A superb tale of the druggie lifestyle, by a writer with talent to burn.

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SPOONFUL

Young drug dealers cope with love, loss and voracious smack habits in this scintillating saga of Chicago’s lowlife demimonde.

Michael Lira is a decent kid from a working-class Italian-American family, just trying to make enough money from petty crime to satisfy his heroin jones. He has an urban village backing him up, including his roommate, Sal, a fellow junkie who’s obsessed with film noir and constantly hatching ill-advised capers; their boyhood friend, Dante, a former high school football star who’s into old-school self-destruction with booze; and Dante’s girlfriend (and Michael’s secret lover), Lila, a struggling artist who does sex shows on the side. They party, abuse substances and ponder their feckless lives in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, a hipster enclave that the author depicts with wonderfully atmospheric precision. (Michael and Sal’s tribal animus against yuppie gentrifiers knows no bounds.) After a B&E goes hilariously wrong, Michael decides to shape up; he industriously builds his drug-dealing business, swears off personal use of everything except marijuana and cocaine, and invests money with one of his customers, a financial adviser whose amoral hustling puts Michael’s to shame. His life soars into easy money, hot sex and ravishing highs—with the ever-present threat of arrest, overdose or a relapse that spells helpless dissolution. Writing with a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and a keen eye for social nuance in every setting from housing projects to chic galleries, Mendius makes this classic junkie opera feel fresh and believable. His portrait of the drug industry is fascinating in its matter-of-fact detail—Michael’s supplier is an upstanding ghetto family business—as is his rendering of the psychology of addiction as it swells from seductive whisper to unappeasable tyranny. In the background is a vivid sketch of the Clinton-era dot-com boom; everyone is on the make, drenched in delusions they know aren’t real yet can’t shake off. Mendius’ prose is colorful and evocative but suffused with irony, hangdog humor and muted pathos; he makes a lurid subculture both raucously entertaining and profoundly real.

A superb tale of the druggie lifestyle, by a writer with talent to burn.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0578095417

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Anything Goes

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2012

THE NUDE

When the secrets behind an intriguing nude portrait trickle out into the open, a photographer and her artist lover must grapple with the fallout in Sisu’s masterful debut.

Photographer Gwen Mason has just opened up her own studio in Miami and hopes to find her niche in the trendy city. Though she lives with her divorcee mother and doesn’t think she’s interested in a relationship, meeting upcoming artist Adam Straker changes all that. Adam’s paintings are causing quite a stir in the art world, and Gwen knows she’s found something special. He might be 20 years her senior, but that doesn’t stop the couple from embarking on a passionate affair. Yet one of Adam’s paintings arouses Gwen’s curiosity like no other; it’s a striking portrait of a nude woman, one Adam keeps hidden and pointedly refuses to discuss. When Adam has the chance to land a spot in a prestigious New York City gallery, Gwen believes the painting will secure his place, and she shows “The Nude” to Adam’s manager without Adam’s knowledge. Though the painting clinches the New York deal, it starts an explosive chain reaction for Adam and Gwen. In the coming weeks, decades-old secrets of destroyed lives and loves, of tragedy and revenge, of greed and madness, are revealed at a cost no one could have foreseen. Sisu nicely ramps up the suspense with her excellent pacing, while her vibrant depiction of the art world breathes energy and authenticity into the narrative. Gwen and Adam’s stormy relationship rings true, though delving into Adam’s point of view earlier would have delivered a more well-balanced story. Gwen’s feistiness and sometimes bad choices make her sympathetic and fully human, and readers will root for her to discover her past and keep her man. But it is Sisu’s analysis of the creative process that forms the heart of this novel; she explores the artistic mentality in all its bizarre and often-misunderstood facets and digs deep into the dark underbelly of creative genius and its unintended consequences.    An enthralling first novel. 

 

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2011

ISBN: 978-1465339225

Page Count: 257

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2012

THE WHIPPING CLUB

Inspired by her heritage and research of the Irish Industrial School system, Henry’s auspicious debut chronicles a couple’s attempt to save their son from horrific institutions.

Marian McKeever and Ben Ellis are not typical young lovers in 1957 Dublin, Ireland; she’s Catholic and teaches at Zion School, and he’s Jewish and a budding journalist. The two plan to wed, but their families object to an interfaith marriage. And when Marian becomes pregnant, she doesn’t tell Ben. Coerced by Father Brennan (a Catholic priest who is also her uncle), Marian goes to Castleboro Mother Baby Home, an institution ruled by Sister Paulinas and Sister Agnes where “sins are purged” via abuse; i.e., pregnant girls are forced to mow the lawn by pulling grass on their hands and knees. Marian is told that her son, Adrian, will be adopted by an American family. The riveting storyline provides many surprises as it fast-forwards to 1967 where Marian and Ben are married and have a 10-year-old daughter. Marian’s painful secret emerges when she learns that her son was dumped in an abusive orphanage not far from her middle-class home and Sister Agnes is his legal guardian. Thus begins a labyrinthine journey through red tape as the couple fight to regain their firstborn child. Ultimately, 12-year-old Adrian is placed in the Surtane Industrial School for Boys, which is rife with brutality and sexual abuse at the hands of “Christian Brother Ryder.” Though unchecked church power abounds, this is not a religious stereotype or an indictment of faith. Hateful characters like Brother Ryder are balanced with compassionate ones, such as a timid nurse from the Mother Baby Home. Father Brennan deepens into a three-dimensional character who struggles to do what is right. Henry weaves multilayered themes of prejudice, corruption and redemption with an authentic voice and swift, seamless dialogue. Her prose is engaging, and light poetic touches add immediacy. For example, when Marian returned to Mother Baby Home after 11 years, she “opened the car door and stepped onto the gravel, wanting to quiet its crunch, like skeletons underneath her shoes.” Echoing the painful lessons of the Jewish Holocaust, Henry’s tale reveals what happens when good people remain silent. A powerful saga of love and survival.

 

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0984553174

Page Count: 345

Publisher: T.S. Poetry

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2012

FROM THIS WICKED PATCH OF DUST

Troncoso tells the story of a Mexican-American family as they come to terms with their cultural heritage over a span of 40 years.

The new novel from Troncoso (Crossing Borders, 2011, etc.) follows Cuauhtémoc and Pilar Martinez and their four children in the border town of Ysleta, Texas. As the children grow up, they feel the pull of their parents’ love for Mexico and the opposing force of their own identities in America. Cuauhtémoc is able to retire early from working as a draftsman and travels with his wife, living off the income from the apartments owned by the family. Pilar, a Catholic mother who is stern but instills strong values in her children, is a hardworking housewife who sold Avon to help with the bills. However, she worries that she hasn’t done enough to fill her children with her beliefs: “Pilar was overcome with incredible sadness. Why had her children abandoned the church? Why had they become like grains of sand scattered throughout the desert?” The oldest, Julia, becomes Aliyah, converting to Islam and moving to Tehran with her husband and three children. Francisco is overweight and attending community college but works tirelessly at the apartments, playing the role of the good son. Marcos becomes a teacher and a member of the Army Reserve, marrying a white woman and living near his family in Ysleta. Ismael, the youngest, goes to Harvard and marries a Jewish woman, escaping the confines of his home in Texas only to meet with the labors of life as a man torn between his duties as a husband and his aspirations as a writer. Troncoso seamlessly intertwines the struggles the grown children face with their parents’ desire to help them become independent and proud Mexican-Americans. The prose is powerful in an unassuming way, making for a captivating read. The author carefully paces the book, with each chapter plotting an era in the family’s lives, ultimately joining the family’s collective narrative of religion and family obligation with the current events of the time. Troncoso is clearly adept at his craft, telling a story filled with rich language and the realities of family life and closing with a son reassuring his mother and literature reassuring them both. With its skillful pairing of conflict over religious and familial obligations with the backdrop of a Mexican-American family’s love for one another, Troncoso’s novel is an engaging literary achievement.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0816530045

Page Count: 229

Publisher: The University of Arizona Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

The bighearted Yellow Umbrella discovers unexpected poignancy at a depth deeper than that of most children’s books.

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THE YELLOW UMBRELLA

A CITY FABLE

Author and artist Dunn turns an everyday object—a yellow umbrella—into a touching tale about the joy of giving selflessly and how small acts of compassion can transcend cultural boundaries.

Illustrated with charming simplicity, this unusual “city fable” begins with Dunn’s early memories of the real people who inspired his flowering curiosity. One of them was Lina, a little girl who wrote stories and treasured beautiful things and, as the fable begins, is the first owner of the Yellow Umbrella. He—the Yellow Umbrella—had “forgotten the rain because he had been asleep so long,” until one day he expands “into a great, flower-like circle” to protect Lina with his outstretched “arms.” Curious about the world and his purpose in it, the Yellow Umbrella talks with other worldly umbrellas stored in the hall in a Chinese Vase, who “dreams all day of the past, when she lived far away in a big house hung with silks.” After the wise Hall Mirror accurately predicts that a journey of discovery awaits the Yellow Umbrella, he’s then lost on a bus and found by Mr. Klein, a lonely watchmaker. One rainy day in the park, Mr. Klein kindly gives the umbrella to “the Lady with the Rose Hat.” And the Yellow Umbrella’s adventures continue: “a Lady from Persia" adopts the umbrella; then he finds his way to a sick young boy, who reads and sleeps under the Yellow Umbrella’s comforting canopy. The frail boy dreams that the umbrella shaded him “as he rode on his golden elephant like a Boy-King from long ago.” Throughout this gentle fairy tale, the author gives young readers a compassionate glimpse into each of the lives touched by the humble yellow traveler. When a gust of wind carries the Yellow Umbrella up into the starry night sky, he sees the city for its vastness—but also for the men, women and children whose lives he helped make better. Among the shooting stars shines the Yellow Umbrella’s remarkably rare message—aspire to kindness in the service of others.

The bighearted Yellow Umbrella discovers unexpected poignancy at a depth deeper than that of most children’s books.

Pub Date: May 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-615-29540-4

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Mushroom Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2012

In a word: mind-blowing.

I2

Bannon's cutting-edge science-fiction and psychological thriller revolves around a terminally ill biosoftware scientist's attempt to upload his mind into the consciousness of an unborn baby to once again be with the woman he loves.

Powered by relentless pacing and jaw-dropping plot twists throughout, Bannon's debut novel is a science-fiction thriller of the highest order—but it's ultimately a heart-rending romance and a profoundly moving exploration into the frailty and preciousness of human existence. After pioneering neuroscientist Edward Frame realizes that he only has a short time to live, he and his assistant, Samantha—a woman that he has recently realized he is madly in love with—come up with a shocking plan: to impregnate Samantha and upload Frame’s essence into her child. But something goes horribly wrong: Frame is born again as Adam into a waking nightmare. His mother is his wife, Clara, his siblings are his two children, and his new father is a ruthless company rival who has not only taken over Frame’s business, but his family as well. Thus begins a downward spiral of an existence for Adam that eventually includes foster homes, illicit sexual encounters, hard-core drug addiction, gambling, murder and, ultimately, salvation. Adam Frame, the baby born with the fully cognizant mind of Edward Frame inside of him, is a simply riveting, unforgettable character—a complex, deeply conflicted person who, as he develops into a young man, becomes “two souls in one body and still only half a man.” Bannon doesn’t pull any punches with this narrative; the character development is intense, and the sex and violence is brutal at times, but the result is an utterly readable novel that’s almost impossible to put down.

In a word: mind-blowing.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0983912439

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Banco Picante Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

THE MOONHAWKER

When ever-resilient, stubborn Atticus Gunner teams up with Butch Gorpon to uncover the mystery behind the deaths in an island community, the duo discovers that something far greater is in the works.

Atticus Gunner is offered $310,000 in addition to a 32-foot sailing sloop, the Moonhawk, as compensation for assuming the role of school administrator and police officer on Washington Island. On his way to the island, he encounters a boat full of drunkards, who later try to shoot at the Moonhawk. From his arrival on the island, Atticus has his hands full. In fact, his first full day culminates in a barroom brawl with the Cline boys, an event that foreshadows the no-nonsense attitude that Gunner will enforce throughout the story. The potential sabotage of his boat and his meeting with local psychic, Cynthia, who anoints him the warrior that will fight off the darkness, put an intriguing twist in the plot. Perhaps the book’s most compelling element is the author’s ability to weave character relationships, especially the budding friendship between Atticus and Butch, the school board president. Nevertheless, Atticus’ relationship with his two daughters, Stacie and Inger, is beautifully portrayed, particularly the scenes on the Moonhawk where readers realize that Atticus is an individual of substance—he will not let anyone harm his family or friends. As the deaths of several island boys confirm, those that harm Atticus’ family or friends will face retribution. The novel shines with engaging dialogue, seamless transitions and kinetic plot development, making the story flow smoothly. When seemingly ordinary individuals start dying in extraordinary ways, Gunner puts everything aside and dives into the situation. This attitude, despite placing him in far too many precarious situations, will undoubtedly endear him to readers. With reckless abandon, and his administrative duties in jeopardy, Gunner teams with the FBI and CIA in an attempt to reveal the true identity of the island’s so-called “good guys.” Gunner fails to realize, however, that he may have taken on more than he can handle; with a history of bloodshed, the assassins are coming for Atticus full force. Unfortunately for them, that makes little difference to Atticus. Fox fuses tantalizing action, adventure and memorable characters with nearly three decades of real-life experience to deliver an addictive page turner with blistering intensity.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462046492

Page Count: 621

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

THE EMPEROR OF TIME

After squandering almost all of his time, 10-year-old Alto Quack sets off on a desperate journey to find the Emperor of Time and beg for some more in this inventive children’s story.

Alto, “the biggest time-waster in the 463-year history of the village of Nonesuch,” receives a painful wake-up call one morning when a mysterious old man informs him that he only has three hours left to live. The man, who introduces himself as the Keeper of Time, tells Alto that since he has “squandered millions of seconds, hundreds of thousands of hours, and untold moments on foolish trifles and frivolous vanities,” his time will soon run out and he will be given no more. When Alto tries to put some of the blame onto his parents, he’s reminded that they warned him repeatedly of the dangers of time wasted. Forced to accept responsibility for his mistakes, Alto leaves home in search of the Emperor of Time, who is the only one capable of giving Alto more time. With each second ticking away, Alto enters the Forbidden Forest where he meets an odd assortment of characters, including a dying man who tries to trade gold for time and a crowd of ghosts who teach Alto that the real cost of material things isn’t money, but time. Alto’s guide through the forest, a young girl named Tallulah, explains the origins of the piranhalike creatures that inhabit the area. The creatures are “minute munchers” and “hour devourers” that feed on wasted time. “To my little darlings,” Tallulah says, “wasted time smells like toasted marshmallows.” King’s well-thought-out story is filled with memorable characters and clever dialogue. Wood’s detailed illustrations nicely complement the story, especially when Tallulah describes the River Un; the river, she explains, is made up of “millions of things undone, because the time in which to do them was wasted.” Wood’s illustration shows a foreboding stream of achievements unachieved and memories unlived. Gloom and sadness permeate the story, fittingly, given the seriousness of the subject, but never overwhelm it thanks to Alto’s hopefulness and the unconditional love that his parents show him up until the story’s ambiguous ending. One of life’s most important lessons is at the heart of this refreshingly original story; adults as well as elementary-age children will benefit from Alto’s journey to find time.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0965693226

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Weston & Wright

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

THE IMMORTALISTS

An unapologetic, perverse, yet spiritual first novel that follows one man’s mistakes and triumphs when he learns that he can live forever.

David’s novel follows Israel “Izzy” Stern, a recent Boston University graduate living alone in Providence, R.I. All the family Izzy has is his grandfather’s friend, Uncle Jack, who meets with him at a Starbucks the summer after college to play chess, ogle the busts of coeds from Rhode Island School of Design and Brown, and for Uncle Jack to tell Izzy his secret—he’s immortal. Jack’s wisdom, money and immortality—a gift Izzy learns he shares with Uncle Jack—catapults Izzy from his life of womanizing and grappling with his insecurities to one of wandering, helping and learning. But Izzy’s transformation comes not without him first hitting rock bottom: “He had become a riches-to-rags cliché. Izzy too, like Aqualung had stared at young girls with bad intent. And Izzy, like Mrs. Robinson in the Simon and Garfunkel song, now prayed for a place in heaven with God. His agnosticism was now completely suspended due to his new low standing in the world.” David’s writing is punchy and incorporates lyrics to classic songs as well as pop culture and perversity. Although the occasional authorial interruption is distracting, David makes up for it with his honest prose that questions societies’ beliefs about God and discusses the growing problem of militant and persecutory views that jeopardize human lives. In the style of Salman Rushdie—though David is not quite as ambitious—magical realism is used to explore religion, spirituality and the state of our world today. This work should secure David a place within the genre as a writer who will tickle the reader, make her think and then take a hard look at the world around her. David’s compelling debut successfully incorporates pop culture, profanity and religion into a resonant exploration of existence.

