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Widow's Walk, Part 1: The Precipice

Kenneth Spillias. Abbot, $17.99, paper (246p) ISBN 978-1-4582-0728-9

Sex, violence, and the supernatural clash with compassion in this serviceable yet flawed modern morality play. When Jim Donovan was 16 years old, to events occurred that would shape the course of his life: he was sexually humiliated by a girl named Rachel Feinberg and his father died. When he later suffers a nervous breakdown, Jim finds himself in therapy with the sinister Dr. Pierre Pe're. And after his rise to prominence as an evangelist at a mega-church in South Florida, Jim is toppled by scandal and becomes embroiled in a struggle between good and evil. In this first in a series from Spillia, vivid characterization and evocative atmosphere are somewhat diluted by the author's emphasis on rigid morality. Still, readers searching for a quick paced supernatural thriller will delight in this Christian parable.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Thorns of Rosewood

Gina M. Barlean, illus. by Victorine Lieske. Gina M. Barlean, $15 paper (326p) ISBN 978-1-4928-8235-0

In 1974, four women suspected of killing a judge's wife in the small town of Rosewood, Neb., were set free—but did they get away with murder? Years later, Gloria Larson, editor of the local paper in Rosewood, is curious about what happened to the women—dubbed the "Thorns of Rosewood"—after their release. Gloria becomes more interested in the case when her adoptive parents reveal that her birth mother was from Rosewood and was suspected of murder in 1974. Gloria tracks the four women down, finding them at an assisted-living facility in Lincoln, where she convinces them to tell their story. Despite some plot points that strain credulity, this is an enjoyable and compelling novel. Barlean skillfully renders the book's small town setting, while the companionship of the women is believable. Gloria and the four Thorns of Rosewood are well-developed characters—and readers will find themselves eager to learn their story.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl

Julian David Stone. For the Duration Press, $14.95 paper (408p) ISBN 978-0-9898315-0-5

The golden age of television comes to life in this scathingly critical and immensely entertaining novel from Stone. Set in 1950s New York, TV writer Jonny Dirby loses his job for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the United States during the Red Scare. But when he seeks revenge by altering the dialogue of sketch parodying Superman before its broadcast, he inadvertently creates Justice Girl, a character that quickly grabs viewers' hearts. Jonny is quickly re-hired to create an entire show around Justice girl. The catch? Justice Girl is played by Felicity, a communist hunting fanatic determined to blacklist Johnny. Stone draws upon his career in entertainment to drive this lurid depiction of mass media's power in shaping our fantasies, values, ideals, and fears. The author ably captures the tension and excitement of live television, focusing on how quickly this medium made and destroyed both careers and lives. This modern fable of fame and failure emphasizes the political and economic agendas that molded the entertainment industry and a generation. This fast-paced and emotionally vibrant satire is a treat for television buffs and general readers alike.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Rule of Equity

Jonathan Neville. Letmereadit.com, $16.99 paper (342p) ISBN 978-1482687-42-2

Combining an economic war against the United States and a complex plot intended to provide justice for Native Americans is an interesting premise, but its execution is mixed in this fast-paced thriller. Neville's book opens with a bloody ritual at Thomas Jefferson's Indian Mound in Virginia, involving a man later identified as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Hyrum Cobb. The knife-wielding medicine man conducting the ceremony warns Cobb that all men to previously undergo the ordeal died without fulfilling their destiny. The action then flashes forward two years, as the author slowly teases out what that destiny is, beginning with the murders of two government officials in Washington, D.C. Unraveling the scheme falls to a somewhat clichéd pair: Tom Madison, a successful businessman able to kick butt when needed, and his ex-wife, Magena Brown, who turns out to be Hyrum's niece. Although the resolution strains credulity, the pacing and clever plot twists will satisfy fans of the genre.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Killer App: Would You Die to Be Young Again

John Writher. Higive.com, $9.99 paper (342p) ISBN 978-0-9928373-1-0

In the near future, British Prime Minister Robert Hand is facing a crisis: the U.K.'s economy is in trouble because of the rising number of aging pensioners and the soaring cost of entitlement programs. But businessman Bill Haugan has a plan. A brilliant geneticist named Janet Icks has discovered a way of transferring a person's DNA—along with all the person's memories—into a newborn baby's body. Haugan proposes that Britain use this procedure to restructure the age of its population. This fast-paced techno-thriller address issues like overpopulation, the morality of scientific progress, and individual agency—and sets them against humanity's ever-present fear of mortality. And while the concept may be better than the execution and Haugan a cartoonish villain, Writher's novel is a compelling, chilling page-turner.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Dancing Road

