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!!