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Calling All Animals

Author: Jeff Natha
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Karyn Walden-Forrest

cover artJeff Nathan has created this first book of "PunOETRY", Calling All Animals. It's filled with 47 poems containing puns. The book is intended for children aged 8-12 and will make a child smile.

Each poem fills one page and across on the next page is an illustration depicting a part of the poem. The length of each poem ranges from 4 to 20 lines, and, as can be expected from the title, they all have to do with animals. Poem titles include: Animal Food, Unherd Of, and Greeting Hyenas.

All the poems are loaded with puns and play on all kinds of word situations. Sometimes the word will be bolded, and if the word is harder to understand in context with the different spelling it will have the meaning in parenthesis to the right of the line. Here is an example from Animal Food:

The bird that's best of all is macrowni (macaroni)
And eggplant us the best of all the ants.
Cowliflower's yummy, (cauliflower)
with pigkles in my tummy, (pickles)
but choc'late moose can really make me dance. (mousse)

As you can see, there are puns throughout just this section of the poem, and it is representative of the entire book. A lot of the puns are really clever. I liked one about a moth named Pete who flew into a bug zapper and how children moths should learn from his mistakes and never “re-Pete” his actions. Others are rather ho-hum and even seemed like a stretch to me, such as one about a turtle's shell and the word shell being interchanged with the word shall. "Shall I pack up my shell yet again? Yes, I shell." It just didn't work for me.

For the most part the poems are all very different, even with the same theme. There is a lot of vocabulary, some that may be new to children, and a lot of information about animals in the poems that might teach the reader some things as it is being read. This is not a book that could be read to a child though, as that would defeat the whole purpose of the sound versus the word used idea.

The illustrations in this book are just pencil/pen drawings. They are appropriately representative of the poems. One fun thing about the illustrations is that in every one can be found a bee and a slug. The bee is generally easy to find, but the slug can be more a challenge. It is fun finding the hidden bugs in each picture. The illustrations were done by Liz Ball.

Overall this book is fun to read. But there were no poems that I thought, “wow this is going to be my new favorite poem.” It will give children some new ways of thinking about the English language, and can lead into further discussions about puns in general.

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July 11, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)

As My Sparks Fly Upward

Author: Matthew St. Amand
Genre: Fiction
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

As My Sparks Fly Upward, the debut from Canadian author Matthew St. Amand, is a collection of short stories rendered with such honesty that I questioned how much was fiction and how much was taken from his own life. This isn't a drawback or criticism of the collection, but rather a supreme compliment.

Throughout the book, St. Amand takes us on a journey not only through Windsor and Dublin, but through the lives – and hearts – of the people roaming these landscapes. He favors first person, which increases the psychic intensity and connection. And rather than concocting outlandish or bizarre plots, he plunges us deep into the minds of his characters who are often at a critical, everyday crossing point.

These seemingly ordinary situations and happenings carry a weight and levity; full-bodied, recognizable, and lovingly rendered with sympathetic appeal. There is no pretension here, none of the Eggers- like over-analyzing or ironic detachment to distance us from the characters. So, in "Best Man", when a best friend who's fully against the impeding wedding has to coax the groom out of his jitters and back down the aisle, the full range of emotion is captured. The appeal of this approach is clearly evident in other stories, such as the pitch-perfect "Hadley", where a near high-schooler meets a beautiful deaf girl in town for the summer. They'll capture your heart as surely as they capture each other's, and the heart-breaking honesty of their fates isn't backed down from, it's shown, and we understand, and then, some of us will recognize pieces of our own lives. He does takes risks and branch out to suspense. In "Under the Bridge" he builds a nerve-wracking story where quicksand sucks in the characters after a seemingly innocuous and innocent discovery.

As a writer, he shows a fearlessness to unveil emotions, and this leads to flashes of utter brilliance, such as in the title story. What could be a rollicking or overly-sentimental tale instead crystallizes into a marvelous celebration of remembrance. It's a stunning story, nestled amongst an overall vibrant collection.

