Monday, August 17, 2015

REVIEW: "A Wolf at the Gate" - by Mark Van Steenwyk (author request)

"A Wolf at the Gate is an imaginative retelling of the legend of St. Francis and the wolf. The Red Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a humble beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. A Wolf at the Gate is a great way to teach grade-school children about active nonviolence."

"The Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar at night. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn't the villain of our story; she's the hero! The Blood Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. How will she react when those she loves are threatened?"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Van Steenwyk 
Mark Van Steenwyk lives in a big old house in Minneapolis with his wife Amy, his son Jonas, and an assortment of friends. Their home is one of two houses of hospitality of the Mennonite Worker. An author of both fiction and nonfiction, he writes to provoke the political and spiritual imaginations of his readers.

DISCLAIMER: A copy of the book was given to me in exchange for a fair and honest review, which follows.

 So, I just read this book called A Wolf at the Gate. Someone I know wrote it and I was eager to get the chance to read it once I knew Mark had finished this masterpiece. I finally got the chance to read it yesterday, and now I fully intend to make the paperback copy a part of my children's book shelf.

This book starts with the birth of a wolf, so it says in the beginning of the book. This was not an ordinary wolf but a wolf born with a very red fur; a wolf her parents knew was destined for greatness. They were the leaders of their pack and as such carried the knowledge of their pack...including the burdensome and infuriating knowledge of how wolf-kind had been badly abused by humankind.  Though angered by the humans' actions towards the wolves, the Red Wolf's parents knew there was a better way and worked very hard to share their knowledge and wisdom with her so that she might be a great leader when they passed. Pass they did and she was the uncontested leader of the pack... But not for long. She lost her pack and began to behave in a manner that would have made her parents very sad. Then she meets a man who changed her life forever and enables her to change the lives of others forever. I can't say too much more without spoiling the entire book, so I'm going to stop here.

A Wolf at the Gate is a children's book and is written, therefore, as a children's book.  It is put together simply (much like the "beggar" who features prominently in the work). Simply written, simply constructed, and simply profound. It is not a long read; it took me all of about half an hour to get through (though it would have been a shorter time had I not stopped so frequently to admire the absolutely beautiful artwork that compliments the book perfectly - a friend of mine even had one of the illustrations tattooed on his arm), and yet there is more profundity packed into that short work then in many I have yet read!  As far as characters, settings, plot, etc are concerned, this is a fairly simple work...but remember it is intended as a children's book (this is important, as I know from both personal and professional work that affecting change in one's attitude towards the world is more permanently accomplished when you attempt to affect that change with children).  It is not so complex that it's message of fiercely passive resistance and kindness is lost and yet it is complex enough to hold an adult's attention even though it is a children's book.  It focuses on a couple main characters and thoroughly develops one of them - the Red Wolf.

I absolutely love this book!  As I said, it is incredibly profound in an exceptionally nuanced sort of way and contains a powerful moral lesson.  Written in a style that is slightly reminiscent of Aesop's fables, it also contained elements that were slightly nostalgic for me as I remember fondly reading Aesop's fables with my parents when I was but a tiny tot.  I love this book I love this book I love this book....please buy it and show it to your children, and grand children, and their children...

I promise you won't regret the time it takes to flip the pages.

Shortly after this book was published it was picked up on one of Amazon's best-sellers list. Currently I know that a publisher has approached Mark to publish it themselves as currently it is a self-published work. Frankly I think it deserves these accolades, and I would actually love to see it made into something for the screen; whether that be an animation in the same style as the illustrations or a movie adaptation or something like that.

Overall on an ascending scale of 1 to 5, 
I give this book a huge 5!!
(and any of you loyal readers of my reviews know I don't hand those out easily!)

Friday, April 17, 2015

COVER REVEAL: "Rising From the Darkness" (D.A. Bale)

So, I've read the first two books in this series (check out the reviews here and here)...and I'm super excited to announce that D.A. Bale has finished the third book (yay!) and invited me to participate in this, here her cover reveal!  

I love this series.  SCROLL DOWN FOR THE REVEAL!!

Oh - and it will be available for pre-order on May 1 with the release date being July 1!

BLURB - Rising From the Darkness
It’s finally here – the explosive finale of the Deepest Darkness series.

Samantha Bartlett has a new mission – and this time it’s one of her own choosing.  Armed with information worth killing for, Samantha pieces together secrets spanning generations and uncovers the key to Debrille’s plans, including the horror of his true identity.  But will it be enough for redemption?  Especially when facing the bridges she’s burned?

Life was once clearly black or white, but now Joe Roberts has a target on his back – and it’s sighted by his boss at the FBI.  It’s not just from running off with their primary suspect in President Warner’s murder and then allowing her to escape.  No.  He’s the Elite’s latest scapegoat.  That alone begs the question.  Is Sam a cold-blooded killer or a mere pawn used in a global chess game?

