Review of “Non-Profit” by Larry Hyatt

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The author is clearly a talented writer. The story flowed nicely and his characters were fairly well-developed. I think there may have been a few too many characters, but the story revolved around a conference held for those working for non-profit organizations in Louisiana, so a fair amount of people were required. Since I’m retired, in many ways the story reminded me too much of work, LOL. Those who work in the non-profit industry would probably enjoy it. I did laugh out loud several times at their antics. The politics, interaction between employees, dirty little secrets, and so forth were certainly credible and somewhat typical of any office environment, with the added flavor of the South.

One thing I found confusing and then annoying was the fact the author was inconsistent in how he spelled one of the main characters name–sometimes it was Rachael and others Rachel, which at first made be think it was two different people. Another character, Valerie, was also spelled Valarie. It’s also usually a good idea to keep character names different enough they don’t get confused. Having a Rebecca, Jacob, Josh, and the protagonist, Jay, didn’t help keep them separate.

There was also minimal if any physical description regarding what the characters looked like. I realize some readers prefer to imagine what a character looks like themselves and not be told, so this is subjective and a moot point, but I prefer to have that included. I suppose the cover did some of this, which was clever and a great representation of the story. To the author’s credit, there was only one or two actual typos, which I always appreciate. As a grammar Nazi, I can really go on a rant when I’m continually thrown out of a story due to flaws that should have been caught by an editor, proofreader, or even a spellchecker. A few times I got lost regarding who was speaking with the group dialogs, but at least the conversations sounded real.

To me, this was primarily the story of a crazy week at a conference. While it was credible, it wasn’t that interesting to someone outside the industry, but I think the author has the talent to make a more interesting story, perhaps throwing a murder or some other mystery in there for his next work.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

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I don’t enjoy giving poor reviews, but…

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I’m not sure where to even start reviewing this book, because I’m having a very difficult time deciding how to rate it using the conventional 5-star system. I hate to leave a poor review, because I know they can be painful. They can be useful for new writers, however, when they are thus motivated to find ways to improve. It was a 3-star review that really got my attention and drove me to re-edit one of my books with regard to comma usage. Writers tend to be blind to their own work, making it difficult to improve unless specifics are pointed out for them to work on.

I do try to find the positive elements in a story and recognize the thought and effort that went into it. However, when I don’t particularly enjoy a book, even find it a chore to finish, I tend to break it down into what I expect from a 5-star story to see how it measured up and thus give it what will hopefully be a fair and somewhat objective rating.

I realize (and so should you) that all reviews are subjective. What one person loves, another abhors. I admit I’m not a big fan of vampires and zombies. I’m also a grammar Nazi and a long way from being a young adult, this story’s target audience. (Nonetheless, I’ve read some YA vampire and zombie stories that I’ve enjoyed and awarded 5 stars, largely because they were well-written, original, kept moving, and drew me into the characters. Therefore, my age and interests don’t mean I’ll automatically give a book a poor rating, but will compare it to others in that genre that I’ve read.)  To its credit, this one was clean as far as language and sex are concerned. It’s definitely in the PG range, maybe even G.

Thus, in this case, I’m reverting to my scientific training and breaking it down to the many things I consider important when rating a book. That will help me understand my own reaction and its rationale as well.

So let’s see what the numbers say.

Plot: This story had a new twist on the somewhat worn-out vampire/paranormal themes as Casey, a young woman in her late teens, begins the physical transformation process into something that isn’t at first clear, to either the protagonist or the reader, since the story point of view is first person narrative. This was fairly well done. You could understand her concern and relate to her confusion and worry about what was happening to her. The sense of mystery and suspense started out well. Information about who the strange people surrounding her really were evolved naturally, as the novel progressed. The structure of the vampire culture was well-developed and it was interesting how certain individuals were linked in different ways. These were supposedly decided in previous lifetimes. So far, so good.

However, as the story progressed and by the time it ended, these original parameters were not always the case. I don’t feel as if there was adequate explanation for some of these diversions. There was also at least one major, unanswered question, that I won’t specify, because it would constitute a spoiler. Maybe it will be answered in the next book, but it seemed like a question that the main character should have been asking, too, since it related to her parents.

How the ending fit into the established cultural order was also vague. If there was as much predestination as implied early on, it seems the other characters would have been aware, even if the protagonist wasn’t.