Pamela Fox. CreateSpace, $8.99, paper (189p) ISBN 978-1-4953-5105-1

After the death of her husband, middle-aged Meli hits the road on voyage of self-discovery. Plagued by doubts and guilt, she survives grief with the support of good friends. During her trip from Santa Clarita, Calif., to Broken Arrow, Okla., Meli learns about her Native American heritage—and works to discover herself. While Fox presents readers with an appealing story—an thirty-something woman taking to the road to find herself after a tragedy—her execution is often shaky and the novel proves overly sentimental. Many of the characters are unlikeable, which prevents reader from engaging with the story, and stilted dialog further hampers what could have been an interesting journey.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Birdcatcher: 30th Anniversary Revisit

Walter Joseph Schenck Jr. iUniverse, $29.95 paper (568p) ISBN 978-1-4620-0582-6

Formerly a second lieutenant, Private Abel Joseph Jarrett is on a quest to redeem a soul in this idiosyncratically powerful drama of the Vietnam War. An encounter with mystic Mark Evans persuades Jarrett that Vietnam will be the forging ground in the battle for his soul. Obsessed with the need to atone for the murder of an orderly under his command, Jarrett sees himself as a vacant personality controlled by an entity called the Birdcatcher. Jarrett's bizarre quest to escape from his void of isolation by absorbing the personality of another, as he did with the orderly, takes on increasingly surreal dimensions, with the dissolution of Vietnam providing a violent backdrop to his own struggle. As Jarrett encounters death, sex, and the blandishments of the Birdcatcher, Schenck weaves an odyssey that is both startlingly unique and virtually incommunicable. Despite some tendentious dialogue and Jarrett's excessive self-reflection, Schenck has delivered a tantalizing and startlingly original work.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tea Cups & Tiger Claws

Timothy Patrick. Country Scribbler, $15.99 paper (435p) ISBN 978-0-9893544-0-0

In Patrick's uneven novel, the lives of triplet girls born in 1916 take very different paths after a wealthy woman adopts daughters Abigail and Judith from poor, earthy Ermel Railer and her husband, Jeb. The third sister, Dorthea, is not as lucky—and eventually she ends up in a work camp. However, over the next half-century, the sisters' paths cross as Dorthea embarks on a relentless and increasingly vicious quest for the life her sisters obtained. While the book's theme of true merit versus apparent virtue is fascinating, the novel suffers from poor plotting and underdeveloped characters. Additionally, the story's climax is implausible, melodramatic, and drawn-out. In the end, these deficiencies will prevent readers from becoming fully engaged in the sisters' story.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Lady Viper: Tales from the Tudor Court

E. Knight. Knight Media, $15.99 paper (410p) ISBN 978-0-9903245-0-8

Knight delivers a suspenseful historical romance replete with political conspiracies and erotic encounters set in 16th-century England. Struggling to survive during the reign of King Henry VIII, Lady Anne Seymour manipulates political alliances in an effort to safeguard her family's lives when her sister-in-law, Jane Seymour, marries the King. Struggling between ambition and conscience, Anne must maintain the King's favor and preserve his marriage to Jane. But when her heart beats for dashing Sir Anthony Browne, she is torn between duty and lust. In this ably plotted first book in a new series, Knight skillfully captures the atmosphere of the Tudor Court. In Anne, the author creates a paradoxical but well drawn heroine full of self-destructive desire. Characters are drawn in broad, colorful strokes, merging grand historical pageantry with psychological depth. Fans of historical fiction will find themselves eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series from Knight.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Farmer's Son

N.E. Lasater. N.E. Lasater, $14.95 paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-9903069-0-0

Dyslexia propels this emotionally intense drama chronicling familial abuse and power struggles. Ashamed of his inability to properly read, Bobby McAllister succumbs to his father's constant ridicule and sacrifices his college plans to work the family farm and marry childhood sweetheart Sarah. Years later, Bobby discovers that his own son Kevin is also dyslexic. Can Bobby stop punishing himself for his condition and confront his father before his marriage and family are destroyed? This compassionate and honest examination of the relationships between fathers and sons features complex, emotionally scarred characters. While dyslexia results in much of the characters' anguish, rage, and suffering, the pain that family members inflict on one another is the dark heart of the modern rural tragedy. With an ending that is both shocking and redemptive, this is a powerful drama with a conscience.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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