 

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1105119057

Page Count: 145

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

A finely detailed tableau of the lost Carolinas and a book for the boy in all of us.

HILL OF BEANS

COMING OF AGE IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE OLD SOUTH

Turgenev meets Mark Twain in these lyrical, acutely observed recollections wherein the author narrates his Carolina past, unearthing mountains of memories and ties that bind.

  Snyder is a crack observer, and this debut memoir is at once a reverie of rural life, an ode to men’s crafts and boyhood’s treasures, and a cool refraction of the full-blooded Carolinians who hunted, fished and farmed their patch under the final sunset of the Old South. Snyder spent his early years in the cabin his father built on Cedar Mountain, N.C., where quail roamed and trout peppered the streams. In 1939, his father built a resort inn that bustled for one glorious summer then fell to an arsonist’s match. John and a brother were soon sent to live with two maiden aunts in Greenville, S.C., for school but learned more about needlepoint, roosters and bigotry. When the family purchased a sharecropper farm in Walhalla, S.C., in 1943, adventures in hoeing and animals began in earnest. John’s father, Ted, was a man for all seasons, adept with a poem as well as a gun and a saw, and the narrative sparkles with his vernacular—the winsomely meaningless “consnoggerating” is a term only a 1940s father could invent. Young John tried to live up to his father’s polymathic example with tools and inventions of his own, while simultaneously adoring a succession of lovely teachers and studying his world with a fine boy’s eye. The result is this book of miniatures, crafted with care and delivered with candor and heart. Each set piece—a burgling collie, a woman who lost her face to the wind, a most unfortunately ill-timed bowel movement—lends gravitas to the author’s spectacle of family and humanity below the Mason-Dixon Line. Snyder is hardly the first Southerner to have wondered aloud: Who are my people? But his answer is rich and original. Or as his father might have said—big as the moon and deft as a cat.  

A finely detailed tableau of the lost Carolinas and a book for the boy in all of us.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0983062202

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Smith/Kerr Associates

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

RAJA

STORY OF A RACEHORSE

An outstanding debut novel for young people by retired amateur steeplechase jockey Hambleton, who uses her knowledge of horses and the equestrian world to tell of the tragedies and triumphs that befall a thoroughbred racehorse—from the horse’s point of view.

Reminiscent of Anna Sewell’s 19th-century classic, Black Beauty, in its deeply felt narrative as voiced by a thoroughbred racehorse, this first-time novel for ages 11 and up is written with empathy and a vivid sense of drama by Hambleton, a lifelong equestrian and former amateur steeplechase jockey. Raja, a promising foal of distinguished lineage, bears the “Mark of the Chieftain” on his forehead. Bedouin legend has it that such a mark predicts either “great glory” or “great despair” for a horse, and Raja assumes that his road to glory is assured after triumphs on the track as a 2-year-old lead to early Kentucky Derby buzz. But the world of racing has a dark side. An injury, sparked by Raja’s fear of thunderstorms, drops the sensitive horse into obscurity and worse. What follows is a colorful succession of owners and riders (good and bad), a brush with horse drugging and the ugly reality of “kill buyers,” who purchase former racehorses for their meat. Friends and enemies, both human and equine, appear and reappear in Raja’s life as fate takes him far from his pampered youth. Along the way, the elegant horse learns dressage, Cossack trick riding, the exhilarating art of steeplechase—and the depth of his own courage. Hambleton’s compelling prose—deftly interwoven with technical realities and the emotional investment inherent in horse training, racing, care and ridership—is accompanied by a glossary of horse-world terms and evocative pencil drawings by Margaret Kauffman, a professional sculptor and horsewoman. Lifelong equestrian Hambleton makes an impressive outing as a first-time author of juvenile fiction, weaving her knowledge and love of horses, horsemanship and the world of competitive racing into a moving narrative that will keep fellow horse-loving readers of any age enthralled.

 

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0615540290

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Old Bow

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

A notable debut that infuses an engrossing legal procedural with deep empathy.

THE TENANT LAWYER

A young attorney struggles to humanize the law—and himself—in this quietly absorbing legal tale.

Fired from his high-powered Boston law firm for an unseemly attack of conscience, 32-year-old Mark Langley has descended to the lowest rung of the lawyering trade as a legal services attorney doing eviction cases in his blue-collar hometown of Worcester, Mass. In the assembly-line proceedings of Housing Court, there’s little he can do for his impoverished clients—many of them tenants in the town’s bleak housing projects—except postpone the day they’ll be evicted. Then a case comes along with a mixture of technicalities and pathos that grabs his attention: a single mom faces eviction from public housing because her son was arrested on drug charges; a guilty verdict would cause her other son to lose his college scholarship. While he pursues a long-shot trial in the case, Mark also squares off against the haughty mandarins in his old firm to challenge the corrupt diversion of anti-poverty funds to a well-connected developer. In his first novel, Dinnocenzo, himself an attorney with legal-services experience, ventures into John Grisham territory—a callow, idealistic lawyer battles the establishment—but with less histrionics and more social insight. Poverty, chaos and infuriating regulations precipitate one crisis after another in the lives of his underclass strivers. The seemingly low-stakes Housing Court becomes an arena of tense legal strategizing and real drama, where verdicts destroy families. Writing in a limpid, nuanced prose, Dinnocenzo crafts sharp but subtle portraits of his characters and their agonizing dilemmas. Mark in particular is a flawed but appealing hero plagued by self-doubt and courtroom stage fright. He’s torn between glittering yuppie Boston and dilapidated Worcester as he obsessively sharpens his arguments in pursuit of justice for people who can’t afford it otherwise.

A notable debut that infuses an engrossing legal procedural with deep empathy.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462004775

Page Count: 264

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

SENDERO

Tomlinson’s princely, epic debut spans decades in a Peruvian family’s separation and reunion amid political unrest and terrorist atrocities.

In 1987, Peruvian peasant siblings Nina, 12, and Miguel Flores, 16, live on a potato farm raised by proud, hardworking parents. Their homeland is being terrorized by the “Sendero Luminoso” (Shining Path), a Maoist insurgent militia, as locally armed soldiers become outnumbered and more and more of the land is dominated by the violent faction. When their father, Adan, is shot by soldiers and Agustín Malqui, the village pastor, is abducted, Miguel, ever the picture of restless youth, sacrifices himself by joining the Shining Path guerrillas to spare the rest of his family from certain death. Tomlinson masterfully propels his ambitious narrative two decades forward to find Nina, a Cuzco tourism police official in southeastern Peru, miraculously reuniting with a downtrodden, alcoholic Pastor Malqui who’d been isolated for almost a decade in a political prison. Before he disappears again, however, Malqui tells her that Miguel is still alive but ensconced in drug trade narcoterrorism. Nina ignores stern warnings from her lover, Francisco Guislán, a high-ranking anti-terrorist official, and risks her life to first find Malqui again and then her long-lost brother. These powerful events enable Tomlinson to unfurl a vividly described journey throughout Peru’s underbelly as the narrative gains momentum, hurtling toward a dramatic climax and a surprisingly unconventional conclusion. A lushly atmospheric novel consistently churning with intrinsic familial yearnings and authentic suspense, the author’s story works on a variety of levels. Incorporating Peru’s rich yet turbulent history, high drama amid the villages perched in the expansive Andes mountains, a cast of impressively crafted characters and a cinematic plot that would translate wonderfully to the big screen, Tomlinson’s debut is golden. Elaborate and robust; a prime example of history and histrionics juggled with equal precision.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Max Tomlinson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

BLOOD MONEY

In her exciting debut, personal injury attorney Rizio crafts a legal thriller with compelling characters and tense action that more than compensate for a familiar premise.

Nick Ceratto is a young attorney at the prestigious Philadelphia firm of Maglio, Silvio and Levin, a rising star and protégé of “supreme litigator” Joe Maglio. But when Maglio and his family turn up dead Christmas Eve, apparently the result of a murder-suicide, the incredulous Nick begins to suspect Silvio and Levin. Shortly after, when the firm’s eavesdropping receptionist is the victim of an apparently random homicide, Nick discovers that she has left him a vital clue in her safe-deposit box—what seems to be an ancient VHS copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark. With the help of Maglio’s fiery Italian cousin, Maria Elena, Nick begins to investigate his employers, while also taking over one of Maglio’s high-profile cases. Although this murderous boutique law practice will remind some readers of The Firm, Rizio’s book has several qualities that surpass that more famous work. Scenes are filled with cleverly observed details, from a conference room that was “supposed to be soundproof” but from which “yelling had been audible for at least twenty minutes” to a receptionist picking up a phone and pressing an “angry flashing button” with a “sculpted, inch-long red fingernail.” Additionally, an appealing tart cynicism haunts the novel’s scenes of legal maneuvering: “Nick Ceratto sat on one side of the dingy courtroom, its magnificent Victorian paneling and ornate plasterwork overlaid with generations of dirt,” evoking Raymond Chandler’s tone far more than John Grisham’s. Rizio also writes excellent, unfussy action scenes. A chapter where Nick attempts to subpoena a reluctant witness is a model of the form, as is a climactic confrontation in which two children are menaced by a killer. There are some missteps: An engrossing, you-are-there first chapter is besmirched by a jarring jump between characters; the murder of an appealing female character feels superfluous; and a key villain is lazily sketched, especially when cliché dictates he pontificate about classical music. But these are minor quibbles. For a debut, Rizio’s novel is remarkably accomplished. An entertaining thriller full of clever touches, whose characters and tone enliven an overworked genre.   

 

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-1453618707

Page Count: 332

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

An intense, lyrical portrait of America's vulnerable underbelly.

JIMMY JAMES BLOOD

(THE MAN FROM ANGEL ROAD)

Hopelessness dims this poignant tale of a young woman’s tumultuous, modern American life.

Vera Violet, as she’s called by her boyfriend, Jimmy James Blood, lives a life of misery. In this depressing narrative darkened by doom, she knows only poverty, drugs, murder and incest. The sense of despair weighs heavily; perhaps too heavily for some readers. But those who persevere will be rewarded with an eloquent description of today’s desensitized, emotionally detached youth. Drugs and absent parents are mostly to blame, according to Anne, although unexplored causes, like technology and culture on a larger scale, could also play a part. Frequent drug use mirrors James Fogle’s sobering autobiography, Drugstore Cowboy, a term Anne frequently references in her debut. From the gloom of Washington state, where the timber industry rules, to the rotting bowels of St. Louis, Vera sees despondency in the clouds and pain in the stars while she sinks into the helpless feeling that her future holds nothing more than agony. Nonetheless, she lives on to take solace in the small things: her oxblood boots, which serve as her special connection to Jimmy James, the love of her life; and cherished memories of Colin, her troubled brother. Anne’s powerful storytelling startles readers with its unapologetic bleakness. Her crafting, although gray and humorless, candidly frames the drifting characters in a snapshot of life outside the confines of comfort.

An intense, lyrical portrait of America's vulnerable underbelly.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-0615362939

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Cedar Street Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

A solid story of political warfare made doubly compelling by the dubious hero leading the charge.

LUST TAKES THE WHITE HOUSE

A callous mogul tries his hand at politics and uses his undue influence to get a former governor elected president, only to regret his support and redirect his resources to ousting the same man.

Melvin Shultz runs Lust Cosmetics, a billion-dollar company. Unsatisfied in the private sector, Shultz decides “on a whim” to commit all his time and money into backing long-shot candidate Robert “Buck” Porter for president of the United States. Whereas controversially provocative ads succeeded in promoting Lust Cosmetics, Shultz turns Porter into a contender via the standard shallow campaign of false promises. Once Porter is in office, however, Shultz realizes he’s made a considerable mistake in electing the contemptible former governor. After being appointed CIA director by Porter, Shultz tries to contain and dismantle the president’s ineptitude, which threatens to drive the country into the ground. Grayson (My Troubles with Time, 2011, etc.) ably establishes Shultz as a cold, detached power broker but also as a man who inspires confidence by the impressive ambition and cunning in his often despicable scheming. True to form, realpolitik is a constant battle—even after the successful presidential campaign, Shultz necessarily employs the same hardball tactics in his fight for the CIA directorship and, ultimately, in the campaign to bring down President Porter. In contrast to the playfulness suggested by its title, the novel has a frank tone and a clear style that feels comfortably old-fashioned. Shultz, for instance, may be an assertive personality, but he steers clear of hard liquor, drives an old, dilapidated Buick and has a nine o’clock bedtime. He’s a loyal husband, though even he must tire of his wife’s incessant grumbling.

A solid story of political warfare made doubly compelling by the dubious hero leading the charge.

Pub Date: Dec. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-1468093988

Page Count: 324

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2012

A well-crafted tale of passion, loss and the dangers of obsession.

JASMINE

Trace the curved line between love and obsession in this steamy novel.

Sor Avraham is content with his structured life: He and his wife Jasmine have settled into a comfortable partnership in their house by the ocean in Florida. Sor finds fulfillment as an English professor at a local university, a job that allows him to focus some of his repressed passion. He’s a model teacher, colleague and husband until a chance encounter with the mysterious and sensual Marguerite, a free-spirited artist and professor whose bohemian spirit has been temporarily tamed by marriage and two young boys. Marguerite and Sor quickly fall into a whirlwind affair, as Sor, who once exhibited precise control over his thoughts and emotions, is swept away on the tide of desire. The intense sexual encounters and lust-soaked emails fly between the two, disorienting Sor until he feels he has “lost his equilibrium.…He was no longer Sor Avraham.” His marriage and job fall apart as his fixation with Marguerite consumes him—he becomes infatuated with the smell of jasmine, Marguerite’s signature perfume. Then, as Marguerite slowly begins to draw away from Sor, eventually ending the affair, he recognizes himself as a man who has lost nearly everything. Aarons artfully portrays the demise of his lead character’s control in the stable world he once inhabited. Vivid characters enliven a compelling story that reveals Sor’s innermost thoughts and personal letters. The style and pacing of the narrative realistically parallel the timeline of Sor’s affair, while rising to meet his transformation from a controlled, settled husband into an adulterous obsessive. Eventually, the intense love scenes dim as the narrative resettles for Sor to consider the contentment he abandoned.

A well-crafted tale of passion, loss and the dangers of obsession.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462061440

Page Count: 174

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

Highly recommended for anyone interested in architecture, classical history or travel photography.

PETRA

A PANORAMIC JOURNEY

Stunning panoramic views of Petra, one of the world’s archaeological treasures, adorn this beautifully designed coffee table book.

If your travel plans to the kingdom of Jordan fall through, the next best thing to visiting Petra—the famed desert city carved into sheer rock—is this gorgeous collection of panoramic photographs. You might remember the city from the final ride-into-the-sunset scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but these photos capture the city better than Spielberg. Petra sits in the cradle of civilization, so it’s seen thousands of years’ worth of settlers—Greek, Roman and Byzantine cultures, with notable influence by neighboring Egyptian, Arabic and Eastern civilizations. The area’s impressive array of clashing cultures notoriously relates to its reputation as an unstable region. The city was abandoned after a series of devastating earthquakes between A.D. 363 and A.D. 551, and being located in a deep and narrow desert canyon, it wasn’t “discovered” by Europeans until 1812. Now, photographer Alghussain captures the sprawling richness of the ancient city with a professional eye and gear—Fuji Panorama (6x17) professional camera with 90- and 180mm lenses and Fujichrome Velvia film. Having obtained special permission from authorities to enter the site at sunrise and sunset, Alghussain exploits a magical balance of light and shadow to portray the unique architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The book’s perfunctory introduction includes minimal use of maps and cursory historical lessons to introduce the reader to the land, but that’s just preparation for the real treat—24-inch-wide, double-page panoramas of Petra’s hallowed beauty. Captions and corresponding thumbnails are relegated to the final pages so as not to interrupt the breathtaking visuals. From choice of film to the professional firms hired for printing and image scanning, all production details are of the highest caliber. Alghussain goes even further by collaborating with book designer Kevin Opp to produce an edition that sets the standard of design in independent publishing.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in architecture, classical history or travel photography.

Pub Date: May 25, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 183

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

An exceptional first effort that captures the harmony of two beating hearts.

SECRETS OF THE APPLE

Detailing how family dynamics, cultural diversity and past relationships shape who we are, debut novelist Hiatt subtly explores the cavern between a successful life and a meaningful one.