Rating: 3.0

Character Development: Most of the characters had discernible personalities, though I never really connected emotionally with the protagonist, even with the book written in first person. I could sympathize with her, but only in a general way. Some of the others were annoying, the way they got so spun-up, specifically Takota, but given they were teenagers, this was in-character. Just because I didn’t particularly like all the characters is no fault of the author’s. We don’t like everyone we meet, and they are real enough.

The adults were pretty flat, which is forgivable in a young adult novel, but Dr. Avens was a major character and not fleshed out much better. However, through the eyes of a teenage girl, I suppose discerning where an adult may be coming from may be expecting too much.  In that case, I would expect the main character to have more concerns that he was such an enigma. Getting back into Casey’s deepest feelings is the issue again, and the lack of rendering the depth of her emotions about what was happening to her.

Rating: 2.5

Cover, formatting and interior design: The cover is intriguing and well-designed, the interior nicely done with glyphs before each chapter. The appearance over all was pleasing and looked professional.

Rating: 5.0

Quality of Writing, i.e. editing, grammar, spelling, style, and word use: I was nearly overwhelmed with typos, grammar, missing words, and wrong words. With regard to the writing style in general, the story could have been told in a lot less pages. There was too much irrelevant detail, economy of words was lacking, and it needed some serious line and content editing. There were so many mistakes I was continually jolted out of the story, especially when the wrong word was used, such as canape (an appetizer) instead of canopy (such as over a bed) and shutter (window protection) used instead of shudder (shake with fear or emotion).  The usage of adverbs and adjectives was overdone as well. This undoubtedly affected my entire reaction to the story because it was distracting and downright annoying. A simple spell-checker or grammar checker would have picked up the majority of these, which tells me such details were entirely off the author’s radar. As a reader, they are not off mine.

Rating: 1.5

To determine if a story is well-rounded, I look at five elements I remember by the acronym IDEAS, i.e. imagery, dialog, emotion, action, and suspense.

Imagery: Clearly the author has a very vivid imagination, such that she can describe scenes in vivid detail. However, in many cases it was too much physical detail which slowed down the story. I could have used a few reminders about what some of the characters looked like; some may have never been described. It was okay to describe a place or room in laborious detail once and then drop in a few reminders later, but in some cases it was reiterated too many times and slowed down the story.

Rating: 3.0

Dialog: For the most part, this was well-done and convincing. Conversations were authentic, though sometimes there was confusion with regard to which character was speaking. This can be done without constantly saying “he said” or “she said”, such as by using action such as pacing, or describing their expression or reaction. Including the other person’s name in the dialog itself, is another technique.

Rating: 3.5

Emotion: My ultimate judge of a book, which will earn a story a high ranking, is whether it makes me laugh, cry, or seriously worry about a character. I never became emotionally connected with any of the characters. While they displayed emotions, they were not rendered in an effective enough manner to draw me in. Feelings weren’t ignored completely, just described with a modifier as opposed to rendering what the character was really going through, which is what generates empathy or at least sympathy. There was a lot of anger, but no heart-wrenching emotion, which would have been appropriate in various situations.

Rating: 1.5

Action: There were some scenes that dragged on and on, such that I got so tired of them that I would actually put the book down until the following day, right in the middle of something that should have had me tearing my hair out with regard to what was going to happen. Instead, many times I found myself tearing my hair out with frustration, thinking, “Get on with it, for heaven sake!” It was actually painful to finish this book, between the typos and slow-motion action.

Rating: 2.0

Suspense: The suspense, as defined as wondering with some level of concern what was going to happen next, was moderate, but as noted under “Action”, not developed or sustained enough to drive me to read into the wee hours of the night. There were plenty of questions to be answered, some of which were, others that weren’t. The fact I even finished the book is testimony that there was enough suspense for me to wonder how it would end, so I’ll give it credit for that. The ending was moderately unexpected, but also lacked a certain level of credibility. However, since this is a series, I assume such things will be explained in subsequent volumes.

Rating: 3.0

SUMMARY

So, by rating the various story elements on a 1 to 5 scale as noted above, including plot (3.0); character development (2.5); packaging (5.0); quality of writing (1.5); imagery (3.0); dialog (3.5); emotional impact (1.5); action (2.0); and suspense (3.0), the average came out 2.78. or a weak 3.

