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Robonocchio

Author: Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier
Genre: Children
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

582The world's largest company, the AMALGAMETED BEHEMOUTH has many successful subsidiaries, one of them being Wallyland amusement park. According to the park's cheerful mascot, Wally the Wallaby, the park is "'The most fun place in the universe.'" (Page 13) For Joe, the elderly inventor who creates many of the robots in the park, it isn't the most fun place in the universe anymore. For five years he has worked on "The Garden Of Fairy Tales" project, where his beautiful robots would bring to life children's stories such as Cinderella, Snow White, Pinocchio and others.

But now his boss, Mr. Fox and his assistant, Miss Kat - in the mode of corporate bean counters everywhere - have mandated that Joe stop work on the fairy tale project. They claim no one cares about that sort of thing anymore. Instead, after threatening Joe with termination, they insist that he work on the new "Roboboxers" project. The robots violently fight it out while audience response is measured by computer and whichever robot the audience prefers, the computer makes sure that robot wins the fight. Mr. Fox ignores Joe's concerns over violence and the history of the park as he embraces his violent version of the future.

Disheartened and faced with repeated threats of being fired, Joe has no choice but to comply with the order to dismantle the robots and move onto constructing new robots for the project. But, the idea appalls him and he decides to finish his favorite robot, Robonocchio which is his version of Pinocchio. Working late into the night he finishes and realizes that this might be the best robot he has ever created. Exhausted, he falls into a deep sleep and manages to miss it when, thanks to a little offworld help, Robonocchio comes to life. Much like his namesake, he has a nose for trouble and one that gives him away when he lies.

The basic story is very entertaining and appeals well to its intended audience of young adults. It also appeals to the younger crowd and adults will especially enjoy the subtle social commentary that appears from time to time throughout the book. However, what really makes this book special is the bilingual design of the book. As noted in the introduction on page 7:

"It's a simple idea: begin a text at the same place in two languages on facing pages. You can read the language you are trying to learn, but when you lose your place, you can look to the exact same spot on the page that is written in your native tongue. Without need to resort to a dictionary, the required word or phrase is there and the reader can speedily move on."

By doing so, the book helps the readers, both children and adults, improve their bilingual skills. This is the first book from the Babel Library, part of Black Coat Press, owned and operated by the authors. With French on one page and English on the facing page, it accomplishes both goals of providing an entertaining story as well as helping the reader improve language skills. The accompanying illustrations are a nice touch and serve to make this book even more entertaining for all age level readers.

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August 11, 2004 in Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Flame Tree

Author: Richard Lewis
Genre: Children
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

583The Flame Tree is much more than a coming of age story. By focusing on a 12 year Christian, American boy living in the world's largest Muslim nation during the upheaval of 9/11, Richard Lewis sets up a potentially explosive situation.

Isaac Williams is the son of two doctors who work at a missionary hospital in Indonesia. An exceptionally bright boy, he considers Indonesia his home, and though he schools with other ex-pat children, his best friend is a local devout Muslim boy, Ismail. But things take an ominous turn in young Isaac's life when the Muslim church across the street from his home compound takes a decidedly extremist turn under a new Imam. People in the community who had previously welcomed Isaac become colder, he starts having nightmares about threatening crows, and he finds a new, hidden gate into the compound. Just as things hit a contentious note in his community, 9/11 explodes and his previously tranquil community rages with a full- blown riot.

With panic at a fever pitch, during a mandatory evacuation, complete with Marine escorts, the unthinkable happens and Isaac is taken hostage by the extremist group.

To say more would divulge intricate plot details that will leave not only young readers, but also adults, breathless as they get caught in the web of this riveting page-turner. Most importantly though, beyond the action and suspense of this novel lies a thoughtful examination of culture and faith. Lewis does an admirable job here of opening up a very foreign world while also carefully exploring facets of the Muslim and Christian faiths. From the description, it would be easy to assume that this novel pits Muslims against Christians, but remember, this is an extremist group, and care is taken to highlight Islamic beliefs in their less incendiary and dangerous forms. I dare say that this book is timely, and right now, an important read. Not only for youngsters struggling to understand, but also adults.

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August 11, 2004 in Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

For the Rank of Master

Author: Hollie Snider
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Reviewed by Jozette Aaron

584Kyritia is a domain where elves, dwarves, and humans co-exist. When their peaceful way of life is threatened by the evil wizard Elidor, Arden, their Grandmaster sends his last living son, Tehan in search of this evil to destroy it before their world is plunged into eternal darkness.

Tehan, doing a series of tests to attain his ranking, believes this to be just another part of the test, the final part. Arden knows there is something important that Tehan must be told before beginning this journey but his memory has been wiped clean by sorcery, rendering him unable to give his son the life-saving information he needs to ensure his victory.