Kate, a young idealistic American, and Ryoki, a wealthy Japanese businessman—both divorced—pair up professionally when Ryoki needs an assistant quickly and it just so happens that Kate’s teaching position falls through. (Readers learn later that their mutually caring families have a hand in the “coincidence.”) Their two families deeply respect each other with a long-standing business partnership and friendship, though neither Kate nor Ryoki know each other. Ryoki reluctantly accepts Kate into his office; he seriously doubts her capabilities and is concerned she'll negatively impact his big project and professional reputation. After all, he demands a grueling pace from his assistant, and the responsibilities are enormous. Kate quickly proves that what she lacks in training, she makes up for with brains, intuition and hard work. In the office, she mothers and nags Ryoki for being a workaholic, and her quirks and eccentricities annoy him. Eventually, Ryoki notices that he feels differently when Kate is away. Hiatt uses interesting metaphors and visual descriptions as the love story slowly boils below the surface, though occasionally those unique metaphors are distracting. Ryoki's thoughts—a surprising amount of self-doubt and hurt—linger under his suit, but like Ryoki, we're never quite sure of Kate's thoughts. The reader and Ryoki want to know more about her, which keeps both pushing forward. He invites her to work for him in Brazil, arranging her quarters in a guest cottage outside his home. Kate wonders why he goes to such pains for a “temporary” assistant, and Ryoki wonders why himself. In Sao Paulo, they remain platonic and professional but as intimate as a couple can be without sex. Each secretly cherishes this escape from the life they had been living before—Ryoki especially—but in their tense, tender connection, he’s afraid to act on his emotions until another man threatens to swoop in and take Kate away from him.

An exceptional first effort that captures the harmony of two beating hearts.

Pub Date: June 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0984663408

Page Count: -

Publisher: Mayday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

Be sure to read this steamy Southern noir in the A/C.

CICADA

Tragedy befalls a small town in the 1950s Deep South when the Klu Klux Klan’s arrival coincides with an unraveling of long-held family secrets.

A suicide gunshot rattles the humid air in this bleak but often beautifully crafted tale of cultural strife in the Southern town of Melby. During one particularly sweltering summer, the Sayre family tries to cope with the stifling heat. Since the childhood death of his brother, farmer John Sayre has held a terrible secret, one that comes to bear on his marriage, his status in town and his relationship with his young son, Timothy. John’s inner demons lead him into an affair with college-educated Cicada Anderson, whose family joined the African-American exodus from a nearby town tormented by the Klan. At the same time, Tim, aka Buckshot, finds the body of a lynched man. While the lovers carry on late-night trysts, Frances Sayre fears her husband has taken up with the Klan, until she discovers what she takes to be a love letter. Her discovery, Buckshot’s secretiveness and the increasing boldness of the town’s bigots and its reprehensible minister all sit heavy in the uneasy, oppressive heat. The cicadas incessantly hum in ominous chorus. Everyone is being watched: suspicious townsmen spy John and Cicada, the gravedigger sees visitors to the lynched man’s grave, the mockingbirds eye the old family cat in the last hours of its life. The town’s animals, wild or domesticated, play as big a part as any of the well-drawn characters in the tragedy. Nature’s cruelty—and occasionally, its beauty—foreshadow and echo the townspeople’s wicked acts. Only beautiful Cicada remains a mystery. Like the female cicada, she causes the frenzied men to buzz and drone around her in hopes of attracting her bewitching affection.

Be sure to read this steamy Southern noir in the A/C.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-1468022506

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

THE LONG DRUNK

BOOK ONE: THE HOMELESS DETECTIVE TRIOLOGY

A vagrant turned amateur sleuth investigates a murder in Coyote’s debut novel and series opener of the Homeless Detective Trilogy.

Murphy is a hapless drunk living on the streets of Venice, Calif. When his cherished Rottweiler, Betty, needs an expensive surgery, the former football player takes on the role of gumshoe to solve a local murder. He’ll need to solve the 6-month-old case within a week to claim a monetary reward for identifying the murderer and save his best friend. Coyote’s novel, its title reminiscent of books from authors such as Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, is a play on film noir. While working against genre conventions has become the norm for some writers, Coyote ventures into new territory by unassumingly renovating the traditional qualities of film noir. Most detectives are slipped a mickey at some point, whereas Murphy is almost perpetually drunk, and concussions from his football days cause him to black out. It seems he’s slipping the mickey to himself, especially when he’s drinking Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor. The seedy underworld is one with upscale restaurants and a gay bar called Pufferfish, and the femme fatale is a yoga instructor. The murder, however, is incidental, and the novel is in top form during scenes highlighting Murphy’s crew of homeless friends, most of whom are individually featured, and with the appropriately named Mama Bear, a maternal figure and thrift-shop owner who literally puts the clothes on Murphy’s back. Regular visits to Betty at the vet’s office are the heart of the story, so Murphy’s incentive remains noble. The book may not appeal to all readers, as sex and violence are graphically depicted, though never insensitively. An unshakable noir with a protagonist learning along the way, but beyond the more overt genre traits is a rewarding story of a man’s unconditional love for his faithful companion.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

A gutsy book that blazes trails, plotted at a breakneck speed that won’t let up.

ONE BLOOD

A governor and his sordid past are at the heart of a tale of retribution in Amaru’s stunning debut novel.

When Karen Lafitte disappears, her father, Louisiana governor Randy Lafitte, is initially skeptical of the ensuing ransom note. The governor believes that he’s responsible for his father’s death years earlier, resulting in a curse that’s been passed down the Lafitte line. He’s particularly concerned that his daughter is now the same age as his son, Kristopher, was when he was killed—18. In fact, in addition to money, the ransom note demands the pardon of a lifer, Lincoln Baker, who was imprisoned for the murderer of Randy’s son. What follows is an elaborate pattern of revenge involving multiple parties that delve into the Lafitte family history and Randy’s dark road to an elected office. Amaru’s greatest achievement is a nonlinear story that still manages to be clean-cut and precise. The plot bounces readers from one time period to another—flashbacks sometimes occur during other flashbacks, and dream sequences meld into memories and back into real time. Despite this narrative style, the story is, surprisingly, never perplexing. Amaru skillfully manages this feat by presenting uncertainty—such as Lincoln’s relationship with a man named Amir—but immediately clarifying it with prior events, complete with a time stamp. Similarly, voodoo and many appearances of loa (spirits) are treated sincerely, not merely as wacky, otherworldly manifestations. The thorough examination of peoples’ pasts allows for sharp, distinct characters. This heightens the tension between characters engaged in high-pressure situations, of which the author has ample supply. For deep-rooted characters immersed in violence, the novel’s defining moment may be a wounded man reciting the Lord’s Prayer aloud while dodging bullets in a blistering gun battle.

A gutsy book that blazes trails, plotted at a breakneck speed that won’t let up.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0982719367

Page Count: 488

Publisher: The Pantheon Collective

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2012

INTO THE CHILD

"40 WEEKS IN THE GESTATIONAL WILDERNESS"

Debut author Colleary chronicles 40 weeks of pregnancy in this irreverent account.

Sometimes sweet, sometimes sassy, screenwriter and blogger Colleary tells all with witty sarcasm and edgy, laugh-out-loud humor. She begins with conception and the results of a home pregnancy test before careening through laments of sleepless nights, mood swings, weight gain and nausea with snappy but snide remarks most pregnant women think but few express. Colleary’s book is a fun, literary romp for any woman who has experienced “The First Trimester Through Hell” and lived to read the tale. The former homecoming queen and INXS backup dancer, now the pregnant mommy of one, alternates between admitted snobbery (“I saw stay-at-home moms as the kind of women who sat in the fifth pew of fill-in-the-blank church, smiling with bland acquiescence, who thought Danielle Steele novels were literature”) and a self-deprecating appraisal of her blossoming physique (“Some days even my earlobes feel fat”). Each chapter notes the gestation time in weeks and days, recounted in diary style, and draws readers into one delicious admission after another. Colleary professes a jealousy for the skinny, overachieving Gwyneth Paltrow and a tendency toward fantasies involving George Clooney. She regales with funny tales of an overbearing lactation nurse screeching about the importance of colostrum and a would-be caregiver whose secret life, the author fears, will eventually be revealed on a daytime talk show. Colleary’s humor and warmth flow seamlessly from conception to birth in this well-written, snappy read. A hysterical account of pregnancy that will resonate with readers who’ve been through it before. 

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: B006AZEQAO

Page Count: -

Publisher: Smashwords

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

An inspirational story of survival and the loving bond between sisters.

THE STOVEPIPE

Virag’s memoir paints a bleak portrait of a broken childhood, but her strength shines amid the rubble.

In the early 1940s, Virag and four of her siblings were forced into a big, black car and taken away from their home by the Children’s Aid Society. She was never told why; she was 4 years old. Though poverty-stricken, Virag had always felt love from her mother and an older sister, “Muggs,” who helped care for the younger children (Virag’s mother had 18 children total). Virag’s home life was hardly idyllic—her rowdy older brothers gave her canned molasses to quiet her when she cried from hunger—but it was far better than where she ended up. Plunged into foster care, the children were often abused and used for labor. Virag and her twin sister, Betty, performed grueling, dangerous work on a tobacco farm and were locked in an attic at night with no heat other than a stovepipe, which provided minimal warmth and became a comfort of sorts for the girls. Virag’s plainspoken style makes for a powerful read. At one point, the children are so hungry they eat sassafras leaves. When the girls slice open their bare toes while hoeing, Virag describes how they “simply rinsed off the blood and went back to hoeing.” Readers should prepare to be angered and moved to tears: One of the most heartbreaking scenes involves the rape of Betty when she is 7 years old. But there are better times and even much “whistling in the dark” humor, as the author does a beautiful job of capturing the voices of childhood. The book is a swift, well-written read and not merely an indictment of the foster-care system. There is compassion from some adults, such as a foster-care worker who helped Virag enroll in art classes during her high school years. Amazingly, Virag’s voice is not bitter, as she plumbs the depths of despair and rises above what no child should ever have to endure.

An inspirational story of survival and the loving bond between sisters.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1936782307

Page Count: 440

Publisher: Langdon Street

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

What else is there to say? It’s slick.

SLICK!

As a deadlocked election grips the fictional sultanate of Moq’tar, no issue is safe from Perlstein’s (God’s Others, 2010, etc.) wit as he lampoons politics in the Gulf.

Bobby Gatling, a retired U.S. soldier now employed by a private security firm, is on assignment in Moq’tar. While Bobby’s been training security forces, the aging sultan has allowed his favorite son, Yusuf, to run the country. Western-educated with an MBA from Berkeley, Yusuf has been hard at work, in the capitalist fashion, transforming Moq’tar into “Moq’tar, Inc.” And his sister, the alluring Zoraya, has been with him every step of the way. But everything gets complicated quickly when it turns out that the succession isn’t as certain as Yusuf (and America) thought. Between a drunken U.S. ambassador, a cultural affairs officer with a penchant for cinema, and Yusuf’s playboy-turned-traditionalist older brother, Bobby has his work cut out for him. Stuck in the middle, he’s forced to balance his duties, his loyalties and his conscience as he navigates the dangers of a Middle-Eastern election rife with double-dealing and assassination attempts. The setting works brilliantly for Perlstein to show how ridiculously volatile the region can be, as he takes well-aimed shots at capitalism gone too far, gulf politics, forced democracy and anti-Semitism (to name just a few). It’s satire at its finest—laughing until the sobering moment of realization that the events in Moq’tar aren’t as fictional as you’d hope. To his credit, Perlstein never crosses the line into offensiveness, despite the numerous hot topics and cultures in his sights. And although he tends to dump characterization on the reader, that’s hardly a bother since each one is compelling. Best of all, the novel isn’t written just for scholars of the region; the plot is packed full of car chases and plot twists that keep the tension high and the pace fast. Those looking for subtle humor will find plenty, but those interested in action and intrigue alone won’t be disappointed either.

What else is there to say? It’s slick.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462045457

Page Count: 252

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

Vivid period details and a forthright heroine help smooth the rough edges of this rags-to-riches story.

East Side Story

Rosa Rizzio and her friends take different paths to escape the poverty of New York City’s Lower East Side during the 1940s.

In 1942, Rosa Rizzio was a junior high dropout eager to start making money. Growing up during the Great Depression in a crowded, dirty cold-water tenement, she and her Italian-immigrant family lived through grinding poverty. In the time before President Roosevelt’s New Deal and free school lunches, her mother sometimes stole food just to give them one meal a day. Now, with a war raging and jobs plentiful, Rosa charts a path toward financial security that begins with a summer job waitressing then develops into work as a rumba instructor (she changes her name to Rose Rice). Eventually, by the age of 15, she finds herself becoming the pampered mistress of Sam Cohen, a married garment-industry millionaire. She’d prefer someone young, handsome and single—and also rich—but you can’t have everything. Over the years, one childhood friend marries and moves to Long Island; another goes to college; and still another, Ruthie, on the brink of respectable marriage, throws over her potential husband in order to pursue a richer man, with disastrous results. Rose’s hardheaded gold-digging isn’t that different from her mother’s attitude toward theft: “Her family had to eat somehow. They had to dress somehow. And they had to keep warm somehow. It is a question of survival.” No amount of low-wage work could ever earn her the gowns, jewels and high life she craves, Rose reasons. Her sugar daddy wants to pay, so why not let him? By her own lights, she’s a good friend: “When youse go out with Sam’s friends, don’t be ashamed to axk them for money. If youse don’t, they won’t give youse anything and you’ll wind up with nothen but jelly beans,” she advises Ruthie. The novel has its faults—substandard punctuation and grammar, spelling by ear (“Old Lang Zain,” “By Mir Mister Shane”), haphazardly shifting points of view, far too much unnecessary detail, and wandering timelines—but it is undeniably engaging, much like coming across an old diary. Seeing Rose walk step by step into the life of a kept woman is fascinating, and it’s impressive how well debut author Tarcici depicts the temptations of glamor. Rose’s choices are not unlike those made today by young men who want—for various reasons—to be players in the drug trade. Though her family may disapprove, Rose becomes their main breadwinner; they have to eat somehow. Mercenary and vulgar as Rose is, she has the pluck and the luck to get what she wants.

Vivid period details and a forthright heroine help smooth the rough edges of this rags-to-riches story.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2010

ISBN: 978-1434983213

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

BYE BYE BLACKBIRD

WORLDS PAST AND WORLDS AWAY

Merging geographic precision with detailed lyricism, Berry’s collection of poetry spans continents and states of the soul.

The best poetry focused on a particular locale tends to evoke sensory stimulation as much as meaning, and Berry’s collection of nearly 60 poems is no different. Born in England, the author has travelled widely throughout Africa and the United States. With a doctorate in geography, she casts a discriminating, discerning eye on the landscapes to which her travels have taken her. In unrhymed, compact poems—few more than a page in length—the poet speaks with seriousness about the relationship between the natural world and one’s inner world. In “Music of Place,” she writes: “Carried in the wind is the music of place, blown / like washing on a line, white sheets flapping, sending / large billowing folds of sound back to me,” which typifies her ability to translate a place into a finely detailed, highly specific moment in her past or present. Some poems set in North Africa elevate journallike jottings into sharply etched experiences. The dominant moods suffusing these poems are calm and meditational, perhaps reflecting the influence of poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was also attuned to inner and outer geographies. The final 20 poems shift focus from geography and place to reconciliations or frictions with family members; many relatives have passed on but are vibrantly alive in the author’s memory. These family sketches often turn on a particularly poignant phrase spoken to the author by a parent or loved one: “Windows” pivots on Berry’s father’s comment, “I could drive if I wanted to,” as the author notes that her father never owned a car. Few books of recent poetry reveal such a penetrating awareness of how the environments in which we live affect us as much as we affect them. An extraordinary, nuanced collection by a gifted poet.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1935514749

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Plain View

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

An irreverent but stylish critique of a privileged social milieu.

LIVING THROUGH CHARLIE

The hypercompetitive rituals and other inanities of elite suburban preschools get a merciless but droll dissection in Woods’ debut novel.

Meg Norton, stay-at-home mom of two, strives to shoehorn her son Charlie into a prestigious preschool even though she knows he isn’t ready for the transition. The decision to keep him home isn’t hers to make: In her affluent Southern California community, interview tutors for kindergarten admission and waiting lists for preschool are as ordinary as PB&J. Moreover, her husband, Chuck, and wealthy father-in-law attended the Norwich School, which they continue to financially support as alumni. But Charlie’s “interview” isn’t a success—he throws a tantrum over his shoes—and he’s turned down by Norwich administrators. In fact, it takes little for Charlie to have a meltdown; bunchy socks, the wrong drinking cup, even humming can trigger tears and screams. Meg’s endless problems with her son spill into other areas of her life—isolating himself with work, Chuck seems to hold her responsible for Charlie’s oddities; the other moms at play dates and art classes make her feel outcast; even her best friend Dana seems to have transformed into the kind of “A-list mom” they previously mocked. After Charlie gets into Norwich on his third attempt, Meg’s troubles multiply and turn far more serious. She must acknowledge one secret in order to reveal another that will change her son’s life and her own. Woods crafts classroom and backyard scenes into keen, sly takes on the world the Norton family inhabits. Meg makes an ideal medium for this tale. A perpetual outsider, she skewers with delightful off-beat humor all that comes her way—bridal-themed birthday parties, kindergarten graduation ceremonies and school drop-off etiquette. What saves her from sanctimony is that she’s too smart to be unaware of her own complicity and her desperate desire to fit into a world she loathes. She’s astute enough to finally admit, too, that the distance between her problem child and herself may be less than she thinks: “We both have things to learn.” 

An irreverent but stylish critique of a privileged social milieu.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-1466357372

Page Count: 252

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

An exemplar of storytelling and character-driven adventure.

