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A Peek in the Window

Stephanie A. Collins Author Interview

Stephanie A. Collins Author Interview

With Angel’s Wings is one mother’s raw and heart-wrenching account of her life with two daughters with special needs. I understand that this book was based on your life. What made you want to put your story into a novel?

I never meant to write a book. I wrote therapeutically through some tough times (which was helpful). Nurses and therapists who were in our home through those years read what I had written and strongly encouraged me to share our story. Well…all except for one physical therapist who said, “Be careful who you allow to read this; child protective services may be called.” That bit of advice certainly fed into any misgivings and concerns I had about publicizing our tale! After years of prompting, though, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes tight, and sent it out for the world to judge me to their hearts’ content. I’m glad I did. The most gratifying moment was when a mother of a toddler boy who has Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome messaged me and said, “I happened to stumble upon your book. Before I read it, I thought there was no way anyone could possibly understand what I’m going through and how I’m feeling. After reading it, I went out and bought 3 more copies to hand out to my family members in the hopes that as they read about you they’ll better understand me.” That’s what it’s all about, right?

You describe every obstacle encountered as you come to terms with your daughters’ challenges. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?

Given the fact that I was writing therapeutically, I can’t say any part of our story was particularly difficult to write. Writing it down was what made things a bit easier. That being said, there are multiple parts that I still can’t read without crying (most of the marathon IV poke sessions, when Sarah [“Hannah” in the book] coded in my arms, when she got her I.O.’s…I could go on and on). The one section that I avoid reading whenever possible, and when I do have to read it, I feel physically ill, is the section about my “breakdown” (when I [apparently] threw the knife at my husband). There are so many things I would change if I had the ability to go back, knowing what I know now (not that I’d ever want to!). One of the biggest is the way I addressed my depression (or DIDN’T address, as the case often was). I now understand just how big a role depression (and PTSD) played in our story. I wish I had known more about it then, taken it more seriously…and cut myself a little more slack, which hopefully would have allowed me to relax a little more and address every other aspect of my life a little more successfully.

Hannah’s is diagnosed with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. What are some misconceptions about this condition and how did you educate yourself on it?

Well, to have misconceptions, I suppose you’d have to have any concept at all. Not only had I never heard of the diagnosis, but very few people I’ve come across have ever heard of it, so finding out I was wrong in my thinking hasn’t really been a problem. Something I definitely understand now that I didn’t before is that within every genetic diagnosis there’s a spectrum – not all with the same diagnosis present the same picture. There are, for instance, individuals with Down Syndrome who you hardly recognize as having the disorder, who are quite independent, and those who are much more involved, who are completely dependent on the care of others. Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome is no different. Some WHS kids are quite high functioning…Sarah is not; she’s at the lower end of the spectrum. I have to remind myself of that, sometimes, when I’m feeling guilty over burnout and other WHS moms are posting about what a JOY their son/daughter is in their lives (along with pictures of them going to prom or enjoying a trip to Disney World). Same diagnosis in no way equates to same experience.

Because there isn’t a ton written about WHS, a lot of what I’ve learned has come more recently, since the explosion of social media. This is the generation that specialists are looking to for data on growth charts and life expectancy. That means we don’t have information to look at, but we have a wealth of experiences shared by many families that offer some clues as to what to possibly expect or watch for.

This is an emotional book that, I felt, was honest. What do you hope readers take away from your story?

For the “general population” reader I hope to offer a “peek in the window” of a family living a life likely very different from their own. When the reader sees a medically fragile child on the street, maybe that child will be looked at with more admiration for his/her strength, rather than pity. Maybe if the reader comes across an autistic child, he/she will be a little more patient and a little less judgmental toward both the child and the parent, alike. It can also be just plain interesting to read about others facing challenges we aren’t. It’s the little details that make you say, “Oh yeah…I never even THOUGHT of that being an issue!”

For readers within the special needs community, I hope to offer hope that if I could find the light at the end of my tunnel, you can, too. I hope to offer companionship by way of admission to my own doubts, frustrations, struggles, and screw-ups. I hope that a fellow special needs parent will understand this book is me saying, “You are not alone. You are not wrong for the way you feel. This, too, shall pass. And you are stronger than you know. You can do this.”