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July 11, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (1)

Brother, What Strange Place Is This?

Author: Tom Saunders
Genre: Fiction
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

571British author Tom Saunders' debut collection of short stories, Brother, What Strange Place is This is a glorious success. Multi-layered and eclectic, the work showcases the literary talents and broad imagination of its creator. Saunders breathes life into a multitude of styles, characters, and settings, weaving strings of charming wit, gorgeous description, interesting plots, and heartfelt pathos into this gorgeously crafted tapestry.

From the title story, turn of the century brothers, one a talented pianist relegated to a mental institution and the other desperately trying to reach and understand him, to a modern-day father coming to grips with daughter's independence, he never fails to strike a unique and human chord. The language and phrasings are thick and lush, nearly an embarrassment of delightful, dizzying prose. Saunders has a keen knack for plucking unusual, but perfectly suited, words to highlight and accompany the themes and voices and tones of the pieces. His styles and subjects have a diversity and range. He plays with the clever and cheeky, such as in "Not For What You Are", which tells the story of a baker who believes he is the reincarnation of painter Dante Gabriel. And he doesn't shy from the tragic, such as in "The Seal Man" – the story of a man shipwrecked on a small island with brutal people. He takes a leap inside an abandoned zoo in "Nave Nave Mahana", where the homeless congregate and make shelter for themselves while finding hope in a stray monkey.

This is a captivating read, where the stories are fresh and engrossing, unpredictable, sometimes disturbing, and all of them are rendered with precision and a finely-tuned wordsmith's care.

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July 11, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (20)

Boudicca

Author: Joann Smith
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

572This period novel opens in the year 48 A.D. in the Iceni Territory of Southeast Britain. Roman forces that had come in the past ostensibly to help protect the Iceni have become occupiers and as such are having to deal with rebellion from a people whose culture and life they do not understand and fear. For Boudicca, daughter of King Melcut, the knowledge that her beloved Tallas was involved and a key member of the rebellion is quite a shock. The rebellion, a failure before it started has been crushed and now before the entire village, including Boudicca and her father, Tallas is brutally executed.

Beyond killing Tallas, the Roman Governor of Britain, Ostorius Scapula, extracts a heavy price. All weapons will be confiscated, the tributes will be raised, all Iceni will live in the village where they can be watched and controlled, and a new King will be named. Unable to prevent a rebellion that he didn't know about and sure that his daughter betrayed him, King Melcut will be replaced by a new King. The new King will be King in name only and one that Rome finds more suitable. Boudicca is devastated over the loss of Tallas, the fact that she did not know of the rebellion, her father's pain and misguided belief in regards to her actions, and full of anger toward Rome and their ways, which are so contrary to the teachings of her people.

Her anger and depression grow worse as days pass and she is forced to accept a loveless marriage to Prasutagus, the new King. Her father is powerless to prevent the marriage that is insisted on by Rome, which is convinced in her complicity in the rebellion. The marriage, which eventually grows into a loving relationship sets into motion a series of painful events that will ultimately cause Queen Boudicca to do exactly what Rome did not want-lead an organized rebellion against Roman forces with great consequences for both sides.

Based on the author's research in the Celtic history of Great Britain, this novel recounts events from her perspective. Interesting and intriguing with a strong element of the inevitable when clashing with superior forces, this novel provides a well-rounded look at what life was like at the time. In so doing, the author gives a vision of what life must have been like for this resilient, yet tragic, figure in history.

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July 11, 2004 in Historical Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tainted Blood

Author: Mary Ann Mitchell
Genre: Horror
Reviewed by Kim Richards

573If you've read Ms. Mitchell's earlier works involving the vampire, Marquis de Sade, you'll find some familiar characters in Tainted Blood. Sade's presence serves more the role of a catalyst for the story than you might expect from a former main character.

The real story here is that of the Hughes family: the not-so-normal nuclear family consisting of the father, mother, daughter and two sons; all of whom are vampires. Things happen in their house which would make the neighbors shudder, if they knew. There are bodies beneath the house, siblings killing siblings, parents killing children, neighbor children turning into vampires, body stealing, and lots of innuendo which occasionally bursts into scenes of sex.