World War III looms on the horizon as the Middle East threatens to implode, world alliances are scrapped, and a once tenuous truce with a former enemy collapses – all under President Durksen’s watch.  Shadowed by the Elite’s constant and vigilant guard, Durksen must find a way out of the hole he dug for himself long ago.  But can he accomplish it in time, or will the United States die like so many nations before it?

Explosions light up the night.  Friend becomes foe.  Sister against sister.  Lives are lost.  Sacrifices made.  But in order to realize true freedom, evil must be defeated.

No matter the cost.

Sometimes life emulates fiction.

Life is filled with tragedy and Ms. Bale's writing reflects this reality. However, there is always a silver lining...even if one must spend their entire life searching for it.

In her previous career, Ms. Bale traveled the United States as a Government Relations Liaison, working closely with Congressional offices and various government agencies. This experience afforded her a glimpse into the sometimes "not so pretty" reality of the political sphere. Much of this reality and various locations throughout her travels make it into her writing.

She dreams of the day she can return to visit Alaska.

Website  -  Facebook   -    Twitter   -   Goodreads


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

REVIEW: "Stranger at Sunset" - by Eden Baylee (author request)


Vacation can be a killer.

Dr. Kate Hampton, a respected psychiatrist, gathers with a group of strangers at her favorite travel spot, Sunset Villa in Jamaica. Included in the mix are friends of the owners, a businessman with dubious credentials, and a couple who won the trip from a TV game show.

It is January 2013, following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The luxury resort is struggling, not from the storm, but due to a scathing review from caustic travel writer, Matthew Kane. The owners have invited him back with hopes he will pen a more favorable review to restore their reputation.

Even though she is haunted by her own demons, Kate feels compelled to help. She sets out to discover the motivation behind Kane’s vitriol. Used to getting what he wants, has the reviewer met his match in Kate? Or has she met hers?

Stranger at Sunset is a slow-burning mystery/thriller as seen through the eyes of different narrators, each with their own murky sense of justice. As Kate's own psychological past begins to unravel, a mysterious stranger at Sunset may be the only one who can save her.


Eden Baylee left a twenty-year banking career to write. Incorporating some of her favorite things such as travel, culture, and a deep curiosity for what turns people on, her brand of writing is sensual and literary.

She has written three collections of erotic novellas and flash fiction ~ SPRING INTO SUMMER, FALL INTO WINTER, and HOT FLASH.

On June 30, 2014, she released her first novel--a psychological mystery/thriller set in Jamaica called STRANGER AT SUNSET.

Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  *  Goodreads *  Linkedin  *  Pinterest    

DISCLAIMER: A copy of the book was given to me in exchange for a fair and honest review, which follows. 

A bunch of people thrown together under odd circumstances can often cause high-stress situations with unusual results.  Add in a tropical paradise, burning attraction, and fiercely competing agendas, and you are left with a book worthy of the cast of "Lost". 

It is 2013, shortly after Hurricane Sandy.  A small, intimate resort tucked into the beaches of Jamaica is struggling thanks to a scathing travel review penned by an extremely demanding critic.  It just so happens that a highly successful psychiatrist - Dr. Kate Hampton - is called upon to help the resort's owners address that demanding critic in a way that might help their now-floundering business.  The solution?  Re-invite the critic to experience the resort while the owners are present.  What the critic - Matthew Kane - knows is that he is hard to please and he doesn't hold high expectations for this trip.  What he doesn't know is that the owners have also invited several of their closest friends and allies, as well as some random bookings, to surround them while he is present.  Told from multiple viewpoints, this extremely well-written thriller managed to genuinely surprise me.  Passion, lust, eccentric characters, beautiful settings, a plot that unfolds at the perfect pace - this book is a little treasure.  I've read a lot of mystery/murder books, and this one genuinely shocked me.  That said, I kept finding myself wanting more - more backstory to the characters, more explanations of motivations, etc.  Despite this....

On an ascending scale of 1 to 5, I give this work a 5.

The Good
Well, Baylee certainly knows how to hook readers and tantalize them with every suspenseful, engaging page!!  I was positively glued to this book for awhile!

Kate is a high-achieving psychiatrist with demons in her closet that threaten to break through if she lets her guard down for even a second.  Matthew is an insecure travel reviewer who finds security in writing harsh reviews if his incredibly picky demands are not met.  Adam is a man who runs a business for which many women would slug him.  Jessica is a southern belle who wants to prove she is not just a belle.  Rob is Jessica's slovenly, selfish boyfriend.  Greg and Tom, as well as Nadine and Ben, are long-time friends of Anna and Nolan, the owners of a charming resort in Jamaica.  And they are all sharing the resort for the week.

The resort is in trouble.  When Matthew Kane last visited, he wrote a scathing review in an influential travel magazine when the resort "failed" to meet up to his incredibly picky demands (wash his clothes separately because he's sensitive to soaps/fragrances, make him separate food because many foods make him sick, etc).  Anna reached out to Kate for advice, who said to invite him back but not to go "above and beyond" for him as that would stroke his fragile ego a tad too much.  Anna and Nolan did so, but they invited their aforementioned friends, as well as scheduled several random bookings (Adam, Rob, Jessica).  