This book has potential, but desperately needs copy, line, and content editing to pass muster and even possibly be viewed as a professional work. This is one instance where judging a book by its great cover is very misleading to what lies within.

“Dance of the Lights” by Stephen Geez

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If you have any doubt regarding what life is all about, then you need to read this beautiful story, which will explain it to you. The ultimate love story, I definitely fell in love with most of the characters in this book. They were so real, you felt as if you knew them, that they were your own friends and neighbors, making their way through life and its struggles, including sometimes the painful loss of a loved one. It was an utterly convincing slice of life, where people work hard for what they have, interact with neighbors and loved ones, and most importantly, help one another when the need arises. It was about priorities, caring, and doing the right thing, but not in a flamboyant way. It was about the passage of time, how things change, including people, and the importance of friends.

A light paranormal touch permeated the story, a reminder that what we see is but a small part of what we know as reality. There are some things that simply can’t be explained. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one, yet felt their presence or heard them speaking inside their mind, will relate. Who and what are we? What about those with whom we share our lives, loves, and ambitions? Is it all random? Do certain people come into our lives by chance or design? What is the essence of life? Love? Our very existence?

Don’t expect specific answers to any of these questions because you won’t find them. Rather, there is plenty to ponder. On the one hand, it’s easy to note that those characters who made mistakes were beyond fortunate to find someone to stand behind them and help them get past their troubles. Finances were not a problem for the main characters, who generously shared their substance to help others. Most who fall upon hard times are not so lucky. Those who have had to dig their way out of a bad situation on their own could even feel a touch of bitterness. Yes, this story reflects the ideal, which life seldom is. However, I don’t believe it’s those in sorry circumstances to whom this story applies the most. Rather it would have the most powerful impact on those with the means to help others by expounding the deep satisfaction, friendship, and rewards that come from helping your fellow man.

The characters in this book were familiar in many respects; archetypes, if you will. No doubt you will relate to some more than others, recognize several, and with luck, even see yourself. There are parts that are heart-rending, yet that is a fact of life. Learning to deal with death and grief is part of living.  Learning not to take anything for granted, to appreciate each and every day, realizing that in a flash everything could change, is what enriches our existence.  Years pass a day at a time, yet in what can feel like an instant, they evaporate, leaving you in awe of their passing. Of course the older you are, the more obvious this is.

This cast who populated this story touched my heart in so many ways. In some respects, it was like a  soap opera, as diverse individuals entangled with one another through heredity or circumstance went about their lives, some days normal and predictable, others milestones, or marred by sudden tragedy. In many ways, stories like this are a measure of the reader’s capacity to love. If you don’t fall in love with these characters, feel as if you know them, and even wish you had some of them as friends or neighbors, perhaps you’ve lost touch with your own humanity and need for others in your life.

Author Stephen Geez renders characters you’ll never forget, who’ll live on within your heart forever.  If you could use a few new book-friends or book-neighbors, to say nothing of a nice dose of inspiration, then introduce yourself to these adorable souls over in Tarpon Springs. You’ll be glad you did.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Old House” by Karl Morgan

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This paranormal suspense thriller is best described as “Freddie Kruger plays Jumanji.” When Simon Carter’s grandfather dies, he inherits a fortune, contingent on living in an old house for two years. The house is loaded with secrets and a variety of dangers which his namesake and great-grandfather literally built walls around, which Simon has been instructed to uncover in a specific order. Of course circumstances arise which makes this impossible and all hell breaks loose.

The action and suspense were reasonably well-sustained and the author clearly has an excellent imagination. The imagery was reasonably well-developed as well as the plot itself with inter-generational intrigue and the usual discontent that inevitably arises over legacies. The premise for this story was great, but I felt as if it read like a first draft. It could have been so much more than it was, had the author spent a little more time with it to develop the characters.

As a writer myself, I find it relatively easy to capture action and dialog in a story, but the other elements that enrich it and make it stand out often need to be added later, such as emotional impact. I found the characters flat and my involvement with them and the story was nonexistent. For all that was going on, there was nothing that described what the characters were experiencing at an emotional level in a situation that should have been loaded. This is essential for a thriller to evoke the fear and concern you want the reader to experience with the protagonist. Instead, I found some of the action scenes boring since I wasn’t engaged with Simon or anyone else.

