I was overwhelmed reading this book... not because it was difficult material (which it was), and not because the complexity of the relationships and internal dialogue of the characters was so intensely emotional (which it also was), but because everything written in this story is REAL LIFE. Confronting that can sometimes be overwhelming... and I've never been happier for the experience.
D.A. Reed has created a masterpiece of Young Adult fiction with this story. From the complexity of teenage angst to the thoughts, speech patterns, and body language of teenagers, to the adult interactions... this author got it all right. As a person who has been touched by teen suicide in both my generation and my son's generation, I cannot endorse this book enough. It is poignant, it is accurate, it is raw, it is unsettling, it is tender, it is difficult, and it is necessary.
This story channels the day-to-day experiences of teenagers in a way that feels a little like voyeurism; and if that thought doesn't frighten you just a little bit, it should. The bravery these characters show reminds us that everything is worth healing when we take the time to talk and listen. The resources and discussion questions in the back of the book encourage this dialogue between friends, families, and teachers.
This is a book that should be on a bookshelf in a central part of every family home, and in every classroom. It should be a part of every educator's and religious leader's continuing education program. I am certain that all who read it will be touched and motivated to help others in some empathetic way.
When you are given the gift of seeing teen suicide from the inside, you can't help but become changed. Thank you, D.A. Reed, for giving us this profound insight into a world we must not ignore.
I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to find when I opened the pages to this book. I've read Ken MacGregor a bit in the past... but the cover for this one had me wondering how far he would go.
I know Ken, he's a very nice man, with wonderful children. A kind man. A thoughtful man. And after reading this, I can now also say that he is a man who has an imagination that goes to places - almost without effort - that I wish I could go more often. It's odd to say that, considering that scary stuff and the like have never really been my thing. But this... this is different.
In each of these short stories, Ken takes your brain to some strange and beyond interesting places.
When you get the book, and you really should, here are a few you'll not want to read too slowly...
Tom's Personal Demons has got to be my favorite of the lot. If you've ever been a kid, or known a child, who has been afraid of the dark, this story will resonate with you. Here's the thing I liked best about it: I felt emotionally connected to these people and the darkness. It sounds strange - even stranger after you read the story - but I felt like I completely understood what poor Tom was experiencing, but more, the way Carla was accepting, and the way she helped Stephanie to connect to her father. It's difficult to explain without spoilers, but suffice to say that the gentleness of parenting here, except when it wasn't, caught me in an uncomfortably familiar place. That, and I've never experienced the dark as a living entity before... and now, I feel it a little differently.
Bad Squirrel was especially fun for me, because, growing up with a father who did all he can to defeat them, and me cheering for the squirrels every time, this one made me happy in a place I'm not necessarily proud of acknowledging.
In Karen Gets Her Man, I was again reminded why storytellers and those who indulge in hours of vicarious living through the written word are the luckiest people on the planet. Storytellers and their readers get to do, be, and say things that would get most humans sent to solitary confinement forever. Fiction is our get out of jail free card, and we know it. This is the story every woman secretly plans for, at the same time she plans her wedding... but most never talk about it.
I waited far too long to read this short story collection by the hugely talented Ken MacGregor. You shouldn't!
This book was a complete delight to read! In this age when so many people are complaining about the foibles in life... or worse... D.A. Reed steps up and shares her less-than-perfect self with us proudly. This book is part memoir, part stand up comedy, part intimate reflection. This is a study in courage presented in a way that will not only make you think of fearlessness as a delicate thing, but as a vigorous thing, too. The author is so brave... and her family even more so for allowing themselves to be shared on the page in her soul-bearing self-giggle.
I loved reading this book as a diversion while exercising... to help me get through the stuff I didn't want to do. I loved reading this book on the couch with the dog at night, to lend me comfort after a long day. I loved reading this book during a few lunch breaks now and then, to give me the light-hearted break from a complicated day.
What this incredibly passionate woman has done with her life, and continues to do, inspires me and helps me to see that all is not lost to those who stumble. The simplicity of how she spilled her life out on the page to remind me of my worth and strength through her missteps, is a gift I will hold dear for many years to come. My respect for my friend, this amazing author, this incredible human, has grown tremendously because of these simple, inspiring, elegant, hysterical 136 pages.
Also, the amazing artwork on the cover was designed by Malerie Zupin, an eighth-great student who will surely make a name for herself in the art world... and she's a wonderful person, in her own right! Keep at it Malerie!!