Author Links: GoodreadsTwitterFacebookWebsite

With Angel's Wings by [Collins, Stephanie A.]

With Angel’s Wings is the true story of Laura, a young wife and mother of a three-year-old daughter. Her husband, Kevin, a marine, is deployed overseas, leaving Laura to give birth to their second daughter and handle the two young children on her own.

Thirteen days after the birth of her youngest, the pediatrician detects a heart murmur. That leads to just the first of multiple diagnoses for both of her daughters, sending Laura on an unexpected and emotional journey into the world of parenting medically-fragile, special needs children.

Right when Laura fears she will break under the incredible pressure, she encounters the beauty of true love, in a most unexpected and unconventional way.

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A Bit of Suspense is Needed

Jack Petersen Author Interview

Jack Petersen Author Interview

The Birthday Club is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a thriller, suspense, and mystery as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?

In my view, fiction is rarely of one genre or another but contain elements of many. I think it is the balance that counts. If a bit of suspense is needed at one point to drive home the plot of the mystery then why not? In fact, I’m not convinced that genres such as mystery and suspense can be separated. Does one not contain some of the other? As for how it happens, in my case it is my intent to write fiction from multiple points of view, to present as rounded a picture of the “operating” environment as possible, and to-most of all-keep it interesting. I’m not sure that I ever, while writing, classify what I am doing as being mysterious or suspenseful, or even thrilling. Even though it is my desire that my writing provides all three experiences to the reader.

The characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?

That is a difficult question to answer. Getting at it in reverse fashion the characters who offered a more concise, non-emotional point of view were the most difficult simply because a lot of thought had to go into keeping the story line rational yet “humanly” interesting. I had a lot of fun with Sylvester Martin because rationality wasn’t among the most important of his characteristics, but I think the “favorite” title must be split between Chris and Angelina. They represent opposite poles in a sense: One closed and taciturn the other open and vulnerable.

There are a lot of great twists in this novel that I rarely saw coming. Did you plan your novel or did the twists come as you were writing?

I’ve tried writing to an outline on several occasions. The only successful attempt was writing my Master’s thesis in Geology; where not following an outline would have been a disaster. While writing fiction I once made it through a chapter and a half on my outline before I trashed the thing. Other attempts have not been nearly so successful. Yes writing without formal pre-planning (we all think of ideas at night that are incorporated in the next day’s effort) can lead to a quagmire–been there and sunk up to my nose–but it generally works for me. Even if it means I have to go back and totally revise three-quarters of a manuscript to incorporate a new idea.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be published?

Philippe, sequel to The Birthday Club, was finished earlier this year, and is available in both e-book and paperback formats on Amazon and as an e-book on Smashwords. I am now contemplating a third in the series, but have not yet made a start with a pen.

Author Links: Website | Smashwords | GoodReads

The Birthday Club by [Petersen, Jack]When you’re in high school nothing ever seems important about the far distant future. Like five years down the road. Who cares? You’ve got enough to worry about. So, should we add a new member to the group? Not a problem, even if he’s a little strange. See something bad happen in the neighborhood? So what? It happened to someone else’s dog.

After graduation, things change of course. Five years doesn’t seem so far down the road anymore. So you kind of get involved in your own stuff and your high school buddies have their own lives to live anyway. Most of those things that happened back in high school just aren’t important. Maybe. 

Maybe not. Like that fender bender you witnessed with all your friends. The one that will turn out to be a whole lot more important than even Dee Dee’s owner thought at the time. Think about it, that little incident on Fuller Street might be just the thing to make your name in the Criminal Investigation Seminar this semester. Who would care if what really happened then became known? It’s ancient history, right?

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Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet

Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet by [Martek, Igor]

Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet, by Igor Martek, follows the trials and tribulations of Ricky, a man facing one dilemma after another in his life in the Middle East. Ricky is a Filipino man making his way in Kuwait and struggling to come to terms with his career demands while taming the turmoil that is his love life. When Breeze, his girlfriend from China, is not in the picture, Ricky is coping with a love lost with Leoni. The on-and-off love triangle that looms over Ricky leaves him contemplating his life choices and provides readers with a character who is philosophical, introspective, and, at times, a bit morbid.

