In the science fiction genre, many stories share similar plots. The authors, Grant Elliot Smith and Steven H. Stohler, in their co-venture, Rathen: Into Bramblewood Forest, expertly utilize concepts from great sci-fi classics. With this they create a very entertaining story that keeps readers rooting for the protagonist, Rathen, and his crew throughout their quest to vanquish evil from their world and other worlds in the galaxy.
The story begins roughly a year after the first book left off in a dark scene where Rathen and his companions—Bandark and Rulo—nervously approach a terrible foe that is capable of destroying the group with his magical ability that allows him control of many elements and also the dead. The result of this meeting then forms a core group that joins in a quest in search of a powerful book called The Book of Ziz that will allow its wielders to vanquish a terrorizing deity known as Gothoar. The story has much more depth as the characters face personal issues and other forms of conflict as the story unfolds.
One concept that makes this book a great read is the discussion of social dynamics through the interaction of fictional races. The group contains several humans, a lich, a half-orc, and people from other worlds in their fold. Therefore, the authors found a way to talk about and resolve racial conflicts. The details of the story show that some people have to live in certain neighborhoods and have to be defensive regarding their heritage. Thack, a capable warrior who is half human and orc, has apparently had a history of racial persecution because he chose to live in an area away from his home where he has found acceptance, but with the introduction of a love interest, feels defensive about his mixed heritage to seek acceptance.
Other social issues like gender disparity are discussed. Caswen—a healer—and her sister Drynwen—a protector—feel gender bias in their organization and have to fight harder to receive missions than their male counterparts. This book seeks to show that the bias others hold can often overshadow dreams and skills. The sisters get their opportunity to sharpen their skills on the road. They find their niche amongst the team allowing them to shine brighter than many of their order back home.
Rathen is able to shed new light on old tropes. Most everyone is familiar with the hero and company on a quest to save the world from destructive foe. The story adds plenty of depth through the implementation of human nature with nonhuman characters and the exploration of human tendencies like the search for redemption, acceptance, contentment, immortality, and even revenge in some cases. Smith and Stohler did a fantastic job telling a story that goes much deeper than the words on the pages; their work sticks with their readers well after the words are read.
Pages: 282 | ASIN: B07HWNK13Z
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In …I Just Look Like This, a book fitting for those seeking spiritual guidance, the author, A. Kirk Williams M.D., seeks to guide the reader towards finding peace in a world filled with lies and chaos. Williams provides social commentary in the form of articles, poems, and journal entries pertaining to a variety of topics in history, biology, and spirituality in no particular order.
Every chapter contains a new topic, allowing readers to piece together the greater story as they read. Most of the chapters are short, but ultimately leads to a provocative message pertaining to white males destroying the earth and inflicting misery on the rest of the world with their selfish, capitalistic, and destructive intent.
Williams attracts a large audience by relating to multiple cultures through his interesting genealogy and popular message of finding peace. Slowly, he reveals a controversial message to his initial pursuit of peace by encouraging people to be skeptical of ”those in power” and later equating that to white males. This turns into a biochemistry lesson on why white people are inferior to other races, using his professional background as a medical doctor as leverage to make his point.
The author uses some examples from history to boost his claim of white inferiority by presenting cases of war, genocide, and negligence committed by those of European descent. I felt that the historical cases were cherry-picked and ignored similar incidents throughout history perpetrated by other races on different continents.
This book has some great advice for living a happy life. Williams encourages his readers to seek a deeper sense of spirituality by pursuing mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical discipline. He details how to balance each of these four areas by seeking the innate truth of the world. This allows allows readers to find the truth that lies within them. Mostly, this is done by prayer and seeking the will of God, but I would have liked to have read a more defined description of this this search for truth.
Another inspiring concept addressed in …I Just Look Like This pertains to the benefit of close communities and seeking the wisdom of those who have experienced more in life. It’s the author’s view that wisdom comes with age and how he wished he had listened to his father’s advice on many things, saving him from his shortsighted nature.