Admittedly, the closest I’ve come to indulging in Asian literary influences were Sidhartha from a Far Eastern Literature class in High School, a Folklore course in college, and a bit of Manga, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon from my son’s affiliations when he was young. It’s sad, I know. I’ve been living under multiple rocks for far too long. Yet in my own defense, there is so much spectacular literature in the world… I can’t possibly be expected to understand it all intimately. So, with this read, I’ve been introduced to a new escapade in storytelling… at least for me… and I’m delighted.
I can’t tell you what I expected when I began reading this novel. I heard the author, Xander Cross, read during a few Virtual Book Festivals, and so I had a bit of a taste… but I was walking in largely unaware of what I might find. I love picking up books this way… first introductions are incredibly seductive.
What I can tell you now is that not one page of this book was tedious or indiscriminate. Every moment of conflict or repose was crafted for a reason. Every word of dialogue is spoken with the goal of revealing a personal connection you didn’t think you’d find. The cadence of the story feels natural, and the breadcrumbs of anticipation are impossible to neglect. The author knows his way around the playground of Asian folklore. His devotion to research adds depth to his writing as he crafts a respectful homage inside the allure of dystopian possibility.
Each of the characters in this story are full and rich in their creation. They fight, speak, dream, and strategize exactly as they should… none of it is out of place, nor dropped in simply for shock value. As the main character and the others follow through their individual story goals, we watch loyalties unfold and we discover relatable characters where we least expect them. Rather than trite, magic is natural. Battle is an honored tradition; a currency to earn respect.
The most interesting aspect of this book for me, was the way the author crafted the evolution of his main character. We’re taught in creative writing class that a protagonist should evolve, grow, and change toward a positive arc as the story tracks from chapter one to the end. Xander has, quite skillfully, flipped this notion inside out. The protagonist, Hayate, moves through the story from a place of near serenity and focused spiritual purpose, toward a place of emotional and spiritual degradation, but he retains a hard-won respectful dignity. It feels perfectly right that he does not deserve our disdain. We cheer for him at every step. Why? Because as our eyes inhale the story, we share in his frustration as he recognizes his fall from grace. We acknowledge that he’s making the change out of self-preservation and within the very same traditions that enlightenment demands.
Throughout this story, subtlety lives well in the shadows with assertive posturing, vibrant word choice, and emotional manipulation. This author has done nothing by happenstance. It’s all a beautifully choreographed dance revealing the underbelly of survival without giving in to the trope of sacrifice.
This is the first book of a series I am eagerly looking forward to devouring. Thank you, Xander Cross; you’ve set the bar very high for my next Asian folklore reading experience.
After reading A Slice of Fear by Andrew Allen Smith, one resounding phrase echoed in my brain. It was the old Monty Python television program’s transition phrase, “...and now for something completely different”.
This collection of short stories pulls you in several directions simultaneously. From the title, you can easily imagine that you’re going to be led down paths of suspense and tension… but with Andrew, you just never know what that might look like.
Andrew’s suspense-spy-thriller Masterson Files series undoubtedly delivers on what the genre implies; page turning action. You’ll get no such comfort in expectation with this book. The slices you're served will stimulate taste buds you didn't know you had, or wanted. Your breath will catch in the back of your throat, and you’ll think… “Oh, that was good;” smiling to yourself as you turn another page.
Don't you just love hunting for bargains? The ritual of Black Friday shopping is exhilarating! Masks and social distancing comfort our virus apprehension, offering us security. Flea Markets sometimes hold wonderous surprises in the most ordinary packages. A woman always speaks in earnest when she vows to protect her man. These are just a few of the familiar sunlit paths Andrew entices you to explore, and in so doing, you may discover that the gentle shadows have a more sinister silhouette... and it's invigorating.
This collection achieves something remarkable for it’s genre. Each story, while pulling you to the edge of fear and in some cases, enticing a certain squeamish terror, also invites you to examine your preconceived perceptions about how humanity thinks, acts, and responds to fear. These stories will pull at your racing heart and prickle at your clammy skin. Andrew will offer psychological temptations to blend the insight of terror with common life experiences. If you follow his lead, you may become irrevocably mesmerized with your own indulgences of fear. And you'll like it.
As a human being, one of the very best things you can do in life is to be surprised by someone who you thought you knew. For readers, that means discovering something new inside the writing of an author you thought you already understood. Such is the case for me with Andrew Allen Smith. And it's exhilarating.
In Andrew's novel, Vengeful Son, which I took FAR TOO LONG to read, I have discovered additional layers to the writing acumen I already knew this fine gentleman possessed. Andrew is a friend, a fellow of my writing community. He is a profound thinker, offering up meditation pieces each day about the simplest moments of life. They inspire and comfort me, daily. Andrew is also a master at short stories that insinuate the answers to questions we didn't knew we needed to ask; some that make us comfortable with the shadows that follow us - which is a little unnerving at times.