For the Rank of Master is the story of Tehan’s journey into darkness, accompanied by a band of warriors, each with their own secrets. Deceit and betrayal follow this group on their quest making them at once enemies and friends...all with one common goal.

Hollie Snider has written a very dark fantasy. There is enough gore and blood letting to satisfy the appetite of those devotees of the genre. It's a challenging read, recommended mostly to those who are truly fans of this type of dark fantasy.

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August 11, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Attack of the Queen

Author: Honor Cummings
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Jozette Aaron

585Sexy blue men with wings called Vlaads, men who are half man and half serpent, tree women, and a Queen who eats her lovers make up the characters in this fantasy about love and faith conquering all.

Adazzra, a healer living in Three Branches, which is in the land of Arwhyrrl and her sworn sister Moonrazer of the Sarl combine their strength and magic to protect other tree women and their villages from harm.

When Arwhyrrl is threatened by an attack from the Queen, Adazzra and her sister are summoned by Adazzra’s tree to return home.  On their way, they stumble across Feodor, an injured Vlaad.  Moonrazer’s warrior instincts kick in and she is all for running him through with her sword but as a healer, Adazzra pleads for his life.  They continue on their way, taking Feodor with them.

When they reach Three Branches, Adazzra is informed that she and her life partner are destined to defeat the Queen where all others have failed, and return Arwhyll and other kingdoms to peace. When she finds out that she is to be life bound to a Vlaad, a blue creature with wings, well...how would you react?

This is a story of the preparation for one final battle.  You will turn page after page as you become absorbed in this fantasy.  You will feel the love grow between Adazzra and Feodor.  You will fear the Queen and believe that she is indestructible and you will add you prayers to those being said for the young heroine and hero as they fight the battle of their lives.

Attack of the Queen is a well written fantasy.  It is a believable romance set in a distant land in another time and a very enjoyable read!

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August 10, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (1)

Lipstick Diaries

Author: Lori Soard
Genre: Mainstream
Reviewed by Pam Skochinski

Kate, Rebecca, and Sarah have been friends since grade school. Right before eighth grade, they picked their signature colors and sealed their diary entries with a kiss. Almost every Friday night, for the next 16 years, they met to add another page to the diary.

Now living in New Orleans, they seem to have found their niche. Kate works as a ghost tour guide, Rebecca is a nurse, and Sarah runs a new age shop, with a creepy gothic tenant in the store next door.  It’s Friday, and everyone is looking forward to their weekly ritual. Everyone, that is, except Rebecca. She’s dreading having to reveal that she’s pregnant and the father of her child seems to have deserted them, just like her own father did so many years ago. Then, the invitation falls out of the mail at Kate’s feet; an invitation to a wedding. Kate’s sister, Jennifer, is marrying the most notorious playboy in Greenfield, Indiana. What’s a sister to do except dash home and stop that wedding?

Unfortunately, Kate’s going to have to abandon the life she’s made for herself in order to save her sister from disaster. She leaves New Orleans behind, not knowing if she has a job to come back to. Sarah and Rebecca come along, to help Kate and perhaps to dispel a few ghosts from their own pasts.

Once in Indiana, it takes just moments for Kate to realize that her sweet baby sister has a stubborn streak. After Jennifer’s last ill- fated relationship, she thinks she knows how to spot a loser by applying Granny’s eight tests. Mark passed six of the tests, and to her, that’s good enough. Kate disagrees. In an act of desperation to get Kate to accept Mark, Jennifer makes a wager. If Kate can find a perfect man, one who passes all eight of the tests, by the day of the wedding, Jennifer will postpone marrying Mark.

Kate enlists Sarah and Rebecca’s help. Armed with the test gleaned from an old lipstick diary, Kate sets out to test every eligible bachelor in Greenfield in order to find the perfect man. Along the way, she has lots of help and hindrance from her family and friends. There’s also some surprise appearances from the past:  Ian, Kate’s boss from New Orleans; Jared, the father of Rebecca’s unborn child; and someone skulking in the shadows, following Kate’s progress with more than just a passing interest.

Following Kate’s quest from jazzy, quirky New Orleans to Indiana, where you can almost hear the corn growing, will leave the reader breathless; either cheering Kate on or wanting to shake her for being so stubborn. What you never doubt is Kate’s love for her family and friends. In the end, there simply weren’t enough pages to the book. Did Kate go back to her old job when she got back to New Orleans or did she follow her dream a little sooner than planned, did Kate’s plan to drive away Sarah’s creepy tenant work, and did Rebecca and Jared find their happily-ever-after? Lori Soard’s Lipstick Diaries is sealed with a kiss. Hopefully, it’s a promise of more installments.