The one thing which disappointed me involved an interesting character named Babette. Her blood, for which the book is named, turns her into a vampire destroyer because it reacts like a poison. I wish she'd played a greater role than that of temptress to Sade. I found her the most intriguing thing of the entire story.

This book is an easy read so if you like vampire stories, give Tainted Blood a try.

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July 11, 2004 in Horror | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tharne's Quest

Author: Alan M. Brooker
Genre: Horror
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

574In Tharne's Quest, Alan Brooker posits a truly terrifying premise. One of Satan's most powerful devotees is gathering his strength to unleash total destruction upon mankind.

Alison has just finished a lackluster date with her NASA scientist boyfriend Chad when she seemingly falls into a trancelike dream-state as a sentient mist gathers behind her and begins telling her to contact her boyfriend or else havoc will ensure. Unfortunately for Alison, Chad, and the rest of mankind, she wasn't in a trance. It's quite real. Alison gathers Chad and the mist contacts him, revealing itself to be ancient Tharne, who is in hot pursuit of "the Adept", a being that had several other incarnations on earth, the most recent being Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's deputy in the Third Reich. Upon death, Himmler, the Adept, was able to give Tharne the slip and instead of passing through the astral planes as he was supposed to, he took his own journey, and is gathering his forces to reunite himself with Satan and unleash revenge and destruction upon humanity.

His first plan of action is a sabotage of Chad's current artificial intelligence project due to be launched. Enlisting Chad's help, and quickly making him believe the gravity of the situation, Chad is recruited to help Tharne defeat the Adept before his power becomes indomitable. What begins with Chad counter-acting the sabotage attempts upon his project quickly leads into much more perilous territory as he's forced to infiltrate a local depraved coven.

Brooker's style is quick and captivating, and the chills are relentless. His smooth style and likable characters keep the story anchored as the stakes raise and Chad has to subjugate himself to more vile duties as he gets closer to the center of evil power.

Reader beware, demons do abound in this story, doing demonic things. There's violence and bloodshed, and more than sex. The coven Chad has to infiltrate is one particularly obsessed not just with sexual cravings, but particularly sexual cravings for the young. And Chad does follow along on this journey, falling deeper into the depravity as the sinister layers of the occult unfold.

It's not for the squeamish. But Brooker crafts a well-written, absorbing, fully realized world here, where the stakes are high and the action never stops.

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July 11, 2004 in Horror | Permalink | Comments (0)

Careful!

Author: Richard Madelin
Genre: Literary Fiction
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

575Alice named her sons Jack and Lenny. Jack for Kerouac, which aptly fits, as he took off ten years ago and hasn't been heard from since. Lenny for Lenny Bruce, though he more closely resembles Steinbeck's Lennie from Of Mice and Men. As a young child, Lenny suffered an accident which has left him mentally challenged. Not only does he have trouble learning complex tasks, but he lives in a repeated refrain where "white spaces" push through and mix him up. He has a friend at work who teaches him all the wrong things about women and whose boots he admires, and a neighbor up the road who he's convinced is going to allow him to have sex with her. Other than that, his world centers around his mother, Alice. And Alice's ideas of being a mother and caring for him include teaching him – Careful! – by snuffing cigarettes on his hand. Things take a mreviewed byore ominous turn when the prodigal son Jack, now a policeman, returns to town. Alice instructs Lenny to kidnap the brother he doesn't even remember, let alone recognize, and this sets in motion a chain of devastating realizations in this family.

Madelin tells this story in rotating third person limited POV, but it's so focused that it feels like first person intimate storytelling. He does an admirable job of not only sustaining the eerie inner voices and thoughts of both Alice and Lenny, but also of sustaining the reader and heightening curiosity with these challenging perspectives. This stylized inner POV could easily become a gimmick – or annoying – if not well written. But it's so deftly handled that's it not only brutally intriguing but also becomes downright riveting as the revelations pile up. It's a forceful and complex debut from Madelin.