Andrew is a super-tight writer. I knew that going into this book. Andrew understands the twist ending like few others I've read. I knew that, too. What I didn't know was that Andrew also knows how to give you depth of emotion and layers of intellect, without making it seem like the characters have something to prove. These are real people he writes about, confronted with extraordinary circumstances, that in truth, simply make up their ordinary lives. Having that glimpse into their motivations - and the lack of the necessity to explain themselves - is refreshing and alluring.
This is an action-packed thriller that doesn't overwhelm you with the details you really don't need to know, anyway. Backstory be dammed. Beginning with Chapter One starting out at a comfortable ninety miles per hour, Andrew offers you the opportunity to go on a ride that at first glance, you may think you've been on before... but you'd be wrong. He drops you directly into the action, and simultaneously draws you into the empathy of each character he introduces. He allows the hook of each chapter to entice you deeper into the story, with what seems like effortless negligence for "the way it's supposed to happen". The people you're set up to dislike have qualities about them that make you question your own judgement. The people you like immediately, only grow on you as time passes. And the dogs are by far, the most remarkable illustration of dichotomy I've seen in quite some time. This is a fast-paced read that forced me to put it down every so often - just so I could catch my breath.
I like these characters. I like their story goals. And I like Andrew's equal, high-octane treatment of both. I am engaged so fully in the world he has created, that I'm actually a little disgruntled with myself that I promised to read other author's books before moving the rest of this series to the top of my list. But in time - they shall all be read. With my apologies and thanks, to the author.
Holy Moly! I waited WAY too long to read Kate McNeil's work. I don't think I've enjoyed a spy book this much in quite a while. Generally, I gravitate more toward stories about people and exotic locations, rather than tales of espionage and government back dealings... but this one had me hooked from page two.
It took me a minute or two to realize that this wasn't going to be the average take on the spy genre. This wasn't James Bond or Jason Bourne... this was so much better! Why? Mostly because of the fact that the main character, Vivian Carmichael, was a real person. She has self-doubt, strong confidence, mad firearms skills, and a heart and brain that are constantly in motion... sometimes overlapping with the high-energy of a quick-step, and at other times with the seductiveness of a tango. So unpredictable are her thoughts and movements, that only a skilled author, like Kate McNeil, can create a love interest to keep up - and sometimes, he doesn't... which makes this story even more engaging.
If you're looking for an escape into a world of thinking ahead while simultaneously pulling the pieces together, this book, with its tight dialogue, reverberating action, and tender psychology will have you hooked. The details written into the story... the places, the language syntax, the cultural nuances... they all provoke you to follow wherever Vivian leads, and you'll believe it's all true.
This is book three in the series, but it's really the beginning. The acumen with which the author can entice you to jump in the middle while validating your need to read both forward and back, is, in my opinion, the reason to ditch your preconceived notions about what spy thrillers are all about, and embark on the adventure to Bulgaria.
This is an interesting collection of poetry and short stories, each with a very particular perspective on American Life. These are not representative of a study in the sociology of American Culture, per se... but rather, several moments of thought expressed through the viewpoint of an "unrepentantly average" American.
Although the poetry doesn't resonate with me... few poets' work does... I was intrigued by the short stories. The range of moments selected was curious to me. These are not topics I would have considered writing about, and I think that's why this collection is unique. These shorts are indicative of things we rarely think of, and they remind of the "background" of what Americana can be: singular wounds with added salt.
These are not the larger than life moments news broadcasters notice. They are the moments that stop time, that remind us of a different era, that end as life frequently does - mostly without clear resolution.
Having said that, I was frustrated with the final piece in the collection, Saying Goodbye To Baby Blue. I found myself drawn in to the narrative, and quickly became interested in the main character. I thought the backstory was well crafted and the set up for a revelation or perhaps a dramatic let down, beguiling. However, the ending lacked a payoff. Neither was I disheartened by the character's own sense of loss, nor uplifted by the progression of time. The end left me at odds... and perhaps that was the point... but it left me feeling as if I'd read a first draft of a deeper work. I'd like to see more done with this piece.
Of all the short stories, the one that pulled out front of the rest, for me, was A Slice of American Pie. Slightly dystopic, and a bit of a political commentary, I found this story to be more familiar than made me comfortable. The details could have been pulled from recent headlines, or last season's contrived reality television... or off the table of a Tarot Card reader's prognostication. Eerie in it's refusal to make an apology, I found the ending reminiscent of a welded rivet against the backdrop of American steel and it's often times questionable values. The psychological twist made the story well worth its pages.