While there are many life lessons and entertaining passages, I felt that this book blames many of the world’s woes on whites. Those uneducated in world history might be easily persuaded by Williams, but it’s always important to fact check authors with such bold claims of racial inferiority. This book has the potential to accomplish the opposite of the author’s stated intent, to promote peace, and instead, inspire hatred of others.
Pages: 158 | ISBN: 0964189453
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One type of story that captivates a large portion of readers is the story of humanity. The author, Mallory M. O’Connor, excels at capturing powerful moments of human interaction in her novel American River: Confluence. O’Connor’s work involves a host of social issues—sexuality, politics, race relations—all disguised in what seems to be a book about artists pursuing their passions.
This book follows three families of different cultures that manage to connect. They are all tied to the same area, and while the young adults have mostly wandered off to different regions of the U.S., this story is about them all finding a reason to come home to celebrate life, art, and diversity which gives the story a greater sense of symmetry. O’Connor filled this book with real-life problems such as racism, mental health issues, sickness, and political confrontations. Therefore, this book can be a guide for helping people navigate their way through similar tragedies in their own life.
The overall story arc is intricate and well thought out. It is a little unclear where the book is going at first and what the focal point will be, but there are exciting turns everywhere that keep the readers’ attention until the end. Several subplots play out to give the book a lot of depth. On the surface, it seems like the McPhalan family is working through their problems with the ultimate goal of setting up a musical festival on Mockingbird Valley Ranch, the family’s ancestral property. Underneath, O’Connor raises awareness of many social issues. These social issues are picked apart one by one to allow the reader to think through different perspectives regarding them. While set in the 1970’s, the problems the characters face are problems that are prevalent in our society today, potentially making this book a timeless classic.
If you did not read the previous books to get familiar with the intricacies of the story you would need to refer to the “Cast of Characters” page at the beginning. The book immerses readers from the start with drama and doesn’t let up until the end, so lacking thorough character introductions early in the story, even though its the last of the series, can detract from the impact of certain events. I highly suggest you read books one and two before confluence.
American society, as well as many others around the globe, could drastically benefit from reading this book. While many authors hide a political agenda in their work, it’s often obvious where they stand on controversial issues; O’Connor, on the other hand, hid her feelings on many of the topics, which requires distinct talent. Ultimately, she encourages discussion and introspection through the characters. If it weren’t for some minor language concerns, this book would be well suited in a high school reading curriculum to expose students to the complexity of the world they live in and the core of human nature.
Pages: 364 | ASIN: B07HL12C8T
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Catalina DuBois’s Book of Matthew: Part I. House of Whispers is a tale of forbidden love that, at times, seems Shakespearian in its delivery. The story begins in rural Missouri in 1850, a tumultuous time in the United States. Slavery was still very much in practice at southern plantations. Along with the master/slave dynamic came secret, taboo romances between captive slaves and free, white plantation owners and their family members. Matthew, the plantation owner’s son and heir, and Sarah, a slave owned by Matthew’s father, are two star crossed lovers trying desperately to navigate through social stigma, away from the plantation-dominated south, and toward freedom.
Barely a few pages into the first chapter, Matthew’s lust for the slave girl, Sarah, is evident. This is shown through a very sexually explicit scene that turns out to be a dream. There are a few of those scenes like this scattered throughout the book. Over all, I didn’t feel they detracted from the book, but might be a little too graphic for some readers.
The book seems accurate in its depiction of slavery. Slaves are subjected to unwanted sexual advances, beatings, whippings, and, in some cases, death. Families are ripped apart. Mixed race children are born in slave quarters. Secrecy is rampant. Slaves aren’t legally recognized as people. They are merely property. They are bought and sold as simply stock on store shelves. They are forced into unwanted marriages. They are denied a proper education, and are often punished if they find a way to become literate. They have no rights. They have no choices. This is a grave, but important reminder of America’s past.
Thank goodness for the few characters besides Matthew and Sarah who seem to have some common sense about them. A handful of characters, even during that timeframe, believed in equality. They are reminded at a point that race didn’t matter at all in God’s eyes, even if men’s eyes had such skewed filters. They find help from some unlikely sources as they try to outrun those who would rather see them dead than together.