This was undoubtedly exacerbated by the omniscient viewpoint, which was difficult to follow. Switching the point of view with a division is one thing, but jumping from one to another is like watching a B movie where you never know or relate to any of the characters. The transitions were bumpy, and there were times when someone simply appeared on the scene from nowhere, and I’m not talking about the specters. The dialog was often stilted and expletives overdone. Missing articles and prepositions scattered throughout indicated a poor job of copy editing.

Like so many stories, this one has great potential. It possess a great framework for an intriguing story, but for me it simply didn’t deliver. At most, I’d give it three stars for a great premise and interesting plotline. I recommend that the author practice rendering emotion for his characters so this story can come alive and contain the impact it could. The author has written several books and this is the first one I’ve read. Unfortunately, it was disappointing enough it’s doubtful I’ll try any of the others.

You can find it on Amazon here.

Amazon’s Review Policy Explained

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Most indie authors have encountered, either personally or vicariously, some of Amazon’s gestapo review policies. When reviews are so important to a book’s ranking, it’s no wonder that restrictions are frustrating and often confusing. More than anything, I simply wondered what was behind it? Clearly Amazon’s goal is to sell product, so why would they institute rules that compromise sales? It seems that “fake reviews” should be recognizable to any intelligent person and be discounted with an eye-roll as opposed to throwing out the baby with the bath water and tossing legitimate ones.

Well, I attended a free webinar the other day entitled “3 Catastrophic Marketing Landmines That Can Get You Into Serious Hot Water With The FTC Today: And What You Need To Know… ” that provided a classic “Aha!” moment that explained what’s more than likely behind Amazon’s review policy.  If you hurry, you can listen to it until June 4, 2017 here. [NOTE: If you should join their program, note that I am NOT an affiliate and will NOT receive any compensation. Rather, I’m sharing it because I feel it’s information that others can benefit from as I did.]

So what’s the deal? Why is Amazon being so ornery about reviews? Not surprisingly, it’s none other than our friend (?) the US Government, more specifically the Federal Trade Commission, a.k.a. FTC. Like the IRS, this is another government agency you don’t want to tangle with. They have strict rules regarding deceptive testimonials, which includes whether there was any material compensation involved; in other words, a paid affiliate needs to be disclosed, with what constitutes payment a somewhat grey area. Deceptive testimonials, another no-no, can obviously include reviews from friends and associates who may claim something is the best thing since the cell phone when in reality it’s not. We’ve all read books from time to time that had multiple 5-star ratings that were clearly undeserved. So, being compensated for a review in some manner or an inflated testimonial that is unlikely to represent the opinion of others are to be avoided.

In other words, the bottom line is Amazon is covering their butt against consumer complaints to the FTC, which is the prudent thing for a business to do. If you have a website where you offer products to consumers, there are various alligators in the water regarding disclosure with which you, also, should be aware. As with any government regulation, ignorance of the law is no excuse and failure to comply can get you into serious trouble. All authors need to be aware of such regulations, especially if they have a website where they have affiliate links or sell their own books.

But my main point here is that Amazon is not doing this to make our lives difficult, but to protect their interests and comply with government regulations. It’s no wonder they ignore our complaints since we certainly don’t wield the punch of Uncle Sam.

That said, I can’t help but wonder what the FTC would do if authors complained about the way Amazon handles trolls?  Undoubtedly it’s covered in our contract to their benefit, but as our sales agent, if they allow trolls to jeopardize our sales, it would make for an interesting conversation….

I Don’t Love Zombies but Loved this Story

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I’m not a big zombie fan in that I’ve never been drawn to shows like “The Walking Dead” and so forth. I’m prone to look upon zombies and vampires as analogies. To me, zombies represent those around us who simply go from day to day in a daze, missing what’s really going on around them, lacking joy and enthusiasm, and trashing those around them who have a life. Vampires are even more obvious, being the bloodsuckers that expect others to take care of them emotionally or financially. Since I’m not amused or entertained by such individuals, I’m likewise not usually attracted to such stories.