It turned out to be a rather interesting week as personalities and personal agendas clashed on the beach, in the bedroom, and elsewhere.  A rather interesting week full of, um.....steam and murder.

I have to give Baylee credit where credit is most certainly due - this incredibly engaging book surprised me.  Now, I'm not saying I'm the most well-read person on the planet.  Certainly not.  But I have read a lot and a LOT of that reading has included murder/mystery because I like to try and figure out whodunitandhow by the middle of the book.  Let's just say that by the middle of this book we don't yet know who even dies or how it happens, much less whodunit.  Once that information was revealed, I'm sure someone several states over heard my jaw clunk to the floor.  :)  The murder happens in a way that is positively chilling, extremely surprising, certainly entertaining, and oddly gratifying.

Let's start at the beginning.  This book opens with a voyeur spying on a naked woman standing on a balcony.  He marvels at her beauty, but cannot believe what he just saw her do: dump a body into the unforgiving ocean waves below.  Then the story immediately leaves this scene and travels back in time, visiting characters who are descending on the charming resort mentioned above for a week of relaxation and supporting Anna and Nolan, a loveable couple who are struggling to keep their resort open after Matthew's scathing review scared off travelers. 

The story itself is told from multiple viewpoints as Baylee uses different chapters to switch between characters having a turn at being the center of attention.  In this way we are able to figuratively (of course) crawl inside the inner minds of most of the major characters.  Several character's viewpoints dominate the book (Kate, for example) and not every chapter focuses on any one character.  I realize this sounds confusing, but Baylee writes it so incredibly well that it is easy to track who is speaking, why they are the focus at that particular point, and what is going on.  I don't think I've honestly read many books where this is done quite so well.  I was never confused about who was speaking.  It helps that everyone's voice is distinct and makes sense given their backstory.  

The plot unfolds at a pace not unlike that of a relaxing place on a tropical island - leisurely.  It doesn't clip along super quickly, nor does it dwell on any one scene for far too long.  Rather, it unfolds rather delicately and in manner that keeps the pages turning.  Baylee plants enough foreshadowing and "but they didn't know....." kinds of lines to keep readers engaged without becoming bored in any way.  Chapters/sentences/dialogues are extremely well constructed.  Rarely did I have to back up and re-read anything to figure anything out; it just flows so extremely well. 

Characters are done amazingly well also.  There are the loveable people, the ones you want to slap, the ones impossible to please.  And the psychiatrist.  I felt a particular kinship with her as I also work in psychology (though she is infinitely further along in her career than I) and can relate to someone who is always observing others' behavior and trying to figure it out.  She's got quirks and dings in her armor, but they just make her more relateable.  

Then comes the murder.  A murder done in a meticulously thought out manner that would send chills down a seasoned investigator's spine.  But will the murderer get away with it?  Why did it happen?  And is anyone sorry?  I better quit asking leading questions or I'm going to give away too much.  :P

Anyways, this is a very well-written, very thought out, extremely surprising thriller.  It kind of feels as though Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock got together with the writers of the television shows "Castle" and "Lost".  Not sure how that combination really makes sense, but somehow it works.  Oh, and let's throw in elements of the movies "Hitch" and "Hannibal" in for good measure, because they are for sure at play.  Want to know what I mean?  Read the book.  :)

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
I really didn't have a lot to complain about here.  There were a couple of typos, but I identified no more than 5 in the entire book.  My biggest issue is this: BACKGROUND!!!  I kept wanting more to explain why characters acted the way they did.  WHY was Matthew so difficult to please? WHAT was Kate running from (well, this is kind of explained near the end....but not really)?  WHAT DROVE PEOPLE?  Of course, I'm always interested in explanations of why/how/what, so I'm always a tad chagrined when these explanations come up short.  I just felt like there was a ton of material to work with and this book could have easily been much longer.  The only character who is really explained thoroughly is Kate....but I guess that kind of makes some sense: she seems to be the character that Baylee is developing further in subsequent works.  But that means there are going to be subsequent works in what may turn out to be a series.  Yay!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

REVIEW: "Once Upon a Time in America" by Michael J. Bowler (Tribute Books)

I beg everyone's pardon that this post is 10ish days late.  Normally I'm not behind my schedule at all - life has been chaos lately and I got behind (moving, changing jobs, my boy being in chemotherapy for leukemia).  No excuses, but reasons.  To all of those waiting on a review from me - I promise that I haven't's just taking me awhile right now.


With Lance leading the way, the Knights of the Round Table have set out to convince the American people that amending the Constitution to protect children is right and just and long overdue. As the team travels from state to state, they are met with acceptance, indifference, and even hostility. But Lance’s popularity and mystique as The Boy Who Came Back, coupled with his innate charm, gradually sway more and more of the populace, not to mention state legislators, to their cause.