THE TEN

BOOK ONE OF THE KINGDOM OF GRAVES

Graphic novelist turned fantasy author Myrick (Feynman, 2011, etc.) releases the first installment of a promising trilogy that trails an elite warrior as he adventures through foreign lands, weaves magic and vanquishes his enemies.

Capt. Jorophe Horne survives a three-year war only to witness his country’s annexation to the mighty Kingdom of Graves. Worse still, he is reassigned to the enemy army that destroyed his homeland. Understandably reluctant to serve his new master, Jorophe reports for duty at the behest of his now-dethroned monarch. But when evil forces conspire against the kingdom, Jorophe’s oath drives him to action: He rises to become the most powerful weapon in the King’s elite 10-man force. Armed with two ancient dark blades, he hunts down devils from the Abyss who threaten the provinces. Myrick’s epic tale features assassins, dark priests, blue demons and an Amazon warrior as it chronicles the lives of more than six core characters. All are uniquely crafted, with intentions to either destroy or save the kingdom. Brief chapters juxtapose longer prose, fueling a high-paced storyline that flies from one end of the world to the other. As the author shifts from one point of view to the next, readers slide through a rich mosaic of betrayal, greed, loyalty and honor. Of its manifold strengths, the novel is fluid and full of surprises. Readers will question the characters’ loyalties to the king as they ponder the mysterious identity of the final member of the Ten. As the book draws to a close, the final lines are likely to send shivers up readers’ spines. The author masterfully crafts vivid battle scenes and heart-pounding chases across oceans, over snow-peaked mountains and into city sewers. Neither die-hard nor casual fantasy readers will be able to resist this trilogy’s rousing start.

An exemplar of storytelling and character-driven adventure.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Adept Books

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

A well-constructed story that lays a promising foundation for the rest of the series.

TWO OUT OF THREE

A MEAGAN MALONEY MYSTERY

Silva’s thriller introduces Meagan Maloney, a private investigator whose search for a missing person draws her into a deeper mystery than she ever imagined.

The first volume in a series of mysteries featuring the caffeine-addicted Bostonian Meagan, Silva’s debut unveils a character who is refreshingly different from the stereotypical private detective found in many crime novels. As she tracks down the missing person in her first major case, Meagan enlists the aid of her computer-whiz friend and neighbor, Doobie. While Doobie is clearly the man for the job when it comes to hacking into various systems in search of information, Meagan sometimes needs detailed explanations of things readers would expect to be second nature for someone her age, such as email. Regardless, it is precisely this ordinary girl–turned-detective persona that makes Meagan such a relatable, believable and interesting heroine. Without dwelling or giving too much away, the author drops hints about a dark moment in Meagan’s past that led to her chosen career path. It’s enough to explain Meagan’s apparent naïveté, although perhaps not enough to explain the impression that she doesn’t always seem to be the brightest bulb. Meagan stays true to character as she finds herself in increasingly difficult and dangerous situations. Rather than resorting to hidden talents like a surprise martial arts degree or MacGyver-esque skills, Meagan responds to danger as any normal person would, mistakes included. This consistency lends an air of credibility to an otherwise unlikely set of circumstances, and it fosters empathy for this grown-up, modern Nancy Drew. Silva sustains a solid mystery that manages to keep readers engaged throughout the many plot twists and turns.

A well-constructed story that lays a promising foundation for the rest of the series.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-1463442972

Page Count: 352

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

An eloquent, refreshing perspective on the struggles faced by those living along the Mexican border.

HEART'S BLOOD

Zinn (The Happiness Lottery, 2011, etc.) returns with a novel that chronicles the trials of a wandering cowboy who learns to take life by the horns.

Tyler “Ty” McNeil makes his living running rodeo shows, just like his father, now deceased, did. Ty spends several years traveling far from home to do so, which strains his marriage. He eventually chooses the rodeo over his wife, finding himself alone and unfulfilled. As a result, Ty makes a radical decision to take control of his life and live it on his own terms. Rather than blindly following the direction of others, Ty now desires to direct his own path, regardless of his obligations. The peace he makes and his thoughts on life as he grows older are magnificently captured through intermittent reflections. Ty abandons the rodeo and sets his sights on a ranch back home in southwestern Arizona. Zinn’s characterization is purposeful, deep and rich; each character is well-developed and instrumental to the story. An intriguing mix of cultures populates the novel: Anglos, Mexicans, Native Americans and mixed-blood families. Although the story chronicles the changes in Ty’s life over the course of two generations, the setting takes almost equal precedence, brought to life by vivid descriptions of the landscape. Among several entwined themes, family and its different permutations are at the heart of the novel: The rejection of Ty’s biological son contrasts Ty’s relationship with his adopted daughter. The author’s love for Arizona is immersed in her lyrical writing, as the impact of environment on family is threaded wonderfully into various plotlines.

An eloquent, refreshing perspective on the struggles faced by those living along the Mexican border.

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468140385

Page Count: 272

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Not a perfect collection—but it comes close.

NOTES TO THE BELOVED

Bitting (Good Friday Kiss, 2008, etc.) returns with earthy, adventurous and existential free verse.

Bitting is the rare poet who clearly understands that sublimity is never more than one overwrought image away from absurdity. Though clearly capable of the sublime, she is careful to counterbalance the sacred with the profane and the transcendent with the commonplace in crafting what is, on the whole, a forcefully well-proportioned collection. In “Mammary,” for instance, narrator and reader are transported by a chain of associations from the highway sights outside the narrator’s car to visions of her friend’s body as she undergoes a mastectomy. What begins as psychological free association grows increasingly mystical (and worshipful) as the narrator evokes Promethean suffering—"I imagine birds and flight / as the elliptical sweep of sharpness / cuts the pale sky of your chest, / steel beaks of surgical tools / carving out the flesh cream, / making smoke of tumor meat”—before resurrecting her friend’s breasts as “two blond angels, / flying out / beyond the moon’s milky scar” to “spread their innocence." As counterweight to such moments of profound pathos, Bitting demystifies some of life’s most hallowed experiences, such as in “Birth,” a darkly humorous portrayal of childbirth as a telescoping series of indignities in which a Demerol-injected mother on “a Jimi Hendrix acid trip” greets her “baby’s head galumphing / through the ravaged pit” with “a sphincter blast of feces.” Between these extremes, this collection covers a lot of ground—music, death, sex, family, autism, suicide, aging, food—but it always does so from the perspective of a thoroughly embodied narrator. There is a comfortable, even epicurean, egocentrism to Bitting’s narrators that insists on the primacy of the sensual. In this way, and in the way her narrators respond to mortality by burrowing even further into their own skins, Bitting proves herself a sister poet to Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Sheryl St. Germain. Yet even with her range, lighter poems like “His Hat,” a comic come-on to Johnny Depp, sometimes feel like filler.

Not a perfect collection—but it comes close.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0983136231

Page Count: 92

Publisher: Sacramento Poetry Center Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

An original voice that’s initially disorienting, but given time, Allison lyrically creates an intriguing world.

HACKED

In a realm of virtual reality, “subscribers” hone in on the lives of others.

Allison’s debut novel unfolds intricately, inundated with slang and jargon yet very little context—readers unfamiliar with cyber terminology may need to brush up on the language. Tenyen (just a handle, not his name) is in a virtual world with his love, Nether, but on his way home, he’s hit by a truck. He doesn’t die, though; instead, he’s downloaded to a “Shell”—an avatar of sorts—and taken to the Plant for repair. His trek leads him to a “dwarf” named Migaroy, who enlists Tenyen’s help in stopping a “twitcher,” which can turn people into a zombielike state. Nether, meanwhile, is searching for Tenyen and somehow infecting people just like the twitcher; masses of stumbling, empty and gray bodies lie in her wake. The story’s unreliable narrators (Tenyen, Nether, et al.) make the story sometimes hard to follow: Tenyen begins in a Mediapod (a “private room”), heads home but is still virtually connected to Nether; then he wakes up somewhere else after the truck accident. He and Nether are often besieged by memories and dreams, so most, if not all, of the story seems unreal. The focus is initially on Tenyen, but once the perspective shifts to Nether, the author sharpens the story. It’s almost a reboot, re-examining events that have happened to Tenyen, like when he was attacked by giant crabs with a fondness for gears. Other characters, including Migaroy and the twitcher, take the narrative reins to further illuminate the world, explaining, for instance, some of the players’ origins. The author’s prose can be poetic, which lends the story the air of a modern epic poem. Chandler-esque analogies (“You make love like razor blades”) and animated descriptions (“The blood drip, drip, drops on the floor”) also brighten the prose. A few recurring images in the novel, including panda bears and a toy monkey that speaks to Nether, are amusingly outlandish, although they are given deeper meaning as the plot progresses to its satisfying conclusion.

An original voice that’s initially disorienting, but given time, Allison lyrically creates an intriguing world.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 275

Publisher: J. D. Allison

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

Highly readable, this engaging manual never veers from its focus of providing the basic skills one needs to tell a story...

LIVING PROOF

TELLING YOUR STORY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR ADVOCATES AND SPOKESPERSONS

Smart, well-delivered and timely advice to help advocates and spokespeople tell the most effective stories.

Stories seem to be what consumers crave, particularly if they are heartfelt and authentic; storytelling is responsible for hit reality-television shows, wildly popular brands and carefully packaged politicians, among other things. But stories can also be useful for nonprofit organizations when ordinary people with extraordinary stories are employed as leading advocates for the cause. As authentic as an advocate’s story may be, however, it can always be improved in style and delivery; that’s the mission of this exceptional instructional guide. The authors carefully lead storytellers through examples and exercises to show how to make content more compelling and relevant to the audiences speakers are trying to influence. The authors present many engaging techniques, such as asking advocates to describe their mission in just six words and demonstrating how to create a visual “story map” to document one’s experience. Capecci and Cage convey “the five qualities of effective advocacy stories,” discuss how to develop key messages, and explain how to craft a story and deliver powerful presentations. They also offer advice for how to ace media interviews; the helpful tips and prep sheets they include will make any reader feel more confident in front of a reporter. The book is divided into easy-to-digest chapters, replete with numerous sidebars, graphics and charts. The convenient format makes it possible for readers to move quickly from start to finish or to pick out chapters that target areas of particular interest. All the while, Capecci and Cage weave into the text actual stories told by advocates, so readers gain a full appreciation for the power of storytelling.

Highly readable, this engaging manual never veers from its focus of providing the basic skills one needs to tell a story that can truly make a difference.

Pub Date: March 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0983870302

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Granville Circle Press

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

A novel too good to be ignored.

THE DUKE DON'T DANCE

In this novel, a group of friends gathers to pay respect to a retired Air Force major following his untimely death in an auto accident.

Sharp’s debut is a frame narrative of impressive scope and quality. Between the visitation and interment of Frank Miller, an omniscient narrator defines the role of seven individuals in Frank’s life. In 22 well-paced, retrospective chapters—beginning in 1960 and continuing at intervals to 2010—readers will come to know and relate to these characters. (The script for The Big Chill is strikingly similar, if not as thematically rich.) Stylistically, the novel unfolds by means of colorful dialogue and pungent observations typical of Henry James. Sharp’s astute commentary guides the reader through motivations not otherwise apparent. Many chapters involve Frank’s second wife, Lillian, and his oldest friend, Sam, who brought the two together. Sam, however, keeps from him the high school intimacy he shared with Lillian. Defiantly promiscuous and rebellious as a teenager, Lillian remains a seductress and risk-taker in adulthood. This includes a liaison with Ted, another of Frank’s longtime friends, before she marries Frank when they are both firmly rooted in middle age. Business colleagues Ben and Rafi appear at a memorable business lunch in 1980 that provides the title of the novel. As the colleagues argue about the message scrawled above the urinals in the restaurant’s restroom, some readers may find the novel’s irreverence on par with Joseph Heller’s. Beth—one of Frank’s business colleagues—and Sam’s wife, Fran, are also major players, but other spouses, ex-wives, adult children and lovers take on secondary yet intriguing roles. Each of the major characters has something to hide from Frank, primarily of a sexual nature. But Frank has something he hides from them, too, in this sassy and bold look at life well-lived.

A novel too good to be ignored.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1467949163

Page Count: 262

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

A treasure trove of hard-earned wisdom and wit.

WALK IN 'E MOON

Thornton’s debut collection of 44 true short stories lends a rare glimpse into coming-of-age in the rural American South.

Growing up on the Bend, a 30-family homestead on the North Carolina and Virginia border, Thornton spent most of his time lollygagging and making mischief. His stories are infused with such gleeful spirit that it’s easy to see why Thornton has developed a reputation among those that know him as the grandest of storytellers. Thornton shines as a narrator, whether he’s conspiring with friends to trick do-gooder passersby into picking up a “lost” pocketbook only to find a garden snake—or worse, a “turd”—hidden inside (“The Disappearing Pocketbooks”) or hiding his teacher’s yardstick after getting whacked one too many times for misbehaving (“Claustrophobia”). Beyond all the rabble-rousing, some of the best stories delve into the hardships of “getting by” in a poor, isolated community. He learns how to “make do” by reusing household objects (“Waste Not”), maintain a bountiful garden (“Putting Food on the Table”) and whip up tasty feasts in the kitchen from what most would consider inedible sources: chicken feet, squirrel brains and hog guts (“Strange Edibles”). The characters, too, are drawn with painstaking detail and affection. Shotgun Essie, Thornton’s grandmother, is a pistol and a half, and her adages speak volumes about her quirky personality. While Thornton’s writing style isn’t particularly polished, tidy sentences and careful paragraph construction are almost beside the point in these stories. Instead, readers will relish following Thornton as he leapfrogs from one tangential thought to the next, sharing gossip and porchside ramblings about those dear to his heart and the experiences that shaped him. Adding further atmosphere and depth to an already rich project are Harrison’s delicate, thoroughly expressive black-and-white sketches, as well as two maps of the Bend immediately following the foreword. Ultimately, the only activity more rewarding than reading these stories would be to hear Thornton tell them aloud, possibly while sitting around a campfire.

A treasure trove of hard-earned wisdom and wit.

Pub Date: June 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-1597150675

Page Count: 191

Publisher: Chapel Hill Press

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Multiple genres come together to form a rewarding, incomparable novel.

MEMORIA

In Segrave’s debut mystery, a grad student in Venice becomes invested in recovering a stolen mask only to discover that the item is a relic of her own past.

Violet’s studies in art history take her to Venice, where a museum robbery and the murder of an unidentified woman pique her interest. The intrigue deepens when she learns that a similar event took place more than 60 years ago during World War II. Her amateur investigation leads to greater conundrums when Violet thinks she’s being watched. Even more mysterious, fellow student Tom, who caught Violet’s fancy some time ago, seems to know more than he’s willing to tell. Neither revelation, however, stops Violet from traveling to London and Scotland to search for answers in this mystery novel that seamlessly unfolds. The first half of the book concentrates on Violet learning of the pilfered Carnival mask, as well as her budding romance with the beguiling, enigmatic Tom. Various clues connect at an auction and, later, at a masquerade. From her first-person perspective, Violet, a charming protagonist with a wry sense of humor, sardonically notes the comparison to Nancy Drew, as when she spots another female with Tom and alludes to her as “looking incredibly un-bored.” The author writes with an assertive voice in clean, polished prose. Violet’s relationship with Tom is flawlessly detailed, building on small moments—Violet pointing at elements from the periodic table printed on Tom’s shirt, thereby touching his chest—with refreshing subtlety. Although the story eventually takes a turn that some readers might have anticipated, many questions remain, and the mystery doesn’t let up; more secrets are gradually revealed even in the final pages. 

Multiple genres come together to form a rewarding, incomparable novel.

Pub Date: March 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-1467963299

Page Count: 274

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2012

An impressive story about a girl whose courage transforms a town.

LYLA LYTE AND THE LI'BERRY FRUIT

Nine-year-old author Ricketts (Where Are the Animals, 2010) returns with the adventure of Lyla Lyte, a young girl who rescues books from obscurity.

Lyla is desperate to use her imagination, but she doesn’t know how. Several attempts end in failure before Lyla’s mother reveals that, before Lyla was born, there were objects called books that helped people learn how to use their imaginations. But the Mayor banned all books and ordered them to be buried. Despite promising to keep this newfound information secret, Lyla tells all her friends. They join her in a quest to find the buried books, but their search instead turns up a seed. Lyla plants the seed, and an unusual tree sprouts—one that grows books. The kids take to referring to the books as “li’berry fruits” to disguise their true identity, but soon, everyone in Lyla’s class knows. Eventually, the li’berry fruits spread across town through a series of sweetly hopeful book exchanges and strategic drops around the community. The children’s increasing engagement with these illegal books—and, as a result, with the world around them—ratchets up the suspense in an already fast-paced and well-written novel. In a fresh and frank way, never betraying the youthful naïveté of a child, Ricketts addresses sophisticated issues of personal freedom and the longing for change. Why a town of readers would willingly surrender their books and not fight back may be a question that strains readers’ credulity, but Lyla’s mission is noble nonetheless. Although the characters remain single-minded and often seem a bit flat, Ricketts' tale has much to teach about the redemptive power of reading and imagination.