So, looking at the cover, you might not know what to expect... or your imagination might get it, and your brain might say, "How are they going to pull this off?" Well, either way, you'll be taken on a ride you won't soon forget. The collaboration of these writers and illustrators is fantastic. Its a fun romp, melding western and zombie genres, and with each gruesome death, a shout out to the power of feminism.
There is nothing "expected" about the pages of this graphic novella. The story doesn't begin at the beginning; it actually starts someplace in the middle. The plot development doesn't follow the traditional ebb and flow and climactic precipice... instead, the authors dangle you precariously off the shingles of a rickety building, while your blood trickles into the mouths of friends and enemies, alike.
I've enjoyed everything I've read from Peggy Christie, and I'm grateful that she has now introduced me to David C. Hayes and a tremendously talented gaggle of illustrators. There are seven severely disturbed artists that have lent their twisted sense of continuity to this story, and the work is better for it. This is truly a work of genuine collaboration; and it makes me want to ask the question, "Did the words come first, directing the art... or did the art give birth to the words?"
You can be certain that is a conversation we'll be having at our next festival.
This is horror of the absurd. And you need to read it... if for no other reason than to cleanse your palate clean from all the predictable zombie stuff that's so prevalent right now in television... But mostly because it is fun and creative writing.
Watch Peggy Christie on an episode of Indie Reads TV
Watch Peggy Christie's interview from our June 2020 Virtual Book Festival
In preparation for the October Virtual Book Festival, I read three very distinctive works by Chavonne D. Stewart. First up, her chapbook, Getting Started: A Quick Guide To Become A Self-Published Author.
As an Indie Author of nine books of varying genres, and several more in process, an editor of over 80 books, and a writing workshop instructor, I am always interested in another author's journey. I believe we should never stop learning from one another, and help each other to find the "tips and tricks" that work best for us. Being part of the Indie Writing Community is incredibly valuable to my writing process; and I'm open to new ideas and approaches to the craft and business of writing.
However, I was disappointed with Chavonne's offering on this topic. As her biography describes her as a life coach who holds multiple degrees (MS in Management, BA in History, and currently a PhD Philosophy candidate), and she is the CEO of her own business, my expectations for content and professionalism were beyond the scope of this chapbook.
This is an elementary approach to the topic, and reads more like a blog post than a helpful guide. It is scant on details, and offers no real "meat" or actionable steps that aspiring authors can embrace and move forward with their goal. A great overview, to be sure, but not much more than that.
Even more troubling was the large number of editorial errors, as well as formatting problems within the twenty-two pages. This begs the question, what of her other work? So I went on to read an essay included in an anthology, "Dear Depression".
The Search For Purpose
Included in an anthology on the topic of depression, Chavonne's essay was lost on me. The words didn't truly address depression, or purpose. The paragraphs "talked around" the idea of discovering purpose and how to manifest greater awareness of a purposeful life. I understand that she experienced a journey that was ardous and exciting, but after reading this essay, I still don't know what her purpose is, how she discovered it, or how she practices and evolves her purpose for a more fulfilled life. It was a frustrating read. Also, there were editorial and formatting issues; but I would rest those responsibilities with those that compiled the book, not with the individual authors.
The Adventures of Amilya Rose: The Lie
At last, I turned to Chavonne's children's work, to discover if perhaps, this is where her literary calling lies. I was pleased to see that she indeed has a strong voice for young people. The story of eight-year-old Amilya, and how she takes risks, achieves a goal, and learns a valuable lesson, is commendable.
The story, told in Amilya's voice, brings children into the adventure of walking to daycare from school, on an unusual snow day in Georgia. Seeing the thought process of a young girl, as she designs an adventure, makes mistakes, and learns from them, I believe, was a strong choice for the narration of this piece.
Certainly, children will relate to the excitement, dread, relief, and understanding that Amilya shares. This book teaches the importance of honesty and honoring adults in a way that doesn't belittle or berate children.
I enjoyed the artwork. The illustrations are imaginative and vibrant. I wish there were more of them!
I read this as an e-book from Kindle, and noticed some formatting issues... the illustrations did not take up a full page, and that would have been far more appealing... but that could have easily been a comparability issue with my device, rather than the fault of the interior design.
This is a book that includes lessons of morality, gently reminding children that sometimes parents' lessons might be difficult, but they are offered out of kindness and concern, with forgiveness to soften the hard parts.
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