The journey becomes a rite of passage that propels the young people into adulthood, and solidifies Lance’s status as an iconic and influential figure.

But he’s uneasy. He knows Arthur is hiding something from him, something that will bring him great sadness. After "The Excalibur Incident" in Las Vegas, Lance becomes more and more certain that the future is one he won’t like, despite his stunning success at winning over some of the most intractable states.

Then comes the attack, sudden and brutal.

Now the Round Table is in disarray, and Lance must confront a cold-blooded killer who’s luring him into an obvious trap. But if he refuses the challenge, more loved ones will die, and everything he’s fought for will die with them. Surrounded by the diverse young knights who have become his family, Lance sets out to battle his enemy with the knowledge deep in his heart that only one of them will survive. Is this the end of the Round Table?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michael J. Bowler
Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of seven novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards),Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, and Once Upon A Time In America.

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed he and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He is currently at work on a horror/suspense novel based on his screenplay, “Healer.”


I've heard several adults within the past year declare that the youth of America are spoiling for a fight, a revolution within their own generation.  We are seeing glimpses of this desire and passion for a revolution in the news as of late (#blacklivesmatter), but what will it take to ignite youth to pursue their cause?  What will it take to get adults to pay attention?

There are few authors whom I'm a fan of that I could list by name.  Michael Bowler has made that list.  Once Upon a Time in America is the perfect conclusion to a riveting, heart-pounding adventure that brought one street kid on the ride of his life.  Lance here has made it - he's overcome momentous obstacles and is bringing the Children's Bill of Rights to the public and government, making it clear that he won't take no for an answer so long as there are children being treated like property by the very government that claims to tend them.  But will the CBOR be his undoing....and the undoing of the Round Table that he and King Arthur have worked so hard to establish?  Bowler has here created a masterpiece of literature that will thrill, humble, and motivate any reader to work for justice for those least of these in our society - the nation's "optional" children.  One cannot help but be grabbed by the superb, approachable style in which Bowler has crafted this work...nor can one help but keep reading long after the lights should have been turned off.  Minus a few issues with repetitiveness that made me shake my head a tad, this book is absolutely wonderful.  

On an ascending scale of 1 to 5, I give this book a 5.

The Good
Every so often a book comes along that grabs my attention and holds it long after the pages have finished turning.  A story is so compelling that I mull over it for a long time, examining implications and applications to life.  Isn't that what literature is about?  Okay, so that question could spark volumes of debate, but this fact remains - Once Upon a Time in America is such a book/story and is the perfect conclusion to the saga following Lance and King Arthur as they work for equality and justice for America's children.

As I've stated in previous reviews of the prequels to this work ("Children of the Knight" series), there is not much more that I could say about this book to paint it in a more positive light.  That is not to say that there is nothing positive to say - it is to say that I think I've said most of it already.  

The writing is phenomenally well done.  It is approachable, flows extremely well, is entirely too engaging (I lost hours of sleep over this book), gripping, and absolutely appropriate to whatever scene is being portrayed.  Bowler includes just the right amount of detail to prevent readers from being confused about what is going on, but not so much detail as to cause readers' heads to swim and be bogged down.  It is funny, serious, melancholy, and jovial in all the right places.  Simply a delight to read. 

Not much character development occurs, but this book kind of assumes that you've read the previous four in the series.  C''s the 5th installment of a five book series - it kind of has the right to assume that you've read the prequels.  That said, characters' actions make sense for who Bowler has already established each person to be (well, except for a couple....but to explain would be a major spoiler and I'm not that mean).  

Settings, plot, timeline progression....everything makes sense and is done incredibly well.  Seriously - Bowler is a fantastic author!!

Anyone who reads these books and is not stirred in some way to stand up for this nation's children (or children anywhere, for that matter) simply does not have a heart.  I'd love to believe that many of the sad stories contained within these pages regarding the exploitation of children in various forms were purely the work of Bowler's imagination, but I know better.  I know better because Bowler's biography above contains ample evidence that he has seen some of these kinds of stories first-hand.  I know better because I've worked with those "optional" children in multiple capacities in my life, and have heard many similar stories show up in the lives of children I know.  I know better because I know how quickly adults forget what it is to be a child.

We need a revolution such as this.  Now, I don't think it would take on the kind of popularity that Lance and his crusade experience, but who knows.  Maybe with enough people backing the process, we could put forward amendments to the Constitution such as those Lance proposes.  Maybe the world could change.  Maybe, I don't know.  What I do know is that far too many people hear the kinds of horror stories that shape the lives of many of our children, shake their heads with a "that's too bad" or "those poor kids", and then go about their daily lives as if they could not change anything.  Bull****.  Apathy allows children to starve (emotionally, physically, etc) and be abused/exploited at a much higher rate than should be possible in our so-called developed nation. 

