person they are falling for. The setting in Montana during Christmas time is described beautifully, and the overall surroundings really add to the story and romanticize the relationship even further. This is a quick and enjoyable read that flows nicely to the end where everything is tied up in a pleasing way. The messages offered cause the reader to reflect on their own life, as both Jenny and Sam realize that sometimes it is best to give up something you thought was important to you, in order to accept that true love is the one thing that conquers all. If you like imaginative romance that takes place in an idealistic setting with richly developed characters, then ‘By Proxy’ by Katy Regnery is the book for you.

 

Short Stories by Thomas Ryan

Thomas Ryan constructs seven perfectly paced capsules of fiction in his book that is entitled exactly as to what it contains: ‘Short Stories.’ While the tone of the seven stories varies a great deal, the overarching themes present depict the struggles we face in achieving what we want, and how our relationships with the people around us can either help us obtain our goal, or complicate the matter even further. It can be argued that the most compelling story in the collection is the first one, Ruth, which tells the tale of an abused woman who is standing trial for her involvement in her husband’s death. The ending of this story comes in an unexpected way, wrapping up the narrative in a dramatic fashion. Another story, Nightmares, is an account that chronicles the reoccurring bad dreams of a writer, whose night time visions of a woman being murdered convince him that the dreams are a prophecy, leading him to the decision that he has to save the mysterious woman’s life before it’s too late. The World’s Biggest Bun, sandwiched between the previous two stories offers a lighter tale about a baker’s wish to break a world record, while the final four stories: The Artist, The Dementia Man, The Affair, and Mending Kittens round out the collection and bring forth different anecdotes about life and humanity.

The strength of this collection comes from the memorable characters that become fully fledged beings in each of the stories that Ryan has written, and while there are similar themes presented in each, the connections between each tale could have benefited from been strengthened even further to create a more coherent compilation. Nevertheless, the stories are enjoyable on their own, each with their own merit. From the variety that is presented in ‘Short Stories’ it is clear that Thomas Ryan is a talented writer who has the ability to invent in a variety of different genres while simultaneously offering the most important messages in each of his fictional narratives.

 

The Unjust Know No Shame by Alonza Williams

In times of adversity, sometimes one must find an inner strength in order to persevere and move on, while sometimes it is necessary to rely on faith to get oneself through the difficult time. In ‘The Unjust Know No Shame’ by Alonza Williams, Josephine ‘Mama Jo’ Green has to rely on her belief in the lord to get herself and her family through the trials that come their way. This novel tells the story of Mama Jo and her grandson Phillip and his college friend, Teri. Teri’s life has been anything but easy, as she was convicted of assaulting a student at her high school, in what was declared a racial incident. However, when she meets Phillip in college, the two of them form a strong bond, but this bond alone does not protect them from the injustice and intolerance of those around them. Phillip’s life is put in danger because of his relationship with Teri, as her father’s racial intolerance boils over and aims to smother them both. In the end, Mama Jo, has to gather her strength in order to help guide her grandson out of harm’s way.

This novel is very well written, and the characters presented are familiar ones, so familiar in fact, it almost feels as if you’ve met them before in your own life. Williams does a very good job in fleshing out the individuals he writes about, giving them real life situations that we have all been aware of at one point or another. By bringing in themes such as racism, intolerance, friendship, and faith, his story creates a rich narrative that offers many lessons about the strength of believing in a higher power, and how the love of family can overcome almost anything in the end.

 

Too Hot to Hold by Linda Cousine

Often times, books can make you realize how simple your own life really is, and the hilarious novel Too Hot to Hold by Linda Cousine is no exception. Her middle aged heroine, Lexi, is a bit of a mess, but that doesn’t stop her from moving forward in life, dealing with the countless dilemmas that appear in extremely unusual ways. After recovering from her post-menopausal meltdown, Lexi returns home to focus on herself and her family. This just so happens to include her ex-husband, Richard, who moves back in and brings his friends from his professional wrestling heyday along with him. As time goes on the heat Lexi used to have with Richard returns, and the chemistry between them starts to sizzle and sway. And if that alone wasn’t enough, Lexi finds herself wrapped up in other titillating adventures, which include a visit to a nudist colony, a modeling gig for adult diapers and the surfacing of an old sex tape. In the end, Lexi has to put all of the craziness behind her, as she struggles to keep her family together, facing the ultimate question of whether or not she should move on, or cling to what she knows.