An impressive story about a girl whose courage transforms a town.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0983711315

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Climbing Clouds Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

A thorough, well-executed first effort.

WHERE THE PINK HOUSES ARE

A 20-year-old widow and her mother-in-law take a vacation to Ireland and find more than they ever expected.

Nine months have passed since the freak storm that killed Ben, the bedrock of two women’s lives: his wife, Brenna, and his mother, Anna. Deciding that a trip to Ireland—Anna’s ancestral home—is needed for their mental and physical well-being, the women head to Millway, in County Cork, to recover. As the two women ease into their vacation, they realize they are physically and emotionally needed in Ireland. Auntie Pat is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which is progressing, and Bettie, her daughter, is stretched too thin trying to run the family B&B and care for her mother. Quickly establishing their intent to stay in Millway, both women find jobs and settle into the community. Brenna meets two men: Luke, a ladies’ man and all-around flirt, and Ryan, an elusive businessman from Cork, who says he’s only interested in being friends, even though his body language says otherwise. Both men will drastically influence Brenna’s life in ways she never imagined—and in ways only God could orchestrate. In this tightly written book filled with vivid Irish scenery and culture, characters are constructed so well that the reader might feel as if they’ve met before. Physical and spiritual encounters pull the reader into the story due to their surprisingly realistic nature, while characters grow and change seemingly because of God’s presence—or lack thereof—in their lives. Ruth skillfully and charmingly leads the reader through the winding paths of the human condition, tempered by divine guidance.

A thorough, well-executed first effort.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1449729844

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

A beautifully written memoir of awakening and self-acceptance.

BEAMISH BOY

(I AM NOT MY STORY)

DeSilver’s memoir recounts the adolescent and young-adult experiences that shaped his writing and artistic endeavors as an acclaimed poet.

Growing up in the upper-middle-class–Connecticut suburbs during the 1970s and ’80s, DeSilver used alcohol at an early age to dull the emotional aches and pains he was too young to process. A sensitive observer even as a young child, he first experienced deep anxiety and loneliness after his parents hired an austere, often violent German governess to care for him and his two sisters. His fascinating parents (especially his feisty mother with her hilarious one-liners and anecdotes) struggled with addiction, too, although they are portrayed as loving yet detached from their children’s emotional needs. DeSilver leaves for college and, pursuing photography and art, slowly begins dealing with his demons. After a series of damaging meltdowns and relationships, he finds a path to sobriety and self-awareness through therapy, meditation and nature, which help him transcend his battle with alcoholism. DeSilver details this pursuit of inner peace via his talent for painting rich imagery with words, while his keen ability to gracefully and openly express his vulnerability brightens and enriches the memoir. He writes honestly of the times in his life when he produced tiresome art amid a plethora of self-centered decisions. With eloquent metaphors, lyrical prose and subtle humor, DeSilver engagingly expresses his determination to examine his life’s purpose. Told clearly but not chronologically, his path to sobriety leads to a life about much more than addiction.

A beautifully written memoir of awakening and self-acceptance.

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 300

Publisher: The Owl Press

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

Fans of Eckhart Tolle, Pia Mellody and Deepak Chopra will enjoy this unique and powerful book.

THIS WAY OUT

THE POWER TO CHANGE

Psychotherapist and life coach Light explores psychology and spirituality in her debut self-help title, offering a new model for personal change.

Light’s profound book offers a clear program for personal growth that is both well-researched and well-explained. Demonstrating expertise in a program she has practiced for more than 30 years, Light promotes Personality Integration Theory and Therapy as a unique blend of psychology and spirituality that can lead to empowerment and awareness. She suggests that this psychological approach is more successful than models based on pathology, reasoning that many issues can be attributed to a lack of maturity rather than mental illness. Light challenges many of Freud’s notions and builds on others, clearly explaining how Personality Integration empowers patients to acquire self-knowledge, embrace adult behaviors and integrate the parts of the self that remain fragmented or unconscious. In her explanation of the theory and therapy, Light explains how her program is both similar to and different from other self-help approaches, including the 12-step programs: Hers begins with the development of a healthy inner relationship—“the first relationship”—and discusses how to move through the stages of survival to end up in a state of thriving. Modern self-help readers will find a satisfying balance of existing and revolutionary concepts. For those who wish to begin exploring this therapy, Light offers workbook-style exercises and quizzes. Readers shouldn’t let the trippy cover fool them into thinking this book is ungrounded—this title is a well-substantiated, fascinating breakthrough in therapy and transformation. Light’s marriage of psychology and spirituality is sure to satisfy modern seekers of self-enhancement.

Fans of Eckhart Tolle, Pia Mellody and Deepak Chopra will enjoy this unique and powerful book.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-1426926273

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

An impressively original take on alternative history.

The Kronos Interference

In this time-travel thriller, debut authors Miller and Manas spin a clever, original variation on a classic alternative history premise: What if it were possible to travel back in time and kill Adolf Hitler?

Jacob Newman, a brilliant scientist and nanotechnology expert who consults with the CIA on projects of national security, receives a mysterious packet containing his German grandfather’s diaries from the 1920s, which detail a failed plot to poison Hitler at the beginning of his ascent to power. Although Newman’s wife is dying of cancer, a global crisis soon takes him from her bedside. An alien vessel has been found on the bottom of the ocean, off the coast of Chile. Inside the elegantly described “cavernous zeppelin shaped” space are eight giant floating monitors—arranged “like some sort of avant-garde Stonehenge”—that show images from horrific moments in human history, including the Crusades and the Holocaust. The ship also contains some strange pieces of alien technology; most notably, a small object the scientists dub the Kronos Device, which, as Newman discovers, facilitates time travel. The scientists soon come to the consensus that someone or something has been sitting in judgment of humankind—and an ominous verdict could be delivered at any time. Inspired by his grandfather’s diary and desperate to afford humankind another chance in the eyes of the mysterious alien power, Newman decides to go back in time and ensure that the plot to kill Hitler is successful, thereby—in theory—erasing the ensuing heinous acts from history. Sci-fi fans will be familiar with what happens next: By interfering with the past, Newman inadvertently creates a future that is far worse. But here the novel displays some unexpectedly creative plotting: Newman’s attempt to undo the damage he’s done involves him in his own mind-bending parallel life, as well as the prospect of a harrowing sacrifice. The prose is unfussy, the pacing appropriately brisk, and the past and future sequences show the authors’ admirable imaginative gifts. Miller and Manas’ tour de force packs plenty of entertainment value, and the ending tantalizes with the possibility of future past installments.

An impressively original take on alternative history.

Pub Date: June 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615651620

Page Count: 501

Publisher: Pop Culture Zoo Press

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Literary dynamite.

COOPER'S PROMISE

In Smith’s debut novel, a former American soldier hiding out in a small African country can’t escape the ghosts of his past.

Sgt. Cooper Chance, an Army deserter, spends his days in Lalanga drinking cheap gin in a dive. He makes a promise to Lulay, a young girl who sells herself each night, to someday take her away. What little money Chance makes comes from buying smuggled diamonds from a blind boy and his sister and turning a meager profit at an Arab merchant’s shop. There, he meets the merchant’s son, Sadiq, with whom he becomes quickly enamored; he longs to accidentally run into him at a local hammam (a bathhouse and massage parlor). But Chance’s life is confounded by a strange man named Sam Brown, who offers him a way to return to the United States with an honorable discharge—if he’ll use his sharpshooter skills again. Smith’s first effort is a poignant experience. He wastes no time in deftly establishing the atmosphere: ice-cold glasses set against sweaty brows in the blistering heat, with frequent power outages that leave Chance lying on the bed as he waits for the ceiling fan to come back to life. Characters are enhanced by their association with Chance’s past: His need to save Lulay recalls his kid sister being tormented by their father, while his wariness of forming affection for Sadiq echoes a horribly failed relationship in the Army. At its best, the book is slightly refitted yet indomitable noir: the protagonist knocked out cold and tossed in jail; Lulay’s constant pleading for help like a vulnerable dame “hiring” Chance; and the mysterious Sadiq calling to mind a femme—or hommefatale. The novel, a quick read at a little over 200 pages, is rounded out by sharp, cynical dialogue: “Where’s this?” Chance asks, pointing to a postcard; “Somewhere else,” he’s told.

Literary dynamite.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1462084098

Page Count: 220

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2012

An engrossing blend of creepy atmospherics, gory jolts and mind-bending conundrums.

PHOENIX ROSE

In Bailey’s (Palindrome Hannah, 2005, etc.) horror saga, a small town seethes with ghouls, apparitions, pranksters and dysfunctional families.

Bailey returns to the haunted landscape of Brenden, Wash., with a sequence of intersecting plotlines that balance all-American ordinariness against outbursts of supernaturalism and carnage. Among them: A young boy mauled by a wolflike dog discovers an even more disconcerting foe in a dentist who puts silver fillings in his teeth, while a gas station attendant staring down the barrel of a mugger’s gun is improbably rescued by an animated corpse. Elsewhere, a priest wakes up after 150 years in the grave, thirsty for blood, and two snarky brothers hatch a scheme to craft grandiose crop circles, although they encounter something ominous in the dark wheat fields. Tying these narratives together is the story of Todd, a 3-year-old boy maimed when a horse kicks him in the head. As the tragedy causes his family to unravel, Todd gets caught up in a spiritual calculus of life and death. Bailey’s accomplished novel loops through time and logic in luxuriant tendrils as characters drift through dream states and alternate realities; the players see their futures and return to their pasts in a terrain stocked with insinuating crows, withering blood-red roses and disembodied entities obsessed with a grisly numerology. Although his prose teems with mystic symbolism and hallucinatory enigmas, the author keeps the novel firmly grounded in reality by way of pungent characterizations, sharply observed behavior and an evocative sense of social setting. Here, Poe-like phantasmagoria amid Stephen King–style naturalism results in a fictive world that’s familiar yet eerily strange—and plenty scary.

An engrossing blend of creepy atmospherics, gory jolts and mind-bending conundrums.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-1449902452

Page Count: 366

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

An enjoyable, eloquently told tale.

THE TAJ MAHAL OF TRUNDLE

Sutherland’s (Windsong, 2008) contemporary novel takes readers to the small, fictional Australian town of Trundle, offering a peek at the lives of its residents over the course of a year.

Grown sisters Ronnie and Marie have returned to their family home in Trundle, each of them recovering from a personal heartbreak. They’re not sure what to make of their troublesome neighbors, the Lals, who have built a large, modern house next door. The sisters and the Lals are at the core of the story, but Sutherland expertly weaves the lives of various residents into a rich tapestry. Trundle possesses many elements found in any small town: mom-and-pop shops, a struggling economy and a colorful cast of characters. What sets it apart from other towns is a place called Pelican, a commune founded in the 1980s on the outskirts of town. Marie, a former resident who left Pelican under a cloud of disgrace, returns to find she is welcome in the community; burned out from work, Ronnie finds herself restored by her stay there. Meanwhile, the grieving Mr. Lal sees Pelican as the perfect spot to build his own version of the Taj Mahal in tribute to his deceased wife, and his son, Vijay, struggles to find himself and the meaning of life. The story shifts perspective, often jumping among the central protagonists and various Trundle figures, giving readers an intimate view of the town. But well-defined, realistically drawn characters enable readers to easily follow these shifts in perspective. In spite of occasional scandals and disturbing events, Sutherland’s novel is, at heart, a quiet story of ordinary people dealing with everyday problems. Her graceful descriptions—“Through the open window flowed a deep and restful stillness punctuated by the chime of birds and the tolling of frogs”—bring to life both the landscape and the people who inhabit it.

An enjoyable, eloquently told tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-1426904394

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

A quietly powerful story, at times harrowing but ultimately a joy to read.

THE SECRET SENSE OF WILDFLOWER

In this novel, life turns toward a dark horizon for a precocious adolescent grieving for her father in 1941 Tennessee.

It’s difficult to harbor secrets in a rural mountain town of maybe 80 souls, especially when adult siblings live within spitting distance of the family home. Most of the townsmen work at the sawmill, and most of the young women have been harassed at one time or another by creepy Johnny Monroe. But Louisa May McAllister, nicknamed Wildflower, knows that revealing her frequent forays to the cemetery, where she talks to her beloved late father, would only rile her embittered mother. She also knows to hide her “secret sense,” as it would evoke scorn from all save eccentric Aunt Sadie, who shares her tomboy niece’s gift. Those secrets come at a cost when, on one of her graveyard visits, Louisa May ignores her premonition of danger. The consequences—somewhat expected yet still horrific—are buffered by the visions into which the 13-year-old escapes. Sharp-witted, strong, curious and distrustful of any authority figure not living up to her standards—including God—Louisa May immerses us in her world with astute observations and wonderfully turned phrases, with nary a cliché to be found. She could be an adolescent Scout Finch, had Scout’s father died unexpectedly and her life taken a bad turn. Though her story is full of pathos and loss, her sorrow is genuine and refreshingly free of self-pity. She accepts that she and her mother are “like vinegar and soda, always reacting,” that her best friend has grown distant, and that despite the preacher’s condemnation, a young suicide victim should be sent “to the head of heaven’s line.” Her connection to the land—a presence as vividly portrayed as any character—makes her compassionate but tough; she’s as willing to see trees as angels as she is to join her brothers-in-law in seeking revenge. By necessity, Louisa May grows up quickly, but by her secret sense, she also understands forgiveness.

A quietly powerful story, at times harrowing but ultimately a joy to read.

Pub Date: April 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0983588238

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Wild Lily Arts

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2012

A must-have for history buffs.

PARALLEL LIVES

A SOCIAL HISTORY OF LIZZIE A. BORDEN AND HER FALL RIVER

The authors (The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Vs. Lizzie A. Borden, 1994) return with a riveting history of the flourishing small town of Fall River, Mass., and its most infamous resident, Lizzie Borden.

It’s been more than eight decades since the death of Lizzie Borden, but interest in the gruesome ax murders that made her famous lives on. This book isn’t intended as a commentary on those murders of August 4, 1892, or speculation about her guilt or innocence; instead, it provides insight into Lizzie Borden, the woman, the city in which she spent most of her life and the society that would later judge her. According to documents, young Lizzie’s implication in her parents’ murders wasn’t based on evidence but merely suggestion and “village gossip.” Varying points of view on the family’s relations—especially between Lizzie and her stepmother—were recorded, but most townspeople distorted the Borden’s evidently normal familial disagreements into a sinister light, spurred on by the macabre events that transpired. The book, culled from exhaustive research by the curators of the Fall River Historical Society, offers an alternate perspective to the previously known particulars. The authors share unprecedented access to never-before-seen documents, memorabilia and other information. The result is an ambitious tome featuring a plethora of information and replete with beautiful photographs. Though the narrative and history are nonlinear, the telling flows seamlessly. The fateful events of August 4, 1892, are discussed early on, but references are peppered throughout, with additional perspective and data. Fall River itself is a compelling character: Its main claim to fame may be Lizzie Borden, but the town—one of the first to open a free library in the United States, in 1860—also persevered through two devastating fires, the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination and multiple instances of embezzlement. Every page may not be dedicated to the Borden family, but the lush history of the town and its many residents somehow connect to the family and its notorious daughter.

A must-have for history buffs.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0964124813

Page Count: 1138

Publisher: Fall River Historical Society

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

A superb pictorial and video meditation on the life of cities.

THE METROPOLIS ORGANISM

A great city is a tiny organism writ large, according to Vitale’s debut multimedia e-book.

Vitale is taken with the idea that the form and function of a metropolis look uncannily similar, from a distance, to those of biological entities. He elaborates the analogy in a series of remarkable photos and embedded video sequences that compare aerial and satellite views of cities with studies of microscopic life-forms. The juxtapositions are striking: a Slovakian town sprawling over the landscape is pictorially paired with an amoeba; twisty, suburban cul-de-sacs are set against a cellular endoplasmic reticulum; the flow of street traffic becomes a “corpuscular circulation system” for the automobiles (blood cells) coursing through it; a video montage of satellite pictures shows Las Vegas swelling through the decades like a burgeoning culture in a desert petri dish. The text also insists that the notion of a city as an organism is literal truth rather than metaphor. Humans, Vitale contends, should give up their anthropocentric belief that they are creators of the urban realm. Instead, humans should adopt the objective viewpoint of a “Scientific Observer” looking down from on high, for whom people would appear as just one of many “unremarkable organelle[s]” servicing the urban superorganism. Visually, Vitale’s CD-ROM e-book is a triumph chock-full of stunning images, on scales both intimate and grand: pretty suburban streetscapes; the awesome high-rise fortress of Kowloon, China’s Walled City; and the wispy Norwegian town of Baerum Akershus, “lacy and fragile, cling[ing] to the earth like a delicate slime net.” Raptly evocative prose crackling with ideas makes a stimulating accompaniment to the visual content. Philosophically, his treatise can be a bit muddled and overstated: Readers know for a scientific certainty that cities are intentionally planned and built by humans; cities aren’t autonomous life-forms that have simply “germinated,” as Vitale would have it. Still, his conceit is a fruitful, fascinating one that yields rich insights into the urban ecology.