I better stop.  I share much of Bowler's passion to see justice for our kids, and I wish that we would see the kind of revolution described in these books.  Our kids need one.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
Despite my perfect rating of this book (and of practically the entire series), I do have a couple nitpicks:

  • There is so much contained here that this work itself could have easily been two entire books.  While everything here is part of the same story, there is just so much that it was hard for me to wrap my head around everything that was going on...and I kept waiting for something else major to happen during the last quarter of the book, after most of the stuff had reached a resolution.  It was kind of like when you watch a show and it seems like the story has reached its conclusion, but you know "that just can't be it" because there are ten minutes left and everyone knows that a lot can happen in ten minutes (especially "Walking Dead" fans).
  • Everyone being so lovey-dovey all of the time made even me, a die-hard romantic, cringe.  There are only so many "this person melted into a puddle of goo" moments I can take before reaching goo overload, and I reached it about half-way through here.  I get that the characters have intense feelings for one another, but fact was repeated in similar words far too often for my tastes.
Just go and read this series.  You won't walk away from it unchanged. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

REVIEW: "And the Children Shall Lead" by Michael J. Bowler (Tribute Books)

The campaign to save California’s children was only the beginning. Now King Arthur and his Round Table of teenaged knights set their sights on fixing something even bigger – the entire country. How? By targeting America’s most sacred document – The Constitution.

Native American teens Kai and Dakota, despite harboring secrets of their own, join the team, and swear undying loyalty to Lance. They carry the hope of their people that the crusade will better the lives of Indian children, who are the most neglected by government. This new campaign will take the young people to The White House, the halls of Congress, and beyond in their quest to change the prevailing opinion that children are property, rather than human beings in their own right.

But an unseen nemesis stalks Lance and Arthur, and ratchets up the attacks on New Camelot, promising to kill them and destroy all that the king has put in place. Lance, Ricky, Kai, and Dakota become the enemy’s favorite targets, and barely escape with their lives on more than one occasion. Who is this mysterious stalker, and what is the motive for these attacks? Lance has no idea, especially since he’s never intentionally hurt anyone.

“You were right, little boy, death is coming for you, but slowly, and only after it takes out the people you love.” That chilling promise haunts Lance, but also strengthens his determination to protect the people he loves at all costs. Or die trying.

The Knight Cycle continues…


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael J. Bowler
Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of seven novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards),Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, and Once Upon A Time In America.

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed he and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He is currently at work on a horror/suspense novel based on his screenplay, “Healer.”


Tomorrow is election day across the U.S.  Various parties are vying for political majorities that equal more clout for their respective agendas in Congress.  Cut-throat advertisements fill bulletin boards and the airwaves.  And yet few of the politicians I've noted have mentioned children as more than statistics, unless speaking about their own children of course.  Few have noted how their efforts will make the country better for the children, other than to note a few overuse statistics about poverty, health care, and hunger.  What if politicians were called on their own navel-gazing by a child?

Lance has been through hell and back.  A youth who grew up seeing the worst of how the "system" operates when it comes to foster children and "expendable youth", he has had to face many demons in his life and most of them have worn political masks.  In this fourth installation in this series, And the Children Shall Lead continues Lance's story of challenging everyone's expectations.  His experience with the juvenile justice system in Book 3 coupled with his experience of being an "expendable youth" as a ward of the state has pushed him to make changes on the scale that matters most - nationally.  He and his beloved Ricky have drafted a Children's Bill of Rights to be amended to the Constitution of the U.S., but will the implications of the bill stop it in its tracks?  And what about the technological genius who seems bent on annihilating Lance psychologically before stealing his life?  

This superb continuation of Lance's story had me riveted as more than a few hours of sleep were lost as I had to continue reading to figure out what happens next.  Wonderful writing, amazing characters who are distinct, unique individuals, well-laid out settings, heart-pounding action that makes sense, and a call out to society to stop fu**ing up in how children are "handled"....this book has it all!  


The Good
Maybe it is because the author and I obviously share a passion for seeing true justice served for the nation's children, particularly those who are part of the social services system...but I love this book.  Maybe it is because I wish we actually had a movement happening akin to that in these pages...but I love this book.  Maybe it is simply because this book shows a reality of what can happen when youth are taken seriously, when their passions are taken seriously and not squashed by adults who "know better", when they are unleashed upon the world....but I love this book. 

Lance has escaped death more narrowly than he will ever know (and so resolves the cliffhanger from the previous book) and is working the country to get his "Children's Bill of Rights" passed as an amendment to the Constitution.  This amendment would require certain protections for children that are immediately necessary.  It would also reinvent not only the current parent/child power structure, but also that which currently exists between the U.S. Government and Native Americans.  

The problem (because of course there always is something) is that someone has made it clear that they are a cat and he is the mouse....and the cat's butt is twitching as it waits to pounce on the mouse and end its squeaky young life before its squeaking reminds other mice, and certain hinges (squeaky hinge gets the oil...) that there are ears willing to truly listen.  This "cat" has money, lots of it, and spares no expense in psychologically torturing Lance as he works for the good of so many.  