The book keeps interest piqued through all the obstacles that Matthew and Sarah overcome to try to be together. There are similar story lines that play along parallel to theirs. Other pairs of seemingly mismatched lovers run and hide and jump through hoops to be together as well. This story based on love is not without its hindrances. Villains walk amongst them in their treks toward love. Menacing characters sabotage, violate, abuse, and even murder their victims throughout the story. They still don’t give up on each other. Even in such dire circumstances, love finds a way to unite. Ultimately, love conquers all.
DuBois’s story reads easily and quickly. I didn’t want to put it down. I found myself cheering for the more righteous characters, and hating the more deviant of them. The plot flows nicely, and loose ends are tied up neatly by the end. I’d love to read a Part II and see where DuBois takes Matthew and Sarah’s journey.
Pages: 233 | ASIN: B076ZS21T6
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My Name is Nelson is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a mystery, satire, and political thriller as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
I’d say it just happened. I started with a simple premise – an unstoppable weapon – and just went wherever the story took me. I have to admit I’ve been a little surprised by how focused readers have been on genre, (specifically, is a thriller supposed to be funny) because in my opinion, the style of the book really isn’t all that unique. Much like other satirical military works like Catch-22, MASH, and Doctor Strangelove, at various times it’s funny, poignant, romantic, absurd, heartbreaking, or action-packed.
The characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?
Thank you for the compliment. It’s definitely hard to choose, because I’m extremely proud of all the characters. The socially dysfunctional mad scientist, the dejected, hard-drinking exotic dancer, the physics prodigy and her navy officer partner, the “jagoff” of a boss, the clever First Lady, the F.B.I. agents, the fighter pilots, the small-town sheriff…
The book is dedicated to all the men and women who work so hard to defend our nation, so there’s quite a few characters in law enforcement and the military. Ultimately, if I had to choose one, I really enjoyed writing the repartee between National Security Advisor Chet Addington and President MacIntyre. And Chet Addington gave us the book’s provocative subtitle!
What was your initial idea behind this story and how did that develop as you were writing?
I guess the idea was twofold. First, I had already written some very serious, intensely-researched novels, and I wanted to let my hair down and have some fun. I wanted to write a page-turning, popcorn thriller about politicians, a mad scientist, and an unstoppable weapon. Secondly, I started with the assumption that it’s impossible to write a modern page-turner without strippers. (Just kidding. Maybe.)
As the novel progressed, I found myself lurching into some weighty issues. Childhood trauma. Wealth inequality. Racial strife. The weight of the presidency. Particle physics. Broken lives renewed. Ultimately, I think there’s quite a bit packed into 222 pages.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I genuinely don’t know. We’re clearly well-positioned for a sequel to Nelson, so we’ll see. I’ve written quite a lot over these last two years, so I may just enjoy some well-deserved vacation time.
The audiobook for Nelson should be available this summer, however. To say I’m excited about the narrator would be a huge understatement. I never dreamt one guy could single-handedly do all the voices this novel requires, (not to mention the singing) but I think I’m about to be proven wrong.
From The Indie View: “A brilliant and unique novel…in terms of sheer storytelling mastery, it’s one of the best books we’ve seen in a while. We give ‘My Name Is Nelson’ five-plus stars and look forward to an equally well-written sequel…it’s a tremendously entertaining storyline with rich characterization and cinematic action scenes. It’s safe to say the author’s crafted a potential bestseller — and, possibly, a hit movie.” (Don Sloan)
President Andrew MacIntyre was having a pretty good first year in the Oval Office. Suddenly, during what should have been a peaceful Christmas season, he’s facing one of the worst national security crises in American history. And it’s being masterminded out of a sleazy, New Mexico strip joint? What the hell?
Is this a political thriller? Or is it science fiction? A zany comedy? Perhaps it’s a love story. Whatever it is, it’s a riveting page-turner with a little sex appeal, and a lot of laughs. If “Doctor Strangelove” can find the humor in nuclear war, then surely there’s a little bit of laughter lurking in unmanned aviation, as well as some serious, heartfelt moments.