Ricky often finds himself at odds with his own desires. As a character, he is trusting–far too trusting, in fact. Over the course of the book, he runs the gamut of emotions. He finds himself contemplating religious expectations, the course of his career, and the real reasons he may or may not belong with Breeze.

I found myself hard-pressed to like Breeze; it was a real struggle. As a reader, I wanted desperately for Ricky to find himself, find a way to cope with Breeze’s flighty nature, and realize her true intentions. The author does a wonderful job of keeping frustration levels high in that respect. If anything, Breeze is true-to-life. There is no fairy tale resolution where she is concerned. The relationship between Ricky and Breeze runs hot and cold, and I felt myself quickly realizing that Ricky could do much better than Breeze. Her tendency to talk down to him and to leave him wondering where he stands left me disconcerted and hurting for him.

As much disdain as I held for Breeze, I may have disliked Leoni even more. She, too, comes in and out of Ricky’s life with little or no warning and shakes up his emotions, his intentions, and his choices. Leoni seems to use Ricky to stroke her own ego and comfort herself following each of her subsequent divorces. Martek has created quite the triangle with Leoni, Breeze, and Ricky. Ricky spends a lot of time recounting his past experiences with both women, and the story tends to bounce back and forth fairly randomly.

Martek paints beautiful pictures of his settings. His vivid details in scenery and the cuisines of each of the cultures depicted are quite appealing and provide fantastic visuals as the reader watches the story unfold. In addition, the author includes history lessons throughout Ricky’s story.

Martek is an eloquent writer of fiction and is more than capable of writing in the romance genre. While Martek has woven an intricate tale that immerses the reader in culture, drama, and clings to intense and realistic personal relationships, it does lack humor. The serious nature of the story doesn’t lend itself well to overtly comedic moments, but the overall tone seems too sober. Well-placed, light-hearted moments would be a welcome addition to the story line.

Pages: 173 | ASIN: B0771PDS4G

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Grandma’s Secret Blessings

Grandma's Secret Blessings: A Memoir with a Twist by [JohnEgreek]

A life story told alongside life lessons…

Grandma’s Secret Blessings: A Memoir with a Twist, is a deeply personal and dramatic-memoir. It tells the story of Yianni’s life, family, troubles, and successes. Told from a mix of first and third-person viewpoints, it gives an interesting perspective on how a person develops character. Central to the book’s theme are the secret blessings, which are a collection of inspirational messages, trans-cultural personal instructions, and existential aspirations. The book also has a number of lessons passed down by Yianni’s grandmother from the Greek oral tradition.

Yianni and his family are Greek in origin, and as such, they share a long history involving the oral transmission of stories. Over history, folk tales and legends were often performed by storytellers in front of audiences, including young children and even grown children, such as Yianni. This culture is present in the story as Yianni learns of his family history, reaching clear back to great-great-grandparents. This family history has personal ties back to Greece and Albania, much of it during a time of serious political and economic turmoil. Of course, those history lessons passed down to Yianni are also infused with Grandma’s life lessons for Yianni. This is all interspersed with Yianni’s own personal history, along with description for the way that these stories and lessons helped him.

There are more than ten of grandma’s secret blessings, many of which existing in some form in many different cultures and languages. However, what makes the lessons particularly powerful is that in Yianni’s experience with his abusive father, Yianni explains that, “…it’s the only way to close the gaping hole in my heart.” Many of these secret blessings are a blessing in that they are a form of grace, protection, or favor for Yianni. “You are the captain of your own ship,” as an example, explains for Yianni that no matter what tosses you around and what terrible things may befall you, you still have control in your own life and life choices. This is how the book is a memoir “with a twist.”

Grandma’s Secret Blessings is not perfect in its presentation. For example, there are a number of typographical and grammatical errors, as well as punctuation mistakes that are distracting. However, these generally do not detract from the message and central themes of the story. In a way, it conveys the very essence of that oral tradition, which is sometimes imperfect and lost in translation.