As I said in the review of the previous book, I'm not sure how many more glowing words I can write about the book series itself.  Bowler is an amazing writer whose talent shines through in a superbly crafted work that contains well crafted settings, characters who are painfully raw and simultaneously incredibly relateable and distinct from one another, thrilling action scenes held perfectly alongside tender moments, etc etc etc.  I love Bowler's writing style and how he shines a glaring light on something that we as a nation have become incredibly good at politely sweeping under the run - the plight of our "optional" children, the ones never expected to amount to anything, or those whom adults simply can't be bothered with.  I should note here that I really appreciate that Bowler takes time in this installation of the series to deal with issues that Native American's have faced in this area. The U.S. government has traditionally sucked in relations to First Nation's individuals, and they continue to suck.  Thank you for addressing this here. 

Seriously - read these books.  I wish this movement were real and this were a non-fiction rather than a fictional book.  I wish it wouldn't take something as big as King Arthur himself showing up to start something like this.  Enough of the need exists in a very non-fictional way....what do we need to do to set off the initial spark?

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
There are a few minor typos - nothing too major but surely something an editor should have caught.  Again, I'd gripe at the major cliffhanger at the end...but that is Bowler's style and I can't fault him for a stylistic choice that I can't honestly say I wouldn't employ if in his shoes.  

Everyone just needs to read this book, acknowledge their place in being complicit in the real-world issues this series tackles, and take action.  Our nation's children need us to get off our butts and do something.  Heck, let's amend the Constitution!!  It's been done before!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

REVIEW: "Shadowcursed" by Gelo Fleisher

Bolen is a thief, plying his trade under the spires of an ancient and sprawling city. Worried that he's growing too old, Bolen has lined up a risky job, just to prove that he can still pull one off.

Tonight, he's going to break into a nobleman's vault and help himself to its contents. What he doesn't know is that inside is the key to a secret as old as the city itself.

Kings have killed for it, demons have coveted it, priests have prayed for it, and in a few moments it will be in his hands. And when it is, the adventure of his life will begin.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Gelo Fleisher
Gelo R. Fleisher is an author and game developer. He lives in the East Coast, with his wife and daughter.

Some interesting facts about Gelo: He's lived in America, Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. He's a Certified Public Accountant and graduated first in his class from the Wharton school of business. His writing has won several literary contests and has been nominated for a Reader's Choice Award. His indie game development work has also won several awards and has been showcased in PC Gamer magazine. He loves hearing from people so feel free to email him!

We are getting into the time of year when spooky things rule the day.  Shape-changers of various forms, many - of course - bent on gaining as much power as possible, are said to prowl the shadows, making us afraid of turning off the lights.  Of course, we know that these creatures are the stuff of legend and television....but what if they were a part of every day life?  What if mages and priests with strange healing abilities were commonplace?

In a work that feels like it could be lore for several different video games, Fleisher uses a medieval setting to explore a misty intersection between the magical and the mundane.  A thief is tasked with breaking into the one place in the city that he should avoid at all costs - the treasure room of the "mad" ruler, a man who would just as soon gut people rather than even bother looking at them.  This thief, who may be aging out of his game, steals an item that is infinitely more precious than he knows and in doing so becomes embroiled in a centuries-long power struggle of which he would have rather remained unaware.  But will he find redemption?  In this novella length work, Fleisher explores what redemption may look like in a world shrouded in magic, shape-shifters, and nothing being as it seems.  Exceptionally descriptive language captivated my imagination - I could practically smell the reeking fish at the dock and hear rusty hinges complaining loudly about moving for the first time in decades.  Powerfully portrayed characters made me remember why I love fiction so much in the first place as I got to know a broken man who is seeking a little peace.  I wanted more backstory, and the language was a bit too descriptive at times, but overall this is a very good piece of fiction sure to please any with a gamer-type brain.  =)

On an ascending scale of 1 to 5, I give this work a 4.  

The Good
I'm a bit of a gamer with an awareness of medieval history (thanks to my history nerd husband), and so enjoyed this work on a level that I wasn't expecting.  I've played World of Warcraft extensively and dabbled a bit in Dragon Age and some other RPGs, so am familiar with worlds where magic, mages, and shape-shifters are part of the norm.  I love stories that feel like game lore, and so really enjoyed "Shawdowcursed".  

Bolen is 40-something year old thief who is living in a medieval setting where magic, mages, priests with healing powers (in MMORPG games you need a priest or two on your side - they are often the best healers (them or paladins)), and things creeping about in the shadows is the norm.  Oh, and so is living in fear of the "mad ruler" who has developed a rather gory reputation for killing anyone who stands in his mad way.  Bolen is tasked with stealing items from this ruler's vault and goes ahead with doing so in order to prove to himself that he is still the thief that he was in his younger days.  The problem is that he steals an item that holds a value different from any he has ever known.  This particular theft will rattle Bolen to his core and tear apart his understanding of reality in the city whose shadows he has frequented his entire life. 