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August 9, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sex, Obsession & Murder

Author: Adele Medolla
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

587For forty-five year old Mrs. Lane Stone, former police officer, her latest case as a private investigator cuts way too close to home. It begins when her best friend Allison confides in her that she is being stalked by Wanda Woodson. Among other things, Woodson has stolen her underwear, all of it, and written explicit love letters to Allison. But the Houston Police will do nothing without an actual threat of bodily harm or actual proof that Woodson has taken her underwear. Allison's husband, Mark, has only one concern-to keep the police out of it.  Despite the fact that he does not think much of Lane, or apparently women in general, he thinks that a quiet word from Lane in her role of private investigator will solve the problem. To get Lane to cooperate and do something she most likely would have done out of friendship for Allison anyway, Mark is willing to double her fee.

While Mark does not think much of his beautiful wife or Lane, he is very concerned with maintaining his wealthy image. An image that begins to crack when, within days of involving Lane, Allison is brutally murdered. Devastated by her grief, Lane is shocked to find out that the suspect everyone is looking for, the stalker Wanda Wilson suffering from schizophrenia and erotomanic delusions, claims to be innocent and wants to hire Lane to prove it. Lane agrees despite her misgivings about the stalker, and, along with the occasional assistance from her husband, Charlie, dives into a world of mental illness, sadomasochism and mafia involvement.

This is a very enjoyable read featuring an opinionated private investigator that will appeal more to female than male readers. Occasionally, the writing comes across a bit preachy as action is stopped so that a commentary bordering on sermonizing, often about men and theirs usefulness or lack of same, can be delivered. However, that fault is relatively minor overall and does not overshadow the consistently good plot and character development that leads to a twisting tale of greed and deceit. At 213 pages, this is a fast read and one well worth your consideration.

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August 8, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tour Into Danger

Author: Lea Tassie
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

588On the run with her nine-year-old nephew, Penny Davis' planned trip to Toronto, Canada isn't possible. Instead, she gets on the only plane available from the Vancouver airport and heads for Hawaii. But, that isn't nearly far enough to get away from Rob's drug dealing Stepfather. Greg has a reason to eliminate Rob and Aunt Penny. While Rob didn't see Greg kill his mother who is now missing, he did witness Greg kill a fellow drug dealer.

Instead of just running, most people would have gone to the Police. That wasn't an option for Penny, as she doesn't trust the Toronto Police. For eleven long years, her father, severely wounded in a bank heist and forced to live his days in a wheelchair, has been a suspect in the robbery. Virtually broke, he has denied all and his family has lived with the public humiliation of being a suspect. Now, with no other option readily available, Penny has fled to Hawaii and taken Rob with her.

Unbeknownst to her, there is a contract out on her and the boy, put out by Greg on behalf of his bosses. She is being tracked and the killers are moving into place to take them out while making sure that everything appears to be an accident. At the same time, so are the Police in the form of Detective Jack Kinkaid. Unaware of the contract or what Rob saw, he follows them both to Hawaii thinking that Penny comes from a bad family and is a drug courier. Before long, he begins to realize that not only is he attracted to her as he hangs around her undercover, she may be in fact totally innocent. But will he put the pieces together fast enough to give their romance a chance, let alone save Penny and Rob's lives?

Featuring complex human characters driven by family dynamics and a need to find happiness, this mystery is very enjoyable and features a frantic pace with a shocking twist at the end. While most of the elements of the mystery are identified very early on, removing all questions, the read is still very entertaining as Penny and Rob do their best to elude everyone while trusting almost no one. At the same time, facets of each character are slowly revealed and done so skillfully, that the story does not slow down at all. As the pace picks up so does a very complicated romance between Penny and Jack that shocks both characters with its intensity. Then, when the reader thinks everything is settled, there is one final twist in this 197- page book that caps off the wild tale, making this book well worth the read.

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August 8, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Journey of a Male Model

Author: Jason Aaron Baca
Genre: Nonfiction
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

The author examines and explains how the beauty of the human body can be captured through different types of cameras by photographers of different proficiency levels. Detailed information includes sections on composition, posing, photographers, and focusing the mind for each shoot. This book is for the model who is in the beginning, intermediate and advanced stages (or levels) striving to make a career out of modeling. (Introduction, Page 1)

In this recent release from Xlibris, male model Jason Aaron Baca recounts his first days as a model all the way to his current status when the book was published. Through pictures and small sections of accompanying text, he touches on his experiences with various photographers and various locations. Some of the anecdotes are amusing while others reflect his early painful naiveté about the business.