Grandma’s Secret Blessings is intended for adult audiences. There are depictions of child and intimate partner abuse, discussions of sexuality and sexual behavior, and alcohol and drug abuse. These depictions are realistic in nature, contributing to the overall feel of the book and its weighty emotionality. Overall, even with the copy-editing errors, Grandma’s Secret Blessings is a good read for those looking for emotional and inspirational literature.

Pages: 364 | ASIN: B077PLR98B

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That’s a Tricky Question

Sally Forest Author Interview

Sally Forest Author Interview

Choose: Snakes or Ladders follows Mitty who comes up against sexism and classism and must challenge others’ prejudices while fighting her inner demons. What was your inspiration for this provocative novel?

I didn’t have any articulated inspiration for the novel. It started as a short piece and grew seemingly by itself. I thought it was about an innocent young girl in the 50’s. I actually didn’t know that I felt so strongly about class issues and sexism. Nor about sexual safety of young people. My main conscious focus was on her struggle to find a way through the internal and external restrictions. As a former therapist, it has always saddened me that many women, particularly in the 50’s, were denied natural pleasures because of a culture of ignorance and shame around female sexual activity. As well of course, of career advancement.

What I really enjoyed about Mitty’s character is how well developed she was but continued to transform throughout the novel. What were some obstacles you felt were important for Mitty’s character development?

Her main obstacle was the extreme shaming and ignorance of the fictional sect in the novel. Another strong obstacle was Mitty’s lack of anyone who could help her come to some knowledge and understanding. I loved Violet’s attempts to inform her. The struggle is linked to the development, through ups and downs, of her self-worth – another essential ingredient in a life of achievement, pleasure and love.

I think you did a great job of illustrating that female beauty and sexuality can often be a poisoned chalice. Why do you think this is an important, especially with today’s #metoo movement?

I was amused by Mitty’s character as a woman who was beautiful and sexually arousing without her knowing it. And heartened by her innate sensuality. Perhaps if young women were educated properly and allowed to have awareness and acceptance of these factors, they would be less vulnerable in the face of male assertion of power in all ways. A lot of work needs to be done to educate men, particularly in self-awareness.

In the sequel all these themes continue to build strong plot threads, together with some surprising twists in Mitty’s life path.

What life experiences of your own did you put into the novel, if any?

That’s a tricky question. A life experience of teacher and counselor helps to build a wide understanding. Personally, none of the events as depicted happened to me, although fragments of similar occurrences have been combined to build a different fictional history. For example, my much loved grandmother had overcome a restrictive religious background, while still quoting many homilies to me, with a wry smile. Otherwise, sometimes just a few words overheard will trigger a scene. So there is a basic truth in it all.

Author Links: Amazon | Website

Choose: Snakes Or Ladders: A Psychological Coming-of-Age Novel by [Forest, Sally]“Choose: Snakes or Ladders: A Psychological Coming-of-Age Novel” from hot new contemporary fiction author, Sally Forest.

This is “a well-plotted tale of human growth, sexuality, and self-discovery which will be enjoyed by readers of women’s fiction and literary fiction alike.”

Mitty is a young girl brought up in a punitive sect who escapes to a typist job in the city – a step to fulfilling her dreams of being a lady. She is hampered by deep fears of hell and punishment, and utter ignorance of the facts of life.

The 1950’s – sex, drugs and rock and roll, but not in the small towns of Australia. There were lots of jobs, clothes and wealth in the cities but this threatened the values of the past – a culture where men desire and decide, while women love and serve.

Miss Mitty Bedford knew the outside world through Hollywood movies at the local Pictures, only to find in real life that there can be nasties behind smiling, beautiful faces.

A stalker’s attack clashes with her newfound joy in sensual self-discovery inspired by a crush on her boss, and her love for decent, loving, traditional Col. She writhes between shame, repentance and joy. 

Mitty wants a career and respect, but what path must she choose? She needs love, but does she want freedom more?

This emotional and dramatic journey to win trust, love and independence, will keep readers turning the pages, as well as provoking questions that still apply today.

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Years of Heartbreak

Lucinda E. Clarke Author Interview

Lucinda E. Clarke Author Interview

Walking Over Eggshells is an autobiography about your life and how you survived growing up and living with mental abuse. What inspired you to put your experiences into a book?

