Friday, June 20, 2014

REVIEW: "Running Through A Dark Place" by Michael Bowler (Tribute Books Blog Tours)

King Arthur and his extraordinary young Knights used ‘might’ for ‘right’ to create a new Camelot in the City of Angels. They rallied the populace around their cause, while simultaneously putting the detached politicians in check. But now they must move forward to even greater heights, despite what appears to be an insurmountable tragedy.

Their new goal is lofty: give equality to kids fourteen and older who are presently considered adults only when they break the law. Arthur’s crusade seeks to give them real rights such as voting, driving, trading high school for work, and sitting as jurors for their peers charged with criminal behavior.

Understanding that the adults of California will likely be against them, Arthur and his Knights must determine how best to win them over.

However, before the king can even contemplate these matters, he finds himself face to face with an ally from the past, one who proves that everything isn’t always what it seems – even life and death.

The Knight Cycle Continues…

Pages: 447
Release: May 2014


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Bowler

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of three novels - A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time, and Children of the Knight - who grew up in San Rafael, California.

He majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University and earned 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 seven 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 has already written the four continuations of Children of the Knight that complete The Knight Cycle and all will be released in 2014.

He is currently at work on a new novel.


We tend to forget that famous people are still just people...especially when those famous people are youth/kids.  I read an article recently about Jennifer Lawrence (a young lady who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses) of "Hunger Games" fame.  Her father said her fame hasn't changed her in their family much, that she is still going to go through all of the same processes of identity formation and such that other young people go through.  She will just do so under a microscope since she is so famous.  But when a young person is famous because of a crusade to make the world better for children, can fame actually be a problem??

Awhile ago I reviewed the first book in this series, Children of the Knight, and absolutely loved it.  This continuation of the story did not disappoint.  We rejoin the characters right in the middle of the scene which closed the first book - Lance has just died while television audiences watched in horror.  An act of love designed to save King Arthur's life.  An act of love that cost Lance his life.  Or did it?  An unexpected character from Arthur's past shows up and changes the game in a way that Lance becomes "the boy who came back".  

A superbly written tale, this book kept me on the edge of my seat as I lost more than a few hours sleep from needing to know what happened next.  How was character XYZ's behavior going to be explained?  What exactly was Operation Silent Treatement?  A difficult past haunts main characters, a mysterious figure becomes a part of daily life in a way that is difficult to figure out, and a wonderfully rich story unfolds in a way that gives me hope that a spark can move mountains.  Can children change the world?  Watch them.

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

The Good
Much of what I said about the first book in this series is true here as well: Bowler here utilizes a writing style that dragged me into the scenes in a way that made me forget for a little while that while reading I was laying beside my son in his hospital bed for a week after he was diagnosed with leukemia.  This was a welcome relief and one that I appreciated deeply.  

Anyways, Bowler's writing style is approachable, likeable, snarky in all the right places, and engaging.  Settings are created in an extremely realistic fashion, we always know how people are moving around in space (it bugs me when books have characters all over a room and don't explain how that is happening), the story progresses naturally from the first book, and just the right amount of new characters to figure out are introduced.  Oh, and a nitpicky thing: characters communicate via looks and body language just as much as they do through words.  Why am I pointing this out?  I tend to find that many fiction books tend towards being dialog heavy as they attempt to work out the vast amounts of silent communication that happens between individuals.  Not so here.  Here we get "the looks", body gestures, and such laid out in such a way that makes perfect sense and is true to life.

But let's get to the story for a moment: King Arthur is still in modern-day L.A. championing the rights of children in a society where adults look upon children as something to be least until they screw up.  He has gathered together a rag-tag group of people to help him in this crusade, people who have names that are remarkably similar to individuals from Arthurian legend (I see what you did there, Bowler). This rag-tag group includes Sir Lance, a young man who lost his life at the end of the first book in a successful attempt to save King Arthur from being shot by a sniper.  A young man who becomes "the boy who came back" after a mysterious figure from Arthur's distant past shows up and resets a wrong: Lance was not supposed to die.  Unfortunately, the manner in which he was saved cost a life that was very dear to everyone, and Lance spends the rest of the book struggling with this sacrifice, as well as with the feeling that death just might want him back.  

Well, in becoming "the boy who came back", Lance becomes the most famous person in the world.  People either love him or hate him.  Adults tend to be suspicious, especially when he proves so successful at wielding words that his oration skills are likened to those of President Lincoln, because he shines a light on how they have failed children (apparently conveniently forgetting how they were failed as children).  Yet just because he is famous and engaged in a noble crusade does not mean he is perfect.  Sir Lance is still just fourteen and learning what living means (especially after having died).  A teenager struggling through identity formation, he makes some rather public glaring errors in judgment that threaten to derail the crusade entirely.  And what should he do with the enigmatic Michael, a boy whom everyone else seems to want to have nothing to do with but to whom Lance somehow feels a connection and the sense that there is some good in Michael to be unleashed?

Never underestimate what children and youth are capable of when their energies are harnessed for good.

This is yet another work which exposes how poorly children are treated in our society.  They are considered children and incapable of making informed decisions until they are 18, but they can be tried as an adult in court and  - in some rare cases - executed as such.  They cannot vote, but must abide by laws which affect nearly every aspect of their lives.  Seriously, I think the political world would look a bit different if youth were able to hold politicians to task in the same way they do so here.  Now, I understand why kids are not allowed to vote....truly I do.  But what if politicians were actually held accountable to the children they are making laws for?  For example, what if politicians had to answer to all of the children whom their recent actions towards food stamps affected?  

Anyways, to get back to the book.  As I said about the first one, it is superbly written, deeply engaging, and made me want to see about getting a crusade such as this organized.  The plot moves along very well and flows very naturally.  People engage with one another in ways that make perfect sense.  Characters' emotions are explored in a way that actually helps readers get to know the characters as more than just a name on a page - they are someone you could meet when going about your daily life.

On another note, this book is more "real" than I would like it to be.  I've met these optional, disenfranchised, violent, and "difficult" children everywhere.  On the whole, adults don't tend to give them much of a chance.  This is a crime to our children.  I've witnessed first-hand how much these "optional" children are capable of when taken seriously and given a chance, and it is incredible.  

Read this book. May it ignite a fire in you to pursue justice for the youngest "least of these" in our society.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
I've only got two big nitpicks here, and they weren't really enough to derail my giving this book a perfect score.  First, there are minor typos scattered throughout the book.  Not enough to completely derail me as I read, but enough that I noticed it did not seem as thoroughly edited as the first book.  Second, CLIFFHANGER.  BLAHGASDFIAQWESFNAS!!  I HATE cliffhangers!!  I'm not going to knock part of a score down from this, as this is a stylistic choice that makes sense for a book that is part of a series.  Just be prepared that there is a MAJOR freaking cliffhanger at the end.  

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Quick update - those expecting a review from me soon will want to read this

So, this past week my two-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia.  He was hospitalized for a week, and is undergoing a rather intensive chemo schedule now in order to knock to cancer into remission.

What this means for this blog is this: if you are expecting a review from me, it may be late.  My priority is my son, and he needs his Momma more than your book needs my review.

You will get your review, and I'll notify you when it is up....but just know it may be later than expected.

Prayers for my boy - Drexel - appreciated.