A powerful family saga by a writer with talent to burn.

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Big Jack Is Dead

A hellacious father retains his grip on his son’s psyche even after death in this darkly brilliant debut novel.

Jack Hickman Jr. has carved out a niche in affluent, anomic Sunnyvale, Calif., developing team-building software. It’s as close to real human engagement as his free-floating alienation (and violent fantasies) will allow. He’s called back to the wasteland of Lowfield, Texas, where he grew up, after his father, Big Jack, kills himself, and he weathers agonizing encounters with his mother and brother, both zoned-out drug addicts, and his stepmother, an officious woman who upbraids him for his callow misanthropy. The story of his bleak odyssey is interspersed with scenes from his even bleaker boyhood under his father’s thumb. Big Jack was a titan of runty, redneck rage, a welder who compensated for his small stature and smaller prospects with an explosive temper, caustic sarcasm and guns; he also had a knack for cruelly twisting the insecurities of anyone weaker than him, including his children, his wife and his many girlfriends. Smith uses acid-etched scenes of abuse, pervaded with menace and humiliation, to create a disturbing study of domestic terror at its most intimate. Yet Big Jack is punishingly human, a link in the great chain of threat and belittlement that is working-class masculinity; his impulses toward charity and beauty yield only baffling pain and squalor. Smith brings his magnetic characters to life with penetrating psychological insight, pitch-perfect dialogue and subtly evocative imagery, and he sets them in a sharply observed panorama of the industrial Gulf Coast, with its trash-strewn ditches, fire-ant mounds and moldy trailer courts. It’s a “concrete and salt-grass landscape under rust skies made of pipes and catwalks,” harboring a life that amounts to “a great nothingness…a hissing television on a dead station.” Smith’s tale is a riveting update of Southern gothic themes, told with dead-on realism and raw intensity.

A powerful family saga by a writer with talent to burn.

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-1482563658

Page Count: 284

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.



In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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