This comic, intellectual fantasy is a quick read that inspires cringing and knee-slapping in equal measure.

THE WICKED SON

A skeptic confronts all manner of religious absurdities in Neuman’s (Superpowers, 2011, etc.) upside-down fantasyland.

Dr. John Aster doesn’t give much credence to the apocalyptic ramblings of two sisters who show up in his office one afternoon. He’s a psychologist. They’re crazy. He orders them into treatment. That’s that. But it’s not: In retribution, the sisters transport Dr. Aster (whose name always appears in the book with his honorific, as a constant reminder that he represents the skeptical world of secular science) to Wendle, a world where people believe and experience far wilder things than ranting sisters. Readers will recognize bits of earthly religion in the vulgar, brutal world of Wendle; it’s far from flattering. There’s blind allegiance to puzzling religious texts, clannish violence and ritualized oppression of the lower classes—except it’s all darkly funny. Dr. Aster, who discovers he has some clumsy wizarding powers of his own, finds himself at the center of Wendle’s apocalyptic prophecy. Everyone, it seems, has a different idea of the role the doctor is supposed to play there: Is he to be the instrument of Wendle’s destruction or its savior? Or perhaps he’s meant to settle down on the side of an active volcano and raise a family? Most of the plot is set as an Odyssean journey through Wendle on the eve of its apocalypse, with the gentle, drunken, red-haired Pinzle and a sex-crazed princess tagging along as Dr. Aster’s Greek chorus. Each page finds the crew in a new, even crazier milieu; fast-forward a chapter and the plot has changed completely. The humor is dry and deadpan, deriving mostly from the Wendle-dwellers’ straight-faced acceptance of the absurdity that surrounds them. The framing conceit, however—the author, Neuman himself, has been driven crazy in the writing of his manuscript—adds very little to the story. The addled author is sympathetic by the end of his crazy book, but there’s no need for a transparent reminder that Wendle’s brand of madness is patently human.

This comic, intellectual fantasy is a quick read that inspires cringing and knee-slapping in equal measure.

Pub Date: May 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468132540

Page Count: 374

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2012

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Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.

NO REMORSE

Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.

Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.

Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0980806601

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Marq Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2012

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With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the...

OUT OF THE SHADOWS

Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.

Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?

With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.

Pub Date: April 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0984991808

Page Count: 389

Publisher: First Snow Publishing House

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2012

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