A superb pictorial and video meditation on the life of cities.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Longtail Distribution Network

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

A compelling mix of action, drama and love.

FALL FOR YOU

THE JANE AUSTEN ACADEMY SERIES #1: A MODERN RETELLING OF PRIDE & PREJUDICE

Gray’s (A Delightful Arrangement, 2011, etc.) young-adult novel offers a unique twist on a classic.

Lizzie Egmont has her entire life planned out. A junior at the Jane Austen Academy, she plans to become managing editor of the school’s paper, graduate at the top of her class and receive an acceptance letter from Georgetown University—until her school goes coed, that is. When the first male student steps on campus, Lizzie’s dream scuttles off trajectory. Her classmates succumb to boisterous flirtations with the opposite sex, but Lizzie sees trouble. The academy has been sold and the owner’s identity carefully concealed by the new trustees and headmistress. When Lizzie overhears a conversation about plans to change the name of the school, she leaps into action. In the process, she discovers that the truth may cost her friendships and love. As expected from a “modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice,” the book retains the essence of its original cast: Lizzie is bold and beautiful beyond her own good; her love interest, Dante, is stunningly attractive and irresistibly brooding. Fans of Bingley, Jane and Wickham will not be disappointed since the author has taken great care to not only preserve their essences, but also relay them as believable, lovable and flawed teenagers. Dialogue is contemporary, hilarious and honest to Austen’s original characters—just reincarnated in 21st century California. Action and exposition fiercely move readers through a landscape of wealth and ambition, where literature comes to life as readers face contemporary YA issues of conformity, loyalty and identity. Despite its brevity, the novel presents a world just as resonating as those created in some novels triple the size.

A compelling mix of action, drama and love.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Witty and engaging, this short novel will provide readers a dose of hilarity and a quick cure for the workaday blues.

ROOM FOUR

The laugh-out-loud tale of how a hapless accountant endures a three-day coma in the company of another soul in limbo, observing the gritty, often bizarre goings-on of an inner-city emergency room.

It’s just after Christmas, and Alan Fries is confused: Why are nurses wearing antlers hovering over him, and why, instead of watching the Bears–Vikings game, is he hanging out in the ER with an 87-year-old crank named Jerry? Apparently in limbo while awaiting resuscitation or a signed death certificate, the oddball pair become dead flies on the walls in St. Augustine’s—aka Holy Tino’s—an aging Chicago hospital with grave financial issues and a staff of embattled but good-hearted nurses and doctors. This cast of characters could top the Nielsen ratings in a TV sitcom: the doctor who leaves his sperm sample in the fridge, the veteran nurse putting the kibosh on an intern’s crush and the ever-plentiful nutcases who file through the ER’s sliding doors. The flirtations, the combative patients and the increasing suspicions about the hospital CEO all come peppered with Jerry’s curmudgeon commentary and Alan’s naïve curiosity regarding such ephemera as why he can’t activate the paper towel dispenser and whether he should have a bucket or an “unbucket” list. Author Knauss, who practices emergency medicine when not penning novels, structures the narrative on a framework of expertise that gives the story both legitimacy and depth. He also wisely weaves in strands of seriocomic contemplation as Alan regularly ponders his life choices and his treatment of his wife, Laura. He misses her, although strangely, he doesn’t spend time in Room 4, where she waits anxiously with his best friend. Nor does he seem interested in the progress of his tube-ridden, comatose body. But such questions aside, Alan's and Jerry’s repartee and observations are a gas to read, and the subplot that arises about halfway through adds to the sense of purpose that Alan felt was previously lacking in his life. He even plans for the future—provided he recovers.

Witty and engaging, this short novel will provide readers a dose of hilarity and a quick cure for the workaday blues.

Pub Date: April 5, 2012

ISBN: 9781477572436

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2012

All the fun of a children’s book, coupled with the razor-sharp wit and potent insight that seasoned readers crave.

BITOPIA

Magnusson’s debut YA fantasy follows a young boy’s flight from the wrath of bullies, taking him to another world from which there may be no escape.

On the run from bullies, new kid at school Stewart seeks refuge down a storm drain. He winds up lost in a maze of pipes until he steps out into a lush forest and the drain pipe entrance disappears. He encounters Cora, a young girl who takes him to a city hidden behind a great wall. Inside are only children, guided by a book written by the Forebears—the previous inhabitants—and fearing the tall, vicious Venators outside. The venerated book prophesizes a devastating final battle, but Stewart only wants a look at its pages in hopes of finding a way home. Magnusson’s novel is an allegory: The Venators, who merely beat their prey in lieu of killing them, are equated with bullies, while the children, who never age, are the perpetual embodiment of innocence. But Magnusson infuses the narrative with stunning imagery that wallops the senses—the cacophony of a construction site as Stewart passes by or the multitude of colors in the forest. Some of the descriptions are made all the more authentic through the impressionable eyes of a child: Stewart likens the landscape to emerald green ice cream covered with candy. Ample action and suspense, including the predicted conflict between the city and its skeletal enemies, help the plot retain a steady speed. The best moments involve Cora and Stewart running through the forest, dodging the Venators; the book even opens with Stewart midsprint. Despite a theme geared for younger readers and the unmistakable moral lesson of facing one’s fears head-on, the author surprises with somber, mature dialogue, as when the Princeps, the city’s female leader, states bluntly, “[W]e are fairly confident that we are no longer on the planet Earth.” For good measure, there are also talking animals, a protagonist who’s more than deserving of a cheering audience and a bittersweet ending, with a slightly greater emphasis on the sweet.

All the fun of a children’s book, coupled with the razor-sharp wit and potent insight that seasoned readers crave.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0984861057

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Olivander Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

A powerful story that approaches a happy ending—or at least a hopeful one.

THE NEXT TO LAST DRINK

A novel about one man’s struggle with alcoholism and anxiety after hitting rock bottom.

The title refers to something of a mantra, a phrase that former architect Will Valentine repeats to himself because the idea of his very last drink—the one that will probably kill him—is too disheartening to bear. The story follows Will through individual therapy and group sessions as he attempts to rebuild his life and control his alcoholism, which seems to have been both the cause and the result of his deep-seated anxiety. It takes courage to write a book with an unlikable main character and even more to write one with a plot that’s less of an adventure than an internal journey. But Mathieu has a grasp on both the despair and the attendant ennui that accompany the fight for sobriety, and she’s able to effectively express the struggle. Depression is, of course, a complicated subject to write about because of the difficulty in conveying those attendant emotions to someone who is not or has not been in the throes of the disease. Yet Will’s internal debate about visiting his old bar and his belief that he could have just a little bit of wine are heartrending, and his relapse is especially poignant, perhaps because it’s such a believable story. There are a few structural problems, though, particularly with the imprecise amount of time that passes between events. Also, Will’s lack of compassion for his fellow addicts and his impatience with the process of recovery make him somewhat unsympathetic, even as the reader hopes for his sober success.

A powerful story that approaches a happy ending—or at least a hopeful one.

Pub Date: March 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468093254

Page Count: 246

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Part memoir, part journal, part plan-in-progress, Bates has no time for self-pity, preferring instead to celebrate all that...

LOOKING IN THE MIRROR OUT

Labeled with Multiple Personality and Dissociative Identity disorders, author Bates writes about the 18 personalities living in her head.

Bates collectively refers to her personalities as “The Long Black Train.” The train includes: Maverick, alternating between 1 and 5 years old, who is tasked with keeping “Nora” alive; Baby, Kitty, The Little Ones, Lily, Awww, Rant, Fishy and Worm all have their specific jobs; and, it’s up to Time Keeper to keep Maverick informed and the train on the rails. Bates writes her story with clear intent and purpose. Her prose is not meant to enhance, but simply to reveal the unadorned truth of her ongoing struggle with mental illness.  Bates understands that it’s not easy for friends and loved ones to deal with her condition, that they invariably perpetuate the problem with their incessant query of whether she has taken her meds whenever the slightest shift in emotion is detected. In relaying her plight, Bates makes it clear that she isn’t going to accept her fate without a fight. However, it’s that acceptance that allows her to better deal with the issues at hand and enables her to appreciate each victory—such as keeping the voices at bay long enough to have a meaningful conversation with a stranger or completing important tasks. Even with no real linear direction, Bates’ conveyance of the chaos in her head creates its own random flow that falls into an agreeable rhythm of order. The author has put great effort into working on herself, trying to control Rant’s explosive anger and deal with Kat’s self-deprecation, The Little Ones’ deathly fears and Maverick’s lack of drive. Trying to reunite a mind that has fractured into 18 parts is not easy, and Bates rightfully savors her triumphs and accepts setbacks with grace. Showing strength and determination that is often found lacking in “normals,” Bates’ voice is clear and strong, and her message carries weight.

Part memoir, part journal, part plan-in-progress, Bates has no time for self-pity, preferring instead to celebrate all that she is grateful for.

Pub Date: March 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468548426

Page Count: 268

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

A fresh, compelling twist on fantasy, without magic or sorcery.

THE DUCHESS OF THE SHALLOWS

Co-authors McGarry and Ravipinto jump into the fantasy genre: “The time had come to leap before she looked,” with the rest of the book explaining the heroine’s dramatic decision.

Once Duchess’ situation is understood, one can’t blame the 16-year-old for jumping. Originally an aristocrat and now an orphaned bread girl, she lives in a murky city called Rodaas in an unspecified setting that suggests medieval Earth. The world is run on a system resembling modern gang wars—classes manipulate each other and use identifying colors. In fact, life in Rodaas is often described as a game; those who understand have the best odds of survival. When the Grey—a shadowy group that operates between the power elite and the peasants—invites Duchess to join them, she knows this opportunity might save her. The invitation comes via a token that leads her to a contact who assigns her the dangerous mission of stealing a dagger from an evil lord whom unseen players want eliminated. Duchess’ survival instinct screams to reject the mission, but that instinct also knows it’s her only chance to escape the slums and learn why her family was murdered. She can’t do it alone, so she persuades her friend, the beautiful Lysander, to help. Their plan is as dangerous as daily life in Rodaas, where the stones have ears and transgressions can be fatal. McGarry and Ravipinto portray this world in deft prose that weaves back story and plot into a smooth narrative peopled with credible, appealing characters. Although it takes perhaps too long to figure out the story behind the Greys, as well as to understand Duchess’ motivation in undertaking her mission, Rodaas is so deeply realized, and the conflicts so captivating, that the patient storytelling pays off. The story pulls in the reader from the first sentence and doesn’t let go.

A fresh, compelling twist on fantasy, without magic or sorcery.

Pub Date: March 2, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 207

Publisher: Peccable Productions

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

The gripping pursuit and protection of the love of a lifetime.

Repeaters

The petrifying tale of a chain of reincarnations that can only be broken by finding true love.

Kim is a blind college student who’s in a relationship with her biology teacher. When they get engaged, he urges Kim to contact her estranged mother, Astra, a psychiatrist who didn’t come back after leaving Kim at a school for the blind when she was 6 years old. For Astra, having a child was a failed attempt to feel love—the only way for a Repeater to conclude his or her string of lives. Finding herself incapable of the emotion, Astra abandoned Kim; but over a decade later, Astra finds the motivation to monstrously destroy her life as part of their grisly mother–daughter rivalry. The destruction bleeds into 16-year-old Lucy’s life as well; she’s a new patient who’s been having blackouts and flashbacks from another life. Lucy doesn’t yet understand that she, too, is a Repeater. With prose so poetic, it’s easy to forget this is a horror story: One evil action collides with the next as a cursed Repeater ruthlessly seeks the true love she hasn’t yet found in the hundreds of lives she remembers—love that would finally end her streak of reincarnations. More than a battle of good and evil, Ferencik’s (Cracks in the Foundation, 2008) story is rich with layers, well-developed characters, and moments of gruesomeness and tenderness. The loveless malice contrasts sharply with characters—some Repeaters, some not—who feel love so deeply that they seem to glow from it on the page.

The gripping pursuit and protection of the love of a lifetime.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-0981574110

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Waking Dream Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

An exciting, well-written and compassionate eco-thriller with real heroes and a mission worth caring about.

THE GLASS SKY

An American biospherist and a Chinese nanoengineer risk everything to save Earth’s climate in this thriller set 40 years in the future.

By 2050, Earth’s climate is in crisis. Increasing carbon dioxide levels have flooded coastlines, created deserts and worsened political instability. A few biospheres protect vanishing species, but even these preserves are threatened by corruption and graft. When biologist Tania Black is unexpectedly appointed Chief Biospherist to the U.N., she wonders if she can even make a difference. Tian Jie, a Chinese nanotechnologist, has invented a material that—if everything goes right—could make an enormous glasslike sun-shield in space, helping cool the Earth. Amid various dangers and with everything at stake, Tania and Jie (with help from supporters) risk their lives to bring the shield to reality. In his debut novel, Perren draws in the reader with a well-rounded, sympathetic set of characters grounded in an all-too-possible future world. Unlike many thrillers, what’s at stake is real; it matters right now as much as it will in 40 years. Climate change could be a preachy subject, but Perren’s characters are so lifelike that their issues are inseparable from the story, making for a deeply emotional, compelling read. Tania, Jie and friends (including Ruth, the redheaded Green Army member, and Rajit, a math genius) are distinct, funny and smart. Best of all, they’ve got heart. Jie is asked why he’s risking so much; does he have a hero complex? “Jie flexed his arm to show the lack of muscle. ‘A hero? I’m here because I have a 9-year-old son.’ ” Perren’s 2050 is also believable, with many well-thought-out technological and cultural details around the world and on the moon. Some items in this version of the future are intriguing, while some are appalling or amusing, like the ubiquitous burger chain that offers “deep-fried fiber flakes” that contain “zero percent of your daily nutrients.” Perren’s sense of humor helps balance the book’s serious concerns, and the well-explained science, including some helpful diagrams, respects the reader’s intelligence. Pacing, too, is well-handled, with events rushing to a finish that brings together several moving parts and packs an emotional punch.

An exciting, well-written and compassionate eco-thriller with real heroes and a mission worth caring about.

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0987913609

Page Count: 329

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

A solid, page-turning throwback to the golden age of detective novels.

CHASING DIETRICH

In his debut novel, Mears introduces Pinkerton detective Michael Temple, a man sent to Berlin in 1934 with one goal: bring back American film star Sara Potter.

Before he even leaves the airport, Temple is drawn into a web of murder, romance and revenge that leads to the highest echelons of Germany’s emerging Nazi power structure. Paramount hired Temple for a simple mission of retrieval: find the actress Sara Potter and convince her to return to America. Upon his arrival, another emerging starlet is sadistically murdered on the set of the German movie studio UFA, and Temple becomes a suspect. Soon, his every move is watched by the increasingly bold Gestapo; his burgeoning romance with Potter only complicates matters further. Temple’s smartass demeanor bears more than a passing resemblance to Philip Marlowe, although it remains Mears’ distinct creation since his PI is imbued with considerably more warmth than Chandler’s. One of Mears’ major achievements is his thoroughly researched, entirely believable depiction of pre–World War II Germany. His portrayal of the German capital’s streets and neighborhoods, the newspapers of the time, and even Berlin-taxi-driver slang lend the story a credibility that’s lacking in many other period mysteries. An impressive balance of both plot threads—the love story and the political intrigue—propels the story forward. In particular, the tense political climate comes through vividly: Berlin’s citizens are wary of being seen reading the “wrong” newspaper or even discussing politics with lifelong friends. Mears doesn’t shy from portraying well-known personalities, either: Herman Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, the Fuhrer himself, and, as the title suggests, famed screen star Marlene Dietrich all make memorable appearances. Temple is a sympathetic narrator, a vulnerable, even ultimately sentimental detective who wants not only to do his job, but endearingly, to do the right thing. The typos distract a little, and there are perhaps 50 or 60 pages too many, but Mears has created a classic gumshoe novel of the best kind—tough guys and tougher dames, plenty of cocktails, gruesome murder scenes, fast-paced action and whip-smart dialogue. In the tradition of such masters as Chandler and Hammett, it’s all here, covered in a thick patina of cigarette smoke, set to a soundtrack of swing bands and clinking beer steins.

A solid, page-turning throwback to the golden age of detective novels.

Pub Date: May 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461181460

Page Count: 364

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Middle-grade readers (boys especially): Don’t dillydally; grab this nearly flawless book.

BLACKHEART'S LEGACY

BOOK 1 OF THE ODYSSEY OF JON SINCLAIR

In the first book of debut author Copus’ planned series, a boy and his grandmother travel back in time to hobnob with marauding pirates in search of hidden treasure.