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July 11, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boyne Falls Baroque

Author: John Bailey
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Reviewed by Frank McGourty

576A review by Frank McGourty whose short story “A Hot Sunday Morning “ will be appearing in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine.

Take an ex millionaire, the stock market and the Feds, throw in the Japanese Yakuza and a Thai restaurant with hot food and a waitress to match and you have the recipe for a good tale. John Bailey serves this one up with the right amount of spice as he melds High-Tec with I-Ching.

When young Brian Mercer, techie, former millionaire and reluctant pot smoker gives up his promising career of spreading hot tar on the roofs of Boyne Falls and moves onto selling lawn services for a company that couldn’t grow crab grass, it seems that he has hit a new low. Even when he just attempts to have lunch, Brian can not even get into his restaurant of choice; life is getting very depressing. But there is silver a lining when Brian wanders into Thai A Yellow Ribbon a restaurant, which of course serves Thai food. The food is spicy and so is the young Japanese waitress Miiko, who also serves up hot stock tips that she receives from Grandpa Sam. From here on Brian’s life becomes a roller coaster ride as he finds himself in “like” with Miiko who is in reality a teacher at the Music Conservatory, a cello player, and as savory as any dish from the restaurant. Brian attends his first classical concert and discovers he actually enjoys it and also that Miiko can become very intense while playing the cello. Later that evening Miiko lets Brian in on a little secret, one of the reasons she looks so intense while playing is because the cello gives off vibrations. Miiko goes into more detail. Did I mention that Miiko was as spicy as the Thai food she served?

Things begin looking up for Brian as he deserts the agricultural business and becomes a radio disk jockey for Classic Rock 105, where although the pay is low there are perks such as women who call during the show and talk dirty. As his love life and his stocks rise, Brian is a happy man. Miiko then introduces him to Grandpa Sam, the oracle of the stock market who explains how he uses the I-Ching as a sure way to make a killing in the stock market. Grandpa Sam explains all, but Brian still finds it all a puzzlement. But the I- Ching connection is even more of a puzzlement to the SEC. Brian is given a lecture by an FBI agent who explains that the world economy will collapse if people cheat the market, rather than the market cheat the people. Dropping their minor problems with Enron and International Terror, the SEC and the FBI investigate the I-Ching Connection. Brian now finds himself in hot water with Miiko and over his head in an alphabet soup of Government Agencies.

John Bailey has woven a droll tale of love, greed and the I- Ching . His story includes a grand cast of quirky characters. You're going to love Miiko who is a very proper young lady who just happens to like to talk dirty in both English and Japanese.

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July 11, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (0)

Black Lily: Have No Mercy III

Author: Kam Ruble
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

577This third book in the series and the first written solo by Kam Ruble returns the reader after considerable back-story to Mt. Pride, Colorado. The focus of this novel, primarily, is the tragic hero Charles Monroe Sutton who never fit into his family and was well aware that he was unwanted by his father.

"Cut from a different pattern, longhaired, urchin looking, free spirited Charley was nothing like his clean-cut, studious, white collar seeking brothers. From the days when they first learned to read, Abe and Bill seemed to always have their noses buried in books. Charley, on the other hand, could not sit still long enough to read but a few paragraphs of any written words. He was too active and too curious about living life, not reading about it." (Page 5)

Instead, he jumps off the roof of their shed thinking he can fly with the aid of a bed sheet. It doesn't work but Charley is undeterred. In fact, it becomes a challenge for him and he begins early in his young life to do more and more dangerous stunts. A situation made worse by his mother's decision to abandon her abusive husband and three sons leaving, Charley, the youngest by several years, for all intents and purposes alone in the world with a pseudo family that doesn't care about him at all.

Charley's love of danger as he grows up eventually leads him into a highly successful career as a stuntman. Known by his nickname of "fearless" his services are in high demand and Charley is making money fast and spending it just as fast in a lavish lifestyle. While in a bar during a movie shoot, he meets and befriends the bartender, Ann Tailor. He falls hard for her and for approximately a year they live together in California. That is, until her own painful childhood past coupled with her need for wealth and revenge causes her to leave him.