It’s little wonder White House National Security Advisor Chet Addington* said this was, “Pretty much the best novel ever.” **
Posted in Interviews
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In Darkness, There is Still Light rolls in hot, picking up immediately where its predecessor Wheeler abruptly ended and engrossing readers from the very first pages. The Wheeler series centers on the life of professional cyclist Loren MacKenzie, an American living in the United Kingdom, and the physical and emotional challenges that she faces. Darkness resumes where Wheeler left off, right after Loren has won a world championship title in cycling and kissed her movie star boyfriend, Graham Atherton, farewell for three weeks apart as he flies off to film his next blockbuster. As in her first novel, Zalesky is able to squeeze an incredible amount of action into just a few short months of Loren’s life, though perhaps even more impressive is her ability to fit all the thrills in a short 250 page novel that will fly by for readers.
In Darkness should be read after completing the first Wheeler, as Zalesky does not spend much time reintroducing characters or explaining past events. Readers will recognize familiar faces in Darkness, including Loren’s sassy cycling teammates and loyal friends, but Zalesky also introduces new and exciting characters to the mix. While the first Wheeler was a fairly even mix of romance, thriller, and women’s cycling novels, Darkness focuses more on the romance and emotional challenges of Loren’s life, spending more time developing her relationship with Graham and another key character (whose identify I will not reveal!), and spending far less time on the bike. While I missed the road race episodes that Zalesky created in Wheeler, Darkness takes place during the cycling off-season when competitions are infrequent.
Though In Darkness lacks the nail-biting cycling races and triumphant finish line scenes, it is just as thrilling as Wheeler for other reasons. Zalesky further develops Loren as a complex and sympathetic character as she delves into Loren’s troubled past and fractured emotional psyche. One of Zalesky’s greatest strengths is her ability to develop Loren as such a complex but also relatable star. Though hopefully readers have not personally experienced the abuses thrown at Loren, they can relate to the conflicting emotions she feels as her relationship deepens with Graham and the rollercoaster of ups and downs she experiences after traumatic events. But far from a damsel in distress, Loren remains a strong protagonist that readers will find themselves rooting for wholeheartedly. Where Loren shines, though, her knight in shining armor, Graham Atherton, appears rather dull. Even as their relationship deepens, Graham remains a bit one-dimensional as the Shakespeare-quoting, jaw-dropping handsome actor. But, trusting our protagonist Loren’s judgment, I will give Graham the benefit of the doubt and hope that Zalesky continues to develop him in Wheeler’s third installment.
A solid four-star novel, In Darkness, There is Still Light again offers a unique delight for readers with its combination of romance, thriller, and sports. As the name suggests, Darkness tackles challenging and sensitive issues, especially physical and emotional abuse, but Zalesky successfully handles these with depth, grace, and realism. There is never a dull page with Loren, and the few months of Loren’s life covered in Darkness fly by, ending abruptly once more and leaving readers ready for the next race, which is certain to be just as exciting as those in Wheeler and In Darkness, There is Still Light.
Pages: 295 | ASIN: B07BT52785
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Dare to Be the Change, written by Annella Metoyer, tells the story of Annella’s life and how she overcame adversities to be the change she wished to see in the world. Annella faces a world of segregation and judgement based on the color of her skin, but is determined to push through the racism and have people see her for who she truly is. This begins a world of firsts for Annella, from being the first colored cheerleader to the first woman of color to work in her local bank. Her life journey will inspire, and enlighten you as you learn what it takes to make a difference in the world.
Growing up in a small town of Louisiana, Annella lives in a time where racism was prevalent in the community. With society segregating everyone into two groups of “colored” and “white”, Annella struggles with her identity. This segregation continues throughout all of her schooling years; however, it was several teachers and adults in her life that showed her that she didn’t need to accept the injustice and inequality that society expected her to endure.
I admired the relationship Annella had with her parents and in particular the strength and support her father showed her throughout her life. Rather than allowing racism to control their lives, he would take a stance and voice his concerns about the unfairness of how children were treated due to the colour of their skin. He was also the instigator of her career as the first woman of color at a bank, forming the pathways of her strength and persistence for change.