Clearly familiar with what should constitute the building blocks of a kid-friendly adventure story, Copus begins the book with a seemingly foolproof plan gone disastrously awry. Alistair and Kathryn (Grammy) Sinclair—12-year-old Jon’s grandparents and full-time guardians following the mysterious deaths of his parents in a plane crash—are gearing up to send Jon to 1776 Philadelphia to witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While retired NASA employee Alistair won’t be joining them in the silver time-travel capsule Carousel this time around, Grammy goes along for the ride to prevent any mishaps. But with a loud whirl and a classic sci-fi jolt, the ship’s malfunctioning navigation device instead sends them crashing to the shores of 1692 Port Royal, Jamaica, kicking their journey into high gear. Soon, Jon is kidnapped by the crew of the Black Opal, led by the notorious Captain BlackHeart. Grammy—disguised as a boy named Gramm—gains passage as a cook on the ship of BlackHeart’s conniving rival, Shark Scar, in hopes of somehow crossing paths with Jon. As the novel picks up speed, so too do the cleverly hidden surprises. BlackHeart isn’t as nasty as he initially seems; it’s easy to root for him and his devoted crew during treasure dives and explosive battles with warring buccaneers, especially since he’s taken the ever-trusting Jon under his wing. Gramm’s grandmotherly resourcefulness in winning over Shark Scar’s mutinous, scurvy-inflicted crew never feels unbelievable, and one character’s just-in-the-knick-of-time appearance adds an element of urgency to an already deliciously thrilling finale. The cliffhanger ending foreshadows an exciting voyage to the lost city of Atlantis.

Middle-grade readers (boys especially): Don’t dillydally; grab this nearly flawless book.

Pub Date: June 23, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450534420

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

A quick, lighthearted romp through the joys of motherhood as told by a real, honest and very funny mom.

A REAL MOTHER

STUMBLING THROUGH MOTHERHOOD

Malloy presents a collection of 39 funny, charming and poignant snapshots of her life as the mother of two boys. 

As is true of most mothers, Malloy notes that she used to have “an individual personality” with hobbies, interests and a career. Then the baby arrived, and the new mom discovered this arrival marked the beginning of a new series of identities: Baby’s Mom, Schoolhouse Mom, Frazzled Mom, Invisible Mom. With gentle humor and wit, the author recounts various moments of motherhood that most mothers will recognize from their own lives. The stories are not reflections on the big occasions of celebration or sadness or drama. These are the short, ordinary, everyday moments often taken for granted, but not here, where they’re examined and savored. Her approach serves as a good reminder that motherhood doesn’t require perfection; that it’s the everyday chaos that makes motherhood so exasperating and yet so worthwhile. This is what it is to be a “Real Mother.” Malloy makes no apology for her conclusions: that the parenting magazines might best be suited for lining the hamster cage; that fathers parent differently; that math will need to be learned all over again; and that the “Land of Perfect Parenthood” is as fictional as never-never land. Rather, Malloy celebrates what “no book could ever teach: common sense” mixed with a little levity. Any mother who has ever herded toddlers, coped with a child’s amazing array of questions and bodily fluids, or tried to appear calm while their insides were raging with worry over a teenager, will find solace, camaraderie and more than a few laughs.

A quick, lighthearted romp through the joys of motherhood as told by a real, honest and very funny mom.

Pub Date: March 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615577319

Page Count: 136

Publisher: A Real Mother

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

A stylish reimagining of the psychic mystery genre.

LAY SAINTS

Influence peddling—the telepathic kind—fuels the big city in this hard-boiled but soulful fantasy thriller.

After years spent conveying the thoughts of small-town coma patients to their relatives, 20-something psychic Calder heads for Manhattan, where he’s snapped up by a man named Sotto and his crew of psychics-for-hire. Like everything else in New York, ESP is a racket: By telepathically sussing out potential blackmail fodder or implanting irresistible commands in a target’s mind, Sotto’s contractors will, for a reasonable fee, convince a client’s troublesome tenant to move, a boss to confer a promotion or a business competitor to close up shop. Unfortunately, Calder’s first assignment—swaying a city councilman’s vote on a real estate development—bogs down when the pol proves to be a rare “stone”—someone impervious to psychic manipulation. Mentored by a psychic amateur boxer who doesn’t mind dishing out the occasional old-school beating-as-persuasion, Calder resorts to ever more frantic mental string-pulling as he fends off a rival crew trying to lobby the council in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, he drinks in an atmospheric demimonde—New York City is in many ways the novel’s beguiling antagonist—that includes a stripper with a heart of gold, a priest with a taste for demented violence and thuggish psychic twins who try to run him out of town with an excruciating headache. Connell (Counterfeit Kings, 2004) pulls the psychic scenario out of the usual mystical dungeon and gives it a bracing, noir-edged urban naturalism. For all their supernatural powers, his characters are prosaic working stiffs: hardened, on the make and embroiled in murderous criminal turf battles, yet reigned in—sometimes—by a modicum of professional ethics or Catholic guilt. Despite their direct links to other minds, they reveal themselves mainly in long, discursive conversations that meander through offbeat observations, half-remembered anecdotes and curlicued philosophical ruminations, all phrased in a fluid, punchy, endlessly entertaining vernacular. The engrossing result feels like an ESP-themed mashup of The Sopranos and The Wire as scripted by Quentin Tarantino.

A stylish reimagining of the psychic mystery genre.

Pub Date: April 23, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 434

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

A page turner of the highest order.

THE FINAL RACE

An intriguing, thought-provoking fusion of medical thriller and apocalyptic fiction.

Physician Chiapco’s debut novel begins with inexplicable outbreaks of deadly diseases all over the southern United States and around the world: brain-eating amoeba, malaria, dengue hemorrhagic fever, etc. With trophozoites (“savage microscopic beasts”) inhabiting the water and hordes of mosquitoes infesting the air, the death count soon rises into the millions; medical infrastructures all over the world verge on collapse. As civilization devolves, unheralded heroes like Bronx Metropolitan Hospital physician Jamal Jackson race to somehow find a way to stop the modern-day plague, which has brought out the worst in human nature—selfishness, brutality and deep-seated prejudice. The pandemic scenario isn’t exactly original, but the brilliance of this storyline comes from Chiapco integrating deeply contemplated scientific speculation (the influence of fossil fuels on climate change and the viability of potential renewable energy sources, for instance) and history (the trans-Atlantic slave trade, racism, etc.) with Jackson’s profound experience with sickle cell disease—his younger brother died from it—and its possible connection to saving the human race. Although the narrative’s multiple-viewpoint structure helps showcase the scope of the looming disaster, it also, in places, slows down the story’s momentum and dilutes some of its impact. Even though Chiapco’s story isn’t character-driven, he succeeds in creating multidimensional players who are integral to the story’s overall arc, like Jackson, meteorology professor John Garrett and even white supremacist Wayne Joseph Tucker. Fans of medical thrillers by Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen and Daniel Kalla (all doctors turned authors, like Chiapco) will find this thematically powerful novel well worth a read.

A page turner of the highest order.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-938223-28-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mill City Press

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A straightforward, engaging spiritual quest and life adventure.

THE JOURNEY HOME

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN SWAMI

An American swami recounts the days he spent wandering through India in the 1960s in search of his true identity.

Swami grew up near Chicago during the ’50s as Richie Slavin, a middle-class Jewish kid. In his teens, he discovers the ’60s counterculture, takes part in civil rights demonstrations, grows his hair long, smokes pot and takes LSD. His best friend, Gary, invites him to Europe for three months during summer vacation after attending his first year at Miami Dade College. The author leaps at the chance; it’s the power of destiny calling. Swami tells the absorbing tale of his travels through Europe and his many adventures and wanderings through India. The intriguing coming-of-age story follows Swami on his spiritual search as he encounters saints, gurus and holy people. He meets Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama and stays with the fearsome Naga Babas, who, the author says, float in midair. He becomes a sadhu, a mendicant beggar who goes from cave to temple to ashram in a ceaseless quest to find his true teacher. Most yogis he encounters want to be accepted as his master, but time after time he refuses, for he has a special fate. Swami is a simple, ingenuous narrator, and he tells a straightforward tale adorned by brief descriptive passages that convey the magic and mystery of India during the early ’70s. The author spices his narrative with intriguing stories that will not only amuse readers, but also convey his deeper yearnings and uncertainties: Is God personal or impersonal? What is the role of meditation, humility and service in spiritual life?

A straightforward, engaging spiritual quest and life adventure.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2010

ISBN: 978-1601090560

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Mandala Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

A stellar sequel that can stand on its own.

TENEMBRAS

AN ELISE T'HOOT NOVEL

A rollicking interplanetary tale of cunning, gumption and the human spirit.

In the not-too-distant future, Earth is environmentally wracked, with much of its population corralled in refugee (i.e. prisoner) camps or dispatched to colonies on far-flung planets. Wireless-network monitoring and mind-reading scans are the norm, tactics for totalitarian “Patriots” to both rein in rebels who revere the Constitution and to keep earthly ethnic and geopolitical loyalties alive in outer space. After one outpost goes down in flames, spacecraft arrive on the planet Tenembras with a doomed settlement’s few remaining vestiges—the exact nature of which must stay off the Patriots’ radar. The band that rallies to protect the payload is wide-ranging enough to warrant the introduction’s playbill-like character list. At the group’s core is Elise t’Hoot, a gutsy technological genius and all-round survivor with a knack for bridging language and cultural barriers between peoples, not to mention between her species and the nonanthropomorphic aliens who are infinitely better-intentioned than most humans. Not immune to the ravages of harsh politics and terrains, t’Hoot succeeds as a poster child for girl power. Wall’s (The Distant Trees: An Elise t’Hoot Novel, Pre-Elise, 2012) Kentucky roots and pride help illuminate her heroine and the folksy, fast-moving narrative, which pits greed and oppression against ingenuity and the basic goodness of humanity. Her high-spirited, irresistible storytelling extrapolates an all-too-possible future from current political and environmental conditions. She fleshes out this could-be world with pitch-perfect dialogue and characterizations, song lyrics that enhance the plot instead of stalling it, and an astute yet accessible command of technology, science and human nature. Despite its length, this unflagging novel invites a one-sitting read.

A stellar sequel that can stand on its own.

Pub Date: April 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1469942995

Page Count: 428

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A fine philosophical text to aid in considering the big ideas.

IMPORTANT NONSENSE

Brutus’ first book of philosophy offers a glimpse into the minds of some of history’s greatest thinkers.

Starting with the ancient Greeks and jumping through cultures and epochs, Brutus leads his readers through various musings on the titular question: Is philosophy merely important nonsense? After focusing by turn on suffering, peace, hope and other philosophical dilemmas, his essays ultimately conclude that philosophy is, indeed, a worthwhile—though occasionally nonsensical—pursuit. Of course, a philosopher would say that; still, while Brutus posits (along with Buddha and others) that life is all about the problem of suffering and how to best deal with it, he nonetheless leans toward the Nietzschean attitude of striving ever forward as the best way to surmount life’s difficulties, rather than developing any new theories on the subject. In fact, Brutus identifies Nietzsche’s philosophy as the cure for the disease of modern life. Brutus also contemplates Wittgenstein’s idea that “doing philosophy” is actually the product of a diseased mind, where one must eventually be cured of this funny habit of pondering existence if one is to “get well.” Therefore, can or should one stop doing philosophy? Wittgenstein, the notoriously dour Austrian, certainly believed so, but here the question is left unanswered for the reader to decide, depending on his or her preferred school of thought. Rather than bringing any new ideas to the table, this book reads more like a primer on philosophical thought throughout the ages, in which Brutus demonstrates considerable command over the looming philosophical questions that continue to plague contemplative modern man.

A fine philosophical text to aid in considering the big ideas.

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615608808

Page Count: 252

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Easily situated to be the primary source for getting your financial life in order.

PADD YOUR WEALTH

An authoritative, all-in-one guide to personal financial planning.

Most current assessments of U.S. consumers’ financial affairs tell a sobering story: Consumers are frequently saddled with educational and credit card debt; most are severely underfunding their retirement. It’s the kind of scenario that demands nothing short of crisis management, and Fevurly’s book is a solid start. While not the panacea for all financial woes, this comprehensive, objective and pertinent guidebook provides plenty of smart, common-sense advice that will benefit almost anyone. Fevurly, an estate planning attorney and personal financial planner, covers all the bases in just enough detail: insurance; investing; income tax planning; expenses like a child’s higher education; the financial impact of life events, such as divorce or death; Social Security; Medicare and more. The author writes in a no-nonsense, straightforward style, moving from subject to subject with adept skill and little drama. Thankfully, he has the ability to explain in simple terms the financial concepts that could otherwise be intimidating to the average reader. Like most financial books, this one has a gimmick: Fevurly offers his advice under an approach he calls “PADD”—Protect your assets, Accumulate monetary wealth, Defend your wealth, and Distribute this wealth during your lifetime for the benefit of yourself, your family and your heirs. It’s an appropriate framework for a financial discussion that is, at times, a bit dry, yet highly relevant to any consumer, regardless the life stage and circumstances. Helpful appendices enhance the text, offering such tools as a data-gathering form, expense worksheets, samples of durable powers of attorney and a glossary.

Easily situated to be the primary source for getting your financial life in order.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-1463792466

Page Count: 436

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

A wacky but wonderful new cozy by a talented author.

GALYA POPOFF AND THE DEAD SOULS

A madcap mystery romp in a coastal California college town, where students fit in studying after hitting the beach.

Down-on-his-luck Hollywood star Lance Steele (aka Pavel Popoff) is temporarily residing with his Russian-professor mother, Galya. Taking Lance’s “stepbrother”—a poodle named Kroshka (Breadcrumb)—for an early morning walk on campus, Galya narrowly escapes being crushed by the body of Chancellor (“Nazi”) Nottbeck falling from the campanile. As in most cozy mysteries, the local police believe the deceased died by accident (free climbing, in this case), but Galya is convinced he was the victim of foul play. She enlists, or forces, her son to investigate, drawing Lance/Pavel into a series of implausible but hilarious situations—e.g., hiding under a widow’s bed while Galya attempts to seduce the officer sent to inform the widow of her husband’s death. George exhibits a skill comparable to Janet Evanovich in crafting the zany ethnic matriarch, with Galya showing more depth and intelligence than Grandma Mazur. As a hapless pawn in his mother’s machinations, Lance is a sympathetic, likable fellow who can’t be blamed for his conflicted feelings for the delectable but young reporter Tiffany/Tanya. (In George’s hands, the fact that nearly every character has at least two names isn’t the least bit annoying.) While the combination of an extremely ethnic Russian in a groovy, surfer-infested beach town might seem unlikely, George not only makes it work, but turns it into a rollicking adventure the reader will not want to end. Detective Michael Lewis stretches credulity a bit too far with his willingness to overlook his former professor’s repeated meddling in a crime scene, but he’s so addled with lust for Nottbeck’s widow, how can he be expected to focus?

A wacky but wonderful new cozy by a talented author.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Several wealthy middle-aged Manhattanites—the baby boomers of the title—have been gruesomely murdered, and Detective Carina...

LATE BOOMER

Benson’s tightly plotted crime thriller is sure to please fans of police procedurals.

Several wealthy middle-aged Manhattanites—the baby boomers of the title—have been gruesomely murdered, and Detective Carina Quintana senses a connection. But how can she prove it? The killer, if he exists, varies his methods and targets and leaves no tangible evidence. Age and wealth are all that the victims have in common. Recently transferred from Miami after her partner was convicted of drug trafficking, Quintana struggles to adjust to New York City and deal with the aftermath of testifying against her former co-workers. Now partnered with the sarcastic Pete Simpson, Quintana attempts to catch the killer without creating panic among the city’s elites. Complications from her personal life—a Cayman bank account, an old lover and a connection from Miami—add to her troubles. Benson’s characters are well-drawn, and Quintana is a noteworthy heroine. The author handles her past and sexuality with a light hand, not overplaying the character. Instead, he keeps her guarded and subtle, without verging into clichéd stereotypes about damaged cops. While her decision-making is sometimes clouded, she is believable as a police officer. Secondary characters—the caffeine-addicted Simpson, a particularly droll FBI crime profiler, and New York City itself—are realistically portrayed, adding interest. Chapters narrated from the point of view of the killer contrast interestingly with Quintana’s chapters; comparison reveals both characters are relatively isolated and self-protective. The novel’s pacing is energetic and engaging, and the story flows almost too quickly. Happily, Benson’s epilogue suggests that Quintana may return in a future novel set in Miami Beach. A compelling police procedural with a contemporary setting and an intriguing heroine worthy of a series.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Though the pages are few, Wayman’s practical, sunny advice is plentiful.

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FENG SHUI FOR FIDO

RUNNING WITH THE BIG DOGS WHILE LIVING IN STYLE

An easy-to-follow guide for a healthy, happy home for you and your pets.