Her leaving devastates Charley and rekindles his intense feelings of abandonment. His work performance suffers, his gambling increases causing him to lose large amounts of money, and he is spiraling down out of control. Before long, he suffers another devastation in the form of a career ending back injury. In massive debt to the Vegas mob and with little left but the clothes on his back after a failed suicide attempt, he has little choice several months later when Ann calls to offer him a job as a chauffer.

He accepts the job out of desperation despite strong misgivings about being in Ann's presence as he still loves her depite her many flaws. Soon, he is living very well in Mt. Pride, Colorado on the estate and is performing his job as chauffer for Ann and her husband, Allen Clifford Eckard. By marrying the wealthy businessman son of the wealthy Mayor, Ann is doing very well financially. But, like Charley, no matter how good the current standard of living is, it isn't enough. Believing she is smarter than anyone around her as well as driven by her own history of abuse, she seeks revenge no matter the cost. Slowly, she seduces Charley into resuming their physical relationship as well as into her plot for revenge. However, the husband has plans of his own for his lovely wife. As people begin to vanish, Colorado Homicide Detectives Joe Warner and Eddy Konklin are brought in to work the case and untangle the webs of deceit, revenge and betrayal.

This third novel in the series features brief allusions to the earlier books but like them could be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel. While the dialogue occasionally seems a bit off and the author has taken liberties with the facts concerning a certain National Park, the overall novel is very enjoyable. This novel is more streamlined than the previous two and therefore moves forward at a significantly faster pace with less switches in points of view evidenced in the earlier books while retaining lots of character development. This could be due to the efforts of several editors or the fact that Kam wrote this novel solo. Regardless, this 368-page novel is an enjoyable read full of twists and turns with a final left hook punch to the reader at the very end.

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July 11, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Casual Rex

Author: Eric Garcia
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

578Eric Garcia's first novel, Anonymous Rex introduced us to hard- boiled LA PI Vincent Rubio. In it, he proved he can weave a page- turning mystery and fill it with laughs. The absurd twist of the novel was that Vincent is a typical PI, except that he's also a velociraptor – you know, those fast, flesh-hungry dinosaurs that were so daunting in Jurassic Park. However, Vincent is evolved. As it gets explained, his kind isn't extinct. Instead, they live amongst us as humans, their reptilian skin and tails hidden under intricate masks and body suits.

With this premise, Garcia was able to delve into humans even more, especially when he aligns the dino thinking with ours, such as when Vincent, a fast-thinking velociraptor, describes other, less- fortunate species. "Ankylosaurs have difficulty expressing emotion visually. Think Al Gore." Vincent deadpans.

The Rex series has become a bit of a cult hit, because the bizarre dino-twist isn't up everyone's alley. In Anonymous Rex Garcia does a good job laying the ground rules while keeping the plot moving, but in his follow up, Casual Rex, the series really takes off because he's freed to keep explanation of Vincent's situation to a minimum and mine the material for all it's worth.

Casual Rex is a prequel to Anonymous, and it kicks off with Vincent's partner's ex-wife (sure they're dinosaurs, but they have all the baggage we do) seeking help from the PIs to find her missing younger brother Rupert. Vincent and partner Ernie quickly get sucked into a dino cult, called the Progressives, who seem mainly concerned with shucking their disguises and getting back to their roots. While Ernie pines for his ex-wife as they infiltrate the camp, Vincent quickly falls under the spell of cult leader, the gorgeous and powerful Circe.

What ensues is a tight mystery that flows as quickly as Garcia's sly, dry wit. For anyone willing to take the plunge into this quirky world, the rewards are great. If you're curious about dipping into this primordial pool, the timing is perfect, as Garcia's third installment of the Rex series, Hot and Sweaty Rex: A Dinosaur Mafia Mystery has just been released.

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July 11, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)