I would like to say that Fleisher is an exceptionally talented writer, but this is the only work I've yet read by him and have become rather hesitant to make such major comments based on a single work.  What I can say is that "Shadowcursed" is incredibly well written.  The fog winding its way through the city will feel as though it is winding its way around you as you are reading, the descriptive imagery in this book is so well written.  Sentences flow together in a way that makes it clear this author has read and re-read his work for clarity's sake.   Pronouns are rarely confused (confused pronouns have become a pet peeve of mine).  People move about in a way that makes sense for the story (i.e. no people standing up in one side of the room when you didn't read them going to that side of the room).  Characters are distinct from one another and are developed exactly as much as they need to be in order for this story to make sense (well, most of them at least....but I'll cover that in a minutes).  It contains just the right amount of unpredictability.  Elements of magic are entwined with what we know as medieval real-world in a way that makes sense, flows well, and is enjoyable to read.

I really, really liked this book.  It is a quick read that brings up very interesting moral questions.  What is right when everything is in shadow? Of course, these are questions that often come up in games.  If we are honest with ourselves, however, we will admit they often come up in our lives as well.  

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
A few quibbles, minor though they are: 

1) The major antagonists could be explained a bit more.  There are clear lines drawn between good (or at least semi-good in search of redemption) and evil....but the evil of the motivation is barely explained.  Power.  Conquest.  Okay, sure....but what explains the relationship between the two major evil characters?  

2) Bolen is the only thing in the story that we really get any back story on.  I wanted to know more about the city, the antagonists, the faith system (which is clearly specific to the story), etc.  But that leads to my next quibble....

3) Longer.  This story needs to be longer.  There is enough good material to work with here to bring this novella length work into a novel.  This would solve some of the problems with not enough back story, and spending more time on the relationships between specific characters.  Perhaps it is my extremely relational brain that just wants to know more about the relationships between different elements of the story, but honestly - this felt like a teaser to a much bigger story.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

REVIEW: "Schism" and "Collision: The Battle for Darracia" by Michael Cash

SCHISM: The Battle for Darracia - Book 1
On the planet Darracia, an ever-widening social gap between its inhabitants is causing turmoil that is fracturing a once peaceful world. Struggling with his identity, nineteen year old Prince V'sair must harness the power of the elusive Fireblade, the secret to a warrior's heart, in order to overcome his uncle Staf Nuen's lust for supremacy. Will the energy of the Elements guide the young prince to his true destiny or will Staf Nuen conquer Darracia? After the success of his first three books (Brood X, Stillwell, and The Hanging Tree) Michael is fulfilling a dream and creating his own epic fantasy world. Schism: The Battle for Darracia is the first book in a planned series.


COLLISION: The Battle for Darracia - Book #2
The Darracia saga continues with all the key players spread out and searching for answers throughout the solar system. Prince V'sair struggles to hold his fractured kingdom together without help from his family. His stepbrother Zayden is on a vengeful hunt for his evil uncle Staf Nuen. Tulani navigates her two worlds trying to bring them together. Staf Nuen, the orchestrator of the original coup, is making unholy alliances with nefarious new allies. Like the comet zipping across the horizon, all the different factions are heading for a collision course that will test both their faith and power.



Born and raised on Long Island, Michael has always had a fascination with horror writing and found footage films. He wanted to incorporate both with his debut novel, Brood X. Earning a degree in English and an MBA, he has worked various jobs before settling into being a full-time author. He currently resides on Long Island with his wife and children.



NOTE: I'm reviewing the first two books of this series together as I read them one right after the other.  Typically, I would not do this, but for the sake of time and effort I'm combining my review of these two books.  They are, after all, two parts of the same story.

One need not go far in order to hear tales of a people who are not getting along with another people.  Nor does it take much effort to hear of one group of people, or one person, trying to usurp power and gain control over a land which may not be rightfully theirs...whether that is good for the land or not.  Power has this corrupting quality.  But what about when those rightfully in power are trying to do things for the good of the people that might unite fronts that have been divided, upending very old societal structures?

A prince born from the love between royalty from different peoples (different planets, even) must face his destiny sooner than anyone expected when an uncle on one side leads a revolt against his own brother - a king who is determined to make his kingdom a fair and equal place for both people of the planet to live, Darracians and Quyroos alike.  Good vs. evil.  Tradition vs. a new way of thinking.  Love?  In some ways this is an age-old story told in a new way with new characters and settings that are put together rather well.  While characters are unique individuals, the settings are interesting, and there are elements of science fiction and the mystic that would please even the most die-hard SciFi fan, the plot and writing styles themselves leave something to be desired.  The story itself unfolds rather slowly at first, almost laboriously.  It is like a movie that starts slowly and takes awhile to get to the action.  Once the action is reached, however, there are issues with how it is presented.  For example, scenes full of action fly by so quickly that it is hard to know what exactly is going on.  I found myself confused during about half of these books....which isn't conducive to an enjoyable/productive reading experience.  The writing style itself is also very clipped and efficient in places, while being descriptive in other places - there is a lack of consistency.  Typos are also found throughout the work.  I'd gripe about how the book itself is formatted (double-spaced), but have been told there is a plan in place to address some formatting issues.  A good story with some presentation issues.

