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 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

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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A persuasive, valuable addition to the ongoing immigration reform debate.

SHOW TRIALS

HOW PROPERTY GETS MORE LEGAL PROTECTION THAN PEOPLE IN OUR FAILED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM

A highly organized, informative discussion of the immigration system in the United States.

In this politically charged environment, Afrasiabi manages to broach the volatile issue of immigration in a well-rounded, surprisingly effective framework that combines case studies, historical research, statistical analysis and personal anecdotes to detail the current issues and propose solutions. Invocations of Kafka, “The Twilight Zone” and “Alice in Wonderland” prove warranted as illustrations of the often surreal circumstances that confront immigrants facing deportation. Immigrants usually lack access to quality legal representation, while their situation can be made doubly difficult due to language barriers and significant cultural differences. Afrasiabi incorporates his work with colleagues and students at the Chapman University School of Law to deftly weave together the facts of several compelling cases and their underlying legal issues, with a genuine sense of suspense as readers wonder if justice will be truly be served. Occasionally, though, the narrative becomes overwrought—two federal laws passed in 1996 are “dark storm clouds depositing their sleet”—although, considering the life-changing effects of court decisions, it’s difficult to overstate the ramifications: extralegal rendition of individuals with pending cases and the de facto deportation of native-born children whose parents are deported. Afrasiabi also addresses the legacy of various anti-alien laws in California, as well as marriage equality for same-sex couples when one partner is a noncitizen. As the subtitle asserts, Afrasiabi employs his additional experience in the field of property law to contrast the stark differences between immigration judges and constitutional judges, like their qualifications, vetting processes and even the oaths they take. His arguments culminate in seven concrete reforms proposed in the conclusion. In order to make the immigration system more just and effective, Afrasiabi claims the solutions are closer than we may think; we can implement procedures and safeguards already in place within the constitutional courts.

A persuasive, valuable addition to the ongoing immigration reform debate.

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 249

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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