However, as a writer myself I enjoy a well-crafted story, regardless of genre. I especially enjoy award winning author, Elle Klass’, tales because they’re populated with well-developed, intelligent, gutsy, and engaging characters while her plots are original and full of surprises. Thus, for her books I’ll always make an exception. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her “Bloodseeker” stories and now Zombie Girl because they’re well-written with lots of action involving memorable, believable characters as well as surprising and often intricate plot twists.  A dose of Elle’s creative genius is the ultimate prescription to escape the figurative zombies and vampires in your own life.

I recently finished “Premonition” where the heroine, Maddie, is in trouble with her parents because she’s flunking science. Pressured to improve her grade, she reluctantly agrees to study more diligently. That night she experiences a vivid dream in which her parents have turned into zombies, so she flees her home. She meets a boy named Bryce, the two of them battling zombies, trying to survive.  When she wakes up to a normal Saturday morning, she realizes it was only a dream, yet remains troubled. Not only was the dream itself far too real, a physical object Bryce gave her in the dream is still in her possession.

Huh? How could it be?

This physical evidence tells her for certain it was more than a dream–it was a warning. Nonetheless, months pass, and everything seems normal. Until another vestige from the dream becomes reality.

Elle knows how to build nail-biting suspense and “Premonition” is no exception. The story is relatively short, but sets the stage for what you know is going to be an exciting adventure with a generous sprinkling of dark humor. Fortunately, the sequel, “Infection,” is coming soon.  Preorder now so you don’t miss it when it comes out in July!

Pick up your copy of “Premonition” here.

Preorder “Infection” here.

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“This website may contain affiliate links which means if you click on a link and ultimately invest in something, that I may get a commission. If the item is one of my own books, that should be intuitively obvious.”

Review of “Torn Apart” by Julianne Alcott

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This well-written second volume of the YA Ripmender series provides an emotional rollercoaster ride as the saga continues of ordinary, somewhat plain Cathy Slater in what’s likely to be a dead-end relationship with rock star, Nathan Jake.  As established in “The Ripmender”, Nathan Jake is a genetically engineered human whose purpose is to protect the Earth from hostile alien invasion through rips in the space-time continuum.  As such, he’s been provided abilities that are marginally in the super-power range and further magnified by a super-charged cell phone, yet he’s emotionally impaired in that he can never fall in love.

Nonetheless, he sees Cathy as his best friend and insists on her companionship. Cathy is privy to Ripmender secrets humans aren’t supposed to know, but has earned immunity to having those memories erased. This brings various awkward moments with her friends, who are all great supporting characters who add a touch of normalcy to Cathy’s crazy world. These are all developed in the first book, which I recommend reading prior to this one for full context to this story and characters.

The pace, like the first book in the series, reminds me of a (mild) PG-13 version of something you might see on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. It keeps moving, the dialog lively and convincing, as this saga plunges forward. The plot thickens and the Ripmender culture grows more complex with other genetically engineered groups introduced such as Fembers and Carers. As assumed from the previous story, Victor is up to no good, and Hudson’s role is expanded as well. Various internal rivalries are explained, Nathan and Cathy often caught in the middle. Some questions carried over from the first volume are answered, new ones introduced.

I found this story leaning more toward contemporary fantasy than the sci-fi flavor of the first book, but that isn’t a criticism, just an observation. The suspense is well-sustained with numerous plot twists that are unexpected, sometimes jaw-dropping, which I won’t go into since they’re well into spoiler territory. The ending is satisfying, yet leaves you sufficiently curious regarding what the next episode will provide while dragging poor Cathy along for another wild ride.

I love the characters in this story, especially the heroine, Cathy. She’s been through an emotional wringer courtesy of various traumatic experiences, yet hangs on and confronts the challenges before her. This is an enjoyable and suspenseful Young Adult series that provides plenty of action while accurately reflects the feelings and challenges confronted during those college years and beyond. It provides a great escape while sustaining credibility that such a world could exist just beyond human perception.

I was provided a complementary copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

5-Stars for Scott Skipper’s “A Little Rebellion Now and Then”

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If you’re not afraid of the truth, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this book. It’s brutally honest, somewhat raw, and loaded with sarcastic wit that had me laughing out loud. Yet, its story is far from pretty because it depicts a little too accurately what has become of the 1st Amendment. At this point, we can hardly tell what’s true and what’s not. If you’re wondering who’s telling the truth (or perhaps suppressing it), this gripping story can probably enlighten you.