Originally I never intended to publish my experiences of growing up, I wrote about my life solely for my children to explain my parenting skills, or lack of them and to give them a greater understanding of me as a person. I was aware of the effects of the fraught relationship I had with my mother but totally unaware of the cause. As I recount in the closing chapters, it was only after her death that quite by chance I read about Narcissistic personality disorder and my mother’s reactions, behaviour and responses ticked all the boxes. I was over 60 when she died and only then I learned that no matter what I’d done, I would never, ever have been able to make her love me. If only I had walked away decades earlier I could have saved myself years of heartbreak. From talking to other victims in various forums I realized there were thousands of people out there in a similar position and that’s when I decided to publish my story. From the huge number of emails I’ve received, I know it has helped many others and that has been the greatest award of all.

In this book you talk about many of your life experiences. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?

The way my mother behaved towards me, belittled, mocked me and hurt me. I was also aware that many people would not understand why I was so stupid and returned time and time again only to receive more abuse. Only those who have been conditioned and brainwashed from birth to revere parents and respect families would understand this, many other people wouldn’t. As I wrote it opened the wounds, but at the same time pouring it all out on paper helped the healing process.

The novel covers the entire span of your life including your childhood. What is one common misconception you find people have about child abuse?

The media is full of stories relating to sexual abuse. To the outside world I was an only child, with all the comforts, food, nice clothes, private school, even the hated ballet lessons, living in a beautiful area in England. But what went on behind closed doors was ongoing mental abuse, and I think this has a more damaging effect that any other kind of abuse. It strips away your sense of worth, your self confidence, destroys any chance of achieving your potential. It doesn’t stop the day you are old enough to say ‘no this is not right’ because you can’t rely on your own judgement you have been taught that you are the problem. It follows you through life and while some simply give up, others will try again and again to be the perfect person and will fail again and again. I grew up in the days when there was no such thing as Child Line, no one to talk to, all adults stuck together, no one criticised the older generation. I was totally alone in an ongoing nightmare.

What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?

I published Walking over Eggshells in 2013, and since then, I had written two further memoirs about my career in writing for radio and television full of funny and tragic stories.

I have also written four action/adventure books set in Africa featuring my heroine Amie and the latest of these is Cut for Life published in October 2017.

I am taking a month off to co-ordinate my marketing strategies (which are a disaster!) and then I will begin the next Amie book.

Author Links: GoodReadsTwitterFacebookWebsite

Walking Over EggshellsWalking Over Eggshells is an autobiography that tells the story of a mentally abused child, who married a “Walter Mitty” clone who took her to live in many different countries. They moved from England to Kenya, from Libya to Botswana and on again to South Africa. It took all her courage to survive in situations that were at times dangerous, sometimes humorous, but always nerve wracking. She had a variety of jobs, different types of homes, and was both a millionairess and totally broke. At one end of the scale she met royalty, hosted ambassadors, and won numerous awards for her writing and for her television programmes. At the other end, she climbed over garbage dumps, fended off the bailiffs, and coped with being abandoned in the African bush with a seven week old baby, no money and no resources. She admits to being the biggest coward in the world, but her survival instincts kicked in and she lived to tell her story. This book will make you laugh and cry, but also it also explains the damage being brought up by a mother with a personality disorder can inflict on a child. However, it is not all doom and gloom, and hopefully it will inspire others who did not have the best start in life either. All names have been changed to protect both the guilty and the innocent – and that includes the author as well! 

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The Consort Conspiracy

The Consort Conspiracy (Covington Family Mystery #1)

Kaye Schmitz’s The Consort Conspiracy talks about an ancient cemetery deep in the Lowland of Georgia that has been there for over two centuries and protects the remains of the infamous murderer whose act of betrayal changed the history of the town and catapulted the descendants of the murdered victim into the nation’s highest political office.

Kate Covington, a thirty one year old intrepid journalist travels to Midway Georgia, the hometown of the current president Wilford Pennington, to film a documentary to help boost his favorability ratings after he could not keep his privates in his pants. The search for answers to her documentary brings her to the cemetery that has buried more secrets than bodies. But her curiosity almost gets her killed.