Dare to Be the Change enlightens the reader with racial situations or expectations that show an unfair and unjust part of our history. Conditions such as separate school buses or being unable to enter a cafe through the front door if you were colored seem like a preposterous idea, but sadly they were the real-life situations that people had to endure every day.
Throughout the story, you can tell the author Annella Metoyer radiates a certain positivity and gratitude that I believe led her to achieve so many significant changes. There are times where she could have relished in the negativity, but instead, she talks about the positive people in her life that helped her grow and become more confident as a woman. Annella’s endurance and strength to stand up for what is right is a trait to be admired and one that we don’t often see in the world. Annella’s hard work ethic and ability to prove herself in her career is just one way she initiates change as she begins to show others that there is more to a person than the color of their skin.
I would recommend this to anyone looking for an inspirational story that will motivate you to be the change you wish to see in the world.
Pages: 91 | ASIN: B079QM5MNC
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The Guardians of Eastgate by Sherry Leclerc, is a classic fantasy tale. Maelona Sima is one of four champions of the race named seers. As a champion Maelona is tasked with protecting one of the four keystones that protect the realm of Sterrenvar from evil. When an evil sorcerer rises up, seeking to enslave the peoples of Sterrenvar, Maelona at the keystone at Eastgate is the first line of defense. But will the prejudice and oppression against the seer people work against her? Maelona teams up with a human prince, Gareth, and a wolf shapeshifter, Blaez, but the question remains, will it all be enough to stave off this tide of darkness?
Leclerc’s book is a fantastic fantasy novel accented with the inevitable threat of evil and darkness confronted by a ragtag group of “heroines and heroes”. Since this is the first book in a series there is a sense that there is plenty more story to come. There is something for everyone though, between world building, action and romance between Maelona and Blaez. Leclerc’s writing is easy to follow and the book itself is not long, just under 200 pages.
The “choppiness” of Leclerc’s chapters left more to be desired, since they seem to cut in every four to five pages. This tended to throw me off more than kept me turning pages. Because chapters can be natural stopping points I wanted the book to take advantage of longer more engaging chapters rather than serving all of the good parts up so quickly.
It was an interesting choice to make a standard figure of fantasy, the seer, into an entire race of people who are guardians. In some ways, it makes sense based on their foresight abilities but I felt like the race needed to have more depth, which could easily be built in the coming books. The Guardians of Eastgate is brimming with potential that should be brought to fruition but is hampered by the short narrative arc. The next book should prove to be more exciting if such world building continues to be developed and deepen the point of view of the characters there in.
Readers will enjoy this novel for how technically well written it is. Wait for the next installment because this story is begging to be expanded.
Pages: 165 | ASIN: B07579TCBC
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Black and White is contemporary novel focused on interracial couples and the stigma they endure. Why was this an important novel for you to write?
I felt with everything going on in the world today, this book was needed. I want this book to help improve the world or at least get people to start talking and create a dialogue for change. The world can be an ugly place and I wanted to show that ugliness so that people can also appreciate the beauty.
The story is set in a city filled with crime and focuses on the animosity between black communities and the police. You take a balanced perspective in your story, do you feel that is something that is lacking today?
I feel there is mistrust on both sides when it comes to the Black Communities and the Police. I feel that both sides need to work on change and the only way that can happen is with dialogue. I want this book to help. I’m an NYPD Detective and I feel that it’s important that Cops acknowledge that there are some cops who are prejudice and pray on minorities but at the same time it’s important that minority communities don’t assume that every cop is corrupt and prejudice. I feel society forgets that cops are people too. I feel that sometimes some cops become so calloused from the job that they began to see minorities as bad. Balance is the key to everything. Understanding each other helps also. I talk to communities often and sometimes after I explain certain situations to the crowd, they understand things better and have less animosity. Sometimes the community members help me see things differently than I do through the lenses of being a cop. In order for the world to get better, we all have to change.
Did you put any personal life experiences in this book?