As a Baby Boomer myself, I could relate to this book in multiple ways. For one thing, I remember the Nixon era, the Vietnam War, the California drug culture, and ’60s protests including the Kent State shootings all too well. This book recounted them all in vivid detail, its first-person narrative style gripping and authentic. You can’t help but love its main character, Kate Baker, who is truly a rebel at heart. The kind of rebel we need more of these days, one who isn’t afraid to speak up and confront injustice and hypocrisy, regardless of how powerful its source might be.

Back in the ’60s, Kate was vocal regarding the Kent State incident, where students peacefully protesting the Vietnam War were shot by the Ohio National Guard. The government has never taken kindly to criticism, and the Nixon administration was no exception. Good ol’ Tricky Dick was a real piece of work and ultimately quit upon being caught and impeached for the Watergate Scandal.

As Kate writes a variety of scathing articles relative to what really happened at Kent State, she encounters harassment of all varieties. Of course she paints a target on herself in some ways, given she was into pot and recreational drug use, providing numerous excuses to get busted. She was also what I would consider pretty loose on the sexual morality side, yet as I remember that era of “Make Love, Not War” it fits the character. No one ever said you have to be a saint to be a hero. Courage and an adventurous spirit can often lead off the beaten moral track.

One thing that comes to mind about this story is the old adage “You finish like you start.” That, and the fact that people don’t change who they are.

So Kate’s misadventures in the ’60s and ’70s are only half of this thoroughly entertaining story. The chapters alternate between her youth and later years, when she’s a successful novelist who’s written a best selling book entitled “Satan’s Angel” where the president is assassinated by a genetically engineered fruit that combined figs with oleander. Similarities between the characters in Kate’s book and the current administration are noted and the powers-that-be immediately try to silence her through a litany of harassment techniques such as hacking her computer to steal her passwords, placing her on the “no fly” list, freezing her bank accounts, unpublishing her self-published book as well as black-balling it with major publishers, following her every move with a drone, and numerous other devious tactics.

Let me say here, that Kate is definitely not politically correct. If you’re offended by such individuals, then you’ll undoubtedly get so mad you won’t be able to get through this book. (Liberals, I’m talking to you. More than likely you’d be siding with the antagonists and demanding this book be banned.) On the other hand, if you’re sick of all the PCBS, you’ll get angry as well, but you’ll be behind Kate and sympathetic to her situation every step of the way. The sad thing is that we all know that this type of harassment and brutal silencing techniques happen. Oddly enough, they’re often depicted on TV shows.  True “free speech” is a thing of the past and Big Brother is not only alive and well, but now armed with modern technology which enables him to be even more devious than Orwell ever dreamed in his worst nightmares.

The author has done incredible and accurate research that makes this story come alive. It is shocking and chilling. It doesn’t read like fiction, it reads like a news report–a blood-chilling and accurate news report, of which we see few, if any, these days. This story is an outstanding commentary on what our society has become and where it’s probably headed.  And it does it with style, humor and wit, to say nothing of sustained suspense that makes it extremely hard to put down. I gotta say, when Kate mooned the drone I about fell over laughing. And of course, she wound up in jail as a result. I’m definitely going to adopt her penchant for saying “Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot” for WTF.

Be warned, however, that there’s a generous dose of what some would consider offensive language. It’s not over-done or gratuitous, but definitely in-character; Kate does not behave or speak like a nun. All that aside, we need more Kates in this world. If she were real, she’d probably resurrect the Grey Panthers, which at this point I’d join in a heartbeat. If you’re as disgusted as I am with what used to be a rather nice country, past presidents like Nixon notwithstanding, don’t miss this articulate voicing of how bad things have become as seen through the eyes of Kate Baker. IMHO, she absolutely rocks.

The selective reporting and bias of the media is no secret and it’s gotten progressively worse.  Democracies tend to fail and, at this point, the USA is headed in that direction. The scariest thing is that there are those out there who WANT it to fail. Why? Because it’ll be to their advantage and they’re carefully positioning themselves to take control. In case you’re not aware, failed democracies are always followed by a dictatorship. There are lots of opinions out there with regard to who that aspiring dictator might be. After reading this story, you should have a better idea who that might or might not be. Hint: It won’t be the one network TV or major newspapers are pointing at.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Wake (and What Jeremiah did Next) by Colm Herron

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This story is nothing short of brilliant. If you have any connection to Ireland, you’ll recognize the intimate depiction of its people and culture. If you don’t, you’ll get a crash course. The saying that fiction is best for depicting truth definitely applies. In this case, it’s like being fully immersed, perhaps even like being baptized in Irish whiskey, through the eyes of the main character, Jeremiah.