The book starts steadily but picks up the pace after the introductory. There are several story lines that are juggled and all are meticulously developed. Kaye Schmitz brings them together in surprising ways with twists that I didn’t see coming. I enjoyed the detailed writing style as well as the alternating perspectives, we even get to travel from the past to the present. All of it intricately weaving together story lines that seem to be separate but which culminate in a explosive piece full of suspense.

As Kate busies herself gathering information for her documentary, she unearths a secret about the first family that could lead to their undoing. The truth about the death of Dr. Aaron Pennington, a descendant of the president will also be uncovered. Mr. Wilford’s political career rests on this murder that happened more than two hundred years ago. This all lends to a thrilling joyride of a novel.

Kate has to deal with some highly emotional issues throughout the story, like when she discovers the truth about the death of her mother. A truth that will not only change the town’s history but Kate’s future as well.

The historical facts that have embellished the present tale and the vivid and compelling characters portrayed by the heroes and villains keep one turning the pages. You really can envision how the characters, as well as the locations, look through Kaye Schmitz detailed description.

When the two handsome men Dan Pennington and Joshua Warrington start competing for Kate’s attention the book becomes a can’t-put-it-down tale. By the end the outcome was both satisfying and unexpected. Just when you thought you figured it all out, you realize you don’t. It was well written and keeps one on the edge of their seat. It was one of those stories that you have to read word by word for fear of missing something crucial. It really was a page turner.

Pages: 331 | ASIN: B071G89PBW

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Walking Over Eggshells: Surviving Mental Abuse

Walking Over Eggshells

Walking Over Eggshells: Surviving Mental Abuse by Lucinda Clarke is an autobiography where she has changed all the names to protect the innocent and guilty. The novel is about Lucinda’s life and how she survived growing up and living with mental abuse. Lucinda’s mom had narcissistic personality disorder, and this impacted her entire life. She uses this novel to show that despite growing up with this abuse she still lived a life full of adventure, had a family and eventually had a successful career. You will laugh at some of the stories, cry at others, and be outright shocked by many and wonder how this girl survived to write this. Through it all Lucinda was able to grow and keep up with the times, she was born in the 1950’s and has had to adapt with a drastically changing society while continuing to endure the mental abuse of her mother at every turn even into her adult years.

The beginning chapters of the book tell of how Lucinda’s parents met and the eventual death of her father when she was only two. From there we are introduced to the never-ending criticism, punishments, and agony that Lucinda as a child endured. It is heartbreaking reading her words begging for a cuddle or a word of love and compassion from the women that called herself her mother. As a teen, the typical back and forth arguments continued, the younger generation is ungrateful, they need to do their part, so selfish, these are common themes even today we hear about the millennials. With Lucinda though, it is deeper, her mother really did expect her to do everything for her, and even when she did it was never good enough. The emotional struggle and need for love and acceptance is one that many readers can relate to, those that live with constant mental abuse will relate to Lucinda and see how she coped with the abuse while understanding why she continues to have a relationship with her mother.

Once Lucinda meets and marries Jeremy her life adventures take off. They never stay in one place long, always moving from one job to the next, involving everything from traveling encyclopedia sales to sketchy engineering jobs in South Africa. In a way Lucinda traded one form of abuse for another, she loves Jeremy but he takes advantage of her and plays on her need to be loved. This is the part of the story where you read and think ‘is this real?’ how can one person put up with so much? That, I think, is the real story behind this book. You can survive though mental abuse even when that abuse spans the majority of your life.

Throughout the book, Lucinda finds a way to make the best of her situation. She is willing to work be it animal breeding, filling, cleaning hotel rooms or writing. She never gave up no matter where she lived or what was going on with her and Jeremy, or her children, or her mother, she pushed forward and didn’t just survive the abuse, she made something of her life that she is proud of and even enjoyed at times. It is emotional, and at times hard to read; but Lucinda will make you believe anything is possible to overcome with the right mindset.

Pages: 239 | ASIN: B00E8HSNDW

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Heartbreaker, by Thomas Duffy, is a dramatic story about a young woman, Amber Robertson. The book opens in Brooklyn on Amber’s 19th birthday. Her birthday is eventful as it is the first time she is arrested (for stealing). While in jail, she meets Missy, another young woman, who has been arrested for prostitution. As Amber and Missy talk, Amber decides that the life of an escort is as good as any other (and could help her earn some much needed money).