The reason this novel is such a pleasant read is because it is funny, outrageous and charming all at the same time. Cousine creates characters that the reader cares about, putting them through strange situations, while never losing sight of their humanity and what motivations push them forward through the unusual struggles they face. Lexi, her ex-husband Richard, and her daughter Summer are still a family at the end of the day, even though they are not the typical kind of family that is often presented as being a normal functioning unit. Cousine’s writing is witty and humorous, and the story she tells will keep the pages turning, as the reader can’t help but wonder what crazy situation is going to come up next.

 

Acceptance by Ibitola Ojoye-Adebayo

Acceptance by Ibitola Ojoye-Adebayo starts off with a woman in distress, who has been jilted by a former lover by the name of Richard. Although she is upset, she proclaims that “Acceptance exists at the core of our being. It is our default status. In order to reach this base level of acceptance, one need only remove the items lying on top. To do this, we must first identify all the things we do not accept around us. Then, one by one, eliminate them.” The main character, the woman who is at the core of this tale of romance gone wrong is Eva, the London born daughter of refugees from Nigeria. She meets Richard while she is at university, and decides that he is the love of her life. Unfortunately for them both, although their love is seemingly full of so much hope and prosperity, the actions that they both undertake lead them down a path of uncertainty.

The love story that unfolds in Ojoye-Adebayo’s novel is one that is painted in a realistic and heartbreaking way. She thoroughly describes all of the emotions one goes through while falling in and out of love in a realistic manner. The reader will feel the emotions that Eva is going through every time something dramatic happens between her and Richard, as the words chosen elicit out a connection between the characters and their stories that are written on the page. As the main character, Eva is fully imagined, and her desire to be loved and accepted rings true. This novel is both insightful and unsettling. The pages will turn quickly by, and in the end, this story may just make the reader contemplate the true effects of how our feelings can overtake us.

 

The Driver by Greg D’Alessandro

The last thing George Donato should be doing is worrying about the bald spot on the back of his head, but he can’t help it, it still causes him to second guess himself, even when he should be worrying about the other problems in his life, like the fact that his job just might end up killing him. George, or Francis as he goes by quite frequently in the novel, The Driver, by George D’Alessandro, is a tale about a wannabe scriptwriter who gets mixed up in the wrong kind of profession that he knows his mother would be ashamed of. He drives female dancers from one place to another, where they offer their services to men, take their fee, and get on the road again to their next client, with George at the wheel. George wants to quit once he realizes what he has gotten himself into, but he has no money, he’s scared of his new intimidatingly large boss, and he doesn’t want to leave the beautiful girl, Mariani, who is one of the dancers he drives, who he has fallen for. So he continues, driving his yellow caddy, performing his job like he is supposed to, until he and Mariani get themselves mixed up in a messy situation, which ends up leading to murder.

Although the subject matter is rather dark, D’Alessandro has a talent for using comedy to relieve the tension in a lot of the scenes that take place in this book. As the protagonist, George’s voice is filtered through self-deprecating quips and interesting observations, which makes the reader warm up to the guy. Not only that, but George has to make many decisions based on what is right, and what is going to help him survive, that causes the reader to think about their own life choices. Since it is made clear that this book is based on D’Alessandro’s life experiences, the visuals and characters presented within its pages are very gritty and real, but sometimes all of the grit blocks out where a little bit more heart could have been beneficial.

 

Killing Mercy by Tess Clare

four stars

Best Book of the Month – July 2013

As we deviate through the relationships we come across in life, some cause us to feel joy, others pride, while a few only result in pain. In the novel, Killing Mercy, by Tess Clare, five characters interact with one another on an intrinsic level, reacting to one another’s emotions as if they themselves are nothing more than animals. The first chapter starts off with a wonderful hook, which immediately grips the reader’s attention, describing a dead body that is found in a tall office building in the city of Los Angeles. From that point forward, the story goes back in time, following the mixed up connections of love, lust, sex, and betrayal that falls between the cracks and spaces that Rick, Madison, Zoie, Branford and Abigail create with one another. In the end, the novel ends up portraying the most basic of human emotions, and shows us how ugly things can get when we are only interested in our own well being.

Although this book starts with the murder of a young and beautiful woman, that is not what it is really about. Instead, Clare focuses more on the relationships between her five main characters, depicting them in a realistic, yet harsh light. The best part of the novel is the beginning, her first chapter is near perfect, and it creates an urgency in the reader to continue on with the story. Her writing afterwards is still highly polished and sleek, but since the first chapter she has created is so memorable, it is hard to make the rest of the novel compare. Still, the themes presented are dissected nicely, and as the characters celebrate various holidays in a multitude of ways, the novel progresses at a quick pace. At the end, when we find out how the murder occurred, it seems more of an afterthought, but that is the genius of this book, because the murder itself is not supposed to matter. Instead, it is how the characters got to the end, rather than how the end begun, that actually matters.