On an ascending scale of 1 to 5, I give this book a 3.

The Good
Here we find a classic story: child born of a union between two unlikely individuals whose destiny will not only shape his world, but possibly that of others as well.  Add a social stratification on his home planet reminiscent of the stratification found in India (albeit with only two factions), floating cities, love, and a traitorous uncle and you have this book.  It is something akin to if Macbeth met "Avatar"....just add a few extra planets.

V'sair is a prince sired by a Darracian king and a princess from a water planet.  He looks different than literally every other individual on Darracia, the planet where he lives.  He has a different destiny - against all odds, unite the two deeply divided peoples who populate Darracia: the Darracians and the Quyroos.  One problem: he has never gone through the Fireblade challenge.  But is the Fireblade what it seems to be?  Only time (and, well, the end of the first book) will tell.  He falls in love with a girl he has known for years as his mother's servant...but she is more, so much more.  About the same time, his uncle stages an uprising that leads to the death of several key figures, physical disfigurement of others, and pushes V'sair to seek out the truth behind the Elements....a truth which reveals more truths which threaten to undermine the planet's societal structures.  And so ends the first book. 

The second book picks up months after the carnage.  V'sair is struggling to figure out how to live into his new role with the people when he was pushed into it before his training was even nearing completion.  Not to mention the other half of his being has been AWOL for awhile, trying to lead her people....but will they trust someone who is of them but not of them?   V'sair's brother is off seeking out the uncle who destroyed everything he once held dear, but perhaps he will lose his life in the process.  There is a pair of sisters who present an interesting question (sorry, you're gonna have to read to figure out what I'm talking about).  The stage is set for a rather epic battle.  Seriously, this book seems to be almost purely stage-setting for the next book....which I find rather intriguing.  Yes, it carries the story forward a bit, but it provides much more background than in the first book.  Frankly, some of this background would have been helpful in understanding what was going on in the first book, but so is.

I'm going to applaud Cash for something that I usually nit-pick authors about: the characters are unique. Even in long, complicated conversation scenes I could generally figure out who was talking even without the "he said this, she said that" indicators.  I deeply appreciate characters who have their own personalities that are clearly distinct from one another and that of the author.  Yay!!  I also really like these characters - especially Bobbien (I think she's my favorite of the entire series - kind of reminds me of the baboon in "Lion King").  They are images of flawed beauty in a way that means they are relateable.  Good deal.

This is a good story.  Sure, some tropes are used that have been done and done to death, but they have actually been combined here in a way that I find rather intriguing.  I'd love to see this story done on screen....after the following has been addressed.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
Good story.  Less than stellar presentation.  I'm going to rip on this book a little bit because there were enough things that bothered me that, frankly, my reading of these books was a little more stalled than it could have been.  I just couldn't get into it the same way it seems other reviewers were able to.  To each his own - no book is going to please every single reader, this is why we have multiple genres and millions of works within genres.  :)

Anyways, let us first look at style.  I can't fault Cash too much for stylistic choices that I would not make, but I can nit pick on a lack of consistency.  My fiction writing style is one that is very descriptive, full of "flowerly" adjectives and such.  It is not very efficient.  Cash's style is remarkably most places.  In other places it is much more descriptive.  The lack of consistency made my head keep changing gears in a way that bugged me. 

Second, the plot itself.  While the story is pretty good, the way it unfolded left a few things to be desired.  It took awhile for the story to get going.  So much work was done in the beginning setting the scene that it was like a movie that starts off slow, with all of the action happening in the last 30 minutes.  Now, this can make some sense given that there is a new world to explore with a new societal structure, entirely new characters, etc.  I get that.  I just had an exceptionally hard time following what in Darracia was going on and keeping track of who was what.  Wait, how'd that person get across the room?  How'd his eyes gum shut with blood in all of 20 seconds?  Oh yeah, and there were enough moments where I thought "that's not how science works" that my brain hurt.  Blood drying too quickly, people not falling right according to how they were just hit, etc.

Third, there were typos all. over. the. place.  Not just the kind of typo where a few letters are out of order, though these were certainly present, but the kind of typo where a sentence had clearly been written one way, then written a different way, and the first way wasn't completely cleared out of the way (confused yet?).  Pronoun confusion reigned supreme, as did sentence constructions that didn't make a lot of sense in my head.  Keep in mind that I'm hard on grammar - while I can't diagram a sentence to save my life, I know when something sounds wrong.  Unfortunately, a lot sounded wrong here.

Finally, I just wasn't that into these books.  I read them because I had agreed to, but after the first book I didn't feel much like reading the second one....and now I really don't feel like continuing to the third.  I really feel as though this is a good story wrapped in less than stellar presentation.  It just was not my cup of tea.  It happens.