I put some personal life experiences in all of my books. “Ben”, “Ebony”, and even “Bill” and “Becky” are all parts of me. At times I felt like Ben where I felt my own race believed I wasn’t “Black” enough and I was too “Black” for some White people. I know the struggle of dealing with the public at protests like Ebony. I’m an NYPD Detective. Like Ebony, before I became a Cop, I hated cops and I became one to make a difference in the world. I’m heavily involved in urban communities and I’m in an interracial relationship. I’m similar to Becky because I wrote this book to change the world. I wouldn’t want to alter it or tone it down. I love this story the way it is and my writing is important to me. I’m similar to Bill because I grew up in Queens Bridge. Despite growing up in a low-income family, I didn’t let my environment hold me back. I’m also a huge basketball fan and play regularly. Some of the situations and even dialogues in the book I have actually had or have been involved with. I like to put some of my real experiences in my stories because I believe it helps them feel more authentic.
What is one thing that you hope readers take away from Black and White?
I want readers to understand that we all have biases, we all have assumptions and stereotype, but it’s important not to base our actions and decisions on these things. It’s important to get to know people and not assume that a certain race is all the same. I want people to read this book and understand that love is love. It doesn’t matter what race your partner is, be with anyone you love. I also want people to feel comfortable in their own skin. Ben and Simone were examples of two characters that struggled with that and it’s important to know that until you have love and appreciation for yourself, you can’t truly do the same for someone else.
What is the next novel that you are writing and when will it be available?
My next novel will be a story celebrating the strength of Mothers. I’m writing a story about three different types of Mothers in three different situations and I’m calling it “Mothers.” I hope to have the novel out in time for Mother’s Day.
When the prestigious law firm of Wayne, Rothstein, and Lincoln catches two major cases—a rape case where a White NBA star allegedly raped a Black stripper, and a murder case where a Black rapper allegedly killed a gay couple and two policemen—Bill O’Neil and Ben Turner are tasked to handle these racially charged litigations. The cases hit emotional chords with the two lawyers and force them to reckon with their interracial relationships and families. Will the racial tension of their cases destroy them or make them stronger?
Posted in Interviews
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J A C S
A BOOK OF SHORT STORIES
GEORGE J. MARDO
JACS places people in hard or surprising situations and challenges the reader to accept when the characters do not follow a traditional arc. George Mardo writes in such a way that seeks to subvert the easy plot points and story lines most readers have been familiar with in most recent years. Typical of a short story collection JACS contains a variety of stories.
The first story, Jackpot, follows two older men who have a racehorse bestowed on them. The catch is that the horse has never entered a race and both men play the part but are surprised to find themselves happy when things do not go their way. The next is, Amy, where the reader follows a girl who has strange dreams and holds onto them. The story really gets underway when she tells her grandfather about them and he confesses to having the same dreams. Candera is a hard story to read, since it follows a nun that was sent to the Congo and her tribulations of being captured by terrorists, raped, and becoming pregnant. When forced to try, and send the child away to be adopted, Sister Candera refuses. The last, Sorrow Has No Opposite, is more of a short, fictional biography that follows a Iraqi boy named Boutros Suffady, who undergoes a horrific tragedy and eventually finds happiness in life that he thought he lost.
Mardo has a talent for needling into a character’s perspective and teasing out what emotional heart strings should be pulled for the reader. These stories on their face may sound overwrought or framed in such a way to be emotionally manipulative, as it would be usually expected but Mardo avoids this with clear heartfelt authenticity. If nothing else, the author captures the “slices of life” that some may take particular pleasure in.
Some of the stories tend to be stronger than others and that will depend on the reader who wishes to give this collection a chance. The stories would be considered more literary based on the more character focused stories and lack of any real genre conventions. These small narratives are not adrenaline bouncing thrillers, nor are they dark and mysterious mysteries or horrors. What these stories do capture is the grounded reality that all of us abide in and these experiences all these characters’ share are to enlarge our scope.
JACS is recommended to more mature readers who are seeking different experiences on the page. The stories provide a unique lens that the reader only dons for a short time but will be left wondering long after reaching the end.
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