Amber starts her business with some online advertising as an independent escort. Unfortunately, she immediately draws the attention of a pimp, Pete. He starts making promises of protection for a cut of Amber’s money. Soon, her landlord, wants to evict her, so she starts renting motel rooms.

Unfortunately, she soon faces bigger problems. She’s kidnapped by one of her clients and starts a sordid love affair with another that eventually makes a sudden turn into something even more frightening.

As you can imagine, this book is complex and not necessarily a feel-good story. Heartbreaker’s protagonist, Amber, goes on a wild and weird anti-heroic arc right from the beginning of the story and the audience can see how those early misfortunes lead to an increasingly painful and tumultuous life. She initially presents as both hesitant and impulsive; constantly not sure about what she wants to do, but will then make a sudden and foolhardy decision.

As a reader, there is some sympathy for Amber. She ends up in pretty bad situations. Anytime things start to look as though they may improve for her, it only gets worse. Yet, she is also frustrating. Her impulsivity sometimes leads her into her worst outcomes. For example, late in the story she takes bold, rash action. Of course, I am avoiding sharing the ending here to prevent spoilers, so you will have to read for yourself to see how Amber’s story fully unfolds.

This story, in its own way, forces the reader to examine the evil that can hide in people. The evil, within the story is almost infectious, capable of spreading from person to person, evolving and mutating along the way as it collides with new lives, who act it out in their own unique way. Amber’s progression through the story seems to demonstrate her methods for confronting the evil in her past and present. It shows how she, like anyone, is capable of becoming somewhat immune to bad acts, bad people, and a bad life. Like so many people, she acts out what she has seen and experienced by replicating pain onto others.

This book is well-written, but I felt there were some issues with the pacing. At points the story seemed to drag out, such as during Amber’s interactions with Miguel and Jeffrey. I think these could have been shortened up a bit without losing any essential character development. Heartbreaker is written for mature, adult readers, who enjoy dramatic characters in intense and emotional situations.

Pages: 184 | ASIN: B017UZDW02

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To Never Know

To Never Know

To Never Know depicts the story of Steven Lewis, and how he is affected by his life choices, his stalled inertia, and forces far beyond his control.

To Never Know, by Thomas Duffy, is a millennialist coming of age drama centered on the late adolescence and early adulthood of the main character, Steven Lewis.  The story starts in 1994 in Queens, New York. Steven is in his Senior year of High School. Steven has a crush on a girl in his class, Kelly Brennan. She seems to be interested in him, finding excuses to interact by asking for his notes and a stick of gum. But he never works up the courage to ask her to Prom.

The story skips past graduation and things have changed for Steven. His life continues a downward progression: his grades are not as good at college as they were in High School, he drops out, takes some time off. He tried calling Kelly again, but he could not bring himself to talk to her.

A family friend encourages him to send Kelly a letter, so he does, on September 10, 2001. Keeping in mind that Kelly lives in New York, you can make some good guesses about where the story goes after that, but this story packs a lot more into it, as Steven’s life events continue to unfold.

This story is an exploration of millennialist worries and fears in a post-9/11 life: adulthood with its ever-increasing responsibilities, how to live a good life, intimacy, isolation, establishing one’s self-identity, and the existential fear of death. The story is deeply emotional, with conflicting emotions. The quality of writing is strong enough to convey nuanced emotions and details. There were a few copy editing issues, but none bad enough to detract from the powerful meaning of the story.

The title, To Never Know, gives some insight into the central themes within the story. There is a strain of philosophical agnosticism (not in the religious sense) that there are unknown unknowns in our lives and that tomorrow is never guaranteed. There is also the theme that there are “bells that cannot be un-rung.”  Steven cannot go and have the relationship he wanted. We will never know what life would have been like if one thing would have been changed in the distant past, and we cannot know what tomorrow will bring.

This book is good, but really heavy at times. It is intended for adult audiences, and probably best understood by older millennials. There are depictions of sex, death, terrorism, and coarse language. The content of the story takes an odd twist at one point, and the end is unexpected.

Pages: 208 | ASIN: B01K7RYJB6

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