The book is so loaded with truth I hardly know where to start. It starts out at a wake, an event that is typically associated with Irish culture. If you’ve never been to one like myself, this will give you a glimpse of what they’re all about. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, it will make even more sense. Here you have someone who has passed away and has no relatives, so a neighbor holds the wake because it’s the thing to do. The conversations during this event reveal a boatload. It’s more of a social event where refreshments are served than a time to remember the deceased, who was not particularly liked. Jeremiah, whose mother is the hostess, is stuck attending and, to make it more tolerable, has a bit too much to drink. Well, okay, maybe more than a bit. This results in some absolutely hilarious situations that had me laughing ’til I cried, but I won’t give away because I hate spoilers.

So what did Jeremiah do next? Well, he got on with his life. A rather weird, somewhat dysfunctional, crazy one that wasn’t particularly unexpected for a young man in his twenties discovering life in that time and place. As is the case with most that age and gender, he’s obsessed with sex. He’s in love with a woman who’s not only bisexual, but a rebel. This is where all the social issues regarding the Catholics and Protestants come into play. After all, it’s the 60s when protesting was in vogue. So, Jeremiah hooks up with Aisling and her partner, Frances, whom he describes as “Stalin in drag.” The adventures they encounter, including in the bedroom (which are tastefully done, considering it’s a menage a trois) take off from there, and provide a glimpse into the religion-related issues and what the protests are all about.

I consider this story a literary masterpiece. I could hardly put it down, which was exacerbated by the fact it doesn’t have chapter breaks. It reads partly like a journal and partly like following Jeremiah around, perhaps as his guardian angel sees him. Few books have the ability this one has to draw you into a world so effectively. It’s like a very personal trip to the Emerald Isle.

As a bonus, and to assist those who may not “get” what this book is all about, the author includes some discussion questions at the end which would be particularly helpful for book clubs or even English teachers. All great literature is unique and stands out from everything else and this is in that category. You’ll either love it or hate it. I loved it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Star Agency Chronicles Book 2: The Voyages of the Seven”

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This second book in the “Star Agency Chronicles” series does a great job of expanding the cultures of the alien worlds to which “the seven” have been transported. In this story, they embark on specific journeys that resemble interstellar “sightseeing” in some respects and yet transform more to quests for others. The characters are further developed, at least some of them, as they meet the challenges thrust upon them inherent to their specific missions, greatly adding to the suspense and intrigue. Ruby’s situation is particularly fascinating and her evolution and growth especially well done. At this point, she is my favorite character. I love her spunk and courage coupled with emotional vulnerability, easily seen as a person who is hard on the outside yet soft on the inside.

The relationships between the various youth are credible and demonstrate nicely the complexity of teen emotions as they interact with each other, especially those of the opposite sex. Some have romantic possibilities while others are simply platonic. Jealousies arise as romantic interests are not reciprocated but directed elsewhere. The characters and their personalities are integrated nicely into the story, giving it more depth.

The aliens are definitely more enigmatic versus the first book, though I would have liked a few more reminders of what they look like. The interactions between the different alien worlds are further developed as well, introducing their various agendas that introduce numerous new plot twists, conflict and mystery in which the young characters are entangled.

I wish the author had not given two of the characters such similar names, i.e. Larissa and Lara, especially since Theo has taken to calling Larissa, Lari, which makes it even worse. The two are clearly different people, but it’s still slightly confusing, sometimes yanking me out of the story as I figure out which one is involved when all the characters are together. Maybe in the next volume one of them can acquire a nickname that will make each stand apart more clearly.

You’ve gotta love Lara, who shows signs of being slightly autistic, probably afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. Her inability to filter what she says adds tension as well as raw honesty which adds to the interpersonal dynamics of this chosen group of youth. Larissa, though you see more of her in this story, is not nearly as well fleshed out as a character. A few of “the seven” have not gotten to “show their stuff” yet, which I assume will occur in the next book.

I give four stars to this entertaining and imaginative hard sci-fi series suitable and undoubtedly directed to teen and young adults.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.