Through the ages we learn his reactions and experiences as well as the personal preferences of some photographers in terms of posing their subjects. Some wanted to take different than the norm type of shots where, for example, one wanted to photograph him falling off a couch while holding a wine cooler. Others wanted a more traditional shot. Then there are the explanations of where the author tells of having a hard time because he was sleepy, hungry, or whatever. In so doing, he recounts his journey to his ultimate goal of appearing in Playgirl Magazine.

While interesting, the work never comes re motely close to reaching any of the goals noted in the introduction. We never learn the promised detailed information cited in the introduction.  Instead, this work comes across as more of a pictorial scrapbook look at the past bundled with a promotional marketing tool for the present. While that is perfectly acceptable, the book does very little to help other models and instead serves more as a recorded history of one male model's experiences. Inherently, that does have value on some level but falls very short of the expectations set by the introduction.

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August 8, 2004 in Nonfiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Up Bluen

Author: Donna Kuhn
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

At first glance this is a chapbook written as mobile phone text
messages. The poet doesn’t appear to believe in proper punctuation,
there are no capital letters and she barely gives the nod to grammar –
for example:


“yr cool enuf”
from a lot of money

The famous poet e.e. cummings also wrote in lower case and the jury
is still out about whether this format works or doesn’t. I’m not
convinced. It simply looks lazy to me. However, it is perhaps the way
communication is going.

My second concern is the title. What on earth does it mean? Ambiguity
can work, journalists use it all the time especially in gossip
columns in order to get readers to read further. Here, you’ll be none
the wiser after reading the title poem (incidentally the second, not
the first in the book). Does it mean stay positive blue/depressed
person or something else entirely? This ambiguity could lose readers
right from the off. Many will simply not bother reading further and
that would be a pity because there is much to enjoy here (once you
get used to the new language that is). The hand painted cover is
exquisite and the titles of many of the poems are simply heaving with
imagination (e.g. masculine flowers, the way winter speaks, sideways
cat meets cowduck girl and many more.)

Therein lies the rub however – the titles tend to be more interesting
than the contents. This is word-play at its highest level. Basically
take a list of words and combine them in as many permutations as
possible. Perhaps you too will create a new language, perhaps you’ll
just confuse your reader. Kuhn plays with language here, she is a
word conjurer and she has, like many poets, a number of favorite
images which recur again and again (e.g. chinese, traffic, blue, food
of various sorts, coffee, birds, dolphins, alligators, picassos
horses, ocean, stars, photocopies and many more.) Unfortunately, the
repetition grates after a while, for example:


“i like to make coffee
i like to make coffee”
(from apple moon)

Many of the lines are simply psychedelic:


“yr hands sound like she’s a judgment…
hand out lizard, i love that u made
aluminum intentions up bluen”
(from up bluen)

The major problem however is that so few of the offerings here tell
any kind of story, and those that do require a different thought
process to decipher them. It’s kind of like reading codes, lines that
ask more questions than they answer:


“… i just glared at her
dolphins”
(from her dolphins)

“get yrself dark urban pterodactyls, girls
(from i am the thing)

There are however some signpost lines along the way which can help
you feel grounded e.g:


“i loved serious correspondence”
(from pear mess)

“how can he come home anymore”
(from falling alligator)

and some of the lines are simply intriguing:


“i live like winter sings in a chair
that has a creek in every room”
(from fluid pearl)

“in january the waves move my eyes”
(from transparent (2))

“if u ask im a door on dreams”
(from her dolphins)

“her door to war falls, her lips burning out philosophy”
(from fenugreek)

‘faces’ is in my opinion the best piece of writing in the entire
book. It is full of emotion and dark underpinnings with references to
death, divorce and more.

Perhaps Up Bluen is an example of poetry which is better performed.
It would be interesting to witness it read before an audience. Kuhn’s
own view of poetry is:


“poetry is words making love in a funk…
poetry is words i dont know”
(from nectarine funk)

Most of the time it’s difficult to follow Kuhn’s frame of thought, to
know where she’s going. At times it’s simply too weird, too much of
an effort to keep reading. I persisted. I fear many readers won’t
bother, many will think that life is too short to make the monumental
effort required to read between the lines and attempt to figure out
what Kuhn is getting at. I never thought I’d say this but, here goes,
grammar, punctuation and capital letters are important, they really
can help the busy reader! The book also made me renew my belief that
images, story, a point, are all important in poetry.

There are times that the language is compelling but mostly I felt
like she was trying to convince me into thinking that this was a new
kind of poetry. Perhaps this is how experimental poetry is going. If
so I won’t be joining the trend. It was like reading words cut out
and pasted together in various montages, filmed and played on fast-
forward. Kuhn does tap in to modern society but the manner in which
she does didn’t strike me as entertainment. The txt-message/Play
Station generation might enjoy this book. I’m not sure it will appeal
to either the poetry ‘mainstream’ or to a general audience however.

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August 8, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)