The feng shui that Wayman refers to is less about the Chinese practice of acquiring good chi through the arrangement of objects and their energies and more about having a comfortable home that is low-maintenance yet welcoming and accommodating to your pets. Living with three large dogs, Wayman shares the ups and downs of canine companionship and passes on lessons she learned through trial and error. She clearly states that her intention is to offer simple, friendly advice, not a training tool. Dog owners will glean tips on simple home repair due to chewing, scratching and other destructive habits, as well as helpful hints on ways to protect home furnishings and create easy clean-up solutions for various areas of the home. Owners will also learn how to make clean, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing dog beds, and much more. Through trial and error, as well as necessity, Wayman learned to be handy in home repair, which, she says, she found to be surprisingly easy and rewarding. With consideration for the environment, Wayman’s suggestions are strongly steeped in recycling and reusing old items, not to mention thrift-store buys. Even with her self-proclaimed addiction to fabric, Wayman’s decorating suggestions are efficient, functional and budget friendly. Beyond the ideas for eye-pleasing décor and helpful teething tips, Wayman’s main achievement is in helping dog owners create an environment—whether it be one room or the run of the house—that is emotionally healthy and enjoyable for both canine and human.

Though the pages are few, Wayman’s practical, sunny advice is plentiful.

Pub Date: May 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-1607469841

Page Count: 108

Publisher: FastPencil, Inc.

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2012

A wonderful confidence-booster for kids at home and school.

I'M NOT PERFECT. SO WHAT?

A young girl builds self-esteem in Dahnke’s debut children’s book.

One day, young Carol comes home from school in tears; she’s upset that she struck out during a softball game. Her confidence and self-esteem are low because she feels she’s the worst in her class, as she’s invariably chosen last for her classmates’ teams. Sensitive to her daughter’s plight, Carol’s mother gives her a hug and then reminds her that her value as a person is completely unrelated to her ability to hit a softball. Wisely, her mother advises Carol to instead focus on the things she can do well: ballet, piano, art; after all, she won first place in the county fair. As her mother’s words gradually sink in, Carol realizes that although she may not be the best softball batter in class, she’s still an important, valuable part of the team: She can catch, run fast and help keep score thanks to her math skills. While Carol goes through life, she frequently considers her mother’s words; they help her mature into a strong, successful woman with a child of her own. When her own son returns home one day in tears after forgetting his lines in a play, Carol recalls her mother’s words of wisdom. She uses them to remind her son of all his talents. Soon, forgetting a few lines isn’t such a big deal, and he can finally conclude, “I’m not perfect. So what?” Written in rhyming couplets, Dahnke’s story will be fun to read aloud to your child or together. The enjoyable verse is a great technique for maintaining the movement of the story and for helping young children follow along. Parents will appreciate the heartwarming nudge toward valuable self-esteem for children who may not fit in. Young readers will hopefully understand that they’re special, even though they can’t be good at everything.

A wonderful confidence-booster for kids at home and school.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 17

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2012

A stellar thriller that handily juggles its formulaic elements to achieve near-perfect liftoff.

Sea of Crises

Debut author Steere shows off his air-and-space mastery in this swashbuckling tale of Apollo 18, the moon landing that never was.

In Steere’s version of 1976, astronauts Bob Cartwright, Mason Gale and Steve Dayton head toward the moon to explore the lunar feature known as Mare Crisium, but the landing team of Cartwright and Gale discovers something out of place. Water? Aliens? A black monolith? The world never finds out, since the crew isn’t heard from or seen again until their capsule, a charred wreck containing three crisp corpses, plunges into the Pacific. Thirty years later, Nate, Peter and Matt—the sons of mission commander Cartwright—find themselves tangled in the investigation of what really happened. Peter, a journalist, starts it all by ferreting out NASA documents and questioning Gale’s surviving relatives in Minnesota. Now he’s being followed. Oldest brother Nate, a crack legal consultant, comes to the rescue in LA by using his organizational skills to execute evasive maneuvers against bad guys who send impolite warnings in the form of animal carcasses. The two escape to Idaho in search of Matt, Peter’s twin, who was once attached to an off-the-grid military-intelligence unit known as the Organization. Things get devilishly complicated, conspiratorial and dangerous as the brothers are pushed toward the Atlantic coast amid a series of revelations in the form of flashbacks to the lunar sea. Steere’s high-octane suspense tale takes off with all the intrigue and honor of the best Space-Age Westerns and political thrillers. Good guys, bad guys, damsels in distress, secret tunnels, sexy aircraft, heavy ordnance and gadgets galore are set handsomely by Steere’s deft renderings. A bit of melodrama and some boilerplate dialogue don’t derail this solidly built module whose commanding verisimilitude will enthrall space and tech enthusiasts as well as anyone ready for adventure.

A stellar thriller that handily juggles its formulaic elements to achieve near-perfect liftoff.

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985401405

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Penfield Publications

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

A charming portrait of unadulterated pet love.

THE ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER

MY LIFE WITH AN AMERICAN PIT BULL TERRIER

Mercadante, a librarian and animal lover, recounts the life lessons she and her family learned after she adopted a pit bull.

Rumer—named after novelist Rumer Godden—was a puppy “the size of a sausage.” She was an ordinary dog who nonetheless touched the lives of everyone who knew her. With her sideways glance and mascara eyes, she shattered the myths attached to this unfairly maligned, naturally loving dog breed. Whether carrying out her self-appointed task of corralling the horses, participating in daily visits to nearby family members, riding the No. 8 golf cart, playing hockey with her “uncle” or wearing crazy glasses for Halloween, Rumer demonstrated the keys to a life well lived: guilelessly give and receive and seize the moment. Mercadante follows Rumer from her carefree, funny puppy days through a rebellious adolescence, to her physical peak of adulthood and finally to her heartbreaking but courageous end. She evocatively brings to life not only the boundless, inspiring spirit of a dog who “smells like fresh-cut grass, baked pork, and a hint of unmentionables,” but also the beauty of the Southampton, Mass., landscape and the sacredness of a moment. Even more importantly, she sheds light on the importance of understanding the pit bull for its admirably loyal nature—not for its unfortunate stereotype forged by cruel, inhumane owners intent on turning these promising animals into violent attack dogs. Rumer, on the other hand, proved herself to be a joyous, loving and good-natured soul who wholeheartedly embraced life and eagerly became a grounded center for each family member. Also included here is a delightful centerfold featuring photos of Rumer and her family.

A charming portrait of unadulterated pet love.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462027620

Page Count: 236

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

For fans of noir-laden science fiction in the vein of Philip K. Dick that is in equal measures suspenseful, gripping, darkly...

KINGDOM

Against a backdrop of dystopian urban sprawl and human suffering, a morally questionable scientific corporation hunts for the gene responsible for the soul in O’Donnell’s debut novel, the first in a planned sci-fi trilogy.

As the novel begins, the chronology bounces forward and backward from the late 1980s—when scientist Jonathan Campbell flees from the “Exodus” project he has been working on after he discovers the horrifying human experiments authorized by his employer, Mr. Morrison—to a grim 2015. In the not-too-distant future, Morrison has nearly reached his goals, which involve genetic experimentation and test-tube humans, and Campbell has spent the past 30 years hiding among a secret order devoted to cultivating the soul, part of which involves rescuing Morrison’s human collateral damage. Meanwhile, the novel also tracks a troubled, drug-addicted young man, Dylan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s father was once a promising presidential candidate before committing suicide when Dylan was a boy—a thread that dovetails with the main arc in surprising, harrowing ways. O’Donnell captures the darkness in humanity and the world, particularly in such elegantly composed passages as this one: “Morrison imagined women and children packed into…overcrowded refugee camps…mistaking the deployment of a Predator missile for a shooting star, making a wish as a $40 million toy dealt death from impossible heights.” The overall effect is a taut, brilliantly conceived thriller with impeccable pacing bursting with ideas.

For fans of noir-laden science fiction in the vein of Philip K. Dick that is in equal measures suspenseful, gripping, darkly funny and philosophically challenging.

Pub Date: May 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615553184

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Tiber City Press

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Roman charms with an imaginative, whimsical picture book that will entertain even the oldest pirates.

CAPTAIN NO BEARD

AN IMAGINARY TALE OF A PIRATE'S LIFE

Debut author Roman pens a picture book about an imaginative boy who transforms his bed and stuffed animals into props for a marvelous pirate adventure.

Roman draws the reader in from the first page with illustrations that are cheerful and clever. The story showcases a young pirate and his menagerie: cousin Hallie, a first mate who sports a purple bandanna and ruffled pirate shirt; Linus, the loudmouthed but scaredy-cat lion with a braided goatee; Fribbet, the floppy frog with an audacious red pirate hat; and Mongo, the mast-climbing monkey who charms with an eye patch and endearingly oversized lips. Roman deftly creates an appealing visual experience with engaging, bright illustrations that will appeal to young readers. The characters are rich with animated expressions and personalities that showcase the creative and warmhearted ways the characters have fun. Well-drafted secondary characters also include the “mermaid” who appears with a plate of golden doubloons (in the form of cookies) and orders the pirate not to get crumbs on the bed when eating them. The text has a lovely intonation when read aloud, and the simple, understandable story also carries a more complex, clever subtext that will allow for educational discussions. The captain’s constant good-natured lament that “being a captain is hard work”—as he watches his crew do all the actual labor—is hilarious and a pleasant opportunity to teach children about the nuances of words and their layers of meaning. The author’s adept use of genuine pirate terms—“swab the decks,” “pump the bilges” and “me hearties”—adds flavor and authenticity to the story, too. The captain and his crew sit down with a dictionary to figure out what “shiver me timbers” means, and then they take great delight upon using the phrase correctly; children will, too.

Roman charms with an imaginative, whimsical picture book that will entertain even the oldest pirates.

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615534657

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Michael/Okon

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Profound, provocative and sure to spark a reaction.

THE WATER THIEF

In a world ruled by capitalism, an empathetic corporate worker questions the principles upon which the society functions.

Soutter’s debut novel is a scathing, ceaselessly engaging examination of capitalism and corporatism. At Ackerman Brothers Securities Corporation, Charles Thatcher works as a perception manager; his job is to process and deflect any negativity regarding the corporation. Now that the government has crumbled, capitalism is the new regime, with constant demands for profitable information, either substantiated or speculative. Charles hopes for higher compensation by spinning the story of a woman stealing rainwater, but soon after his ploy, he begins to mull over the consequences and regret his actions. A meeting with Kate, a friend of the woman, leaves Charles reassessing the value of a civilization run by the rich, as he wonders how long capitalism can sustain itself. The story intimates that men and their actions—not just an immaterial idea—are the essential cause of immorality, but it centers on the undesirable fallout of money as the corollary source of power. Soutter’s vision of capitalistic supremacy is gleefully absurd: A simple elevator ride costs five cents per floor, and information is only conveyed for a price. Societal classes are now purchasable contracts, and the poor reside in LowSec (Low Security); a citizen’s lot in life, like all commodities, is bought and paid for. There are also welcome dashes of satire derived from characters unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge irony: a perception manager writing a report on an unflattering anti–perception management story; Linus, Charles’ higher-ranking colleague, offers an alternative moral regarding mendacity (he’s not against lying, but rather against telling the same lie more than once). Charles has many lengthy discussions with Kate over now-archaic standards (to them), like people electing other people into power, but their talks are never tedious or repetitive. Their conversations also lead to one of the book’s most potent lines: “The single best indicator of where you end up in life is where you start, no matter what the capitalists tell you.”

Profound, provocative and sure to spark a reaction.

Pub Date: April 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1467972277

Page Count: 248

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

A classic in the making, this collection of time-traveling sci-fi stories mixes gripping human narratives with provocative...

LIFE IN CONTINUUM

STORIES

A dazzling collection of time-travel–themed sci-fi that stands with some of the classics of the genre.

In Whose Time, the novella that opens this collection, distills complex theoretical physics into an attention-grabbing yarn. According to the story, particular moments in history create focal points from which new universes in other dimensions branch outward. Ambassadors from two different futures created by one such focal point—the launch of a seemingly innocuous communications satellite—travel back in time to the Earth days before liftoff. If she can ensure that the satellite isn’t launched on schedule, Sha’raelon’s timeline begins; if it’s launched on time, the universe of Jarren Canto is ascendant. Each timeline has its attractions and perils, and it’s up to the people of the Earth to choose their future. Unfortunately, neither ambassador has been completely honest about what’s in store for humankind....There are big ideas in this story—grandfather paradoxes, temporal loops—yet the pacing never flags, and the plot’s contortions of time and space are original and thrilling. The title story is a gritty future noir about two cops on a mission to deliver a warrant in a lawless city. The twist at the end of this short, brutal tale—a nightmarish vision of penal system privatization—delivers the satisfying impact of a classic Twilight Zone episode. “Crossover,” the final story, has a similarly surprising conclusion. A husband grieving his wife’s death becomes intrigued with a scientist friend’s research: experiments involving separating the soul from the body by means of extreme physical experiences. The husband devises his own test to see if, once freed, a soul could re-enter its body at an earlier time and change the future. The results are literally as well as figuratively breathtaking. All three of these stories are brightly and engagingly written, with solid dialogue, compelling characters and scenarios that, no matter how elaborate, never undermine the momentum of the stories.

A classic in the making, this collection of time-traveling sci-fi stories mixes gripping human narratives with provocative scientific speculation.

Pub Date: May 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475053890

Page Count: 272

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Exciting, immersive and authentic.

THE CHRONICLES OF IONA: EXILE

This historical novel, set in sixth-century Scotland, relates the struggles of St. Columba to establish his monastery and of Aedan mac Gabran to gain a kingship.

In 563, Columba, an exiled abbot (and future saint), arrives with his monks on the west coast of Scotland, hoping to establish a monastery. The pagan King Conall agrees to give them the isle of Iona, if they can wrest it somehow from the Picts—a seemingly impossible task. Aedan mac Gabran, a dispossessed cousin of the king, befriends Columba; as a prince of Ireland, the abbot could make a good ally. When the woman Aedan loves marries someone else, he sinks into a meaningless life dedicated to taking on all comers: “They could devise no feat to best him.” Meanwhile, Columba struggles with spiritual darkness, and the monks’ temporary home is invaded in a bloody raid. Columba devises a bold scheme: exchange an important Pictish hostage for Iona. Aedan—feeling he has little to lose—agrees to help. On the long, dangerous journey, Aedan proves to be an expert warrior and Columba, having regained his hopeful sense of wonder, directs them through several tight spots through miracles he performs. As a medieval historian, de Fougerolles is deeply informed: Her novel includes historical notes, a glossary and a chronology, as well as hand-drawn maps. Throughout, the reader learns of the Dark Ages’ complicated cultural scene, as when, for instance, Columba wonders about Aedan’s status: “Were the young man a high lord, his clothing would have been far more gaudy: back home, in Hibernia [Ireland], a slave was permitted to wear only one color, and a farmer two, but a king could sport as many as six colors at once.” But this is no textbook: The characters come alive with complex inner lives, and Columba’s spiritual struggles take on a fully rendered significance that matches Aedan’s love affair. The hazardous journey sparks with rescues, magic, monsters, escapes and miracles. Through it all, de Fougerolles writes well: “Could Aedan tame Draig, stallion of the Visigoths, killer of men…unridden because of his ferocity? (Not hard: Aedan whispered it words of comfort and love and, head bowed, the grateful, terrified beast came to his hand.)” The first in a planned series, this historical novel will leave readers eager for more.

Exciting, immersive and authentic.

Pub Date: May 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615602547

Page Count: 394

Publisher: Careswell Press

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

A compelling narrator drives this strong, sympathetic tale that begets metaphysical soul-searching.

YOU SHOULDN'T CALL ME MOMMY

In a future where artificial humans have become common household helpers, a government-employed therapist must question his faith in the system he has long supported.

Orphaned at a young age, Jay was raised by a “humaniform,” a robot programmed as a caretaker. Jay’s older brother, Ian, was 18 when their parents died. Jay loved his robotic mother, and he feels abandoned and betrayed by Ian, who hates humaniforms. When Ian reappears in Jay’s life, he asks Jay to testify that Ian is a responsible enough father to take custody of his children without the help of a humaniform. Jay hopes that Ian might learn to accept humaniforms. But Ian persists in trying to prove that the robots and the government that provides them—the government that Jay works for—are both corrupt and dangerous. As Ian tries to influence Jay’s life, Jay realizes that his wife, Sasha, may not be as sympathetic toward his work as she had always appeared. In order to defend his own position, and protect his childhood memories, Jay must probe into the workings of his world—and he begins to see that there is a sinister element behind his apparently benevolent government. Though Tsui’s setting may not hold up to deep analysis, Jay’s imperfect understanding of it allows readers to see the world through a filtered lens—and share Jay’s horror as he unravels the truth behind the system he thought he knew. His relationships, with humans and humaniforms alike, are genuine in their complexity, and as Jay begins to understand the truth, he ultimately learns how much he values his loved ones. Questions of human identity, illusion versus reality and the types of sacrifice required for true caregiving continually move the story forward.

A compelling narrator drives this strong, sympathetic tale that begets metaphysical soul-searching.

Pub Date: June 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985667603

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Onieros Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Sexy, savvy and utterly satisfying.